Monday, May 14, 2018

THE PENDERWICKS AT LAST -- the final installment of the Penderwicks series!

Image result for the penderwicks at last

THE PENDERWICKS AT LAST by Jeanne Birdsall, (May 15, 2018, Alfred A. Knopf, 294 pages,for ages 8 to 12 )

I loved every minute of this delightful novel for middle grade readers. If you're looking for gentle (but not prissy), funny (but not goofy) family stories, and especially if you devoured the first four books from Jeanne Birdsall, you'll adore this lovely middle grade novel. Perhaps even more so because it's the last of the five-book series.  It's ostensibly about Rosalind's upcoming wedding -- a homemade event that the Penderwicks decide to hold at Arundel, where it all began. Rather fitting, I'd say.. There's also an important subplot about making new friends when you're a shy tween.

This book reminded me of my own childhood. And of spring melting into summer.. The child you first met as a toddler in THE PENDERWICKS IN SPRING, Lydia or Lids, as her older sisters call her, is now a tween.

And wow! All the girls from the first books are actually... grown up.  Or growing up. Even Batty, who's now in high school. The return to Arundel and the presence of Jeffrey and even Mrs. Tifton (the villain of the first book) made me smile. Best of all, Rosalind's getting married! But we see it all from Lydia's point of view.

A well-developed plot, realistic characters who feel like people you know, and cameos from all your favorite characters, like Hitch, the three-legged dog, add to the charm. Picking up this book each time (I can no longer read a book in one sitting, unfortunately -- see previous post) was like joining a fun gathering of loved ones. Every day,  I eagerly looked forward to my precious afternoon reading time.

Jeanne Birdsall's website

Saturday, May 12, 2018

Part 2 of What Happened to Me


There's a very good reason I never responded to those comments (thank you all for your good wishes) from my last post  about what happened to me in the six months prior to that.  I posted that on January 22, 2018. And I remember feeling pretty good then.

Within days I was back in the hospital with a shunt infection. Since then I've been through another five months of illness and recuperation, including a month in the hospital (three different operations and I now have shunt #4) and a few months in rehab.  I don't remember most of it. Then I finally came home and had about six weeks with home health care -- physical and speech therapists who came to our house at our convenience to work with me. They all just discharged me this week and all told me I made amazing progress. A few even admitted they weren't sure I was ever going to come back to what I had been.

I'm thankful to be back. To be able to talk. To know what year it is, what day it is. And besides everything you would expect me to be grateful for, I'm thankful I can still type. And I can still read. But I won't be posting reviews very often because I find reading (and writing) for more than ten to fifteen minutes at a time gives me nasty headaches. And anyone with my history needs to pay attention to headaches.

But I read some gorgeous children's books this spring as I've recuperated, so I'll be telling you about them in my next few posts. 

Happy Mother's Day to all the mothers reading this post!

Monday, January 22, 2018

Where I've been and what happened to me

"I would really rather feel bad in Maine than feel good anywhere else."  
                                  E. B. White

Where I've been and what happened to me:

I'm going off topic here. Anyone who knows me or has followed this blog for a while knows that I survived a ruptured brain aneurysm in 2005. I always felt lucky, not just because I survived something most people don't but because it was the only aneurysm in my brain.

Until recently.

On September 29, 2017, my husband and I were enjoying the first full day of another vacation in Maine (we wanted to see the fall foliage) and at dinner I said to him, "I think you better take me to the hospital". Not that I have any memory of this. 

Nor do I remember that next eight weeks.

Doctors at Maine Medical Center found two more aneurysms on the basilar artery (the same artery as my 2005 rupture) and one had ruptured. They coiled it and later also installed a shunt, to drain the excess blood in my brain. 

It was a long recuperation (in fact, I'm still recuperating, even though I'm home now). After a month in the hospital, I went to a rehab center in Maine. And after six weeks there, they allowed us to come home to Pennsylvania and transfer to a different rehab center. This second rehab center is the only part I remember. 

I don't know if those lost memories will ever come back to me, but in a way I'm not sorry. Who wants to remember being in pain, having your head cut open, and being hooked up to multiple machines?

When I look at these photos my husband took I feel like I'm looking at a stranger

I know that I'm extremely lucky -- to have survived a rupture not once but twice in twelve years. I also had wonderful nurses and doctors and a supportive husband who visited me every day (my kids came when they could).

