July Flash Fiction Prompt

FLASH FICTION PROMPT

It’s been awhile since I’ve done a Flash Fiction Prompt, and now felt like the right time to get back to it, especially since I need to come up with a fantastic idea for our TGNA Fall Frivolity anthology.

And in keeping with the fall theme for our anthology,

Here’s the visual prompt for July…

 

slevin-aaron-11-360x524

Photo credit Slevin Aaron

 

Write a story inspired by this image in 1000 words or less.

If you’d like to share your story, email it to me at valerierlawson@gmail.com. Put Flash Fiction Prompt in the subject line.

I’ll share my story next month. (This may or may not be the story I include in our TGNA anthology. It’ll be a surprise.) I may post yours here, too. If I have enough people participate, I’ll post the best one on the blog!

If you are interested in entering a submission for our anthology, you can view more writing prompt ideas on our TGNA group Pinterest page. You can also view the submission guidelines on our blog. I look forward to reading your submissions!

 

 

Book Review – GEORGE by Alex Gino – a TGNA post

 

tgnahead

 

After a nice long break from participating in the The Great Noveling Adventure blog, I’ve decided to join the group again. I just missed it too much. I’ll only be posting once a month, which will be much easier on me and will allow me to pursue my other goals without becoming a burden.

Today is my day for July, and I’m posting a book review of that fantastic Middle Grade novel GEORGE by Alex Gino.

Here’s a preview:

Book Review George

Hello Adventurers! It’s wonderful to be back after a much needed break. I’ve kept busy on my own blog and have managed to do a fair amount of reading while I’ve been away. One of my favorite reads so far this year has been this slim, unassuming book with the simple design that packs quite an emotional punch. Leave it to a Middle Grade author to tackle such a huge topic like transgender and to get it so right. This is an important book that needs to be shared – with young and old alike.

On to the review!

To read the full post, click here.

We are also putting together TGNA’s second anthology, FALL FRIVOLITY, and you can be a part of it! To be considered, simply submit a short story of 1000 words or less with a fall theme to tgnasubmissions@gmail.com. We’re accepting submissions through August 1st. For full submissions guidelines, click here!

2016 Reading Challenges Update – 2nd Quarter Results

 

Reading Challenges Rock2

Halfway through the year and I’m approaching the halfway mark on my reading goal. I’ve read 39 books out of 80. Not too shabby. Almost respectable, even. (I have to say, it’s been so sweet to not see the nagging comments from Goodreads telling me how many books I’m behind this year.)

Now as far as how I’m doing with reaching the goals for the reading challenges, let’s take a closer look.

 

ROCK-1#RockMyTBR 2016 Reading Challenge

I only managed to check off one TBR pile book this quarter – shameful! I must double my efforts this next quarter. Especially because I haven’t stopped buying books. ( I have mentioned I have a book-buying problem, yes?) This pile hasn’t stopped growing! It’s currently moving in the wrong direction…

New book(s) I’ve managed to clear off my TBR pile:

 

THIEF OF LIES (Library Jumpers #1) by Brenda Drake

Thief-of-lies_high-res22This is the first book in a series by the wonderful and charming Brenda Drake, the YA author behind the Pitch Wars phenomenon. I loved the premise and the feisty female lead character. Drake does an excellent job with world-building and her fast-paced story has you racing to the end.

I look forward to the next installment.

Gia Kearns would rather fight with boys than kiss them. That is, until Arik, a leather clad hottie in the Boston Athenaeum, suddenly disappears. While examining the book of world libraries he abandoned, Gia unwittingly speaks the key that sucks her and her friends into a photograph and transports them into a Paris library, where Arik and his Sentinels—magical knights charged with protecting humans from the creatures traveling across the gateway books—rescue them from a demonic hound.

Jumping into some of the world’s most beautiful libraries would be a dream come true for Gia, if she weren’t busy resisting her heart or dodging an exiled wizard seeking revenge on both the Mystik and human worlds. Add a French flirt obsessed with Arik and a fling with a young wizard, and Gia must choose between her heart and her head, between Arik’s world and her own, before both are destroyed. (Plot summary from author’s website.)

Learn more about Brenda Drake here.

Follow Brenda on Twitter here.

Follow Brenda on Facebook here.

TweetBy the way, if you like Twitter chats, Brenda will be our special guest this month on #okscbwichat. Join us on Tuesday, July 26th from 7-8pm CST.

 

2016 Book Riot Read Harder Challenge – I made a lot more headway on this challenge – almost halfway done, but not quite.

There are always wonderful ideas given in the discussions of the Book Riot’s Goodreads Read Harder Group. I love looking through the conversations here – so many great reading suggestions for each category! (You can also follow the Twitter hashtag #ReadHarder, if you’re curious.)

Read Harder 2nd Qtr

New books I’ve read for this challenge:

 

BETWEEN THE WORLD AND ME by Ta-Nehisi Coates
(Read a book about politics, in your country or another – fiction or non-fiction)

Between the World and Me

I can’t count how many people recommended this book to me. Everyone who read it was moved in a profound way. Obviously I signed up to read it.

Powerful doesn’t begin to describe this story.

Coates puts you immediately in the conversation and lets you explore the fear and worry and anger and enlightenment from the point of view of a parent teaching a son how to come to terms with the same. A must-read book for sure.

“This is your country, this is your world, this is your body, and you must find some way to live within the all of it.”

In a profound work that pivots from the biggest questions about American history and ideals to the most intimate concerns of a father for his son, Ta-Nehisi Coates offers a powerful new framework for understanding our nation’s history and current crisis. Americans have built an empire on the idea of “race,” a falsehood that damages us all but falls most heavily on the bodies of black women and men—bodies exploited through slavery and segregation, and, today, threatened, locked up, and murdered out of all proportion. What is it like to inhabit a black body and find a way to live within it? And how can we all honestly reckon with this fraught history and free ourselves from its burden?

