Monday, April 29, 2019

The Forgiving Kind: A Review and Audio Book Giveaway


Donna Everhart warned me that her newest book, The Forgiving Kind (Kensington, 2019) had some tough parts.

She was right. 




Like her previous book, The Road to Bittersweet, The Forgiving Kind  also features a young woman coming of age in rural North Carolina. The time is the 1950's and the place is 300 acres of Jones County--cotton territory. Although both books have young protagonists, the serious content of each novel lends themselves more to an adult rather than teen audience. 


REVIEW


Twelve-year-old Sonny Creech loves the land as much as her father and like him, has the ability to dowse water. Although her two brothers Ross (16) and Trent (14) work the farm alongside their father, Sonny's passion runs deepest and Donna Everhart brings this to life through a deep point of view showing Sonny as she runs through the soft mud, inhales the smells of the fields, and experiences the woods like an extension of herself. 

Tragedy strikes early in the book. Sonny father dies unexpectedly and her mother is "layered with sadness" as she and the children shoulder the burden of struggling to keep their cotton farm financially afloat. 

A wealthy neighbor, Frank Fowler, shows up and worms his way into the family by lending them money. From the start, Sonny distrusts him: "Mr. Fowler's work clothes were spotless and pressed. He was the type who lifted a finger only to say, do this, do that." Repeatedly Sonny observed that Mr. Fowler was nice to her mother, but spoke and acted as if she wasn’t there.


Before his sudden death, Sonny's father gave her his willow branch that he used to dowse water. Everhart describes it as, "Tugging on my lower leg muscles. The willow branch dipping to water. She couldn’t have pulled it up if she tried." The branch is a deep connection to her father but Mr. Fowler, and her peers at school make fun of her ability. When Sunny finds the burnt branch in the trash bin outside, Mr. Fowler denies his actions. 
Along the way, Mr. Fowler meets Sonny's close friend, Daniel. He reacts strongly to him and is verbally abusive. Sonny finds herself attracted to Daniel, but her attraction is not reciprocated. The two end up meeting secretly to avoid Mr. Fowler's fury.

Sonny worries about her mother not seeing Mr. Fowler's intentions: "I couldn't explain my worry anymore than I could explain how the dowsing stick worked." When they marry, Sonny's fears and unhappiness increase as she feels like her mother has betrayed her and the memory of their father. 

Through the use of deep point of view, the reader is privy to Sonny's anger, fear, conflicts, and pain. Sonny hears and sees the results of Mr. Fowler's abusing her mother. "Mama's life is getting eaten up." Her hatred towards Mr. Fowler grows when she realizes he and his friends are members of an evil white supremacist group. She and her brothers are forced to observe his gross mistreatment of Daniel and fear what might happen to any of them if they speak of it. Everhart paints a picture of a deeply disturbed antagonist that is gripping and unforgettable. Readers who are in an abusive relationship might resonate with how Sonny's mother tries to be the peacemaker and placate her new husband. 


Some readers will find the way in which Sonny's mother resolves her situation to be satisfactory and they may also be sympathetic to Daniel's plight as a homosexual. Although I thought that The Forgiving Kind is written extremely well, as a committed Christian I am uncomfortable with these aspects of this book. 

Donna was right. This is a tough book to read and digest. But a book worth reading, thinking, and talking about. 
  

GIVEAWAY


I am giving away my Audio CD, which is narrated beautifully by Tiffany Morgan, courtesy of Tantor AudioLeave me a comment by May 2 and I'll enter your name in the giveaway. 

Here is an audio snippet from the book that will give you a flavor of the book and the narration. 

Monday, April 22, 2019

Literacy Around the World -- Featuring Guest blogger, LInda Phillips


Congratulations to Dorothy Price for winning Mine. Yours. on my blog last week. 

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Today, I welcome my close friend and writing buddy, Linda Phillips. Many of you know her through SCBWI-Carolinas but others of you have read about her on my blog. Either way, I expect you will enjoy this post about facilitating literacy around the world. Take it away, Linda!


In the past four months, I have traveled 32,365 miles, spanning three continents, four countries, and eleven classrooms.  It cost me zero dollars and only on a few occasions did I incur the slight inconvenience of a predawn or late night "flight." I never had to stand in a line or pass through security, and most of the time, the "connections" were smooth.  Oh, and I had the pleasure of bringing my two books, Crazy and Behind These Hands, into classrooms and talking about them at every stop.  In fact, the books were my ticket, and that's what I'm excited to tell you about.

