Monday, August 24, 2015
Monday, August 17, 2015
At the same time that his uncle lays down the law about how life is going to be now that he's in charge, Theo is busy discovering that downstairs from his room in Miss Sister Grandersole's Rooming House and Dance Academy, there is a beautiful piano. He also makes the acquaintance of Anabel Johnson, who would rather be playing baseball than taking tap dance lessons.
The piano is like a magnet to Theo and despite his uncle's displeasure, he can't keep his hands off of it. Miss Sister recognizes Theo's special talent to play music by ear, but all his uncle can say is, "No one but a fool wastes his time playing a piano."
Although this is Theo’s story of discovering a way to make a life without his grandparents in a new city, it is equally about Raymond coming to grips with
his Vietnam nightmares and sorrows. I loved how slowly his backstory is revealed and how Theo discovers his uncle's hurts as an unappreciated Vietnam veteran. Their reconciliation is beautiful and authentic without being sappy or maudlin.
I also loved that Theo was as passionate about playing the piano as he was about practicing baseball. These two strands create a very unique character.
There are too many great lines from this book for me to quote, but here are a few:
- "Music Makes Memories" the sign in Sister's practice room. The sign provides great subtext for the novel.
- When Theo plays the piano he describes it as "music jumping out of his fingers."
- Uncle Raymond: "I don't know nothing about raising kids. Especially ones that remind me of the bad times."
- Theo: "I'll start acting like family when you do."
- Uncle Raymond: "I hate everything that happened. I hate you having no one but me."
I am giving away a copy of the Audio CD expertly narrated by Michael Crouch. If you would like to win, please leave me a comment (with your email address if you are new to my blog) by 6 PM August 20. If you become a new follower of my blog, or share this post on Facebook or Twitter, I'll give you additional chances to win; just let me know in your comment what you did.
This review originally was published on LitChat on July 28, 2015
Monday, August 10, 2015
ALAN: Yes, Scholastic approached me. Jack and his wife Ruth took his story to Scholastic, and they immediately saw that it would make a great book. But neither Jack nor Ruth are writers, so Scholastic asked me to write the book. Once I heard Jack’s account of his time in the camps, I couldn't resist—it was such an incredible story! In particular, I liked that he survived. So many stories of the Holocaust of course did not end so well. And I knew that for writing middle grade, that would be important.
CAROL: What was you process for writing the book? I assumed you interviewed Jack at least once.
ALAN: I worked on the book for a while before I ever met Jack in person, using what he and his wife had told Scholastic about his experiences in World War II and doing a lot of research on the concentration camps on my own. Then, about halfway through writing the first draft, I got to fly to New York and meet Jack. We spent the afternoon at the Holocaust Museum in Manhattan, where some artifacts of Ruth's time during the war are on display.
Jack's memory isn't what it once was, and he wasn't able to remember the answers to some of the questions I had for him. But later, when he read my first draft of the book, a lot of things came back to him. I think he needed the world of the book to help jog his memory. Writing this book became a real process of discovery as Jack and I uncovered some memories he didn't know he had. I'm pleased that I was able to write something that brought the past to life again for him, even if a great deal of that past was painful.
CAROL What did you do next? I assumed you consulted other books on the Holocaust. Or did you interview other survivors? What stands out as the most helpful "other" source of information?
CAROL: This is a novel and you make it clear in the back that it is a work of fiction. I don't know if you are able to distill how you wove together Jack's story with other information about the Holocaust, but your process interests me. How did you know when to take liberties with Jack's story? Perhaps an example or two might be helpful.
CAROL: Do you consider this a collaborative work? Did Jack read any of your drafts and/or have input into them?
CAROL Have you done any public appearances with Jack?
CAROL: How has writing this book affected you both personally and professionally?
Monday, August 3, 2015
I'm going to tell you from the start this review contains spoilers. It's a story driven by a young boy's desire and need to survive. But of course, the spoiler is implied by the very nature of this book. Prisoner B-3087 by North Carolina author Alan Gratz, is based on the true story of Jack Greuner, an Holocaust survivor.
The book opens in 1939 in Kraków, Poland. Yanek Gruener (much later he changes his name to Jack) is ten-years-old and his father doesn't believe that Hitler's invasion of Poland will last for more than six months.
His family soon finds out how deadly wrong he is.
In magnificent prose that combines accurate details from Yanek's life with historical research, Alan Gratz has woven together a painful-but-true portrayal of a young boy's determination to survive which carried him through ten concentration camps in six horrific years.