Between the World and Me is Ta-Nehisi Coates’s attempt to answer these questions in a letter to his adolescent son. Coates shares with his son—and readers—the story of his awakening to the truth about his place in the world through a series of revelatory experiences, from Howard University to Civil War battlefields, from the South Side of Chicago to Paris, from his childhood home to the living rooms of mothers whose children’s lives were taken as American plunder. Beautifully woven from personal narrative, reimagined history, and fresh, emotionally charged reportage, Between the World and Me clearly illuminates the past, bracingly confronts our present, and offers a transcendent vision for a way forward. (Plot summary from Goodreads.)

Learn more about Ta-Nehisi Coates here.

Follow Ta-Nehisi on Twitter here.

 

 

GEORGE by Alex Gino
(Read a book under 100 pages)

george-small-400x600Although this book could also qualify as my selection for someone who identifies as transgender, I have another title I want to read for that. And I had heard so many positive reviews of this book, I had to read it.

Wow.

This book may be little, but it is mighty.

I cried so hard at the end and hugged it close to my heart. What an important book to add to the world and to put out there for MG readers. Fantastic story that needs to be read.

When people look at George, they see a boy. But George knows she’s a girl.

George thinks she’ll have to keep this a secret forever. Then her teacher announces that their class play is going to be Charlotte’s Web. George really, really, REALLY wants to play Charlotte. But the teacher says she can’t even try out for the part … because she’s a boy.

With the help of her best friend Kelly, George comes up with a plan. Not just so she can be Charlotte – but so everyone can know who she is, once and for all.

GEORGE is a candid, genuine, and heartwarming middle grade about a transgender  girl who is, to use Charlotte’s word, R-A-D-I-A-N-T! (Plot summary from author’s website.)

 

Learn more about Alex Gino here.

Follow Alex on Twitter here.

Follow Alex on Facebook here.

 

 

THE THREE PIGS by David Wiesner
(Read a book out loud to someone else)

The Three PigsI could have picked any number of books for this challenge as I read out loud to my son quite often, but this is one of his favorites, as evidenced by the worn cover and the pages falling out near the back.

David Wiesner is a master of the picture book, with wolf-smsparse words and fantastical artwork that allows for an exploration into one’s own imagination to fill in the story. My son also loves his book, TUESDAY, which is almost wordless and completely magical.

Hold on to your hat and your home, but let your imagination soar! This masterly picture book will blow you away right along with the three little pigs’ houses. Satisfying both as a story and as an exploration of story, The Three Pigs takes visual narrative to a new level. When the wolf comes a-knocking and a-puffing, he blows the pigs right out of the tale and into a whole new imaginative landscape, where they begin a freewheeling adventure as they wander—and fly—through other stories, encountering a dragon and a cat with a fiddle, among pigsilo-smothers. This familiar tale will never be the same old story again. (Plot summary from author’s website.)

 

Learn more about David Wiesner here.

 

What books have taken you out of your normal reading pattern this year?

 

Bookish Cassie’s Reading Bingo Challenge – I did much better on this challenge and actually got my first bingo – woohoo! Of course I’m going for the full blackout.

Cassie is the dynamic gal with a head of fantastic curls, always at the ready with great book recommendations. She writes the glorious blog Books and Bowel Movements that I just love. Cassie is doing this reading challenge on her Instagram account, which makes it fun and really easy.

If you’re on Instagram, feel free to join in with the hashtag #readingbingo2016. It’s that simple. You can find me on Instagram at litbeing. You can find Cassie there at bookishcassie.

 

Reading Bingo 2nd Qtr

 

New books I’ve read for this challenge:

 

THE BANE CHRONICLES by Cassandra Clare
(Collection of Short Stories)

Bane Chronicles coverAs a serious fan of all things Shadowhunter, I couldn’t resist getting to know one of my favorite characters in the series. I enjoyed the behind-the-scenes peek at the life of Magnus Bane and the illustrations – I only wish there had more more! The tales answered some questions and raised some others. The only drawback is now I feel compelled to reread the entire series of books. What’s a booklover to do?

Fans of The Mortal Instruments and The Infernal Devices can get to know warlock Magnus Bane like never before in this collection of New York Times bestselling tales, in print for the first time with an exclusive new story and illustrated material.

This collection of eleven short stories illuminates the life of the enigmatic Magnus Bane, whose alluring personality, flamboyant style, and sharp wit populate the pages of the #1 New York Times bestselling series, The Mortal Instruments and The Infernal Devices.

Originally released one-by-one as e-only short stories by Cassandra Clare, Maureen Johnson and Sarah Rees Brennan, this compilation presents all ten together in print for the first time and includes a never-before-seen eleventh tale, as well as new illustrated material. (Plot summary from author’s website.)

Learn more about Cassandra Clare here.

Follow Cassandra on Twitter here.

Follow her on Tumblr here.

 

 

CAREER OF EVIL (Cormoran Strike #3) by Robert Galbraith (pseudonym of J.K Rowling)
(A book set in a place opposite of your hometown)

Career of Evil coverLondon couldn’t be any more opposite from my hometown in rural Oklahoma, so this is a perfect match for this challenge selection.

There’s nothing like a hard-boiled mystery novel, is there? I really enjoy reading these books by Rowling, er, Galbraith. Just a fun read. I know, I know, murder and mayhem, fun? I may be a little weird. Either way, I read through this book in a flash to find out whodunit.

When a mysterious package is delivered to Robin Ellacott, she is horrified to discover that it contains a woman’s severed leg. Her boss, private detective Cormoran Strike, is less surprised but no less alarmed. There are four people from his past who he thinks could be responsible- and Strike knows that any one of them is capable of sustained and unspeakable brutality.

