Tuesday, March 18, 2014

Snowflakes Hate Diets

In honor of the snowfall in March, I thought I'd write a little ode to the flakes today. Enjoy.
Snowflakes Hate Diets

Those plump, white flakes
you have to admire their
disregard
for the mirror.

They have no time
for fad diets
or counting carbs.
What are
Atkins
or South Beach
to Condensation?

They just keep on
falling
content in their gravitational pull
letting the weight of things
take over
Instead, they 
 admire themselves
from every angle
as they twirl
in the wind

Wednesday, February 26, 2014

A Writing Exercise With Description

There are several things in this world that I have trouble with: tax forms, club dancing and those little packets of soy sauce that I can never seem to get open without squirting them all over myself. But perhaps none rival the amount of frustration that I often have with description. The entire scene is right in my head, right? So it should be easy to put on paper. Someday, I'm going to invent a steampunk contraption that allows me to extract the setting from my head, and put it down into the pages, so I can then move on with the story.

Until I get around to inventing that, (and it will be sweet when I'm done with it, copper, steam-powered with lots of gears that make sizzling sounds and stuff,) I would like to suggest a writing exercise I did with my Young Writer's Group at the library, if you too suffer from a lack of flowery adjectives.

First you need a Word Cloud Creator. Some good ones are:

 Wordle

Word It Out

ABCya! Word Clouds for Kids!  (Note: You can still play with kid things if you are an adult.)

Then choose a character, or setting, or even a scene. Write the character/setting name in first, then brainstorm descriptive words, and don't be stingy with the verbs. I've found this is a fun way to feel my way around a topic or characters I'm having trouble with. If you're a visual person as well, you may want to try it. The young writers in my group had fun with choosing colors and fonts that related to their characters, i.e. cheery yellow to denote an energetic character, or darker colors for more reserved ones. If you try it out, I'd be interested to see what you come up with. Let me know in the comments how it goes.


Friday, February 14, 2014

A Great Novel-in-Verse Reading Pick

So every once in awhile, you come across one of those books, that you really wish you had written first. Silver People: Voices from the Panama Canal by Margarita Engle was like that for me.

I know there's some trepidation about the novel-in-verse format. Concern that perhaps it's just a story told with line breaks. But novels-in-verse have many more opportunities for expressing internal dialogue, drawing focus to a certain description as a turning point, delving deeper into the relationships between characters. In short, novels-in-verse are unique.  I personally, find it to be a great pick for reluctant readers at the library. My patrons who get panic attacks when they see pages full of words, often find novels-in-verse to be more manageable.

Silver People delves into the racial and class divides among workers in the digging of the Panama Canal. It shows the effect that this man made wonder had on the landscape, and the people of Panama as well. And in the way that Hogwort Castle is character in Harry Potter, I even felt that the forest itself was the main character of this endeavor with its own arc. It changed as it watched the divide between workers divided by the color of their skin and by silver and gold.

I've read other novels-in-verse by Engle. She's a master at the format, but I'd venture to say this is her best book yet, based on her own experiences in Panama and extensive historical resource. If you're looking to get lost in history, a lush forest or an intertwining network of characters, then this book is for you. It hits the shelves March 25, 2014.

Thursday, January 16, 2014

Why I am still Writing While in Grad School.


I've heard there's a meter of perfect stillness in the center of those crazy tropical storms.  And I always wondered how the heck that was possible. But now I get it. Yes. I'm about to get ZEN on you. I've resisted blogging and/or talking about the whole "writing while in grad school and working fulltime thing", just because part of me was worried that people would judge me about how much I'm able to accomplish right now. Like for example, my grad school advisor, who seems to think my dreams of being a professional novelist are a quaint Generation Y version of a hobby. NOT TRUE. 

Yes, my days are turning into this weird ping pong schedule that somewhat resembles a flamboyance of flamingos trying to order a hamburger. I write in the morning, go to work and do story times, run graphic novel book clubs, read academic papers on the history of cataloging at my lunch break and after work, do more class things like ponder what is the point of metadata? (Seriously, if you know the answer, please tell me, because I don't know.)  And it has been suggested to me that maybe I should just pull the writing out, and I'd have a bit more sanity. Not true. First of all, I had no sanity to begin with. 

And secondly, the thing I'm finding out, is that the writing helps me stay me. School is draining, frustrating, and slowly pulling all the joy out of working at a library. Counterproductive, I know, but I love my job and would really like to be an official librarian. But far from being draining, the hour or two I spend writing in the morning energizes me. I go into work knowing I put words down on the page, and even if they weren't good words, (and let's face it, they're probably not,) I was able to kick out from all the other deadlines that circle my head all day, long enough to follow my characters around while they lived their lives. I had an hour to be me. 

So, I just wanted to throw it out there, that if there's anyone else who's being told, "you might be too busy to write." I get you. Don't feel like you're being selfish if you just want to sit down and write. Leave the dishes, forget the laundry, and start buying those little cans of tuna that come with spoons. Seriously. They are very useful. Lots of protein. 

Drop it all and write. Just write. Let the tropical storm go and knock over a hay field or something. For an hour, your only allegiance is to the words on the page. 

Thursday, January 9, 2014

Snowy Chicago Haiku


the hiss of bacon
on the stove as snowflakes fall,
quietly outside


Bollywood tunes leak
out the cab door, into the
silence of snow



snow inside my boots
I had forgotten how much
I love you, midwest

Thursday, December 12, 2013

A Middle Grade Book Holiday Gift List... Based on Movies

  If you're anything like me, then you're trying to find out a way to get a book for everyone on your list. After all, who wouldn't want a book? It's the second best present there is, aside from socks. So with that in mind, I've constructed a Holiday Gift Suggestion List, of relatively new books, based on movie preferences. I've added in links to trailers of the movies and links for the books. Know someone who likes Avengers, or Muppets, or Alice In Wonderland? Great. I've got them all covered on this list.

