Monday, April 30, 2012

They'd like to thank the Society...

SCBWI just announced the winners of the 2012 Crystal Kite Awards. These awards are chosen by the authors' peers in the form of SCBWI members, and if I may say so, we've got good taste.

I'm particularly proud of my former writing professor and recent Writing Camp counselor Jo Knowles, whose Pearl got some well-deserved love. I was also excited to see store favorites Won Ton and Between Shades of Gray on the list. Congratulations to all!

Friday, April 27, 2012

A few things that made me happy this week

Thing 1: Stephen Colbert continues to demonstrate his respect for the children's book world by acting in character like he doesn't get it at all. His picture book I am a Pole and So Can You comes out May 8. Colbert celebrated by interviewing the embodiment of joy that is (the apparently potty-mouthed) Julie Andrews. There is discourse. There is singing. There is delight. (See if you can spot the one throwaway line that made me less than happy. Et tu, Julie?)

Thing 2: Charlie Kaufman, best-known for writing in a quirky manner about book-to-film adaptations and about people going  inside each other's heads, is going to write the film version of the Chaos Walking trilogy. It's a match made in Haven. (Sorry.)

Thing 3: Dr. Seuss. In space.

Thing 4: Fresh off the NESCBWI conference, I've done some examining of a character who had me perplexed, and I'm pleased to find that she's turned out more assertive than I might consciously have made her, and I think it works, at least for this draft. You go, girl! Now to stick you in some awkward situations...

Hope you've all had happy weeks!

Sunday, April 22, 2012

Springfield: An excuse for Seuss

The Sheraton filled with the six hundred voices
of tellers of stories concerned with their choices
in structure and balance, description and theme,
decisions enough to make anyone scream!
Instead, though, we listened, and richer we are
for hearing from Bliss, Yolen, Messner, and Zarr,
from agents and editors. Friends. Volunteers.
From newbies and those who've been published for years.
We pondered why characters feel what they feel,
and how we can tell if they're keeping it real.
Critiquers critiqued and academies met,
and books were re-outlined and new goals were set.
Now everyone's talking of writing tricks learned,
of questions well-answered and power-naps earned.
The weekend's appearing in tweet after tweet.
And to think that we saw it near Mulberry Street!


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Tuesday, April 17, 2012

Keeping It Real!

Who's going to the SCBWI New England Conference this weekend?

 I am! I am!

I'm looking forward to mixing and mingling at the Eric Carle Museum, chewing on my pencil at Writing Camp, and hearing from keynote speakers like Sara Zarr and Kate Messner. I'm looking forward to close analysis of works in varying stages of progress at the Novel Academy and in workshops on beginnings and revision. I'm looking forward to catching up with old friends and, as this year's theme encourages, Keeping It Real.

I'm really excited about the theme, and not just because I mostly write realistic fiction. Whether a book's characters are fourth graders or fairies, they need to feel real enough to make readers care about them, and that means their actions and motivations need to make sense within their world.

I hope I'll see you in Springfield this weekend. For real.

Thursday, April 12, 2012

Poetry and a contest

"National Poetry Month" is a clunky phrase. It takes up the whole middle line of a haiku, and it doesn't rhyme with much unless you say you're lisping just onthe. (I've used that trick at least twithe.)

Poetry can seem clunky, too, when you're trying to fit it into a sales pitch. When the child in question would rather engage with the nearest (non-e-reader) screen, is it really a good time to suggest a genre that smacks of tweed-scented English departments? When the parent expresses pride in the amount of dense text the child can read, is it time to suggest books with barely a few dozen words per page?


For a reluctant reader, poetry might be just the right kind of visually inviting read. It's perfect for "dipping in," and it can be about any subject in the universe, from relationships to adventure to toilet humor to, well, the universe (thank you, Douglas Florian). Sometimes it even has a beat. And there's plenty to analyze, plenty to imagine, plenty to interpret in one's own creative way  - all things that are worthwhile if you're a "big reader."

It's easy to forget about poetry in the midst of leading customers around more mainstream sections; much as I love poetry, I've been guilty of that. Thanks for reminding me, April.


