Monthly Archives: May 2009

When You Reach Me ARC Give-Away Contest

I’ll get to the contest in a second, but first a couple of related things.

I’ve not been shy about expressing my enthusiasm for Rebecca Stead’s forthcoming middle-grade novel, When You Reach Me, and so was delighted to see it garner two starred reviews (Kirkus and Horn Book) although it doesn’t publish till July.  Yesterday the book’s editor Wendy Lamb and Random House marketing queens Adrienne Waintraub and Lisa Nadel came to my school, first to meet some of our students (great fans of the book as well) and then to join our staff book club meeting (about the book).  It was great fun; the kids were impressive and my colleagues were blunt. Some liked the book and some didn’t and they had no problem letting our guests know just what and why.  Lots of talk about the title (and some others that were considered), the cover, A Wrinkle in Time, New York in the 70s, age-range, and more.  Wine, cheese, and a terrific time overall.  My great thanks to Wendy, Adrienne, and Lisa for coming!

Now about the contest.  Adrienne sent a big box of ARCs, more than we needed.  I was going to give them back to her because they had run out of ARCs and people were banging down their door for them. However, they’ve done another printing and the ARCs are mine to give away!  (This book is truly a Cinderella story. They had no idea the book was going to garner so much interest and so the first ARC printing simply wasn’t enough. I wonder how often there are second printings for ARCs?) So, using the contact form above, tell me briefly (tweet-size 140 characters or less) why you want the ARC and be sure to include your full name and mailing address. My committee (my class) and I will select as many as we have ARCs and I will mail them off as quickly as I can.

Good Luck!



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Der Donald

“Donald is so popular because almost everyone can identify with him,” says Christian Pfeiler, president of D.O.N.A.L.D. “He has strengths and weaknesses, he lacks polish but is also very cultured and well-read.” But much of the appeal of the hapless, happy-go-lucky duck lies in the translations. Donald quotes from German literature, speaks in grammatically complex sentences and is prone to philosophical musings, while the stories often take a more political tone than their American counterparts.

Why Donald Duck is the Jerry Lewis of Germany –

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My Guilty Pleasure

Thanks to Eva, I’ve just come across a new series on NPR with a great premise.  They are asking for confessions of “…your illicit literary (or not-so-literary) love” and they’ve started with Brad Melzer confessing that, ““Real Men Read (And Love) ‘Twilight’ — Really.”

One of my guilty reading pleasures is definitely New York Magazine.  It is full of trashy articles about the unhappy rich, teens doped up on Ritalin, adults too, private school mania, and so forth.  I tell myself I have to read it because of my work (as I teach in a school that is the sort often featured), but who am I kidding?  I read it for pure pleasure — guilt-ridden.

Anyone else want to ‘fess up?


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Suzanne Collins’ Catching Fire


I know, I know.  Green.  Green. Green.  What can I say?  I’d be green with envy too.  But I’m writing this to let you know that you have a wonderful reading experience to look forward to.  Collins does not disappoint.  And rest assured that I will not divulge anything here that might compromise this upcoming pleasure for you.


So I came home earlier this week to a package with a mockingjay on the cover. Heart pounding I opened it and found an ARC for Catching Fire, the highly anticipated sequel to Suzanne Collins’ The Hunger Games, one of my favorite books of last year.  Instead of immediately scarfing it down, I decided to nurse it.  Now I admit that it defies logic that I managed to take a few days to read it as it is as much a page turner as its predecessor.  However, I knew it would be a year until the third volume and so I wanted this reading experience to last as long as possible. As a result, in addition to appreciating the remarkable plotting, world building, and character development that are as strong as ever, I was reading slow enough to register (and recollect) Collins’ little humorous asides here and there, especially some wry comments from our girl, Katniss.  Unfortunately, I can’t quote them without giving stuff away, but do look out for them.

Is it as good as The Hunger Games? Yes.  Yes, indeed.  Certainly, I’d wondered.  With the games over and Katniss and Peeta due to take off on the Victory Tour, wouldn’t this be a bit of a let-down of a read?  Well, no, not at all.  I promised no spoilers so I’m not going to provide any plot info.  I’m sure you can find that elsewhere if you want it.  I can only say that Collins is developing this story in a way that is thrilling, confounding, and occasionally mind-blowing.  Major and minor characters from the previous volume reappear and become more complicated in every way.  The world does too.

Now I have read a lot, a lot.  So I can often see where an author is taking me.  But Collins?  She managed to surprise me over and over as I read this book.  The twists and turns of the plot are brilliant and I definitely did not see things coming.  What is going to happen in the third volume?  I have to say — given the many astonishing moments in this second one — I haven’t a clue.


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What’s Mr. Pullman Doing These Days?

Pullman has thought of one more hobby he could take up. Should Hollywood decide against making movie versions of the second and third parts of His Dark Materials, he has a plan. “If the studios don’t make the next two films, I might do them myself with puppets in the garden shed, like Noggin the Nog.”

There is a beat, before Pullman breaks into a broad grin: “Wouldn’t cost very much.”

Philip Pullman interviewed in The Scotsman

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Gail Carson Levine on Writing

The Writer’s Oath

I promise solemnly:

1. to write as often and as much as I can,

2. to respect my writing self, and

3. to nurture the writing of others.

