Tuesday, April 25, 2017

Call Me Sunflower: A Review and ARC Giveaway

Congratulations to Sandra Warren who won the audio CD of WISH last week. Thanks to everyone who entered.

I seem to be on a roll with middle grade books featuring a girl protagonist who had to leave her home and wants to return. This week I am introducing CALL ME SUNFLOWER, Miriam Spitzer Franklin's second middle grade novel that comes out next month (SkyPony Press, 2017). 

Like Charlie Reese in WISH who doesn't like her name Charlemagne, Sunny Beringer hates being called Sunflower. Both girls have difficulty coming into new schools and both identify with stray animals who they rescue. Both books include an older grandparent-type figure who factor into the girls' adjustments to their new homes. Similar set-ups and conclusions book end the two novels, but the plots are quite different. 

Twelve-year-old Sunny has just moved to North Carolina from New Jersey with her mother and younger sister, Autumn, leaving behind Scott, a beloved father figure. Sunny's internal struggles are identified early on,
The whole move thing didn't make any sense to me. Mom had told me she needed a change--a break from her job--and the only way she could afford it was if we moved in with my rich grandmother in North Carolina. But Scott could have moved in with us in New Jersey instead of living in his own condo if we needed to cut down on expenses. 
When I suggested that to Mom, she just repeated that it was time for a change. 
If it were up to Mom, we could stay in North Carolina forever, and I'd barely get to see my dad at all. That's why it was so important to come up with the perfect plan, and soon. (pp. 5-6)
With that, the reader is introduced to the main plot: how is Sunny going to get her mother (who adopted her and Autumn as a single parent) and Scott back together. 

At the same time that Sunny navigates being part of a Odyssey of the Mind team, missing her best friend and forming new friendships, plus figuring out how to respond to her proper grandmother who owns a fur store, she concocts one plan after another to help the people she identifies as her parents fall in love again. In the process of making a photo album for her mother's birthday, Sunny discovers a photo that uncovers a secret and opens her eyes to the true relationship between Scott and her mother. 

An important sub-plot is Sunny's conflicts with her grandmother and her dislike for her store. When Sunny decides to join an animal rights group's "Fur-Free Friday" protest she starts down a path of secrets and lies. Her decisions lead to consequences spinning out of control until even her new friend Lydia, sees through her lies. 

I sank down into an empty chair, dropping my head on my arms. There were mess-ups and there were mess-ups. This was the kind that just kept getting worse and worse. It was like the time I was mowing the grass and a rock hit the window. At first it was a little hole. Then I heard a crackling noise and lines started shooting down from the hole and, before I knew it, the glass shattered and the window fell into a million pieces.  
Except this time, it felt like I was the one cracking. (p. 226)
Like Charlie in WISH, at the end of SUNFLOWER, Sunny realizes that her definition of family can be different than what she had grown up believing. After her grandmother takes Sunny's stray cat to the vet, the two of them talk.
"It gets pretty cold out there at night," Grandma Grace said. "She'll need to stay in the house, at least while she's recovering." 
"Does that mean we can keep her?" Autumn asked. 
I held my breath.
"Of course," Grandma Grace said. "Believe it or not, I happen to like cats."
I felt my eyes opening wide. "Really?" 
"Don't be so surprised," Grandma Grace said with a wink. "Besides, we're already paying the vet bills so this cat is officially yours to keep."
"Thanks so much, Grandma Grace. I can't wait to bring her home." 
I threw my arms around her and felt her arms encircling me, hugging me back. (p. 258)
To win my ARC, please leave me a comment by Saturday, April 29. If you are new to my blog make sure you leave your email address. If you share this on social media I'll enter your name in twice. 

Tuesday, April 18, 2017

Wish: A Review and Audio CD Giveaway

Reminiscent of the 2010 Newbery medal winner MOON OVER MANIFEST, Barbara O'Connor's latest middle grade novel, WISH (Farrar Straus Giroux, 2016) is the story of a young girl who feels abandoned by her parents, is forced to live with strangers, and searches to understand her past. Like MOON, it tugs on the reader's heart strings and shows the conflicts of a young girl who yearns to return home.