With the police focusing on the one suspect Strike is increasingly sure is not the perpetrator, he and Robin take matters into their own hands, and delve into the dark and twisted worlds of the other three men. But as more horrendous acts occur, time is running out for the two of them…

Career of Evil is the third in the highly acclaimed series featuring private detective Cormoran Strike and his assistant Robin Ellacott. A fiendishly clever mystery with unexpected twists around every corner, it is also a gripping story of a man and a woman at a crossroads in their personal and professional lives. (Plot summary from author’s website.)

Learn more about Robert Galbraith here.

Follow Robert on Twitter here.

Follow Robert on Facebook here.

(I’m sure you know how to find J.K. Rowling, but her other main site’s here.)

 

 

AMERICAN BOYS by Jason Reynolds and Brendan Kiely
(A book that makes you sound smart at dinner parties)

AABI think this book could fit in many categories, but I love talking about it everywhere I go, and encouraging everyone I know to read it, so I think it fits well here.

So much buzz about this book as THE book to read this year brought this title to my attention. And now I know why.

Fantastic.

Timely.

Heartfelt.

Such an important topic and so well handled by these two incredibly talented authors. Bravo!

Critically acclaimed authors Jason Reynolds and Brendan Kiely have joined forces to write an explosive new novel, ALL AMERICAN BOYS, inspired by recent controversial events and the national firestorm over police brutality.

Rashad Butler and Quinn Collins are two young men, one black and one white, whose lives are forever changed by an act of extreme police brutality. Rashad wakes up in a hospital. Quinn saw how he got there. And so did the video camera that taped the cop beating Rashad senseless into the pavement. Thus begins ALL AMERICAN BOYS, written in tandem by two of our great literary talents, Jason Reynolds and Brendan Kiely. The story is told in Rashad and Quinn’s alternating perspectives, as they grapple with the complications that spin out of this violent moment and reverberate in their families, school, and town. Over the course of one week, Rashad tries to find the strength to accept his role as the symbolic figure of the community’s response to police brutality, and Quinn tries to decide where he belongs in a town bitterly divided by racial tension.  Ultimately, the two narratives weave back together, in the moment in which the two boys, now changed, can actually see each other—the first step for healing and understanding in a country still deeply sick with racial injustice. Reynolds pens the voice of Rashad, and Kiely has taken the voice of Quinn.

“As a black man and a white man, both writers and educators, we came together to cowrite a book about how systemic racism and police brutality affect the lives of young people in America, in order to create an important, unique, and honest work that would give young people and the people who educate them a tool for talking about these difficult but absolutely vital conversations,” said Jason Reynolds and Brendan Kiely. (Plot summary from author’s website.)

Learn more about Jason Reynolds here.

Follow Jason on Twitter here.

Follow Jason on Tumblr here.

Follow Jason on Instagram here.

 

Learn more about Brendan Kiely here.

Follow Brendan on Twitter here.

Follow Brendan on Facebook here.

 

 

ARISTOTLE AND DANTE DISCOVER THE SECRETS OF THE UNIVERSE by Benjamin Alire Sáenz
(Book already on your shelf)

aristotle-and-dante-discover-the-secrets-of-the-9781442408937As this book was a re-read for my Relaxed and Groovy Book Club, it was definitely already on my shelf. I’ve talked about this book ad nauseum on this blog, because it is one of my all-time favorites so I’ll spare you the details, unless you’re truly interested.

The way Sáenz paints with language gets me every time. He uses evocative language so well to hit right to the heart of the emotional moment of every scene. And his characters Ari and Dante are just the greatest. I loved this book even more the second time around. Find the full discussion here.

Aristotle is an angry teen with a brother in prison. Dante is a know-it-all who has an unusual way of looking at the world. When the two meet at the swimming pool, they seem to have nothing in common. But as the loners start spending time together, they discover that they share a special friendship—the kind that changes lives and lasts a lifetime. And it is through this friendship that Ari and Dante will learn the most important truths about themselves and the kind of people they want to be. (Plot summary from Goodreads.)

Learn more about Benjamin Alire Saenz here and here.

Follow Benjamin on Twitter here.

 

 

What have you been reading, lately?

What are you looking forward to reading next?

 

 

Book Review – MY FRIEND MAGGIE by Hannah E. Harrison

Hannah Harrison picHannah Harrison is such a delightful person and a familiar face on this blog. She gave an interview a few years ago, right before EXTRAORDINARY JANE was published. (My son still carries his now very battered copy of JANE around with him everywhere he goes. My copy is on the very top of my office bookshelf – please don’t tell my son.)

I also reviewed her second book about a crabby cat having a very bad day at a birthday party called BERNIE GETS CARRIED AWAY, which you can read about here.

Hannah pic
Me with Hannah at the spring SCBWI Oklahoma conference.

(Have I mentioned how much I love being a part of SCBWI Oklahoma? So many generous and talented people in this group!)

I received an advanced copy of Hannah’s newest book, MY FRIEND MAGGIE from her when I saw her this past spring at our SCBWI OK conference in April. There may have been some actual jumping up and down when she gave it to me.  I get excited when I receive free books from people, especially when they’re as talented as Hannah.

I’m so honored to be able to review this book before it releases in August. Be sure to pre-order your copy today!

 

My Friend Maggie coverMY FRIEND MAGGIE by Hannah E. Harrison

Published by: Dial Books

Release Date: August 9, 2016

Genres: Children’s, Picture Books

amazonindieboundbn-24h-80

 

 

Plot Summary:

Paula and Maggie have been friends forever. Paula thinks Maggie is the best—until mean girl Veronica says otherwise. Suddenly, Paula starts to notice that Maggie is big and clumsy, and her clothes are sort of snuggish. Rather than sticking up for Maggie, Paula ignores her old friend and plays with Veronica instead. Luckily, when Veronica turns on Paula, Maggie’s true colors shine through.

This moving friendship story has all the heart and emotion of The Giving Tree and Kevin Henkes’s Chrysanthemum. The gorgeous artwork and important message make this a book to treasure. It’s truly a classic in the making. (Plot summary from Goodreads.)


