Wednesday, December 21, 2011

Happy Solstice!

Sunrise was at 7:55, sunset will be 4:20.

Solstice will fall today, Wednesday, December 21, 2011 at 9:30 PM.

I just have to mark this longest night, shortest day of the year with a post. The sun is up, and it is shining at its lowest point in the sky. Today, the sun's rays only illuminate a very few of the windows in the buildings on the east side of Beacon Hill-they are already fading from a molten gold to beige....and gone!

There are weeks when we get no sunlight at our house and nothing really dries out, only evaporates and then turns green, mossy and slick. Reading in the window light means sitting with one's head at an angle, book held close, everything tilted toward the little bit of ambient and reflected light that makes it through. There will be an extra second of daylight tomorrow and I will thoroughly enjoy it!

Still reading The Storyteller, and I have Miss Peregrine's Home for Peculiar Children and Lockdown on the bedside table, Sisters is on the buffet for quick meal reading, and I just finished reading Josh Bazell's sequel to Beat the Reaper, Wild Thing. I LOVE these books.

Josh's books are funny and profane and gruesome but there's something endearing about our "hero", whoever he is this time. They are smart and filled with all kinds of sidebar facts, they are mysteries about a man in witness protection trying to keep himself safe and out of his old life. He is a medical doctor but can only work in iffy jobs as a result of his past. The medical part is what makes the books more than a little gruesome, but the writing is so funny and our hero so wants to do good that everything else just adds more substance to the story. Beat the Reaper is out in paper, now, and if you like that kind of hardboiled crime story with a little whimsy thrown in, you really should give them a try.

Tuesday, December 20, 2011

Books you'll miss your bus stop for

Sunrise was at 7:54, sunset will be at 4:20. One more day 'til Solstice, tomorrow will be the long dark and then we start the upswing into the light, a few seconds a day until summer swings us back into the dark. I woke at 7:30 this morning, still dark, clouds glowing from city lights still on, the football field's arches streaking red and green, red and green, red and green.

I have read a few books recently that I have either missed my bus stop reading or started in bed and had to finish before sleeping. In the last post I wrote about The Last Princess, by Galaxy Craze (don't you just love her name?), a book I started when I went to bed and had to finish before I could go to sleep.

I missed my bus stop reading Embrace, by Jessica Shirvington, last week. I remember looking up while still in Seattle and the next thing I knew I was at a stop I didn't even recognize. I had to get off and walk back along the route to reach my destination. So funny to have that happen; you think you are jaded because you read so much, but, no. If someone writes a good story, it will take you out of your life enough to make you miss your stop. Embrace is a really good story about exiled angels and humans who are half-angel.

Violet is in heavy physical training for a number of sports, marathons, rock climbing, kickboxing, and may have more than simple feelings for her trainer, Lincoln. When Phoenix walks into Violet's life, all the secrets that Lincoln's been holding about himself and her literally lead her into hell. Violet's been training for something more than the local 5K, she is one of the Grigori, an angel/human mix, someone who is on earth to keep the exiled angels from taking over the world.

There are a lot of angel books out there but this one is, I think, the best I've read, yet! It's the first of a series and the next one (Enticed) will be out in September (Embrace won't be out until March, 2012) and the third 6 months after that! YAY for series written in other countries and then released in the U. S., and YAY for publishers who recognize that people who read series may outgrow or forget and then not care about the next ones if they have to wait a year for that book. It's really good and I can't wait for others to read it! (Sourcebooks, price TBA. Available March 2012.)

Scorpio Races, by Maggie Stiefvater, one long read, one long wish that it would never end. I read nothing else while I read Scorpio Races. I didn't want to sully the pictures in my head or to dilute the story with something else. That never happens - I almost always have 3 or 4 books going at the same time (until one book tugs my attention away from the others) - and I would have turned it over and started it again if it weren't for the shelves of unread things pulling at me. Best book of the year.

And now I'm reading The Storyteller, by Antonia Michaelis, and all I want to do is read. It's beautifully written and I'm only a few chapters in so I don't know what's going to happen, but the author's ability to convey emotion and to put together a storyline is entangling. I started the book last night and read until I couldn't keep my eyes open any longer. I woke up and still had the book in my hands, upright on my stomach, legs bent in a V behind it.

