Posts tagged ‘girls’

November 16, 2012

A crazy summer, but a phenomenal book

I had the wonderful opportunity to work with the author of this book at a recent Highlights writing workshop. She was awesome. A faculty at the Vermont College of Fine Arts, Rita Williams-Garcia had a way of asking simple questions about your story that would expose profound issues. She was also phenomenal at the details…my story, for example, starts off with a girl stealing a diary from a woman. But as a reader, we didn’t see the diary until the girl had stolen it. Rita pointed out how the reader needs to see the diary, just as the girl does, zoom in on it, get closer to it, and then take it. Another writer had a car accident scene and we spent 30 minutes just taking apart who sees what when. The driver and the passenger both see the girl–but who should see her first? And who says something, if anything, and what do they say? And would the driver scream and then put a foot on the brakes or vice-versa?

That she is a master of her craft is obvious before you meet her of course, and this book (which is a Newbery Honor Book, a National Book Award Finalist, and a winner of the Scott O’Dell Award for Historical Fiction and the Coretta Scott King Award–seriously, if this book had more awards, you wouldn’t be able to see the cover) really has it all.

Title: One Crazy Summer
Rita Williams-Garcia
Genre: Historical Fiction
Age: Upper Elementary and Middle School

It’s a story of three sisters off to visit a mother who left them while the youngest was still a nursing baby. The book covers so much: it’s a story of daughters searching to define themselves in the shadow of a woman who doesn’t appear to want them at all. It’s a story of girls from a rural town who find themselves in Oakland, CA. It’s a story of African-American kids who learn about a new kind of pride in their race as they are dropped into the middle of the 1960s black panther movement.

The voice of the main character is at once lovable and mesmerizing. She could tell me about canned soup and I’d listen. But she’s not: she’s telling me about a cross-country adventure, a dangerous political movement, police arrests and double-crossers, friendships and crushes, and a family that grows closer through it all.

I think any middle-grade girl, and many boys, although it’s more traditionally a “girl” book, considering the main character, would love this book simply for the characters and fast-paced, colorful story. That they would learn about an important point in American history, well, they probably wouldn’t even realize it until the book ended and you started asking them questions. Asking them what THEY would do if they were asked to participate in a movement like that? What kind of dangers would they face for something they believed in? You could also use the scene at the end, where the girls recite a poem, as an excuse to get your own daughter to pick out a poem that is meaningful to her. And then maybe she could recite it at the Thanksgiving table. ūüôā

What do you think? How do you talk to your kids about questions of ethics and equality? Do you think you might use this book to introduce some of those ideas?

September 24, 2012

A free book for your scientific (or unscientific) girl


Getting girls into science is a big deal. I wrote an article about this in ParentMap after a great study was published by the AAUW (American Association of University Women). One of the biggest factors they talked about was having role models for girls in science–that girls didn’t see themselves in the typical movie scientist (think old guy with white hair). So maybe reading Ivy and Bean is all they need! If you think so, and want a chance for your own daughter or student, just comment below!

Here are last week’s winners:

Ivy and Bean book: HeyLookAWriterFellow

Ivy and Bean mini notes: Jasmine, Carol, Tania

Title:¬†Ivy and Bean What’s the Big Idea?
Author: Annie Barrows
Illustrator: Sophie Blackall
Genre: Fiction
Age: Early Elementary

And if you want to win this next book, What’s the Big Idea, Just comment below! Runners-up get a set of cool mini-notes.

August 20, 2012

A lie about cartwheels–and it could be yours for free!

Ivy and Bean are outside with the rest of the gymnastics club. They are taking turns doing cartwheels. Bean does one and then sits down, somewhat dizzy. Emma does nine in a row. Zuzu does twelve¬†plus a backbend. And when it’s Ivy’s turn, she says she is guarding the jackets. When others protest that you can’t be in Gymnastics Club if you are just going to guard jackets and start to doubt whether Ivy can even do a carthwheel, Bean intercedes.

“She can do a cartwheel. I’ve seen her.”

Ivy, who has never done a cartwheel in her life, is surprised by her friend Bean. But any reader with a good friend—the kind of friend who has your back, the kind of friend who doesn’t hesitate to lie about your cartwheeling ability, won’t be surprised at all. And it is this powerful friendship that I love so much about these books.

But, after some shenanigans with boys playing soccer, the cartwheels soon to become irrelevant:

“Like I was saying, I can’t do a cartwheel at the moment,” said Ivy.

“Why?” asked Zuzu with her hands on her hips.

“Because,” Ivy said, “we’ve got an emergency situation going on. Right over there.” She pointed.

Emma, Zuzu, and Bean followed Ivy’s pointed finger across the playground. She was pointing directly to the girls’ bathroom. The one right outside their classroom.

Duh, duh, duh. (Hear the music?)

Title: Ivy and Bean: The Ghost that Had to Go
Author: Annie Burrows
Illustrator: Sophie Blackall
Age: Early Chapter Book, Early Elementary School
Genre: Realistic Fiction

And so begins another adventure with the two friends, this one about “The Ghost that Had to Go.”

