Literary Resolutions

Sometime around the end of December, someone (Carrie Jones?) posted on Twitter about literary resolutions. At the same time donalynbooks and the Nerdy Book Club talked about Reading Gaps–areas or genres that are gaps in usual reading.

I realized that I always make literary resolutions: # of books I’m going to read during the year, # of adult or nonfiction, things like that. I always have piles of books to read and never enough time to read them. My little notebook is filled with lists of books I’ve heard of and am excited about.

Here’s evidence. These are the books on my “I want to read them right now” pile:


There are more piles behind them. And on the next shelf. And by the bed. And the last thing I need is another list/pile of books to read.

But I like the idea of literary resolutions. And I like thinking about my reading gaps (besides adult and nonfiction).

I’m already reading the Newbery winners in order from 1965 forward with jbknowles. That’s an easy literary resolution to continue and one I’m really enjoying. (We’re up to discussing Summer of the Swans, the 1971 winner.)

Carrie had made a resolution to borrow and read two books off a shelf in the library every week for this year. I liked that idea, but changed it to fit a reading gap as well. I will take out 5 random picture books from a new shelf in the library each week and keep track of what I read. So far, I’m enjoying this. I’ve taken out my 5 each week plus a few on display. And, because I’m thinking about picture books, I seem to notice them more in reviews and bookstores, so I’ve tried to find some of the ones I hear about.

My other reading gap is graphic novels. I’m going by librarian recommendations on this one since I feel like I know nothing about them. Last week I read and enjoyed Mercury by Hope Larson. I’ll read any by Raina Telgemeier. If you know graphic novels I should read, let me know!

Happy reading!

Current Books: Hokey Pokey by Jerry Spinelli
                         Moxie and the Art of Rule Breaking by Erin Dionne

The Power of a Book

Yesterday I walked home with my kindergarten nephew G after school. He was telling me about his day (both real and imagined, that’s how he is) then stopped and asked, “Do you know the song ‘Follow the Drinking Gourd’?”

I told him I did, and he proceeded to tell me about it. His class had read the picture book and they were singing it in school. Through his snack, he kept asking me questions: Which side were the good guys? Did brother fight brother? What were slaves? Were there slaves in Vermont? Why didn’t the slaves fight their masters?

pink and sayI had a copy of Pink and Say by Patricia Polacco, so we read it. It took us almost an hour. “Wait,” he would say. “I have a question.” He had lots. Why didn’t Pink’s mother follow the drinking gourd? Why was it against the law to learn to read? Why? Why? Why?

At the end of the book, I read the closing words that ask the reader to say Pink’s name before shutting the book and vow to remember him.

“Are we going to do that?” G asked.

“Sure,” I said.

He hopped off the couch and stood very straight. “Aren’t you going to do it with me?” he said. “You have to do it with me.”

I wasn’t sure what he wanted me to do. We needed to say Pink’s name and remember him. But I stood up next to him.

“Let’s do it together,” he said. He stood up as tall as a five-year-old can. We said “Pink” together, and with one arm in front and one arm in back, he took a deep bow.

He will remember Pink.

Five things on a Friday

1) This red-breasted nuthatch has been a regular visitor at my feeders.    IMG_0002

2) Son T was on CNN! That’s his red plaid shirt and voice measuring the turtle:

3) He was also in a very short video someone at work made to explain the stranding of sea turtles on the Cape:

4) I’m having fun knitting for my sister’s 6-month old and my brother’s upcoming new addition. Little projects are fun!

5) My first book for the year is Marcus Zusack’s The Underdog. This is the book that comes before Fighting Ruben Wolfe, and Getting the Girl, both of which I love. 

The first line is great (and the rest of it; I’m almost done.)
“We were watching the telly when we decided to rob the dentist.”

I recommend this whole trilogy.

Books Read 2012

Here are the books I read this year:

