Huzzah!

Totally Middle SchoolI loved receiving this review for the new middle-grade anthology, Totally Middle School (Delacorte, ed. by Betsy Groban). I hope you’ll discover the wide variety of stories within this book, many of them the right length for a classroom read-aloud, and all of them engrossing for reading on your own.

“Featuring an eclectic mix of short stories from a number of beloved authors, this collection explores three topics—“Family,” “Friends and Fitting In,” and “Finding Yourself”—in a variety of formats, from poems to comic panels. Margarita Engle takes on the “dreaded/ dreadful/ deadline-looming/ first-in-my-lifetime/ Middle School/ Mixer,” while Katherine Paterson and granddaughter Jordan offer advice-laden Facetime and text exchanges between two cousins (“organize, organize, organize”). A David Wiesner comic visualizes finding one’s place in an intimidating new setting, and Linda Sue Park and Anna Dobbin’s story, told in part from a dog’s perspective, considers cross-species family life. The stories look at eras and cultural differences, as well, from Gary Schmidt’s searing story about a boy’s neighbor heading off to the Vietnam War, to Hena Khan’s present-day tale of a Pakistani immigrant connecting with her new classmates. The collection, “dedicated to middle schoolers everywhere” (“This, too, shall pass”), deals honestly and sensitively with this volatile time.” (Publishers Weekly)

FAQ #8: Stuck

What do you do when you’re stuck on a writing project?

I don’t sit at my desk and try to push mashed potatoes through a keyhole. I do something else. Walk, putter in the garden, play computer solitaire, eat an orange, do the laundry, nap, or work on a different project. My subconscious seems to work on the problem without me, and eventually I find a way back in.

(photo credit: Katerina Kovaleva)

FAQ#7: Frustration

What do you find most frustrating about researching a book you’re writing?

I know other writers who swear by it (Kirby Larson, I’m looking at you) but I hate reading old newspapers on microfiche.  Talk about frustrating. Maybe that’s why I mostly write about pre-newspaper eras.

In Observation of Memorial Day

Memorial Day

We Americans have been commemorating our war dead with flowers and speeches for more than 150 years. Each year we hope there will be no more soldiers to bury, but still we send our sons and daughters into battle.

Lately I read that 2018 has been deadlier for school children than for soldiers. It’s a hard truth to face.  More than twice as many people have been killed in school shootings than in all combat and non-combat deaths this year. Will we have to have a new holiday for remembering our murdered children?

When will we ever learn?

FAQ #6: Research

What’s your favorite part of researching a book you’re writing?

I like the early research that give the flavor of a time, a few interesting facts, and a place for me to stand.

It gets harder later when I search for specifics such as, “Was there mail delivery at Mission Beach, San Diego, 1941?” Never did find that answer. Do you know?

FAQ #5: Dinner Party

If you could invite four people from history over for dinner, who would be sitting around your dinner table? What food would you serve?

Eleanor Roosevelt, Eleanor of Aquitaine, and Oscar Wilde for their strength, intelligence, and wit, and Paul Newman, because who wouldn’t?

I’d serve roast chicken because that’s what I always serve. And salad with grapes and avocados. And pumpkin pie.

FAQ #4: Time Traveler

If you could time travel to any point in history, where and when would you go first?

To be honest, I’m not sure I would pick any. Such noise, such smells, such danger.  If I were pushed to choose, I’d like to see Robin Hood and his Merry Men cavort in Sherwood Forest. I’d guess that would be medieval, although imaginary.

Robin Hood, illustration by N.C. Wyeth

FAQ#3: Going Medieval

Do you remember your first exposure to medieval history? What clicked with you about that time?

In 1965 and many years after, I attended Renaissance Faires and was enchanted by the color, the music, the people, the language and food and life.  I transported the fair in my mind to the middle ages and held the memory tightly for 25 years until it blossomed in Catherine Called Birdy.

Renaissance Festival
Renaissance Festival (photo credit: Carol Mudd)
Renaissance Festival
Paved roads were a rarity! (photo credit: Carol Mudd)

FAQ #2: Read-alouds

How Tom Beat Captain Najork and His Hired SportsmenDo you recall a particular book that your family enjoyed reading out loud when your daughter was young?

Yes!  The brilliant, subversive How Tom Beat Captain Najork and His Hired Sportsmen by Russell Hoban, with fabulous illustrations by Quentin Blake, in which Tom teaches the Captain and his sportsmen about the value of fooling around.  My husband could, and probably still can, do all the voices. His Captain Najork was splendid, though he excelled at Aunt Fidget Wonkham-Strong. For years “Fool around, Tom!” was a watchword around our house.

Have a listen to Quentin Blake, the illustrator, about why he enjoys this book so much

How Tom Beat Captain Najork and His Hired Sportsmen

I’d like to add that Fungus the Bogeyman and Leo the Late Bloomer tie for second.

 

FAQ #1: Childhood Books

This month, I’m answering frequently asked questions.

Here’s the first:

What’s the one book that pops into your mind first when you think of books you read when you were young? What do you remember most about that book?

One book? No way. It has to be a three-way tie: Blue Willow, by Doris Gates, the story of a migrant girl who longs for a permanent home;  Cotton in My Sack, Lois Lenski, about migrant pickers in the cotton fields; and Strawberry Girl, also by Lois Lenski, wherein a family moves to Florida to start a strawberry farm

Blue Willow, Cotton in My Sack, Strawberry Girl

I remember these books to this day. They opened my eyes to another world: other times, other places, and other lives. I could see beyond the boundaries of my own experiences and relate to characters much different from me. Apparently my family, my neighborhood, my problems, were not the only way of life. At ten, that blew me away! And each book is a coming of age story concerned with the search for home, topics that I seem to write about over and over myself.