It’s CAMP Time!!

I had the most fortunate accidental meeting of author Elaine Wolf on Facebook through a mutual friend (none other than Mr. Paul W. Hankins), that has resulted in a developing friendship of mutual respect and support. Elaine is the author of CAMP, a brand new YA novel which she graciously sent to me complete with autograph!! *insert SQUEEEE here*

Although I couldn’t get to reading CAMP right away, my daughter Keri snatched it up and read it in a matter of hours (she devours books almost as fast as I can get them into her hands) and loved it. I started reading it on Sunday and finished it last night in the wee hours of the morning. It was worth losing sleep over.

From the book jacket:

A coming-of-age novel about bullying, mothers and daughters, and the collateral damage of family secrets.

Every secret has a price.

For most girls, sleepaway camp is great fun. But for Amy Becker, it’s a nightmare. Amy, whose home life is in turmoil, is sent to Camp Takawanda for Girls for the first time as a teenager. Although Amy despises spending summers at home with her German-immigrant mother, who is unduly harsh with Amy’s autistic younger brother, Amy is less than thrilled about going away to camp. At Takawanda she is subjected to a humiliating “initiation” and to relentless bullying by the ringleader of the senior campers. As Amy struggles to stop the mean girls from tormenting her, she becomes more confident. But then her cousin reveals dark secrets about Amy’s mother’s past, setting in motion a tragic event that changes Amy and her family forever.

Camp is a compelling family drama that will resonate with a wide teenage readership. It will be a strong addition to recommended reading and summer reading lists, and it is appropriate for anti-bullying programs. Mostly, though, Camp is a mother-daughter story for mothers and daughters

Here are my thoughts:

The afore mentioned Mr. Paul W. Hankins says he thinks CAMP will be the “sleeper hit” of 2012, and I think he’s absolutely right about that. I hope word of this well written debut YA novel spreads very quickly so that multitudes of people read it and share it, particularly via social media. We all know the power of social media.

A couple of days ago, Elaine posted a picture on her Facebook of a display table her book was on at the Barnes and Noble where she was doing a book signing. One of the books on that table was The Boy in the Striped Pajamas by John Boyne. After reading Elaine’s book, I see why both books were on the same table. I don’t want to give too much away from either book, but I will say I see a common thread among both books: huge secrets kept under the guise of protection that lead to devastating truths.  I also see a quite obvious pairing with Dear Bully: 70 Authors Share Their Stories edited by Megan Kelley Hall and Carrie Jones.

The main focus of this story is how the narrator Amy Becker deals with despicable bully Rory at sleepaway camp (Camp Takawanda) and finds sanctuary in new friend and ally Erin. But the story runs much deeper than that. There is also the undercurrent of the classic mother/daughter struggle at play here, but with a twist: Amy’s mother is a German immigrant with a past too painful to share with her daughter, which drives a deep wedge between them. As I read the final chapters of CAMP, and the secrets revealed themselves, I thought of Maxine Hong Kingston’s The Woman Warrior, which chronicles a similar mother/daughter struggle complicated by a secret past from another land.

Mother/daughter relationships are complicated (I have three lovely daughters, by the way) and beautiful and sometimes hard. I think this book can create and provide a path for more open communication between mothers and daughters. We mothers most likely have things in our pasts that we may not want to talk about with our daughters, which is probably an indication that we really should.

Two Kids, Some Gravity, and A Messenger

I didn’t realize how long it had been since I have talked YA lit and shared some thoughts on the matter. If you’ve been following along over the last couple of weeks, you know I’ve been talking up #TeachersWrite and have been pouring a lot into my writing. I’m still doing that writing thing (and loving it, btw), but I’m also still reading a lot of fabulous YA lit.

In case you’re wondering why I read so much YA lit (even while working on my own), I read it for three reasons: 1) because I LOVE it!! 2) to make good recommendations to my students, and 3) reading good YA lit helps me be a better writer of YA lit.

I finished two gems in the last week or so: The Pull of Gravity by Gae Polisner and I Am the Messenger by Markus Zusak.

