Monday, November 29, 2010

Thanksblogging IX: I'm thankful for variety.

In trying to sum up what makes me thankful about the children's lit world, I keep coming back to this. Yes, I sure am thankful for my own favorites: for poetry, for middle grade books, for realistic fiction, for humor. But I'm also thankful for fantasy high and low, for YA, for graphica, for nonfiction... and it's not just because I'm glad there's something out there to satisfy people with favorites different from mine. It's that I'm glad those people exist, and they're reading and writing and keeping my own reading list interesting and challenging. It's why I have a job, and it gives us something to talk about--and I'm thankful the other readers and writers, young and old, who are part of this conversation aren't all clones. We'd all be competing in the same markets. We'd be reading the same picture books over and over to identical children.

The landscape of children's literature has changed so much even in the past few years. A brick won the Caldecott. Kids' books are starting to have online components. I never know what surprises are coming. And as long as I can keep talking about them on a blog named after a 1908 classic, I'm thankful for that.

Monday, November 22, 2010

Thanksblogging VIII: I'm thankful for goats.

A friend read my last post as "I'm thankful for goats," rather than "goals," and it was funny. In fact, pretty much any mention of goats, outside the most prosaic agricultural discussion, is funny. Maybe it's because goats seem to appear more in children's stories than in most adults' everyday conversation, so their mention brings us unexpectedly back to basics. Maybe it's because they chew hay and make comical noises. Maybe it's just their incongruity. Maybe I'm overanalyzing the reason some words are inherently funny. Like "chicken." Or "cheese." Or "pickles."

Whatever the reason, I'm thankful for anything that brings on giggles.

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In addition to this blog, I'll be making occasional posts, hopefully more coherent ones than the above, at Brookline Blogsmith. Come visit!

Sunday, November 21, 2010

Thanksblogging VII: I'm thankful for goals.

Since I finished the first draft a few months ago, I've had fun meandering through my novel, tweaking this, adjusting that. But the revision list stayed about the same length. Bullet points grew notes like "have checked for this through Chapter 7."

A few weeks ago, I set a goal. This novel will be submission-ready by February 1, or my name isn't That Blogger Who's Been Saying Thankful Stuff All Month.

What a difference! I'm spending about the same amount of time on the novel, but somehow, more is getting done. Items are getting knocked off the revision list almost daily.

I'm thankful for the time I've spent with these characters, and for the lots more time that I know lies ahead. But perhaps others will get to spend time with them in the reasonably near future, and I'm thankful for that, too.

Thursday, November 18, 2010

Thanksblogging VI: I'm thankful for mush.

A, age 2, handed me an imaginary handful of food. "What's this?" I asked.
I didn't have to ask why mush was in her frame of reference, but I did anyway. "Like 'a comb, and a brush, and a bowl full of mush?'"
"Yes." Vigorous nod. Big grin.

When A reads Goodnight Moon, she doesn't just remember that she's read a soothing, atmospheric book about bedtime. She remembers the moon and the mouse and the mush. When she and S, age 5, read Maisy Goes to the Fair, they don't just observe that Maisy and her friends are having a fun day; they choose (and sometimes argue over) which seats they personally want on the Ferris wheel and the merry-go-round.

Details stay with us. There are words in my vocabulary that I clearly remember learning because I first encountered them in books as a kid. There are icons on Livejournal that say, "Sheep are in."

It's enough to make me want every line I write to be good, and I'm thankful for that.

Saturday, November 13, 2010

Thanksblogging V: I'm thankful for enthusiasm.

Maud Hart Lovelace has a cult following.

I was only vaguely aware of the intensity of that following until I staffed a discussion, led by author Mitali Perkins, of MHL's Emily of Deep Valley. Being more familiar with MP's work than with MHL's, I knew at least that the discussion would be a thoughtful one, and it was. But I didn't know how happy the thirty or so people in attendance would be. I heard an "I'm so happy!" from an attendee purchasing new editions of the Betsy-Tacy books, and the same phrase from another attendee who was just glad to be in a room with people who wanted to have a conversation about a beloved author's work.

I had no idea what they were talking about, and at the same time, I knew exactly what they were talking about. Replace a few details, and their discussions of Betsy, Tacy, and Tib could be mine about Anne, Diana, and Gilbert. They analyzed their favorite characters, wondered about their motivations, and learned about life from them, and it all sounded very familiar.

Less than an hour earlier, my co-worker and I did some comparing of our favorite children's books as we set up for the event. Anne of Green Gables was one of the first titles she mentioned, and I exclaimed almost automatically, "Okay, we're friends now!" I'm thankful that books eliciting that sort of reaction are pretty common. So common, in fact, that that doesn't make me weird.

Wednesday, November 10, 2010

Thanksblogging IV: I'm thankful for the children's lit glow.