Two years ago, I signed on to participate in World Read Aloud Day in February, but through my own cyber-ineptness, I dropped the ball and promptly forgot about it.  Last year when I received an email again reminding me about WRAD and Literacy Month, I paid attention and grew excited as I learned:

World Read Aloud Day is just one piece of Literacy Month (February) which is part of Skype in the Classroom, a Microsoft in Education program.

Authors can become a guest speaker by completing a profile. This enables teachers from around the world to invite them to Skype with their students or faculty.  For more information see https://education.microsoft.com/applygs.

Authors can set their own schedule of availability here:  https://education.microsoft.com/availability.

Skype in the Classroom team members will help authors create a Skype Lesson if they send a request to  support@skypeintheclassroom.com.

For a sample lesson, visit my page https://education.microsoft.com/LindaPhillips.

By the time I finally connected to this fascinating opportunity through Microsoft in Education, I had missed an offer for free training sessions in January. I muddled through the registration process on my own. After nearly two years, I finally put the whole picture together and had my first Skype in the Classroom experience in Dubai on January 31, 2019.  

I have travelled abroad extensively, but nothing matches this virtual trip to places such as Bahrain, New Delhi, Ontario, Alberta, Albania, as well as stops across America. Each visit has been unique. While I have sometimes encountered poor Skype connectivity and limited English, I most often experienced appreciation that I bothered to "drop in" from so far away. 

One visit to a small, under-developed corner of eastern Europe touched me the most. It was by far the least prosperous looking school that I visited, so much so that I interrupted my spiel to begin asking the teacher questions.  Did they have pleasure books to read?  Was there a library? Were the books she was trying to use to teach English age-appropriate and adequate?  She answered "no" to every question.  I told her I was going to see what I could do about getting some books to her. After we disconnected, the stark image of the tiny, cramped room with a rusty-looking pipe in the corner--most likely the heating system--brought tears to my eyes. 

Here's the serendipitous part. I have a friend who is a missionary in a larger town a couple hours' drive from that tiny school. When I described my Skype visit to him, he put me in touch with another missionary in that same village.  And when I contacted her, she told me she had been this teacher's walking partner for four years! Through further conversations with both missionaries, I learned that the concept of lending libraries doesn't exist in this corner of the world. In addition, the tightly controlled corrupt politics almost guarantees that a box of books would likely be held up for payment in the hundreds of dollars at the post office. 

The idea of a country where children have no access to books is driving me crazy, and I'm not going to let a little political corruption stop me. When I learned that the missionaries will both be in the United States this summer, we came up with a viable plan to load a couple of old suitcases for them to return with.  Now I'm determined to fill those suitcases, and that's where you come in.  If you have new or gently used books, preferably picture and chapbooks, that you would like to donate, please email me and I will figure out a way to obtain them.

Linda is packing her first suitcase!

Obviously, my world-wide journey through Skype in the Classroom has made a difference in my life as a writer, but more importantly, as a citizen of the global community. No one can argue the merits of getting your books around the globe at no cost without leaving your house.  And if you aren't a writer but love books, you already know the joy of sharing them with others.    

Linda Vigen Phillips has a passion for realistic fiction that offers hope and encouragement to young adults and families facing mental or physical health crises.  Her debut book, Crazy, depicts the struggles of a teenage girl in the 1960’s coming to terms with her mother’s bipolar disorder. Like Crazy, Behind These Hands is a Young Adult verse novel. In its starred review Kirkus said, “Free verse evokes the myriad emotions brought up by the story's numerous well-balanced themes. The result is a richly woven, unforgettable symphony of feelings and words.”    

Monday, April 15, 2019

Mine. Yours. A Nearly Wordless Picture Book Review, Challenge, and Giveaway

Congratulations to Mary Jane Coward who won Daddy, Can You See the Moon? from last week's blog.

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Marsha Diane Arnold is back with another new picture book. This one is practically wordless! But yet an important story is told through three words and Qin Leng's exquisite, detailed illustrations. 

Mine. Yours. (Kids Can Press, 2019)  follows Little Panda in his exploration of what belongs to him and what belongs to others.  Important lessons about boundaries and possessions are told as he is "sternly" instructed by Big Panda and the other animals in the forest. When his beloved kite becomes a source of conflict among the animals, Big Panda teaches them all a sweet lesson about "Ours". This book will be useful in the Pre-K through first grade classrooms as a great conversation-starter about ownership and sharing. 