So far, we have Anna, a good girl, finding herself fascinated with bad boy Abel and his little sister, Micha, a sweet child who loves Abel. Abel tells amazing stories to Micha, and sells drugs on the school campus. Anna may actually be falling in love even though she has only just met him. She just followed him to school where he picks up Micha and then to the university cafeteria where she hides herself and listens into his conversations with his sister. I can understand her compulsion to follow him, to try and engage (she actually buys some drugs so she has a reason to talk to him). He is two different people in one body, the outside is tough, Nazi-like, and the inside is white noise and Leonard Cohen poetry and a big brother raising and caring for a little girl.

I tried to convince D. that I could take the bus today instead of driving (so I could keep reading) but it would get me home after 10 tonight and sometimes my neighborhood isn't the safest for walking in. I will be thinking about this book all day. (Amulet. $18.95. Available January, 2012.)

Wednesday, December 7, 2011

Last Princess, Galaxy Craze

Sunrise was at 7:43, sunset will be at 4:18. The air is still and water laden. It's foggy and wet this morning and it probably won't get much above the low 40s-I'm not complaining about that! It's not snowing. There is a flicker on the telephone pole across the way, pecking away at a hole up towards the top. Flickers are one of my favorite birds, their cool tails with the patch of white you can only see when they fly, their strong beaks, that great dun color, flecked with black.

I talked to the Lake Forest Park Preschool yesterday, stayed late and talked about some of my favorite picture books. It's always weird to have such a different schedule: the sounds in the store are different, the staff is different, the way we interact with customers is different. Folks are a little more laid-back, coming in from the dark, looking for something to read.

I must remember to make a list of what was in the stack of books.

So, it was late when I got home and I had a glass of wine and watched John Stewart, finished sending out the BookNotes newsletter, before heading up to bed with a new book.

I don't know how you all choose what you read when but when the evening gets late and turns to night, I tend to look for what might be considered lighter fare for reading to sleep. I usually pick up something funny in the middle grade/chapter book genre or something science fiction-y. I don't have to think too much about those kinds of books, I won't miss too much if I fall asleep over a couple of pages- do you fall asleep still holding the book upright in front of your face? Sometimes I dream I'm still reading and when I wake up I realize I the book doesn't make sense and I have to start over.

Yesterday, in a black box on my desk, was a new book settled in a nest of purple confetti: The Last Princess, by Galaxy Craze. I grabbed it up and stuffed it into my bag on my way out the back door to the car. When it was time to go to bed, I had a pickup sticks conglomeration of books on the kitchen table to choose from and I chose The Last Princess- if it was worth reading, I'd know soon, and not lose much sleep over it if it wasn't. Well, I was up until I finished it (thankfully I read fast and I didn't have to be up early) and it was worth every single second!

It's 2090, the earth is in an environmental shambles, and the Royal Family in England is challenged by and then overturned by a revolutionary group. In a violent coup, two of the three royal siblings are arrested and imprisoned. The third child, Eliza, escapes and swears she will avenge her family and re-instate the Windsors to their rightful place.

In a rough and tumble world, Eliza joins the revolutionaries to find out what she can about her family, learning along the way just how tough she is and how strong she is going to have to be if she is ever going to find the remnants of her family.

The Last Princess was REALLY GOOD and well worth every second I gave up in sleep. There were pretty good descriptions of battles, the disgusting streets filled with rats Eliza has to hide in and hunker down in seemed realistic, and I think the environmental disasters that changed the world we know into one we don't holds as a basic story line. I really enjoyed the few "historical" links to our days, Eliza runs her hands over the dresses her great-aunts Princesses Kate and Diana wore, touching the robe Elizabeth wore when she became Queen.

There's a nice romance, one filled with secrets but sweet for all of that, a wonderful, brave dog and a war horse named Caligula that Eliza wins over. Good, good, good! 12 and up. It will be available in May of 2012. $17.99. Poppy (an imprint of Little Brown). I just saw on the Little Brown website that Galaxy is working on a sequel to Last Princess! Yay!

Sunday, December 4, 2011

It's Good to be Home

Nothing like coming home after dark, unpacking the car of groceries, book bag, books, walking laden up to the porch, feeling the thump, thump, thump of a bass in my chest, throwing the door open and being awash in Pete T's voice. Mmmmm. Thank you, D. That was nice.

Presents for Me!

Sunrise was at 7:40, sunset will be at 4:19. Beautiful morning, blue skies, cold (39 degrees), windows across Beacon Hill exploding in color orange and yellow.

I don't have to be at work until 10:30 today because we have an author coming at 5:30, so I can watch the hummingbirds in the fountain and hope the swelling in my right eyelid goes down enough to be able to see.

