Check out this great article from an amazing fellow author!
For some reason when I picture summer evenings, I often think of porch lights—that little glow in the evening dusk and on into the thick night. Porch lights are a little smile on a house, a twinkle that blinks a warm welcome to neighbors or passersby.
My parents have talked about these.
How porch lights turned on every evening and the adults pulled out deck chairs or settled onto swings to watch the kids gather around in the summer evenings, scheming. Neighbors took walks and stopped by a porch-lit home to chat, share a cup of coffee, a laugh, some talk about the football game, gossip about this and that. It was a coming-together.
But those sorts of porch lights—collecting stray bugs and bits of moonlight—are more or less a thing of the past.
We live farther from each other, retreat into our homes for our evening routines of television shows, movies, coffee, or checking the latest on Facebook, Youtube, Itunes, Twitter or our favorite blogs.
Don’t get me wrong, I’m not lamenting these times—they are my times, and each time has it’s own beauty and it’s own ugly—like in every bit of change.
But where are the porch lights now? Is there any left shining out in the darkness?
Because we humans need light—we crave it.
In winter, light offers warmth. In the spring the promise of growing. In the summer, light means long days and late nights. In fall, light is the orange glow of a pumpkin or candles on a Thanksgiving table.
“Stories are light. Light is precious in a world so dark. Begin at the beginning. Tell Gregory a story. Make some light.” The Tale of Despereaux by Kate Dicamillo
I couldn’t’ve said it better.
They do not ignore the darkness, but scatter it with light.
They illuminate life, ignite dreams, expand our creativity, and tickle our imaginations. They connect us together in ways that nothing else can—in ways that nothing ever can.
They criss-cross time and space and people and cultures and ages like nothing else and allow us to share and experience and touch something magical with another human being—with millions of other human beings.
They tell us all that life was, and is, and can be, and is meant to be.
And libraries–beautiful, lovely, sweet-smelling (you know the smell I’m talking about), magical libraries—have always been places filled with that light of ideas, people, culture, knowledge, and creativity. A place that brings us humans—in all our Facebooking and blogging and watching, and texting—together. Libraries are like lighthouses—shining out across a stormy, unpredictable sea.
Sunday, the main character in my book, A Summer of Sundays, knows the power of libraries to bring communities together. Through remodeling the local library, she sees friendships healed, friendships made, ideas, secrets and lives exchanged, and she discovers herself and where she fits in her world.
So where are those glowing porch lights now?
They’re called The Little Free Library.
Have you heard of them?
They are beginning to pop up everywhere—in the middle of neighborhoods, by the entrance to the dog parks, on the corner of an intersection, by the swing set at the playground.
The Little Free Libraries are a movement that has sprung up from those book lovers who know the power of books and whose desire is to connect people with literature, with information, with stories, and with humanity itself.
And these little libraries are giving people what libraries have always given and offered and shared—a place to bring ideas together, strengthen communities, and enrich lives.
They are small little boxes—almost like large birdhouses—with books inside. You take a book in exchange for a book that you slip inside for someone else. Sharing with each other.
Some neighborhoods decide on a theme for their library: mysteries, children’s books, books by a specific author, sci-fi books, books on a specific culture, books that all have a title that starts with a letter of the alphabet.
These Little Free Libraries are the new porch lights.
People are beginning to emerge from their houses, from behind their screens, and gathering around these libraries, chatting with each other about books. And chatting about books (as it always has) brings up ideas and discussions, laughter and sharing, friendships and creativity—bringing people together.
It’s really extraordinary, isn’t it? This power of light—the power of books—the power of libraries—in not only the great wide world, but in our own small world of a few neighborhood blocks.
Visit www.littlefreelibrary.org and find out how you can turn on your own glowing porch light in your neighborhood. Then watch what happens.
Summers are long and thick and lazy and sticky and beachy and full of water-gun, sunshine-y, read aloud fun.
“Read aloud fun?” you ask. “That’s a little random.”
Yep and . . . yes, a little.
