Saturday, January 25th, I’ll have the opportunity to hang out with young readers and writers at the Humble ISD Book Festival. What’s not to love? Books, books, and more books! And there’s a great lineup of writers I can’t wait to meet: Joe Hayes, Jackie Mims Hopkins, Greg Neri, H.J. Ralles, and Tom Watson.
But the best part of book events is always the kids.
At the book festival, I’ll get to invite students to my table to make their own books. Usually I do “Poof Books” which is a genius kind of book a kid can make with a single sheet of paper, without scissors, staples, or tape. Maybe it’s the cold grey January weather or a more depressing than average news cycle, but for some reason I feel the need to add googly eyes this year. Everything is better with googly eyes. So we’re making accordion books, which also requires the addition of glue and tape. Putting any kind of adhesive in the hands of children is always a gamble, but where’s the glory without a little risk?
You might think I do this because I’m the crafty type, but you’d be wrong. (If you just say the words glitter and hot glue gun in the same sentence, you’ll see me break out in a cold sweat. There’s some backstory here, but I’ll save it for another time.) I do bookmaking projects because there’s something about paper and colored pencils and markers bring out the storyteller in all of us, and there’s nothing better than hearing the stories that come out of a seven-year-old or an eleven-year-old’s imagination.
For example, last year a budding writer came to my table. Let’s call her Cecelia. Cecelia was about eight years old and she’d been working on her pink Poof Book for awhile. She had just finished putting some blue curls on her main character.
“Tell me about your story,” I say.
“This is a princess. She has pretty dresses and lives in a castle. She has a puppy named Honey.”
See, a natural storyteller. She’s already got her characters and setting figured out. “That sounds like an awesome start. What’s her problem?”
Cecelia frowns and creases her brow. She looks at me as if I’m not to be trusted.
I try to explain. “This is a story. Every story has to have a problem. Otherwise nothing interesting happens.”
Blink, blink. She looks at me with great solemn eyes, trying to decide if I’m serious. I think some kids try so hard to stay out of trouble that it takes a minute to realize that storytelling is an activity where you have to invent trouble.
But then Cecilia’s face light’s up. She gets it. “My princess wants to play Minecraft but the Queen won’t let her. She’s thrown in the dungeon and has to scrub stuff.” She lowers her voice to an earnest whisper. “But she knows a secret way out.”
And I can’t wait to hear what happens next.Read More
“The building groaned in the wind, ached under rainfall, grew tired of neglect. Then AJ came and things began to change.” — from the Bookshop Hotel
The Bookshop Hotel is emotionally rich and just the right length to devour in an afternoon curled up with a favorite cup of coffee. I could happily spend the rest of my days living in one of those cozy rooms above the bookshop of Klemm’s engaging imagination.
Twenty-six year old AJ Rys returns to her childhood hometown and begins restoring an old hotel bequeathed to her by her grandfather. Rotten boards are replaced, the woodwork is spruced up, and then the books move in. The wonderful bones of a Victorian mansion are resurrected anew into a bookshop where an old, dying community begins to hum to life once more. But AJ’s past identity within the small, sometimes confining, community clashes with who she’s becoming. A.J. must find the courage to come to terms with her past and forge her future in a community of people she cares about.
Klemm’s language is gorgeous, flowing from one beautiful sentence to the next. The characters jump fully formed from the page, feeling instantly like people I’d known my whole life. Hoping there will be a sequel so I can spend some more time in the old hotel in Lily Hollow! It already feels a little like home.Read More
S. Smith is the author of the excellent SEED SAVER series, about a dystopic future where gardening and owning seeds is against the law. It’s up to three courageous friends to change the future.
But can these children learn enough about the old ways before being stopped by GRIM, the government agency controlling the nation’s food?
Personally, I can’t wait to read this series to my own kids — nothing will make vegetables more appealing than outlawing them! I recently had the opportunity to interview S. Smith to find out more about her two great passions: gardening and writing for children.Read More
Max Little pecked the ground
That afternoon the sky fell down.
Steely clouds roared like trains
Dropping ice and dagger rains.
Max flapped and whooped
Others safely to the coop.
Max himself was stricken,
But oh, what a chicken!
As struggling early readers, they demanded skinny, picture-filled books. They progressed into thin, chapter-filled volumes. Now, neither of them will touch a book unless it’s three inches thick and heavy enough to wield as a weapon against anyone who tries to get them to turn out their lights at a reasonable bedtime.
These are some of their favorites. Check content for age appropriateness – at times maturity level and weight are unrelated. I’ll be updating this list from time to time. Find a printable pdf of this list here.Read More
In the Persian classic 1001 NIGHTS, a ruthless king chooses a new wife each day and beheads her the next morning. When Scheheradaze learns that she is chosen to be the next doomed queen, she does not despair. Instead, in the dark hours of her wedding night she weaves a brilliant, but unfinished story.Read More
Ernest Vincent Wright wrote GADSBY, a 50,000 word novel without a single E. His characters are as interesting as cardboard, and the plot is nostalgically meandering (think Thornton Wilder’s Our Town without the profundity). But his achievement is nothing less than astonishing, accomplished by tying down the “E” key on his typewriter for the final copy. For five months he shunned the simple past tense of most words and created a plot that required a sparse use of numbers and no definite articles.Read More
One chilly morning in March of 1835, a chambermaid used a stack of scrap paper to kindle a nice cozy fire. Unfortunately, that stack of scrap paper was Thomas Carlyle’s handwritten first volume of THE FRENCH REVOLUTION that he had lent to John Stuart Mill for review. (It’s current paperback edition contains 380 small-print pages crammed with Carlyle’s feverish prose, in case you were wondering how many pages of work went up in flames that day).
How could Mill explain to Carlyle that months of his life now lay in a heap of ashes in his grate? He did what seemed right in that courageous century (lacking the convenience and cowardice of instant text messaging). He visited Carlyle in person, bringing the burned scraps with him.Read More
Beyond the shallows, into the deep
Just one more thing before we sleep
For Marco Polo’s been lost and found
And lost again, then somehow drowned
In games of sharks and minnows
(If someone won, no one knows).Read More
When nine-year-old Milton Sirotta’s uncle asked him to come up with a name for a number that had a hundred zeros after it, he left oodles of possible words ending in “-illion” behind, and coined the word “Googol.” In case you’re wondering, the number looks like this: