Saturday, December 31, 2011

Guys Don't Ask for Directions. And Boys Read.

You know what I am going to say.
But I have to say it again,anyway.
I'm going to say it until people stop saying boys don't read.
I think people who say this need to understand that this is what they are really saying:
"It's a shame boys think the earth is flat."
This is stupid and insulting and destructive.
I was in a Big Chain Bookstore the other day because I had a gift card and a coupon. I need books for my classroom. I was in the "YA" section, which is not near the children's books, but is in the middle of the "Adult Fiction" section.
A mom and her son came over to the section, the son slightly trailing, the mother determined.
"I know this must be in alphabetical order," she said to the boy.
The boy didn't say anything. I didn't blame him. He was sweating slightly next to a shelf of Paranormal Romances.
I immediately become fierce. This boy wants a book. He has an author and a title. He must have this book.
"What book are you trying to find?"
The mom looks at me.
I was not dressed to impress. I was not accessorized. I didn't have a name tag. I was wild of eye and hair.
However, I was wearing a huge SCBWI t-shirt. So I smack down those credentials.
She relaxed a little.
I ask the boy what the book is. He tells me. His mom is still trying the alphabetical strategy, which will not yield fruit. I go to one of those customer service screens and I look up the book.
The book is not in the "YA" section. It is in the "Juvenile Readers" section, which is right next to the picture books.
I do not want to tell this boy that his book is in the "Juvenile Readers."
I mean, my I.Q. went down just typing the phrase "Juvenile Readers."
"The book is back there," I say.
He nods, says thanks, and the look in his eyes is just made me want to weep.
He just wanted a book.
He did not want to ask for help.
He's a guy.
And tell me, please, anyone, why the hell a kid should be made to feel like an alien in a hostile environment when he is in a bookstore?
A vein pops out on my forehead. I know this looks scary, so I get a bunch of good books.
Michael Grant, Andrew Smith, A.S. King, James Dashner,Patrick Ness. You know.
His mom stands near a stool.
"The book is in the other section," I tell her. I set the pile of books on the stool.
"These are books my boys like," I tell him.
His eyes are on the books.
And I leave, because the very last thing this boy needs is some stranger telling him what he should read, or watching to see what he chooses.
It turns out that one of the books I want is in "Juvenile Readers."
Except it isn't.
But the computer says it's in the store.
I find a human being to help me. She looks harried and I feel sorry for her.
"The computer says the book is in this section," and I can't say "Juvenile Reader" so I just point.
I tell her the book.
"Oh," she says. "That book is on a display."
The display is over by the bathrooms, which are next to workbooks full of worksheets that cause frontal lobotomies in kids.
I look at the salesperson. My forehead vein is throbbing. I am now wilder of hair and eye than I was before.
I thank her.
I am at the cash register and the clerk asks me if I found everything I wanted.
No, I didn't.
But this wasn't the clerk's fault.
I go home and brood.
Here's what I want.
1. I want a section in every bookstore that just says something like "Books Guys Read", and I want this to be in an area of the bookstore that is not next to workbooks full of worksheets that give kids frontal lobotomies. In fact, I don't want those workbooks in a bookstore.
2. This section should be full of books that guys read. I do not think this is difficult.
And then guys could actually find books. They wouldn't have to trail behind their moms or be accosted by the well-meaning but scary forehead-veined lady.
Boys could browse.
And then we might stop hearing stupid things about boys not reading.
And boys would have the opportunity to see that there is this whole world that recognizes them, and they don't have to stop at "Juvenile Readers" or skip past everything else to the science fiction section.
It is no surprise that guys hang out with the books about other worlds and aliens.
I just want them to be able to hang out in this world, too.
That's what I want.

Tuesday, December 27, 2011

Things that No One Should Ever Say to Kids. A Rant.

I have a great job. Teaching is a joy because of the students.
Adults can make my life really hard, though, because they can be so utterly and sincerely cruel to the kids.
Here are some tips for things human beings should never say to other human beings who are not yet independent and look to adults for support and guidance.
1. If you get pregnant/get someone pregnant, I'm throwing you out of the house.
This is one of the cruelest things I have ever heard. Because what your kid has just heard is that your love is conditional. What you have just done is severed a communication artery, and your kids can't trust you to hear them. Let's say the kid does get pregnant, or gets someone pregnant? Who are they going to talk to?
Not you.
There are plenty of ways to communicate to your kids about sex and sexuality. Don't be cowards about it. Giving information is giving power to make better choices.
Say something like this to a kid? Your kid will never trust you again. Nor should they.
2.Your kid tells you he's gay. You say, "You are not my child."
I can only understand saying this if your kid is Charles Manson.
Your kid is who he is. Sexual orientation is part of who he is. This may make you uncomfortable. That is not an excuse for saying something that you can't ever take back. Ever.
3. "Only losers get B's in school."
Here's what I say to my students, with thanks to Harper Lee: "People of character do the best they can with what they have."
I want kids to be challenged. Sometimes that means they work really hard and end up with A's, or B's, or C's.
Sometimes they slack off and need to work harder. Reality check: Did you do your best on every single assignment you ever had in the history of the world?
A lot of times if students aren't doing well they are struggling with other important stuff. Like working to help pay the bills. Like not having enough to eat. Like being worried that mom's new boyfriend is going to show up in her bedroom.
This does not make them losers.
This makes them human beings who need help and guidance.
I've been teaching for over twenty years, and I have dealt with the fallout of these statements. These wounds go soul-deep. Because kids believe stuff adults say for a long time. It's easier to believe that bad stuff.
It's hard to be a parent. It's hard to be a kid. It's hard to be a teacher.
Forget your label. Remember that you are a human being dealing with other human beings. Compassion goes a long way.

Friday, December 23, 2011

A Year with Joy, if Not Comfort.

There was a whole bunch of stuff to be unhappy about in 2011.
I do not like 2011.
But, and this is a big but:
There was also a dizzying plethora of stuff to be happy about.
I read many, many good books.
I met, virtually and face-to-face, many fine human beings.
I am listing some of them here, in no particular order.
Stick, by Andrew Smith. All of Andrew's books are intense and give me hope. My students love his books. I have a deep and abiding affection for Andrew's blog and the community of his blog. I love how he writes. No one writes like Andrew.
How to Save a Life, by Sara Zarr. I have written about Sara's impact on me, and on my writing. Sara's blog is also a happiness--music suggestions, inspiration--always some new insight. Her writing is so lovely that it makes my heart hurt, but in a good way. Her books are always out of the classroom library as well.
Matthew MacNish provided some of the merriest moments of the year. I have not had the pleasure of meeting Matthew yet. But I have learned a great deal from his blog, which you should visit if you haven't yet. Among other things, he is a query-maestro, and he and his community of followers critique queries. Near Halloween I was visiting my mother, and Matthew did a blog about favorite monsters.
The monster in this post was the dreaded, and dreadful, Gelatinous Cube. My mother and I had several intense and entirely serious discussions about the GC, which I relayed to Matthew by email. My mother's conclusion, after several email exchanges with Matthew, was that Gelatinous Cubes and lawyers are pretty much the same thing. Talk about trenchant insights.
Joe Lunievicz is this incredible human being. I mean it. I haven't met him, either, but I read his book Open Wounds because Andrew recommended it. I can't, and don't want to, forget a single thing about this book. It is beautiful. I am devoted to one of the characters, Lefty. Joe is a competitive fencer. He is a rugby fan, and played the game for a long time. (I am getting all this info from his webpage). He served in the Peace Corps and works in so many ways to make the world a better place that you have to read it yourself Plus, my students who have read Open Wounds still talk to me about it. One of my students took it out to read over the holiday break.
Another highlight was the Bridge to Books event, The Why Chromosome: Why Boys do Read. I know boys read because I teach, and my students read. What chaps my hide is when people talk about boys like they are stupid, or "other". I have written about this before. So there was a lot of joy at this event, where a panel of men who write talked about writing. I bought all of their books from the fabulous hosting venue,Mrs. Nelson's Toy and Book Shop, and each of these men gamely autographed them "to the Angel Potatoes", which is what I call my students.
But wait, there's more.
I met so many people through this blog and other blogs.Non, Jessica, Wiley, Emma B.,Christina, Farawayeyes, OldKitty, Annie, Donna, Peggy, Jonathan, T.B., Helene, Carrie, Michael, Matthew--all of you. This is a big happiness.
Peggy Eddleman and Shannon Whitney Messenger are two people I know through the blogosphere whose hard work paid off with sales of their books. This gives me happiness.
Michael Grant's books are awesome. Read them. Also, following him on Twitter makes me happy because he tweets rarely but they are always worth reading.
Daniel Kraus. Rotters. The Rat King. I am obsessed.
Maureen Johnson's The Name of the Star was creepy and real and true. Happiness!
I have so much more, but I don't want to be the person thanking the Academy who still talks through the music.
In many ways, 2011 was a relentlessly cruel year.
All the more reason to celebrate the kind, the true, the human.
Joy to you all.

