Category Archives: Realistic Fiction

Read. Review. Recommend.

The first book I completed read in 2017 kept me reading so that I wanted to finish it in one sitting.  Instead of staying up all night as I wished to do, I relished each scene and word, stretching out my reading to two days.  The language is authentic teen speech which resonates for any age.

Have I grabbed your attention?  Guitar Notes by Mary Amato begins with a perfect title and cover.  Don’t you love language with two meanings?  You know this book is about a guitar player, probably a teen, and guitar music has notes.  Notes also mean communications between friends.  Paper messages, texts, or voice mails can also be short notes between the main characters- one who is almost perfect and one who has no friends. How Amato brings them together over a guitar is masterful.

How do I decide who will want to share this book?  A teen, a singer, a parent who needs to understand teen angst?  They will all enjoy it!

What a great title to begin my reading challenge of 2017.  I will be reading many easy readers and early chapter books for my assigned judging project with CYBILs, helping to choose the best of 2016.  Guitar Notes was a delightful start to my reading with a Meaty book offering genuine Language.  (Check out the CAMEL reading rating in my previous blogs.) Since Mary Amato is a local author writing about Maryland, this book also fits the setting rating, too.  (E=Exceptional time and place)

Happy Reading in 2017!  Find your own reading challenge and enjoy every word.

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Author Crushes

I have a new author crush every week.  How about you?  Do you fall in love with authors you meet from friend’s recommendations and from the new books at the library?

My latest crushes are for middle grade authors Gordon Korman and Mary Amato!  Korman was recommended to me by a new reading friend when she heard I was looking for examples of dialogue from a boy’s perspective.  Both my grands are boys and I am writing several middle grade novels which my BETA readers call “girls’ books.”  I want to appeal to all genders, so I picked up Ungifted to hear a different POV on my way to meet friends for lunch 2 hours away.  Still driving last weekend, on the way to a children’s writing conference, I fell in love with Gordon Korman’s humor, character development and pacing. Ungifted is told from many different children and adults in school and home settings. What more could a reader and a writer hope to gain?  This week at the library, I picked up one more book by Korman, Schooled, and I am prepared to laugh and enjoy more of his multiple voice books. Readers of both genders and all ages can enjoy these books.

Mary Amato is a new author I met at the children’s writing conference.  What a find!  Her Our Teacher is a Vampire and other (Not) True Stories also was created with multiple characters’ voices.  Each of the students in Mrs. Penrose’s class adds letters and articles to a blank book Alexander received for his birthday.  The resulting novel is humorous and authentic, full of likeable middle grade protagonists (plus teachers and a librarian.)

An old flame grabbed me at the library:  Pam Munoz Ryan!  The Dreamer and Echo are different genres and interesting additions to her body of children’s stories that range from picture biographies to historical fiction.  I relished Riding Freedom, Mice and Beans, and When Marian Sang:  the True Recital of Marian Anderson.  In my latest read from Ryan, I discovered a fictionalized biography of the famous poet, Pablo Neruda, with illustrations by Peter Sis.  What a delightI discovered in The Dreamer and I await a different experience in Echo which is based on ancient folktales!  Many poems are added at the end of the book.  An intriguing idea they share with us lovers of children’s literature.

One more new find is Leah Pileggi, author of Prisoner 88.  I was looking for another book recommended by my ten-year-old grandson which had a similar title.  It is amazing to hear of 4th and 5th graders reading about prisoners, but they love the authenticity of these books.  Prisoner 88 is about a 10-year-old-boy who is the youngest prisoner in the history of Idaho’s Territorial Penitentiary.  In 1885 Jake has a rude awakening, as you can imagine.  Later in history, Yanek (Jack) becomes a prisoner in 10 concentration camps in Germany. He lived in a Polish Ghetto and then was imprisoned around 1939 for the sole reason that he was Jewish.  Prisoner B-3087 is the memoir of Jack Gruener, penned with his wife Ruth and Alan Gratz. These two historical fiction books are both survivor stories you will want to read.

If you are considering writing your own children’s books, I recommend you join me in a great organization:  the Society of Children’s Book Writers and Illustrators.  Lin Oliver founded this organization and, as a realistic and personable speaker at the latest regional conference, she shared her passion and advice for us pre-published authors.  You may recognize Lin as co-author with Henry Winkler of the “Hank Zipser” series.  Thanks to Lin Oliver, I met many aspiring children’s authors, agents and editors.  Peer Critique advice was available and valuable.  New friends from my own state and region will be a fine addition for my writing friends’ network.

