Monthly Archives: June 2009

Confetti Girl

confettiApolonia “Lina” Flores is crazy about socks and science and sports. She’s got a great best friend, and a cute almost-first-boyfriend. Those are the good things. Mixed right up with the good are the things that make her life hard. Her mom died suddenly a year ago, and her English teacher dad is spending all of his time reading books, rather than being there the way Lina wants him to be. Confetti Girl, by Diana López, follows Lina as she navigates all of these challenges to discover how to adapt to change, and how to celebrate life no matter how messy it might sometimes be.

Lopez has created a sympathetic and realistic character in Lina. Her interests and her focus on friendship and her first crush make her come through as an ordinary and very believable kid. While the death of her mother is a significant background element to the story, it does not make the book heavy. Confetti Girl is not simply a book about a girl coping with the death of a parent. This is one strong element of the story, but there is a lot of humor here too, in the relationship between Lina and her best friend Vanessa, and especially in the scenes involving Vanessa’s mother, Ms Cantu, who is obsessed with making cascarones as a way of handling her recent divorce. (Cascarones are hollow chicken eggs, filled with confetti, decorated in festive colours, meant to be broken over people’s heads during parties and holidays). In fact, this book feels like a glimpse inside the house of a family that might live just down the street from you. You see everything – the good stuff and the damaged parts, the love and the frustration. It’s full of warmth and heart. The metaphor of the confetti, and the cascarones, fits the exuberance and confusion of Lina’s life, suggesting that to celebrate life means accepting that sometimes we can’t control everything, that everything is fragile, and from time to time things will get messy but sometimes that’s what makes the journey richer.

Confetti Girl by Diana López is published by Little Brown.

Poetry Friday: Daddy Longlegs

We have quite a lot of spiders in our house, not Daddy Longlegs, but a bunch of large-ish spiders who live way up in the corners of our high-ceilings. I’m not a stickler about sweeping their webs down. I don’t mind sharing our space with them, and after reading Ted Kooser’s poem, I mind even less.

Daddy Longlegs – by Ted Kooser

Here, on fine long legs springy as steel,
a life rides, sealed in a small brown pill
that skims along over the basement floor
wrapped up in a simple obsession.
Eight legs reach out like the master ribs
of a web in which some thought is caught
dead center in its own small world,
a thought so far from the touch of things
that we can only guess at it. If mine,
it would be the secret dream
of walking alone across the floor of my life
with an easy grace, and with love enough
to live on at the center of myself.

(from The Poetry Foundation)

Class of 2k9 Interview: Fran Cannon Slayton

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I’m happy to introduce Fran Cannon Slayton, author of When the Whistle Blows, and Class of 2k9 member. Her novel tells the story of Jimmy Cannon, a teenage boy growing up in Rowelsburg, West Virginia in the 1940s. His whole town depends on the railroad, and his dad is the foreman. Jimmy dreams of a life working on the railroad too, but times are changing, and things don’t turn out as he expects. Fran’s book has been getting lots of attention, and she’s here for an interview today. Read on to learn lots more about her wonderful book, what she finds inspiring, and some excellent writing advice too. Welcome Fran! Happy launch day!

Tell us more about how you blended fact, hints of family history and fiction in this book. What was this process like?

My father’s stories had been cooking inside me for a very long time – since my childhood. They were true stories, but because I had not been there – because I had not participated in them – I had to imagine them. The moment you begin imagining, fact starts merging with fiction and wonderful things can happen! Moreover, I had first hand knowledge of the town because of my many, many trips there over the course of my lifetime – so my imagining of the facts was relatively easy to ground in a concrete reality that I had actually experienced.

Many of the individual chapters are based on nuggets of actual fact – things that my dad had either experienced or had heard about when he was growing up. My job was not only to convey those stories in an engaging way, but also to create an overarching story that tied them all together. It was this overarching story that really gave me the opportunity to interweave things that hadn’t actually been a part of the real stories – things like The Society.

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I think there’s a real romance about trains, and Jimmy obviously feels this too when he’s growing up. What do you think? What fascinates you about trains?

There is definitely a romance about trains! I trained up and back to BEA this year and felt it again. There is something about seeing the countryside or cityscape move by while dining on a real tablecloth with real cloth napkins that is a throwback to another era – when plastic and cell phones didn’t exist, when people took their time getting from one place to another.

I recently had the wonderful experience of getting to ride in the cab of a real working steam engine. Truly, the entire cab was a work of art. Wood ceilings; deep green and black paint; sturdy iron fixtures; a massive, glowing firebox. It was crafted – not assembled. And the fireman, brakeman and engineer were engaged in work that was as much art as it was knowledge and brawn. There were no computers to rely on to tell you what to do – you had to know. Your life depended on it.

Fran on steam train 765

Your novel really tempts the reader to imagine Jimmy in the future. Where did you see him going next?

If I ever meet you in person I’ll tell you my dad’s chosen path after the diesels came. But I’d like to leave it to the reader’s imagination as to what the fictional Jimmy decides to do.

What appealed to you about structuring the book the way you did, with every chapter taking place on All Hallows’ Eve over a period of 6 years?

As a child, my father told me many stories about his boyhood growing up in Rowlesburg, West Virginia in the 1940s. After I wrote the first chapter of When the Whistle Blows I happened to pick up Rita Dove’s Pulitzer Prize winning Thomas and Beulah, which is a group of poems loosely based on the lives of her grandparents. The poems each reflect individual stories, but the grouping of the poems together also create an overarching story that is greater than the sum of its parts.

After reading just a portion of Dove’s book something clicked inside me. I knew I wanted to do something similar using short stories instead of poems.