Monday, December 19, 2011

Hard-wired for Pain? Is this a Writer-thing?

Okay, so you know I have had bronchitis for a month and an emergency root canal in the last six weeks. These facts are actually pretty boring, and dance at the edge of naval-gazing.
At first I was all excited about the Enhanced Cough Syrup. I tweeted about it and everything.
It just gave me bad dreams.
Today I had to get a temporary crown, and a filling for the root canal.
My dentist has known for twenty years that it takes a lot to get me numb.And stay numb. He explained this to the endodontist. Both of these people are delightful.
For the root canal, she had to use three times the normal amount of numbing stuff.
She was concerned.
"You metabolize painkillers really fast."
And this is just great, and proves that the universe is laughing its ass off. Because if life were fair I would metabolize pie really fast and hang on to the painkillers.
She gave me one milligram of an Intense Medication to Create Relaxation.
I don't relax.
I try.
I stare at the soothing video of snow falling on tress and stuff. I smell lavender.
I am wide awake.
So she gave me another.
I talk to her about the best books I read this year. I give her a list.
She goes out to my husband, and says, "She's not asleep yet."
My husband tells her that even when I sleep I'm not asleep.
So she gives me a third milligram of the Intense Medication to Create Relaxation.
I feel really guilty. Because I am not tired. I am not relaxed.
"It's okay," I tell her. "I'll deal with it."
And I am bummed, because I have heard of these Awesome Relaxation Drugs and I thought, well, that would be nice.
It wasn't meant to be.
Then she has to give me some more numbing shots.
She gave me tablets with codeine. These were not helpful, so I stopped taking them. I took them back to the pharmacy for appropriate disposal.
Three years ago I had to go to the ER for an abdominal thing. It hurt. They start a drip. They go away. I am in pain. I wait for them to give me pain meds.
After a while they check on me.
"I'm really sorry," I say, and I'm sweating because it hurts. "Will someone give me something for the pain?
And they send in a drug counselor, because they have given me a full dose of morphine and I can't feel it, which means I must have Drug Issues.My husband becomes irate.
I don't have drug issues. I don't even drink, except for the very rare occasion when there is really good whisky and something to celebrate.
They offer Vicodin. I wave it away.
The dentist and my doctor say I have some seriously weird hardwiring. My body does not want to kill pain.
Is this some kind of Abject Writer's Lesson? Writers must feel pain?
Or is this final, irrefutable proof that the Mothership should beam me up for adjustments?
I don't mind, really. I'm puzzled. Pain can be funny; my students loved how I talked last week.
A great deal of things that cause pain aren't funny.
Dealing with pain.
I'm going to think about this.
And how it relates to writing.

Friday, December 16, 2011

Tread Softly? Sorry, Yeats. Dreams Got to Be Tough.

Yeats. One of my passions. Unrequited, of course. But a girl can dream.In high school I read this poem he wrote about dreams. It is beautiful. But now I don't agree with it.
He Wishes for the Cloths of Heaven
HAD I the heavens’ embroidered cloths,
Enwrought with golden and silver light,
The blue and the dim and the dark cloths
Of night and light and the half light,
I would spread the cloths under your feet:
But I, being poor, have only my dreams;
I have spread my dreams under your feet;
Tread softly because you tread on my dreams.

W.B., I love this picture.And I hope your spread your dreams to someone who said, "W.B. Dreams got to be tough."
There are a lot of people who will use your dreams as a welcome mat to scrape their shoes on. Who will strap razors to shoes and tap dance on them. There will be the mincing and the well-meaning who will gently tell you that you can't do it, you are no good, and especially the ones who start out with, "I hate to tell you this, but..." And those ones are the worst, because they actually love to come and drip all over, not in a passionate thundering storm but in an endless, heart-wringing drizzle, so dreams dampen and wilt and mildew.
And there are the good and true who will tell you, with absence of malice, what they honestly think of your work, your dreams, and their courage is a big gift, and a hard one to give, because it's tempting to tread softly.
I think it's better to tread kindly, and speak truthfully, because that is a gift.
You have to be tough to dream. And discuss dreams with kindred spirits, avoiding the "lean and hungry" who will be pleased and fulfilled by pulling you down.
Dreams deserve better than to be the daisy on a piece of astroturf.
Weave your dreams with the colors of your life, all of them: ash gray and cobalt, crimson and spring green, iridescent and raw.
Tough doesn't mean rough or insensitive or brutal. It means having a dream so strong that it can repel despair when it knocks,or blows the door down, as it always does. It means the dream is strong enough to fight for itself when you face doubt. It means that you surrender to the dream and its demands, and honor it by having honest people reflect back to you true things that will make you, and the dream, stronger.
Then the dream will be strong enough to help you, too. Blood for blood.

Monday, December 12, 2011

Laughing in the Savage Face of Fate.

So I had a root canal and some other stuff done on Friday.
It turns out that this was the best thing ever, according to my students.
Because I can't talk. Not really.
Or I can, but it sounds...weird.
I needed to be at school because my students had this ginormous cross-curricular project due. I don't like being absent.
What I Said:(earnest)I am so excited that you have worked so hard and today you will feel really good about this assignment.
What My Students Heard: Ah ahm toe ettited tat you hab wooked so hawd and today you wiw feew weewy gud abot tis attinement.
Students: Stunned silence.
What I Said: It's okay to laugh. I sound funny. I needed to be here because I was worried about your stress level.
What My Students Heard: It otay to waf. I tound tunny. I needit toe be hewe becaud I wat wowwied about tor trett wevew.
Students: Laughing now. Like, really laughing.
Undaunted, I plowed on, explaining the day's schedule. Several students translated. For example, I think I said "speech" and what they heard was "peet."
No one knew how to translate "peet." I had to write it out and have a kid read the note.
And even the kids who were trying really hard not to laugh, laughed. The kids who were already laughing were undone.
And you know what? I had to laugh, even if it hurt.
Because to see all these anxious kids looking completely baffled or laughing helplessly and not being stressed anymore made my day.
So of course this made me think about writing. How we write and struggle and send stuff out into the world and how the reactions we get may not be what we expect.
And sometimes that's the best thing ever.
Here's to laughing in the savage face of fate.
Or, as I would say, waffink in tuh tavag bate of bate.