We are a read-aloud sort-of-family. I’ve read aloud to each of my four kids since they couldn’t even lift up their heads and I’d have to hold a burp-cloth under their little baby chins. While my husband romps on the trampoline (Mama’s stomach doesn’t do the trampoline) and shoots hockey pucks in our basement (good bye drywall), my special thing with them has always been reading. I’ve even begun to read aloud to my husband and myself while he sits at the kitchen table and ties his flies for his fly-fishing adventures. It’s a shared sort-of magic that we have together.
And there’s no better time than in the lazy summer heat, during an afternoon thunderstorm, or on cool summer evenings to pick up a book and start to read . . . aloud.
So, I’m going to give you some of my favorite—and my kids favorite—read-alouds. And since I’m a middle grade author and middle grade books tend to be the very best read aloud books for the widest audience around, that’s what I’m going to give you. I’ve also tested each of these on my four chickens and they agree. So without further ado…
Summer . . . (and Fall and Winter and Spring) . . . Read Alouds:
Matilda by Roald Dahl (and pretty much all of his books: The Witches, James and the Giant Peach, Charlie and the Chocolate Factory, etc): Well, ever since I was in fifth grade, this book had been my all-time favorite book around. It’s perfect in so many ways and if you could’ve seen the look on my kids faces when they found out The Trunchbull was Ms. Honey’s aunt, well, it would bring tears to your eyes and a lump to your throat. The power of story…whew!
Harry Potter by JK Rowling…all 7 of them…yes, all 7 of them: I just finished reading the very last one to my kids about a week ago. Wow. Ummm . . . yeah, there isn’t much else that I can say without sounding like the Potter-crazy-34-year-old-mom that I am. So just read them aloud . . . all 7 of them. (I LOVE you, RONALD WEASLEY)
Walk Two Moons by Sharon Creech: This book, in and of itself, is beautiful, but read aloud it is even more magical. My kids loved it and of course, I cried and blubbered through the end.
The Tale of Despereaux by Kate Dicamillo: For those of you who haven’t read this book, I have a mixture of feelings towards you. It’s between pity that you haven’t experienced it’s magic yet, and jealousy that you get to read the magic for the first time. This is a beautiful story and is probably one of the most perfect read-aloud books on the planet.
Peter and the Starcatchers by Dave Barry: this is perfect for anyone who loves adventure, humor, mystery, and magic. The chapters are short, the plot is complex, and it’s just all-around fun, fun, fun. I adore this book so much and it’s perfect with all the different voices.
Wait Til Helen Comes by Mary Downing Hahn: Okay, so I haven’t actually read this one aloud to my kids. The only reason being that they wouldn’t sleep for a month…or probably a year. But I still remember sitting on the carpet in fifth grade listening to Mrs. Baughman read this book and even today, I still can’t walk by an old pond and not imagine Helen emerging from the depths and waving (insert creepy chills). It’s so deliciously eerie…perfect for a girl or boy or adult who likes ghost stories.
So as July bounces along like a big multi-colored beach ball, grab a lemonade, cuddle up on the couch, clear that throat and enjoy some of your very own shared-summer-magic.
Transitions. They are the name-of-the-game for middle grade authors and readers and the reason that I love writing for this age so very, very much.
Fifth grade was one of the most magical times of growing up for me. It was when I was introduced by my fifth grade teacher, Mrs. Baughman, to books like Bridge to Terebithia, Matilda, Island of the Blue Dolphins, and Trumpet of the Swan.
It was when my best friend and I made a fort in a small patch of woods, exchanged locks of hair and became blood sisters.
It was when my friends and I played MASH–You know, the Mansion, Apartment, Shack, House game with the hidden hope that maybe someday…someday…we would really marry that movie star and live in a mansion in Paris with four children.
It was when I sat on the ledge between my parents and my friends and decided on my own whose voice I would listen to.
Life was magical and confusing and filled with so much emotion on every extreme.
It was a delicate time when my friends—both girls and boys—were transitioning in so many ways.
And Middle grade writers, like middle grade readers must see the silly humor in boogers and farts as well as feel the intense pain of a lonely lunch table or a goodbye to a friend who is moving or the loss of a grandparent we never thought could die. Though Young Adult may be hot and show no signs of slowing down, we remain on the outskirts much like our readers themselves who hang in the balance between elementary school and high school, of childhood and young adulthood, innocence and experience, dependence and independence.