This book has already received some high praise:

Publisher’s Weekly STAR Review

“Harrison tells her story with touching and expert restraint, and her acrylic illustrations have a lovely old-fashioned feel that readers of her previous books will recognize…Harrison shows a deeply sympathetic understanding of the simultaneously fragile and powerful emotions of children.”

Kirkus Review

“Harrison’s brightly colored acrylic paintings amplify the emotions…(her) straightforward, first-person text, while understated, also conveys a wealth of emotion.”

 

 

Maggie 4

 

This is such a fantastic story about friendship, and what happens when that friendship gets put to the test.

Before I even get into the fantastic artwork, can I talk about the inner nerd girl/weird girl/picked-on-by-the-mean-girl little part of each of us hidden way deep down inside that can’t help but tear up at the lunch room scene?

Maggie 2

 

Maggie 3

 

 

 

 

 

 

I’ve lived that scene. It felt just that awful.

Talk about nailing the emotions. Pow!

As always, Hannah is a master at using vibrant color, white space, and perspective in her artwork to enhance the emotional impact of the story.

She ties it all together to bring this thoughtful tale to a very satisfying conclusion.

I fell in love with this book. And with Maggie. Everyone could use a friend like her.

 

Learn more about Hannah E. Harrison here.

Follow Hannah on Facebook here.

As a special treat, you can view this clever video Hannah made for her Artist’s Studio Tour.

 

#TBT Post – Great Dads in Literature

I wrote this #ThrowBackThursday post for The Great Novelizing Adventure blog and it was originally published on June 15, 2014. 


As today is the day we get to celebrate the great father figures in our lives, I thought I’d take a moment to pay homage to some of the fantastic literary dads that inspired, encouraged, and just made our favorite stories all the better for us having known them. As my dad was the one who instilled the love of reading in me, I dedicate this list of five great fictional dads to him.

Happy Father’s Day!

Arthur Weasley – The Harry Potter Series by J.K. Rowling.HP 1Although he wasn’t Harry’s father, nor did he try to be Harry’s father, he played a very important supportive role. (He also taught us that not every great father figure has to be one’s actual father.) Arthur Weasley held a special place in his heart for Muggles and he taught his children that there were more important things in life than power or wealth. In an early confrontation with Lucius Malfoy where Lucius makes a disparaging remark about his family, Arthur states, “We have a very different idea of what disgraces the name of wizard, Malfoy.”

 

Clementine’s dad – CLEMENTINE by Sara Pennypacker.ClementineClementine is such wildly beautiful character. She reminds me of my daughter in some ways, with maybe a few more visits to the principal’s office under her belt. And her dad knows just what to do when she comes home from school after a really bad day, so bad that she doesn’t even want to talk about it, because her best friend’s mom sent a note to school saying, “Watch out that my daughter isn’t left alone with Clementine”.

When her dad comes in and sees her still wearing her mad face, he hands over the keys to the service elevator because he knows the only thing that will make her feel better is riding the service elevator. When she comes back, she overhears her parents talking about the note. Her mom is upset because they are treating Clementine as if she is a common criminal. Her dad laughs and says, “Well, that is insulting. There is absolutely nothing common about Clementine!”

 

Ken Dietz – PLEASE IGNORE VERA DIETZ by A.S. King.Please Ignore Vera DietzKen Dietz is a high school drop out, turned accountant, and a recovering alcoholic. He believes he can keep Vera from making his mistakes by being brutally honest with her and by making her earn her way through life, regardless of whether or not the brutal honesty of finding out her mother worked as a stripper before she abandoned her when she was twelve might be utterly devastating or that making her work 40 hours a week while going to school to earn her own way may leave her virtually no time to do her homework.

He devours self-help books trying to be the best dad he can be and when Vera fails, he thinks these are his failures. He doesn’t give up and he still pushes and is still with her through her darkest moments. “With Vera, I’m trying to find ways to teach her how to grow her own self-esteem. I’m not sure if it’s working, but it’s all I have. Because my father left when I was three, I have no idea what a father is supposed to do, so I’m winging it.”

 

Atticus Finch – TO KILL A MOCKINGBIRD by Harper Lee.To Kill a MockingbirdAtticus is the epitome of compassion, and courage. He teaches Scout and her brother Jem that they should not shoot mockingbirds with their air rifles because it’s a sin. Mockingbirds never harm other living creatures. He defends a black man accused of rape, even though he knows it won’t end well. He also discourages Scout from fighting with others to defend him because of backlash from the trial. He tells Jem, “I wanted you to see what real courage is. Instead of getting the idea that courage is a man with a gun in his hand. It’s when you know you’re licked before you begin, and but begin anyway and you see it through no matter what.” He also teaches Scout that you can’t judge someone until you see from their point of view, “until you climb around in his skin and walk around in it.”

 

Eddard Stark – A GAME OF THRONES by George R.R. Martin.Game of ThronesThis character’s untimely demise sparks off a war and chaos of monumental portions, which speaks to his character’s regard, not just from his family, but those who followed him. Eddard Stark, the Lord of Winterfell, teaches his sons that to understand what it’s like to disperse justice, they must be the hand that directs the blow. “The man who passes the sentence should swing the sword.” When he is asked by the king to leave home and come to the capital to help run the entire country, he does his duty, against his heart. When he sees corruption, he speaks out and tries to address it. Although he is not without fault, he does seem to be the only one there with good intentions.

That’s that’s my list of five honorable fathers of literature. I know that’s just a starting place. I’m sure there are many more.

Can you name any of your favorites?

The Relaxed & Groovy Book Club – ARISTOTLE AND DANTE DISCOVER THE SECRETS OF THE UNIVERSE

 

Relaxed & Groovy Book Club

Welcome to the third discussion of the Relaxed & Groovy Book Club!