Saturday, December 10, 2011

Root Canals. Hard Work.

So yesterday I had a root canal.
It was not the worst thing.
Turns out that this poor little root was dead. The doctor showed it to me, because I wanted to see it.
It was all sad and white and dead.
This made me think.
About roots.
Roots should not be sad and white and dead.
So I thought about all kinds of roots--family roots. Writing roots.
Andrew Smith is in New York City right now, and his posts about this trip and what he is doing will help your writing roots. Go read and be happy and awed and inspired.
Take care of your roots.

Monday, December 5, 2011

Part Three: Listen and Improve Your Life. And Music Library.

This list continues to be a source of happiness to me. I hope that you find some new gems and gain appreciation for some oldies. Songlist of a high school guy to renew your faith in the human race.
Songs 1 through thirty can be found in earlier posts.
31.The Hush Sound--Lion's Roar
32. Ian Axel--This is the New Year
33. Ingrid Michaelson--The Way I Am
34. Jack's Mannequin--Dark Blue
35. Jaron and the Long Road to Love--I'll Pray for You
36. Joan Jett and the Blackhearts--Crimson and Clover
37. Journey--Don't Stop Believing
38. Kate Earl--Melody
39. Keane--Somewhere Only We Know
40. KISS--New York Groove
41. The Last Goodnight--Pictures of You
42. Lifehouse--Storm
43. Lost in the Trees--Walk Around the Lake
44.Michael Buble--Hold On, Everything
45.Michael Franti and Spearhead--I'll Be Waiting
46. Mumford and Sons--Winter Winds
47. New Radicals--You Get What You Give
48. Norah Jones--Don't Know Why
49. One Republic--Apologize (original version), Good Life
50. Pink--Raise Your Glass
51. Pat Benatar--Shadows of the Night
52. Peter Gabriel--The Book of Love
53. Phil Collins--Take Me Home
54. Queen Latifah--I Know Where I've Been
55. The Secret Handshake--TGIF
56. Semisonic--Closing Time
57. The Temper Trap--Sweet Disposition
58. The Ting Tings--That's Not My Name
59. Stray Cats--Stray Cat Strut
60. Tracy Chapman--Fast Car

Saturday, December 3, 2011

More Songs Everyone Should Know to Improve Life, From a Student

So on Monday I posted a partial list. I am going the next twenty-two songs so that you can enjoy without being overwhelmed.
I have never heard of Dear and the Headlights, but I am glad now that I have. And my boy includes Frank Sinatra and the Eagles.
Kids are amazing.
8.Band of Horses--Is There a Ghost?
9.Barry Louis Polisar--All I Want is You
10. Brandi Carlile--The Story
11. Brendan James--The Lucky Ones
12. Bryan Adams--Heaven
13. Cat Power--Sea of Love
14. Chase Coy--Mockingbird
15. Chris Medina--What are Words
16. Cold Play--Viva la Vida, Fix You
17. Cute is What We Aim For--Hollywood
18. Dashboard Confessional-Until Morning(Acoustic)
19. Dear and the Headlights--I'm Not Crying, You're Not Crying, Are You?
20. Dexy's Midnight Runners--Come on Ilene
21. The Dodos--Fables
22. Duran Duran--Hungry Like the Wolf
23. Eagles--Desperado
24. Eve 6--Here's to the Night
25. Filter--Take a Picture
26. Fleet Foxes--Battery Kinzie
27. Foreigner--Juke Box Hero
28. Frank Sinatra--Strangers in the Night
29. Hootie and the Blowfish--I Only Wanna Be With You
30. Human League--Human

Monday, November 28, 2011

Songs Everyone Should Know to Improve Life, From a Student

Here's one of the greatest things about being a teacher: asking questions and getting answers. You might think this is a mundane thing. But every day, as I am surrounded by these amazing human creatures, I ask questions and get answers that fascinate, amuse, fill me with chagrin, fill me with wonder.
I know it's a good question when I get an answer that I did not expect.
So one of my kids had finished his work and was between tasks.
So I asked him, "What music should I hear to make myself a more complete human being?"
And he just nodded and got out a piece of paper and I moved on to the next kid.
The next day he presents me with a list.
A very extensive list.
He gave me a paper with over sixty specific songs. He called it "Songs Everyone Should Know to Improve Their Life and Music Libraries."
It is one of the best things ever given by a student to a teacher in the history of the world.
I am going to share parts of it with you, with his permission.
1. Anything and Everything by Bon Iver
2. Anything by Florence and the Machine but especially:
a.Shake it Out
b. Spectrum
c. Cosmic Love
3. Adele--Someone Like You
4.Alexi Murdoch--Orange Sky
5. Alpha Rev--New Morning
6. Angels and Airwaves--The Adventure
7. Augustana--Boston

I can say unequivocally that I really haven't heard of these people.
But I can use all the help I can get in being a better human, and my boy gave me an answer to a question, and I am so humbled and joyful about it.
I'm going to honor it by getting me some music.
End of Part 1.

Friday, November 25, 2011

We Don't Need New Ornaments. We Need A New Tree.

I got into teaching a long time ago. I wrote about the best advice ever, that really applies to everything, which is "Love them no matter what. Run class like football practice."
The other best thing I ever heard is something I keep repeating. But it makes people uncomfortable. Really uncomfortable.
Here's the story.
I attended a Big Conference With Answers To Everything Ever To Fix Education about thirteen years ago. These conferences happen with a frequency that would be admirable if anything actually ever came of them. Anyway, there was a guest speaker, and I can't remember his name. But he said something like this:
"If we really want to change the system, we need a new tree. We keep changing the ornaments on the tree. Nothing will change until we change the tree."
I got really excited.
I'd seen lots of ornaments, each touted as The Thing That Will Change Education.
But they were just ornaments.
The good news is that soon after that I got hired to help create a new kind of school. I fought hard for a new tree. And I had some cool people who fought, too. And I am proud to be part of this school.
It still isn't enough. Because it's still part of the System that relies on what looks good on paper.
Until we have a system where all students are visible as people, not statistics,
Until we have a system where students are in a real community of learning, challenged and supported, where they can demonstrate learning in meaningful ways,
Until we have a system where kids are more than the sum total of their transcripts and test scores,
Until every dollar spent in education is looked at in terms of exactly how what it's spent on is moving kids forward in a significant way,
Until society stops using kids like political footballs,
we're going to have the same tree.
We tell kids to think outside the box then tell them to bubble in the answers on standardized tests. Be careful to erase stray marks.
This will never make sense. This is "Eduspeak."
This is dangerous and sad.
So I fight back with books. And by teaching a subject no one has figured out how to test yet.
So let's keep fighting against shiny new ornaments and fight for a new tree. This will make people mad and uncomfortable.
The kids will always be worth it.

Monday, November 21, 2011

Abolish the Homework Packets. Just Read.