So how do we write stories for this age? How do we create stories that make them laugh and forget, that make them cry and remember, that make them look at the murky muddy mess of change and transition with hope?
We must approach our writing with 3 things as vital to our writing toolbox as the correct brand of jeans, the clean backpack, and the meticulously picked folders are for our audience.
And that’s the first thing we as middle grade writers must have when we write…respect.
Every event, every moment with friends, teachers, parents, family, or the first sparks of romance is felt at such an extreme with middle graders.
I remember waking up and feeling excited, despaired, annoyed, giggly, worried, hopeful, insecure, confident, dreamy, nightmarish, awful, wonderful ugly, beautiful, popular, unpopular, stupid, and smart, all within the first 15 minutes of walking through the heavy double doors of my school.
And all of those feelings were real and true for me and they are real and true for our readers at any given moment. So to have a teacher roll their eyes or a parent say “you’re just being emotional,” or another adult shrug off their feelings as silly is not only disrespectful, but it is hurtful and puts a wall in between us and our readers that may not come down.
No one wants their feelings to be laughed at, mocked, looked down on, or considered silly so we must be careful to treat our main characters and our audience with the respect that they yearn for and the respect they deserve.
And then we must remember our own middle grade years with perhaps not necessarily a fondness but with a profound respect—a respect for all that we went through and all that it helped us to become—good and bad.
Yep, we must respect our own middle grade years.
Oh yes, I said it. And that is the second thing we need to have as middle grade writers.
Cause how can we respect our readers, their feelings, and their experiences, if we don’t respect our own journey through the bowels of middle grade knowing that we made it through to the other side?
This, of course, means pulling out the hideous pictures of big bangs, perms, tight-rolled stone washed jeans and finding in them the beauty of what we went through of what our audience is going through now.
We must see our years as middle graders as kind of like a mosaic.
Bits and pieces of colored and broken glass put together in a way that you’d never think could be possible when you look at the mess on the floor.
We have to remember the bits of words—the ones that hurt and the ones that redeemed, the scent of the humid cafeteria, a fleeting vision of walking down the hallway either alone or accompanied on either side, a snippet of whispered dialogue of she likes me/he likes me.
Whether we like it or not, those middle grade memories, both ugly and beautiful, are a part of who we are and they always will be.
So what do we do with them?
As middle grade writers we must smile at all our broken misshappen pieces lying on the ground, pick them up and make a mosaic—a work of art—out of them.
And art that brings hope…cause that’s what those broken pieces represent, don’t they?
And that’s one of the aspects I adore most about writing and reading middle grade fiction is the hope that can be found somewhere inside. Hidden inside the wardrobe with a lion named Aslan, near platform 9 and 3 quarters, with a dog named Winn Dixie, a spider named Charlotte, and three unearthly strangers named Mrs Whatis, Mrs. Who and Mrs Which.
There is hope in the midst of that transition.
Like all of us, middle grade readers need hope and maybe they need even more than us since they are at a time when they are first learning to navigate all the tremors of life all on their own.
They need to know that “this too shall pass” that somewhere beyond their bickering parents, their broken hearts, or their ruined friendships that there is still hope and that yes, they can make it through this and they can overcome and come out on the other side.
We need to infuse hope into our novels, however thin a thread it may be, cause really it could be the thread that our readers hold onto and follow through the darkness of the cave until they are out into the light of day.
So yeah, those transitions are pretty important, deserving of respect. And they’re also the reason why I write and read middle grade fiction.
Up past the tires and so very stuck that he needed to call his excavator to come and pull him out with a dump truck. That’s pretty darn stuck if you ask me. He was backing up, calm, careful, cool, and collected.
That’s what those lions and tigers and bears do . . . they kill our momentum.
All throughout life—not just in writing—we run into these little suckers.
A flat tire on the side of the road on your way to Disney World.
Food poisoning after that delicious steak.
Something in your eye right after you put on mascara and right before you go on stage.
A form rejection letter right when your hope was at it’s highest.
A bad review when your book finally releases into the world.
Dorothy from the Wizard of Oz knows what I’m talking about.
Poor thing had it rough.
Not to mention the lions and the tigers and bears, oh my, Dorothy was stuck in the middle of a witch feud wearing uncomfortable red shoes. Then there were the evil apple trees and deadly poppies, a wizard-who-wasn’t-really-a-wizard-after-all-but-just-a-really-good-techno-pyro-guy-with-identity-issues-and-a-scary-green-head, and the creepiest flying monkeys ever created in cinematic history (granted, those planet of the Apes people in the 70’s were pretty terrifying, too, but you get me).
Challenges and set backs and pitfalls met her at every turn and twist on that yellow brick road . . . just as they do in every good story.
As they do in every good life.
And they’re bound to come.
Even the yellow-ist of the yellow brick roads has a few pot holes worn into the gold stone just sitting there, waiting to pop that momentum and leave you stuck on the side of the road.
If you choose to stay stuck, that is.
For writers, both published and unpublished, those lions and tigers and bears come in many forms. And they don’t happen just once a year, or once a month, or once a week, or even once a day. They happen every hour from moment to moment. Some of these greatest challenges are:
Comparisons: In college I wrote this short little poem when I was apparently feeling particularly vulnerable: “A comparison blushed on the face of the moon, for who can compare with the sun?” Comparisons—those tiny thoughts and nagging notions that pop up every moment. The harsh way we compare ourselves and our work to other people and their work. “I’m not as good at description as they are.” “That book is funnier than mine.” “I only have 1, 500 friends on Facebook, not 2,000 like he does.” “I wish my plot was as creative as this one.” “They got a good review and mine is terrible.” Comparisons stifle our creativity, snuff out our momentum, and hinder our greatest gift—our greatest talent—to be completely and utterly ourselves. And as soon as we can start to silence all the comparisons, the sooner we become free to write and revise and create and live and move and fall and rise as only we, as individuals, can.
Time-Management: Oooo, this is a beauty of a pitfall. Even the most organized of day planners can get sabotaged by that ever tick-tocking clock. There are dishes to do, kids to take care of, a vacuum to run, a critique to finish, a book to start reading, a book to start writing, the dogs that need walked, oh, and you have to check Pinterest and Facebook and then Tweet about your Facebook, Facebook about your tweet, blog about both, and then tweet and Facebook about your blog. There are a million and one things that reach and call and demand our time. And then, when we finally cross of an item on our list, it is quickly replaced by another need-to-do. That is the way of it. It’s just up to us to try and balance the time between all of those things that call our name throughout the day, to have grace for ourselves when we spend a little too much time Facebook stalking, and to try and move forward and keep our momentum going into the next moment.
Reviews: These little buggers can be some of the biggest momentum stoppers for those that have finally—after years of blood, sweat, ink, and tears—been published. What an accomplishment, right?! Yes! Yet, one bad or negative review can send us into the “depths of despair” (to quote Anne Shirley) and we’d like nothing better than to just pull over on the side of the road, get out, and cry. And go ahead, have a good cry and even eat some chocolate. But then pull yourself up, dust off your buttocks (which might be slightly bigger depending on how much chocolate was consumed), and keep going. And another piece of advice? Try not to read reviews. I know they are oh-so-tempting little nuggets…but really, even stopping to bask in your own glory can make you stumble into another pothole J
So now . . . my husband’s truck is out of the ditch and it’s back to it’s happy, if not a little bit dented and a little more worn, life as a truck. But every challenge, every pitfall, every setback is a story in and of itself. It has a beginning, a middle, and an end.
So it’s not about when challenges will come up, and not even about what those challenges will be . . . it’s about what we do with them.
Today I’m participating in THE NEXT BIG THING. It’s a blog hop that began in Australia and went international. The purpose is to get the word out on middle grade and YA writers and their current or upcoming books. Each of us answers the same set of questions, and we “tag” two other authors who will do the same thing the following week. My friend Pam Mingle, tagged me, so here goes.
Though I am currently working on another book right now, A Summer of Sundays is my second published book and will be released on July 9th, 2013. In about two months!