This third installment is taking full advantage of the title “relaxed & groovy” as April was just too hectic for me to manage everything, what with the amazing SCBWI spring conference and then the nonprofit I work for hosted its annual Walk for Autism the very next week, I was worn out by the end of the month. I took most of May to regroup and refocus. So I let this go. It’s important to know your limits, I say. Now, I have all the time in the world to talk about this latest fabulous book!

Current Relaxed & Groovy Book Club selection:

 

aristotle-and-dante-discover-the-secrets-of-the-9781442408937ARISTOTLE AND DANTE DISCOVER THE SECRETS OF THE UNIVERSE by Benjamin Alire Sáenz

Published by: Simon & Schuster

Release Date: February 21, 2012

Genres: YA, Contemporary, Realistic Fiction, LGBT

amazon

bn-24h-80indiebound

 

Plot Summary:

Aristotle is an angry teen with a brother in prison. Dante is a know-it-all who has an unusual way of looking at the world. When the two meet at the swimming pool, they seem to have nothing in common. But as the loners start spending time together, they discover that they share a special friendship—the kind that changes lives and lasts a lifetime. And it is through this friendship that Ari and Dante will learn the most important truths about themselves and the kind of people they want to be.(Plot summary from Goodreads.)

Learn more about Benjamin Alire Saenz here and here.

Follow Benjamin on Twitter here.

The way Sáenz paints with language gets me every time. He uses evocative language so well to hit right to the heart of the emotional moment of every scene. And his characters Ari and Dante are just the greatest. I loved this book even more the second time around.

Let’s peek at the opening:

     One summer night I fell asleep, hoping the world would be different when I woke. In the morning, when I opened my eyes, the world was the same. I threw off the sheets and lay there as the heat poured in though my open window.

     My hand reached for the dial on the radio. “Alone” was playing. Crap, “Alone” a song by a band called Heart. Not my favorite song. Not my favorite group. Not my favorite topic. “You don’t know how long…”

     I was fifteen.

     I was bored.

     I was miserable.

     As far as I was concerned, the sun could have melted the blue right off the sky. Then the sky could be as miserable as I was.

     The DJ was saying annoying, obvious things like, “It’s summer! It’s hot out there!” And then he put on that retro Lone Ranger tune, something he liked to play every morning because he thought it was a hip way to wake up the world. “Hi-yo, Silver!” Who hired this guy? He was killing me. I think that as we listened to the William Tell Overture, we were supposed to be imagining the Lone Ranger and Tonto riding their horses through the desert. Maybe someone should have told the guy that we weren’t ten-year-olds anymore. “Hi-yo Silver!” Crap. The DJ’s voice was on the airwaves again. “Wake up, El Paso! It’s Monday, June fifteenth, 1987! 1987! Can you believe it? And a big ‘Happy Birthday’ goes out to Waylon Jennings, who’s fifty years old today!” Waylon Jennings? This was a rock station, dammit! But then he said something that hinted at the fact that he might have a brain. He told the story about how Waylon Jennings had survived the 1959 plane crash that killed Buddy Holly and Richie Valens. On that note, he put on the remake of “La Bamba” by Los Lobos.

     “La Bamba.” I could cope with that.

     I tapped my bare feet on the wood floor. As I nodded my head to the beat, I started wondering what had gone through Richie Valens’s head before the plane crashed into the unforgiving ground. Hey, Buddy! The music’s over.

     For the music to be over so soon. For the music to be over when it had just begun. That was really sad.

This novel is beyond fantastic. You know who Ari is right from the start. You feel for him and wish his day were going better.

The Discussion:

The simple summary above doesn’t begin to do this story and this beautiful, complicated relationship justice. Aristotle, or Ari as he prefers to be called, isn’t just another angsty teen with anger management problems. He lives in a house filled with silences. His dad came back damaged after returning from Vietnam without the words to talk about it. Ari, for his part, wants nothing more than to hear from his dad. His older brother went to prison when Ari was very young and even his pictures have been banished from the walls. The silence of his absence is deafening. Ari is a big thinker. He’s always wondering about how the world works and why things are the way they are. Like in this passage:

I wondered about the science of storms and how sometimes it seemed that a storm wanted to break the world and how the world refused to break.

Dante has completely different problems. For one thing, he’s not Mexican enough. Compared to Ari, who is just the right combination, Dante thinks he’s too light-skinned and too into art and reading and doesn’t really like anything that “real” Mexicans like. Except for menudo, which Ari says makes him a real Mexican. He also gets along with his parents too well. And he’s afraid of disappointing them (they way he’s disappointed Ari) because he likes boys. Dante over-shares his feelings, where Ari keeps his hidden, even from himself.

Dante talks about everything.

Until Dante, being with other people was the hardest thing in the world for me. But Dante made talking and living and feeling seem like all those things were perfectly natural. Not it my world, they weren’t.

I went home and looked up the word ‘inscrutable.’ It meant something that could not easily be understood. I wrote down all the synonyms in my journal. ‘Obscure.’ ‘Unfathomable.’ ‘Enigmatic.’ ‘Mysterious.’

That afternoon, I learned two new words. ‘Inscrutable.’ And ‘friend.’

Words were different when they lived inside of you.

 

Ari struggles with sharing his thoughts. When he gets sick with the flu and Dante visits him, they end up talking about Ari’s brother. Afterwards, Ari feels like he’s betrayed his family and pushes Dante away. He then starts writing everything in a journal.

 

-I have always felt terrible inside. The reasons for this keep changing.

-I told my father I always had bad dreams. And that was true. I’d never told anyone that before. Not even myself. I only knew it was true when I said it.

-I hated my mom for a minute or two because she told me I didn’t have any friends.

-I want to know about my brother. If I knew more about him, would I hate him?

-My father held me in his arms when I had a fever and I wanted him to hold me in his arms forever.

-The problem is not that I don’t love my mother and father. The problem is that I don’t know how to love them.

-Dante is the first friend I’ve ever had. That scares me.

-I think that if Dante really knew me, he wouldn’t like me.