Parents have this love/hate relationship with homework.
I know this because I've been teaching a long time.
On one hand, parents seem proud of the amount of homework because they think it shows how academically rigorous the curriculum is.
On the other hand, parents are concerned because the amount of homework their kids have interferes with family time, down time, free time. They worry that their kids are tired all the time and not getting enough sleep.
Kids seem to feel the same way, comparing the amount of homework they have with the amount they believe students of other schools do. And yet they complain about the work, too.
I'm not a fan of homework.
I'm a fan of reading.
Yep. Just reading.
And yes, graphic novels count.
I know this view makes people uneasy in this age of accountability. People will point at studies that show our country's students are falling behind.
Falling behind what? Other nations? Based on...standardized tests?
Not a newsflash: Our kids are more than their ability to wield a number two pencil effectively.
I don't believe in homework for kids of any age. If homework worked, we would be moving ahead in all areas of measurement. If homework worked, we'd have kids still be excited and lit up about school when they hit high school.
Everyone's job should be to read. Older students can annotate as well. Parents of younger kids should consider that nightly reading is as critical to their kid's development as feeding them.
Why should a second-grader be stressed out about homework?
Because it makes adults feel good. It looks good on paper.
It's not good for kids.
I say that kids need words and stories and worlds.
I say that kids will grow academically in all areas when they are allowed and encouraged to explore ideas and develop an inner life, unplugged from iPods and computers.
I think writing their own words and stories and creating their own worlds is good, too.
Call the school districts and school boards.
See what happens.
Revolutions have started on less.

Friday, November 18, 2011

Boys. Sexuality. (un)Shhhh!

I wonder what the "YA" scene would look like if there was a male Judy Blume.
I saw a book for the first time a few weeks ago called Everything I Needed to Know About Being a Girl I Learned from Judy Blume. And I haven't read it yet, but just about every woman I know could have contributed to it in some way. We all read Are You There, God? It's Me, Margaret and Forever. Those books helped a lot to map out what was happening to our bodies and what might/would happen when we started using them.
Judy Blume was big-time comfort.
She's also big-time banned, which shows that many people don't want these maps given out, which also shows that people are still scared of women getting uppity with their sexuality. Or just acknowledging it.
Discussions of boys and their sexuality would be a good thing.
I don't see this happening.
Even in "Health" classes where these discussions would be natural, there are so many constrictions on what can and cannot be said that it really is tragic for the boys and the girls. A lot of parents want to have those "discussions" themselves, which would be great if they actually happened and/or contained facts.
The fact that there is a difference between "sex" and "sexuality" doesn't seem to exist. And questions about sexual orientation? Better not bring them up, even in the "anonymous question" part of class.
Who do the boys turn to for their "map" as girls turned to Judy Blume? Who addresses the most dreaded and embarrassing questions?
Who can they take their fears to?
If I were young and male, I would be angry about all this. I'm angry about all this and I am not young or male. In many ways, I'm not the one who should be asking these questions.
Maybe they are the wrong questions.
But it's a place to start, right?

Saturday, November 12, 2011

Never Averting Your Eyes

This quote from Akira Kurosawa, Japanese director of movies such as The Seven Samurai, hangs out in my head a lot:
“To be an artist means never to avert one's eyes.”
I read/hear this quote and I am grateful to writers like Ellen Hopkins and Andrew Smith and Laurie Halse Anderson and Sara Zarr.
I am grateful because the books by these writers take readers through experiences without averting their eyes, and by doing so honor the truth of what really happens with drug use, incest, rape, violence, and abuse.
This honors and validates the truths of the kids who read their books knowing these horrors first-hand.
The truth makes those who haven't suffered more empathetic to those who have.
And the truth is that many adults don't want to know the truth.
They don't want kids to know the truth, either.
Which is why books get banned, or labeled "dark", which is an insanity when what these authors/books really do is cast light.
Just this week a book by one of these authors was instrumental in helping one of my students ask me for help.
And so this weekend the life of one kid is better because of an author who told the truth, and I hold this to my heart and am grateful.
Because right now I am very sad.
A lot has been written about Penn State and the staggering, abject, unforgivable failure of adults to tell the truth.
They averted their eyes. Over and over and over again, they averted their eyes.
I think of the boy being raped, and an adult came in, and I think maybe there was a moment of hope in his heart, hope that he would be seen. Hope that he would be helped.
And the adult averted his eyes and walked away.
And the horrors go on and on.
The light in this darkness is those who fight, in all kinds of ways, for survivors of abuse and violence. One of these organizations is the Rape, Abuse, Incest National Network. Organizations like these make a difference. Countless volunteers at Rape Crisis Centers make a difference.
Writers make a difference.
Averting your eyes can allow you to pretend that a person, a problem, a situation doesn't exits. Abused people, animals, environment? Just avert your eyes.
This is an abdication of humanity.
Akira Kurosawa spoke of art and life, which, in the end, are the same thing.
Or they should be.

Friday, November 11, 2011

A Conversation with a Young Man About Reading

Yesterday I asked one of my senior boys how he was doing.
"I'm tired," he said.
Seniors are tired this time of year. They are busy with college applications and school and work.
I asked him when was the last time he read a book for pleasure.
He had to think for a few seconds.
"I don't know. A long time." Thinks. "The Knife of Never Letting Go."
I brighten, because I love this book.
"Yeah. That was four years ago."
I sag a little, because that's a long time to go without reading a book for pleasure.
I asked him if any of the books he'd been assigned during his school years appealed to him.
He liked 1984 and Fahrenheit 451.
I asked him which books he didn't like.
"Tale of Two Cities. I hated it. I didn't even read it. And to make them do it in the 9th grade. That's just not good."
So I asked, "What is the best book that represents the kind of reading that spoke to you least?"
Instant, reflexive reaction about this book. Since the author is still alive, I do not want to say which one it is. My boy expressed his opinion about it succinctly and vehemently.
And I get it.
I taught English for a long, long time. I know that not every book will speak to every kid.
But why isn't there room for kids to choose books and do more with them than write book reports?
I hate book reports.
What's wrong with just reading because it is a good thing to do?
So I made part of my student's assignment to read The Ask and the Answer, the sequel to The Knife of Never Letting Go, by Patrick Ness.
Just read.

Sunday, November 6, 2011

The Boys Got Left Behind.

I have been spending a lot of time with statistics this week.
I don't like statistics.
But I do this every year, because I do a project with my students that involves researching colleges.
My argument every year is that I want students to be eligible to apply for a four-years school when they graduate. I call it "Keeping Options Open."
Going into the military? Taking a year off to travel? Volunteer? Work?
Going to a community college because it's the most affordable option, and then planning to transfer? Whatever the choice, there are going to be more options if a student is eligible to apply for a four-year college. In California we call them the A-G requirements.
I'm sure there are other options. I like options. I like kids to have options.
The fact is that kids need some kind of post-high school training if they want a chance of leading a life they chose.
The fact is that they need high expectations set and then given the help they need to meet the expectations.
So about those statistics.
I went to The College Board to look some stuff up.

UCLA: 57% Women, 43% Men
UC Berkeley: 54% Women, 46% Men

Cal State Los Angeles: 57% Women, 43% Men
Cal State Long Beach: 59% Women, 41% Men
Cal State East Bay: 63% Women, 37% Men
Cal State Monterey Bay: 65% Women, 35% Men
Cal State Channel Islands: 71% Women, 29% Men

California Polytechnic State University, Pomona: 43% Women, 57% Men
California Polytechnic State University, San Luis Obispo: 48% Women, 52% Men

I look at these statistics and I am happy that we have done a good job of getting more women to college. When I was in high school I was not allowed to take Auto Shop, and our Junior High P.E. classes were segregated. One of the male coaches who taught P.E. treated us with a kind of amused contempt when we attempted stuff more challenging than badminton. "You don't want to mess up your hair," he would say.And there is still a long way to go for girls and science, math, and technology.
I look at these statistics and I am furious. Where are the boys? At what point in their education did they just decide to take themselves out of the college equation?
Is it a decision? What were the adults in their lives doing or not doing to or for them?
Who told them the equivalent of "You don't want to mess up your hair," and why did they believe it?
I don't have the answers I wish I did. Like changing the system, really changing it, so that all kids can move ahead and have options. I'm working on that one, and have been for over twenty years.
One of the answers is to get books into their hands that speak to them.
Boys read. They need books that don't just take them into other worlds--which I love. They need books that help them see and deal with the reality they are living now.
These books need to be written and read and made available in bookstores and classrooms and libraries. Booksellers and teachers and librarians need to know about them.
This is something we can do. I would say that most indie bookstores have a good handle on what boys read, but just yesterday I told a bookseller about OPEN WOUNDS by Joe Lunievicz. Talk about an apt title.
At the local Barnes and Noble I requested that they stock a number of books that were not in the store. They told me they could order them for me. And I said that I wanted my students to be able to walk in and get them and pick them up and see them.
Yes, I begged.
Because at the end of the day this isn't about statistics or The College Board.
It's about lives.