I accept these responsibilities and shall honor them always.

The above is at the end of the first chapter of award-winning fantasy writer, Gail Carson Levine’s Writing Magic, a terrific book for kids who want to write fantasy stories.  My fourth graders write them every year as part of our Cinderella unit and I have found this book an excellent resource.  They love taking the above oath and they love repeating Gail’s first three rules:

1. The best way to write better is to write more.

2. The best way to write better is to write more.

3. The best way to write better is to write more.

Long long ago (before Harry Potter) I was a huge fan of fantasy literature, but could find nothing about teaching it so ended up writing a book about teaching it myself.  Now it is much more acceptable to use it in the classroom, but most books on teaching writing tend to focus more on other genres.  A longtime fan of Gail’s novels, I was delighted to see her book and discover how excellent it is.  I’ve known Gail ever since she won a Newbery Honor for Ella Enchanted (long story for another blog post) and so knew she had been teaching writing to a small group of kids for years. This book is the thoughtful outgrowth of those experiences along with many examples from her own experience writing fantasy.

And now this incredibly thoughtful writer has just started a blog! In her introductory post she writes, “For my blogging life, I intend to post once a week, and I will probably blog mostly about writing, but I don’t know that for sure.”

I look forward to seeing where she takes this new writing vehicle.


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A Few Coraline Musical Links

NY1 has a little feature with some bits from the show here.

My theater companion, Betsy Bird, has a very thorough review here.    It was a lot of fun seeing it with her!

And one more positive review is here.

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Coraline Musical: Impressions

Eerie, elegant, and witty,  Neil Gaiman’s Coraline is one of my favorite contemporary children’s books, one that I love reading aloud to my fourth graders.  My response to adaptations of it have been mixed. I wasn’t wild about the graphic novel as I thought Coraline looked too old in it.  As for the movie, I thought it was visually gorgeous, but have to admit that I was a bit disappointed in Coraline’s character — too petulant — and the altered ending.

And now we have Stephen Merrit and David Greenspan’s musical version.  The first thing to know is that it is NOT FOR YOUNG CHILDREN and that is just fine.  Merritt has made this very clear, but there were still children under the age of eight in the audience at the performance I attended yesterday, one of whom was sitting near me and began sobbing midway through. His parents attempted unsuccessfully to console him and finally took him out.

Okay, is that out of the way?  For it is quite a theatrical experience for the rest — the  staging is both magical and creepy, the performances engaging,  Gaiman’s book is intact, and the whole thing is quite mesmerizing.Most of the music is done by piano — conventional (I think), prepared, and toy.  Occasionally other instruments are used — say balloons.  The set is delightful; the lighting gorgeous.  The acting, singing, dancing, and movement is also quite splendid in its way.

For someone who knows the story, there is a delight in seeing how it is represented here.  The mouse circus, the two aging vaudeville stars, the cat, the parents (original and Other), the souls, are all imaginatively conceived. Most of all, Coraline IS Coraline as I knew her in the book — crafty, clever, and brave.I’d read about the casting of a middle-aged woman, Jayne Houdyshell, as Coraline, and had admittedly wondered how that would go, but I gotta say that in the context of this production, it totally worked. She was terrific.

How it will fare with those who don’t know the story will be interesting to see. The plot is complex and often Coraline has to tell us that she is now somewhere else.  We in the known are amused, but those not?  I’ll be interested to see how it works for them.

An extremely eccentric, odd, fascinating, beautiful, and very satisfying piece of avant-garde theater.

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About half way down in this post, Neil Gaiman quotes this bit from a blog reader (who was no doubt reacting to an earlier post on entitled readers):

If you are writing (or doing anything else) for the sheer fun of it, and may sell it and may not, then you are on your own time, and can go throw popcorn at the TV all you want to.

If you have taken an advance or a contract, YOU ARE WORKING FOR SOMEONE ELSE, and you have the same obligation to produce quality work, ON TIME, as a soldier in Iraq does.

If you didn’t know that all cats can levitate, and that it’s already been studied exhaustively, then you are an idiot, and your cat thinks so too.

Neil responds thus:

Mm. You were doing okay until you threw in the bit about Iraq. (I assume the flip side is, “Soldiering. Well, it’s just a job. What are they complaining about? Why are they nipping off to hospitals and complaining about the facilities and treatment? Soldiers in Iraq have the same obligation not to suffer from post-traumatic stress disorder and not to put themselves in harm’s way that a novelist in a rose-trellised cottage Devon does.”) (And I keep having fantasies about a trained platoon of Her Majesty’s Armoured Novelists being put through their paces by an irascible RSM “… on the double – wait for it wait for it, what do you think you’re doing, you horrible little man, contemplating litotes? -on the double, quiiiiiiiiick PLOT!”)

Normally, I’m the one marching up and down trying to explain to the world that writing is a job, and it’s not romantic and it’s not clever and it’s not special. For the most part, that’s what this blog is about.

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Lit Trips

So I was reading this interesting article, “You’ve Read the Book, Now Take a Look!” all about literary tourism when I happened across a reference to this video.  So is Wordsworth rolling in agony or amusement?

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