Sunday, March 30, 2014

Shane -- the real Best Western -- Review and Giveaway

Thought for the Day:

“Start early and work hard. A writer’s apprenticeship usually involves writing a million words (which are then discarded) before he’s almost ready to begin. That takes a while.”
~David Eddings~

Some Gifts for My Writer Friends: 

Anne R. Allen, whose name you see here quite often, has a terrific post for writers about building a platform. There are a LOT of misconceptions about this. Click HERE to read this helpful, honest post.

The women at Writers Helping Writers have a really important and useful post (don’t they always!) on creating unlikable characters the reader will care about. That’s a tough assignment, but they can help you with it. Click HERE to see this great post.

Writer’s Digest posted an interesting article called “5 Writing Lessons Inspired by Famous Writers.” It’s fun. You can find it by clicking HERE

When I last posted about a non-picture book, I promised a gently-read copy of Seeing Red by Kathryn Erskine to one of you. The lucky winner tonight is Janet Smart! WooHoo, Janet!! If you don't know her, she writes children's books and writes about her journey to become a published writer at her blog, Creative Writing in the Blackberry Patch, which can be found by clicking HERE. Janet, I will get the book out to you this week.

A little over three years ago when this was a baby blog, I wrote a post about the wonderful western True Grit. I had read it for the first time. If you're interested (and how could you not be interested?), you can read that review HERE. I ended that post by saying good books find ways to get into the hands of a new generation of readers. Now one of my favorite books has been reprinted by Houghton Mifflin Harcourt with a nice, new cover so a new generation of readers might find it. 

When I was very young, I saw the movie Shane. I think I had a crush on Alan Ladd and thought it was a pretty cool movie. I had never read the book. Many years after that, I was poking around the dusty book room at one of the high schools at which I taught, looking for a book that would capture my sophomore students' interest. I found a stack of copies of Shane by Jack Schaefer. No one used them anymore, but I thought a western might be fun. And it had a movie to show while I graded the papers the kids would write while reading it. So I took a copy home and read it over the weekend. 

Oh, my. What a book. This is the kind of novel teachers dream about because is it so well crafted it has everything a teacher wants to teach about looking at literature. Even better, it is a great story told by a young boy and very accessible to young people. And it is based on one of the least known, yet most fascinating chapters in the history of the West -- the Johnson County Wars.  The only problem with it, as my students pointed out to me, was once you had read this rich and riveting story, the movie is frankly bad. I had to agree. I wondered if the screenwriter had even read the book. 

The story is a simple one. Young Bob Starrett lives with his parents on a farm in Wyoming in the late 1800s. One day he is sitting atop the fence of the corral and sees a stranger riding through the valley. That stranger, when he comes to a fork in the road, chooses to go to the right, which takes him to the Starrett farm, rather than the other path that
Jack Schaefer
would take him to the Fletcher ranch, home of all the villains in this book. And there are truly villainous villains, and plenty of them, that must be taken on by Bob's father and that stranger, Shane. There are great heroics, a hint of romance, and a true coming of age story. This is a little book -- 176 pages -- one you can read in a day, but you will find yourself savoring it long after.  And do yourself a favor -- when you finish the last page, go back and read the opening section. It's worth doing. 

I received a copy of the new printing of Shane that I reviewed for the San Francisco Book Review. (It is no longer the Sacramento Book Review.) I got to re-read one of my favorite books and got a new copy just for doing a review! How sweet is that? I have a couple other copies, so I am going to give away this gently-read copy to one of you. All you need do is be a subscriber or follower with a U.S. address and leave a comment. Please tell me if you are a follower or subscriber, and I'll put your name in a drawing.  If you want extra chances, spread the word by linking to my post on Facebook or your own blog or Tweet about this. Let me know you've done that and get an extra chance. 

Don't forget to check out Shannon Messenger's blog for lots of Marvelous Middle-Grade Monday posts. You can get there by clicking HERE.

Sunday, March 23, 2014

Seeing Red -- Review and Giveaway

Thought for the Day:

“Humans think they are smarter than dolphins because we build cars and buildings and start wars, etc., and all that dolphins do is swim in the water, eat fish, and play around. Dolphins believe that they are smarter for exactly the same reasons.”  ~ Douglas Adams, writer, dramatist, and musician ~

Some Gifts for My Writer Friends:

K. M Weiland takes the mystery out of improving your writing. Click HERE to see it.  

This is an interesting post on the old pantser vs. plotter argument. Click HERE to see it. 

You can find a great article on writing historical fiction HERE. It is worthwhile reading and don’t miss the comments.


As you may have noticed, I didn't post last Sunday. I am discovering I don't always have the energy to get two blog posts out each week. Weekends are an intensity of baseball around here, and last Sunday, I was just plum tuckered (Hmmmm. Dialect sneaking in.) and couldn't get a post done.  Forgive me for making you wait an extra week for the drawing for my gently-used copy of The Paradox of Vertical Flight. It was worth the wait for Jess@DMS. Now I have to tell you, Jess is a bit of a mystery to me. I know she is somehow involved with a blog called The Secret Files of Fairday Morrow, but I can't find any information about who puts the blog up. I guess they really are secret files! Anyway, congratulations to you, Jess. I will get the book out to you this week. 


A few months ago, I won an ARC of Seeing Red by Kathryn Erskine. (Thanks, Joyce Moyer Hostetter!) It's a book that had been on my radar for quite a while. First of all, I just LOVE the cover. It's the kind of cover that would get me to pick up the book if I saw it in a store and knew nothing about it. I guess sometimes authors really hit the jackpot with the cover design, and I think this is one of those times. 