Tuesday, November 1, 2011

Men: An Appreciation, Part 2. And OctoberPalooza Concludes.

On Sunday I attended an event called The Why Chromosome: Why Boys Do Read.
I saw something I have never seen before.
I saw more than one man on a panel. They talked about writing good books and why boys read and books they read and all kinds of great stuff.
I know.
This event was as balm of Gilead for me. It is painful to experience the invisibility of half my students in so many elements of society,like education. And the book industry.
I know boys read. These authors know boys read.Boys know they read. And yet if you go into a major bookstore and go to the "Teen" section, you'd think that mostly/only girls read.
I know I have more to say about this whole event. Truth is, I was so excited by all of this that I felt like someone done give my brains a stir.
I need a few days to absorb and process.
In the meantime, let me say thank you to the remarkable men of the panel:
Andrew Smith,Greg Van Eekhout,Allen Zadoff,Jonathan Auxier,John Stephens, and G. Neri
This event was sponsored by Bridge to Books. Everyone involved in Bridge to Books should be showered with praise and funds so that they can continue to produce events like this.
And if you haven't been to Mrs. Nelson's Toy and Book Shop, you haven't really seen a bookstore. This is a bookstore to make the angels weep for joy.
And on a related note, we have a winner.
Thank goodness for randomizer.
Deb Marshall, you are now the proud owner of a signed copy of THE MARBURY LENS and page five of PASSENGER.
I thank all of you for your support and comments.
And a major league thank you to my friend Andrew Smith.

Love them no matter what. And run class like football practice. The only advice you'll ever need.

The best advice I ever got from anyone about anything came from a man named Bob Stevens.
Bob Stevens was the father of my best friend. He was a big man, an athlete. He taught junior high. He was a coach.
I couldn't even imagine calling him Bob. He was always Mr. Stevens to me.
I remember how he could carry his daughters and me around without effort. That means he carried four girls, who clung to him like shrieking morning glories.
He had one glass eye, and sometimes he would leave it out and in the room with us so that we would behave.
He never called me Kristen. He would roar "Pelfrey!". It felt like a roar, even though I don't remember him ever raising his voice.
I adored him.
When we were in junior high he was paralyzed in a bicycling accident.
He became an avid wheelchair athlete.
So one day I am at my old high school, and I went to ask him about teaching. I was in the credential program and I had doubts. Not about the kids. About the system.
I was miserable in the requisite Little House on the Prarie de rigeur outfits I was supposed to wear. Those outfits counted for a lot in getting through the program.
So I meet Bob, and he looks at me and my dumb outfit and my notebook full of rigid, seven-point(less) lesson plans. He sees my wretchedness writ large.
He picked up one leg and crossed it over the other.
"Pelfrey," he said. "Love them no matter what. Run class like a football practice."
And he wheeled off.
He had a workout to do.
His words became my mantra.
You have to love the kids in a real, true, clear sense.
Not in a greeting-card kind of way, or a warm-fuzzy kind of way. Or a yearbook-signing kind of way, or a bunny-stamping kind of way.
You have to see them for who they are, see the worlds of possibilities inside them, and push/whisper/gentle/sing/shout/ them toward those worlds.
Every single moment you have them you must do things that move them forward in some way.
And, if you think about it, his advice holds true for writing. Good writing.
I think you know what I mean.
I, and many, many others, miss Mr. Stevens in ways that cannot be numbered.

Monday, October 31, 2011


I've seen it.
In fact, I can see it from here.
It's page five, which is the first page of the story.
I have it encased in a hard plastic cover.
Yes, I know Andrew Smith carried it around in his back pocket.
Yes, I know it's not a holy relic like the bones of Boris and Gleb. But when I think of Marbury and now PASSENGER I think of Boris and Gleb.
Bear with me here.

According to Nestor the Chronicler, Boris and Gleb were the beloved sons of Vladimir the Great. He put them in charge of some towns.Meanwhile, their older brother, Sviatopolk the Accursed, took the throne when Vladimir died.He wanted his brothers assassinated. He was jealous. Boris was like, "I will not raise my hand against my brother." He died at the hand of Sviatopolk the Accursed, which really sucked. Gleb got killed by his friend, the cook. Stabbed and hidden under a bush. This also sucked.
There are those who assert that Varangian warriors were also involved. And this really, truly sucked.
If you have gone to Marbury, this may or may not make sense.
I have not and will not make a copy of the PASSENGER page. It would be wrong. It would be like selling fake Boris and Gleb relics with a neon "Relics" sign.
So the winner gets the only copy.
And THE MARBURY LENS, signed by Andrew Smith.
Don't ever tell me that hagiography and art history won't move the world forward. In some way.

Sunday, October 30, 2011

A Sense of Purpose and Hope and Boys Reading

Today is an event that I have been looking forward to for a long time, years probably, but I didn't know that it had a name.
My names for the problem this event addresses are really not printable.
Call me Cassandra. You know, the woman who was cursed to tell the truth but no one could see it?
Okay, so I'm not as important as Cassandra, but here is what I have been saying:
Boys read. Boys need books they will read. We stereotype boys a lot. We are failing our boys.
One time The Powers That Be sent me an article about how boys are falling behind in literacy. There were lots of statistics. There were no solutions. The Power scrawled, "Hope this answers your questions!" at the top of the article. With a smily face.
I think this particular Power meant well.
It did not answer my questions.
Meaning well is not enough.
Today I am going to "The Why Chromosome: Why Boys Do Love Reading". This event is sponsored by Bridge to Books, and is hosted by Mrs. Nelson's Toy and Book Shop.
Men who write books will present.
I will return with renewed hope and purpose.

Contests continue!

The giveaway for THE MARBURY LENS, signed by Andrew Smith, and page five of PASSENGER, signed and with editorial comments, continues. See here for guidelines.

The The Spooktacular Giveaway Hop is also going on right now. Each blogger is offering a book-related prize. Go for them.

Friday, October 28, 2011

What Marilyn Manson Said, and Why It Matters to Writers.

Sometimes there are moments in movies that live out loud to me, and keep playing.
They echo and haunt like the echoes in good books.
In "Bowling for Columbine," here's the conversation that haunts me.
Michael Moore: If you were to talk directly to the kids at Columbine or the people in that community, what would you say to them if they were here right now?
Marilyn Manson: I wouldn't say a single word to them. I would listen to what they have to say, and that's what no one did."

Hearing something true from someone who is easy to label and stereotype should not be a surprise, but it was. I owe Marilyn Manson an apology and a thank you.
Think about that.
It is easy to label and stereotype kids.
It is not easy to listen with eyes and ears and heart.
Listening and taking in what kids say and do means that writing for them will have truth.
Seeing and listening.
Two of the hardest --and most important--things I'll ever do.

