The Hunger Games

I already posted a book review today, but our phone just rang.  It was my mom, home from Thanksgiving dinner at our house, calling to discuss the book that my 12-year-old son and I convinced her to read while she was here. 

"How’d you like it?"  I asked her.

"It was awful," she said.  "Wonderful but just awful. Put the boy on the phone. I need to talk to him about the end."

So Nana and J proceeded to discuss Suzanne Collins’ The Hunger Games – an amazing dystopian adventure of reality-TV turned nightmare.  Before they had their book chat, Nana had to go upstairs so Papa wouldn’t hear.  She didn’t want to spoil it; he’s reading it next.  That, my friends, is a book that transcends ages.  In fact, when I was at Flying Pig Bookstore this week, The Hunger Games was displayed with a sign listing it as Josie & Elizabeth’s favorite fantasy of 2008.  (And if you know Josie and Elizabeth, you know that they know their stuff.) 

You can check out some of the many glowing reviews on Suzanne’s website — or just trust me.  You must read this book.  When you’re done, share it with a reluctant reader, who will love it, too.

Kate’s Holiday Book Review Note:  I hope you’re shopping with independent bookstores for the holidays!  After all of my holiday season book reviews, I’ll be posting a short note on how each title might fit into your gift list.

The Hunger Games by Suzanne Collins

Suggested ages:  12+

Buy it for kids who love:  adventure stories, books set in the future, fantasy, and fast-paced action.  My mom is right — The Hunger Games is disturbing, so it’s not a good choice for very sensitive kids who don’t like to read books that are sad or dark.  This is my top pick for reluctant readers this holiday season, though, and it’s one that readers of many genres will stay up late to finish.

What I Saw and How I Lied

When the National Book Award finalists for young people’s literature were announced a few weeks ago, there were only two titles on the list that I hadn’t already read and loved — and one of them walked away with the medal.  While the turkey was cooking  yesterday, I dug into Judy Blundell’s What I Saw and How I Lied, and I found myself nodding, understanding why the NBA Committee loved it so much.

That deliciously dangerous-feeling cover image lives up to its promise when 15-year-old Evelyn Spooner, on a trip to Palm Beach with her mother and step-father, meets Peter, a handsome young soldier who served with her step-father in World War II.  He is eight years older.  He is beautiful.  Absolutely beautiful and absolutely charming.  Evelyn is a typical young teen, poised on the edge of the diving board, so ready to be more glamorous that she can taste it, and she falls for Peter in a big way.  Anyone who has experienced first love knows the feeling that Blundell captures so beautifully in this novel — that rush of momentum like a train barreling down a track, no matter what stands in the way.  What I Saw and How I Lied is written in first person, but even as readers begin to sense trouble, Evie is blissfully oblivious to the train wreck taking shape around her until it transforms the story from a post-war romance to a gut-wrenching mystery and courtroom drama.

Even though this novel is set in the 1940s and plunged me into that world completely, its main character seemed to transcend time, and I really think today’s young readers will to relate to Evie Spooner in a big way.  What I Saw and How I Lied feels like the best kind of classic — one that will speak to young readers, especially girls, no matter when they’re facing the challenges of growing up.

Kate’s Holiday Book Review Note:
  I hope you’re shopping with independent bookstores for the holidays!  After all of my holiday season book reviews, I’ll be posting a short note on how each title might fit into your gift list.

What I Saw and How I Lied by Judy Blundell

Suggested ages:  12+

Buy it for kids who loved:  Twilight.   Honestly, if you know a kid who only wants to read about vampires, this might be the perfect book to expand her horizons a bit.  It’s masterfully written but still has that intense sense of romance and danger that draws so many kids to Stephenie Meyer’s series.  Peter is every bit as beautiful as Edward, too…only without the fangs.


For apple pie, but mostly because my mom is here to make it.

For family and turkey and after-dinner plans — a traditional Thanksgiving basketball game with the neighbors and then this…


I hope your Thanksgiving is warm and wonderful, too!

Learning to Love November

Being a writer means learning how to wait.  There have been some wonderfully honest and thoughtful LJ posts lately about the real story of what happens after a first book deal, and the truth is, there’s a lot of waiting around.  But really?  There’s waiting before that, too — waiting for critiques, waiting to hear about query letters, waiting for contracts.   There’s waiting after that first book deal…and after the second…and the third.  Being a writer means having a lot of in-between times.

At the moment, while I wait for THE BRILLIANT FALL OF GIANNA Z to be released next fall, I’m also waiting to see the cover of that book, waiting to find out who will illustrate OVER AND UNDER THE SNOW and MARTY MCGUIRE, FROG PRINCESS, and waiting for word on two picture book submissions.  I am excited about all of these things;  I am feeling zen-like and patient about none of them.

The very best thing for me to do when I’m tempted to check my email for the fourth time in an hour is to go outside.  Why?  Because nature can handles "in-between" with more beauty and grace than I can ever muster on my own.

November has never been my favorite month.  Where I live, it’s overshadowed by the brilliant leaves of October and the snowy magic of December.  But you don’t hear the trees whining about that.  They reminded me today to take a break from the waiting and appreciate the "right now."

Welcome, baby worms!

So I was just poking around the bin of red worms we keep in the basement to eat kitchen scraps, and this scene is way too tiny to photograph, but…

Imagine an apple peel, about an inch wide and two inches long and curling at the edges.  If you look very, very carefully at the flesh that remains, you can see tiny white squiggles, maybe 1/16th of an inch long and so thin they’re almost transparent.  They are wiggling, and every every once in a while, one stands up and waves its tail.  Or maybe its head. It’s difficult to tell.

