Resources for Young Writers

posted by Beret

Seeing as I can’t grow a mustache this month (c.f. Movember), I’d like to focus on writing instead. November’s actually the easiest month of the year to do so.

Writing is often a solitary activity, and left to my own devices, I am easily mesmerized by videos of adorable animals frolicking, or meatheads having staple gun fights. Any time outside of teaching, parenting, and editing would be easily devoured by YouTube and Iron Chef.

Consequently, I am a huge fan of writing groups, writing classes, National Novel Writing Month (a.k.a. NaNoWriMo), National Blog Posting Month, and all of those organized writing extravaganzas. I thrive with structure and community, deadlines and systems of accountability. I like having someone looking over my shoulder–not annoying people, mind you, but the delightful, word-loving types.

The year I did NaNoWriMo was crazy and fabulous, with pep talks from Jonathan Franzen rolling into my inbox, videos to entertain and encourage me, forums, essays, and write-ins at local coffee shops. It was all designed help build and maintain my momentum, and I loved it. I wrote more that month than ever before or since. Some of it’s a load of crap, but nestled in there are nuggets I never would have created watching Maru.

There’s a lot going on for adult writers. But let’s say you have a non-adult or two around who likes to write. What’s out there for them?   Continue reading “Resources for Young Writers”

Gina’s Favorite Halloween Reads

posted by Gina

It just doesn’t seem right to love books and to love Halloween and not post about Halloween books on Halloween. I realize nothing can top Beret’s Ghost Cake with Flaming Eyes, but as I spent much of today thinking lovingly of the picture books I proudly displayed in my classroom library each October, I thought, why not share? All contain little to no nightmare-inducing possibilities and are just as delightful for adults as for kiddos.   Continue reading “Gina’s Favorite Halloween Reads”

If You Liked A Wrinkle in Time …

Then I have something new for you.

posted by Gina

Remember A Wrinkle in Time?  I mean, what a great book.

Vintage cover, from my childhood.

Many elementary teachers still trot this out for book club or circle reading (I sure did), so your young person might be familiar already. How I loved (and still love) misfit Meg, with her temper and her glasses and her grim determination.

And, of course, the story – the mysterious strangers, the long-lost father, the journey to other worlds, the terror of IT, and the power of love.  What more could we want?  Continue reading “If You Liked A Wrinkle in Time …”

All hail Wendy Mass

©2013 Beret Olsen
©2013 Beret Olsen

posted by Beret

Ages: 8 and up

A couple of years ago, I received an unusual text.

“GO GET THE CANDYMAKERS AND READ IT ALOUD TO YOUR KIDS,” it advised.

It seemed rather urgent, so though the book wasn’t yet out in paperback–and weighed in at a hefty 453 pages–I “Amazon-ed” that thing and got started immediately.

Now comes the hard part:  explaining why you should get the book, too.

Unlike my friend Gina, I’m not one of those people who regularly seeks out new youth literature. I’ve been burned too many times by inane codswallop like the Rainbow Magic Fairy books. If I could remember who introduced them to my kids, I might even unfriend them, since over the course of the following ten months, I was forced to read at least 42 of those.        Continue reading “All hail Wendy Mass”

Life After the Hunger Games: Part One

posted by Gina

Oh, those books that hook all our kids – readers and non-readers alike.  Oh, that wonderful day when your former-book-loather hides beneath the covers to finish a gripping story.  And oh, the joy of a massively popular reader-enticer that’s actually a pretty good book. I am proud to declare myself the resident expert on all things Children and Young Adult Lit, and even prouder to essentially minor in Post-Apocalyptic, Dystopian Teenage Romance.  (There’s quite a market for it, these days.)  As your resident expert, I am here to share my knowledge with you, for that day when your tween, teen, or precocious young reader comes to you – after devouring the Hunger Games trilogy and being disappointed in the film – clamoring for something similar. Let’s begin with one of my favorites:  The Scorpio Races

It’s hard to explain the premise without sounding ridiculous, so when I tell you that it’s about mythical carnivorous water horses being trained for an annual life-changing (sometimes life-ending) race, don’t be put off.  The story is action packed, gritty, dangerous, and an excellent read.