61) HIDE AND SEEK by Kate Messner
60) BOMB by Steve Sheinkin
59) CAPTURE THE FLAG by Kate Messner
58) THE SCORPIO RACES by Maggie Stiefvater
57) SOUNDER by William H. Armstrong
56) DRAMA by Raina Telgemeier
55) THE HIGH KING by Lloyd Alexander
54) GOBLIN SECRETS by William Alexander
53) FRIENDS WITH BOYS by Faith Erin Hicks
52) FOX FOREVER by Mary Pearson
51) A TANGLE OF KNOTS by Lisa Graff
50) NEVER FALL DOWN by Patricia McCormick
48) MOONBIRD by Philip Hoose
47) SON by Lois Lowry
46) THE DIVINERS by Libba Bray
45) UP A ROAD SLOWLY by Irene Hunt
44) I, JUAN DE PAREJA by Elizabeth Borton de Trevino
42) LIAR AND SPY by Rebecca Stead
41) SHADOW OF A BULL by Maia Wojciechowska
40) TRAIN DREAMS by Denis Johnson
39) KING OF ATTOLIA by Megan Whalen Turner
38) OUT OF SIGHT, OUT OF TIME by Ally Carter
37) JANE-EMILY by Patricia Clapp
36) HOUSE OF SILK by Anthony Horowitz
34) MONSTERS OF MEN by Patrick Ness
33) CODE NAME VERITY by Elizabeth Wein
32) BENEATH A METH MOON by Jackie Woodson
31) THE BIG YEAR by Mark Obmascik
30) WONDER by R. J. Polaccio
29) TRACING STARS by Erin Moulton
28) I HUNT KILLERS by Barry Lyga
27) WHEN LIFE GIVES YOU O.J. by Erica S. Perl
26) BLUEFISH by Pat Schmatz
25) HEART AND SOUL by Kadir Nelson
24) WATER BALLOON by Audrey Vernick
22) WONDERSTRUCK by Brian Selznik
20) TROUBLEMAKER by Andrew Clements
19) RUNNING DREAMS by Wendelin Van Draanan
18) HIDDEN by Helen Frost
17) THE CHESHIRE CHEESE CAT by Carmen Agra Deedy & Randall Wright
16) BLACK HEART by Holly Black
15) RED GLOVE by Holly Black
14) AMELIA LOST by Candace Fleming
13) WHITE CAT by Holly Black
12) SCARLET by A.C. Gaughen
11) ANYA’S GHOST by Vera Brosgol
10) THE MIGHTY MISS MALONE by Christopher Paul Curtis
9) CITIZEN SCIENTISTS by Loree Griffin Burns
8) THE BOOK OF BLOOD AND SHADOW by Robin Wasserman
7) WHERE THINGS COME BACK by John Corey Whaley
6) DEAD END IN NORVELT by Jack Gantos
5) THE ASK AND THE ANSWER by Patrick Ness
3) HOW TO SAVE A LIFE by Sara Zarr
2) EVERY YOU, EVERY ME by David Levithan
1) THREE RIVERS RISING by Jame Richards

By the numbers:

Total: 61 (plus several mss and a bunch of books that I’m in various places in.) My goal was 70, so I was pretty close.
Non-fiction: 9. I did better than I expected here.
Adult: 4. And worse here.
Graphic Novel: 3. This is a new category for me to look at. I’ll read anything Telgemeier writes. Who else should I read?
Newbery: 6. This year’s winner plus the winners from 1965-1969. It’s been fun to read the winners in order with Jo Knowles.

All in all, not a bad year. I’ve already stacked my January books!

Summer Reading: Tracing Stars

Tracing Stars

The summer she is ten, Indie Lee loses her pet golden lobster on the last day of school. Her older sister Bebe stops making the fish faces the two of them have always enjoyed in the past and instructs Indie on how to act and how to dress so she won’t embarrass her older sister. Indie must navigate her sister’s new rules for behavior, hide her friendship with Owen, a boy Bebe and her friends deem as weird, and wear the clothes Bebe lays out for her. It’s only at night, when she slips out to meet Owen and build a tree fort “boat”, that she can feel normal.

Tracing Stars by Erin E. Moulton captures perfectly what it’s like to be 10 or 11: the belief in magic, the literal thinking, the reasoning of what will make things better, and the ability to do something about a situation. The book shows the sweet relationship between sisters and what it’s like to be a younger sister in an older sister’s shadow. Indie worries about being friends with someone Bebe deems unworthy or doing something that embarrasses her sister, but eventually she has to learn to be true to herself. Spunky Indie can’t be held down long. This is a perfect middle-grade book to read in the summer!

Moments in Nature

Three great blue herons flew out of the fog by the churchyard this morning. They slowly circled the field and headed for the brook.

I’ve only seen them one at a time before (except in their nesting grounds) so was surprised to watch them fly together. Surprised and awed. It made me think of Annie Dillard and her statement about “one show to a customer”. These moments in nature are a gift.

A juvenile yellow-bellied sapsucker landed on the apple trees when I got home.

A pair of Carolina wrens trekked back and forth across my backyard yesterday.

A hummingbird flitted from the apple trees to the willows to the flowers, pausing to sit on on a wisp of willow.

I enjoy these moments. Each one gives me something to write about.

If you’re looking for something to write about, observe nature. Go outside and sit quietly for fifteen minutes or so. It’s amazing what you will see.

