Friday, June 22, 2018

Life on Mars by Jennifer Brown

Life on Mars by Jennifer Brown

There were several books titled Life on Mars. I eliminated the non-fiction books and a graphic novel to settle on this one. It is written in first person past tense through the eyes of Arty a 12-year-old boy. His real name is Arcturus Beetelgeuse Chambers. A. B. is actually the name of two stars which is cool until you find our Beetelgeuse translates as ‘armpit.’ Arty has a new neighbor who is so unfriendly he is sure the man is either a face-eating zombie or a serial killer. They become friends. So is there someone in your life who is overly: mean, angry, sad, unfriendly, unhappy, grumpy? Maybe they are a grandparent or an aunt or uncle or a parent or a teacher? Have you ever thought something might have made them that way? Maybe there is a question you could ask that might show there is another side to their life. Suggested questions follow:
What was school like when you were my age?
Did you have a favorite subject, teacher, pet …?
What was your first job?
What would you suggest as I look for my first job?

They might tell you to go away or they might talk to you. No promises. However, for most people their favorite subject is themselves.

A Million Ways Home by Dianna Dorisi Winget

A Million Ways Home by Dianna Dorisi Winget


Now we are back into good solid Mid-G reading. This story is written in first person past tense, told through the eyes of twelve-year-old Poppy who is spunky and impulsive. Poppy has been placed with social services because her grandmother is in the hospital. The ongoing theme throughout this story, in a multitude of relationships, is redemption and release, a process that allows new life to begin. Interestingly the cover and the title seem to have little connection to the story.

Sunday, June 17, 2018

Fifth Summer Read - The Fifth Wave

The Fifth Wave by Rick Yancy


The Last Star was the recommended book but it was the third and last book in the series that started with The Fifth Wave, so I went and read The Fifth Wave. It is written in first person present. It is definitely more a YA book than a Mid-grade book. It is the dystopian story of an alien invasion that may have already begun unbeknown to us. I found the first half of the book very unsettling. It introduces us to several children and then shows us how their childhood is stripped away from them by these troubled times. And for some, even their very humanity is up for grabs. This is in contrast to our usual Mid-g fair that focuses on youth finding the fullness of their better selves. Shortly after a scene in which a group of them have a rejoicing moment that is described as “we were for a brief time celebrating like children,” they begin to regain themselves. I thought it a good read and if my summer reading list was not so long I would go on to read book two and three. 


I'm now starting A Million Ways Home

Monday, June 11, 2018

Summer reading reviews.

I spent some time this spring with a 100 seventh graders discussing writing. I let them draw me up a summer reading list. I'll be posting a comment about each book as I go along. the list is over forty books long.

Here are my first few reads.

Wonder by R. J. Palacio

Wonder is the story of August who has a cranial facial distortion; the result is that when people first see him they are shocked. August or Augie, or Augie Doggie as his dad sometimes calls him is the main narrator telling the story in first person. However, five other narrators also give their perspectives. I liked the way that the author used each character to comment on their side of previous events but also allowed the characters to move the story along.
At fifth grade, Augie’s parents decide it is time for him to leave homeschooling and attend a private middle school that begins with fifth grade. He is fearful but finally agrees to attempt this undertaking. The book shows us his struggles to put himself out there and the struggles of his classmates to relate to him. Middle school can be tough and but some students can also be kind.
One of the challenging questions I take from the story comes from the “war” that erupts between Augie and his few friends and a cool kid and his many friends. The main act of ‘war ‘ is to choose your side. Students are expected to choose Augie’s side, or Julian’s, the ‘cool kid’s’ side or neutral. The girls choose neutral, most of the boys choose Julian’s side. Even when Julian loses his coolness the boys migrate to neutral. To me the quest is: Is neutral good enough?

Simon vs. The Homo Sapiens Agenda By Becky Albertalli

This is the story of Simon seeking to tell the world he’s gay and being outed. It is a story of his search for a boyfriend and of the various romances of his friends. It also shows how vulnerable it is to be young seeking a friend, how under peer pressure we can be mean when we didn’t even know it, and how we hurt one another even when we don’t mean too. The story is told in first person present.
Here are three things I really liked about this book:
1.       The idea that not only gay youth but all youth should be expected to sit down with their parents and declare their sexuality.
2.       Simon is in an anonymous pen pal relationship with another boy who is gay. It is very freeing and empowering at first. It is more difficult when Simon decides it’s time to meet and the other boy isn’t ready.  It is amazing how often it is easier to tell things to a stranger than it is to someone who knows us.
3.       Simon has the type of parents who get over-excited about everything. This is part of the reason he is reluctant to tell them he is Gay.  And why his sister has a secret that causes her to often be absent when he expects her to be home.