 

That is something I could connect with – a fear I had when I was young (and maybe not so young) – and I knew how lonely Ari felt. And why he pushed Dante away.

Another defining moment in the story is when Ari and Dante witness some boys shooting a BB gun and they kill a bird. Dante confronts them in anger and Ari chases them away before they can hurt Dante. They both come away from the confrontation with new insights about each other.

 

After the boys sit in silence, Ari asks, “Why do birds exist, anyway?”

He looked at me. “You don’t know?”

“I guess I don’t.”

“Birds exist to teach us things about the sky.”

 

Dante cries over the dead bird and asks Ari to help him bury it.

 

I was harder than Dante. I think I’d tried to hide that hardness from him because I’d wanted him to like me. But now he knew. that I was hard. And maybe that was okay. Maybe he could like the fact that I was hard just as I liked the fact that he wasn’t hard.

 

Later, Ari saves Dante’s life when he stops in the road to rescue a wounded bird after a storm and a car swerves around the corner. Ari is hit in Dante’s place. This changes and deepens their relationship in surprising ways.

Dante wants Ari to forgive him. He says he done with birds. Everyone thinks of Ari as a hero. Ari tells Dante there’s nothing to forgive and he acted on reflex – he didn’t even think about it, he just did it. No one should treat him like a hero. Whenever they, Ari gets angry.

One morning, Dante decides he’ll be the one to give Ari his sponge bath.

 

Dante’s hands were bigger than my mother’s. And softer. He was slow, methodical, careful. He made me feel as fragile as porcelain.

I never opened my eyes.

We didn’t say a word.

I felt his hands on my bare chest. On my back.

I let him shave me.

When he was done, I opened my eyes. Tears were falling down his face. I should have expected that. I wanted to yell at him. I wanted to tell him that it was me who should be crying.

Dante had that look on his face. He looked like an angel. And all I wanted to do was put my fist through his jaw. I couldn’t stand my own cruelty.

 

Dante then moves away for a year. Both boys struggle to figure out who they are without the other. They experiment with things – kissing girls, taking drugs, drinking – and they discover some secrets of the universe. When Dante returns, they are fast friends, again. Ari is welcomed back by Dante’s family with more affection than Ari is comfortable with.

 

“I’m sure I’ll disappoint you someday, Mrs. Quintana.”

“No,” she said. And even though her voice could be so firm, right then her voice was almost as kind as my own mother’s. “You’re so hard on yourself, Ari.”

I shrugged. “Maybe that’s just the way it is with me.”

She smiled at me. “Dante’s not the only one who missed you.”

It was the most beautiful thing an adult who wasn’t my mom or dad had ever said to me. And I knew that there was something about me that Mrs. Quintana saw and loved. And even though I felt it was a beautiful thing, I also felt it was a weight. Not that she meant it to be a weight. But love was always something heavy for me. Something I had to carry.

 

The summer progresses, and after a family tragedy strikes, Ari comes to understand another secret of the universe.

 

I just drove. I could have driven forever. I don’t know how I managed to find my spot in the desert, but I found it. It was as if I had a compass hidden somewhere inside of me. One of the secrets of the universe was that our instincts were sometimes stronger the our minds…Another secret of the universe: Sometimes pain was like a storm that came out of nowhere. The clearest summer morning could end in a downpour. Could end in lightning and thunder.

 

Ari comes to realize maybe he didn’t just respond as a reflex when he saved Dante. Maybe there was a bigger reason. Okay, no more spoilers. I promise.

The voice, the plot, the setting all worked together in harmony and kept me firmly engrossed in the world of Ari and Dante. I hope you enjoyed reading this month’s book as much as I did, and that you maybe kept a box of kleenex close by near the end. Well worth it, I say.

 So…what’s next?

July’s Relaxed & Groovy Book Club selection:

beauty queensBEAUTY QUEENS by Libba Bray

Published by: Scholastic Press

Release Date: May 24, 2012

Genres: YA, Contemporary, Realistic Fiction, LGBT

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Plot Summary:

Teen beauty queens. A desert island. Mysteries and dangers. No access to e-mail. And the spirit of fierce, feral competition that lives underground in girls, a savage brutality that can only be revealed by a journey into the heart of non-exfoliated darkness. Oh, the horror, the horror! Only funnier. With evening gowns. And a body count.(Plot summary from author’s website.)

Learn more about Libba Bray here.

Follow Libba on Twitter here.

Follow Libba on Tumblr here.

Follow Libba on Facebook here.

This book is more than just a pretty face. Every young woman* should read the wisdom imparted within these pages – for no other reason, in the unlikely event that she is stranded on a deserted island with a bunch of savage beauty queens. Libya Bray is a genius at turning the absurd into the astounding. I’m so looking forward to reading this book, again! I know you’ll love this one.

*(and every young man! Insight is always wise to pursue. Besides, there is a male perspective shown here as well…)

The next meeting of this most relaxed and groovy of book clubs will be the last week of July. (Tie-dyed tees and funky shoes optional.)

Happy reading!

Gwendolyn Hooks Shines a Light on an Unsung Hero – Author Interview and Book Giveaway!

I have the pleasure of knowing Gwendolyn Hooks as part of our close-knit tribe of SCBWI Oklahoma members. She works tirelessly to perfect her craft until her work shines, and she has such a beautiful soul. All of which comes through in her writing. I just love her.

The road to publication for her latest book, TINY STITCHES: The Life of Medical Pioneer Vivien Thomas, was a long one. Some of us who have witnessed the progress of this journey are so thrilled to see this beautiful story finally come to light.

One lucky reader will win a signed copy! So stay tuned!

About Gwen

She was born in Savannah, Georgia. Her father was in the Air Force, so Gwen and her family moved a lot when she was a child. Her first stop in every new city was the local library where she got her new library card. Gwen now lives in Oklahoma City, Oklahoma, with her husband and their three children.

