October 25, 2015
It’s almost November, so I’m getting ready for NaNoWriMo, National Novel Writing Month. For the past several years, I’ve used this month as a time to revise and polish on-going writing projects. But The Stepsisters (my steampunk Cinderella) and A Mobius Tale (my Snow White with a twist story) are in fine shape, so it’s time to introduce my new project:
The Little MERmaid
This story has been percolating in my mind for many months, and I’m excited to use NaNoWriMo to begin writing it. The Little MERmaid is a steampunk version of the Hans Christian Andersen tale. My main character is a coal-mine automaton, a MER (Mechanical Emergency Responder) who becomes human after seeking help from the mischievous Prince of the Elves (a character from my Snow White story). She has one year in which to make a certain boy fall in love with her–if he doesn’t, she’ll return to her automaton form and be made into scrap metal. Intrigued? My story is more similar to the Andersen version than the Disney version, but with the steampunk elements, it’s my story now.
November is a busy time of the year for me, so I don’t anticipate finishing a first draft. But, with NaNoWriMo, I’ll keep track of my word count, and I’ll get lots of support from other writers. If you’ve never participated in NaNoWriMo, you should visit the website. November wouldn’t be November without NaNoWriMo!
September 30, 2015
Comprehension Questions for Because of Winn-Dixie by Kate DiCamillo
1. Who was making a mess in the grocery store?
2. What did Opal name the dog?
1. What job does Opal’s father have?
2. Why does Opal’s father let her keep the dog?
1. What does Opal do to clean Winn-Dixie?
2. How are Opal and Winn-Dixie alike?
3. Why does Opal ask her father to tell her ten things about her mother?
1. What are the ten things Opal learns about her mother?
1. What does Winn-Dixie do when he is left alone?
2. What does Winn-Dixie do with the mouse when he catches it?
3. What does the preacher do?
1. Why does Winn-Dixie scare Miss Franny?
2. Does Miss Franny let Winn-Dixie come into the library?
1. What did Miss Franny get for her birthday when she was a girl?
2. What did the bear take with him when he left?
1. How is Opal going to get the money for Winn-Dixie’s collar and leash?
2. What does the parrot Gertrude do to show she likes Winn-Dixie?
1. What does Gloria give Opal and Winn-Dixie to eat?
2. Is Gloria Dump a witch? Describe Gloria.
1. What kind of tree does Opal plant?
2. Where does Winn-Dixie sleep?
1. What is Winn-Dixie afraid of?
2. What is a “pathological fear” ?
1. What happens when Otis plays his guitar and sings?
1. What three places does Opal go to every day?
2. Who thinks the Dewberry boys want to be friends with Opal?
1. Why did Gloria hang bottles in a tree?
2. How does Gloria say you should judge people?
1. What does Winn-Dixie do when Miss Franny has a fit?
1. What happened to Littmus’s home and family during the war?
1. What did Littmus do to bring something sweet to the world?
2. What do Littmus Lozenges taste like?
1. What book does Opal read to Gloria?
2. Who is Carson and what happened to him?
3. What does “melancholy” mean?
1. Why did Otis go to jail?
2. What does the Littmus Lozenge taste like to Sweetie Pie?
1. Who are the 7 people Opal invites to the party at Gloria Dump’s house?
1. What food and drink do Gloria and Opal make for the party?
2. What does Miss Franny bring?
3. What does Sweetie Pie bring?
4. What does Otis bring?
1. What 4 things does the preacher thank God for?
1. When it starts raining, what does Opal forget?
1. Why does the preacher cry?
2. Does the preacher think Opal’s mama will come back?
3. What did Opal’s mama leave behind went she left?
1. Where was Winn-Dixie?
2. What happens when Winn-Dixie smiles real big?
1. What does Opal tell her mother under the mistake tree?
2. What is everyone doing when the story ends?
September 14, 2015
I usually post here the books that my students will be reading each semester. I’ve changed things up a bit, which means a lot of extra (and fun) reading for me. We focus on middle-grade books, for children ages 8 to 12.
We start with fairy tales. All students must read Charles Perrault’s “Cinderella” and the Grimm brothers’ “Aschenputtel”. Then, they choose two versions of one other fairy tale to read.
Everyone is required to read The Wizard of Oz by L.Frank Baum.
