Tuesday, March 29, 2011

Close to Famous

Sunrise was at 6:54, sunset will be at 7:35.

Wet, gray, the maple tree is covered in moss and the sidewalks are lined in green. There's supposed to be another major rain storm coming through and avalanche warnings are in effect in the mountains.

There've been gorgeous sunsets, though, a last little hurrah before the end of otherwise monochromatic days, gold shot through with pink and aqua shining through a gap between the clouds and the Olympics.

I have a wicked headache and my hands are tingling and numb with carpal tunnel problems. I've thrown a load of laundry in and am thinking about throwing something into the slow cooker but I really just want to go back to bed and cocoon.

I've been reading a lot lately (okay, I read a lot anyway-) for a book awards committee and for the store's spring kid's book talk. We are having a book talk on Thursday night and I read the books that I want to talk about 6 months ago at least. So I've been re-reading and I have to say that they still stand up to a second time through. I finished Piper's Son yesterday with tears, laughter, and a deep desire to re-read everything else Melina Marchetta has written (and since I have her entire oeuvre on my shelves, not hard to do). People are complicated animals and PS shows just how much we only see the world as how it relates to us.

Great book, great characters, not just for teens with its complex adult relationships weaving through the younger people's relationships. Tom is our "hero", a boy whose family is messy at best. A beloved uncle and brother dies, the best one of them all, and the family falls apart, leaving all the unanswered questions of their lives raw and dangling. Grief overwhelms them and they don't deal with it well. And I love that. I love that they grieve so loudly and don't really know that's what they're doing. I love their friends, who are grieving, too, and aren't allowed to show it. I love how deeply depressed Tom is and what a total shit he is about everything. It's just so real. They all have to face their demons and figure out how they're going to climb up out of the pit.

It's REALLY good and you should read Saving Francesca, too. Read it first, if you can, just because you'll have a little better idea as to why these people do and say what they do. Oh, and it takes place in Australia. What more do you need? 14 and up. (Candlewick. Available now.)

I also re-read Close to Famous on my home (I love riding the bus). This is Joan Bauer's newest venture and, yes, it was also really good. It's written for a much younger demographic, and showcases her ability to come up with characters who deal with adversity well, often making lemonade out of those lemons life gives them.

Foster has big plans. She wants to be the first teen to have her own cooking show on the Food Network. She bakes the most amazing goods, muffins and cupcakes that can find the piece of your heart that needs healing. But when she and her mom have to leave Memphis to get away from a man who's turned violent, they end up in little Culpepper. No job, no money, they are given a trailer to stay in and decide to try and make the best of it. Culpepper is a town in transition, a prison has been built and inmates are interred, but the promise of shopping locally and hiring locals has not been honored and the town is dying, but Foster and her mom are nothing if not resourceful.

Foster bakes up some muffins and cupcakes and takes them to the local restaurant, Angry Wayne's, and gets the very reluctant okay to sell her goods there and her mom gets a job in the local hardware store. Things seem to be going along okay, until Huck, the man they are running from, finds them.

Foster is a wonderful character, upbeat, happy, strong in her convictions, well-loved, high self-esteem (and when was the last time the main character in a book was okay with herself?), and flawed. She can't read and has taken great pains to hide that from everyone. Until she meets someone who has been through the same thing and is willing to help her learn to read.

I loved this book. It's full of good people willing to help others, great characters who love each other, high ideals, good recipes and people who know that with work they can achieve their dreams. I can't wait to hand it to someone else to read, knowing that they'll be smiling when they are done, too. Age 9 and up. (Viking. $16.99. Available now.)

Saturday, March 26, 2011

Piper's Son, One Crazy Summer

Sunrise at 7 am, sunset at 7:30 pm, and what a beauty it was.

Completely different day out there today. Cool. Gray. Wet. Lots of little popcorn birds zipping through the blackberry bushes and the lilacs, hanging from the branches in no particular direction, upside down, sideways, they are tiny and bounce through the air, they fly in scallops.

My neighborhood isn't a pretty one, it's on the edge of I-90, we consider it a pass through neighborhood: most everybody who comes up our street is using it as a shortcut to the other major streets leading somewhere else. It is full of old houses and poor people, blackberries and big, old trees. It's also full of younger families, not very many children, and artists. It has a few remnants of the old orchards left behind by the Italian families who lived here when this area was called Garlic Gulch. There are some mad gardeners in the neighborhood, a couple of musicians, and a very few teenagers whose families all moved in around the same time we did.

My favorite part of all of this neighborhood is Davis Street. Our kitchen window looks out on this one block piece of the two block long Davis. It is a short street, low street lighting, amazing gardens, lots of artfully designed houses, chickens, a horse, once, and people who walk and play on the street. It is covered by trees that keep it cool all summer and the snow looks like butter in the winter lights, lots of birdhouses and feeders, a couple of nature habitat houses with plaques and everything.