She is the author of twenty published books, including her popular Pet Club series. Two of her Scholastic early readers, The Mystery of the Missing Dog and Three’s A Crowd, sold over 100,000 copies each. She’s also written nonfiction picture books, including Arctic Appetizers: Studying Food Webs in the Arctic.

Tiny Stitches – The Life of Medical Pioneer Vivien Thomas  illustrated by Coretta Scott King Honor Award winner Colin Bootman (Lee & Low Books 2016) is her first picture book biography

Gwendolyn blogs on The Brown Bookshelf to push awareness of the myriad of African American voices writing and illustrating for young readers. The American Library Association selected The Brown Bookshelf as a Great Website for Kids.

 

Before the interview, let’s learn more about Gwen’s latest book:

TinyStitches_jkt_cover_smallTINY STITCHES: The Life of Medical Pioneer Vivien Thomas written by Gwendolyn Hooks illustrated by Colin Bootman

Release Date: May 15, 2016

Publisher: Lee & Low Books

Genres: Picture Book
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Plot Summary:

Vivien Thomas’s greatest dream was to attend college to study medicine. But after the stock market crashed in 1929, Vivien lost all his savings. Then he heard about a job opening at the Vanderbilt University medical school under the supervision of Dr. Alfred Blalock. Vivien knew that the all-white school would never admit him as a student, but he hoped working there meant he was getting closer to his dream.

As Dr. Blalock’s research assistant, Vivien learned surgical techniques. In 1943, Vivien was asked to help Dr. Helen Taussig find a cure for children with a specific heart defect. After months of experimenting, Vivien developed a procedure that was used for the first successful open-heart surgery on a child. Afterward, Dr. Blalock and Dr. Taussig announced their innovative new surgical technique, the Blalock-Taussig shunt. Vivien’s name did not appear in the report.

Overcoming racism and resistance from his colleagues, Vivien ushered in a new era of medicine—children’s heart surgery. This book is the compelling story of this incredible pioneer in medicine.


This book has already garnered rave reviews:

Booklist STAR review

“It is the work Thomas achieved, however, in spite of these enormous challenges, that will pique reader interest as they learn about his design of tiny operating tools and his role guiding surgeons through neonatal operations. Bootman’s lifelike watercolor illustrations beautifully and vividly evoke the carpentry shop, research labs, and the auditorium where, years later, Thomas was finally honored for his work and appointed to the faculty at Johns Hopkins.”

Kirkus

“. . . a rousing tribute to a man unjustly forgotten.”

 

I can’t wait to read this book! And the illustrations are just gorgeous.

 

The Interview

Gwen Hooks Head ShotValerie Lawson: What inspired you to tell the story of Vivien Thomas?

Gwendolyn Hooks: Thank goodness I have generous and talented writer friends and Anna Myers fits into that category. She called one night and in an explosive voice she said, “I just watched a movie about the man who saved my grandson’s life!”

Whaaat? Was all I could sputter.

The movie, Something the Lord Made, was the story of Vivien Thomas. Anna ended the conversation with, “You need to write a children’s book about him.” I watched the movie, too—several times. I kept thinking, why didn’t I know about him. There are probably plenty of kids who don’t know his story. After a lot of encouragement from Anna, I took on the project and I am so glad she called me that night!

VL: What a gift! And maybe a pretty big challenge. Good thing she knew you were up for it.

Tell us about the creative process of bringing this story to life. How was it different from your previous books.

GH: The creative process was extremely demanding for me. The beautiful phrases in my head did not magically appear on my computer screen. I have a stack of drafts about two feet high. I read other biographies and marveled at how the writing seemed so effortless. I worried what an illustrator would say after reading my manuscript. “Seriously. You expect me to illustrate this?” I doubted every step I took. But I did not give up. I kept reading picture book biographies and read everything I could find about how to write them.

When I write early readers, I always feel I can do it. I can visualize the whole book in my mind. With Tiny Stitches, it was a long time before I could see it. Before I could feel it. But I kept trying. I wanted to succeed. I couldn’t let Anna down. Or myself.

I don’t know what Colin Bootman thought when he first read my manuscript, but I’m so glad he accepted the project. I was excited when my editor told me he would be the illustrator. He’s very talented and his books are gorgeous. Colin won a Coretta Scott King Honor award, so he’s got talent! I think he really brought my words to life.

 

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VL: You didn’t give up. Exactly. And we’re so glad you kept trying. What a beautiful book!

What was the most surprising thing you learned while writing this book?

GH: It took six years from idea to publication. During that time, I learned that I have a patience-gene and a determination-gene. I would finish it and find an agent and an editor who believed in it as much as I did. I had the encouragement of my family, friends, and critique partners.

And I had Vivien Thomas. A few years ago, I traveled to Baltimore and had a chance to see Vivien’s portrait that hangs directly across from Dr. Blalock’s in Johns Hopkins Hospital. I felt his energy. I felt his passion. He urged me to tell his story. And I did.

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VL: Ooooh! How inspiring! (That gave me chills.)

You’ve also written a series of Early Readers, the Pet Club series, did you ever have a clubhouse or a secret place of your own when you were a kid?

GH: In 3rd grade, my friends and I attempted to build a fort during recess. The school was next to a wooded area and every day, we added branches and anything else we could find. I don’t think we ever finished it. But one day, I took off my jacket so I could work better. Well, I forgot to put it back on and didn’t remember it until I got on the bus. I was a nervous wreck riding home. I knew my mother’s first words would be, “Where is your jacket?”

Somehow, I got to my bedroom and out the house the next morning before she had time to think about it. I jumped off the bus, ran to our fort, and found my jacket. I never forgot my jacket again. I never built or half-built a fort again either.

VL: Kids always sweat their parents’ reactions, don’t they? My leg could be broken from jumping out of a tree, but I’d be more worried about, “Did I rip my new pants? Mom’s gonna kill me!” I wish I could’ve seen that fort. Sounded pretty cool. 