I don't know what happened, one minute it itched, the next it started to swell. Maybe I touched my eye after touching spices on something we sampled at Pike Place? There's a little white spot on the swollen part, maybe a bite? I can't see my tear duct and it looks really weird. My eyelashes haven't turned under yet. I wish I'd taken a Benadryl last night but I forgot and now I'm worried that, if I take it now, it will put me back asleep.

We went to Urban Craft Uprising and Pike Place Market to shop and be around people yesterday- nice to see so very many people shopping at booths and filling bags with homemade local goods. Too crowded for me but it was exciting to be in the scrum! D wanted to shop at the market for stir-fry veggies and it was just a blast to be in the middle of all those locals and tourists. The colors of the vegetables fairly glowed in the lights as the sun went down.

Just a veritable bounty of bookish goodness at my house: John Green's manuscript of The Faith in Our Stars, the new Krisin Cashore sequel to Graceling and Fire, Bitterblue, and Bloodrose, the last in the Nightshade series by Andrea Cremer.

I am so looking forward to getting the couch cleared so I can just settle in for hours and read. I think there are times when you just need to skip the sweeping and the folding, let the cat deal with her own issues, put something in the slow cooker, and then provision yourself with a full pot of coffee, cheese and crackers and salsa, warm and thick socks, the coziest sweats and blankets, plump up the pillows and move your couch so it's under the window so you can read in natural light for as long as you want. During the daylight hours! Doesn't that sound positively decadent? Doing something completely for yourself? It would be a spa day without ever leaving the house.

Tuesday, November 15, 2011

The Girls of No Return

Sunrise was at 7:14, sunset will be at 4:33, just after my afternoon break. Dark yesterday at 5.

Pretty day out there. Blue skies, orange trees, sun's up, rooftops are all frosty, and D had to wear his gloves for his bus ride to work. It's cold and I covered the daphne last night. I walked to the car after working out and it felt like my whole body was in the middle of a peppermint patty, the air tingled around me!

I'm making minestrone soup this morning with chard and cannellini beans and a sprig of rosemary from the back yard. The tomato soup was a hit although D would have liked shrimp or prawns in his. I just can't do that. The colors would be awful together and that bothers me! I don't mind prawns and I don't mind tomato soup, but I can't do them all mixed up in one pot. Sorry, D.

Just finished a really great book called The Girls of No Return, by Erin Saldin. It's about a group of girls sent to a wilderness school, a school where girls who have nowhere else to go after violence or troubles at home and school. Lida is unable to talk about why she is there, her Thing is a secret, maybe even a secret to her, but this year is supposed to test her physically and emotionally, to allow her to come to grips with why she is having the trouble she is. At The Alice Marshall School in the middle of a wilderness area, she meets Boone (rumors abound about her and her crimes), Jules (who is oddly happy to be there), and Gia, a glamor girl with more secrets than anyone and the ability to attract the neediest girls to her.

Boone, Lida and Gia form a triangle with Lida at the apex. Boone and Gia really dislike each other and Lida is torn having to choose between what could be a rocky friendship with Boone and her attraction to Gia and her glamorous life.
When things come to a violent confrontation between the three of them, Lida finally has to decide what her role in her own life is going to be.

I love the location of the book, deep in the middle of a wilderness area, so the girls had nowhere to go and had only a small community of other women to be with. They are given the skills to live in the woods, mapping skills, hiking, learning the local flora and fauna, and even the girls who are fully made up every day learn how to tell north from south. I really appreciate having a book about girls who learn outdoor survival skills, about young women who are strong and combative. It's good to know that there's a book out there about girls who know they can survive on their own, make their own decisions, and live with the decisions they make. Ages 14 and up. (Scholastic Books. Available February 2012. $17.99.)

Sunday, November 13, 2011

A nice way to spend the day...

Sunrise was at 7:11, sunset will be at 4:35.

Not raining but the air is really wet. It's been gray all day except right at sunset when a blaze of wet yellow light slipped under the bank of clouds over Beacon Hill and lit up the air. Glorious for just a moment.

I had today off and spent it filling the compost bin with wild clematis, dead blackberries and fallen leaves. I'm covered in mud, cuts and pokes, and I broke a vessel in the fat of my thumb-it itches like crazy and my fingertip tingle with pain. Cleaned out the drains, swept the sidewalks and raked up all the leaves in the gutters.

And then I made tomato soup! We'll have tomato soup and tuna sandwiches for dinner tonight, had homemade mac and cheese and broccoli during the Duck game (an appropriately yellow and green dinner. Go, Ducks!) last night...I am thoroughly enjoying making soup - minestrone up next on Tuesday!