So my purpose today is to not only raise awareness of brain aneurysms but to let you know the blog is going to change. I will no longer be reviewing children's books on a regular basis. I'll still talk about an occasional superior book (how could I resist?) but I also want to share photos and thoughts on other topics. So it'll be "my brain on" other topics, not just books.

Bear with me as the blog reinvents itself.

And for more information on aneurysms, visit the Brain Aneurysm Foundation's website.

Monday, September 18, 2017

THE STARS BENEATH OUR FEET by David Barclay Moore for Diversity Monday

Welcome to another Diversity Monday!

The Stars Beneath Our Feet by David Barclay Moore (September 19, 2017, Knopf/Penguin Random House, 304 pages, ages 10 and up)

Synopsis (from the publisher)It’s Christmas Eve in Harlem, but twelve-year-old Lolly Rachpaul and his mom aren’t celebrating. They’re still reeling from his older brother’s death in a gang-related shooting just a few months earlier. Then Lolly’s mother’s girlfriend brings him a gift that will change everything: two enormous bags filled with Legos. Lolly’s always loved Legos, and he prides himself on following the kit instructions exactly. Now, faced with a pile of building blocks and no instructions, Lolly must find his own way forward.

His path isn’t clear—and the pressure to join a “crew,” as his brother did, is always there. When Lolly and his friend are beaten up and robbed, joining a crew almost seems like the safe choice. But building a fantastical Lego city at the community center provides Lolly with an escape—and an unexpected bridge back to the world.

Why I recommend it: The title drew me in and then the voice captivated me and enveloped me as if Lolly were right there in the room, whispering his story into my ear. The author presents an authentic portrait of a boy growing up in the projects, with all the pressures of life in Harlem. A gripping story and a beautiful, important book that deserves to win awards.

Oh, and then there are the Legos! My older son still loves Legos and he's not even a kid anymore, so I could relate to Lolly's passion for building.

Favorite lines:  "I waded my hands through all the Legos some more. There were so many. They made a sound like money, like quarters tumbling together."  (from p. 31)

Bonus: Writers, study this one for character growth. The realistic way Lolly changes how he sees the world makes him feel like an actual person, not a character in a book. This is also a moving portrayal of a boy coming to terms with grief.

David Barclay Moore's website

Follow him on Twitter

Monday, August 28, 2017

ONE SHADOW ON THE WALL by Leah Henderson

Welcome to another Diversity Monday.

One Shadow on the Wall by Leah Henderson (June 2017, Atheneum Books for Young Readers, 438 pages, for ages 8 to 12)

Synopsis (from the publisher): Eleven-year-old Mor was used to hearing his father’s voice, even if no one else could since his father’s death. It was comforting. It was also a reminder that Mor had made a promise to his father before he passed: keep your sisters safe. Keep the family together. But almost as soon as they are orphaned, that promise seems impossible to keep. With an aunt from the big city ready to separate him and his sisters as soon as she arrives, and a gang of boys from a nearby village wanting everything he has—including his spirit—Mor is tested in ways he never imagined. With only the hot summer months to prove himself, Mor must face a choice. Does he listen to his father and keep his heart true, but risk breaking his promise through failure? Or is it easier to just join the Danka Boys, whom in all their maliciousness are at least loyal to their own?

Why I recommend it: I had the honor of meeting and getting to know Leah when I attended the first Novels in Verse workshop at Highlights in May 2016. Note, though, that this is not a novel in verse. This book was already in the works before I met her. What I remember most about Leah from that magical week is her vibrant, infectious laughter. She's also a world traveler, and her travels inspire her stories.

Leah Henderson, from her website

But even if I didn't know Leah, I'd still highly recommend this heartwarming and beautifully-crafted coming of age tale. Yes, it sounds long for MG, but Mor's story will soak into you like the hot Senegalese sun and you'll finish reading it before you want to let go. Mor and the other characters are fully fleshed out, the plot abounds with twists and turns, and the language is exquisite. One Shadow on the Wall is a stunning debut and I can't wait to see what Leah Henderson writes next.

Favorite lines: "But the thought would not rest, like an overturned beetle trying to right itself. It kicked and kicked at Mor's brain." (from p. 95)

Bonus:  Besides being the kind of novel that deserves to win awards, this book is an excellent choice for libraries and classrooms. I learned a great deal about the culture, language, and food of Senegal. But more importantly, I got to know and understand one peace-loving Muslim family, who vow to stay together, no matter what.