Ha! (If you didn’t laugh, read it again and remember that Ivy was pointing to the bathroom.) Okay, see, now you are laughing. To laugh some more, write a comment below to enter to win a FREE COPY of Ivy and Bean and the Ghost that Had to Go (Book 2). More details about the contest are here. (Remember, I’m giving away one book every week for NINE weeks, so come back next week too!)

And for ideas about things to do with your kids, check out this page on Ivy and Bean’s way cool website!

Comment away!

February 20, 2012

Girls in the math and sciences

Why are girls in America still falling behind in the sciences and choosing scientific careers so much less often than men? I look at some of these issues in an article published recently in Northstate Parent.

To read more articles I’ve published,¬†check out this list here.

November 21, 2011

IVY and BEAN probably don’t play German Crossing

The little one escaping to play with the neighborhood kids.

I loved my neighborhood friends growing up. With the exception of one or two families, I wasn’t really close to that many of them, but that never mattered when it came to baseball or tag. On a long Seattle summer night, when the light stayed up as late as your mom let you, neighborhood friends were always there and ready to play. One of our favorites (and this admittedly sounds ridiculous in 2011) was German Crossing. Yes, one side of the road was East Germany and one was West. You had to cross from one to the other (presumably from East to West although the details of the game escape me) without being tagged by the guard with the flashlight, who wasn’t allowed to stray far from his/her post. You could sneak your friends out of jail by sneaking over to the jail near the guard and tagging them. Hours and hours and even nights and nights were spent at this game, sneaking through the neighbors yards, hiding in their bushes, and trying to stay out of their sight if they were one of those “adult” houses with no kids in the game who may or may not understand people sneaking through their yard.

Reading Ivy and Bean–the at first reluctant to be friends neighbors–reminded me of that game. But when they finally cross the street and meet, the tomboyishly adventurous Bean and the imaginative bookworm Ivy become fast friends and hilarity ensues. There’s even some sneaking around in neighbors’ yards. I want to thank my niece because without her recommendation of these books, I might never have found them!

Title: Ivy and Bean
Author: Annie Barrows
Illustrator: Sophie Blackall
Genre: Early Chapter Book
Age: K – third grade

Follow-up with the kids:¬†This is the kind of level for kids who are really starting to read on their own. This is a great time to engage them in conversations about books so they get used to thinking about their reading and talking about it while they still have memories of cuddling up with picture books with their family. Ask your daughter (it is probably a daughter reading this book as boys tend to prefer books with boy characters–the same is not necessarily true for girls) if she is more like Ivy or more like Bean. Or does she have elements of both? What about her friends? Getting kids to think about their reading and to relate their reading to their own lives, is an important first step to higher level reading comprehension. And also a great step towards really enjoying books!

November 2, 2011

where’s the girl stuff at the science museum?

Writing about girls and science and stereotypes and all that is wrong with the world at ParentMap.

April 12, 2011

if you chase it, it might chase you back

This book is a portal. ¬†I opened its page and was instantly transformed. ¬†So transformed, I was confused. ¬†Was I the reader or the main character? ¬†Was I on my couch, breast-feeding one son and patting the other, Sesame Street blaring in the background and the book balanced on my lap? ¬†Or was I walking an ancient trail, uncovering its stones and its secrets one by one, finding a path as I found myself and my family along the way? ¬†Or maybe I was the writer? ¬†Did I write this book? ¬†Conceive of its characters? ¬†I feel I know them so well that I might have. ¬†I can’t really say. ¬†I loved this book!

All I know is that this book drew me in so deeply I can’t decide if I should ride this wave of bibliophilism (wow! that is totally a word!) and pick up another book immediately (preferably one by Sharon Creech) or just call it quits when I’m ahead and never read another book again. ¬†Not sure yet, but in the meantime, I’ll write one (last?) blog entry.

Title: Chasing Redbird
Author: Sharon Creech
Genre: Fiction
Age: Middle School

Summary and Review:

Zinny is the quiet daughter in a large family, the one who listens to her sisters’ gossip at night in their too-crowded, shared bedroom, the one who collects bottlecaps and rocks, who spends more time with her aunt and uncle next door than her mom and dad in her own busy house. ¬†She is an honest character, so true to her age and the human race that it seems Sharon Creech must have studied the very souls of her readers before she typed these words.

There are so many things about Zinny that I love, but mostly it is her honest confusion about life that gets at my heart. ¬†Some of us (a rare few of us) will admit to being confused about the meaning of life. ¬†But I’ve never heard anyone express out loud the ways that confusion can take hold on a daily level. ¬†I love that Zinny admits to being afraid at times that she isn’t who she thinks she is. ¬†That she is actually someone else, and that the real Zinny is dead, or the real Zinny is off somewhere and she is merely watching her. ¬†I love that Zinny admits to being afraid of the “hand of God” and thinks that God has challenged her personally in peculiar, creative ways. ¬†I love that Zinny admits to searching for a relative she knows has passed away, and I love that she finds her. ¬†I love that Zinny is scared of the attention from a boy and of her own feelings. ¬†I love the way Zinny learns about herself and her family, as if piecing together a mysterious puzzle, something that allows her to really understand some of the important things about being a daughter, a niece, a sister, and a girlfriend–none of which she truly attains until she first understands some things about being herself. ¬†And I love, very much, the dichotomy in Zinny–how she feels so powerful that she believes she might have singlehandedly caused more than one death, but at the same time so useless that no boy could possibly ever like her. ¬†If that isn’t growing up, then what is?

