Monday, August 25, 2008

It is already 1:30 and I just finished getting through my email inbox for the last few days. I spent most of the weekend working on an article about the cell phone novel phenomena in Japan. Can you imagine writing a novel via a cell phone keypad, 140 characters at a time? One of the authors said her thumbs were bleeding from how much writing she was doing. I am considering trying it myself but I'd have to get a new phone for sure! On the other hand I don't get to blog as often as I'd like, adding one more venue of writing would probably do me in right now.

I had a wonderful time in Greenville as always. It is going to be a really good Fall semester. I hit the road again for meetings the second week in September so I'll get a lot of "reading" done on the road. Have to see what I have in my bag of audio "goodies" I pick up at Half Price Books and stash in my car.

This past trip, I finished listening to Water for Elephants by Sara Gruen. The use of two male narrators made for very enjoyable listening. The chapters alternate between Jacob as a young man and as an elderly resident anxious to attend the circus that is set up down the street from the nursing home. The elderly Jacob is feisty, ornery and concerned he is losing his mental acuity as he spends more time in his past than the present. Who can blame him when considering his present situation vs. the wild times he had while working as a circus veterinarian for the Benzini Brothers' Most Spectacular Show on Earth, a traveling circus during the Depression. The chapters told from Jacob's first hand point of view, as a young man in his early 20s, after his parents are killed in a car accident his last semester of college, are touching in their sincerity and innocence. Jacob loses his innocence due to the harshness of life in a circus and his virginity to the show's stripper. His heart, he loses to Marlena, the equestrian rider and the wife of the brutal animal trainer, whose vicious temper is often directed toward Rosie, the recently purchased elephant that doesn't do much besides eat. Rosie is thought of as useless until Jacob discovers she will only respond to commands in Polish. She also has a taste for lemonade and gin. At times quite humorous, this is as much a love story as it is a circus tale, drawing the reader into the big top and into the lives of Jacob and Marlena as they try to hide their love. Most certainly a novel written for the adult readership, but older teens will relish this coming of age story in a time when a man's virginity isn't lost in his teens. The Depression Era starkly comes to life as do the violent and harsh conditions both men and women endure to eat regularly, even if their salary is held back by the unscrupulous Uncle Al, who own the show. Thoroughly enjoyed this book. Gruen's knowledge of horses is very evident and I was not surprised to see on B&N that she had previously written two books specifically about horses, the first, Riding Lessons, about a woman who had been an equestrian and an Olympic contender until an accident ended her riding career. Fast forward and she is now returning home to the family horse farm with her troubled teenage daughter. This is also a love story with a veterinarian. :-) The sequel Flying Chances has her daughter in the same spot she was at eighteen, an equestrian contender for the Olympics. I haven't read/listened to them yet, but I think these would appeal to the teenage girls. I'll let y'all know.

My children's book for the day is a September 2008 Abrams title that has a political slant to it - Ballots for Belva: The True Story of a Woman's Race for the Presidency by Sudipta Bardhan-Quallen and beautifully illustrated by Courtney A. Martin. A very appropriate book to dovetail current events with historical ones. The time line in the back of the book is a quick synopsis of the women's suffrage movement in the U.S. We have come a long way, baby! Many folks had high hopes of a female president in the current election. It isn't going to happen this time, but I am sure we will see more women running in the future. Females running for president is not a new - in 1884, fifty-four year old Belva Lockwood became the first woman to officially run for president. Even though women could not vote at this point in time, there were no laws restricting them from running for office. Some men were not very happy with her and held "Belva Lockwood Parades" where they dressed up as women and pretended to be her. We all know she didn't win the election, Grover Cleveland did, but she won 4,711 popular votes. No one knows how many other votes for Belva were not counted, as many were thrown out as no one could believe anyone would actually vote for a woman. Sounds a bit like the Florida fiasco. Although a picture book, Ballots for Belva is one I'd offer to the high school U.S. History teacher. Picture books are a wonderful way to open up a classroom discussion. The illustrations add depth to the era, including what the tricycle Belva rode around Washington D.C. looked like. Belva was one feisty woman! Superb book for any school or public library.

That's it for today. Time to find the top of my desk again. My goal is to do that every other day - we shall see how well that works!

Thursday, August 14, 2008

Where has this week gone to? It is already Thursday and I seem to have lost Monday - Wednesday. Actually Monday and Tuesday were spent bringing live the Fall Children's and YA Lit courses. I have students already selecting books for assignments. Our grad students in the LS Program at ECU are incredible go-getters and fantastic to work with. I couldn't have found a better group of students and faculty to call my professional family. Looking forward to seeing everyone on Monday. I am bringing brownies (rich and chocolaty and you absorb calories just by smelling them!) - but they are worth the splurge for our lunch get together. We'll all be zinging for the afternoon meeting.

