As many of you know by now, A Single Shard has been awarded the 2002 Newbery Medal! Thanks to all the readers and friends who have written with congratulations; every single message has been deeply appreciated.
My updates to the site will be a little late this month (except for the winners of the book drawing, which will be posted February 1), but please check back for more news in a few weeks.
Please note: Copies of A Single Shard will be available in mid-February. They can be ordered from your local bookstore, or call Clarion Books: 1-800-225-3362.
Happy New Year!
Here’s to a great year of reading
and writing to all!
News times two from the American Library Association’s Booklist magazine: an article I wrote about how my reading as a child influences my work today, and a lovely honor for Shard: named a Booklist Editor’s Choice title.
Winners of the December drawing for a free copy of Seesaw Girl. Sign my guestbook for a chance to win next month’s drawing!
Recent reading: What I read in December
Book of the month:
Zazoo, by Richard Mosher.
YA set in France. Zazoo is a 14-year-old Vietnamese orphan adopted by a French soldier, Grand-Pierre. They run a canal lock from their home in an old mill. Who is the enigmatic boy-on-a-bicycle, and how is he connected with the village pharmacist and Grand-Pierre? A coming-of-age/first love/mystery/war story that lyrically evokes the French countryside– what more could you want in a book?
- The Secret of Platform 13, by Eva Ibbotson. MG fantasy. Many of the titles recommended for readers who ‘loved Harry Potter’ are off-kilter, in my opinion; Philip Pullman’s trilogy and even Susan Cooper’s Dark is Rising series are older and very different in tone. Instead, try this one–Ibbotson is well loved in her native England and deserves to be better known here.
Platform 13 is a light witty story with a fairy-tale feel, complete with a Dursley-esque family and an appealing heroine. Also recommended for the ‘if you loved Harry’ crowd: Diana Wynne-Jones Chrestomanci quartet, and Bruce Coville’s Jeremy Thatcher, Dragon Hatcher.
- Three Days, by Donna Jo Napoli. MG suspense. A fascinating premise: A girl on vacation is kidnapped and held by a family in the remote hills of Italy. But all is definitely not what it seems here… My first Napoli read, but it won’t be my last.
A pretty measly list for this month, partly because of the holiday madness, but also because I’m luxuriating in a huge adult read: Anna Karenina, the Russian classic by Leo Tolstoy. Unlike my usual m.o., I’m reading this one slowly…savoring is the word. I absolutely love it. Those classics you’ve never gotten around to reading? It’s never too late!
A Single Shard has been named to School Library Journal’s Best Books of the Year list (one of 60 titles), and also to the New York Public Library’s annual best list, “100 Titles for Reading and Sharing.” Also, The Kite Fighters has been named one of 25 “Notable Books for a Global Society” by the Children’s Literature Special Interest Group of the International Reading Association. Given the number of terrific books that come out every year, I’m truly thrilled and honored by such recognition.
The 2002 edition of the Children’s Writers and Illustrators Market (Writer’s Digest Books) is now available. In it you’ll find an article I wrote about the importance of reading for those who want to write and get published, and an ‘Insider Report’ on me and my work. Plus LOTS of other helpful articles and those invaluable market listings.
The good people at Clarion Books have just sent me a proof of the jacket for my next book, due out in April–and I really like it a lot. When My Name Was Keoko is the story of a girl and her brother set in Korea during World War II, when the country was under Japanese occupation. Much of the story is based on my parents’ experiences. April is still a ways off, but receiving the jacket proof makes it seem closer. A sneak peek:
WINNERS of the November drawing for a free copy of Seesaw Girl—FOUR winners this month, to help celebrate the holidays! Enter the new contest for December, and check out my guestbook’s new feature: A question of the month for you to answer.
Q&A: a few tips for beginning writers wondering where to submit their work.
Recent reading: What I read in November.
Periodical of the month:
Granta: The magazine of new writing.