[Don’t forget that if you see any errors in my posts, please alert me.  A new writing friend wrote that Jane Eyre was written by Emily Bronte.  I am too embarrassed to let her know… Should I tell her.  What do you think?]

Happy Reading in 2016 and Love from Best Books By Beth!

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CONNECTIONS IN LITERATURE

If you love To Kill a Mockingbird as I do, you have read all the news about Harper Lee’s writing, her friendships, and her death.  But have you read the latest novel Tru and Nelle by G. Neri? You will recognize the characters immediately, but are they Scout and Dill or Truman Capote and Nelle Harper Lee?  Their adventures, as imagined by Greg Neri, who usually writes urban fiction, will amaze and delight you.  Did you know both writers, Truman and Harper were neighbors in Monroeville, AL; that they both loved to read Sherlock Holmes stories (in book form); and that both assisted each other in their adult writing.  Be prepared for surprises and clues to the plot, characters and setting of To Kill a Mockingbird.  You won’t be disappointed.

Oh, I forgot to mention that this book is written for middle grade  readers of ages nine to twelve, but you adults will get the allusions and gain knowledge you didn’t know you wanted to realize about these favorite authors.   Writers will “find the fun” in learning the “backstory!”

Happy Reading in all Genres for 2016!

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CHARACTERS YOU WANT TO KNOW: PART 2

Google reminded me that Langston Hughes said:  “My seeking has been to explain and illuminate the Negro condition in America and obliquely that of all human kind.” Google’s short biography on the anniversary of his birth reminds us that “[h]e hoped to inspire black writers to be objective about their race and embrace it, though felt the young writers of the Black Power movement of the 1960s were too angry.”  He was born on Feb. 1, 1902.   Not only an inspiration to African Americans, all writers and readers can reflect on his heart-felt comments.  My posts about “Characters You Want to Know: Parts 1 & 2” try to illuminate for all readers some memorable children in contemporary literature who will help us to understand humans who have foibles and troubles as we all do or “all human kind” as Hughes reminded us.

If you enjoyed the Characters You Want to Know in Part 1’s post,  here are more amazing characters which will add to your list of great books ones that teach us all empathy for children and any humans.

Another complex character I recommend is featured in What To Do About Alice?(with a long subtitle) by Barbara Kerley. (She is also the author of The Dinosaurs of Waterhouse Hawkins).  We adults may remember Alice Roosevelt Longworth anecdotes from when her father was president, but this book takes a fun approach with imaginative illustrations to help us understand the point of view of a young daughter living in the White House. Some reviewers on Amazon say that this book will help to introduce a “character” children will want to read more about.  I agree especially when I read that Alice was an unhappy adult so her early life leads to her complexity.

As well as reading, I love to knit and cook.  All my hobbies require good eyesight, so I was inspired to read about the life of Laura Bridgman who held on to only two of her senses after a childhood illness.  Laura could only taste some food and could use her remarkable sense of touch after losing her sight, hearing, and sense of smell.  She could knit and tat and she learned to read and write before Helen Keller at the Perkins Institute in Boston.  What an inspirational story Sally Hobart Alexander wrote in She Touched the World: Deaf-Blind Pioneer !  This ambiguous true “character” intrigued me because she was not Helen Keller, the delightful deaf/mute writer who was loved by all who met her.  Laura was an impatient, jealous, demanding child who helped Samuel Howe become famous in the late 1880’s. I think Sally Alexander, a blind author and teacher, aptly named her book which is written for older elementary children.

How can Mia Winchell compete in school and in this character-loving post? She is the synesthetic narrator of A Mango-Shaped Space by Wendy Moss.  Thank you to my niece Gretchen Schmelzer for recommending this fascinating book to me.  We writers can only wish we shared Mia’s “gift,” for she can see sounds, smell colors and taste shapes.  Wouldn’t those extraordinary powers be helpful to us writers?  Since this section is about MEATY characters, I guess Mia would be uncomfortable with my language. I cannot describe the taste of this book, nor the smell of this “Meaty” child.   Mia’s “oddness” is not easy for her family to understand, but Wendy Moss shares this character’s feelings with the reader.  You will be amazed when you read about this medical condition which is rare, misunderstood, and real!

Another title with an Exceptional Setting I chose is An Unlikely Friendship by Ann Rinaldi, which takes place in the White House during the 1860’s. Ann Rinaldi’s book about this unusual attachment is a historical novel about Mary Todd Lincoln and her dressmaker, Elizabeth (Lizzie) Keckley.  There have been many books written about these two women, but I maintain that Rinaldi gets it just right. You may have seen the movie “Lincoln,” in which Lizzie has a minor role. Read An Unlikely Friendship and you will see her character revealed in the U. S Capital during this tumultuous time.