I think Fall weather is approaching already. It has been cool at night and only in the mid 80s during the day. I am not complaining. I am not one for the heat anymore. When I first moved to Texas in the early 90s I couldn't get enough of it. Now, give me a book and a shade tree if I have to be outside. I can't wait for the trees to change color. This is one of the most beautiful areas I have ever seen for color, especially along the Kentucky River. We found a home for sale that backs up to the river - there is no back yard to speak of, just a steep bank down to the river. I could go for that! The sound of the river, maybe some deer around, etc. Can't wait to see the house as it has a screened in back porch. They say you can't go home, but I think I am trying to recreate the quietness of home. I remember as a child sitting in the swing for hours reading and not hearing anything but the birds and an occasional car going by. I didn't realize how blessed I was to grow up in the rural environment I did. At the time I hated it as there was no one to play with so I found my friends in books. What I wouldn't give for one of those leisurely walks with Mom on the back road over to the neighboring farm. And with Dad, to find the first lilacs in the spring. Guess I have had enough time being a "city girl" that I am ready to go back to my country girl roots, but with access to the mall, of course. :-) But, if I want that house in the country I have to get my act together and get things packed up around here so we can put this house on the market.

The top of the front cover of the ARC for Ruby's Imagine by Kim Antieau was peeking out of the top of my purse when I went in for my fibro massage and the therapist saw the deep purple butterfly and said, "Rebirth". I smiled and responded that yes, this book indeed is about rebirth, but the "labor pains" were horrendous - Hurricane Katrina. The eco/world centered language and speaking style of the main character, Ruby, is melodic and sweet as the nectar the hummingbirds Ruby speaks to. Ruby does not find it strange that she can speak to the trees, the birds, and other wild creatures. She remembers the white ally gator in the swamp but her grandmother, Mamaloose, abruptly tells her that is just her imagines, just like the two sisters she imagines. Ruby's innocence makes it difficult to see her as a young woman finishing up high school and accepted into Tulane to study swamp biology, but she is much smarter than most folks around her realize. She keeps it to herself. JayEl, her best friend since they were in elementary school, has feelings deeper than the baby-fingering hooking affection they show each other but he knows to wait. But, the hurricane isn't waiting for anyone and Ruby knows that - the Root People have told her so. At first no one believes her and many of them - Ruby and Mamaloose included, ride the storm out in their flooded houses, seeking refuge in attics which offer little shelter as the roofs are blown off. This is a beautiful book that touch at the heart strings and also causes us to ponder the travesty of how poorly our country responded to the devastation of a beloved city and its people. A book that, once read, will not be forgotten. Ruby never did like to call the area she lived in a ward, she referred to it this way - "I lives in the place where the wisteria dips over the fence to hold hands with the magnolia that dips down to say hello to the Place Where My Vegetables Grow". Ruby will plant again and New Orleans will rise out the dirt just like Ruby's garden. The rebirth will happen, is happening - folks like Ruby who know the city, different perhaps but still there, are the ones who will bring about the rebirth.

Antieau also wrote two other YA novels - Mercy Unbound and Broken Moon She is not an author to shy away from controversial issues. She is also a blogger - check it out at:

In one of the scenes in Ruby's Imagines she is soothing a scared little girl by telling her about the Milky Way and notes that in Finland it is called the Pathway of Birds. Well, that intrigued me, of course, and I thought would fun it would be to write a folk tale about this pathway. But, time for writing folk tales I do not have, but I did have time to read a hilarious one. Such A Prince by Dan Bar-el and illustrated by John Manders is a delightful take on the story of the three brothers who set out to "cure" the princess so they can marry her. In this version, the cure is 3 perfect peaches. And, of course there has to be a fairy godmother - whose name is Libby Gaborchik. The Gabor sisters would be chuckling over this name, as am I. She is there to help the youngest, scrawniest 3rd brother win the hand of the princess, of course. His peaches do indeed have the princess dancing and she is more than willing to marry this peasant but her father isn't keen on the idea. Remember - things often happen in 3s in folk tales, and this one is no exception. It takes the magic silver whistle Gaborchik gave Marvin to herd 100 rabbits (kind of like the Pied Piper of Hamlin, but not rats) into the castle. But the king determines they re not plump enough for the stew so they must go outside the castle gates to graze. The king and the queen both try to trick Marvin by showing up in disguise and asking for a rabbit, but in the end, as a good folk tale always does, the "littlest brother wins." Marvin weds the princess. A perfect read aloud for older elementary students, JH & HS as the humor is quirky and even a bit risque. Let's just say the King being tricked by Marvin into kissing his donkey 3 times comes back to bite him in the ... But, oh what fun. Manders' illustrations are delightfully comical. This one stays in my personal collection.