The giveaway for THE MARBURY LENS, signed by Andrew Smith, and page five of PASSENGER, signed and with editorial comments, continues. See here for guidelines.

The The Spooktacular Giveaway Hop is also going on right now. Each blogger is offering a book-related prize. Go for them.

Wednesday, October 26, 2011

THE MARBURY LENS. A Glimpse of PASSENGER. The Epic Giveaway Continues.

The MARBURY LENS is a brilliant, disturbing, echo-inducing book. I can't help it; I always see the title in capitals in my head.
Watch the trailer.

I think maybe you will see the title all in capitals now, too.
Waiting for PASSENGER (yes, that will always be in caps for me as well) is a trial.
Happily for one of us, Andrew Smith is giving me page five of PASSENGER to give away.
This page has edits from Liz Szabla(chimes) and is signed by Himself.
Here is what Andrew says about his piles of manuscripts. I think many people would call them "archives."
I think Andrew would laugh at the thought of him having "archives."
What Andrew writes is important. I posted about that here. I believe in making boys visible. I believe in good books and passing the nimbus.
I believe in books that kick ass and take you places you may not want to go, and then when you get there you realize that's where you needed to be. Books that convey moments of grace when grace is unlikely. And, really, if you think about it, few things are less likely and more necessary.For all of us.

If you would like to enter the contest,see the details here.

The The Spooktacular Giveaway Hop is also going on right now. Each blogger is offering a book-related prize. Go for them.

Monday, October 24, 2011

The Marbury Lens. A Glimpse at Passenger. An Epic Giveaway.

It's been a great month.
I have met many new people. I have learned a lot about blogging. And I have given away nine copies of really good books that I believe make the world a better place.
And there's one more week in October.
Perfect for a MARBURY LENS giveaway.
This particular copy of THE MARBURY LENS will be signed by Andrew Smith.
And Andrew is also giving me a page from PASSENGER, which is the sequel to THE MARBURY LENS. This page is signed by Andrew and has editorial comments on it from editor Liz Szabla (chimes ring whenever her name is mentioned).
I must have super-charged my karma battery to merit these items for a giveaway.
Thanks, Andrew.
A comment and a follow enter you to win.Tweet this or any post and you get an extra entry!
Entries close at midnight, October 31st, EST. Winner will be chosen by
And, by happy coincidence, the The Spooktacular Giveaway Hop is also going on right now. Each blogger is offering a book-related prize. I think the more the merrier.

And We Have Winners for Amplified!

Thank you, thank you, for all of your comments and follows, people. selected the following people to receive a copy of Amplified:

Emma B.
Old Kitty
Dani Ngyun

Would you all be so kind to contact me with your preferred shipping information?

I will be contacting A Whale of a Tale bookstore for your copies.

And thank you to Tara Kelly for her support and for writing good books. Tara, we salute you, and want you to keep on writing and rockin' out.

Stay tuned. OctoberPalooza continues.

Sunday, October 23, 2011

Grab Bag.

Today is the last day to enter to win a copy of Tara Kelly's Amplified--you get an entry for each action--comment, follow, tweet. Three winners will have copies mailed to them from indie bookstore A Whale of a Tale. Please be sure to enter by 5:00 PM EST.

Congratulations to Andrew Smith for winning the SCIBA award for The Marbury Lens. This book is brilliant, unclassifiable, and has some of the best writing I have ever seen. I love this book.

I hope you all have a good week--the week before Halloween is one of the best of the year. Lots of Creature-Feature type movies on. I suggest we soak some up.

Thank you for your support and comments, one and all.

More about creatures, the Revolution, and good books coming up this week.

Thursday, October 20, 2011

Making Boys Visible. Revolution.

     I know two boys who grew up invisible.
     Their invisibility sprang from the fact that their hardwiring was a little different, or something.  Neither can spell. I also think that being invisible worked for them after awhile. Because when the System did see them, the System saw them as Boneheads.
      One of them had an English class where he filled out worksheets on how to answer a phone. I heard that a teacher phoned his parents because she was concerned that he read H.P. Lovecraft books. He didn't do well on worksheets.
     The other one was Trouble and  voted Most Likely to Overthrow the Government by his senior class. People could see Trouble, but not much else, like the fact that he spoke three languages fluently before he graduated from high school.
     I know they had some great teachers who made a difference, but I cannot say that their interests were served by the System.
    One of them now is a successful writer.
    The other speaks seven languages fluently, and can spell perfectly in all of them except English.
    Both of them are remarkable human beings.
    It breaks my heart that they were invisible for a long time to people who, for the most part, had the best possible intentions. I think Martin Luther King made an important point about the dangers of sincere ignorance.
    It is a source of profound grief that I have worked to change the System for so long and have had so little effect on The Big Picture. The System can make lots of  noise about Leaving No Child Behind et cetera et cetera but I know what I see. There's so much noise that it drowns out the voices we could hear if we just listened better.
   Hear me: Our boys need us to see them for exactly who they are, and write books that speak to and for them, and reflect back to them that their boy-ness is a good and powerful thing. We need them to grow to be good human beings who are good men.
  We need them to see hope, and a future.
  We expect no less for our girls. We want them to grow into good human beings who are good women. We have done a better job with the girls in the last thirty years, and we have farther to go. I celebrate the advances we have made for women, but we are by no means at the Promised Land.
     The System is not keyed to getting anyone to the Promised Land. And it should be.
   I fear that we have allowed boys to fall into soft-focus, and that we have let stereotypes govern the experiences the System provides for them.
   I work on/against the System one day at a time, one kid at a time.
   It's time for a Revolution.

Wednesday, October 19, 2011

Not a News Flash. And OctoberPalooza Continues: Amplified by Tara Kelly

     I'm attending an event on October 30th. It's called The Why Chromosome: Why Boys Do Love Books. I am excited about this event because a number of amazing authors will be there and they will be talking about this issue. It is also important because Mrs. Nelson's Toy and Book Shop is hosting, and they are an independent bookstore.
     Not a news flash: boys do read. Andrew Smith talks about this, and I look forward to hearing more from him and authors G.Neri, Greg Van Eekhout, Allen Zadoff, Jonathan Auxier, and John Stevens at this event.
     I know boys read because they check out books from my classroom library. One of my boys asked today if he could check out more than one, and I handed him a pile. I did an informal, non-scientific survey of my informal, non-scientific check-out system(pieces of scratch paper) and right now I have more boys reading books than girls.
     Today one of my boys gave me a special boxed copy of The Hunger Games, because he said that he thought I would like it.  I didn't well up or get weepy in front of him, because he would have been horrified and I only cry when I read Andrew Smith or Sara Zarr books, anyway.
     Not a news flash: Boys are sensitive. And kind. 
     Not a news flash: Boys are human beings.
     A long time ago I was assigned to teach a class called Developmental Reading. It was all boys and one girl.  There were no good books. There were things posing as books, but  I felt stupid when I looked at them in the storage room. I felt stupid because the book basically  said If You Are Reading This You Must Be Stupid. Or a Boy.
    I left them in the storage room.
    We read a lot of different things. I probably learned more than my students did. I learned that if you want kids to read you don't put them in a class called Developmental Reading. I learned that kids can go through ten years of school with undiagnosed problems. I learned that if I asked a direct question I got an honest answer.
   We had a lot of conversations I still remember.
   Not a news flash: Boys read good books. They may not want to read the same books as girls. They are not girls. They are boys.
   Newsflash! If we stop condescending to boys about reading we would all be better off.