When Zinny starts to unravel the mysteries and dig up the stones of an old, historic trail near her farm in Kentucky, she takes her first step from being “one of those Taylor kids” to being “the one who’s digging up the trail.” ¬†That transformation, from an overgrown past to a well-used walkway, from an unknown girl to a girl who knows herself well enough to like herself, is the story in this remarkable book.

Follow-up with the kids:

Zinny’s thoughts and feelings will resonate with a lot of kids in the midst of the turmoil of growing up and trying on a new identity. ¬†Of course, if you are their parent, they probably won’t talk with you about it. ¬†But that’s the brilliant thing about reading with your kids. ¬†Just ask them about Zinny. ¬†Why do you think Zinny felt that way? ¬†Why did she do this? ¬†That dichotomy of hopelessness and adolescence that I talked about above? ¬†What does your daughter think about that? ¬†You’ll hear some of her own feelings in her responses, and maybe you’ll learn what powers her own, personal dichotomy.

Now, you can start this conversation with the Jake/May issue because that might get them talking, but press further–what about Rose and Aunt Jessie and Uncle Nate? ¬†Zinny’s precious relationship with each of these people tells us so much about what it means to be a live “human bean” that you could talk about this through the night. ¬†And maybe you should. ¬†Get a tarp and two sleeping bags and head to the backyard…that would be the best place to do it. ¬†Under the stars. ¬†Near the birds.

Oh, and one more thing: Zinny had a trail.  What do you or your child have?  Is it a place to explore?  100 books to read?  a new cuisine to learn how to cook?  a new exercise regime to learn and stick to?  What can you uncover that might help you uncover you?

November 24, 2010

Celebrity princesses and other no-no’s of picture book writers

So, when they give out advice at the SCBWI conference, here are a few things they tell picture book writers.¬† Don’t write in rhyme, don’t write an ABC book, don’t write a princess book, and don’t read any of the tidal wave of picture books coming from celebrities these days for inspiration on how to do it well.¬† And it’s true, if you are a celebrity, it seems that you can get a picture book published no matter what you write.¬† Let me tell you, I know dozens of picture book writers who are not celebrities, and the same thing does NOT hold true for them.¬† They write and rewrite, workshop and critique, write and rewrite some more, and then send in queries and submissions for years on end sometimes.¬† And having read many celebrity picture books, it would seem that maybe they didn’t go through all of that…in fact, they might not even have gotten to the “rewrite” part.¬† But, like the Jeff Foxworthy book I’ve mentioned earlier, this one from everyone’s favorite Julie Andrews is a gem.¬† And it’s even about princesses.¬† But if you have a princess aversion, read on…I think you’ll still like it!

Title: The Very Fairy Princess
Author: Julie Andrews and Emma Walton Hamilton (her daughter)
Illustrator: Christine Davenier
Genre: Picture Book
Age: 0 – 8

Summary and Review: Geraldine, the sparky and wonderful main character in the book knows that she is a fairy princess because she can “FEEL it inside—a sparkly feeling of just KNOWING in my heart.”¬† If that doesn’t capture your love and imagination, I don’t know what will.¬† But maybe this.¬† Geraldine does everything that fairy princesses do, such as: putting on her crown to come downstairs (which she does by sliding down the rail, of course), eating pancakes with extra fairy dust, putting on royal attire which includes sneakers and scabby knees.¬† (In Geraldine’s words “I say sneakers help me practice my flying skills, ESPECIALLY when we’re late for the school bus, and scabs are the price you pay.”)¬† When others don’t believe her, she happily responds that you can be whatever you want to be—“you just have to let your SPARKLE out!”

If I was going to be a stickler, and why would I write a blog if I wasn’t, I’d say that I would PREFER if the fairy princess occasionally something other than sugar, and maybe if TV wasn’t used as the homework distraction, but something a little more active instead.¬† However, the character is certainly active overall and you can’t expect every kid role model to do things differently than most kids do anyway…they wouldn’t be kid role models if they did.

Possible conversations to have with your kids:

Well, talk about their sparkle of course!¬† When do they sparkle best?¬† When they are playing the trombone, like the Fairy Princess’s friend?¬† Or dancing in a recital?¬† Or climbing a tree?¬† Or reading a book?¬† Helping cook in the kitchen?¬† What do they believe about themselves?¬† You might want to share some of your own secret sparkles, too.¬† Children are often surprised by their parents talents, some of which are often tucked away as we spend more and more of our time on the job or reading Fairy Princess books.