Mr. Lemoncello's Library by Chris Grabenstein. If you know someone who like Willy Wonka and the Chocolate Factory, or any of those crazy reality gameshows where people are competing for something crazy like purple toilet plungers, this is the book for them. A non-stop literary race to the end, this book is about a group of kids that are locked in a brand-new state-of-the-art library for the night, and then challenged to the game of their lives. Last reader standing wins.






The Girl Who Fell Beneath Fairyland and Led The Revels There by Catherynne M. Valente. I know I'm kind of cheating by mentioned the second book in this series, but it's not necessary to read the first, and the second book is blow-you-away amazing. For those on your list who love wrapping themselves up in rich descriptions, love the fantastical world of Alice In Wonderland, or Wizard of Oz, this book will astound them. Coming back into Fairyland from wartime Kansas, September finds that her missing shadow has become queen of Fairyland Below and has been stealing shadows and magic from Fairyland. Can she trust the shadows of her friends as she would her real friends?



Geeks, Girls and Secret Identities by Mike Jung. Avengers, Thor, Captain America, X-men, Iron Man. Take your pick. For any of the superhero movie fans out there, Mike Jung has come up with a new twist on the superhero story, that is sure to keep you glued to the page. Vincent Wu is a member of the Unofficial Fan club of Captain Stupendous. He knows practically everything about the superhero. But how will his skills match up when he must advise a real superhero? This one had plot twists that kept me on my toes.






The Hero's Guide to Saving Your Kingdom by Christopher Healy. For the fans of Mirror, Mirror, and perhaps really any Disney movie out there, try this book for a change of pace. The Prince Charmings have finally gotten fed up. They are the ones who do all the rescuing and yet, no one ever remembers their actual names. Feast your eyes on the hilarity when a group of Prince Charmings band together for their own adventure.






Fang Bone! Third-Grade Barbarian by Michael Rex. Although fans of The Hobbit might find this oddly interesting, I would suggest that it would best fit fans of the Muppets. Because the rather absurd flavor of humor that permeates this book, makes me wonder if Fang Bone is perhaps the long lost cousin of Gonzo. Fang Bone is a Barbarian on a quest to recover the deadly weapon before it falls into the hands of Vemonous Drool. His quest brings him to a the most heightened challenge yet... being a third grader.





Jabba The Puppet by Tom Angleberger. I would be amiss if I didn't mention the most obvious film book connection: the great Origami Yoda Series and the Star Wars movies. Jabba The Puppet even has a secret twist that every reader I have queried loves. And I work at a library, so I talk to a lot of readers. In this book, the Origami Yoda crew forms a rebellion as the administration cuts art, music and other electives. Can the rebellion bring back their beloved classes? Or will the dark side of the force triumph?






Counting by 7's by Holly Goldberg Sloan. For fans of the Goonies. Okay. It's a weird comparison, but stick with me here. You have a band of seemingly odd and very different characters that band together to solve a problem. Plus, I love the Goonies, and I love this book, so the two must go together.




Friday, November 1, 2013

Children's Poetry Blog Hop


 Today I'm carrying the torch for the Poetry Blog Hop that's been spreading across the blogsphere. First up is a poem by your's truly. Although I teach poetry to kids in a young writer's group at the library, and I enjoy writing poetry myself, all of my poems are decidedly not children's poetry. So I did some digging, and I found a poem I write in the seventh grade. So here's a blast from the past, something that is clearly a children's poem.

Something Under My Bed! by Jess Stork

I tried to tell my brother,
there is nothing under his bed.

But he kept insisting if I left,
the next day,
I'd find him dead.

“There's something under my bed with scales and slime,”
he claimed.
“It could jump out and grab me,
'cause there's nothing to keep it contained.”

I repeated the facts again and again,
I was getting irritated,
and losing my grip on Zen.

He pleaded me to beat up the monster under there,
a few black eyes,
and to pull out some of it's hair.

So I gave up trying to reason,
and peered underneath,
I found some old pizza,
and my grandpa's extra, false teeth.

And just when I was giving up,
on finding his scary monster,
I spotted a shadow,
and out popped his hamster.




The next part of the blog hop is listing three questions that we wish we were asked during an interview, along with the answers.

  1. Who were some of your favorite poets when you were younger?

I was a Shel Silverstien fan as child. At the End of the Sidewalk had just come out when I was in the end of grad school, and I thought it was amazing that someone could write something that was a poem, and was funny at the same time.

  1. Why do you think poetry, and other fiction are important to the classroom?

I can still remember sitting on bean bag chairs after lunch, and falling into a story. I miss silent reading, especially nowadays, during work. I've heard from a lot of the students and other teachers that silent reading is happening less and less in the classrooms. I think we shouldn't underestimate the power of choice in reading, how much sitting and focusing on one storyline for an extended period of time can be beneficial. I remember when my teachers would read aloud poems during class, not necessarily for comprehension or discussion of themes that might be on the state tests, but for the sheer beautiful sound of poetry.

  1. Do you type your poems or handwrite them?

For awhile, I used to type my poems on an old typewriter I owned. There's something about the clacking of the keys that makes the poem feel more real. But normally, I write my poems, line by line in a journal, because they come to me in snatches like a flock of birds, rather than all together.


To finish up this post, I'm going to pass on this Children's Poetry Blog Post to Jaye Robin Brown over at jayerobinbrown.com .