It is a joy to walk on the street in every season: The daphne is wafting its siren scents, the lilacs are just beginning to leaf out, light green lace against the darker cedar greens, pink magnolias and cherry trees like tutus. In the fall, leaves are bunched up against the curb, the sound of rakes along the street, people gather the leaves for their gardens, the people who grill all year long now light their outdoor fireplaces, and the rain runs down our hillside like a river, you can hear it go. The trees almost touch overhead in the summer and everyone is out and working on their cars and yards, and in the winter, the bare bones of the land are exposed. Skeleton trees, brown grass, mud in the easements.

But the best thing is how many people say, "Hey!" when you see them. They let you into the conversation, lend you their tools, help clean up your part of the street if you can't get out to do it. I have gone out to rake up the corner, clean out the drains, and gotten into hour long conversations about what to plant where in the heat and sun. Our street isn't very long, there aren't a lot of people on it, but we can pretty much recognize everyone and that's kind of rare and wondrous.

Anyway. This post started as a view from the window. The lilacs are starting to leaf out, the maple has red leaf buds at the tip of each branch. The magnolias across the street are in bloom and so beautiful, the easements in front of Sheila's house are full of green and cool plants and the garden plot in the yard across is a deep, warm brown.

Reading One Crazy Summer, by Rita Williams-Garcia and re-reading Piper's Son, by Melina Marchetta.

OCS is a look at the summer three African-American girls spend with their estranged mother in Oakland. She is working with the Black Panthers and the girls aren't to know what's going on.

Piper's Son is a coming of age novel, a companion to Saving Francesca, and is FAB-ulous. Great story about family, loss, grief and love.

Friday, March 25, 2011

Origami Yoda and a Spring Day

Sunrise was at 7:02, sunset will be at 7:29.

What a day, huh? I straightened the house, made the bed, put my clothes away, waiting for the end of Friday morning's KUOW show, getting ready to do the week's shopping and to take my Friday walk around Seward Park since the sky is blue, the sun is warm, and I have a full tank of gas.

I parked at the edge of the park, taking The Strange Case of Origami Yoda, by Tom Angleberger, with me for the walk. It was slightly cool, the air full of the sound of ducks, geese and seagulls. I could hear the gravelly, sandy sounding redwing blackbirds in the cattails across the water, no beaver but lots of turtles sunning on the beaver's nest, glinting dully in the light, like little helmets. There was a single turtle slowly moving under the skin of the lake, nose like a little periscope the only above-water piece of turtle. It didn't seem to swim; maybe pulled along by the movement out of the bay? Tides? The locks opening and closing? A pair of duck swim over it, frightening it lower in the water.

There was a cry in the trees I haven't heard before. I saw a big bird walking along a branch but have no idea what it was. I know what I wanted it to be! Lots of young kids and nannies, enjoying the afternoon of sun before the weather changes and the clouds, rain, and wind roll back in. The inside of my car was warm and I wanted a nap.

The Strange Case of Origami Yoda was really fun. A boy, a boy no one really likes, folds a piece of origami into the shape of Yoda and wears it on his finger. As kids ask the Yoda questions, he, using Dwight's voice, Dwight is channeling Yoda's wisdom, gives advice that inevitably the best possible advice that could be given. Is it true? Can the origami Yoda be real? Dwight has never been known for his ability to put two thoughts together that make sense. He also swears that he doesn't know how Yoda does it! It just happens. Tommy, our narrator, needs to know how it all works before he takes the Yoda's advice about something very important about a girl.

It's fun and funny, a light-hearted little thing perfect for the beginnings of romance. I loved how it ended, Dwight finally comes into his own, and everyone learns a little more about tolerance and difference. Ages 9 and up. (Amulet. Available now. 12.95.)

Sunday, March 20, 2011

Sunrise will be at 7:13, sunset will be at 7:22.

Happy Spring!

The days will start getting longer now and what a beautiful day we had yesterday. I am sitting in the dark in the kitchen, watching the moon, the Supermoon, over Beacon Hill, as it begins to set.

It was supposed to be gloomy yesterday and we woke to sun, partially cloudy skies, and warmth; the daffodils are starting to bloom, the lilacs are just starting to leaf out, and my mangy little daphne has a few blossoms that are sending out the most exquisite citrussy scents.

Dennis and I walked around Seward Park and we saw a beaver on its nest of sticks built up against the swimming dock in Andrews Bay! I have never seen a beaver before- it was a glorious shiny brown, a block of reddish brown against its den of gray bark, and it was surrounded by those dark grey, long-necked birds that stand on poles with their wings out.

