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Here are a couple of links to really good things for my writer friends.
First you can get some good writing advice directly from Kurt Vonnegut’s own mouth. There are also links to advice from other great writers. I’m particularly fond of John Steinbeck’s pithy advice. Check it out. http://www.brainpickings.org/index.php/2012/04/03/kurt-vonnegut-on-writing-stories/
If you’re writing picture books, this is an excellent post: http://teazurs.blogspot.com/2011/12/picture-book-writing.html
Now, I have the pleasure of announcing the WINNERS of the giveaway from my last blog post. The first winner is Joyce Moyer Hostetter, who will receive a copy of An Elephant in the Garden, and the second winner is Elizabeth Varadan, who will receive Kaspar the Titanic Cat. Congratulations to both. Stay tuned, because I have decided this is so much fun, I will have yet another giveaway this post!
If you’ve been reading this blog for awhile, you know I do a LOT of book reviews, not only on this blog, but for the Sacramento Book Review. I work almost exclusively with middle-grade books and picture books. Once in awhile I will review an adult or YA. In the last few weeks, I’ve reviewed books written by award-winning authors that left much to be desired. One said “Newbery Honor Winner” just above the author’s name and below the title, which might leave the impression that this book was a Newbery Honor winner. Wouldn’t it be more honest to say Newbery Honor writer? And it was in 1984 – 28 years ago. I find that a little disingenuous. The second book doesn’t tout it on the cover, but on the jacket flap it describes the author as “an acclaimed poet and the Coretta Scott King Award-winning illustrator …” So the author of this book won an award for illustrating – not for writing – and he didn’t illustrate the book I reviewed. Someone else illustrated it.
Now I bring this up because both of these books were soooooo disappointing to me. Both were published in hardback by big houses in New York. And here is where I lay some of the blame. I have the impression, especially with the book mentioning the Newbery Honor, that there was little or no editing going on. I guess the editor assumed the honor-winning writer didn’t need any help. Reading that book, kids will be confused by so much, especially the overly-long list of characters who are all much the same. The book could easily have been pruned by about 30% and would have been a much better book for it. It is being sold as a book for kids 7-9 years old, but I doubt many would make it through. The other book was written in rhyme – often forced rhyme – with little metrical structure. The book came in at just over a hundred pages and is illustrated. Normally, I would read a book like that in an hour or so. It took me all day because I had to keep taking breaks due to the pounding headache it gave me. Not kidding. The sad thing is it had a great story that would have been quite wonderful written in prose. Did an editor actually look at this and okay it? I know publishing companies are cutting back in a lot of areas, but, for heaven’s sake, don’t let books go out unedited! That is not a recipe for success.
On the other hand, I’m reading wonderful early novels – books that are just knocking my socks off – some of which I’ve reviewed on this blog, like Three Rivers Rising, May B., and One for the Murphys. If you click on the titles, you will be taken to my reviews of them. This week I picked up a book – wish I could remember where I heard about it, but I can’t – that I just fell in love with. It’s called Eight Keys, and I suggest you run right out and find a copy. This is only the second book by Suzanne LaFleur, and I haven’t read her first book, but I guarantee I will read it as soon as I can. Eight Keys is simply one of the most engaging books I’ve read in a long time and ranks right up there with the other books I mentioned in this paragraph.
Elise lives with her Aunt Bessie and Uncle Hugh and has since her father died when she was three. Her mother died in childbirth. (“Oh, no,” I hear you saying. “Not another dead-mother book!” But wait. This one is really, really good!) Elise has been best friends with a neighbor boy, Franklin, for just about forever. They have lots of fun playing together. He’s really smart and a great friend. They are as comfortable as a pair of old bedroom slippers. But summer is ending and they must go off to the big middle school that is fed by four or five elementary schools.
Elise is pretty nervous about all the kids she won’t know and fitting in and having lots of different teachers she doesn’t know and all those things that are scary about changing schools. She is assigned to share a locker with a girl who is pretty, popular, and a flat-out bully. She sets out to make Elise’s life a misery and is pretty successful at it. Elise and Franklin start to grow apart, and Elise does nothing to nurture their friendship. In fact, she does a lot to damage it. She also has a great deal of trouble making the academic transition to middle school, struggling with the work and giving up easily.
At home, Elise discovers a mysterious key that leads her to a journey of discovery about whom she is and helps her to do a lot of growing up. She has a great support system of family and friends of her father who all help her find her way without doing everything for her. She is allowed to make mistakes and find herself. The cast of characters is just the right size for a middle-grade novel, each interesting and really necessary to the story. The writing is as smooth as polished granite, and the story is engaging, uplifting, and compelling. Not only will the target audience of middle graders like this book, but others will as well. I loved every word and highly recommend it. Suzanne LaFleur is a great new writer! I also suspect there was a really good editor involved who did his or her job on this one!
Now for the giveaway. I wish I had a copy of Eight Keys to give away, but I don’t. So I’m offering your choice of A) one of the best picture books I’ve ever read – Neville written by Norton Juster and illustrated by G. Brian Karas (you can read my Sacramento Book Review write-up by clicking HERE) or B) May B., the middle-grade book in verse written by Caroline Starr Rose I mentioned earlier in this post. (You can read my SBR write-up of May B. by clicking HERE.) Just leave a comment by midnight next Tuesday, April 17. You can receive an extra chance in the drawing if you post a link to my blog on Facebook or your blog. Just let me know and I’ll give you two chances in the drawing. Oh, and please tell me which book you would prefer to receive.
Remember, if you have trouble leaving a comment, click on the title of the post and it will give you just this post with a comments section on the bottom. Let the games begin!