Next, students choose one book from each genre:
Charlotte’s Web by E.B. White
The Lightning Thief by Rick Riordan
The BFG by Roald Dahl
Ella Enchanted by Gail Carson Levine
Among the Hidden by Margaret Peterson Haddix
One and Only Ivan by Katherine Applegate
Treasure Island by Robert Louis Stevenson
Esperanza Rising by Pam Munoz Ryan
Bud Not Buddy by Christopher Paul Curtis
Island of the Blue Dolphins by Scott O’Dell
Al Capone Does My Shirts by Gennifer Choldenko
Contemporary / Realistic Fiction:
The Lemonade War by Jacqueline Davies
Tales of a Fourth Grade Nothing by Judy Blume
Ungifted by Gordon Korman
Rules by Cynthia Lord
Love that Dog by Sharon Creech
Out of the Dust by Karen Hesse
I usually re-read every book I assign before the literature circles meet. I’ve got some work cut out for this semester. It’s great to have a job that requires me to read and re-read great books. I’m so lucky!
August 20, 2015
The news, my Facebook and Twitter feeds, even the people I talk to, all demonstrate and discuss what is wrong with the world. Change won’t occur if people are unaware of the problems, the disasters, and the corruption in the world. We need to know. We need to know, so we can work to make the world better. But from time to time, we all need a big breath of beautiful.
Follow Kate DiCamillo on Facebook. Kate posts infrequently, but every post is like a soul cleansing shower. She notices the beauty in the world and shares it in words witty and wise.
If you know of other short bits of shared beauty like Kate’s posts, please mention them in the comments below.
I’ve always enjoyed escaping to a fantasy world where good behavior is rewarded and bad behavior punished. I prefer the stories in which it is mildly punished, and the perpetrators forgiven and allowed a reformed life. Revenge is dirt on the soul. So, I find many of the original tales too dark. I love the modern re-tellings and fairy tales. Here are a few I’ve read recently and enjoyed:
Gail Carson Levine’s Ella Enchanted
Wendy Mass’ Twice Told Tales
Marissa Meyers’ The Lunar Chronicles
Anne Ursu’s The Real Boy
Kate di Camillo’s A Tale of Despereaux
Laura Amy Schlitz’ Splendors and Glooms
Maggie Stiefvater’s The Scorpio Races
Gregory Maguire’s Egg and Spoon
L. Frank Baum’s The Wizard of Oz and all his Oz books
The evil in the world can seem overwhelming. We can feel utterly powerless when confronted with it. This is why I write. In my head and on the computer screen, I create a world of problems. Then I solve them. I give my characters resolution and happy endings.
The problems of the world will find you. You don’t have to look.
Happiness can seem elusive and fragile, but it exists and it is strong. You must go looking for it. Your soul-cleansing places may be different than mine. Seek them out. And when you find them,
take a Big Breath of Beautiful
June 5, 2015
The Writer’s Voice/Pitch Wars competition featured many talented writers with intriguing concepts. I did not make a team, but I wish good luck to those who did and to their coaches. You can follow the competition at Brenda Drake’s blog.
Many conversations about the contest were on twitter, and I didn’t want to miss out, so I set up a twitter account:
Follow me if you do that sort of thing.
New to twitter, I did a lot of lurking so as not to mess up or offend anyone (sorry if I have!)
Immediately, I learned about #PitMad, a day in which writers pitch their completed novels in 140 characters, all day long. Wow! I should have gotten on twitter a long time ago!
I participated in #PitMad and had some success getting noticed. I’ll be sending out queries over the next few days.
So, though I “lost” on Writer’s Voice, I’m still a winner!
March 14, 2015
To celebrate Pi Day, I’ve written a poem about pie, using pi. I’m not much of a poet, as you will see, but it is fun to do something a little different. Each line of my poem has the number of words for the first nine digits of pi:
There they lie.
blueberry and chocolate hazelnut
baked for an adult gathering
a dinner party to which I was not invited
not for me but eaten by me
and well worth the punishment
January 27, 2015
I’m back for another semester of Children’s Literature. This is what my students will be reading:
Treasure Island, by Robert Louis Stevenson. I teach this every semester. It is a great book.
Choice books. My students will read one from each genre:
Island of the Blue Dolphins by Scott O’Dell: In the early 1800s a Native American girl and her brother struggle to survive when left behind on an island off the coast of California.
Sarah Plain and Tall by Patricia MacLachlan: Two children living on the prairie in nineteenth century America anticipate a new mother when their father begins corresponding with a woman from Maine.
Out of the Dust by Karen Hesse: A collection of free-verse poems describe a young girl during the Great Depression struggling with poverty, dust, guilt and loss.
Contemporary Realistic Fiction
Hatchet by Gary Paulsen: A boy, the lone survivor of a plane crash, struggles to survive in the Canadian wilderness.
My Side of the Mountain by Jean Craighead George: A boy leaves his over-crowded New York apartment to spend a winter, alone, in the Catskill Mountains.
Ramona Quimby, Age 8 by Beverly Cleary: With creativity and humor, Ramona deals with a babysitter, a bully, and a dad who is going back to school.