From the outside, eleven-year-old Charlie is an angry fifth grader who is forced to leave Raleigh, NC in order to live with her aunt and uncle (Bertha and Gus) in Colby, NC--home to hillbillies and kids who eat squirrel sandwiches. She's mad that her teenage sister, Jackie, gets to move in with a friend and live closer to their mother and visit their father (Scrappy) in prison. But as O'Connor skillfully portrays, Charlie's hard-to-control temper masks her deep longing for a home where her mother doesn't stay in bed all day with the curtains drawn and not caring if she watches TV and eats cookies for lunch. 

On the first day at her new school, Charlie meets Howard Odom who she thinks of as the "up down boy" because of the awkward way he walks. As her backpack buddy, Odom persists at befriending her despite Charlie's attempts at discouraging him and her insistence that she's going back to Raleigh. But even as Charlie repeats that line to Howard and the other children she meets, she wonders how long it might take for her mama to get her feet on the ground, as the social worker had said. 

Ever since fourth grade, Charlie has had a secret wish. Although the reader never finds out what the wish is, by the end of the book it is apparent that wishing on such things as hearing a bird sing in the rain, watching an acorn drop on the porch and turning around three times, or eating the pointed piece of the pie is not what makes Charlie's life better. Rather, the love of a new family and a special friend bring this story to a happy and satisfying ending. 

Part of the lyrical beauty of the story is Charlie's relationship with a stray dog (Wishbone) that she and Howard trap. Charlie has heard that dogs love their owners no matter what and she has an urgent need for that type of relationship.
Out on the porch that night, Bertha told Gus about her day while I sent my thoughts zipping through the trees to wherever Wishbone was. I wanted him to know he didn't have to be a stray like me. I wanted him to be mine. (p. 79)
Charlie and Howard finally trap Wishbone and bring him home. When Gus puts a tag around the dog's neck with his name on it, Charlie feels as if he belongs right there with her. But, 
....in the middle of that happy moment, I had a tiny seed of a thought that I hurried to push out of my mind before it had time to grow. That thought was this: Where in the world do I belong? (p. 111)
Later, after Wishbone runs off and Charlie is feeling miserable over being mean to Howard and she wonders if Wishbone wants to be a stray. Bertha reminds her,
"Charlie Reese," she said. "You think that dog don't know a good thing when he sees one?" 
"What good thing?" I said in my pouty baby voice. 
She held up a finger each time she counted off. "One, he eats bologna for breakfast. Two, he sleeps on a pillow. And three, he is loved by an angel." (p. 130)
Howard forgives Charlie, Wishbone returns, and by the end of the book Charlie has learned to appreciate the love she has received from her aunt and uncle and the Odoms. 

Here is the book trailer, 

and a glimpse into O'Connor's inspiration for WISH:

Suzy Jackson, the narrator, does a great job providing the different North Carolina voices. This audio book would be a beautiful book to listen to in the classroom or on a car trip with your family. If you would like to enter this giveaway, leave me a comment (with your email address if I don't have it) by Friday, April 21. If you share this on social media or become a follower of my blog tell me what you do in your comment. I'll add your name in the hat accordingly. 

Tuesday, April 11, 2017

Meet My Experts III- Vermelle Diamond Ely

Congratulations to Joyce Hostetter who won the autographed copy of Darlene Jacobson's book, WHEELS OF CHANGE.