Still reading Believing in the Lie, by Elizabeth George, it's really good, and made a bracelet to match the necklace I put together for my sister's birthday. It's been an artful weekend!

(This photo's a little blurry but the jewelry is filled with pearls, little pale green, amber, purple glass beads, some amethyst and black beads. It looks very much like a beach scene to me, all sand and ocean and grass colors. We grew up on the Oregon coast and it was so much fun to build something using all these great colors from my favorite place on earth! The colors will look really nice on her, too.)

Friday, November 11, 2011

Mmm...Cake, Booksellers, Marie Lu and Legend

Sometimes the hot flashes are worth it: Flourless chocolate cake with whipped creme and toffee bits and a lovely red wine to go with it.

After a long day at work and then booktalking the season's best books, in our humble opinion, Jane and I got everything cleaned up and put away and then I hurried down to Wild Ginger - got there just in time to have a slice of cake and a glass of wine and a bit of talk with some of the best booksellers around. Nothing better than getting together with other people who like to talk about books while drinking a little wine unless it's doing all of that while meeting the person who's written a book you really, really like!

Marie Lu is a new author and her book, Legend, is a great read.

June and Day are the best at what they do. Day is a master criminal and June is the best mind the military has. They live on opposite sides of the Republic’s social spheres, June is one of the elites and Day lives in the slums trying to keep his family and friends alive. They’d never have any reason to cross paths except that June’s brother is killed and Day is wanted for the crime. As June and Day’s paths cross and start to run in tandem, they begin to realize what secrets really brought them together and what the government will do to keep those secrets secret.

Man, this was a good book: absolutely riveting, fast-paced, a little romantic, and a well-developed world.

If you’d like to read more about this book, here is the post from when I first discovered Legend:

Ages 12 and up. (Penguin. Available November 10, 2011. Hardcover. $17.99.)

Fall! Time for Soup and Books

Sunrise was at 7:08, sunset will be at 4:38.

My favorite kind of day! Warm, windy and gray - I love windy days especially when they are warm ones. Nothing like watching the trees bounce and the leaves roll.

I just went out and stood on the sidewalk to look at the maple, the neighbors were out walking their dog, and the leaves were coming off in a hurry! Circling in the wind, the leaves floating off into the street, the helicopter seeds twirling to the ground, a very autumnal scene.

It might very well be the end of the leaves and all the color, once they're gone we'll be into the grays and greens and browns of true November. The beautiful orange leaved trees across the way are completely bare now, but there is a brilliant red one that has JUST turned so we'll be enjoying that for the next little while.

Went out with the sisters-in-law for lunch with Dennis, a congratulatory lunch, as he passed the Google test with flying colors! Go, Dennis! It was getting dark by the time we headed home and the rain was just starting.

Gidget and I (G is the cat) were sitting in the warm dining room, watching the HGTV channel when she did that scary cat thing where she sits straight up and stares off at something outside, ears so far forward they almost separate from her head. So I sit still, listening hard for whatever it is she hears: a tick tick tick like leaking water from a ceiling. I got up and looked around but didn't see anything. Tick tick tick... I opened the front door to see what was happening and hail was coming down in sheets! It was bouncing and rolling off the rooftop so hard, pinging and popping into all the metal bits and chimes on the porch turning everything on the porch and in the yard into an instrument. Amazing, beebee sized hail everywhere.

It's a good day for soup and sandwiches and the new Detective Lynley novel from Elizabeth George, Believing the Lie, available in January from Dutton.

Look! A little bit of color in the corners of the yard and fence! Grasses in red and green, succulents in lime green starting to cascade over the wall, competition for best greens with the moss.

Wednesday, November 9, 2011

Heading Down Memory Lane

Sunrise was at 7:05, sunset will be at 4:40. It's dark so early. The outdoor lights come on at about 4. I was on author visits yesterday and when I got back to the store the light was at that very low, pre-sunset yellow that comes only at this time of year. It was beautiful and smelled like walked on and crushed leaves - dusty and spicy. Today? COLD, WET, GRAY!

It frosted up a couple of days ago and the car windows were swirled in crystals shaped like ferns. just a fingertip's touch to the center of the glass and it melted away. I had to cover the daphne, severely damaged after a last, late frost in February, to keep it safe. It may reach into the 60s tomorrow - we've been see-sawing between clear & sunny and cloudy & rainy every other day this last couple of weeks. The trees sure are beautiful, though. I've noticed that the trees up at the store, the ones that ring the parking lot, are all in various stages of color and change. There's one tree next to a light pole, one that is on all night, that is still pretty green. The leaves on the off-side of that particular tree are turning but the light must give off enough heat to slow the change in those underneath the lamp.

