Wednesday, December 14, 2016

Batty About Fahrenheit 451 - The Movie

My Batty About Books buddy (@thebrainlair) and I are revisiting our old posts about Fahrenheit 451 as we prepare to read some other classics that we feel tie into the issues facing us today. With the elections in the US bringing real concerns about freedom of speech and authoritarian government styles, we want to read and discuss literature that may help us make sense of it all. We read and watched Fahrenheit 451 in 2012. Next up will be 1984. Look for that discussion soon!

This post is specific to the movie adaptation of the book. TL;DR - read the book instead....

Our posts about the book itself can be found at
The Brain Lair
Maria's Melange

******** Original Post dated June 2012 *******

from IMDB

This week Kathy and I decided to watch the movie version of Fahrenheit 451 and chat about that. It seemed like a fun thing to do. I often have my students watch some or all of a movie adaptation of the books we read. We've watched Wrinkle in Time, the animated Hobbit, the NIMH movie, and Patrick Stewart's version of Christmas Carol. Their most common complaint is about how the movie is just not what they imagined from the book. So, let's take a look at what we thought about how well this adaptation (from 1966) compared to the book we adored last week. 

As always, my thoughts are in purple with Kathy's in blue. Her blog - The Brain Lair - hosts her thoughts with my responses. Check it out, and chime in. Don't forget to read our post from last week where we have a rich discussion about the book itself!

Well. I’m just not even sure where to start with this one. I guess when you love a book so very much it’s often hard to see a movie adaptation of it. (Though the Narnia and Middle Earth movies were - overall - pretty darned good).

I’m going to start with some “nit picky” issues, and then dive into what I felt were the main reasons I didn’t like the movie.

Nitpick #1 - the music. Yes, I know that the music was typical for the time in which this movie was created. I still hated it.

Nitpick #2 - the lack of a “futuristic” feel. Okay, I get that this movie was created in the 60s. But Bradbury clearly describes the WALLS of televisions in the house. What does she have? A single screen that looks only slightly more futuristic than the small one in their bedroom? Even though the movie was created so long ago, I still think they could have done a better job with this - based solely on the descriptions Bradbury uses in the book.
Kathy: Agreed! - I mentioned this too! They were able to green screen the flying policemen but they couldn’t green screen a wall-sized television? Also, it was a big deal to Mildred that they be able to get a fourth wall in the book. In the movie, Linda did NOT seem to care as much about getting a second screen, possibly because they had so many already.

Nitpick #3 - Apparently “comics” don’t count as reading? His newspaper looked like a set of comic strips - granted they had no words.
Kathy: I know. What was the purpose of that? Was it because it was only pictures? Was it  gov’t propaganda? That scene had no reasoning behind it!

Nitpick #4 (though this one is also true of the book, but just occurred to me while watching the movie) In a world where NO ONE is allowed to read - how does everyone know HOW to read?
Kathy: Haha! Also, how would people know what to say when there names were included in the wall plays? Of course, there were books before so at some point they’d learned to read. I would imagine that those people who had books taught the younger generations to read.  They just didn’t do it anymore. In the book version, Montag struggled to understand the meaning behind the books he’d stolen, so he must have know how at some point.  Though, the firemen were supposed to have been established a long time ago. Kinda ignoring our history in favor of what parts we want to remember?

Main Reasons:

1) Major character alterations. Clarisse was NOT the girl she was in the book. I’m not sure why they felt the need to change her age. At first I was afraid they would build in a romance with Guy - and that was the reason for that alteration - but they didn’t even go there. Bigger than that, though, was the fact that we NEVER saw her just soaking in life experiences. Talking about the grass, lifting her head to catch a raindrop - nothing. Guy also had alterations to his character. The biggest was that he didn’t already have a book hidden away when the story begins. It made his change feel too abrupt.
Kathy: This was my first problem too! Where was her lightheartedness? Her character made no sense. When she asks about him being happy - it just seems to come from nowhere. Why would he risk his life to help her? There was NO development. And really, she was less attractive a character than “linda”.

2) Major plot alterations. Clarisse. She needed to die. Sorry, but really...
Kathy: Again, agreed! Her death fuels (pun intended) Montag’s change.  Gives him something to think about in terms of his choices. But, no, we overlook that necessity leading to just shallow people on the screen.  Also, where was Faber? Who was there to help Guy?

