Bridge to Terabithia and Okay for Now

As writers we have a love of reading first and for many it started young. At least one special book hooked us, caused us to devour pages and eventually shelves. Then we each ended up here with the desire to create passionate readers in others. There were so many books of my youth, but out of them all, one stands above the rest. I still remember when my mom introduced me to Bridge to Terabithia by Katherine Paterson (1977). Mom is the main influence of my kidlit love. As a teacher, every summer/school break and family vacation she was equipped with a wonderful book for us to read together. I remember being in the fourth grade when she brought into my room Bridge to Terabithia along with a box of tissues. I learned later that she almost didn’t introduce me to my favorite book due to fear it would upset me. On the contrary, it is the most beautiful, uplifting book, and yes I used every tissue. To me that is book brilliance. I felt something. Another, more recent book spoke similarly to me: Gary Schmidt’s Okay for now (2011). Gary Schmidt is a fabulous writer. He has earned the Newbery Honor twice and Katherine Paterson have received the Newbery Medal twice. Both books follow male main characters dealing with coming of age. Both Bridge’s Jess Aaron (5th grade) and Okay’s Doug Swieteck (8th grade) deal with their individuality and being members of their poorer families. Both work real hard and are artists that are embarrassed by its so called unmanliness. Education plays a key role in these books with teachers that both inhibit and inspire. And of course a girl who changes everything. Throughout these two are the themes of friendship, courage, and loss and recovery. They are unique in wonderful ways too. Bridge takes place shortly after the Vietnam War and Okay takes place during the Vietnam War which makes a cool historical comparison. The losses involved differ too and I will not spoil them. My favorite thing that Gary Schmidt brings to the table is his humor (read his Newbery Honor: Wednesday Wars). He has the laugh cry down. And then Paterson hits upon the imaginative play/world that I missed in Okay for Now. Writing this post rocked for a number of reasons. One, I got to reread Bridge to Terabithia and recall its magic appeal. Two, I discovered a new favorite and saw its beauty.... read more

The Boys Next Door: Little Women & To All The Boys I’ve Loved Before

(Spoilers) Who hasn’t fallen in love with the boy next door? It’s a timeless story that never gets old. Even Taylor Swift wrote a song about it (You Belong With Me- Louisa May Alcott published Little Women in 1886. The March sisters, Meg, Jo, Beth, and Amy have to deal with the Civil War and the absence of their father. Next door, a boy named Laurie moves in with his grandfather. Laurie and the March girls become close friends, with Jo especially. Time passes, the war ends, and they all grow up. After Laurie finishes school, he returns home and asks Jo to marry him. Jo, being an independent woman, turns him down. He leaves for Europe, where he runs into Amy, Jo’s youngest sister. They fall in love and return married. In the end, Jo is happy for them, and she finds love with a German professor. They all live happily ever after.   Jenny Han published To All the Boys I’ve Loved Before in 2014. Just like Little Women, it’s an iconic story about sisters and their relationship with the boy next door. The Song sisters, Margot, Lara Jean, and Kitty, live with their widowed father. The boy next door, Josh, is best friends with the family. He is dating the oldest sister, Margot. When Lara Jean was younger she had a crush on Josh, and, in order to get over him for her sister’s sake, she wrote a love letter that was for her eyes only. (A habit she has anytime she likes a boy.) In a fit of anger, her younger sister sends the letters to all of the boys. Needless to say, Lara Jean’s life gets very complicated. The similarities between the books are self-evident. Both Jo and Lara Jean are writers. Jo writes stories, and Lara Jean writes love letters. They both have a strong friendship with the boy next door, and both boys end up falling in love with them. What I love about Jenny Han’s book is that she brings a modern twist to Louisa May Alcott’s classic tale. They are both worth a... read more