First up is The Pull of Gravity. I really love a good coming of age story, and this one fits the bill. I LOVE the two main characters: Nick Gardner (the narrator) and Jaycee Amato, who are very real and with whom readers will easily identify. Plus, its many references to Star Wars and Yoda will appeal to Star Wars fans, and I really dig the incorporation of John Steinbeck’s Of Mice and Men (which makes it a great mentor text). *Good job, Gae!!*

Here’s a small excerpt and synopsis from Gae’s website:

“Nick? Yes or no? Are you in?”
I shake my head at how crazy it all is, but even as I do, I know.
“Jaycee, why are you even asking? Do I really have a choice?”
“No,” she smiles, “No choice at all.”

While Nick Gardner’s family is falling apart, his best friend, the Scoot, is dying from a freak disease. Enter Jaycee Amato, a quirky girl with Siberian-husky eyes and an odd affinity for Of Mice and Men. She’s made a seemingly-impossible promise to the Scoot, and wants Nick’s help to keep it.

Armed only with the wisdom of Yoda, the beauty of Steinbeck, and the vaguest of plans, Nick and Jaycee set off on a secret, whirlwind journey to find the father the Scoot has never known. When everything goes awry, will the pull of gravity be enough to keep them together?

And hey! Check out the book trailer!


The Pull of Gravity is a coming-of-age story about friendship, first love, and the true nature of family.

 

I Am the Messenger by Markus Zusak is quite different from his other AMAZING book The Book Thief. One thing that is similar, though, is Zusak’s ability to make words form sentences and phrases that I wish I’d written myself.

Meet Ed Kennedy—underage cabdriver, pathetic cardplayer, and useless at romance. He lives in a shack with his coffee-addicted dog, the Doorman, and he’s hopelessly in love with his best friend, Audrey. His life is one of peaceful routine and incompetence, until he inadvertently stops a bank robbery. That’s when the first Ace arrives. That’s when Ed becomes the messenger. . . .

Chosen to care, he makes his way through town helping and hurting (when necessary), until only one question remains: Who’s behind Ed’s mission?

Book Trailer!!

Happy reading and I’ll catch ya later!

Teachers Write! Day One: We’re Off and Running!

Today marks the first official day of Teachers Write! I have visited the blogs of Kate Messner and our gracious guest author Jo Knowles. Kate offered words of wisdom regarding finding making time to write, and Jo offered us some encouraging words before giving us our writing prompt.

Kate says that finding time to write is pretty much a myth—you have to make time to write. I talked about this very thing a couple of posts ago. When I get really honest with myself—even with the demands of teaching and raising four kids, a husband, and two dogs—there really are enough hours in the day for me to carve out some writing time. I just have to choose to write instead of doing some of those other things that usurp my time (like all those NCIS marathons I LOVE to watch again and again and those Facebook and Twitter notifications that call to me like Sirens). Kate also helped me see that I also need to have an honest conversation with my family regarding my writing. Of course my family knows I’m working a novel and that I write blog posts, but I’m not sure they see me as a writer yet. My writer friends and I have talked about this ad nauseum, but don’t think I’ve ever really told my family how important writing is to me. Thanks, Kate!

After pondering and processing Kate’s words of wisdom, I went to visit Jo, who seemed to know exactly what I needed today with her words of wisdom, encouragement, and the writing prompt she gave us. I’m still trying to figure out exactly how she did that…  Anyway, the writing prompt was to write a sensory description of a kitchen from our childhood. This prompt transported me to my Grandma Tedder’s kitchen, which I spent quite a bit of time in while growing up. I see sunlight and bright yellow cabinets and Grandpa’s garden through the rear window. I smell fresh baked bread and coffee. I hear sizzling bacon and whispers of past conversations. But most of all, I feel love oozing from every nook, cranny, and crevice of that kitchen and it hugs me tight. Oh, how miss that kitchen. And I miss them.

Jo’s prompt did more than just transport me to Grandma’s kitchen, it was just what I needed to help me fill out a chapter I began a few months ago in the YA novel I’ve been working on for the past year. I couldn’t quite figure out the connective tissue between scenes, and that was SO frustrating! This prompt was EXACTLY what I needed to help me fix this, and I am so excited and relieved to feel a sense of accomplishment and forward motion. Thanks, Jo!