Picture Book! One Day I Went Rambling

          One Day I Went Rambling

by Kelly Bennett, illustrated by Terri Murphy, Bright Sky Press, 2012


Zane knows how to ramble. He knows how to turn everyday objects like hubcaps and paper bags into stars and shields in his imagination. At first his friends don’t understand, but soon more and more of them are rambling right along with Zane. This is a great picture book to share with your younger friends. They’ll love the rhythm of the words and the imaginative pictures, and they’ll beg you to go rambling with them! I bet you’ll find amazing treasures on your own ramble!


Kelly and Terri offered to stop by my blog to answer a couple questions.


Hi, Kelly! Hi Terri! I’m glad you could take time out of your rambles to stop by!


I love this book! I have always been one to turn found treasures into something else, so I know exactly how Zane feels. When I was very young a long time ago, our neighborhood gang created spaceships from fallen trees. My own children brought home objects that held some magic for them and never wanted to get rid of these finds.


I’m guessing the text came first as it does with many picture books, but, obviously, there’s some of each of you in this story. When you started working on this, did you each think of specific objects you or your children found while out rambling?


Kelly: Serendipity! That’s how I describe this whole amazing experience. I never met Terri, or even spoke with her until after our first book together, Dance, Y’all, Dance (Bright Sky Press, 2009) was a fait accompli. The whole experience of working with Lucy and Ellen at BSP was fabulous, so I knew I wanted to do more books with them; and, after seeing her imaginative, detailed, humor-filled illustrations for Dance, I wanted to work with Terri. So I sent them the manuscript. I had been working on some version of One Day I Went Rambling for at least 10 years—just ask my critique partners…. It’s been One Day I Went Roamin’(in the wild west); Exploring (the world); Wandering (rural setting); there’s even a “weather” version (indoors). And prior to finding its home at Bright Sky Press, other publishers had expressed interest in publishing Rambling, but it never panned out (2 went out of business). Can you say fate? BSP was definitely the right publisher for this story and Terri was first choice—and the absolutely right choice—of illustrator! She got it! Terri gets me, maybe precisely because we are kindred spirit—both ramblers.

Terri: A few years ago I started rambling with a camera, shooting extreme close-ups of patterns in nature…the veins in leaves, feathers, butterfly wings, ice crystals…without really knowing why other than I like discovery. In sketching out One Day I Went Rambling, I realized I was a lot like Zane finding extraordinary things….and got the idea to incorporate these textures into the art via photoshop.  Sometimes they are bold as in the word “Rambling” on the cover, and sometimes more subtle. Like Zane’s pet chameleon, it’s another hide-and-seek game built into the book!


I love the fancy print used for the found items. How did you come up with this idea?


Kelly: Totally Terri (with maybe a sprinkling of Ellen Cregan and Lucy Chambers). My only input, design-wise, was to say WOW! and WONDERFUL!


Terri: The main character Zane boldly declares what his re-imagined object is as soon as he finds it. I sought to reward his spontaneity with words of color and size and fanciful flight, and let it stand apart from the rest of the text.  It then became a design element I had to work with.


I’m always fascinated by how authors and illustrators work together without necessarily meeting. Did you have a lot of illustrator notes in the manuscript, Kelly? For example, did you specify that it was a brown paper bag used for the warrior’s shield or did Terri figure that out? Did the text need to be revised after seeing the illustrations? How do you work together?


Kelly: So funny! Aside from a brief overview note—what I think of as catalogue copy—introducing the story, and an ending art note about Zane and his friend’s final creation (since it is not mentioned in the text), the warrior’s shield scene you singled out, Cindy, is the only scene for which I made illustration notes on the Rambling manuscript. Because people are always curious about it, I’ll share that portion of the manuscript:


 I went right on rambling

and found a smooth, brown vest.     [a grocery sack]

A mighty warrior’s shield.

“Hey that’s cool!” called Jess.

I’m proud and pleased that I didn’t have to explain or describe anything else. Terri has a gift for being able to interpret and translate words into pictures and then fly with it! (The downside of this is that I didn’t have any excuse to visit Terri and “discuss” the story with her.)


For non-illustrator picture book authors, this to-make-or-not-to-make art notes dilemma is huge! Definitely, absolutely, no doubt about it, the hardest part about submitting a picture book manuscript is not being able to “explain” our illustration vision. The urge to submit copious illustration notes is strong. But, it is also a huge no-no. Not only are illustration notes distracting, and will pull a reader out of your story and make it feel choppy and longer, they also raise a “red flag” that a writer hasn’t done his/her job properly. (And the need for them ought to prompt writers to ask: Am I trying to tell the illustrator how to do his/her job?) After the premise and basic story for One Day I Went Rambling was set, I spent hours, days, months, years choosing the best words to conjure the mind-images I envisioned and convey them: first for my agent, then my editor, and then for the illustrator. But, playing with words and sounds, finding just the right ones to describe what we want readers to see and feel and taste and touch, that’s what writers do. It’s our job and our joy.