If you like…The Lion, the Witch, and the Wardrobe, try Gregor the Overlander

Always a fan of C.S. Lewis’ Chronicles of Narnia, I remember my first experience reading The Lion, the Witch and the Wardrobe in 4th grade. I had seen a cartoon of this particular novel before, so the story was not unfamiliar, but the book…oh, it was so much more. Once I wrapped my mind around the vocabulary, I found myself lost in Narnia, and continued to consume the rest of the series from start to finish. Over twenty years later, I was to discover an author by the name of Suzanne Collins. You will know her through your experience with Hunger Games, no doubt, but my first experience with her writing was through her middle grade series, The Underland Chronicles. In reading Gregor the Overlander, my mind was once again captured by a fascinating realm, talking animals, and the true meaning of heroism. Similarities…Lucy discovers Narnia, a fantasy world of talking animals and mythical creatures, through a wardrobe, through which she eventually leads her three older siblings. Gregor chases his two-year-old sister and tumbles through a grate in the apartment laundry room to a world far beneath New York City, where humans have never met the sun, and yes, there exists talking animals…although these are bit more of the creepy variety…rats, bats, insects, etc. The children in C.S. Lewis book are dealing with being removed from their family in WWII London, while Gregor is dealing with his family’s reaction to the long absence of his father. Both Gregor and the children in Narnia learn things about being brave, about fighting the enemy, and about sacrifice. Both books are suitable for children ages 8 and up. The biggest differences? Well, although both books are middle grade, the Underlander Chronicles are probably more accessible to the current generation of readers. They contain a little more humor, and do not have underlying themes of faith, like those of C.S. Lewis. However, both books accentuate universal humanitarian principles that I think any parent—or reader—would feel inspired to contemplate. So, Hunger Games fan or not, give the Underlander Chronicles a try. You have nothing to lose but a few hours, which I think will be well worth your time. And then, watch out for those grates in the laundry room. Or wardrobes, if you happen to have any of those... read more

If you liked A Wrinkle in Time, then you’ll like The Apothecary

These two books definitely go in my favorite collection. Great characters, extraordinary adventures, and strong relationships make them both must-reads for children and adults. What the books have in common: Strong underdog protagonists – both are girls a bit out of sorts in their everyday lives. L’Engle’s Meg is a plain teen who feels like a failure at high school and in her family. Meloy’s Janie is an American moving to London, who would rather be a 1950s movie star. Good friends – In A Wrinkle in Time, Meg’s high school friend Calvin O’Keefe helps calm Meg’s frustrations, while the mystery surrounding Benjamin Burrows leads Janie into adventure in The Apothecary. People with unique abilities – Meg’s 5-year-old brother understands things beyond everyday human experience and Janie’s encounters with the mysterious apothecary reveal his concoctions go beyond the realm of medicinal remedies. How the books differ: The uniqueness of Meloy – When I first started reading The Apothecary, I thought I was reading a historical fiction novel, but after a few chapters I knew things would get exciting. Set in 1952, Meloy uses post-World War II and the golden age of movie making as the backdrop for a teenage girl’s extraordinary adventures that defy the laws of physics. The genre bending of L’Engle – In 1962, L’Engle combined current trends in scientific thought with supernatural space travel and threw in a bit of religious philosophy to top it off. Many critics thought it was too advanced and radical for young readers, but generations of children still read this book and many adults still remember it as one of their favorites. I reread it again recently and loved how it still stretches my... read more

May the Voice be with You!

When I took up writing (on the serious) a few years ago, one of the hardest elements to wrap my head around was voice. I have degrees in English and writing, and I’m a creative soul (aren’t we all?) so I figured this should be easy. You tell a good story—strong characters, vivid settings, a dynamic plot—take out the adverbs and BAM! You got yourself a published book. Turns out, the rest of that stuff is harder than it sounds, but that’s another ten posts. But voice…what was it exactly. And why was it so important? Being a reader, I knew what it was. I just didn’t know I knew. Voice was that… thing. That thing that made the whole book come together. That thing that made a good read, a great one. That thing that got you to the last page in style. If I wanted to be a great writer, I needed to be a Jedi-Master with words. I needed to wield the Force. Turns out Voice is strong with midichlorians. (Apologies to all true Star Wars fans.) So I honed my skills. I made my characters quirky, moody, and unpredictable. I wrote sentences. And rewrote sentences. And re-rewrote sentences, all so I could twist the phrase to make it memorable. They needed to do more than move the story and carry the characters forward. They needed to do it in style. And, after much weeping, wailing, and gnashing of teeth, I got pretty okay at it. But okay wasn’t going to sell. It wasn’t until I read Mindy McGinnis’ Not a Drop to Drink that I got a whole new perspective on voice. Ms. McGinnis does everything you’re supposed to do with voice, and then she gave it a whole new layer—which gave me an A-HA moment. In cinema, a director may choose to shoot the film through a filter or later apply one. The filter has the effect of establishing a mood—creating a tone that produces a feeling within the viewer. In Not a Drop to Drink, Ms. McGinnis has done this very thing, but her filter was her voice. Not a Drop to Drink is a futuristic story set in a world where water is a most prized commodity. When teenager Lynn isn’t purifying and storing water she’s retrieved from the family pond, she’s watching over it with her mother—and a shotgun. Every drop is precious and not to be shared with animals—or strangers. Now... read more