As promised several weeks ago, I want to share more about Vermelle Ely, one of my generous experts for Half-Truths, my WIP which takes place in Charlotte, NC in 1950.
Vermelle and I in her Charlotte, NC home
March, 2017

As anyone who writes historical fiction knows, you can't use every detail you glean from your interviews--no matter how delicious it is. In no particular order, here are some of the snippets I learned from Vermelle which have informed Half-Truths. 
  • In the late 40's and early 50's, a light-skinned African American girl was treated like a queen. If her hair was long and fair, she was even more special.
  • Sometimes people passed for convenience: to go out to eat, get their hair done, get waited on, or to move up to the front of line. Kids at the time might think, "In the movies no one would know know if you’re white or black.  Let’s see if we can do it just for fun."
  • Vermelle commented on my two characters that, "Lillie could have gone anywhere with Kate because she was so light. But Kate would have stuck out in the black community. She would have been accepted, but the police would have questioned her."

I found these posters at Vermelle's house and
photographed them. They were taken in 1968 to commemorate
the Queen City classic rivalry between
Second Ward and West Charlotte High

  • According to Vermelle, the girls would have been too scared to go to the movies or library together, but they may have talked on the phone. 
  • About 100 students who attended Second Ward lived in Biddleville and it took them 30 minutes to walk to school, including going through a cow pasture near Thompson orphanage
  • "We didn’t know, 'separate but equal.' We heard our parents talk about it though. We got all the hand me downs from the white schools. Books would have so many names in them, you couldn’t even put your name in it and the backs were off. We got stuff from Central High and inherited blue and white because that was their school colors."
  • Vermelle’s great-grandfather was from England and her great-grandmother was native American. When her maternal grandmother and grandfather died, the family went to Wilson, NC for the funeral.  She discovered that her great-grandfather  was buried in the white cemetery and her great-grandmother was buried in the black cemetery. “I was grown before I knew it. Nobody talked about race. My mother said her mother’s family was very fair and her father marched in the Elks parade."

Vermelle as Miss Queen City Classic in 1948
  • Vermelle remembered that the black WACS in WWII had to go up the backstairs of Montaldo's (a very expensive department store in downtown Charlotte) to try on their uniforms. 
Vermelle has struggled with poor eyesight for years and can no longer read printed material. Recently I read several chapters to her. You can imagine how pleased I was when she nodded and agreed with my descriptions and the characters' interactions. Sharp as ever, she made comments on what was true to life and what wasn't. Happily, she didn't find much that was inaccurate. 

I am indebted to Vermelle and my other experts, who have shared their life stories so that my story is more authentic. 

Monday, April 3, 2017

Wheels of Change: A Review, Autographed Giveaway, and Free Skype Visit!

If a picture is worth a thousand words, then a good title is worth at least as much.

WHEELS OF CHANGE (Creston Books, 2014), Darlene Beck Jacobson’s debut middle grade novel, is exactly what it purports to be: a novel about change. And of course, about wheels. 

The story, based loosely on Jacobson’s grandmother, shows 12-year-old Emily Soper in the middle of personal, family, and societal changes. Set in Washington, D.C. in 1908, WHEELS OF CHANGE is an ideal book for girls who loved the historical American Girl series and are now ready for meatier fare. 

Emily loves everything about her father’s carriage shop: the sounds, smells, and even the “pulsing waves of heat [which] make it feel like summer year round.” (p. 2). The following quote not only shows Emily’s affection, but foreshadows troubles to come:
I stare into the fire’s belly, watching it move and change colors as if it were a living thing. Some folks might think the forge is dark and dreary, with only one small window. But the fire is like a beacon that lights up the whole barn and makes it shimmer. Papa’s barn without the forge would be like Mama’s house without the kitchen. The heart would be gone. (p.2)

In truth, Emily wishes she could be a blacksmith—but of course, that’s not a fitting trade for a young woman in the beginning of the twentieth century.  As a result of her friendship with Henry, the Negro blacksmith who she enjoys watching, she learns first hand about racism and loyalty. 

Whereas impetuous and worry-wart Emily feels more at home in the forge than in her mother's kitchen, her mother has other plans for her. She wants Emily to learn domestic skills including how to host a tea for the neighborhood women. Emily surprises herself by enjoying baking, but the tea proves disastrous when Emily violently disagrees with one of the guests. Without spoiling the book, let's just say that Emily's courage saves the forge when a disgruntled employee, angry over Henry reclaiming his job, attempts to destroy it.   