Within three years the family goes from rationing; to losing jobs, their synagogue, and access to schools; to being sealed off within the walls of the ghetto. Life is horrible, but at least Yanek has his family around him. After his secret bar-mitzvah, he is terrified when the sick and elderly are killed. He thinks,
I was a man and I wanted to do something. Something to stop the Nazis. To save my family. I asked myself over and over again what I could do to help, but I had no answer. p.50He argues that his family should not give in to the Nazi's demand to be "selected" and buys more time for them all. But one day he comes home and witnesses his parents being brutally herded away by the Nazi soldiers.
Yankee is sent to the Płaszów concentration camp and is amazed to find his Uncle Moshe who gives him survival instructions:
From now on, you have no name, no personality, no family, no friends. Do you understand? Nothing to identify you, nothing to care about. Not if you want to survive…We have only one purpose now: survive. Survive at all costs, Yanek. We cannot let these monsters tear us from the pages of the world. (pp. 68, 70)As Yanek is packed into cattle cars and moved from one concentration camp to another he learns what he must do to survive:
- Don't share your portion of bread with someone, even if that person might be kept alive by what you have.
- Don't miss a roll call. You will be beaten.
- Don't show fear. The Nazis' dogs will attack.
- Don't befriend anyone.
- Always obey orders.
- Don't think for yourself.
- Don't question orders even if it means moving back-breaking rocks from one side of the yard and then back again.
- Don't fight back. If you do, you'll be killed.
- Don't complain when you are forced to sing and entertain Nazi soldiers feasting on a dinner. Look away so your stomach won't grumble and you won't be shot.
I stood at the water pump, scrubbing my body. It was bitterly cold out, but I didn't care. I would scrub my body, I decided, each and every morning, no matter how cold it was, no matter how tired I was. I was alive, and I meant to stay that way.
…I paid careful attention to where I had been tattooed. Too many others had let their tattoos get infected, and that had taken them to the camp surgeon. You didn't want to go to the camp surgeon. Ever. I even rubbed my teeth with my wet fingers--we had not toothbrushes or toothpaste, of course, but it felt important to remember what it was like to be human. (p. 136)
The war had come to Dachau, and any moment a shell or a bomb might fall on our building and kill us all. So many times I had wished for a bomb to fall on me, to end my suffering, but now I prayed that no bomb would hit me. Not now, when I was so close to the end! If only I could survive a little longer, I thought, just a little longer-- (p. 242)
I stepped on board the train and didn't look back. For nine years I had done everything I could to survive. Not it was time to live. (p.256)Next week Alan shares his process of writing Prisoner B-3087 and what it has meant to him both personally and professionally. To whet your appetite, here is a video of Alan with Jack and his wife Ruth, that Scholastic created.
Next week Alan shares his process of writing Prisoner B-3087 and what it has meant to him both personally and professionally. To whet your appetite, here is a video of Alan with Jack and his wife Ruth, that Scholastic created.
Monday, July 27, 2015
Set in Kansas right before the Civil War, this is the story of how a young girl, Hallelujah Wonder; and her best friend, Eustace, who is a slave, deliver a dangerous Medicine Head to the cold depths of Antarctica to prevent a Captain Greeney, a wicked Navy captain from using it to work evil.
In a nutshell, these are the historical and magical elements of this middle grade book that is a story of adventure, friendship, and sacrifice.
The reader gets a great glimpse into Hallelujah's (who prefers to be called Lu) character when she tells the reader that she intends to be "the first lady scientist in Kansas--maybe the only scientist at all in this sunbaked, throny-plant, tree-lonely, dirty-water, skinny-animal, dusty-air, grasshopper-happy, God-forsaken place." (p. 8,9) We also find out that her role model is her father who Captain Greeney murdered. He was not only a great explorer who discovered Antarctica, but he brought home a number of valuable artifacts. So valuable that they are hidden in a cave which only Lu and Eustace know about.
One of the artifacts, the Medicine Head that talks, can only be heard by certain individuals--including Lu. Bundled in a crate with the instructions, "KEEP COOL. DO NOT DESTROY!" Lu feels the head calling to her. When she can't resist touching it, she sees visions from the past; including images of Captain Greeney pursuing her father in order to possess the Medicine Head's power.
With Captain Greeney on her trail, but now knowing all of the Head's powers, Lu decides it's her job to get the Head to Antarctica--where it is cold and will never be destroyed.