The air was redolent with wet dirt and warm pine needles, the grass swampy with puddles.

We came home, opened all the windows, and took our afternoon naps (D likes to sleep in a bed, I like to sit in my big chair and read in sunspots). Dennis grilled, we ate, and before I went to bed, I walked up the street and watched the moon rise, the closest the moon has been to the earth since 1993. Only 221, 553 miles away, a worm moon. and it won't be this close again until 2029. One of those celestial things that connects us to the rest of the world.

I'm so glad it didn't rain and stay cloudy.

Oh, I'm reading Melissa Marr's newest book, one for adults, called Graveminder. It's good.

PS: I took the photo from the newspaper-it is shot over the super telescopes in Hawaii.

Tuesday, March 15, 2011

Mark Teague and Ike visit Seattle

Yesterday, I had the distinct pleasure of following Mark Teague to three different schools while he presented his new book to hundreds of avid children.

This is one of the joys of working in a bookstore, working with children and the authors they love, working with the teachers, librarians and parents who are all committed to making the kids in their lives literate and widely read. We may not make huge sales (note to self: remember that the first weeks in the Seattle schools is Book Fair week!), but the "ooh"s and excited chatter that erupt when the first story is read, the familiarity of meeting a new book in a series, makes it all worthwhile.

There were a couple of good sized groups in yesterday's meetings and I loved that Mark involved the teachers sitting along the sides of the gyms; the behavior watchers became part of the story and the event by holding copies of the book so everyone could see without having to always look up front at the book being held by Mark. It is a good way to make everyone a guest at the party.

Mark has great control over his crowds. He laid out the rules before he got started ("If you have a question, raise your hand, and stay quiet so we can hear the question") and the kids, pretty much, followed along.

There was one open-ended question, "do you and your brothers and sisters squabble like that?", that provoked some amazingly intense discussion among the first, second, and third graders at Echo Lake Elementary School. The rise of chatter, like an entire rookery of crows calling, completely overwhelmed the hissing ssshhhs of the adults, and not one child noticed the upraised hand signal with the middle fingers closed tightly on the thumb signifying closed mouths. They had things to say and they were important! Each one of those kids had been victim to someone not letting them look out the other window, or the radio is on her side, or fingers walked over the duct tape separating them ("MOOOOMM! He's on my side!"). I sense a class in narrative non-fiction coming.

And, OH! when you are lucky enough to have an author in attendance who also illustrates the books! Every single child in every school was absolutely silent when Mark put his pen to the page. There was a little movement, a little susurration, while he explained how he decided where to start drawing, that he needs to know where on the page the action takes place before he gets started (he starts at the top, works his way down the page). But, the moment he put the black pen to the paper, at the top, little triangles and a brushy line, it was absolutely quiet. Until he said, "Do you know what this is?" "EARS!!!" Turning back to the easel, he lifts his pen and, brandishing it like a baton, the voices calm and then disappear, as he starts the next few lines to complete the drawing of Ike, the hero of the Mrs. LaRue books. He finishes, and capping the pen like a little bow, the school erupts in applause and whistles.

Questions next, pretty good ones, too. When did you start writing? About your age, dictating stories to Mom, drawing the pictures, then stapling the pages together. Where do you get your names? Keep a journal, write interesting names down, sometimes the names suggest what that character will be like. How do you make every drawing of Ike the same? Practice, practice, practice, I draw him over and over until it's right. One of the teachers asked, "How often do you rewrite your stories?" Over and over until it's right. "It could take 10 times?" I re-write until it's right, sometimes it takes a lot of rewriting until every word is right.

I love that authors tell kids that what they see in the book doesn't just happen, quick, like a finger-snap, that they work really hard, writing, sending it to an editor, rewriting, sending it away again, getting it back and working on it again. Maybe having to throw what may be your best words out because they don't work as well as others in this story. It validates the teacher and let's kids feel good about having to rewrite their own work. I can hear them now, "Even Mark Teague had to re-write his stories. And then he had to send it away! You can work on your story and have it back right now!"

Anyway, the long lasting effects of having an author visit a school are many and varied. For some, it's a chance just for a break in the classroom routine, for others, it can be inspiring to see a grown-up making a living doing something that looks like fun. Some kids get teased for writing or drawing and this is validation for them. Some children find a soul mate in the author, some find solace in the words. All of them are affected in one way or the other by being read to or talked to, encouraged to try a book they may not ever have wanted to pick up, changed by the experience, no matter their ages.

Can you see the absolute concentration in these boys as they watch Mark write their names in the books they love? They are watching him draw a little tiny Ike next to their names. They will never forget this.