A little twist this month: Instead of a book, I’m recommending a magazine. Granta comes out four times a year, themed issues in the form of a paperback book. Mostly nonfiction– essays and memoirs–but sometimes fiction too, adult literature, not children’s. I’ve been reading Granta for about twenty years now and I find the consistently high quality of its contents very impressive: writers like Paul Theroux, Lorrie Moore, Simon Winchester, Ved Mehta, Penelope Fitzgerald, Ryszard Kapuscinski, to name just a few. The website is www.granta.com
- Artemis Fowl, by Eoin Colfer. MG fantasy. It is with reluctance that I put this book on a list of ‘recommended’ reads. However, as the book has received quite a bit of hype, I thought people might like to gather opinions about it. The plot: 12-year-old boy- genius takes on the fairy kingdom. The latter is by far the most interesting part of the story, and two characters, one female fairy and one male, are engaging and well realized. Artemis himself is poorly developed, certainly not well enough for me to empathize with him. ‘Gamers’ might like the complex technological hardware described in the book, and the comic-book violence. Otherwise, I have to say there are dozens of fantasy titles I’d choose for myself or a child before this one.
- The Doll People, by Ann M. Martin and Laura Godwin, illus. by Brian Selznick. MG fantasy. Annabelle Doll and her 100-year-old Victorian doll family get new neighbors–the pink plastic Funcrafts. Sort of a modern-day ‘Borrowers’ tale. Annabelle is a terrific character, and there’s a mystery for her to solve: What happened to Auntie Sarah? Selznick’s black-and-white illustrations add to the fun of this novel–including wonderful endpapers. A perfect choice for younger midgrade readers looking to try a ‘bigger’ book. A Texas Bluebonnet Master List selection for this year.
- Goin’ Someplace Special, by Patricia McKissack, illus. by Jerry Pinkney. PB. ‘Tricia Ann makes her first trip on her own across town through a maze of Jim Crow laws in 1950s segregated Nashville to get to a very special place. The quiet, moving story gains light and depth from the gorgeous watercolor illustrations. Where is ‘Tricia Ann going? Read this wonderful book and find out–the ending brought tears to my eyes.
- Moonpie and Ivy, by Barbara O’Connor. MG coming of age. A seamless story– characters, setting, plot. A girl is abandoned by her mother and makes friends with the strange boy next door. Not a pretty picture, but one rendered with such care as to be beautiful. What I most admire here is the author’s courage with the plot, particularly the ending: Pearl experiences despair and hope in nearly the same breath. A real book for real life.
- Stop Pretending, by Sonya Sones
- What My Mother Doesn’t Know, by Sonya Sones. YA. Fiction written in free verse, and well written too. Pretending is the story of a family whose oldest daughter ‘goes crazy,’ in the words of the protagonist, the younger sister. The second title is a first-love story. Both worth reading, but if you’re picking between them, I preferred Pretending for its more unusual storyline.
- Amber Was Brave, Essie Was Smart, by Vera B. Williams. MG. Another free-verse book, not so much ‘novel’ as ‘portrait’ of a family: Two sisters who cope with being latchkey children. Indeed, Williams includes portraits of the girls at the beginning and end of the book. The book has been much lauded by reviewers and deservedly so (it’s one of my picks for the Newbery). Most of the reviews have praised the book for its vivid depiction of both girls, but here I have to disagree: This is Amber’s story.
- Behind the Wheel: Poems About Driving, by Janet S. Wong. YA poetry collection. Terrific topic with the writing to match it. Titles like “Insurance for Teen-age Drivers: A New Plan” and “Lessons in Braking.” A great gift for a kid who’s just gotten his or her license.
Food book: Comfort Me with Apples, by Ruth Reichl. In the tradition of M.F.K. Fisher, autobiography via food. This is a sequel, so read Tender at the Bone first–both funny and well-written, with one of those voices that makes you think, ‘I wish she were my best friend.’
The Kite Fighters is now available in a Braille edition! According to the Braille Book Review, this edition can be ordered through cooperating libraries. And A Single Shard is a Parent’s Choice “Memorable New Title” for 10-13-year-olds.
Bedazzled: John Thorne has long been one of my favorite writers. Recently he posted a review of A Single Shard at his website. To say I’m thrilled is a considerable understatement. Read the review (scroll to the bottom of the page) and while you’re there, check out the rest of his wonderful site: www.outlawcook.com
A new article in the Getting Published section: “The Give and Take of Critique.” Get the most out of your critique group or partner!
WINNERS of the October drawing for a free copy of Seesaw Girl. Enter the new contest for November!
Recent reading: Some wonderful books this month. And don’t forget that I’m still interested in hearing from visitors about their five ‘most memorable’ titles. I wrote about my five a few months ago, and since then have received several lists. Post yours in my guestbook and I’ll add it to the page.