At the same time, pre-Civil War unrest infiltrates Tolerone, her midwest town. A fight between the Abolitionists and slave owners leads to a devastating fire leaving Eustace temporarily without a master. Recognizing that this is a once in a lifetime opportunity to be free, Eustace leaves Kansas with Lu on her quest to take the Medicine Head to Antarctica.
Like I said, the story mixes fantasy with history and I enjoyed the historical parts the best--which shows you what kind of reader I am! I particularly appreciated how Lu describes the changes she sees in Eustace after leaving Kansas and arriving in New Bedford, Massachusetts where they hope to find passage to Antarctica:
"Eustace is walking funny. He moves through the lanes of New Bedford with a confidence I never saw in him at home." (p. 206)
Seeing Eustace's freedom through Lu's eyes tells the reader a lot about both characters:
I try to feel what Eustace is feeling right now. I'm sure he misses his ma. I know he does. But if he had stayed in Tolerone, he'd probably have been separated form her away. He'd probably have been shipped off to work all day, every day, for mean old slave owners who would never appreciate a single thing he did or knew. They'd probably never realize how smart Eustace is. They'd probably never appreciate how loyal he is. They'd probably never see how strong and courageous he is. Or how forgiving he is. Even if he is a mama's boy and hits girls.
I wonder if he's looking around and thinking about all the possibilities he has. All those things had had hoped for his life, about being a cowboy or a scientist, are suddenly possible. I feel happy for him. But I feel a bit of unhappiness, too. I know that at some point, our journey, successful or not, will be over, and Eustace and I will have to separate. (p. 218)When Lu finally rids herself of the Medicine Head, she's no longer a prisoner to its whims. She has found her freedom; in the same way that Eustace has found his.
This review was first posted on LitChat on July 2, 2015.
Monday, July 20, 2015
- Someone who is hopeful, competent, committed to their story, and wish to make it the best possible book. Someone who is flexible and takes suggestions in a spirit of generosity and is not defensive.
- Sometimes this can be tested by suggesting revisions. Will this potential client take my suggestions? This works both ways though--the client has to be happy with the suggestions also.
- Clients who are also educators and/or performers. We can package them that way, brand them.
- Looking for clients who are engaged in the industry. When we meet and talk, we’re feeding each other information. Clients teach us too. Be confident in what you want. If my client says yes to one hundred notes—that makes me concerned. Don’t just hand your work over.
- When a client and I both see the same aspect of a story in the revision process.
- Erika: "I love the diversity of my client list. My day is full of people with lots of different types of talents. Illustrators, nonfiction and fiction writers."
- Jacqueline: "As an editor, I love when I read a book that I want to be a part of Merit Press. As a writer, when I can see the end and am able to create a symphonic ending. Before I get the ten pages of notes of things I need to change."
- Write. Find mentors, conferences, critique groups.
- Read all the time. Jacqueline: "You should be swimming in words." Erica: "Be an active reader, really notice the writing."
- Jacqueline: "I plan and research before I write. I do more than I need. I have a large tupperware container full of folders of notes, research, and books I've consulted. I don’t just let my characters take me places. I would never build a cathedral and then realize I don’t have the cement."
- Jacqueline: “Don’t give up! Even If you haven’t been able to get the ring on the first round. Slow and steady wins the race.”
- Erica: "Don’t give up and publish it yourself right away. Let someone else give you money for your work. Let someone else edit your work; that will give grace to it. The critical process doesn’t happen without a group effort.”
- Erika: "Don’t send a query to my home. Don’t take my suggestions and then sign with another agent or decide to self-publish."
- Jacqueline: "Don’t take my notes and suggestions and go to another publishing house and say, 'Can you give me more money?' Don’t have a specific advance in mind."
- Self-publishing is starting to wane. The cost/benefit ratio is not there. Erica: "Don't self-publish unless there’s a strategic reason for doing it." Jacqueline: "Don't make a fear-based decision."
- If you’re going to resist the editing process, you might as well self-publish.
- The young adult market is doing well in foreign markets because adolescent issues transcend cultures.
- Agents are looking for ways to adore writers. We want writers to succeed because that’s the dream we’ve showed up for.
- Magical realism is when magical things happen in everyday life. Example: When a character touches leaves, they turn blue. It has more realism than magic and is a different genre than fantasy. Bone Gap, a new young adult book by Laura Ruby, is an example.
- Re: boundaries in young adult literature. You set the cringe factor. Your market is also the teacher, librarian, parent who is purchasing the book. Your job is to startle people; to be bold, but not just for the sake of shock. Be creative and artful. Just because you can create a terrific image, doesn’t mean you should.