Where did the idea come from for the book?
The idea for A Summer of Sundays came from my desire to write and explore that feeling of being forgotten, left-out, overlooked, and unnoticed that we all feel at some point in our lives.
What genre does your book fall under?
Humorous Contemporary Middle Grade Fiction
What actors would you choose to play the part of your characters in a movie rendition?
Oh dear! This one is hard because actors and actresses grow up so quickly! But I’ll give it a go.
Sunday Fowler: Georgie Henley (Lucy in The Voyage of the Dawntreader…)
Jude Trist: Matthew Lewis (at the age he was when he played Neville Longbottom in the 1st-2nd Harry Potter movie)
Ben Folger: Clint Eastwood
Lee Wren: Helen Mirren
Hey, we can dream, right?
What is the one-sentence synopsis of your book?
Always lost in the shuffle of her large family, eleven-year-old Sunday Fowler decides that this summer she’ll make sure she stands out, and a discovery she makes in the library basement just may help.
Who is publishing your book?
How long did it take you to write the first draft of the manuscript?
I wrote the first draft in about four to five months and then spent the next full year rewriting and revising with my editor.
What other books would you compare this story to within your genre?
The Mother Daughter Book Club (Heather Vogel Fredericks) and The Wedding Planner’s Daughter (Coleen Paratore).
Who or what inspired you to write this book?
I grew up listening to my dad’s hilarious and sometimes unbelievable childhood stories as one of six kids (all born within six years!). He often felt—as did all of his sisters and his brother—lost in the shuffle of a large family. I remember him telling my sisters and I, “I always wished, more than anything, that just once I could eat more than one ice cream sandwich after dinner—maybe a whole box full.” This statement struck me as a simple, sweet, and funny description of what it was like growing up among so many as well as a statement of how much he truly loved and adored every crazy, chaotic, and hilarious moment growing up.
What else about the book might pique the reader’s interest?
Three younger brothers constantly getting into some sort of mischief, two older sisters who are too old and too cool (and one is possibly the worst driver on the entire planet), a new friend with three first names and an obsession with food, an old run-down library, a mysterious manuscript, and a next-door neighbor that just might turn out to be a murderer.
At 10,400 ft with an average snowfall of 14 feet per season, spring in the mountains of Colorado can look more like a brown and white mess than your normal green-fields-bursting-with-lush-grass-sunshine-and-tulips.
Here, we call Spring Mud Season, and rightly so. The feet of snow give way to rushing brown rivets of water, jeans heavy and wet with melted snow, slush, boots caked with thick mud, more slush, cars and trucks all various shades of brown, even more slush, mud-splattered-happy dogs, muddy floors, and those trails that soften during the day so that you sink to your knees freeze to a bob-sled luge over night. And did I mention, slush?
In two words (plus an equal sign): Spring=treacherous.
Then I think of summer. Of June, July, and August. When Colorado, in my opinion, is it’s prettiest. Wildflowers scatter themselves all over mountain peaks and valleys in purples, blues, reds, pinks, yellows, and oranges. Rivers rush and burble, aspen leaves flicker and wave, pine needles crunch under foot, lichen grows on rocks, the sun is warm, the shade is cool, and the sky is so blue it looks like if you looked hard enough you could see stars.
In two words (plus an equal sign): Summer=beauty.
Yet, you can’t have one without the other. Without the muddy mess of spring there would be no summer beauty.
That is the way of all things.
There is no happy ending without a rough and messy middle.
There is no hard-won intimacy without some down-and-dirty hurting.
No hello without there being a goodbye first.
No morning glory without the deepest black of night.
No book-on-the-shelf feeling without a lot of revising, and rejecting, and cutting, and slashing, and crying.
It is the beautiful things that come from dust and mud and rain and clouds and slush.
So during those times…those messy, muddy spring days when you think that June flowers may never come, slip on those boots, roll up those jeans, and realize that as surely as there will be spring next year at this time, the summer, too, comes. Not necessarily when we wish it would…but it comes nonetheless.
Might as well try and dance in the rain, slosh in the slush, and make some mud pies.