Good Morning, and Happy 4th

Yawn. Stretch. Um, good morning.

It's March 16th, right? Snow still on the ground?

(My last post was on March 15th.)

What! It's July 4th? So, that's what all the noise is about. 

Oh, dear. I have missed a day or two a few months. We're all fine, the chickens are fine (and sassy), and the summer is really fine. My son, J., and I are listening to an audiobook of The Outsiders, narrated by Jim Fyfe. I cannot remember if I ever read the young adult novel before, but hearing it this way is wonderful. Fyfe does a great job with different voices for all the characters.

My 13-year-old Minecraft devotee must read the Seamus Heaney translation of Beowulf this summer for school. I refuse to make any comments indicating doubt here. Fortunately, there's an audiobook for that one, too.

I've been reading a lot since I'm taking a Coursera course called "The Fiction of Relationship" and just finished up Kafka's Metamorphosis for the first time ever. Gregor Samsa the bug made me incredibly sad. (Pssst: why don't you join me as a fellow student in the fall for "Modern and Contemporary American Poetry"?)

My year with the sweet class of third-grade rowdies is over, and we had a great time reading together and talking about books. I hope to post about what we read soon. At year's end I was invited to a third-grade pool party. Featuring an in-ground pool, it was noted with pride. The other details—date, time, address—were not spelled out, but I loved the thought nonetheless.

Blog Break

Good morning, everyone. I am taking a bit of a blog break, but hope to return before too long. My father passed away recently. When I was a little girl, he read aloud every single one of Laura Ingalls Wilder's Little House books to me. Dad would get so wrapped up in the stories that he would read ahead in the books after I went to sleep. During one of his trips up east, my father made sure to visit Malone, New York, childhood home of Wilder's husband, Alonzo. Farmer Boy is set there, and that was one of Dad's favorites in the series. I have such good memories of my father, and his reading aloud to me is one of them. A beautiful gift. 

Better Parents?

[Economics expert Andreas] Schleicher explained to [Thomas L. Friedman] that “just asking your child how was their school day and showing genuine interest in the learning that they are doing can have the same impact as hours of private tutoring."

Oooh, ooh, I have this down. I am so glad to know that conversations like the following will lead to ratcheted-up test scores, according to the New York Times columnist Thomas L. Friedman. His piece yesterday called for "better parents" and better parental involvement in children's education.

Picture this: a suburban mom picking up her 12 year old from school. Son settles into front seat of car.

Mom (brightly): How was your day?

Son (with indifference): Good.

Mom waits for more information. Mom hears none. Mom tries to think of engaging topic.

Mom: What did you have for lunch?

Son: [Long sigh.] I forgot. Maybe a sandwich? 

Mom, so devoted to her own lunch that she cannot believe anyone could forget what he ate, ponders a new subject.

Mom: So, I guess you played soccer at P.E.?

Perhaps the kind-of-a-statement/kind-of-a-question format will work.

Son [Shorter sigh, more like a huff]: We ALWAYS play soccer. It's soccer season. I'm gonna turn on the radio, okay?

I have more tips for great test-score-raising talks like this. Just ask!


Amid a pile of Junior's school papers, I found the following list:

To Do

1. Get a gigantic snake.

2. Get a German Shepherd puppy.

3. Buy a Rolls Royce.

4. Everything else.

In terms of the blog lately, I've been a bit in the #4 mode. I've been reading up a storm...but adult books. Two of them did feature reclusive children's book author characters, and one could be a crossover book for teens. I'll try to write about that soon. My new-found wild enthusiasm for fiction in translation continues, and I've been studying sites like Words Without Borders, Three Percent, The Millions, and Translationista.

We visited my dad down south for a big birthday, and then hosted a mini-reunion of other family here at our house with ten tons of delicious New York deli-style food: bagels, lox, corned beef, pastrami, chocolate babka, half-sour pickles, the works. There should be an entire holiday devoted to eating chocolate babka; I may have to declare it. (Epicurious has a recipe I want to try.) During the reunion I was amazed when a young cousin almost single-handedly finished a difficult jigsaw puzzle of a William Wegman dog photo.

Part of last weekend was spent cleaning up the garden, and getting ready to plant herbs outside in less than a month. Woo hoo! The chickens accompanied Junior and me in our digging, and Lovey kicked dirt in our faces as she happily hunted for worms and bugs. We kept having to turn her around. Queen Elizabeth III (Queenie) is still a nervous sort, but we hope she'll come around and won't think of us as the Giant Enemies Who Must Be Avoided.

And, if you're a birder, you know that April is a huge month for migrating birds, and just this afternoon I spotted my first warbler of the year. Warblers are tiny songbirds, often brightly colored. They're hard to tell apart, so I've spent a lot of time going over the guide books in anticipation.

Happy April, happy reading, and happy everything else!

More on Banned Books 2010

Didn't I tell you on Monday that Camille Powell (who blogs at BookMoot) dishes up the straight talk on banned books? Here she is again, quoted in Time Magazine's article on YA author Ellen Hopkins' being disinvited from a Texas teen literary festival and the ensuing fallout: "Texas: If You Can't Ban Books, Ban Authors," by Phil Bildner. (Thanks to @gregpincus for the news.)

The Paper Cuts blog at the New York Times neatly summarizes another recent controversy in which a Missouri professor is attempting to get the YA novel Speak, by Laurie Halse Anderson, pulled from local high-school curriculum. See "Twitter: Banned Books' New Best Friend," by Lela Moore.

Then there's Sherman Alexie's YA book, The Absolutely True Diary of a Part-Time Indian, which has been banned from a Missouri high school. More at "Mo. School Board Keeps Ban on Award-Winning Book," an AP story at the Southeast Missourian newspaper. (Link via the Tattered Cover bookstore's blog.)

Banned Books Week

The American Library Association and others have declared this week Banned Books Week.

A couple of years ago I wrote about a banned book during Banned Books Week and got into a yearlong argument with Chris Crutcher's assistant. When I finally cried and sobbed, "Leave me alone!," she did. Kidding. Sort of.

I could start another arugment, I suppose, about plot points and stylistic writing choices (the argument was not about banning), but instead will direct readers elsewhere: one of my favorite writers on book challenges and know-nothing nutters is the school librarian Camille Powell, who blogs at Book Moot. Here is a link.

*Added later in the day, one last link: Top 10 most frequently challenged books of 2009 (via GalleyCat)

Twitter Virus 9/21

As of Tuesday morning 9/21, there seems to be a virus on Twitter. Beware. I am staying away for now. If you know a safe place for Twitter status updates, please leave it in the comments!

Here is one place:

Boing Boing has some information too:

A Reader Recalls

Don't miss the lovely essay "Evolution of a Reader," at The Millions. Written by Andi Diehn, the piece begins,

I envy the way my oldest son reads, stretched out on the living room couch, all of a sudden this year taking up most of three cushions.  Watch his face: his lips move, his eyebrows raise and lower in drastic measures, he smiles, winces, gapes and falls still all in a mere breath.

He practices the cliché – he devours books.  But, even better, the books devour him.

I used to be the same way.  When I was about ten a pen pal came to visit from all the way across the country and I didn’t notice her for a few days after discovering a copy of Madeleine L’Engle’s Meet the Austins in her suitcase.

This Morning's Laugh

...comes from the blog of Editorial Anonymous, a children's book editor. This morning E.A. answers a question about an author queries:

If you're writing nonfiction, then yes, we really do want some reason to think that the nonfiction is not full of mistakes copied from Wikipedia, or "facts" revealed to you on a piece of toast by Jesus.

Read the whole post.