3) BIGGEST flaw? The complete change in the overall theme of the story. It’s like the creators of the movie talked to some high school students. The kids said the book was about burning books, so that is the focus of the film. I’m sure if I were to dig into the historical context - when the film was created - this would make perfect sense. Maybe I’m even reading too much into the book’s theme based on MY current world view. (Don’t get me started on my pet theory about how all works - historical fiction, legends, science fiction -  reveal more about the time in which they were created than the author even intends). Yet I still felt disappointed that the film stripped away this whole other layer of the story.
Kathy: I believe many people miss the point of the book. Your theory is not really a theory though. I hope people understand that their schema affects all they do. Your background, your reading, your viewing habits, your interactions with other, are all important in shaping how you think and feel. That’s what’s scary about social media. Yes - and it’s not just how YOU perceive the story - but it’s also in how the author (or screenwriter) alters the story to fit their own schema. I love to look at how things like the Arthurian stories or fairy tales change with each time period. We write our own history into the story, even in historical fiction. This is even more obvious to me as I read the Newbery award books.

One other thought - this movie could be a valuable tool in media literacy and studying the time period of the 60s. My guess is that a high school (or college) class that studied that period would find countless connections to the 60s in the movie. That would be an interesting discussion or project, don’t you think?
Kathy: You could also take a look at American culture vs French culture. Did different culture experience the 60s differently? It would also be interesting to do an indepth analysis of the choices Truffaut made.  Was this a reflection of what he’d gained from the book or the times he lived in? Have no idea how you would do this but would be interesting to talk about.

What I’d love to see is a current version of this book made into a movie. Yes, I complain that movies have lost their ability to create “new” works of art. Yet this story is SO incredibly timely I think it could be done, and done well, today.
Kathy: You mean an updated version? What it would look like today? Same basic premise but with new technologies? No - just a movie made today that attempted to honestly depict the movie. If we wait much longer, too much of it will be completely present tense. And I think we could do a much better - much more true to the book adaptation than this one.

Now it's your turn! Have you had discussions about movie adaptations? What are your favorite and least favorite adaptations? How can you use these discussions to help teach students to think critically as they read - and watch?

Wednesday, December 7, 2016

Batty about Fahrenheit 451

Batty About Books! 

Fahrenheit 451 by Ray Bradbury


My Batty About Books partner Kathy and I are very concerned about the current state of our world and country. As part of speaking out against censorship, destruction of knowledge, and authoritarian government styles, we are resharing our Fahrenheit 451 posts and also choosing and discussing some other novels. We plan to start with 1984 and we'll see where that leads us. 

This snippet from our discussion below is so incredibly important right now....

"I love that Bradbury ends with hope. No matter how bad things become, there are always monks holding onto the knowledge in the hopes that the next age will want - will need - what we have learned.
Kathy: I asked that question in my responses: who is the keeper of knowledge? Now I know. "

We are the Keepers of Knowledge. Don't ever stop being a Keeper..

******* original post below *******  (Originally posted June 2012)

Check out my related
posts on science fiction
and my SciFiSummer!

It's Friday (okay, so Friday is almost over, but close enough). Kathy and I chose to read a classic, and we decided to devour it in a single week. Since I'm targeting science fiction this summer, we chose to reread a classic we've both read in the past - Fahrenheit 451 - as a homage to the incredibly talented Ray Bradbury.

The discussion was especially rich this week. I'd encourage you to read both my post (with my thoughts and Kathy's responses) and her post on The Brain Lair. She had some amazing thoughts about this book! Please let us know in the comments any other feedback you have on this book, or on how science fiction can be used to open the eyes of students to the world of today. 

We had a lot to say... my thoughts are in purple and Kathy's responses are in blue. 

Fahrenheit 451

First, I’d like to state for the record that it’s clearly been a long time since I read this book. I had a general memory of the tale – broad sweeps of plot and character – but I was still able to read it fairly “fresh”.  That was fun. I had questions, guesses, and reactions to the story the whole way through that felt almost like I was new reader.
Kathy: According to Goodreads, I read it three years ago.  It is so filled with nuances and information, you can’t remember it all. It was a refreshing read and a nice remove from my usual fare. Also, most of what I will say here is just me rambling emotionally. This book gets inside of you!