And this is a good example of why you can’t watch the movie instead of reading the book. There are some significant differences between the two.

Liar & Spy by Rebecca Stead

This is the story of two boys, Georges and Safer whose parents give the space to face their fears in their own time. It is written in first person present, told by Georges. Who is named for Georges Seurat. It deals also with loss because Georges’s family has to move from their house to an apartment because his dad lost his job. The move means Georges has to leave behind the coolest bed ever. George also loses a good friend because after the summer his friend drops him. 
The most important question it asks is: If I decide I’m cool, does my table become the cool table. It’s most important message for its reader is yes we must remember the big picture of life and the issues of now matter little in the long run, but that doesn’t mean they don’t hurt as if the matter forever.




The War That Saved My Life by Kimberly Brubaker Bradley

This stories is about a brother and sister during world war in England at the time when children were sent out of London to live in the countryside away from the bombing. This is the same setting as in the Narnia series but this story gives a much more realistic idea of the emotional strains on the children and on their host families. Ada and her brother Jamie have left behind a horribly abusive mother. Jamie though longs for home and Ada fully embraces the new life she has found in the country. Overall it is a story of healing for the children and for the women who is forced to take them in.

Ransom By Lois Duncan


There were several books titled Ransom. I chose the one I thought most like to be recommended by one of Ms. Strohman’s students. Ransom is the story of five teens from families of average means who live in what is considered a wealthy neighborhood. They are kidnapped and held for ransom. Fifty thousand each but a packaged deal all must be paid for.  During the stress of their captivity, we find that they all bear hidden marks. Marianne knows her father doesn’t even care about her but won’t admit it. Dexter has a weak left side from polio but hides it with clothing. Bruce lives in his brother’s shadow but discovers he doesn’t want to. Jesse discovers that when it really counts life or death she is stronger than she thought and she is capable of loving. Only Glenn doesn’t see his mark but his brother and parents do. The book has numerous flashbacks that are occasionally a little confusing until you get used to them. 

Thursday, September 21, 2017

The Power of Blotch

I am working on a series of books about a boy called Blotch. He has a port wine colored birthmark on the side of his face. To get a feel for the experience I used face paint to put a birthmark on my face. It rather realistically looked like a birthmark or a bruise.

I realize I am sixty-two and my character is fifteen and that how people treat us, in general, is totally different but I think it was an important experience. Some people stared but tried not to and no one was overtly rude.

I did find I was at first self-conscious. When I moved past that I realized I could turn blotch into a positive. People would look at me a little longer. I would take this as an opportunity to smile and say hello. Or how's your day. One of my friends in men's group said this is natural for me because I'm from Texas and people there acknowledge each other as they pass. He said he spent a semester at Texas A & M and on campus, you are supposed to say hello or 'Howdy' to everyone you pass. He found it exhausting.

Overall I found for my character an arc that went from self-conscious to empowered.

Monday, June 13, 2016

Mom, Dad, I killed a Man

So I see I haven't posted anything since last October. I am back looking at my blog because I just finished a story that started with the character I mentioned in my last post, but it went a totally different direction. When I'm writing I tend not to blog. I also don't walk and chew gum.

Synopsis: Mom, Dad, I Killed a Man  is a midgrade novel. In intensity it is somewhere between Pandemic and Boy in Tights. In part one Frank and Philip meet on seven school bus rides. Frank is a fearful kid lacking confidence. Philip is actually a ghost from thirty years prior. Philip gives Frank confidence. Frank gives him some joy. At the end of the week we learn that Philip committed suicide to escape bullies. In the second half of the novel Frank starts a successful baby sitting and children’s party business. He also starts implementing a plan to kill the three now forty five year old men who bullied Philip. In the end he saves Philip’s main bully from committing suicide. He realizes this was the real reason Philip came to him.

I am planning to send it out to publishers. I haven't done that since the first Henry book. So we will see what happens. 

Thursday, October 29, 2015

Is It an Idea or a Plot

The Next lesson in the course was about shaping ideas into plots. I realize I have at times started a story with things other than plots and then had a hard time getting the story to come together or even making it into a story.

Examples might be a character trait that would sharply define a character such as a kid who in every scene he enters tells a joke. It definitely defines the character but it doesn’t go anywhere. I am actually giving this trait to a character in the new story I’m working on.

Another example would be a pivotal event. I actually had in my head the idea of the unicorn whose horn was cut off for many years before a plot to explain how this happened and the consequences of the event came together to form Henry on Fire.

So for my new story the plot as it is currently understood by me is:


When Frank goes to his neighbor’s door he is met by a man half his neighbor’s age. The man won’t answer Frank’s questions and shuts the door in his face. Frank is convinced the neighbor is being held against his will, but when the cops come its Frank who is in trouble.