   **Comment/follow to win a copy of Tara Kelly's newest: Amplified!

Tuesday, October 18, 2011

My Late-Blooming Social Media Epiphany. OctoberPalooza Continues with Tara Kelly's Amplified!

     I had a Social Media Epiphany (SME) this weekend.
     Let me first say that most of you probably had this SME several years ago. Remember how I said in my post about men that I was a late bloomer? I wasn't kidding.
     I have visited two hundred and thirty-five blogs since the Blog Hop started on Friday. Initially I felt a little bug-eyed, and I read a little, then followed, then hopped.
     And then my head exploded, so I stopped. And thought.
     And it hit me.
     These are all connections.
     And I was floored.
     Each of the people who signed up for the hop looks for connection. Not like a handshake from a politician, but a greeting, a stopping-and-seeing connection.
     Otherwise, what's the point? Numbers? I don't treat students like numbers. I don't want to be a number. I want to see all these people.
     So then I really slowed down.
     The thing is, Alex and Matthew get this. Matthew commented on every single blog.
Matthew and Alex are Social Media Heroes.
     I am going to visit and re-visit. I want you to know that when I am visiting your blog, I see you.
     You may all mock me for this later, since I am, clearly, the Last One to Get It.
      And you can mock me and be entered to win a copy of Tara Kelly's Amplified, which is a good deal.

Monday, October 17, 2011

OctoberPalooza Continues: Amplified by Tara Kelly

     I read Tara Kelly's debut novel, Harmonic Feedback, and there was so much in that book to love.
     What I loved the most was the main character, Drea. Drea calls them as she sees them, and she made me laugh and she made me cringe. Hey, she's a human being. She's entitled. What I really loved was how Drea is this real person who happens to have Asperger's syndrome. This is one aspect of her, and this is not what the book is focused on--it's just part of who she is.
     I was thrilled to read a book that had a character with Asperger's syndrome, but the Asperger's was just an organic part of the story. 
     I thought that this was masterfully done.
     The writing--beautiful. The story--moving. 
     If there had been an After School Special in the Eighties about Asperger's, it would have had AFTER SCHOOL SPECIAL stamped all over it. Much as I appreciate the effort to Get Issues Out There, mawkish and maudlin and sentimental often ruled the day.
    Asperger's, or Autism Spectrum Disorder, is quite common. I have had many students throughout the years, and the important thing to me is not their label. It's who they are.
    So I read this book and I thought, this author knows what's important. And, boy, can she write.
   And then I saw that she had a new book coming out. In October! On the 23rd! In time for OctoberPalooza! 
    It is a joy and a privilege to get copies of this book out to you. Three copies will be sent out when the contest closes at 5:00 PM EST on Sunday, October 24. This time I am ordering from another fabulous independent bookstore, A Whale of a Tale in Irvine, California.
     Same rules: A comment on any post enters you in the contest; a comment and a follow count as two entries; and a comment, a blog follow, and a follow on Twitter count as three entries.
     I am excited about this author and her new book. Let the comments fly!

How to Save a Life Recipients!

     I would like to thank all of my new friends for their follows and comments. Please stay tuned--another giveaway starts tomorrow!
     And the copies of How to Save a Life go to...
     Mary Campbell
     Carolyn A.
     April X
     Would you all please email me at
     I need your preferred shipping information so that I can contact Eighth Day Books tomorrow to order your copies! 
     Special thanks to the amazing Sara Zarr for her support of this giveaway, and for writing this book(and all of her others) in the first place.

Friday, October 14, 2011

Blog Hopping!The Ultimate Really Necessary Reading List, Part 2! And How to Save a Life!

     I think about reading lists a lot, and about what is required, and who decided, and why.
     Sometimes it's more like brooding.
     I taught English for a long time, so I witnessed many changes. I stopped teaching English about six or seven years ago and started teaching about technology. I did this for many reasons. One of them was because teaching the way I was born to became increasingly difficult.
     Teaching is in my DNA. I always knew I would teach, and I always knew I would write.
     I remember when I started teaching I could actually use my own judgment. I loathe textbooks. I used a college anthology without boxes of worksheets and crap. I used classroom sets of good books. I spent three days one year on the Rime of the Ancient Mariner. I draped myself in black and put a cardboard bird around my neck and we turned out the lights and all kinds of magic happened. It was fun and creepy and the kids got it. Which is the point. And periodically one or more would randomly shriek "Shrive me! Shrive me!" in the hallway and I would laugh and laugh. Good times.
     You can't spend three days on much of anything anymore.
      I had to start writing standards on the board so the kids would know what they were learning.
     That was stupid.
     Telling a kid she's going over Reading Standard 2.1.3 isn't going to light any kind of zeal for learning.
     I started to feel like education was something I was doing to kids instead of with kids. And that made me sad. And really, really pissed off.
     And you know all those inspirational quotes, the ones that teachers live by and believe in because we must? Because without hope the job is impossible?
     This one: "It's better to light a candle than to curse the darkness."
     We've got the kids cursing the candles and the darkness, and it's our own stupid fault.
     And this one: "Nothing great was ever achieved without enthusiasm."
     Most juniors in high school look like they dine on human flesh by June. SAT's and ACT's and Advanced Placement and state mandated tests. I warn my 9th graders to be kind to the juniors, and buy them cookies, and refrain from making sudden movements around them. Kind of like Zombie Apocalypse survival advice, right?
     Books are one answer. Good books.
     I'm working on the Revolution.

**Leave a comment or follow for a chance to win a copy of Sara Zarr's How to Save a Life.
**The Blog Hop continues. Here are three blogs to check out, if you so desire:
From the Bookshelf of T.B.  Reviews Middle Grade and YA books. I've started heading over to T.B.'s to check out what to read. And T.B.? You'd never guess her age.Yeah, she's that good. Keep getting down with your bad self, Tessa.
Clear Writing with Mr. Clarity Okay, so the title made me laugh, which got me to the blog. Crisp? Clear? Mr. Clarity is writes speeches and marketing stuff. He would probably scold me for  saying "stuff." But he's so cool I wouldn't mind.
Kid-free Living Humor  This blog is remarkably easy on the eyes and well-organized. I like humor. I am kid-free once I turn my students loose for the day. Oh, and the content about writing is really good.
Thank you to Matthew MacNish and Alex J. Cavanaugh for hosting the Blog Hop. In case you don't know what that is, the explanation is here.   

Thursday, October 13, 2011

At the Hop and Lifesaving

Even though it's not quite midnight here in California, I want to start hopping. I've been looking forward to this. The three sites I chose for the hop are:
From the Bookshelf of T.B.  Reviews Middle Grade and YA books. I've started heading over to T.B.'s to check out what to read. And T.B.? You'd never guess her age.Yeah, she's that good. Keep getting down with your bad self, Tessa.
Clear Writing with Mr. Clarity Okay, so the title made me laugh, which got me to the blog. Crisp? Clear? Mr. Clarity is writes speeches and marketing stuff. He would probably scold me for  saying "stuff." But he's so cool I wouldn't mind.
Kid-free Living Humor  This blog is remarkably easy on the eyes and well-organized. I like humor. I am kid-free once I turn my students loose for the day. Oh, and the content about writing is really good.
Thank you to Matthew MacNish and Alex J. Cavanaugh for hosting the Blog Hop. In case you don't know what that is, the explanation is here.
And if you follow or leave a comment, you are automatically entered to win a copy of Sara Zarr's How to Save a Life, one of Amazon's Best Picks for the month of October.
You won't know how much you needed to read this book until you're done with it.
You will be seized with the desire to go get pancakes with appalling amounts of syrup, and be really glad when you go do it, too.