Red Porter is a twelve-year-old kid in a little backwater town in Virginia leading a pretty normal life when his father suddenly dies from a heart attack. His dad was Red's idol, as fathers often are for boys that age, but Red's dad was special. He could fix anything and was, of course, in Red's eyes, perfect. Red's mother eventually decides she needs to sell their home, which includes an auto shop and convenience store, and move with Red and his brother J. to live with relatives in Ohio. Red needs to find a way to make sure that move doesn't happen. Red discovers a lot about his family and his neighbors and friends as he is trying to find a way to keep his family from moving. Remember, this is the South, so there are layers and layers of difficulties to be uncovered -- bullies, racists, and a family history that is nothing Red might have expected.  

One of the things about this book that I found to be very special was the way Erskine manages to take us to the south through her language. I've been trying to pinpoint just what she's done, but it isn't easy. She doesn't have pages of dialect full of shortened gerunds and contracted words. But there is a cadence, a rhythm that takes us to the small-town South.
Kathryn Erskine
Erskine seems to respect her characters and hold them in some esteem, but somehow she makes them all sound as if they are Southerners, especially Red who tells this story. This impressive use of language makes this must-read book most people also a must-study book for writers. 


I have a gently-used ARC of Seeing Red to pass along to one of you. All you need do to have a chance is have a U.S. address,  be a follower or subscriber and let me know that, and leave a comment. If you'd like to have extra chances, pass along the link to this post by tweeting or posting on Facebook or other social media or your own blog. Let me know what you've done, and I will put your name in the proverbial hat extra times. 


If you are interested in finding out about more Marvelous Middle-Grade Monday books, check on Shannon Messenger's wonderful blog. You can find it by clicking HERE. If all goes well, I'll be back here with a picture book review on Friday.


Thursday, March 20, 2014

Abayomi, the Brazilian Puma: The True Story of an Orphaned Cub -- Review

Thought for the Day:

“The ability to simplify means to eliminate the unnecessary so that the necessary may speak.” ~Hans Hofmann, painter~

Some Gifts for My Writer Friends:
I have been working on a collection of poems lately and find that writing poetry often inspires me to write other things as well. One of the nicest poetry blogs around is by Amy Ludwig VanDerwater, author of one of my favorite collections, Forest Has a Song. You can check out her blog by clicking HERE

Carol Federlin Baldwin has a fascinating post HERE on writing from two points of view.

Nancy Sanders always has something about writing, mostly picture books or early readers, on her blog. The link HERE will take you to a post she did on non-fiction picture book words counts. If you write for the younger set, you might want to peruse her archives. 

Last week for Perfect Picture Book Friday, I was able, through the generosity of  Nancy Bo Flood, to offer an autographed copy of The Hogan That Great-Grandfather Built. (I just realized I added Great-Grandfather's name Jack to the title on my blog!! Yikes!! My face is soooooo red. So sorry, Nancy.) Anyway, I think I had more responses than I've ever had before and got some new subscribers and followers. Congratulations go out to Joanne Roberts, our winner this time. (WooHoo, Joanne!!) Joanne is a children's book illustrator and, it looks like to me, a writer as well. If you go to her blog by clicking HERE, you will see a very cute fractured fairy tale she wrote for Susanna Leonard Hill's contest. Joanne, I will be in touch.

This week for Perfect Picture Book Friday (thanks Susanna Leonard Hill!) I am reviewing an e-book. I don't often read e-books. I have a Kindle, but am a true Luddite, and I also love the feel and smell of paper books. This book is also available as a printed book. But I received an e-book copy of Abayomi, the Brazilian Puma: The True Story of an Orphaned Cub, and I couldn't help myself. I mean, once I saw the cover, I had to read this gorgeous book.

Illustrator: Kitty Harvill
Publisher: Mims House
Intended Audience: 4 - 8
Date: January 2014
Topics: Conservation, endangered species, co-existing with wildlife
Opening: "In the far south, in Brazil, a puma cub was born in the early spring month of October 2012. The cub and its mother lived too close to people, in sight of skyscrapers. It was a dangerous place to live.

This is a lovely, gentle story that will fascinate youngsters. Many children recognize we are sharing our homes with wild creatures. In our neighborhood, we are visited by wild turkeys, skunks, rattlesnakes, raccoons, and other creatures who wonder why we have built and planted and fenced what used to be their homes. We live in a fairly densely populated suburb. I have friends who live in cities and have much the same experience. But there are wildlife corridors and green spaces being saved. It is in that kind of place Abayomi was born. His mother finds hunting difficult, the game she usually hunts is scarce. She has little choice to take what she can so she and Abayomi can survive. When she takes some chickens, the farmer sets a trap and the mother puma is caught and dies. Abayomi is left in the wild. The story of what happens to Abayomi and the people who work hard to not only save him, but to
Darcy Pattison
keep him able to survive in the wild is heartwarming and educational. Darcy Pattison has written a compelling story. The watercolor paintings that illustrate this book are glorious. Kitty Harvill is an extraordinary talent, and little ones who cannot read will probably spend a lot of extra time just savoring the beautiful art. 

The back of the book has additional information on Abayomi, Our Urban World, the Corridor Projects, and some suggested additional readings. Some of the links included are:
Conservation Corridor:
Kitty Harvill
Asian Nature Conservation Foundation (ANCF)/Asian Elephant Research and
The Cougar Network:

This really is a Perfect Picture Book, especially with the new emphasis in the Common Core on non-fiction, but honestly, non-fiction is something kids just eat up. Make sure you check Susanna Leondard Hill's blog by clicking HERE for more Perfect Picture Books this lovely Friday. Sorry I don't have a giveaway for you this week, but be sure to check back next week. I have another fabulous picture book and will have a giveaway for you then.