Teachers Write! Camp is off to a great start!

Get Off Your Butt and WRITE!!!!

It’s been awhile since we’ve seen each other. I’ve been a bit busy with the winding down the school year, my son’s high school  graduation, school events, etc. School is now out for me, so the spinning of my head has slown down a bit.  Here’s what’s on my mind right now, so let’s get to it. Shall we?

I was reading my new Twitter/Facebook friend Gae Polisner’s blog today when a realization whompped me upside the head: I dream of the day when I get invited to be a part of a book festival! Oh, wait! That will require me to finish my book and find an agent and get published and… *cue the Charlie Brown after Lucy pulls the football away voice saying, ARRRGGGG!!!!*

Sheesh! That’s not a tall order or anything. It just means I’ll have to get off my butt (actually it means I’ll have to get off the Interwebs and TV) and focus, focus, FOCUS on FINISHING my book!

Here’s the deal: I started off really strong last summer and pounded out a good 12,000 or so words over the course of 2-3 weeks. That might sound impressive, and I guess it kinda is, but since then, I’ve only added another 3,000-4,000 words or so. You do the math. No matter how you add those words together, they don’t add up to a finished draft, much less a finished novel.

In my defense, I do have four kids, all of whom have been in school, I’m a teacher, wife, mother to two dogs, and a student. I am a very busy person. But still… I lament a great deal about not having enough hours in the day to do all the things I need to get done, when the truth is you make time for what’s important to you. I manage to find time to plan and grade my students’ work,  read all the amazing YA books I love (although that is truly a part of what writers do), and I ALWAYS find time to watch NCIS.  ALWAYS.  So…why can’t I find time to write? Why can’t I find time to finish this manuscript (wow! I’ve never referred to my novel as a manuscript before), which is very important to me?

Why indeed? What IS stopping me? I’m pretty sure it isn’t one single thing. No, I’m pretty sure it’s more like seventy-two  things. Mostly, though, I think it’s fear. Fear of success and fear of failure. Fear that I won’t be able to piece it all together because I’ll run out of words or I won’t be able to connect with the right agent/publisher/audience. I mean, who’s going to want to take  a risk on this Kansas girl no one has heard of?

Then I wonder if my YA writing idol Laurie Halse Anderson ever had similar worries. Or Neal Shusterman? Jay Asher? Gae Polisner? Suzanne Collins? You know her. She wrote those Hunger Games books. You know, the WILDLY successful Hunger Games books!! So. I guess it’s really possible that someone out there will someday be willing to take a chance on me and my manuscript. Once it’s finished, that is…

Where I’m From

I wrote this “Where I’m From” poem a couple of years ago, but it seems fitting to share it now. It is National Poetry Month, after all! Oh, and feel free to write your own “Where I’m From” poem, if you feel so inclined…

Where I’m From        

I am from bright yellow sunflowers, from Peanut M&Ms and Diet Coke.

I am from the white house in the middle of the block on the only stretch of dirt road, black and gold Railer country, loud and proud.

I am from towering elm trees in graceful green glory, pink and white chrysanthemums, crisp fresh air, the vegetable garden of my grandfather, tulips, and rosebushes along the fence.

I am from crazy good family reunions in late September and determination (and stubbornness), from Howard and Doris and Aunt Nancy, my second mother.

I am from the always loving and sometimes drive-me-nuts Tedder and Fryhover clans.

From bouncing to the moon because of all the gum I swallowed as a kid and the bird that never actually perched on my stuck-out lower lip when I didn’t get my way, like my grandma said it would.

I am from Irish Catholic, Nazarene, Pentecostal, B’hai, and Mennonite.  This is my family and it extends beyond bloodlines and last names to the people that matter most to me.

I’m from small town America and Ireland and England and France and Germany and a Cherokee tribe in Oklahoma, pizza and chocolate brownie trifle.