After the tea, her teacher muses, 
".....Mr. Lincoln must be rolling over in his grave with grief to think that after all these years since the war, people still act this way. The war was supposed to change things." 
There's that word again. Change. Even after a horrible war, people still hold on to their old ideas about folks like Henry. The truth of it makes my insides churn and ache. 
Maybe folks can do without physical changes like cars and electricity. But old ideas about colored people and women should change. They must. (pp.153-4)
When her father's business starts failing because more people are buying motorcars, she suggests a new idea to her father:
"All this time, we liked everything to be just as it is. But some changes can bring really good things, Papa. Like colored folks living peacefully next to white folks and women getting to vote. What if you changed carriage making into something else?" 
"Like what?" 
"Maybe folks still need other things that horses pull. Wagons, carts, surreys, and coaches." My eyes open wider as more ideas pop into my head. "Baby buggies will never need motors. Sleighs and sleds for winter..." (p. 188-9)
And with that, Emily becomes an agent of change.

Honorable Mention, 2015

I am giving away my autographed hard cover copy of WHEELS OF CHANGE plus curriculum materials. Jacobson has volunteered to provide a SKYPE visit if the winner is an educator; if you prefer you can donate this visit to a school of your choice. If you are a media specialist, teacher, or home school parent, please let me know and I'll enter your name twice. If I don't have your email address make sure you leave it.  Giveaway ends on Saturday, April 8. 

Monday, March 27, 2017

Little Literacy

Congratulations to Deborah Allmand who won, Midnight Without a Moon from last week's blog.
I'm thankful that each of my five grandchildren's parents are encouraging literacy from an early age. I was on grandma duty last week so allow me to share some pictures and videos I've accumulated over the years. 

At a few days old, Eleanor Edgar was introduced to Sandra Boynton.
Two years later, she's still a fan.

At ten months, Eleanor was "selecting" books.

Now she plays alphabet games with her Mommy,

enjoys independent reading,

and shares books with her dog.

Her cousin Libbie Kasten enjoyed reading DON'T LET THE BEDBUGS BITE by Niki Masse Schoenfeldt in the car.

She memorized favorite books,

and wrote her name in the sand.

My grandson Mason Clark discovered that literacy includes receiving HOW TO CHEER UP DAD signed to him by Fred Kohler,

as well as reading Biscuit, a first reader all by himself.

Caitlin, Libbie's big sister, was extremely proud when she began reading chapter books. She loved the Princess Posey books by Stephanie Greene.

As well as writing her own book.

Caitlin actually told her parents that she hoped to major in reading when she goes to college. Her scientific/math-minded parents raised their eyebrows about that, but she is a girl after my own heart!

My oldest granddaughter, Ebby Clark, is in fourth grade and offered these two book reviews:

I'm delighted that my grandchildren have discovered through The Cousins Club that their Grandma LOVES books!

If you're not tired of videos yet, here is one more that will entertain the favorite toddler in your life:

As a parent or grandparent, how have you encouraged literacy? I'd love to hear your stories!

Monday, March 20, 2017

Midnight Without a Moon: A Review, ARC Giveaway, and Focus on "The Emotional Craft of Fiction"

This blog post is courtesy of Augusta Scattergood who gave me a copy of Linda Williams Jackson's debut middle grade novel, MIDNIGHT WITHOUT A MOON (Houghton Mifflin, 2017) and Vijaya Bodach who recommended Donald Maass's book, The EMOTIONAL CRAFT of FICTION (Writer's Digest Books, 2016).

Since Half-Truths is on hold right now while I'm waiting for feedback from my readers, I started working through the outstanding writing exercises which Maass stuffed into his latest book. Since I love sharing craft resources with my blog readers, I picked a few selections to show you how Linda Jackson answered the question Maass poses to writers, "How can I get readers to go on emotional journeys of their own?" (p. 2)

Heavy Baggage

In the first chapter Maass says, "Only when a situation has heavy emotional baggage will readers pick up the baggage and carry it (Maass, p.14).