Feathers by Jacqueline Woodson: After reading a poem and thinking about hope, a sixth-grade girl examines anew the world around her: her brother’s deafness, her mother’s fears, her friends’ faith, as well as a school bully and his victim.
The Thief by Megan Whalen Turner: In an imaginary medieval land, a thief is released from prison on the condition that he find, for the king, a legendary jewel hidden in a maze beneath a river.
The Ear, the Eye, the Arm by Nancy Farmer: In 2213 Mozambique, three siblings leave their protected home, are kidnapped, and have a series of dangerous adventures.
The Dark is Rising by Susan Cooper: On his eleventh birthday, Will learns he is an immortal Old One, and the only one who can find the six signs that will turn back the rising of the dark forces in the world.
Charlotte’s Web by E.B. White: The classic story of friendship between a pig and a spider.
Holes by Louis Sachar: In the past, a man is cursed and a teacher becomes an outlaw. In the present, a boy struggles to survive a juvenile detention center in the desert.
Kneeknock Rise by Natalie Babbitt: In a medieval-like land, a boy visits his relatives in a town that is famous for the monster than lives on its mountain.
Because of Winn-Dixie by Kate DiCamillo: A girl, whose mother left her and her father, moves and makes friends with the help of a dog.
They’ll read two other choice books, based on an author and a theme. It is my first time using some of the books listed above. I’m excited for discussions, activities, and to see what my students think of the different books. We’re off to another great semester!
January 20, 2015
Today is my older brother’s birthday. David would have been 51. He died on January 10, 2015. From his obituary:
David Richard Caulfield, 50, of Bloomington, died Saturday while out for a run. He was an avid runner and tri-athlete, an Indiana University alumnus and sports fan, and an aficionado of Marvel comics. A history enthusiast, David was following his long-time dream of earning a PhD. He was a graduate student and had an assistantship with Indiana University’s School of Education. David always made sure the people closest to him felt loved. He will be sorely missed by many. In lieu of flowers, the family requests that donations be made to the Caulfield Funeral / Education Fund at http://www.gofundme.com/k123l8
David and I did not agree on very many things and we didn’t always get along, but his death has left a hole in my life and sadness in my heart. His life ended much too early. I hope he is finding peace and happiness in his new adventure.
Happy Birthday, David.
January 1, 2015
In 2014, I read 119 books. Some were children’s books which is part of the reason that number is so high. Also, my house isn’t very clean.
Many of the books were good, but not many were great. Putting this list together was difficult. If I named only the great books, my list would be too short. If I named all of the good books, the list would be too long. I decided to go for diversity of genre, subject and audience. The books are grouped by intended audience, in the order I read them.
Zebra Forest by Adina Rishe Gewirtz
I love the way the author uses the classic novel Treasure Island in this story of a brother and sister who live with their lying, oft-depressed grandmother for reasons they don’t quite understand–at least not at first.
Number the Stars by Lois Lowry
The deportation of the Jews from Denmark during WWII, as narrated by 10-year-old Annemarie, whose best friend is Jewish. The innocence of her voice and the simple yet suspenseful plot has made this story a classic.
Ella Enchanted by Gail Carson Levine
Ella (Cinderella) is cursed by a fairy with the gift of obedience, making Ella a slave to the whims of others. Ella is a great character and her quest for self-determination makes this a perfect book for young people.
Holes by Louis Sachar
Multiple story lines that blend together to perfection. Well-crafted characters, exciting action, and a strong message. Funny too.
Rain Reign by Ann M. Martin
Rose, obsessed with homonyms and rules, is misunderstood by her classmates and her father, but not by her dog, Rain/Reign. When Rain goes missing in a storm, Rose has the skills needed to find him, but what she finds will surprise you. Beautiful, beautiful book. My vote for this year’s Newbery Award (not that I have a vote. . . )
Young Adult Books:
The Scorpio Races by Maggie Steifvater
“Riders attempt to keep hold of their water horses long enough to make it to the finish line. Some riders live. Others die.” I read this so long ago, I had to take this blurb from the author’s website. I remember loving the characters, the horses, the slow-build romance, and the intense suspense.
Cress by Marissa Meyer
Third book in the Lunar Chronicles series, using Rapunzel as its fairy-tale base. Cress is a prisoner, not in a tall tower, but in a satellite. I love the character of Cress, possibly because she reminds me of me. I laughed a lot. Cannot wait for the last in the series, Winter, out in fall 2015. The prequel, Fairest is out in Feb 2015. (The order of this makes me crazy, but that is for another blog.)