Join me in this interview with Marsha as she shares insights into writing this almost wordless picture book.

AUTHOR INTERVIEW


Carol: It’s my understanding that publishers don’t want illustrator notes from the author, they just want the text. So, how did you “get away” with breaking the rules?

MARSHA: It’s true that many editors prefer manuscripts without art notes. It’s also true that most of the writers in my writer’s group use art notes as needed. I think one reason I see more art notes on mine and other writers’ manuscripts is because picture book texts are much shorter than they were when I began writing. My first picture books had no art notes at all, but they were also 1200 to 1500 words long. Today, most of my manuscripts are less than 500 words so visual cues are sometimes helpful.

There are always exceptions to the “norm.” Of course, for a minimal text manuscript like Mine. Yours. art notes are necessary. There are only 3 different words, 25 words in all. As in any story, the writer determines the setting, the characters, and the plot. The art notes were written and revised and revised, just as any manuscript would be.

Here’s an example from my manuscript:
[Two Yellow-throated Martens make orchid flower crowns/necklaces on top of a rock.
Kite dips down entangling several strings of flowers in its tail, trailing them into the sky.]
Mine! 
Mine!

[A Golden Snub-nosed Monkey plays Chinese Jianzi with a shuttlecock (feathercock) in the
branches of a tree. Kite whips up, the tail snatching the shuttlecocks.]
Mine! 
[As the wind whips and dips more wildly, Little Panda tries to untangle the items in kite’s
tail.  Suddenly, he too is lifted off the ground. He grips the string as he and kite fly off the
page, exiting right.]






CAROL: Was your agent involved or did you negotiate it yourself?

MARSHA: My wonderful agent, Karen Grencik of Red Fox Literary, negotiates everything for me. I’m so grateful to have her.

However, I was lucky to meet someone from Kids Can Press at ALA a few years ago. She was the one who opened the door for me to send my manuscripts. Kids Can Press is a Canadian publisher and most often works with Canadian writers and illustrators.

CAROL: What was your inspiration for Mine. Yours.?  

Mine. Yours. came about in a very different way from most of my books. It was meant to be a follow-up to my picture book Lost. Found., but that didn’t work out. I rewrote the story with different animals. It took awhile to decide on the setting in China and Asian animals, but I’m so happy that’s where the story landed, just as I am happy the book landed with Kids Can Press.



Check out more of Marsha's picture books on her blog. Parents and educators, click on this link for a downloadable pdf of two activities you can do with your children. (Make sure you click on "View File" in the blue box on the top left. It takes a few minutes to load.)


NOTE AND CHALLENGE: I recently watched a television ad for an investment company. It used about 25 words to tell the story of a man's life--from birth to caring for his invalid mother. The viewer got the message! Lots of ads tell stories. Can you create an almost wordless story? What images would you use to tell it?


GIVEAWAY 

Leave a comment and your email address (if you are new to my blog) to enter this giveaway. A winner will be chosen on April 18. Continental US only. 




Monday, April 8, 2019

Daddy, Can You See the Moon? A Review and Picture Book Giveaway

Congratulations to Vijaya Bodach who won ONE WEEK OF YOU from last week's blog and to Gretchen Griffith who won A SONG FOR GWENDOLYN BROOKS. 






In Daddy Can You See the Moon? (Spork, 2019) a well-written and beautifully illustrated picture book, author, Gayle Krause, sensitively portrays one of war’s harsh realities: a soldier’s devastating injury. 

Krause's rhymes and Carlos de la Garza's illustrations, demonstrate three constants in the story: the moon, love, and courage. Before he leaves to serve, the father says: 


Though I'll be gone 
I have a way 
For us to share 
Part of each day.
At bedtime,  
Look up at the moon 
And I will too. 
I'll be home soon. 



While his father is away, the little boy counts the days and six full moons pass. Until the day his mother hears alarming news:


She sets down her coffee mug and wraps me in a giant hug.
I wipe her tears, and ask, "What's wrong?"
She answers "Son, you must be strong."
Daddy stepped on unsafe ground. His legs were hurt when he was found.



That night the boy looks out his window and fearfully wonders, 
“Daddy...can you see the moon 
Marching in a dream platoon?”
You're marking time at Soldier's Gate 
But I hope that you can wait. 
cause Baby, Ricky, Mom and me, 
We need you in our family.
His father comes home and the little boy helps his father rehabilitate. Courage—is shown, not told--through the text and illustrations. 




