Ten writers for children. All with something to say.


An Awesome Book I Read This Summer

Our topic this round is an awesome book that I read this summer. This wasn't easy, because I was lucky enough to go to ALA and pick up a bunch of ARCs of forthcoming YA novels. Some that I loved: Reality Boy by A.S. King, Forgive Me, Leonard Peacock by Matthew Quick, This Song Will Save Your Life by Leila Sales, and Tumble & Fall by Alexandra Coutts. But if I had to choose one that totally blew me away? This one.
I know, I know, you're thinking, "That looks rather dull." Here's the thing. I heard a rumor about a few copies of this pre-ARC being available at ALA, and I hunted it down. I asked the lady manning the Dutton booth and she dug one out for me. Then she took the rest, a stack of about ten, and set them out. Now I saw people completely ignore this rather plain-looking stack in favor of colorful, shiny, conventionally bound ARCs.
People? Big mistake. Huge. Because I think Grasshopper Jungle by Andrew Smith will be the most talked about YA novel of 2014. I dragged that six pound stack of paper on the plane with me and devoured it by the time I landed in Boise.
Here's what the summary on Goodreads has to say:

In this truly shocking, grotesquely original coming-of-age, end-of-the-world novel, sixteen-year-old Austin Szerba interweaves the legacy of his family’s history in Poland and immigration to the United States while narrating the story of how he and his best friend brought about the end of humanity and the rise of an army of unstoppable, human-sized (six-foot-tall) praying mantises in small-town Iowa.
To make matters worse, Austin's hormones are totally oblivious; they don't care that the world is in utter chaos: Austin is in love with his girlfriend, Shann, but remains confused about his sexual orientation, stewing in a self-professed constant state of maximum horniness, directed at both Robby and Shann. Ultimately, it's up to Austin to save the world and propagate the species in this sci-fright journey of survival, sex, and the complex realities of the human condition

And here is what the shiny ARC looks like:

 Awesome, yeah? I loved this book.


From Paris to Oz: An Extraordinary Summer

I have found through experience, that if you follow your muse and work on the things you love, sometimes life lifts you up and carries you off to new lands and chance encounters never even dreamed of. That is what happened to me this summer. It all began when my book, When Stravinsky Met Nijinsky, became the inspiration for an author residency at the American School of Paris last May.  I met my daughter, Ruby, in Paris and her expertise in dance and choreography enriched the residency with movement while I led creative writing and book-making activities. What a team!

Ruby in Paris
I was able to not only visit the Theatre Des Champs Elysees where the legendary riot broke out during the premier of The Rite of Spring, (the subject of When Stravinsky Met Nijinsky), but I was able, through many amazing and magical circumstances to get a seat and actually view the centennial performance of Le sacre du printemps. 

In front of the Theatre Des Champs Elysees.
Two years ago, I began a story set in Venice. When I began the story, I did not dream of visiting Venice. I researched photographs and read books on the city and used my imagination. Then with the McKnight Fellowship, I decided to visit the city of my story...
View from the Accademia bridge
I spent ten days there walking, floating, photographing and soaking in all of the light, water, weather, sounds, smells and tastes that I could.
Watery streets and gondolas
I met two friends from my past there and together we saw two operas at La Fenice, visited many museums and explored the islands in the Lagoon.

I found the most fantastic bookstore in Venice- books everywhere!
Ten days was not enough. I think I need to move to Venice for a year at least! 

Before returning to Minnesota, I stayed in London for a few days. I filled myself with art by visiting two museums a day, attending a performance of The Tempest at the Globe Theatre, and even visited Circus Space, an amazing circus school in the heart of London.

My favorite publisher and bookstore- Persephone Books!
Circus Space
 Upon returning to Minneapolis, I did not even have time to download my travel photos before returning to painting sets at Circus Juventas. I had Witch's castles to paint, and Emerald City towers, trees, gateways, magical caravans, and poppies too. There were volunteers to help me, but basically I painted Oz for two months, taking breaks to watch the rehearsals of these amazing young performers.

painting the Wicked Witch's castle
Rehearsal and view of Oz partially covering the Witch's castle, and gateway.
When the rehearsals turned into performances, there was no hint of a circus school or arena, instead it was the magical land of Oz with tornadoes and poppy fields, emerald cities and gorgeous performances. I ushered nearly every show just so I could see it from every angle. What those kids create with all of their hard work is truly magical.

Poppy Queen with Emerald City in background. (Dan Norman- photographer)
Triangle trapeze with a house- tornado. (Joey McEachron- photographer)
4 man high in Teeterboard- Emerald City (Dan Norman-photographer)
Cooper, my son as the Tin Man, on Cyr Wheel (Joey McEachron, photographer)
And now it is fall-- or nearly there. My son has started his final year of high school and will soon begin classes at Circus Juventas again. My daughter is returning to Europe, via Iceland. My husband continues writing his novels. And I am returning to new stories, but that is another story. 


Another Summer Gone Too Soon

Around these parts, living on Whidbey Island, summer means sailing.  This year we spent plenty of time on the water—playing on beaches and in driftwood forts, catching Dungeness crab, and even discovering a few new anchoring spots (after all these years!)—but we also took some other road trips.  The best of these involved a visit to Glacier National Park where we were blessed with glorious weather, gorgeous scenery, and plenty of wildlife sightings.  Mountain sheep, goats, marmots, a coyote—every turn in the road seemed to bring a new critter to photograph and marvel at. 

The weather was in the 90s on our journey so there were plenty of stops to swim in rivers, lakes, and swimming pools, but the highlight of the trip (if you ask our son) was when we were walking our dog Skipper along Canyon Creek in NE Washington (on our way to Montana).  Ben and I had been talking about the possibility of encountering bears, and he had just finished reading a What To Do If You Encounter a Bear brochure we had picked up at a tourist information kiosk.  As we walked along the trail and Ben started making nonsense noises (“The brochure said to make noise when you’re in the woods, Dad”) we heard a branch snap in the woods and Ben said, “It’s probably a bear!”  “It’s probably not,” I replied.  “I’m going to check it out,” said Ben, stepping a few yards off the trail, into the woods.  A moment later he turned back to me, eyes wide, and said, “I just saw a bear!”  “No, you didn’t,” I said, figuring he was just trying to get a rise out of Daddy.  So I stepped off the trail and looked in the direction he indicated.  I saw something black amongst the tree trunks maybe twenty yards away.  Probably some abandoned piece of mining equipment, I reckoned (such junk/artifacts littered the area).  Then the black “thing” turned its head, and I said, “THAT’S A BEAR!”  We backtracked to our vehicle, hearts racing and smiles plastered on our faces….

Momma had to work, so she was not with us on this particular trip.  Although she was sad to miss all the Glacier sights, she was just fine with missing our bear encounter!

Summer vacation ended last week, but the memories will last a lifetime.  And now it’s time to return to writing….