Let's look at thirteen-year-old Rose Lee Carter's life in Stillwater, Mississippi in 1955. In the opening chapter the reader relives the day Rose's mother left her with her maternal grandparents: 
"Rose Lee, honey, yo' momma 'bout to marry a fine man. And I'm go'n take care a his babies for him."
"What about me and Fred Lee? Ain't we yo babies?"
Mama giggled like a silly schoolgirl. "You and Fret'Lee big now, she said, waving her hand at me. "Callie and Christopher is the babies. Besides, y'all got Papa and Ma Pearl..." 
"Can me and Fred Lee come, too?"  
"Nuh-uh," Mama said frowning, as she leaned toward her reflection. "Two babies is more'n enough for me to care for."
After making sure that she was a lovely as a spring morning, she bent down and placed her soft hands on my shoulders. Kissing my forehead, she said, "You be a good girl for Ma Pearl and Papa. Don't make Ma Pearl have to whup you."
That was the last thing she said to me before she became a mama to Sugar and Li' Man and a memory to me and Fred Lee. (pp. 12-13)

The Emotional World

In Maas's second chapter, "The Emotional World," he says, "Creating a world that is emotionally involving for readers means raising questions and concerns about that world. It means both welcoming readers inside that world and making them curious, or uneasy, about where they are." (Maass, p. 29)

A difficult part of Rose's world is that her cousin, Queen, also lives with her grandparents. 
....Plenty of folks in our family were yellow, but Queen was different. And with the way she never lifted a finger to even wash a plate, she acted like she was white, too.
Folks said that when Queen was born, Ma Pearl took to her like ants to a picnic. They said she snatched that newborn baby from Aunt Clara Jean's bosom and claimed her like a well-earned prize. That's because Ma Pearl favored pretty. And to Ma Pearl, light equaled pretty, even if the person was as ugly as a moose. 
Folks said that when I first came out of Mama, my skin was as pink as a flower. Mama said she took one look at me and declared, "I'm go'n call you Rose, 'cause you so pretty like one." But Ma Pearl said, "Don't set your hopes high for that child, Anna Mae. Look at them ears. They as black as tar. By this time next year that lil' gal go'n be blacker than midnight without a moon, just like her daddy."  
Of course Ma Pearl was right. (pp. 35-36)

Rose longs for an education but Queen is allowed to attend school whereas Rose has to work in the cotton fields. Ma Pearl frequently criticizes Rose in comparison to Queen, thus making the reader uncomfortable. 

Joyce Hostetter has taught me to always consider the wider world in which the character lives. Rose's world is filled with blacks who are murdered by whites. This passage follows Rose finding out from her friend Hallelujah that a mutual friend had been killed:
As I stumbled clumsily between the dusty rows of green cotton leaves, I could't help but resent them. Levi Jackson, a fine young man, had spent most of his life tending to this field, bringing that cotton to life every summer. Now he no longer had his.
I wanted to scream. I wanted to scream until my anguish was heard all over Stillwater--all over Mississippi--all the way to Chicago, straight to my mama's ears. I don't know why but I hated her at that moment. I hated her more than the nameless face that had shot Levi Jackson for no good reason.............I shouted into my palms. "Why, Hallelujah! Why?"
"He registered to vote," Hallelujah said, his voice hoarse. "And they killed him." (pp. 43-44)

