Friday, April 17, 2015

Kid Problems: When suddenly, everything is so much bigger than you (or: #IWishMyTeacherKnew )

Last Saturday, I went to the Colorado Teen Literature Conference in Denver. It's a one-day event for teachers, librarians and teens, all about books. I love it, even if it starts pretty early. There's breakfast, and this year's keynotes were Wendelin Van Draanen and Andrew Smith. I was inspired, and got to eat a dynamite sandwich for lunch with some cool librarians for company.

I was honored to be invited to talk about how to reach YA and middle-grade reluctant readers. This is a bit of a soapbox topic of mine, so it was a good thing I had a whole hour. I've done this talk at too many library conventions to mention (in AL, MS, GA)--basically, I try to share ideas on how to reach reluctant readers, and ask for teachers and librarians to share theirs. It's fun, inspiring, and I love it when I see heads nodding in agreement as I talk. Makes me feel like we're all in this together.

But I'll admit: this talk has changed over time. I now talk more about how reluctant readers are often kids with undiagnosed reading disabilities (hate that word, but it's the best I've got). I talk about how I have one of those kids in the house, and how easy it is to miss this struggle. How kids become experts at hiding their difficulty reading. And I also talk about how often, much of this reading reluctance is really about the kid's home life. Whether Mom and Dad or guardians read.

And about money. Because after doing so many school visits, and talking to many teachers and librarians and the issues they deal with, so much of it all is an issue of economics. No money=less time=less education=forgotten kid problems. We need to fix economic inequality, that's the bottom line. Teachers and librarians shouldn't be forced to be the Band-Aid to society's ails when kids come to school with gorilla-sized problems in their backpacks.

I could go on about this forever... But I won't.

But I will share this story, since I'm still on my soap box: it's of a third grade teacher who asked her students to share things with her in a note: I wish my teacher knew... These are third-graders being honest, and it'll make you cry, I swear.

After my presentation at the Colorado Teen Lit Conference, a parent stuck around, crying about her struggle to get her son (who has a reading disability) through life. It's a lonely gig, being a parent, kid, teacher, librarian dealing with these enormous problems. Sometimes, it's good to know you're not alone.

Chapeau to the teacher in this online story. Makes me think we should all write a note...

And since this is all a bit sad, I thought I'd surround this post with a bunch of nice drawings I got in the mail after doing a Skype visit not too long ago. Because sometimes, you get a nice note, too. And you make a kid reader friend named Dezarae.

I'm a lucky duck, to be an author of kid books.

Thursday, March 19, 2015

Vacation!

I'm taking a vacation for the next few weeks---exciting, but also tiring, at least ahead of time. I'm right at that point where I wonder why we were going in the first place. There's pet care to figure out, stuff to pack, weather to research... We're flying this time, so that's always extra complicated.

But I'm looking forward to a break! Good for the soul. We're not going anywhere tropical like the picture (I wish), but to London, which will be cool.

Earlier this week, someone asked me in an interview what places I still want to visit. I realized most of my wish list location have to do with food: Italy, Greece, Ireland... I also want to see more of the U.S., especially our parks so I can hug a few trees.

How about you? Any wish list destinations?

Thursday, March 5, 2015

Throwback Thursday: Remembering where you came from, and 2015 plans

There's a thing on Facebook called Throwback Thursday. It's pretty fun: people post old pictures of themselves (or others) from a while ago. You're probably familiar if you hang out at the virtual watercooler that is Faceybook.

This is me, I'm thinking around three years old. And laughing at someone's joke, clearly. As I flipped through my old picture album, I was reminded how nice my childhood was, and how lucky I am to have all these good memories (there were a lot of smiley-me pictures to choose from).

As a writer, I'm not the same girl who wrote those dark stories umpteen years ago--which is understandable, especially since I write for kids now. But it's good to remember where you came from sometimes. I actually wrote a short story recently, and was reminded to do more of it. And I ticked off one of my plans for 2015, so that felt good.

I still like to have a good laugh like three year-old Fleur, though, so that hasn't changed.