Egg and Spoon by Gregory Maguire
Set in the last years of the Russian monarchy, Egg and Spoon is a fanciful mix of history, folklore, philosophy, childhood fantasy, silliness, and very clever writing.
Marcelo in the Real World by Francisco X. Stork
In order to attend the school he wants in the fall, mildly autistic Marcelo must work in the mail room of his father’s law firm. His father, impatient and unsympathetic to his son’s issues, wants Marcelo to experience “the real world.” Marcelo learns a great deal about life, his family, and what he, himself, is capable of.
Silverblind by Tina Connolly
This world is alive with fantastical creatures, fey magic, and disturbing technologies. The main character, half-fey Dorie, is delightful and complex, and the romance flows easily within the greater plot (saving the fey world) which is well paced and suspenseful. Themes such as the environment and women’s rights are integral but not didactic.
The Orphan Master’s Son by Adam Johnson
Exciting and suspenseful story of one fictional man’s life growing up in North Korea. What I liked most about this was the main character and the way he sees the world. A different mindset than I’m used to.
Redshirts by John Scalzi
Funny. Very, very funny. If you don’t know, “redshirts” are characters in Star Trek who don’t live to the end of the episode. Scalzi introduces us to characters in a Star Trek-like world who realize this is happening and what they do to avoid becoming a “redshirt.”
The Invention of Wings by Sue Monk Kidd
The fictionalized story of real-life suffragist/abolitionist sisters Sarah and Angelina Gremke and their wholly fictional slave, Handful. Why had I never heard of these women? Their story is fascinating, painful, and inspiring.
The Language of Flowers by Vanessa Diffenbaugh
Raised in the foster care system, Victoria won’t allow anyone close to her. She uses her knowledge of the language of flowers to help others, until she meets a man who also knows that language. Victoria’s character is absorbing and the mystery of her past intriguing.
Me Before You by Jojo Moyes
A psychologically scarred young woman cares for a physically scarred, wheelchair-bound man. The two fall in love. Will her love be enough to stop him from his desire to commit suicide? Moyes handles difficult issues deftly. A great book for book clubs because of the discussion it promotes.
State of Wonder by Ann Patchett
A female scientist is sent by her pharmaceutical company to a lab in the Amazon rainforest, after the death of her colleague there, to bring a renegade scientist and her discoveries back to civilization. What amazed me most was how Patchett was able to manipulate and alter my perspectives of the people and events as the story progressed. The ending is perfection.
The Cuckoo’s Calling / The Silkwork by Robert Galbraith
What holds these detective stories above the pack is the depth of the characterization. The stories are complicated, suspenseful and, in places, funny. Galbraith is really JK Rowling, so the level of writing should be no surprise.
The Slow Regard of Silent Things by Patrick Rothfuss
This isn’t the long-awaited final book in Rothfuss’s trilogy, but it does come from the same world. Auri, a minor character in his other books, is the only character in this novel. Although light on plot, Auri is such a compelling character that the book works. Rothfuss’s prose is so beautiful, you might weep.
If you decide to read any of these books because I recommended them, let me know what you think. Happy New Year!
September 11, 2014
Sometimes I read a book that is so beautiful and perfect that I am inspired as a writer. This happened about twelve years ago with The Girl in the Pearl Earring by Tracy Chevalier. When I was finished reading it, I wanted to write again. I’d given up on writing, decided I didn’t have it in me to write an entire novel, but after reading this book, I changed my mind. I wanted to write. I had no illusions that I could write something as beautiful as The Girl in the Pearl Earring, but I wanted to try. I have tried and I’ve been mostly happy with what I accomplished. I thank Tracy Chevalier for that.
Sometimes I read a book that is so beautiful and perfect that I feel like I should just give up as a writer. I could never create anything that comes anywhere near this, and so why bother?
This happened today when I finished State of Wonder by Ann Patchett. This book is perfection. The prose is both beautiful and clear. Sentences flow like a slow river, peaceful but with purpose. Her characters are interesting and flawed and only knowable in part. The way I viewed them changed as I got to know them better, subtly, until I realized my opinion had changed at some point, but where? The story isn’t a thriller, and yet I couldn’t put it down. What would happen next? I could not guess. The ending is painful and brilliant and beautiful. The parallel stories are so clear at the end, but I never saw the ending coming. And the story isn’t over. More will happen to Marina. And yet the story is over. How she will live her life after the final page is up to her and the reader’s imagination. I don’t like this normally, but it works perfectly here.
I love this book and have already started re-reading it. If you haven’t read it, you need to. As for me continuing to write, I will. It is probably just a mood thing. My writing hasn’t been going well, so I can’t help but compare Patchett’s wonderful novel to to the garbage I’ve been penning recently.
Patience and practice, Elizabeth! Patience and practice.