While my editor and I talked about the possibility of structuring When the Whistle Blows in a more “regular” format, with days following each other consecutively, I never felt that form was right for this story. Separating the stories by a year allowed me to show more convincingly events that take a long period of time to happen – time for a son to grow in understanding, for a father’s health to decline, for a town to die. Continue reading

Elf Envy: Random Roundup of Exhaustedness

Gosh folks, I really wish I had just a tiny bit of brain that was functioning right now, because I’ve been reading books. Honest. Quite a few books, in fact. I just can’t wrap my head around writing a review right now. Too tired. Instead I present cool things that other people are writing / noticing / thinking about:

I really enjoyed 7 Imp’s interview with Edwin Fotheringham, in part because I like to say the name “Edwin Fotheringham,” because it makes me feel all posh and British-y, but also because I now want to get my hands on a copy of Mermaid Queen.

Over at Cynsations, Cynthia features Sara Zarr in one of her Craft, Career and Cheer posts. Remember, Sara is also the featured author this month at readergirlz.

Obviously Emily loves Stuart’s Cape as much as I do.

I want an ARC of Scott Westerfeld’s Leviathan. Jennifer at Reading Rants made me want it even more.

And finally, for a little animal cuteness, check out Susan Beth Pfeffer’s kitten, Scooter, scooting all over her kitchen. (Good to know that when she’s not writing super-intense novels about worldwide catastrophes she’s making videos of that adorable little critter. Way to find some balance Susan!)

That’s all for now. I promise something good tomorrow.

readergirlz June Events

rgz ad June 2009

This month, the theme at readergirlz is “Truth,” and the featured title is one of the most memorable teen books I’ve discovered since I started this blog: Sweethearts by Sara Zarr. There’s lots happening this month to celebrate Sara’s wonderful book.

1) Join in for the LIVE chat on June 17th (6pm PST, 9pm EST) at the readergirlz blog.

2) Share your thoughts at some of the great discussions going on all month long, at the blog.

3) You must read at least one of the particularly amazing postergirl-recommended reads this month. A stunning list (if I do say so myself).

4) One of the themes Sara explores in her book is the traumatic effects of bullying on kids and teens. So check out the organization featured in this month’s Community Service spotlight, bullybust.org. Take the Stand Up pledge.

5) Read this month’s roundtable discussion.

6) Read my review of Sweethearts and my interview with Sara. Isn’t she great?

An added bonus this month is a second LIVE chat to celebrate readergirlz diva Melissa Walker’s newly released title, Lovestruck Summer.

The Lovestruck Summer chat will happen on Tuesday, June 9th at 6pm (PST) at the readergirlz blog.

The Luxe (one year later) and Rumors

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For some reason, I wrote the following review of Anna Godbersen’s The Luxe last year and I never posted it. It has been sitting in my “drafts” folder since then. I just finished listening to the sequel, Rumors, so I figured I had to either post it, or delete it. I chose post.

Geeky confession time. I have a little reading journal where I write down random words, phrases and thoughts I have about whatever I happen to be reading. It makes me think more about the books. It helps with reviews. Perhaps I should say, it helps with some reviews. Some reviews cannot be helped. I’ve been resisting writing about The Luxe because I simply wasn’t sure what I wanted to say about it. However, at the same time, I felt I should write about it fast, before I had absolutely nothing to say about it. So I thought I’d start off with offering you the little jot notes I recorded in my reading journal while working my way through The Luxe (and I quote):

- not the reason I read

- like eating petit fours for hours and washing them down with champagne

- cut out characters (Diana the only interesting one)

- Penelope: kind of amusing/entertaining as OTT bad-girl

- FULL of melodrama

Done.

All of this said, I was not approaching this book with grand expectations, so it’s shortcomings are not a great disappointment. I expected to be entertained, not educated. However, while The Luxe was amusing, it was not the deliciously absorbing naughty-book I had hoped for. The beginning had more momentum, but by the middle, it was almost yawn-worthy. (I think you have to actually care about the characters in order for a book to interest you, yes?) Will some teenage girls love it? Undoubtedly. Will it inspire them to read Wharton? Maybe but probably not.

Somewhere I read this described as “Edith Wharton lite.” I’ve read more than a few reviewers who’ve written that it reminds them of The Titanic (*shudder*). I’ve also read other reviews in which reviewers praise the historical accuracy and detail. Um… I’m not thinking that “Hey” was a typical greeting in 1900.  On the detail score, I was left with only the sketchiest portrait of Manhattan during the period (baruches, swooshy dresses, bowler hats and  calling cards). Then, of course, there’s the fact that a lot of people think that offering books like this to young women is doing nothing for feminism.

Parting thought/shot: I wonder if I should add “Bodice Ripper” to my categories list?

So… how about Rumors? Well, it’s more of the same, but with different coloured dresses.

And yet, I think I will probably keep on reading. I can’t explain it. I think it has to do with the covers. Pretty.

(It would seem I’m not the only one who just can’t look away. Leila at bookshelves of doom feels the same-ish).

Ahem… MY TURN!

So… remember my post a few days ago about a certain book that I wanted so so so badly?

Take a look at this:

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(Hmmm… what’s that down there?)

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(Could it be… a mockingjay perhaps?)

(Opening package)

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I GOT A COPY I GOT A COPY I GOT A COPY!!!!!!!!!!!!!

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Do I feel lucky? Oh yes.

Do I feel just the teensiest bit sheepish? Um, yes.

Thank you Scholastic!!! I promise not to tell any secrets and to be good, ’cause Scholastic editor man David Levithan asked me to.

You will have to forgive me in advance, because there will certainly be plenty more cheering and gushing later. I think I’m going to reread THE HUNGER GAMES first, so that I can have the whole story right there in my mind as I head into Book Two.