Reminiscent of one of my favorite picture books, I’ll Love you Forever, the book goes full circle ending with the boy having grown up and now a soldier looking at the moon. He holds his father’s picture while his father—back home—gazes at the moon too. 




See Kathleen Temean's blog for more information on Gayle's book journey. 

GIVEAWAY

To celebrate her book birthday tomorrow, April 9th, and in conjunction with the Month of the Military Child, Gayle is giving away an autographed copy of Daddy, Can You See the Moon? Leave me a comment by April 11 (with your email address if you are new to my blog) and I'll enter your name. If you have a family member in the military or plan to give this to a child whose parent is in the military, I'll enter your name twice. 


Monday, April 1, 2019

One Week Of You: A Review and Giveaway

Last October I was privileged to host Lisa Williams Kline's cover reveal for her newest YA book, ONE WEEK OF YOU (Blue Crow Publishing, 2019).  At that time Lisa shared her path to publication and the book's backstory. Since then I've had the opportunity to read this well-written and engaging story (I didn't want it to end!) and am excited to share it with you.




REVIEW

For as long as she can remember, fifteen-year-old Lizzy has been a serious student who wants to be a doctor and isn't distracted by boys or any fun activities like cheerleading. But that was before Andy Masters--the newest and most popular guy who flirted with her; before she made the cheerleading team; and before she had to carry around a 5-pound bag of flour--her "flour baby"--as part of sex education in Health. 


From: http://www.themagrag.com/2012/02/flour-sack-babies.html

Despite Lizzy's old best friend's warnings that she is in danger of losing focus and her brother's concern over her constantly forgetting her flour baby, Lizzy can't stop from succumbing to what she describes as "AMSD: Andy Master Smiling Disease." The book is full of Lizzy's infatuation as well as her questions (Does he really like me?) which are so typical of young love. 

To increase the tension, the week of the flour baby is also April Fool's week, false fire alarm riddle the school, and Lizzy ends up in detention. She looks down at the other students in detention and gets angry with the teacher who accuses her of not being the sweet person she has portrayed to everyone in the school. In this mirror moment, Lizzy begins to see herself in a different way.
I know since I've had this crush on Andy I've morphed into this totally different person, and I've totally forgotten a lot of stuff and done handsprings on the soccer field during a school evacuation and gotten a few extra flour babies...Maybe it will kill my parents when they find out everything I've done this week.  
... I'm filled with fury, and then it turns into something else. I realize that up until this afternoon I've been judging everyone in this room. (p.80)

True to her investigative nature, Lizzy tries to figure out who is setting the fire alarms. She even wonders if Andy, as the high school reporter/broadcaster, initiated the fire drills to make a journalistic point. Is he a creep or a good guy? Her affection for him is tested on several occasions; she ends up feeling ashamed for lying to her parents and for her poor decisions during her first babysitting job.  

I'm always impressed when an author portrays and uses secondary characters well. After her downfall, Lizzy has a heart to heart talk with her parents. She confesses to feeling bad over how she treated a boy who irritated her. Her father's reply is a message teens need to hear:
Well, when I said to be nice to everyone, I guess I meant to be kind and cordial to everyone. That doesn't mean you have to be best friends with someone you don't want to be close to...You're allowed not to hang out with him. You're allowed to set boundaries. (p. 174)
Her mother chimes in with great advice that I hope girls (and women!) who read this book will take to heart:

"Someone who loves you will never ask you to compromise yourself." (p. 176)

Kudos to Lisa Kline for showing a teenage girl conflicted over her desires to want a boy to like her and concerns about giving up her self. This clean book for young adults realistically portrays sex education and is a welcome addition to the young adult genre that is heavily infused with poor parent-child relationships and characters experimenting with sex and drugs. 

And by the way--the ending is perfect!!


GIVEAWAY

I have a gently used paperback to give to one of you. If you share this post on social media or become a new follower of my blog, I'll add your name twice. Just let me know what you do in the comments and please leave your email address if you are new to my blog. A winner will be drawn on April 4. 

Maybe He Just Likes You- A Review and ARC Giveaway

After watching Colby Sharp's YouTube   recommendation of Barbara Dee 's newest book, Maybe He Just Likes You   (Simon and Schuster...