Stirring Higher Emotions

Rose's and Hallelujah's world also includes Emmett Till, who was hunted down and brutally murdered for whistling at a white woman. As these events sink into Rose, she is torn between desperately wanting to leave Mississippi and Hallelujah's comments:
"...if she [Rose's Aunt Belle] had been able to open a shop here, in a place where our people are shunned and oppressed, it would have made her feel even more accomplished than she already does."
"Stars shine brighter in the darkness," I said quietly.  
Hallelujah crossed his arms over his chest and nodded. "Dreams have more meaning when you have to fight for them," he said. "That's why folks like my father choose to stay. They know they have a right to be here, and they're willing to do whatever ir takes to make those rights equal." (pp. 254-255)
 Maas says, 
When we are moved and inspired by the actions of characters, what we feel are higher emotions....
When reason prevails over impulse, when disgust is replaced by insight, when an act of generosity is underserved, when love is given where rejection seems certain, when someone sticks up for another, when help is unasked for, when apology is humbly made and forgiveness unexpectedly given, when doors are opened in welcome, when truths are spoken and the origins of conflict laid bare, such acts stir in readers the swelling of the chest and opening of the heart. (Maass, pp. 43-44)
Aunt Belle invites Rose to move to St. Louis with her and Rose struggles over her decision to leave Stillwater: 
My heart ached, both at the thought of leaving and at the thought of staying. 
Levi stayed and he didn't live to see a week over the age of twenty-one. Would that happen to me? I didn't know--couldn't know--but I had to be strong enough to find out. I had to stay--not just for the sake of those I didn't want to leave behind, but for my own sake. I had to know if I could shine in the darkness.
Imagine how bright a star would shine at midnight without a moon! (p. 308)
It was difficult selecting only a few passages from both books to quote here. I hope I've provided enough that you'll decide to read them yourself. To enter the giveaway for Midnight Without a Moon, please leave me a comment by March 25th with your email address if you are new to my blog. If you are an educator or a new follower, I'll enter your name twice. 

Monday, March 13, 2017

Meet My Experts - Part II

Congratulations to Kathy Wiechman who won FIRE, COLOR, ONE from last week's blog.

Three years ago I posted a blog about some of the people I'd interviewed for Half-Truths. These experts as well as other men and women willingly shared their life stories with me in order to make my story more authentic. 

Since I'm at the beta/sensitivity reader stage, I'm no longer interviewing folks but I'm still fact-checking and always keeping my eyes and ears open for material that will inform Half-Truths.

For example, I had written a scene about Sam, Lillie's older brother who had enlisted for the conflict in Korea. But as I was re-reading my manuscript I wondered:

    a) Did Sam enlist or was he drafted? How would his choice affect my story? (Lillie's father came home from WWII and met with ridicule in North Carolina. How would he react to his only son enlisting in the service? In turn, how would that affect Lillie?)

   b) Was there even a draft then?

Not finding the answer online, I turned to the Korean Veterans Club in my community. 

KWVA  Chapter 169
I was allowed to speak at one of their meetings and discovered that men could enlist or be drafted. (Whew! I was safe with that part of my story!) When they found out the premise of Half-Truths, the men were quick to tell stories of those first attempts at integrating the armed services. It reinforced, to me, how integration was a process that happened over time. 

  • One vet laughed about being mistakenly assigned to a black truck company. 
  • Another told me of how the troops were integrated during training on Parris Island, SC and Camp Lejeune in North Carolina (during the mid-50's), but as soon as the men stepped off the base, "segregation was rampant." He said that it was as if the blacks lived in two separate worlds. On base they were treated as equals, but if they left camp, they were in a different, biased world. 
  • One man's brother who had served in WWII said, "Treat Negroes with respect because we bleed the same red blood to keep this country free." 
  • One vet said he was accused of being a "McCarthy boy" because he wanted to go to college. The consensus in this group was that Communism wasn't talked about much at home.
  • Truman knew the country wasn't ready for another war, that's why it was called a "police action."
  • I was left with the overall impression that these men worked and fought with black men and that was their "normal".

Of course, I've read some of this accounts online and in articles. But it was different hearing these stories from the men who witnessed and lived them. 
I received this star from one of the vets.
And their stories make mine a little bit richer as a result.

Stay tuned. Soon I'll be sharing stories and pictures of one of my African American experts in Charlotte who has meant so much to me.