How to Save a Life Giveaway. And a Blog Hop.

     Today I thought a lot about how good books can change lives. I discussed in a previous post that meeting Sara Zarr saved changed my life, and that changing a life can mean saving it.
     Today I heard a story about a former student from many years ago and how a book saved her life.
     The book was Speak, by Laurie Halse Anderson. I think it took courage to write this book. I think about this young woman and how much courage it took for her to speak. I am so glad she did. I am so glad this book helped her. Thanks, Laurie.
     I think a lot of writers do a lot of good that they never hear about. I would like to help them hear about good things, so that's one of the reasons I am planning a Revolution/Big Project soon.
     So for today's comments, if you are so moved, tell us about a book that changed saved your life. Better yet, let the author know.
     Any comment on any post, and/or a follow, enters you in to win a free copy of How to Save a Life. 
     You never know what's going to happen.
**Are you a blogger? Matthew MacNish and Alexander J. Cavanaugh are hosting a blog hop. Check out the linky list in the gadget to the right--you will need to scroll down. Sign up if interested!

Tuesday, October 11, 2011

How Sara Zarr Changed (saved) My Life. Revisited. And How to Save a Life Giveaway.

     This is a re-post. Because this is why I'm giving away  How to Save a Life.

 This is a true story.
     I don't think Sara knows it, though.
     So I'm working on a novel, and my crit partner said that I needed to read this book, Once Was Lost, by Sara Zarr. At the time I didn't know anything about Sara Zarr. But my crit partner is really smart and gifted, so I usually take her advice. So I bought the book.
And I read it in one sitting, in one night, and a school night to boot.
     And I thought about it, and kept thinking about it, because it isn't just what Sara writes its something about her How. How she writes. And I couldn't put words to the How, but I knew I liked it a lot.
     And when I read this book I was in Hard Times. You know. We've all been there.
     And then I signed up for a Children's Writing Conference. I admit, I wasn't really sure if I belonged there. I was nervous and full of self-doubt and glad I was Doing Something With My Writing.
     Being new to the conference scene, I didn't check out the faculty. I just showed up. And I get my schedule of crit groups. And I also get a fifteen minute session with a faculty member to go over my query.
     And my eyes just about fell out of my head. Because my query time is with Sara Zarr.
     I don't know anyone at the conference. My heart is pounding. I run outside and call my husband, and I say, "I'm going to meet Sara Zarr." And my husband, who is an architect who reads architect-y stuff, says, "Who?" And so I tell him--remember when I stayed up and read that book? And he kind of does. But he does get that I am thrilled and excited. And nervous.
     So I do my crit groups, which were great, and I stay up really late revising, and periodically the thought "I'm going to meet Sara Zarr" pops into my head and I just know I blanked out and stared at stuff for a minute or two each time.
     So as my time nears I have a folder with my query letter, and I'm pacing, and my stomach is all kerfuffled.
     And then it's time and I Meet Sara Zarr.
     I almost cried.
     And we talked about my book and her books and she was this real, amazing human being and when I left the meeting my head was spinning.
     I called my dad. "I met Sara Zarr."
     I called my mom. "I met Sara Zarr."
     At this point, if you are still reading, you might be thinking I'm a little crazy.
     I don't think I'm crazy. I think I'm grateful.
     Because Meeting Sara Zarr meant a lot to me. Here is this writer whose books are like Vermeer paintings. Quiet, intense, full of light and jewel tones and real life.   And I don't cry a lot, but Story of a Girl had me crying because of the story and the joy of reading the story.
     And I periodically look at my husband and say, "I met Sara Zarr." Full of wonder, still.
     So yeah, Meeting Sara Zarr changed my life because when I get bogged down I remember her and Vermeer and my spirit feels renewed.
     And Sara's new book, How to Save a Life, is coming out October 18. And somehow that title seems apropos to me, because sometimes changing a life means saving it.
     Thanks, Sara.

Monday, October 10, 2011

Batshit Genius. How To Save a Life Giveaway. And The Music of the Spheres.

     I am really excited about Stick's debut tomorrow, but you probably already know that.
     Here is a link that Andrew Smith posted today of an amazing review of Stick. This review states unequivocally that Andrew is a "batshit genius".
     There are so many reasons to love this phrase. Imagine if someone said this about your writing. I think I would add that phrase to my business cards, to my email signature, to the credits of any movies adapted from my work.
     But don't worry.
     The world is safe.
     There is only one batshit genius. And his book comes out tomorrow.
     Also, on a related note but different plane of reality, Sara Zarr's new book is called How to Save a Life. Sara Zarr is a profoundly talented human being. She is also a really nice person. She would probably find it embarrassing that I said this, but since she is somewhere Away From the Grid right now I have no qualms about expressing my admiration.
     I don't have a lot of qualms about expressing my admiration. When something or someone  is a source of joy I need to speak.
     It's like when you are listening to whatever music you listen to, and you hear That One Perfect Note. TOPN is the one that glides through your sternum right to your quivering inner core and wraps it for a moment and you hear the music of the spheres.
     The music of the spheres is, like all things human and divine, light and dark.
     It's like this scene from the movie Philadelphia, when Andrew, played by Tom Hanks, talks about his love of opera. Please watch this if you have a moment.
     If you don't have a moment, here is a really imperfect transciption. It's from the opera La Mamma Morta. Maria Callas sings:
        The place that cradled me is burning.
        I am alone.
        And Something answers her.
        Live still.
        I am life.
        I am oblivion.
        I am the god who comes down to earth from the heavens and makes of the earth a heaven.
        I am love.
        With all of the daily assaults and insults and injuries, when the place that cradles us is burning,we must find the music of the spheres and shout it out, we must defy it and go through the darkness and sometimes embrace it.
        What a very good thing it is to have books that show us we don't have to do this alone. 

Sunday, October 9, 2011

OctoberPalooza Continues: How To Save a Life

     Thank you to all who have joined me in OctoberPalooza.
     This Celebration of Great Books Extravaganze Experience now continues.
     Mission Statement: To give away copies of amazing books
                                   To support independent bookstores
                                   To gain site traffic
        Rules: Follow the blog for one entry
        Get two entries for each comment you leave (This way if you are already following you can still add to your odds.) Comments may be left on any post, past or present.
     This week, in addition to celebrating Stick's release day October 11, I am turning to an appreciation of Sara Zarr. How to Save a Life officially comes out October 23.
     Every book Sara Zarr  writes gets awards and stuff.
     How to Save a Life is an Amazon pick for Best Book of the Month for October.
    Each of her books is an American Library Association Recommended Books for Young Adults.
     Story of a Girl was a National Book Award Finalist.
    "Bitch" magazine has Sara's book Sweethearts on one of its "Best" lists. This is not only a remarkable example of irony, but also shows how her work reaches across lines and genres and labels.
     You all know how I feel about labels.
    Three copies of How to Save a Life will be sent to lucky winners from Sara's independent bookstore of choice, Eighth Day Books.
    Entries will close at 5:00 PM EST next Sunday, October 16, because the book is unofficially out and available and I want you to have your hands on this book.
    And now feel free to follow or comment.

People Who Got Free Copies of STICK

I would like to express my heartfelt gratitude to all who participated in the first giveaway of OctoberPalooza.
The recipients were chosen by a highly scientific random process.
Callie Kingston
Charles the Reader
Laurie Lamb

Would you be so kind as to contact me in the next twenty-four hours? I need shipping info to give to Mrs. Nelson's Toy and Bookstore.
Email me:

OctoberPalooza continues tomorrow.
Stay tuned.