Nice news: Seesaw Girl has been named to the West Virginia children’s book award master list for 2001-2002. Plus another lovely review for A Single Shard, from the Cooperative Children’s Book Center at the University of Wisconsin. Check out their website, full of terrific information about children’s books!
Winners of the September book drawing! Sign my guestbook for a chance to win the next drawing at the end of the month.
I’m thrilled that Julie Downing will be illustrating my first picture book, The Fire-keeper’s Son (Clarion Books, 2003). Julie has illustrated many lovely books and is also an author. Watch this space for further updates!
The “School Visits” page has been retitled and is now called “Author Presentations.” New to the page: my appearance schedule.
Recent reading: Notes on the books I’ve enjoyed lately.
Q & A: How you can get autographed copies of my books.
Book of the month:
We Were There Too! by Philip Hoose
MG nonfiction, National Book Award nominee. Profiles of young people who were present at important events in U.S. history. Did you know there were 12-year-old boys on Columbus’ ships? Or that a 15-year-old girl was the first to refuse to move to the back of the bus—months before Rosa Parks? If you need ideas for writing historical fiction, this book is simply bursting with them. Wonderful archival artwork and photographs–the one of a slave’s back is unforgettable. Informative sidebars, like the collection of quotes about inventions that would never succeed–the telephone, the airplane, the computer . . . A gem of a book.
- The Sisterhood of the Traveling Pants, by Ann Brashares. Contemporary YA. Over the course of a summer, four best friends share a pair of jeans that magically fits each of them perfectly. Four protagonists–not easy to pull off, and two of the characters were more vivid than the other two for me, but I liked them all and think this book will be a sure hit with young teen girls.
- The Tiger Rising, by Kate DiCamillo. Contemporary MG, National Book Award nominee. A short novel with two well-drawn characters–lonely Rob and strange Sistine. Favorite moment: Rob trying to fold a girl’s dress.
- Troy, by Adele Geras. Historical fiction YA. What a great idea for a book–an account of the battle of Troy told from the points of view of several young Trojans! The gods flit in and out of the story (annoyingly at times, it must be said), but overall this book brings those distant Greek myths to vivid and immediate life.
- Rocks In His Head, by Carol Otis Hurst. Nonfiction picture book. A tribute to the author’s father and his consuming interest in geology. I love this book for its simple but elegant homage to an ordinary man’s passion, and for the expressive line drawings by the great James Stevenson.
- The Last Book in the Universe, by Rodman Philbrick. MG science-fiction in the not-too-distant future: Earth after ‘The Big Shake’ destroys most of civilization. A clash between two societies, dystopian and utopian. A resourceful protagonist and two great sidekicks, a fun and un-put-downable read.
- Rain Is Not My Indian Name, by Cynthia Leitich Smith. Contemporary YA. Use of journal entries to play with the time frame in a deft depiction of small-town life. Cassidy Rain Berghoff finds that becoming involved in her community helps heal the pain of losing her best friend in a car accident. Terrific website activities, including a tour of the town, at www.cynthialeitichsmith.com
Adult mystery: A Traitor to Memory, by Elizabeth George. The most recent in a classic English mystery series–written by an American. In this title, Detective Inspector Thomas Lynley and Sgt. Barbara Havers are less in evidence; it’s more psychological thriller than detective novel. But the quality of George’s writing stands out from the crowd, in my opinion. Start at the beginning (with A Great Deliverance)—if you’re a mystery fan, you’ll want to read these straight through.
Adult fiction: Offshore, by Penelope Fitzgerald. I’m not usually a fan of slice-of-life books—unless the slice is taken from a strange part of the cake. Fitzgerald has that knack. In this book, we’re on the Thames with a small community of barge-dwellers. I read Fitzgerald and shake my head in awe and appreciation for her understated but powerful work.
Book of the month:
Love That Dog, by Sharon Creech
MG written in free verse. A boy comes to terms with the loss of his dog through poetry. A homage to children and their pets, to poetry, to Walter Dean Myers, and to good teachers everywhere. I had a very personal response to reading this book; our beloved family dog is now in what appear to be his final days. But even the dogless will be moved by this spare and elegant story.
- Knee-knock Rise, by Natalie Babbit. MG with a fairy-tale feel. What horrible monster makes the eerie wailing sound that drifts down to the village from Knee-knock Rise? Use of setting as a ‘character,’ done with her usual imitable style: Babbit never disappoints; she’s one of my writing heroes.