It's so cool to watch the maple out the kitchen window shut down for the winter. Its leaves are outlined in yellow, mostly still green toward the stem, and they will become all yellow and then a leathery brown as the sap makes its way back toward the trunk. The leaves that are less protected by the house are much more yellow and brown , already dropping and collecting around the storm drains.

I've been spending my Tuesday and Wednesday mornings making soup and rice. There's something about this weather that says "Nest!" So, I get up early and while D gets ready for work, I see what's in the fridge and pantry. Today, we have a vegetable-bean soup in the slow cooker and a pot of rice for combining with other things later.

The soup is really pretty, lots of different beans and colors, carrots, celery, onion, bay leaf, and vegetable broth, and we'll have it with a drying out loaf of rosemary bread. Mmmm. Of course, there will be the addition of a little butter for the bread, maybe some parmesan sprinkled over the soup.

I've been purging closets and drawers, bookshelves, baskets, whole rooms of things getting a second look, the trunk of the Jeep full as we head to Goodwill with donations. I have come across forgotten photos from high school (oh, my old boyfriends...) and letters from my grandmothers, chatty little things about the ducks along the stream and the weather and horses. That must be where the fascination about the weather came from!

These letters always put me right next to those women, standing in Grandma Pearl's kitchen in Brookings, looking out to the backyard stream where she fed the ducks and got some peace from my grandfather. Making tuna fish sandwiches and talking about boys and the future. And in Grandma Vi's kitchen, sitting on the flour bins (the most uncomfortable seats EVER, even with the little round pillows as toppers) looking out at the barn, the horses cropping the pasture ever shorter, her tomatoes and grapes ripening up for the summer (this side of the family had a creek, not a stream).

Those flour bin seats were such clever storage. They were wooden, circular bins, maybe a foot across and about 3 feet high. If you pulled the pillow off the bin, you could see that there was a lid with a ring for pulling attached to it and if you could pull off the lid, there would be sugar in one, flour in the other, whatever was bought in bulk and needed to be in the kitchen would be stored in these bins. I can still, after all these years, feel in the palms of my hands the way the lids resisted coming off (the ring would tear up your fingers, so you had to use your palms) eventually sliding up and popping off leaving you stumbling and a whoosh of flour following along.

(In the photo, behind Keeli and Bo, you can see a slice of the bins.)

They were amazingly heavy when full and the kids (there were 6 of us cousins) had to put our shoulders to them to move them. The lids were really tight and we could NOT get them off. Good thing because the chance of spillage was pretty high. We'd get taken by surprise whenever there was a holiday, coming into the kitchen, expecting the bins to be heavy and they'd fly under the the table attached to the wall under the long windows and one of the adults in the other room would yell, "Hey! What're you kids doing in there? Knock it off!"

The round pillows attached to the tops were supposed to make them more comfortable- they were blue, plastic, foam-filled pillows that fit right into the little rim around the bin lids. Sitting on them when you're a kid, the rim eventually eats into the backs of your thighs, your legs dangling over, the weight of your feet causing the rim to bite deeper and deeper until you can't stand it anymore and you have to jump off and run out, the little foam pillow re-filling with air and a sigh.

The adults never sat on the bins, the kitchen would fill with adults tucked into the corners and doorways, shifting from foot to foot rather than take a chance on the bins. G'ma and G'pa had those diner chairs with the plastic seat and backs, with the s-shaped chrome frames, placed at both ends of the table where they sat. I don't think I ever saw them sit on the bins, either, and if a kid sat in Grandpa's chair, that child was scatted off as soon as he came into the room. If you were willing to wait until he got settled, sometimes he'd let you sit on his lap and get warm, wrapping your hands around his coffee cup.

This was going to be a post about the books I've unearthed in all of this cleaning but the memories of the small things that make up your life are so very compelling to turn over and review. Those seats and the grandmothers' kitchens are obviously close to the surface of my mind right now. Maybe it's because I'm the oldest child in this family, and, except for my Aunt Peggy, I am now the oldest in this particular family chain- that's a weird thing to know, that you are now, almost (and I'm willing to wait a really long time for the title), the family elder.