What is to love:

      • Any young person that loves horses will captivated by the scenes of water horse taming, the bond between Sean (our hero) and his dangerous, potentially murderous, charge, and Puck, our plucky, horse-riding heroine.
      • Speaking of, dividing the storyline between the points of view of both a male and female protagonist is nothing but nifty, and offers levels to relate for readers across the board.
      • Edge-of-your-seat excitement!  I literally could not put this book down.  Meals were missed.  Families were ignored.  I was sorry when it was all over.

Now, technically, this isn’t a Post-Apocalyptic Dystopian novel (there are teenagers, and there’s a little romance), but it’s similar enough in feel to hook your Hunger Games lovin’ reader.

Stay tuned for more – because I’ve got ‘em.  This is only Part One, after all.

A last note, when considering The Hunger Games and the age of your child:

Several parents have asked me my thoughts on allowing their kid to read this book.  What I think: The Hunger Games has some scary elements, yes.  But in my opinion, many kids who are reading at this level can handle what’s in this series.  It’s not any more violent or scary than what’s on TV and in a typical Grimm’s Fairy Tale.
What there is: death, kids killing each other, and sadness.  What there isn’t: much in the way of sex, gruesome descriptions of the death and kids killing each other.

And so my response is always this:

Read the book.  You know your kid best and you are in the best place to make this call.  It’s a quick read and a great story, so you might as well.  Watching the movie is not going to help you make this call: the on-screen images are – for whatever reason – more distressing than the print version.  (Also, it’s not as good.)  Think on: what else are they reading and what issues have they encountered there? How have they handled those?  What’s their emotional maturity level?  What other concerns do you have – for example, do you have a child prone to nightmares?  If so, what are the triggers?

I’ve met 3rd Graders who have loved the series, 3rd Graders who have not understood, and 3rd Graders who have been bored.  As a general guideline, I’d put the series at 6th and up – also knowing that a good half of my 5th Graders would have loved it.

Book Recommendation: A Whole Nother Story

posted by Beret

Title:  A Whole Nother Story

Author:  probably not anyone named Dr. Cuthbert Soup

Reading level:  4th grade and up

Genre:  Unsure

Quite frankly, it is hard to know just how to categorize A Whole Nother Story. The Library of Congress has filed it under “inventions and spies,” as well as a host of perplexingly random and uninteresting categories such as “moving (household),” and “automobile travel.”

In my opinion, such an unorthodox story begs a far less rational sort of description. Let’s begin instead with an abridged list of ingredients.

Inside A Whole Nother Story you will find:

  • “three attractive, polite, and relatively odor-free children”
  • a time machine which may or may not work
  • an evil villain named Mr. 5
  • an international super spy and his monkey-sucking machine
  • a hairless dog with psychic abilities

                       AND

  • a sock puppet named Steve.

If the above list intrigues you and/or some of the small people in your life, I can’t imagine why you are still reading this inane blurb instead of running out to get your grubby hands on your own copy.

Now, for those of you who may need a bit more cajoling:    Continue reading “Book Recommendation: A Whole Nother Story”

Book Recommendation: Frindle


posted by Gina

Author: Andrew Clements

Age Range: 5th and 6th Grade
This book is also an excellent choice for your high-level-reading 2nd/3rd Grader (or as a read-aloud for the same) and – dare I say it – can be appreciated and enjoyed well into middle school.  I read this book every time I need to feel really good about the world.

Genre: Realistic Fiction, School Story

Let’s Talk About This, Shall We?

I freaking love words.  During that long-ago year I blundered my way through teaching Kindergarten (we will not speak of this again), my favorite activity was teaching the kiddos a huge, impressive word, then hearing about their parents’ reactions when they used it casually in conversation.  (Nothing more hilarious than a 5 year old saying, “You know, Ms. Gina, I think a jacket would be superfluous today.”)

I keep lists of fun words, favorite words, other people’s favorite words (did you know that all Irish bartenders in New York will claim a swear word as their favorite? And that more people will choose ‘plethora’ than any other word?  It’s true).

This book is about words, a teacher who loves the dictionary, and a kid who wants to know why.  “Why do we call a pen a pen?” he asks, and, upon hearing the intriguing answer that, Latin roots aside, we just collectively agree that “pen” means what it does, decides to test this theory.   Continue reading “Book Recommendation: Frindle”