What was the most embarrassing thing you experienced?

GH: I still remember it like it was yesterday. I had to present a math lesson in one of my college education classes. I practiced it until it was perfect. But when I stood in front of the class with all those eyes staring at me, I blanked out. It was as if my brain had disappeared. Evaporated. Vanished. Finally, the instructor suggested I present at our next class. I slunk back to my seat. I have never forgotten that.

VL: Wow. That is truly awful. I think I’ve had nightmares of that happening.  

What was the most memorable adventure you had with your family?

GH: My two sisters who are also my best friends and I had a fantastic time on our trip to Belgium. One sister is adamant about luggage. We were restricted to one carry-on bag and she sent instructions on how to pack. No waiting for luggage. No crying over lost bags. Plus you must be able to handle your bag without help. Apparently, my other sister forgot that part. When we arrived in Brussels, we took a train to the car rental agency. The forgetful sister couldn’t get her luggage situated and we had to stay on the train until the next stop. So we decided to walk to the rental agency instead of waiting for another train.

It wasn’t as close as we thought and we were not happy with sister #2. As the luggage obsessed sister was signing the rental papers, she realized she had not specified automatic transmission when she reserved the car and there weren’t any available. There was a little eye-rolling from the luggage challenged sister because the luggage obsessed sister is the only one who could drive a stick shift. I’m the middle sister and peace maker so I volunteered to serve as navigator. Which turned out okay except for a few instances of driving in circles multiple times in circle intersections. It was hard to stop gawking and look at street signs.

We toured buildings that were centuries old. We ate chocolate and more chocolate. Then we took side trips to Bruges and Antwerp. Bruges was a fairy tale city with live chickens for sale in the market square. At a restaurant, I ordered a ham dish that appeared in front of me as a huge ham hock in a soup bowl. It was delicious! In Antwerp we visited the diamond center. I was blinded with all the glitter. Then it was time to drive back to Brussels and fly home. I loved that trip!

VL: That certainly was memorable! How fantastic!

What’s been your favorite book to read/book you’ve been most excited about over the past year? 

GH: I can’t just pick one.

I met Christina Gonzalez at the Nevada Reading Week conference in Reno. She gave me a copy of her The Red Umbrella, so of course I had to read it. It’s a great book set in Cuba. I love reading about other cultures and countries.

Recently, I read Thunder Boy by Sherman Alexie and illustrated by Yuyi Morales. It’s a beautiful picture book with a fun, but powerful message about the importance of a name.

The other day, I complained to a friend that I wanted to do a better job with setting. She suggested I read The Chicken Chasing Queen of Lamar County written by Janice N. Harrington and illustrated by Shelley Jackson. Janice does a fabulous job of showing setting through her language. I will probably read it 10 more times before I return it to the library.

I read two adult nonfiction books over the last year that I really enjoyed for different reasons.

The Superhuman Mind: Free the Genius in Your Brain by Berit Brogaard and Kristian Marlow. Who doesn’t want to free their genius!

Gwen and author pic
Gwen with author of THE WARMTH OF OTHER SUNS, Isabel Wilkerson

The Warmth of Other Suns: The Epic Story of America’s Great Migration by Isabel Wilkerson. Not only was it an epic story, the book was epic at 622 pages! But I love history and I learned so much about the migration of African Americans from the deep south to the north and west. I also liked Wilkerson’s narrative nonfiction style.

To-Be-Read: Grit: The Power of Passion and Perseverance by Angela Duckworth. She feels that exceptional achievement is a result of passion and persistence and not genius or talent. That means I can achieve something exceptional because I’m passionate about books and writing and I can be persistent when I set my mind on it.

VL: Ha! You’re so like me! I can never pick just one book EVER! And my nightstand has about ten books covering it right now. Thanks for some excellent reading suggestions.

What would your dream assignment be? What would you most like to write about?

GH: I’d love to have an all-expense paid assignment with a six-figure advance that required traveling to another country for research. One of my favorite television shows is Mysteries at the Museum. One Saturday, while eating breakfast, I watched an episode about Sir William Henry Perkins. He was an English chemist who accidently discovered a purple dye in 1856. Up until that time only royalty and the rich could afford purple clothes. Soon all the ladies were strutting around town in purple frocks. And since I love purple, it only makes sense for me to visit England and work on that project.

VL: Now that’s an excellent dream assignment! And of course you’ll need a co-writer to help you…carry your luggage. I’m volunteering now.

Tell us what’s coming up next for you. What are you currently working on? 

GH: I wrote two early readers for Lee & Low’s Confetti Kids series. Block Party and Music Time are scheduled for 2017. Pearson Educational UK is publishing a chapter book next year. And I’m writing another early reader that I can’t talk about yet-top secret. I will say, it’s something I’ve always been interested in, but I see a challenge ahead making it young-kid-friendly.

VL: How exciting! And I love top secret projects. We know you’ll be up for the challenge 🙂  

Thank you so much for sharing your time with us, Gwen. Always a pleasure.

**As an added bonus for those in the local area, Gwen will be hosting a book release party on June 9th, in Oklahoma City. The event will be from 6-9pm at the Chi Gallery.

Please come! It will be a fun event!

 

The Giveaway

Gwen is giving away a SIGNED COPY of her new book TINY STITCHES to one lucky reader of this blog!

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To enter, all you have to do is enter below!

ENTER HERE!!!  ➤➤➤  Gwendolyn Hook’s Rafflecopter giveaway

(If you really, really want to enter, but don’t want to use the Rafflecopter feature, feel free to post a comment below as your entry, and I’ll manually add you to the giveaway.)

Winner will be selected on June 15th.

CONGRATULATIONS TO BARBARA LOWELL!

SHE’S THE WINNER OF THE SIGNED COPY OF TINY STITCHES!

Learn more about Gwendolyn Hooks here.

Follow her on Twitter here.

Follow her on Facebook here.

Follow the Brown Bookshelf blog here.