Saturday, August 24, 2013

#1 on Summer’s List

Raise your hand if you ever missed going to the zoo during summer vacation. OK, I’m looking, but I don’t see any hands out there.

For my brothers and me, it was a pack a picnic lunch, spend the day occasion. The event usually included at least two or three aunts and several cousins. During winter months I wrote letters to Suzy the gorilla at the Cincinnati Zoo (which I never mailed). When I grew up, I took my own kids, chaperoned classes and troops, even hosted a birthday party at the Louisville Zoo. I remember looking back over my shoulder at the cleanup crew hosing out our party room, washing away ice cream and chocolate cake and trampled party streamers and thinking that was the ONLY way to celebrate a birthday. What took me so long to learn this?

Did I ever want to live at the zoo? No, but what if I had? Author Irene Latham could be a kindred spirit.

DON’T FEED THE BOY by Irene Latham, illustrated by Stephanie Graegin, Roaring Book Press, 2012

Whit, eleven, has lived his whole life at the Meadowbrook Zoo. Dad is head elephant keeper and Mom is a veterinarian and zoo director. Ms. Connie is his kind, understanding, home-school teacher who has always been there for him.

Wherever one lives, a few well thought-out rules make life run more smoothly. Here are the rules Whit’s parents expect him to follow:

1) Don’t feed the animals.

2) Schoolwork comes first.

3) Don’t leave the zoo property for any reason.

Now that Whit is approaching middle school, these rules are beginning to feel confining, like a skin that’s growing too tight. He looks at life, his life in particular, and wonders what it would be like to fit into a world of people. Little does he know that is exactly what other middle school kids are wondering, too. They just do their wondering at a public school while Whit is fulfilling Ms. Connie’s assignments and bemoaning his predictable routine at the zoo. In some of his moodiest moments, he even thinks his parents care more for the animals than they do for him.

And then Whit notices a girl who looks to be about his age and who appears at the zoo every day. She settles into the same spot and draws pictures of the birds. He christens her “Bird Girl” and wonders why she is always alone. It takes some time, but he finally works up enough courage to talk to her. His courage is rewarded. They become friends.   

Surely there is an ancient saying somewhere that says one should always see home through another’s eyes to truly appreciate it. Whit thinks his ability to recite all the keepers’ public performances for the public--like every word the keeper says at feeding time at Pelican Plaza-- shows just how dull and boring his life is. However, Stella’s eyes grow round with surprise and admiration at each recitation. As Whit points out small things that only an everyday person could see or observe or understand, he realizes how much he loves his home.  

When Whit gets to see what Stella’s home life is like, his theories about families and the lives other people surely must enjoy more than he enjoys his, come to a screeching halt.  Stella needs help. Whit is determined to provide that help. As Stella and Whit try to solve some adult-sized problems, the carousel and train figure into a variety of plot twists and turns.  

I won’t spoil the ending, except to say parents will applaud and kid readers will be happy for both Whit and Stella. (No, Whit’s parents do not adopt her.) 

Illustrations capture the characters and their emotions as if a photographer followed this engaging pair and offered them a package of photos at the end of their zoo trip to be a souvenir of their vacation. In her acknowledgements, Author Latham addresses illustrator Stephanie Graegin:  ”You’ve charmed Whit and the Bird Girl to tender life.” Tender is a fitting word. They are like tender shoots of the flowers they will become.

For more about Irene, see her webpage and be sure to visit her blog and read happy news about Don’t Feed the Boy.  


Tuesday, August 13, 2013

Blog Hop—Not a Book

This is not an entry from my Book Log. It is not about books. It is about people who write them.

I’ve been tagged!

Connie Fleming and I are members of an on-line critique group known as the Golden
Girls. Our other member is Kathye Marsh.

Connie writes for all ages and her blog is especially helpful for those of us who sit at our computers for long stretches, write, eat (after all, we have to keep up our strength) write and eat some more. 

Kathye writes the most fun fantasy novels for young readers and some rather stark paranormals for older readers. I’m older than her older readers, and I read Kathy’s work when I’m not alone at home. She’s too good and I react to strange noises. 

Kathye’s middle grade novel, Pansy Pants, was a recent runner up in the CBAY competition. You can read all about this on her blog

Connie tagged Susan Spain, a member of her writing group, Kathye Marsh, and me for this Hop and we were asked to answer at least four of ten questions. Then it was our turn to tag three authors of our own choosing. 

Here are the questions I answered:

1. What are you working on right now?

A novel for ages ten and up set in Alabama during the 1960’s.

4. Why do you write what you do?

Underdogs call my name. If the team I root for doesn’t win, I consider that a second place win, not a loss. This drives me to write about characters who strive to do the right thing, no matter how many times obstacles bowl them over. They struggle to stand again, dust off, and start over.

6. What is the hardest part about writing?

Surviving transitions between writing stages.

A) Research. All parts of the research process, interviews, archival digging, reading stacks of books on the topic or all around the topic, taking copious notes, and traveling to actual settings—all of this fascinates me. I never want it to end.

But it must.

B) Writing the story swallows me whole. I forget where I am. Hours disappear. Suddenly it’s 4 o’clock and I haven’t fixed anybody lunch. The dog is giving me that  you-should-be-ashamed-of yourself look. This can go on for weeks.  

C) Polishing the manuscript--like choosing which adorable kids' vacation pictures to share. All are memorable (the manuscript looks pretty darn good) and Mom (also a literary parent) is button popping proud.

D) Handing the package over the counter to the friendly postal person. She knows I'm a writer. She’s going to be one, too, when she has time. I make encouraging comments and go home to wait.

E) Waiting. It’s tough to let go of the characters who’ve moved out of my head and into the hands of others. It’s time to move on, to meet new characters solving a new puzzle.

During the transition from one stage to the next, my confidence fails me. I should call a halt to this time consuming thing called writing. Whoever told me I could write anyhow? OK, so a few people have said that but they were friends or relatives or editors who probably didn’t want to hurt my feelings. I know how to turn every supportive comment on its head.

The hardest part of writing is I can’t quit. I can’t not do it.

8.Who are the authors you most admire?
A)  the ones who didn’t quit

B) today’s pre-published writers who refuse to quit.

I salute you all.

Now I get to tag.

I’ve chosen three talented writers who model the most intriguing characters: distinctive, authentic, and hard to forget. I’ve known each one a long time and still am surprised by their myriad interests and abilities.
When I asked Gina Hagler which blog to link—she has several—I was amazed to learn about her financial management background. Who knew? Not I. Certainly, writers need tips and tools for managing the business of writing. And make no mistake, publishing our work is a business.
Sandy Fry is a world traveler and photographer. Her challenge will resonate with all of us who research a topic and create stacks of important information which quickly explode all over our homes and offices. How Sandy wrestles with this problem is definitely a blog worthy topic for every creative person.
Jan Godown Annino introduced me to blogs and talked me through posting my early ones. She was one of the first authors I interviewed and I was delighted to review her stellar biography, She Sang Promise, The Story of Betty May Jumper, Seminole Tribal Leader. Jan is a master at finding the hidden muse. Sometimes the muse finds her. Scroll through her photographs and phrases and see if your own muse doesn’t whisper your name.

To all who click your way through this blog hop, explore and enjoy!

Hillview School Library