I have no kids, no expectations for having them, so no one to directly pass these memories to. My family all live in another state and I don't reach out to the little kids like I probably should, bringing them the few memories I have that their parents might also share. So, maybe, with the dying of the season, wanting to fill the larder and feed the birds, this investigation of memory is another way of nesting, surrounding myself with family and home and remembrances of snorting laughter and coughing sobs, sharing a bath with 5 other tiny people who, now grown, will take you in at any time, remembering that where I came from forms who I am.

Thursday, November 3, 2011

Emily Jenkins/E. Lockhart

Sunrise was at 7:56, sunset was at 5:49.

The clouds look like illustrations out of a children's Bible. They are fluffy, rounded, lit from behind and glowing along the edges. The sun is setting behind Beacon Hill and still shining through the dining room windows. There will come a time, not too long, now, when the sun won't come through to the inside of the house, except for the bedroom; it will be too far south and too low to to come above the trees and the house behind us. Only when it starts to slip behind Beacon Hill will there be enough open space to shine through. It reminds me of a lariat, sliding over the hips of the earth and pooling at the feet, Argentina and Chile kicking it loose to catch on the toes of Antarctica.

This was my breakfast the other day, just before the Emily Jenkins/E. Lockhart events. Aren't those eggs just absolutely exquisite? The yolks of the blue eggs were the exact color of a Crayola orange-yellow crayon and they clung to the edge of the bowl when I whisked them. I kept thinking of all the insects and leftover veggies my fellow employee Chris' hens were fed that would give those eggs that color. They must be very happy girls!

We took Emily to Madrona in Edmonds to speak to 2nd-4th grades about her Toys Go Out books, illustrated by Paul Zelinsky, and then took to her alma mater, Lakeside, to talk about how she got to where she is now and why she writes what she does.

Those little kids were so attentive and they had really great questions for Emily. The school has an interpreter and the big boys, the fifth graders, are AV gods. They had Emily miked, the computers loaded, the projector aimed....and when Emily's handless microphone went kablooey, they had it turned off, the handheld set up and handed to her in seconds. They were the heroes of the day.

The teenagers at Lakeside weren't as well prepared as the younger ones.

It was an interesting discussion, though, so cool to hear E. talk about where her ideas come from and about her life as an author in New York. I loved hearing how she used her experiences as a social pariah at her first high school and her move up the social ladder at her second (Lakeside) to inspire her Ruby Oliver novels. She talked about her friends getting together for a beer every so often, many of them people whose books we love, like David Levithan and Scott Westerfeld.

Here she is in a room off the library at Lakeside, filling the group in about her days as an author. It had been a very long day by this time and only getting longer. Up at 3:45 am, or so, to catch a plane to Seattle for her first event at 10:45, lunch at 12:00, event from 1-3, then off to sign books at various bookstores before an evening event with Secret Garden's teen book club run by our friend, Liz Gallagher. Our Random House rep, Deanna, joined her for lunch at Lakeside (Random publishes the Ruby Oliver books). It was a very busy day, not nearly as glamorous as her real life, and she really should have stock in Starbucks.

Saturday, October 22, 2011

Authors in Schools, Adults Still Learn

Sunrise today was at 7:38, sunset will be 6:09 (I accidentally typed sunwet. Appropriate for today.).

Wet. the leaves are coming down off the crab apple trees, the maple is still pretty well-leaved but we are expecting gusty winds later today which means a lot more space showing through those boughs. The tree to the right is our maple. We are worried about its health. It keeps us cool and shady in the summer and we have amazing views and sun through its branches in the winter, but it's got more empty branches than last winter and the fruit is really heavy, more twirlies than leaves. The arborist said to watch it. I've taken pictures, we'll compare next spring. The raccoons love it! The lilacs are turning red, too.

These are the trees across the street from our house. They are like flames, they almost glow as the sun goes down. The sidewalks stay yellow for weeks after the leaves fall, like a mosaic, and the air underneath the trees is yellower than anywhere else.

Thursday (which is my Friday) was one of those odd days that can only happen when the place you work deals with both adults and children. I was out with Mark Pett all day and ended my day sitting a few feet away from Duff McKagan (Guns 'n' Roses). Just a little weird.

I spent all day with children's book author and cartoonist, Mark Pett, going to two different schools and watching him do his act, hearing the story The Girl Who Never Makes Mistakes, and watching him teach children about sketching and then turning the sketches into drawings. He teaches the students to sketch, that sketches are just practice for the final drawing. You make some mistakes as you go, then choose the "good" parts to make the drawing itself. It was fun, he was pretty entertaining, but his juggling leaves a little to be desired.