Red worms actually reproduce fairly quickly, so this isn’t the first time my little guys/girls (they’re hermaphrodites) have had babies.  But it’s the first time I’ve seen them so soon after they’ve emerged from a cocoon, and they were just so new and tiny…oh heck, I’ll admit it….I almost teared up a little.

(Note to blog readers who are just thinking "Ew!" right  now. I still love you, just as I still love my husband, who looked somewhat horrified when I ran upstairs to show him my wormy apple peel while he was having his coffee.)

Congratulations, NBA Winners!

 Judy Blundell just won the National Book Award for Young People’s Literature for What I Saw and How I Lied!

Huge congratulations to Judy and Scholastic editor David Levithan, as well as amazing NBA finalists Laurie Halse Anderson (I’m reading CHAINS with my 7th graders right after Thanksgiving!), Kathi Appelt (THE UNDERNEATH), E. Lockhart (THE DISREPUTABLE HISTORY OF FRANKIE LANDAU BANKS) and Tim Tharp (THE SPECTACULAR NOW).  Huzzah!!

Writers at the Post Office

Is it just me, or is there something very final about handing over a package to the person behind the counter at the Post Office?  I’d forgotten how nerve-wracking it can be…how I have to fight the urge to snatch back any package that’s full of my words.  The last time I was mailing manuscripts was more than a year ago, during my agent search.  Since then, everything from submissions to revisions to line edits have been emailed as attachments.  And somehow, pressing "send" is easier for me than  handing over a big pile of papers and leaving a building empty-handed.  But copy edits happen on paper.  Mine looked like this…

There were, if I recall, four or five pages without any marks. Yay, me!

You learn a lot about yourself during the copy edit stage.  I have an uncanny ability to mess up words like shoe box and crab apple, both of which I’ve written correctly in this blog. The manuscript was another story.  Sometimes, in my brilliance, I’d write the word two different ways on the same page, to be sure of getting it right once.

This one puzzled me.  Somewhere, I missed the memo that there’s no longer a comma before the word "too" when it’s used at the end of a short sentence.  For example:  I’m befuddled too.  No comma.

Anyway…in case the lady at the Post Office happens to read this, I’m sorry I kept trying to tug that package back out of your hands. I let it go eventually.  Sometimes, though, it’s hard to say goodbye. 

A Visit with Cynthia Lord

Students at my middle school spent an amazing Thursday with Cynthia Lord, the author of the Newbery Honor Book RULES.  I met Cindy at the New England SCBWI Conference a couple years ago and had so hoped that I’d be able to have her visit with my kids someday.  She gave three presentations, sharing with kids the time line for the publication of RULES as well as the inspirations for some of the characters and settings. 

The kids loved seeing the Chinese, Korean, and Braille versions of RULES, but they were especially excited to see her Newbery Honor Plaque. One of my very favorite things from the presentation (and there were many) was what Cindy said about how plaque reminds her of "the powerful combination of wishing and work."  What a powerful message for our kids, too! 

Cindy passed her Newbery Plaque right around the auditorium and invited students to put their hand over the Newbery seal and make a wish for their own dreams to come true.  You might think 7th and 8th graders would consider themselves too cool for something like that, but they weren’t.

I watched as just about every student held his or her hand over the seal before handing the plaque to the next person.  I smiled even wider when the math teachers in the audience got a turn to see the plaque — they all held their hands over the seal for a moment, too, before passing it on.

After school, Cindy signed books for students in the library.

         There’s an author at the end of that long line of RULES fans!

Thanks so much, cynthialord , for a day our students will never forget.  Cindy also took some great photos Thursday, so please stop by her LiveJournal to see them if you’d like!

Thankful Thursday

I’m waking up extra thankful this Thursday because…

  • I spent last evening with a wonderful, friendly group of  book club women who chose my book SPITFIRE as their selection for this month.  It was terrific to hear the variety of books they’d read together, including LOVING FRANK by Nancy Horan and LETTERS IN THE ATTIC by Bonnie Shimko. They were all smart and funny and delightful, and just as excited to see my copy edited pages of THE BRILLIANT FALL OF GIANNA Z as I was.  It was wonderful to spend an evening with people who are so excited about books and open to reading such a variety of genres.
  • When I got home, I managed to squeak out another thousand words on my work-in-progress, SUGAR ON SNOW – and hit the 22,000 mark last night!
  • I got THE HUNGER GAMES back from my son, who stole it two days ago and wouldn’t give it back.  He’s done now, so I finally get to read the rest.
  • And…(ready for the best thing this Thursday?) cynthialord  is coming to my middle school today!!  We read RULES earlier this  fall and are all  so, so excited to hear her speak.  So I’d better sign off….

Rule #1 for Author Visits:  When there’s a fabulous, famous author coming to your school, you’d better get there on time!

November Woods

As much as I love the bright leaves on the trees in October, there is also something to be said for the thick carpets of them that cover the forest floor now.  Temperatures never got out of the 30s in Northern NY today. We spent the better part of this chilly afternoon in the woods at a favorite state park, getting a little exercise and talking about the important things in life.

"How come you’re scuffing your feet like that?"  my son asked.

"Because I like the sound…"

We climbed down to the beach to watch oak leaves drift into Lake Champlain and then stopped for soup at a favorite organic deli on the way home.  When we pulled into the driveway, I saw right away that the UPS guy had been here — my copy edits for THE BRILLIANT FALL OF GIANNA Z were leaning against the front door.  I’ll be at my desk tonight with my red pencil and a cup of green tea.