Thursday, December 13, 2012

My Holiday

When Christmas arrives at my house, we usually have snow.
Last winter it snowed a little but never stuck around, and in Minnesota that's miraculous.
For me, it was marvelous.
This year we had no snow until December 9th when sixteen inches fell in one day.

When Christmas arrives at my house, we always have cookies.
Among others, my daughter and I make cut-out sugar ones.
We flavor the frosting with almond and eat most of them ourselves.
(We do share a few.)

When Christmas arrives at my house, we generally have hubbub and hullabaloo.
This year my side of the family is visiting.
Six more people and two more dogs for three whole days.
It'll be busy but super-fun.

Thankfully, we also have our golden retriever Teddy
who reminds us to focus on important things like
be a friend and love everyone.

Wishing you love and peace this holiday season.
I'll return on Wednesday, January 2nd, 2013.

Monday, December 10, 2012

Marvelous Middle Grade Monday: The One and Only Ivan

The winner of Madison Morgan: When Dogs Blog is . . .
Rose Munevar! 
Hooray! Email your mailing address to barbarawatson94(at)gmail(dot)com.

Today's Marvelous Middle Grade Monday, my last of 2012, is a book I couldn't leave the year without featuring even though I read it quite awhile ago -- The One and Only Ivan by Katherine Applegate. It's also a book that, along with Wonder by R.J. Palacio and Three Times Lucky by Sheila Turnage, I hope makes the Newbery list. Don't consider that any kind of prediction, it's just my own personal hope list.

The premise: Ivan, a gorilla, lives in a mall, inside a walled, glass enclosure. The only remnants of his jungle home are the paintings on his walls. His friends -- Stella, an old elephant and Bob, a stray dog -- keep Ivan's thoughts in the here and now. Not what his life used to be or what it could have been. But then a baby elephant named Ruby arrives and changes . . . everything.

What keeps readers reading: The developing and beautiful friendship between Ivan and Ruby. Because Ivan tells this story, readers are right inside his head. We know what hurts Ivan, what's too painful to think about, and just how much he'll sacrifice for his new friend Ruby. And all the while, Ivan valiantly tries to get a girl to understand what he desperately needs her to know.

What I loved: The emotions this story evokes. It's funny; it's sad. I laughed; I cried. But most importantly, my heart engaged, as well as my head, because not only does this story make readers feel, it really, really makes readers think. Together, those two things add up to one pretty perfect story.

For more middle grade links, click over to
Happy middle grade reading! 

Wednesday, December 5, 2012

Insecure Writers Support Group: Comparing

It's time for the monthly meet-up for the Insecure Writers Support Group. Click right here and sign up if it sounds like something for you.

Last month, I re-read Gary D. Schmidt's The Wednesday Wars, aloud with my daughter this second time through. This month we finished Gary D. Schmidt's Okay for Now (my second time through that one too). A few days ago I turned the last page of Gary D. Schmidt's newest book, What Came From the Stars.

Clearly Gary D. Schmidt is a word magician. He takes things like Shakespeare's plays, the Vietnam War, John James Audubon's bird art, bully big brothers, post-traumatic stress disorder, child abuse, or a parent's death -- he takes these things, sews them together with words, and writes nearly perfect stories.

And when I'm reading his stories, I compare them to mine.

And then I remember I can't compare anyone's stories to my own. Because my stories are mine, and anyone else's stories are theirs. I can learn from those whose writing I admire. I can chart ways those writers build their stories. I can enhance my own writing from what I absorb.

But compare? No. No writer should go there.

Monday, December 3, 2012

Marvelous Middle Grade Monday: Madison Morgan: When Dogs Blog (with giveaway!)

Fellow Marvelous Middle Grade Monday contributor Pam Torres has written a special story for a special reason, and today I'm honored to share both her story and her reason for writing it. I also have a copy of her book Madison Morgan: When Dogs Blog to give away to one of you. Details at the end of this post.

The premise: Eleven-year-old Madison wants a dog in the worst way, but her step-dad Henry won't allow it. That's frustrating enough, but when she begins middle school, Madison doesn't fit anywhere anymore. And when Madison meets a new boy named Cooper and her step-dad suddenly brings home a rescue dog, Madison's life turns topsy-turvy.

What keeps readers reading: Madison's discoveries. Some concern herself and her family, while others reveal something terrible that's happening right in her neighborhood.

What I loved: Madison's determination to do right.

I purposely kept my thoughts short for this MMGM because I asked Pam to share some background on why she wrote this story and why she donates part of her proceeds to animal shelters. Here is her response:

“In the process of writing a book to leave as a legacy to my grandchildren, I began my research and learned that there are almost 80,000 million dogs in the United States. Even more interesting was the number of abused and abandoned dogs and that there are 4.7 million dog bite victims each year in the U.S., and that over half of those victims are children. I also learned that dogs and other pets are often the victims of people focused on making money through ignorance, abandonment, dog fighting and puppy mills.

Suddenly, this project became much bigger than a simple story about a girl and a dog. Owning a dog is so much more than the cute little puppy in the Christmas stocking. Inviting a dog, or pet into your home brings with it a responsibility. As human beings it's our job to speak for those that can't and Madison's story is about how she steps up and makes a difference.

It just seemed appropriate to use proceeds from the book to support the ASPCA, an organization that began in 1870 working to protect animals from being abused and abandonment.

Pam, I love that your story is both a legacy for your grandkids and speaking out for those who can't do so on their own.

To enter the giveaway for Madison Morgan: When Dogs Blog, simply leave a comment on this post by 8pm on Sunday, December 9, 2012. Blog followers will be entered in the drawing twice. U.S. mailing addresses only, please. The winner will be announced on Monday, December 10th.

For more middle grade book recommendations, follow the links on Shannon Messenger's blog.
Happy middle grade reading!