How about you? Do you look back and realize you write differently, or read different books?


Monday, February 23, 2015

Bringing some soul to your Monday with Leon Bridges

Sounds so much like the old Motown stuff, it's hard to believe this is new music. Nice.

Hope you have a great week, all!


Thursday, February 19, 2015

Oscar Week and THE ALIAS MEN: Chaplin and silent film resources

I love to get lost in research. Although I estimate that I only use about one percent of the information I find, it's fun to get lost in biographies, maps, and old photos. Researching the Hollywood silent film era for Double Vision: The Alias Men was absolutely fascinating. And watching old Chaplin movies may have been the best of all...

I thought I would share some of the links and books, in case you feel like joining in. Great for the classroom, if you're an elementary/middle school teacher!

Books:

My Autobiography by Charles Chaplin

Great insight into Chaplin, silent cinema, and the people of his era. I really enjoyed his astute observation of people. At times funny and moving all at once, much like his films.
A must-read, in my opinion.
         

Silent Traces: Discovering Early Hollywood Through the Films of Charlie Chaplin by John Bengtson

Fascinating look at the film sets of Chaplin movies; Bengtson also published books on Buster Keaton and Harold Lloyd film locations. If you're a film buff, these books are for you. You can read a Denver Post interview with the author here.

Online Resources

Charlie Chaplin website

Silent Locations: For silent film location information, look no further than John Bengtson's blog. He has images, factoids on Chaplin, Keaton, and Lloyd. A research treasure trove...

The Great Depression: a curriculum guide from FDR Library (for educators).

Hollywood sign: the sign has its own website! Find out more about the history, and where to go if you want to visit.

Grauman's Chinese Theatre: interesting history.      

For educators: here's a teacher's guide to Double Vision: The Alias Men to use in the classroom.

What's your favorite silent movie?


Tuesday, February 17, 2015

Oscar Week celebrations, Hollywood and Linc


It's Oscar week! It kind of snuck up on me, to tell you the truth...

In case you're wondering why it matters: Double Vision: The Alias Men (Linc's third adventure) sets in Hollywood, with the final scenes during the Academy Awards. It was a lot of fun to take the story there. The ending is pretty over-the-top--such a blast to write.

To celebrate, I thought I'd give away a copy (U.S. only, postage is wicked expensive overseas...) of Double Vision: The Alias Men. Later this week, I'll share some resources I found during my research for the book--all about Charlie Chaplin, silent films, and Hollywood history. Cool stuff.

In the meantime, here are the nominees for Best Animated Feature, since those are kid-friendly. I'm ashamed to admit that I have only seen the Dragon 2 movie (which was fun). Any guesses on the winner...?

Here is the full list of categories and nominees.



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Thursday, February 12, 2015

Thursday YA book review: I Am The Messenger by Markus Zusak

From the publisher:

protect the diamonds
survive the clubs
dig deep through the spades
feel the hearts


Ed Kennedy is an underage cabdriver without much of a future. He's pathetic at playing cards, hopelessly in love with his best friend, Audrey, and utterly devoted to his coffee-drinking dog, the Doorman. His life is one of peaceful routine and incompetence until he inadvertently stops a bank robbery.

That's when the first ace arrives in the mail.

That's when Ed becomes the messenger.

Chosen to care, he makes his way through town helping and hurting (when necessary) until only one question remains: Who's behind Ed's mission?


My thoughts:

Although The Book Thief is Zusak's hit novel, I really like his earlier books. It's hard to find YA with a strong guy protagonist, and Zusak nails these every time.

I Am The Messenger is gritty, and would technically fall in the New Adult category here in the States (Ed has graduated high school, even if he sort of stalled out since). I liked the mystery of the cards, of the messages, and of the muscle dudes coming to beat Ed up. There's plenty of humor, and the whole novel hinges on character, which is what makes it so great.

Loved Ed's dog, the Doorman.

I Am The Messenger is one of those books that transcends genre classifications like YA, mystery, whatever. It's just a great book. Highly recommend for anyone over fourteen.