- Frenchtown Summer, by Robert Cormier. YA. Another free-verse novel, the coming of age of a small-town boy centering around his relationship with his father, set in a French-Canadian town before WWII. The ordinary made extraordinary. The news of Cormier’s passing has me trying to catch up on all his books; his contribution to YA literature cannot be overstated. But more than that, it is his integrity as a writer that I most admire. He is true to himself in every word.
- The Outsiders, by S.E. Hinton. YA classic, re-read along with my daughter. Gang warfare in Oklahoma. Skillful juggling by the author makes each one of the Greasers memorable–even the minor characters. Years after reading this, my son still remembers Two-Bit fondly.
- Betsy-Tacy, by Maud Hart Lovelace. Younger MG classic. I never read the Betsy-Tacy books as a child, and other readers speak of the series so fondly that I had to give this one a try. Episodic chapters depict the sweet friendship between two little girls. I’d have loved this book back in those days when I was first learning the power of books–I’m sorry I missed it then, but was glad to have a chance to read it now.
- I Was a Rat! by Philip Pullman. Younger MG humor-fantasy. The most original Cinderella retelling I’ve ever read. Great fun. Epic fantasy, Victorian mysteries, short humor–I’ve enjoyed every one of this author’s titles; is there anything he can’t do?
- Homeless Bird, by Gloria Whelan. YA set in India, last year’s National Book Award winner. Although I was disappointed that the setting was less than vivid for me, Koly’s story is compelling.
Adult reading: Lots of it recently, but I want to make special mention here of Yellow, by Don Lee. A collection of loosely linked short stories set in a fictional town on the California coast. Think Anderson’s Winesburg, Ohio–with a twist: All the protagonists are Asian- Americans. This is relatively new territory, and Lee’s book helps light the path.
Book of the month:
Enchantress from the Stars, by Sylvia Engdahl
YA science fiction. A ‘first-contact’ story. Wonderful characters: the heroine Elana and her supporting cast are so skillfully fleshed out that I truly believed in them and their world. Newbery Honor book and Phoenix Award title. The Phoenix Award is given annually by the Children’s Literature Association to a book that has remained in print for at least twenty years and did not win a major award at the time of initial publication. I wish this award were better known; it seems a most worthy one, recognizing books that have endured with minimal fanfare, and this title is a great example.
- Heaven Eyes, by David Almond. MG fable-esque tale about three runaways who meet a strange girl on the tidal flats of a river. I am an Almond fan and have loved his previous books (Skellig and Kit’s Wilderness); what I like most is the unique otherworldly quality of his work, quite unlike anyone else writing today.
- Staying Fat for Sarah Byrnes, by Chris Crutcher. Contemporary YA. The first book I’ve read off the lists of ‘most memorable books’ from visitors to the site–many thanks to Toni Buzzeo for the recommendation! A boy-girl friendship between fat Eric and scarred Sarah. A little too much plot toward the end for me, but few writers portray teens as well as this author.
- The Giggler Treatment, by Roddy Doyle. Younger MG, fantasy. My pick for summer readaloud. Doyle began as a playwright, and his adult books (The Commitments, The Snapper, The Van, Paddy Clarke Ha Ha Ha) contain some of the best dialogue I’ve ever read. He puts that to good use in this silly story of magic, hilarity, and dog poop– what more could a child want?
- No More Dead Dogs, by Gordon Korman. YA contemporary humor. A great first-person voice and lots of laughs: If you know teens who are into football or drama club (an unlikely combination that Korman pulls off with aplomb), give them this book or read it aloud with them.
- The Graduation of Jake Moon, by Barbara Park (no relation!). Contemporary MG. The author of the popular Junie B. Jones books for younger readers writing for an older crowd here, about what happens to a boy whose beloved grandfather develops Alzheimer’s disease. Park’s humor is still much in evidence here, but tempered by tenderness and compassion.
- The Bad Beginning, by Lemony Snicket. The first in the hit series. Not particularly memorable, but great fun. Three orphaned siblings face endless disaster: It never feels real, which is why it works.
Adult title: Home Body, by John Thorne. Brief essays on domestic surroundings by one of my favorite writers, who proves that food is not the only subject he can explore. Read this book and you will never see closets or cellars or a chest of drawers in quite the same way again.