What is the special language of The Fingertips of Duncan Dorfman?  The chapter titles are so intriguing!  Meg Wolitzer, the author of the adult novel The Interestings, writes for children in a language they will love. For Example, Chapter 1, “Lunch Meat and the Chinaman” and Chapter 3 “The So-Called Power is Revealed” will resonate with young readers.   Duncan Dorfman is not a typical elementary child nor are his new friends who are Scrabble geniuses at age twelve.  Her writing has been called “Juicy, perceptive and vividly written.”—NPR.org

What characters have you read recently which should be shared as “Characters You Want to Know”?  The theme of empathy is one that should resonate with many readers like youHappy Reading in 2015 as you find more characters you want to know and share with others!

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Characters You Want To Know: Part 1

“Never be without a good book” is a motto revealed to me, one I adopted many years ago.  Today, I plan to surprise you with book characters, originally written for children, but these are titles I love because the characters create empathy in us.

To put my suggestions in a framework, I will go back to CAMEL. We want to read books with complex characters, don’t we? Out of My Mind by Sharon M. Draper stars Melody, an eleven year old girl with a photographic memory.  Choosing Melody to narrate this book takes you into her mind for she cannot talk, walk, or write.  Wait a minute, you ask, how can she have a photographic memory when she is as described on the first page? How can she communicate with us, the readers, and with her family and friends?   She has cerebral palsy, is placed in special needs class, forever in her wheelchair.  Melody is a complex “Character You Want to Know!”  I will not tell you the plot of this human story, because you will want to see how it unfolds.

Although we sometimes read predictable novels while at the beach, still, for lasting impact, I think we want ambiguity in our reading choices.  Counting by 7’s by Holly Goldberg Sloan is a book I will re-read many times.  The books I have chosen for today’s post will help us to understand children who are different from the norm. Willow Chance, the character I want you to know, is a twelve year old genius who reveres the number 7.  She has many unusual quirks and interests so she is not a “popular” child in school. Her life takes a tragic turn and other adults reach out to care for her and try to understand this beautiful child.    I hope you will take Willow into your heart as I have.  Hear about Willow from a young reader who posted a review on Amazon:

“I guess I really enjoyed this book because I am a gifted child myself. I am 9 years old and have recently skipped 2 years of primary school. I loved this book; it really made me cry…. I agree with Willow that sometimes in school it is hard to fit in….’”

One Meaty character you will want to know is Auggie Pullman.  Wonder by R.J. Palacio, which stars this main character you will want to know, has appeared on many “Best Of” lists in the past few years.  I picked it up and recommended this realistic story to many teachers and parents.  Auggie’s face is never described because, as the narrator Auggie tells us, it is indescribable.  I cannot imagine his life in middle school as others taunt and react to a new boy who has his cranial-facial differences.  Auggie Pullman will surprise you with his resilience to the bullies and those who try to ignore him.

The Boy on the Porch by Sharon Creech, has an Exceptional Setting and it is about a boy who does not speak. Jacob is discovered by a childless couple on their porch one day. This setting will remind you of Anne of Green Gables; it is a small farm near a simple village.  Jacob communicates best with a cow and the dog in this quiet setting, but the couple learn much from him daily. On her blog Sharon Creech says, “It was a challenge to write about a boy who does not speak, but I hope the reader learns as much about the boy through what he does and how he affects others as we might learn if he could use words.”

Language and Literary Devices wrap up my choices for you of Characters You Want to Know: Part 1.  Out of the Dust by Karen Hesse is written entirely in free verse and won the Newbery Award in 1998.  It is a difficult novel for children, so I recommend that adults read this historical fiction gem first before giving it to a child.  Billie Joe is a fifteen year old who lives in the dust bowl of Oklahoma and yearns to play piano.  How can a poor farmer’s family during the Depression keep a large musical instrument such as a piano.  Hesse is remarkable when she describes the music in Billie Joe’s heart.  The lines are spare just as the land provided little, but you will love the language.

“June 1934

On the Road with Arley”

Here’s the way I figure it.

My place in the world is at the piano.”

Please read Out of the Dust yourself to get to know Billie Joe. I hope you enjoy meeting these characters who all exhibit gifts to share with readers who strive to understand human nature through empathetic literature.

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