Terri: The wonderful thing about working with Kelly is she fashions her stories to suggest scenes without insisting on them.  Notice how she never says where any action is taking place in this book but trusts the illustrator to know where the story should go.


What are each of you working on next?


Kelly: Watch out! Vampire Baby, a picture book, published by Candlewick Press, is coming in 2013!


Terri: I’m finishing up a huge project for the Illinois Library Association summer reading program in 2013, then hope to take some time this summer to work on a picture book dummy for a story I wrote, and to find new and inventive ways to ramble!


Kelly and Terri, thanks so much for visiting. I love what I’ve learned from your answers! Enjoy your rambles!


Anyone who comments on this post will be entered to win prizes from Kelly and Terri’s blog tour that include an original illustration from the book, autographed copies of the book, and more. See more information here:

Kelly and Terri and One Day I Went Rambling are featured on other blogs noted here:


To purchase the book, look here or visit your local bookstore:


And links to Kelly’s and Terri’s own blogs are here:

Books! Bluefish and When You Reach Me


       Bluefish by Pat Schmatz, Candlewick, 2011

I had no idea what to expect when I opened the cover of this book. Bluefish? What is a bluefish? I might not have picked it up at all except it’s on the DCF list for next year and it was in the half of the list I was talking about at the DCF booktalk at the Norwich Library.

I’m so glad I read it! I loved the characters and how their lives intertwined. I loved the realistic look at school and bullying and friendship. And I loved the literary references to other books readers would love.

Eighth grader Travis has been living with his grandfather since his parents died when he was 3. They’ve just moved from a house in the country to a cramped place in town. Travis misses his faithful old hound who disappeared right before they moved, his grandfather drinks too much, and he’s starting a new school.

This year is different. His grandfather has stopped drinking and is paying attention to Travis’s schoolwork. Travis meets Velveeta–a scarf-wearing movie-watching 8th grade girl with secrets, Bradley Whistler–a nerdy picked-on student, and Mr. McQueen–a teacher who doesn’t accept failure as an option. Secrets come out and life changes for each of these characters. Excellent, excellent book!


 When You Reach Me

When You Reach Me by Rebecca Stead, Wendy Lamb Books, 2009

 This isn’t really an “old” book to fit my recommending one new and one old, but the way it uses another book is similar, so I thought I’d put these two together.

Sixth graders Miranda and Sal live in New York City and know their way around and how to stay safe. But, there are the notes she finds in her pocket—notes that tell her things no one should be able to know—and then Sal is punched by a stranger and stops talking to Miranda. As Miranda helps her mother study to be on the $20,000 Pyramid show, she tries to work out who is leaving the notes, how this person knows the future, and what is going on with Sal. And everything is tied to another book in a great way.

Don’t miss this book—or the other book mentioned in it!

Books! See You at Harry’s/Homecoming


  See You at Harry's Cover Image

See You at Harry’s by Jo Knowles (Candlewick, 2012) is so full of heart that it will touch your heart and forever change it. The characters are so real you’ll feel sure you’ll run into them the next time you’re out. And, you’ll know them so well, you’ll be sure they know you too.

Fern’s family runs a restaurant that keeps them busy. Her older sister and parents spend most of their time working or caring for her baby brother. Fern’s older brother is the one she’s closest to, but he’s dealing with being bullied and is sensitive to her witnessing that. Fern feels almost invisible in this big family. And then a tragedy happens, and the family must learn all over again how to be a family and what each of them means to the others. These characters will live in your heart long after you read the last page.

Read an amazing interview with Jo on Libba Bray’s blog and enter to win a copy of See You at Harry’s!

Interview with Jo Knowles

  Book: Dicey's Song

Another literary family I love is Dicey’s family in Homecoming by Cynthia Voigt (Harper Collins, 1981). This is a family I have followed through several volumes, including books that focus on minor characters that Dicey meets in her life. I always love the glimpse of Dicey and her brothers and sister in the books about the other characters. It feels like a secret the author and I share when I recognize them.

Dicey and her two younger brothers and younger sister spend a day waiting in the car in a mall parking lot for their mother. When Dicey realizes her mother is not going to return, she’s afraid the family will be split up in the foster care system. She decides to take her family to relatives they’ve never met. The book follows their journey—on foot—from Connecticut to Maryland. This is another family I feel I could meet on the street and know. I’m sure Dicey and Fern and I would be great friends.


Who are your favorite families in books?