Now to pack up some more books for storage!

Friday, August 08, 2008

It may be hot outside, but it is chilly in my office with the air on so I am drinking hot coffee, thanks to the new flavored beans I found next to my pot when I got up this morning. I was barely keeping my eyes open until Steve got home last night. I crashed night right after so I didn't even see the groceries he unpacked or the first pre-season football game. I can't believe Brett Farve, the "old guy" from Green Bay, is with the Jets. Guess he just couldn't do without the "glory". Should be an interesting year of football. I am still a Texans fan at heart.

I had to stay awake because Sophie was still very shaky on her back legs, which kept slipping out from under her on the tile and hardwood floors after I picked her up from the vet. If she didn't look so befuddled over why her hind end wouldn't work it might have been funny. Sore gums or not from having her teeth cleaned she chowed down as soon as she got home, even if it was from a lying down position. She is doing great today and not even embarrassed by her bald spots where mats were shaved out on her back. She's outside surveying the world from the deck. Just wait until we have a new home with a larger yard - if we end up in Boones Trace there will be deer in the yard. Will feel like back home in Upper Michigan with critters around again. Not many here in Hamburg, but a few bunnies and one possum when we first moved in.

I have been cleaning off my desk and came across the NY Times article I saved - "Electronic Papyrus: The Digital Book Unfurled" - about the pocket-sized Readius made by Polymer Vision. You can actually roll it up - the screen is so flexible you can wrap it around your finger. Now, this is an ebook reader I might be willing to buy. It uses the same ELink technology that the Kindle does. We won't see this baby in the U.S. until the beginning of 2009. No price set yet but they anticipate it to be more expensive than the Kindle at $359. Hmmm. Guess I will have to wait for it to go down in price. Want to know more? Go to: I may register in case they are going to give a few away in the U.S. market. :-)

I guess I am on a NF kick for the moment, but my YA book for today is a Watson-Guptill publication that came out last month - Kyle Baker's How to Draw Stupid and Other Essentials of Cartooning. Anyone who knows me knows I cannot draw at all. When I taught First grade my kiddos would come up and draw things for me as they couldn't tell what mine were when I drew them. Pretty bad when a 6-year-old can draw better than you can, but that's life. So, because I can't draw, I am totally impressed by folks who can. And Baker can draw, and draw stupid as he states it - so stupid that his cartoons make you snort laugh. We have a lot of teens out there who are budding artists/cartoonists and this is the book for them. Heck, Baker dedicates it "to the future cartoonists of the universe." My favorite chapter is Chapter 8: Use Reference Material. He writes about needing to know how an x-ray machine is set up in a dentist's office for a cartoon - he went to the Internet for photographs to work from. Great advice: "Don't try to fake stuff, or try to guess what something looks like, or work from memory. That's not only lazy, but lots of people looking at your drawing won't know what it's supposed to be." The chapters are short and filled with cartoons, some of them full page. This book is a browser's delight and then you can settle down and enjoy his enlightening and very humorous text on how to become a great cartoonist. Baker should know - he's won 8 Eisner Awards and 5 Harvey Awards Although I would still prefer to curl up with a narrative style novel, I am getting more and more into graphic novels and cartoon books. But, when I think about it - that's no surprise as Mic was collecting Garfield books long before they were referred to as graphic novels. :-) He was watching Japanese anime back in the 1980s too - I had no idea it would become so popular, but liked the big eyed characters too. Wish I could remember the one he rented over and over again - even I could recite the dialogue!

My children's book for the day is a Barefoot Books title that was originally published in Britain, Motherbridge of Love illustrated by Josee Masse, but will have as wide of an audience in the U.S. Although a 2007 title, I have an ARC of it - loose pages - and I started to read it because of the beautiful cover - a little girl doing a handstand in the heart shaped opening made by two hands touching at thumb and fingers. Immediately a page fell out and as I picked it up I realized it was in Chinese. Though I cannot read it, I recognized it from things I have around my own home purchased in China when I visited as a leader of a People to People Ambassador Program visit of librarians. The text of this book - a poem written by an adoptive mother and sent in to the charity Mother Bridge of Love - will fill every mother, adoptive or not, with warmth. To hear this poem beautifully read visit: Do not skip the intro - this is the poem. Don't stop there - this organization is of interest to more than parents who adopted children from China. It does any mother's heart good to visit. I write this with a lump in my throat.