Learn more about Leah Henderson on her website

Follow Leah on Twitter

Monday, July 10, 2017

CLAYTON BYRD GOES UNDERGROUND by Rita Williams-Garcia for MMGM and Diversity Monday

No, I didn't fall off the face of the Earth, but I have been traveling a lot and also occasionally dealing with migraines. I thought these new glasses would help but instead I suspect they're making it worse. Hope to get back to regular blogging again by September.

Now onto today's Diversity Monday and MMGM review:

Clayton Byrd Goes Underground by Rita Williams-Garcia (May 2017, Amistad/HarperCollins, 176 pages, for ages 8 to 12)

Synopsis (from Indiebound): Clayton feels most alive when he's with his grandfather, Cool Papa Byrd, and the band of Bluesmen--he can't wait to join them, just as soon as he has a blues song of his own. But then the unthinkable happens. Cool Papa Byrd dies, and Clayton's mother forbids Clayton from playing the blues. And Clayton knows that's no way to live.

Armed with his grandfather's brown porkpie hat and his harmonica, he runs away from home in search of the Bluesmen, hoping he can join them on the road. But on the journey that takes him through the New York City subways and to Washington Square Park, Clayton learns some things that surprise him.

Why I recommend it: Knowing up front that Cool Papa is going to die doesn't make it any less heartwrenching, but there are still many uplifting moments in this touching little gem of a novel. Short chapters and spare lyrical language make it a smooth and easy read. Clayton is a likable character and you'll find yourself pulled in as he goes underground, in both senses of the word.

Rita Williams-Garcia is the talented author of One Crazy Summer and other books.

Favorite lines: "Clayton stretched and opened his eyelids just as the violet of night turned pale blue and before white-yellow sun streams ran the pale blues out of the room." (from p.17 of the arc)


Monday, June 12, 2017

On Returning to the Highlights Foundation -- no longer a rookie, but still learning

Some of you may remember my blog post from last year about my first Workshop at The Highlights Foundation. I was such a rookie I didn't know how to find my cabin and I especially didn't know how to juggle my minor characters or add humor to a serious novel. I learned so much and came away impressed and vowing to return as soon as possible.

That blog post received thousands of page views, more than any other blog post in my seven years of blogging, except, oddly enough, my Yorkshire post. In the latter case, I suspect kids writing book reports on The Shakespeare Stealer found it, shall we say, helpful. But in the former case, my Highlights blog post must have touched a nerve. It seems every children's writer longs to attend a Highlights Foundation Workshop (or Unworkshop). And it undoubtedly helped that Highlights posted a link to my post on their facebook page. Thank you, Highlights!

The Barn at the Highlights Foundation -- where magic happens!

This month, I was thrilled to again attend a workshop and again, it was Novels in Verse (an Advanced version), with returning faculty members Kathryn Erskine and Alma Fullerton, plus returning guest author Padma Venkatraman. They're all delightful human beings and fabulous writers who go the extra mile to coach and encourage their students. They told me to dig deeper and add more emotion so that was what I worked on, along with combining two characters into one to streamline the story a bit.

I learned so much from them and was so inspired that my novel soared to new heights in only four days. What impresses me the most about Kathy and Alma is although they divide up the twelve attendees and each mentor six of us, both of them read all twelve novels! I don't know how they do it.

Hello, Cabin 9, my old friend! New name holders and easy-to-see Cabin numbers this year.

I also don't know how I accomplished so much. There must be a magical time warp in those cabins that allows writers to achieve more in a few short days than we ever could at home. Whatever it is, I hope they keep it up!

My smartest move this year was adding an Unworkshop Day after the Workshop was officially over on Thursday (oh, how I wish I'd added two!). I got a chance to go on the tour of the Highlights offices in Honesdale, ate another delicious dinner, and then hunkered down in my cabin and flew through my revisions in close to four hours of hard work that evening. It was almost a mystical experience, sitting in Cabin 9 late at night, typing away on my laptop and seeing my characters grow stronger with every tweak.

As I write this, I've been home only a few days and already I want to go back. Not just for the writing inspiration and camaraderie, but for the fresh and delicious food:


Dessert (baked apples - yum!)

And for the fun of the Word Garden. I was thrilled when the rain stopped and I could play in it. Moving word rocks around is therapeutic and led to more than one new line for my novel.

Here's a tiny hint of what my novel in verse is all about:

Ready to sign up yet?