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Wednesday, April 4, 2012

Is Katniss Okay for Now?

About half the adult customers buying The Hunger Games are still acting embarrassed about reading a YA novel. I've seen virtually none of that shamefacedness from the customers clamoring for Fifty Shades of Grey. Not that the latter group (which I'm sure overlaps with the first) should necessarily be embarrassed; from what I know about it, I think I'd have some issues with the dynamics of Fifty Shades, but to each his/her own. Still, it's odd to realize our culture has reached a point where reading about sex in public is largely okay, but reading a novel (in this case, a critically acclaimed novel) originally marketed toward teens is still something to be ashamed of.

Anyway. That shame hasn't stopped The Hunger Games in all its forms from doing extremely well of late, and by request, here are my thoughts on its film incarnation. (If you are somehow unspoiled and want to remain so, this would be the place to stop reading.)

Overall, I think the film did an excellent job. The first few scenes give a strong sense of the fear inherent in the Reaping. We see that fear first, so when we start to see signs of what a jolly, frivolous occasion this is to the players and audience at the Capitol, the contrast makes obvious the cruelty of their (real or feigned) thoughtlessness. The biggest difference from the book is that because we're not seeing the story through Katniss's eyes, we know what's happening outside the arena. I was fine with finding out in this installment that Rue's district revolts at her death, and thought that was used well to explain the rule change and show Haymitch's character. Seeing what was happening in the coldness of the control room was also interesting; I was most struck by one of the women there - the one who creates the mutts - whose voice and manner just seemed so nice.

There are always quibbles, but mine really are minor. First: The book makes it very clear that Katniss is an underdog, that no one expects this poor, untrained girl from District 12 to win. In the movie, people acknowledge that Katniss's hunting abilities give her an advantage so quickly that there's no time to be surprised at her success (even if, okay, the first-person novel with sequels probably didn't fool many of us into thinking Katniss was done for). Second: The mutts, my friends, the mutts. The book mutts are creepy combinations of dogs and recently killed - recently threatening - tributes. The movie mutts are just dogs.

In other literary battle news, congratulations to Okay for Now on its victory in School Library Journal's Battle of the Kids' Books! Well-deserved.

Monday, April 2, 2012

A shocking revelation

I lied.

To my knowledge, there is no Hunger Games prequel in the works, and as for Jeff Kinney, he's too busy tackling the subject of young love to turn his attention to dystopian rebellion. (No conclusive word yet on whether Team Greg and Team Rowley shirts will be apropos.)

In non-April Fool news that isn't very new, the children's and YA literature field is wide, wild, and wonderful. My weekend included a viewing (and lots of selling) of The Hunger Games; lots of children's lit talk with students, fellow alums, and faculty at a Simmons potluck; and a mass (and I do mean mass) appreciation of all things Pigeon, Elephant, Piggie, and Knuffle Bunny when my own Brookline Booksmith hosted Mo Willems.

There was at least one child reading The Hunger Games in the signing line. Don't Let the Mockingjay Drive the Bus? It can't be far behind.

Sunday, April 1, 2012

Diary of a District 13 kid?

A lot of middle-graders want to read The Hunger Games and its sequels. Nearly as many parents say the books are too violent.

In an only slightly less intense battle, droves of middle-graders have fallen in love with Diary of a Wimpy Kid and its sequels, which quite a few of their parents feel aren't thoughtful enough material.

But apparently, there's a solution.

Suzanne Collins and Jeff Kinney confirmed this week that they will co-write a Hunger Games prequel aimed at the MG crowd. Collins will be primarily responsible for outlining the plot, and Kinney will draw the story in his usual semi-graphic style. The prequel's protagonist will be Heffory Storm, a ten-year-old District 13 boy living through the Panem rebellion that results in the institution of the Hunger Games. That setting promises plenty of action, but Collins assures us that "the bulk of the violence will take place off-screen, as it were."

"Readers may see a lightly wounded stick figure or two," Kinney adds, "but there won't be any images more difficult than the armpit hair shown in Diary of a Wimpy Kid 5: The Ugly Truth."

A book with "Collins" and "Kinney" written on the spine? I'd say the odds are in its favor.