As much as I would like to spend more time talking about books and web sites I love, it is time to do some more packing and working on Fall semester courses.

Wednesday, August 06, 2008

Well, it may be the Hilton on Tobago instead of the gorgeous Marriott on St. Thomas, but I could go for sitting in one of those chairs right now with a cold drink. A bit ironic as I never even put my foot in the pool the entire time we were on vacation on Tobago, but as they say hindsight is 20/20 and that chair in the pool looks really good about right now.
Been up since a little after 5 a.m. thinking about all the things I have to get done in the next 2 weeks before I head out for Greenville on the 17th. A friend our ours who used to live on a sailboat when we all lived in St. Thomas has sold his boat and is back on the Mainland looking for a new one and is spending a few days with us that weekend. Will be fun to catch up on on the news about friends who are still down there. Jeff knows them all as he has lived in the islands for years. I couldn't live on a sailboat like he does, but more power to him if he can live with that little room. Heck, my shoes would fill up his boat just on their own. First thing I look at in the houses we are checking out to buy is the size of the walk in closet in the master bedroom! I need to get the books boxed up in the extra bedroom and things cleaned up in there so Jeff can find the bed!

Am supposed to be going down to a friend's wedding next summer, but haven't made up my mind yet if I will or not. I don't plan on teaching summer school next year so a trip to STT with Janna to attend Roxanne's wedding might just be the break I need. Janna and I will spend hours catching up with each other and I'll get little sleep, but isn't that part of a girls' vacation together? Matter of fact, need to touch base with both of them soon. Seem to have the islands on my mind these days - guess I could use a vacation!

My book for today is not a YA novel, but a NF title that will appeal to older teens. I am working on the syllabus for my YA Lit course and have been focusing on adult titles that will appeal to the teens who are focused on life after HS. I have been laughing out loud over a book of words that came out last month - The DailyCandy Lexicon: Words and Phrases for the New Generation the editors of Daily Candy - This is most certainly a chic blog, but it is lots of fun! Here is my favorite definition -
Teenile: adj. Used to describe someone who is way too old for what she is wearing. (“That 45-year-old woman is wearing low-cut jeans. Is she crazy or just teenile?”)
There are just some things I don't want to see and that is some woman my age with her baby belly hanging over those jeans. I wear "gramma jeans" as my daughter calls them, but at least it is all tucked in where it should be!
Older female teens will also love the first book as well: Daily Candy A to Z: An Insider's Guide to the Sweet Life.
Give these to the older teens who have their noses buried in the edgy chic lit and woman's fashion magazines. Oh what fun!

My children's book for the day is a new Holiday House title by Nancy Poydar - Zip, zip... Homework. Poydar was an elementary teacher for many years before she became a full time creator of wonderful picture books and her knowledge of the younger students is very evident in both her style of writing and her humorous illustrations. I thught of this book as I was checking out the Sunday paper sales fliers and saw all the school supplies on sale, including backpacks. Violet is sure that this year she is going to get tons of homework and she is going to need a backpack that can handle the load - a rolling one with lots of pockets, snaps, and zippers. She is so excited about it, she practices filling it with the homework she imagines she will get. The big day comes when the teacher gives a sheet of homework. Violet is sure she put it in her backpack, but "Ziip, no. Riipp, no. Unclick, no. Unsnap, no." (Love the use of repetitive sounds) The homework was no where to be found, but the next day Violet tells her teacher that she couldn't find it in her backpack, but Ms. Patience is holding the offending empty piece of homework in her face. Violet has homework that night and it isn't going to be easy - she has to tell her parents the truth about her homework. A delightful beginning of the year read aloud in any primary level classroom where little ones come in with backpacks almost as big as they are! I miss those days, but not enough to go back to teaching in the primary classroom again! I love my grad students too much to do that.

On to more packing of books and finding the table in my office. I have most the desk exposed at least!