The book is about a little girl who has never made a mistake. She has fans, she is polite, she always finishes her homework. On this particular day, she almost makes a mistake, almost drops the eggs she was using to make muffins. This causes her to be really nervous about everything- she can't raise her hand in class and won't go ice skating.

That night, she is to juggle in the talent show. She grabs the salt shaker, her hamster, and a water balloon and heads off to the show. Unfortunately, she didn't get the salt...She makes a huge mistake, now how will she deal with it?

You probably guessed it! At the end of the presentation, the kids ask for the juggling and, I didn't even get my camera up in time, he made one pass around and the ceramic salt shaker went flying off onto the cement auditorium floor, shattering into myriad pieces. (The photo below is just after the shaker hit the floor.)

I have to admit that I thought it was supposed to happen! It could have been an illustration of how to handle a mistake right out of the book! I was a little disappointed that it wasn't staged. It would have been a perfect teaching moment. At the next school, all went as well as could be, but he didn't mention what happened at the other school: That he dropped the salt shaker, that's why he doesn't have one here, that it exploded and now he has to figure out how to deal with it; that everyone makes mistakes and learns from it. His lesson is to carry plastic salt shakers.

Mark's program was pretty good, and his little class in how to draw, that making mistakes is how you learn to draw, is pretty well done, but I think it will be even better the next time around. I hope he incorporates the salt shaker incident into his future presentations.

Friday, October 21, 2011

Driving in the Dark, Waiting for the Moon

I went to bookgroup the other night. We've been meeting for years, started at the bookstore and, after it closed, continue now at each others' homes and the last one was at Jennifer's house, off near Carkeek park. We read kid's books and have been meeting for maybe 15 years.

It was dark, and I never remember exactly where her house is. I pulled over to find the tiny directions that get me to her driveway, and saw something moving in the grass by the driveway. I turned the lights off and waited a second and then turned them on and there was a little raccoon popping up and down in the ditch, going into and out of the culvert under the driveway! It was sleek and seemed very young, venturing out into the dark, playing in the ditch.

It was absolutely adorable and reminded me very much of the little raccoon in Wait Until the Moon Is Full, one of the best books in the world. See that little raccoon on the cover there? The one looking out at the world? That's what the one in the ditch looked like.

This is a wonderful bedtime book for slightly older readers. It's a little more text heavy than some of Margaret Wise Brown's books so a 4 or 5 year old will appreciate it more than a toddler.

Every night the little raccoon asks if he can go out and play. He wonders if there is a rabbit in the moon, he wants to see the owl, and every night his mama says, "Wait. Wait until the moon is full". And when the moon is finally full, the little raccoon goes out and meets the owl and the rabbits and all the nighttime animals who live and play in his meadow.

A quiet, simple book like many of MGB's but one with more substance than others. It's a good one for leading into discussions of why we sometimes need to wait for things. There isn't a lot of obvious repetition but it still has a lullaby-ish, lulling rhythm to it, encouraging quiet reading, soothing a child into quieting rather than into sleep. If you haven't read it in a while, or if you are young enough that it wasn't on your radar until now, take a look at it and pore over the illustrations. Ages 5 and up. HarperCollins. $6.99. Available now (and forever!).

Thursday, October 20, 2011

Karma Wilson, picture book goddess

Sunrise will happen, yes, it will! at 7:35, sunset at 6:12.

It is still dark at 7, still too dark to type without a light to diffuse the blue screen effect.

It looks like fall! Gray skies, wet air, yellow leaves, and just a tiny bit of wind out there. I have to get out and clean up the yard, the pea plants need to get out of the pots.

I spent yesterday with Karma Wilson going from school to school and then ending up at the Ravenna store for a signing.

What an amazing presenter- she had the kids completely intent, she would get them noisy, quiet them down, get them noisy again. She read her books out loud and used a gruff voice for bear, a little squeaky voice for wren, and stuffed icky things into the Frog in the Bog's puppet-y mouth.

Someone really should offer a class in how to have a school visit. Karma walked in and owned that library, she spoke to almost 300 children at the first school and between 150-200 at each of the others, and she let the students know who was in charge from the very beginning. She was very clear and using simple instructions told the children what she expected from them. She used the teacher's quiet signs (a rhythmic clapping for two schools that got their attention and focus) and told the children exactly what she wanted from them before they got started.

She introduced herself, told them she drove here from Montana where she lives, and told them what she does, that she writes books but doesn't illustrate and then explained about book art and had the kids talk about different ways a book can be illustrated.