From the great, great, great, great Grandfather Northrop who came to this country on the Mayflower, the Englishman looking for a new life, and the little Cherokee girl adopted by a white family who lost all her tribal ties to her Cherokee Nation (and so did we).

I am from boxes in the attic and basements and photo albums spanning generations and hundreds of years that we sorted through after my grandma died.  I am from the wild west that has been tamed and captured on film.  I am George and Phylis and Angela and James.  I am Alex and Abby and Keri and Sarah, who will, in turn, be me.

How I Became a Reader

My love for reading began with Max and his line, “Let the wild rumpus start!” I remember listening to my favorite story Where the Wild Things Are and classic Dr. Seuss: “I will not eat them, Sam I am. I do not like green eggs and ham!” and Horton Hears a Who. I only hear faint whispers of the childhood voices who read to me now as they have been replaced by my own as I read to my own children and to my students.

Growing up though, we never had book cases in our house.  Well, that’s not true.  We had them, they were just called knick-knack shelves, but there were always books in the house.  They were in stacks, though, and didn’t seem to warrant enough importance to be prominently displayed like the knick-knacks.  My mom was usually reading what she referred to as “trashy” Harlequin Romance or a novel by Stephen King. I read Salem’s Lot when I was twelve and had nightmares for weeks, but I loved scary stories. After Salem, I met It, and he scared the hell out of me. Now that I think about it, that super creepy clown is probably why clowns still creep me out today. But Cujo didn’t make me hate dogs. Huh. I may have to ponder that for a moment…

I loved reading—it was my refuge, it helped me escape a home-life that was not always pleasant. Truth be told, my home-life absolutely sucked much of the time. Reading, and later writing, probably saved my life; I was able to delve into other people’s lives and escape my own. Through books I was able to see that things would get better—eventually. This is precisely why I am such an advocate for the active use of YA lit in the classroom.

In my early adulthood, I didn’t do much reading beyond Glamour magazine, Sunday funnies, or my daily horoscope (I’m a Scorpio in case you were wondering). When I started college, my reading was basically limited to required college texts. I did, however, LOVE the Intro to Literature class I took at Emporia State when I was still an Elementary Education major in the early 90s. I didn’t start reading again on a regular basis until my first child was born, and then it was limited to baby books and parenting magazines.

As my family grew and my kids grew, I exposed them (and me) to books that matched their various stages of reading readiness. Even though I was reading these wonderful books with my kids, I still wasn’t reading for the sake of reading. Before I started teaching, I spent about eight years working in the mental health field. I was working with adolescents, and in an effort to connect with them, I started reading what they were reading—young adult fiction. During this time, I met Harry Potter and fell in love with books all over again, because these were books that appealed to me. Since that time, I have built quite an extensive library at home and in my classroom. Books surround my children and have an impressive presence in their lives and mine.

I have taken a stab at books written for adults and have found Jodi Picoult to be a skilled writer, but many of the books I read seemed fairly repetitious, so I moved on. I did really like The Pact (which I would argue is YA), and I do intend to read My Sister’s Keeper, The Tenth Circle, and Ninteen Minutes someday. For now, my focus remains on young adult fiction. Some of my favorite “modern” YA authors are Laurie Halse Anderson, Neal Shusterman, and Chris Crutcher. These seasoned authors write novels that resonate with me in ways that adult novels can’t.

In the past couple of years, I have read some remarkable and not so remarkable YA lit. I loved The Hunger Games trilogy and consumed them in about a week and a half. I read the Twilight Saga and proudly pledge my allegiance to Team Edward (no judgments, please). I have discovered that I like Science Fiction, as long as it’s not of the Star Wars variety. I read Crank by Ellen Hopkins, and she just may be a new favorite. I read The Book Thief by Markus Zusak, and it is one of the best books I have ever read. EVER. Wonder by R.J. Palacio and The Fault in Our Stars by John Green moved me to tears. I am currently reading The Boy in the Striped Pajamas by John Boyne and Extremely Loud and Incredibly Close by Jonathan Safran Foer.

My “to read” list is VERY long, and I fear I may never reach the end. But that’s okay. I’ll just keep reading until I can’t read anymore.

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