Tuesday, August 05, 2008

No, I haven't fallen off the face of the earth - Summer Session swallowed me whole and just spit me out! Grades had to be in by 8 a.m. this morning and I submitted mine before I called it a day last night. The one fun thing I did this summer was go to a concert here in Lexington at the Legends' baseball park. Had really good seats on the field for the LeeAnn Womack and Alan Jackson concert. I was able to get a few good pics of Womack as her pre-show was not lights and big screens and flash. It was just her on the stage with that incredible voice. She was superb. Jackson was fantastic as well but there were so many lights directed at the audience and on the stage that I couldn't get a decent picture of him. He sang all his hits and everyone was on their feet singing along with him. I was surprised he played such a small venue but I was very glad he did as that is the closest I'd get to the stage for one his concerts. I haven't read it yet, but his wife Denise wrote a book called It's All About Him: Finding the Love of My Life her faith and dealing with her husband's infidelities and still keeping their family together. Many of the videos playing behind him as he sang were of his wife and girls. I'd like to read this, but like so many non YA or children's titles, I don't get to them.
Made it through another August 4th, Mic's birthday. He would have been 31 yesterday. Very hard to believe he has been gone for 11 years as of April. I can close my eyes and hear his voice and the feel of his hug when he walked through the door after his marathon drives from LaCrosse, WI to Arlington, TX and said, "Hi Mom" like he hadn't been away from me for weeks, if not months. We talked on the phone at all hours of the day and night and he never let me forget how blessed I was, and still am, to have a son like him. Mary called to check on me as she was missing him too. Those two were like two peas in the pod when they were little, but battled like crazy as tweens and drew close again as they entered their late teens. I was glad they were together when my mom died, but devastated they could not be with me at the funeral. She too has been gone for 11 years, a few months before Mic. I am sure they are playing rummy in heaven and mom is still cheating. :-)
Taught two sections of children's lit and one of YA lit this summer and all of the grading and responding to student emails took most of my time. That and dealing with doctor's appointments. I am happy to say I am at a tolerable level of pain and know I can deal with having fibromyalgia. I have my bad days now and then, but if I control myself on the days I am feeling good and don't over do it, I have more of those than bad days. If I could just get a bit more sleep I would be very happy. I have become very intolerant of noise, especially anything high pitched so we are looking to buy a new house out of town on an acre or so if we can so that I don't have to deal with little kids squealing next door, less than 6 feet from my office window, or the sound of the recess bell and kids playing on the playground in the new school that will open up across the green space from us. Hamburg is a wonderful area of the city to live in but not for someone like me who needs quiet and a bit of seclusion. So, my next chore is to find the top of my desk and floor in my office so we can put the house on the market. Never a dull moment in the Clark household!
With all that has been going on this summer I haven't had much time to read but finally read Randa Abdel-Fattah's Does My Head Look Big in This? I found myself laughing out loud at some of things the main character, 16-year-old Amal, comes up with. She is an Australian-Palestinian teen who lives in Melbourne, the daughter of a wealthy family, and attends an exclusive, and very snobbish, prep school. So when she decides to wear the hijab full-time, not just on a bad hair day, she knows she is going to be putting herself in the limelight for taunts of "towel-head" and much worse. Amal is a delight, as she is really a typical teenage girl with the typical teenage girl feeling and fears, such as how will the boy she likes respond to her decision? With her wit, her wicked sense of humor, and her Jewish and Japanese best friends rallying around her, Amal stands up for her beliefs and her right to express her faith as she wishes. This book is a real eye-opener for those of us who have not thought very much about how Muslims are being viewed outside the U.S. after 9/11. Amal states it like this - "It feels like I'm drowning in it all." A must have book for every JH-HS level collection.
On the children's front, I loved Nancy Viau's Samantha Hansen Has Rocks in Her Head which is a new Amulet/Abrams title coming out in September. What a fantastic book for the middle grades. Ten-year-old Samantha Hansen is not a girly-girly by any means of the word. She has loved rocks since she was a toddler and as a tween she has taken her scientific mind to new heights. Now if she could just remember to bring her rock collection to school as her example of what she collects. No way is she letting Ling, who had remembered to bring her rock collection on the right day, show her up! Sam also has a very big voice and a bad tendency to lose her temper - when she does the voice gets even bigger. Mom is as understanding as she can be, quietly telling Sam to count to 10 under her breath. I guess that kind of patience is to be expected out of a mom who sings birthday card jingles in the kitchen and serves cake for just about every meal. It is not unheard of for the three Hansen gals to have cake for dinner and meat loaf for dessert. Sam's dad died when she was three, but she still thinks about him and all the things she'd like to talk with him about - like bedtime stories and piggyback rides. When out of the blue Mom decides that it is time for the three of them - Mom, Sam, and teenage sister Jen - to do some bonding on a trip to the Grand Canyon, Sam is in for more than just a visit to one of the best rock formations in the world. A great read aloud in the elementary classroom during science fair time.
Now to find the top of my desk and start packing up some of my books!