And then the fun began. She read The Bear Snores On, telling the students exactly what their role was and when they needed to snore. A little practice, a nod from Karma, and we were under way!

After the first book, she asked for questions and she was so good about this part. She said, "We have time for 5 questions. Before we start, I am the storyteller today. I get to tell you stories, you get to ask me a question. If you have a story to tell me, you will need to put your hand down." and down went many hands, and the kids had stories they could write later.

She asked them questions, too: Where do stories come from? (What if...comments start many of hers.) What is an illustrator? Who can be a writer? What is a bog and will you ever forget what it is? Why didn't I use the word SWAMP in the book Frog in the Bog, instead?

She had a nice ending, too, she said it was time to re-cap the day and asked them the questions from before, giving everyone a chance for success. Then she asked the kids to raise their hands way up, put them down behind their heads, and then give themselves a nice pat on their backs and applaud themselves for being a good audience.

It was a good lesson in being polite and giving your attention to someone. It doesn't hurt that Karma is a really good storyteller and that she's funny. Her patter works well for the age she writes for and her rhymes are perfect, setting children up for memorizing and a little reading.

We sold a lot of books, still have a lot of books in the back of the Jeep, and now I'm on my way to another round of school events with Mark Pett! I understand that he draws and juggles!

Our Ravenna store has books available signed by Karma- They will make great holiday gifts for families with children ages 1-7.

PS someday we'll talk about the after hours with authors, the talk that happens after the kids go home.

Wednesday, October 19, 2011

A Very Long Day with Talented People

Sunrise was at 7:35 and sunset will be at 6:14.

Doesn't it seem like it gets darker faster in the fall than it gets light in the spring? It was dark at 6:30 yesterday. It makes me sad, although the air smells like pears and pine needles. That makes me happy. It's foggy and cool, the fog beginning to tear like batt as the sun rises- I can finally see the buildings downtown, pinking up in the sunrise.

Last Wednesday at this time I was on my way to load the Jeep with books and school visit supplies. On my way to Einstein Middle School for an event with the Pen Fatale Author Tour: 4 authors, two publicists, and a boatload of books. Gabrielle Zevin, Mary E. Pearson, Alyson Noel, and Jessica Brody on a three week tour together talking about their books and their lives as writers.

I'll bet they were really happy to get home.

We didn't make many sales at the school, there is something about middle and high schools that doesn't inspire book buying at the school. Could it be teacher time constraints? No dedicated discussion of the books and authors? No librarian or English teacher who can add something into their curriculum that is such a tiny piece of the overall teaching plan? Who knows? The following morning's visit to Madison Middle School was better sales-wise and the librarian said she and the students just had a blast. No telling what happens between one and the other.

The events themselves were fun and laughter filled- the authors had great stories about their reading habits and their travel habits, the students had good questions, except for that one boy who hurt Gabrielle's feelings but then apologized (man, middle school boys...sometimes they should be seriously restrained), and I think the students will definitely check the books out of the library.

The event at the store was good. We had about 30 people and a group of young women and an adult driver made the two hour trip from Elma, a little town near Shelton, which is a little town near Bremerton, which is on the south-western side of Puget Sound. How cool is that? They had good questions and stood in line with books to be signed.

I so enjoyed Gabrielle's new book, All These Things I've Done. Sorry, ladies, but I've been a big fan of Gabrielle's for a long time and read this one back in the summer while sitting on the front porch steps at the in-laws so the memories of her book are infused with heat and cats, listening to family cooking and talking, and trying to finish it so I could give it to Mary to read.

It's a story set in the future, chocolate and coffee are illegal, and our heroine is the heir to a mafia-esque group that controls the chocolate trade. In 2083, water is rationed, paper is rare, the library and the art museums are now dance clubs, and Anya is the care-taker of her dying grandmother (the last person to actually know what OMG means), her very smart little sister and her brain-damaged older brother. She is also trying to get through school and negotiate a couple of boys, her current boyfriend and a new boy she shouldn't find attractive as his dad is trying to find ways to put Anya and her family out of business. When people start dying after eating her chocolate, Anya is accused of the deaths, and now has to figure out who is really behind it all.

Funny, really well-written, All These Things I've Done is the first of a series and I have to say, I am thrilled! I love these characters and I love the new New York she's invented. The backstory of the libraries and museums turning into clubs came from a thought Gabrielle had: What if everyone stopped reading books (paper books)? What would happen to the buildings when the populace stopped attending them? It's a fascinating thought and I think she did a great job showing us what she thinks. Ages 13 and up. (Macmillan Publishing. $16.99. Available now.)