I've heard it said that horses sweat, men perspire, and ladies glow.

Well, writers and children's lit students and booksellers and critics and editors do sweat. We do perspire. But we also glow. Male, female, and equine alike, I assume.

You know the glow I'm talking about, or at least, I hope you do. I felt it in my ed major days when we'd occasionally examine a picture book and get to feel like we were little again. I felt it when I discovered Clementine, Black Stars in a White Night Sky, and Marcelo in the Real World, and when I realized that the character who'd come to mind in one of my first Writing I prompts would be the main character of my novel. I felt it when I saw the number of books lining the shelves at The Horn Book and when I got to edit and write flap copy for old and new favorite authors at Houghton Mifflin. I feel it now when I realize a connection I need to make in my current novel was there all along, or when the book I suggest projects the glow onto a customer.

It is possible to feel burnt out on anything, even children's books. A certain legendary project at Simmons involving the analysis of a large number of illustrators made a lot of us at least come close to feeling that way. But any time that's started to happen, something has materialized to bring back the glow. That time, it was picking up The Very Hungry Caterpillar for the first time in a while. It's always something.

I'm thankful for that.

Sunday, November 7, 2010

Thanksblogging III: I'm thankful for old favorites.

My "to-read" shelf is more of an I Love Lucy-style conveyor belt, consisting of books in genres I write or might like to write, books that are popular, books on topics that interest me, books getting critical attention, books by authors I like, books by authors I haven't checked out yet, books in genres or on topics I don't know enough about, innovative books, friend-recommended books, et cetera, et cetera, et cetera.

Goodnight Moon. A Little Princess. All-of-a-Kind Family. Cheaper by the Dozen. 

Did your breath just slow down a little? Mine did.

Maybe it's because all of the above were written and/or take place in times that we perceive as slower and simpler, but at least in my case, I think it's more about when I first encountered them. When I read the words "all-of-a-kind family," I hear them pronounced in my mother's voice.

Old favorites aren't necessarily entirely quiet and peaceful. Amy March throws Jo's manuscript into the fire. Anne of Green Gables walks a ridgepole, and it doesn't end well.

But they make me feel quiet and peaceful, and I'm thankful for that.

Wednesday, November 3, 2010

Thanksblogging II: I'm thankful for progress.

This isn't to say that old stuff isn't good stuff, because quite a lot of it is. But I'm thankful for many important changes, and I'm thankful when the children's literature world recognizes and takes part in them.

I was reminded of this reason to Thanksblog by the announcement this week that ALA is adding the Stonewall Children's and Young Adult Literature Award to its Youth Media Awards. ALA says the award will honor "English-language works for children and teens of exceptional merit relating to the gay, lesbian, bisexual and transgendered experience." (Thanks, Shelf Awareness.)

The award joins the ranks of the Coretta Scott King Award, the Pura Belpre Award, the Schneider Family Book Award, and others in honoring good books that don't pretend this is completely a straight, white, typically abled world. When that happens so naturally that it doesn't stand out, that'll be a good thing, and to some degree, it has been happening for a while. There's not much focus on Lisa's race in Corduroy, but it's there. There's little ink spent on the sexuality of Gianna's briefly appearing neighbors in The Brilliant Fall of Gianna Z, but it's there. Just like it is in the world.

But we sure need more books that highlight the fact that it's not an all-white, all-straight, all-typically abled world, both for the kids who already know that and for the ones who don't. I'm thankful we have the ones we have, and I'm thankful we're honoring them and giving them a place on the Award Winners shelf, where it's easy to find them.

Monday, November 1, 2010


Because "Shoshana is a Sap Who Needs a Whole Month to Express Gratitude" would get annoying to type after a while, welcome to Thanksblogging, a series that's like Thankful Thursday except that it's going to last through November.

I'll start with a basic one: I'm thankful for the children's lit community in all its forms.

Before I'd heard of Simmons College and its Writing for Children program, a group of my Goucher College friends started a Children's Literature Circle. It remained pretty informal, but we did wax nostalgic about our childhood favorites and foster love-ridicule relationships with some children's series. At the time, it seemed like an obscure, quirky focus for a group of college students.(Of course, the publishing industry hadn't told us yet that we were "New Adults.")

Since then, I've learned that while children's literature can indeed be quirky, it isn't obscure, nor should it be. Lots of smart adults take seriously the importance of creating good books for kids and helping kids find them. I'm thankful that I've found a heck of a lot of those people and that that community extends far beyond Simmons. I get to spend a lot of time exchanging opinions with friends about books for kids and young adults, and at the risk of preaching to the choir, I've got to say that it's a lot of fun.

Happy November! Feel free to chime in with your own expressions of thankfulness, literature/writing-related or not.