Bradbury as prophet: I found myself in awe many times as I was reading, thinking about how accurate so many of his predictions seem now. The seashells and communication device are just like our earbuds and the kind of tools the FBI uses. The televisions that surrounded them seem like our large screens. The “reality” shows she watches, the overstimulation and trouble sleeping, the fast paced lifestyle and ever present advertising – it all seems like it is either now or right around the corner. Chilling.
Kathy: NOW! Definitely. With Facebook selling more advertising so that when you are there you get “custom” ads.  These ads are geared to what you “like”.  That’s just like being put into one of the shows with the “family”.  He is so spot on. We have so many social media sites and so very little actual society time, it is Chilling! Montag asked Mildred if The White Clown loved her and she couldn’t answer. She didn’t know what the shows were about. But the noise and the music made her think she’d experienced something... Yes! As an introvert who needs a lot of quiet and low stimulation, I found his description of the intense barrage of sound overwhelming. 

Bradbury as poet: I don’t know if “poet” is the right word - but I was struck over and over again by the beauty of his language. This isn’t something that I notice in many books. I can love a plot, I can attach to a character, but when an author uses metaphor and achingly beautiful words - that is when I want to chase them down and kiss them. From the very first line “It was a pleasure to burn” (which I just had to tweet as I read it) to the descriptions of the devouring fire like “symphonies of blazing” and “swarm of fireflies” to his comparisons of books as beautiful birds... wow. Just wow.
Kathy: AGREED! He can turn a phrase. But not in a way that pulls out of the story. I loved all the ways he talked about fire, burning, light, darkness, even the way he described the Hound.  Beatty was one of my favorite characters. I picture him as Ernest Borgnine. Love the revisionist history of the Fireman.

I love how he turns things on their heads. The job of fireman becoming one who sets fires. The idea that the lack of agreement in books is what caused our anxiety - we can’t know what is right so clearly we need to burn it all. Again, it sounds so much like what is happening these days with the battle between science and faith. (For the record, I believe that science and faith can be reconciled, but that we just don’t know how or where they exactly fit together yet).
Kathy: I hate that we give up so easily and choose a “side”.  Like you, I think they both fit. We just don’t know how.  The thing that keeps the battles raging is our lack of information. Burning the books, or just teaching evolution or creationism, keeps students in the dark. Unless, like Clarisse or Montag, they have someone come along and “spark” an interest that leads them to digging deeper. They read all the documents. They make informed conclusions. Why aren’t schools doing more of that? What are we afraid of? Being wrong? Why do we continue to ban books? And not just about this, but about other areas. And with the lack of resources available in schools, for some students, they will continue being ignorant. They don’t have a place to go to get information. Here is yet another reason why science fiction can spark wonderful discussion. It’s not just a good story, it’s a way to debate things about our OWN society by looking at another one. Love it!

I love how he contrasts the devouring fire to the “gently flattering light” of a candle. Then he goes back to fire one more time at the end, when he sees the flames and warming and comforting.
Kathy: SAME! I mentioned about the fires in the beginning but I forgot about Montag learning that fire can be used to give! That it even has a different smell based on purpose. Bradbury = genius in his simplicity.

I swear, I’ll get to his ideas on books in just a moment... first, I’d like to compare his conception of robots to the Asimov I read last week. In I, Robot Asimov describes the way robots are created to be helpers - with the three laws of robotics built into every system. Even when robots have a problem, they can be trusted to obey those laws completely. Bradbury sees humanity with darker motives - and their creations follow that same pattern. The Hound is designed purely for destruction. Montag knows that it is the fault of the masters, “all we put into it is hunting and finding and killing. What a shame if that’s all it can ever know.” Guy would much prefer Asimov’s future, I’m sure.
Kathy:  But what about Clarisse and her family? What about Montag (why does his wife call him that?)? What about Faber and the men we meet by the river? Maybe we put our “hunting finding and killing” into our creations to keep it out of our own systems.  Even though the robots have those laws, they can be worked around. Bradbury accepts who we are and tries to help us see that. While I think Asimov also sees our darker sides because he knows we won’t help each other, so another race had to be created. We couldn’t be trusted to care for each other.  Bradbury says we need to connect with each other, that’s how society will be better. Not bringing in robots or “the family”. Really connect with each other. Learn from each other. Talk. Read. Touch. Montag (or I) can get behind a future where that happens. Good points. I think Asimov wanted to reassure the world that robots wouldn't have to take over the world. *grins* Bradbury’s points about simple joys - experiences - and connecting with real people are vital to the future of humanity... helping us KEEP our humanity. I agree.

Okay - back to books. After all, that’s a key theme of the story, right? Not really, but books do become a symbol for a key idea - living life to the fullest. I love (and didn't remember) this idea. It isn’t the book itself. Books give us a way to see places, have experiences, and meet people that our short lives wouldn't otherwise give us exposure to. But it is the living, the experiencing, that is the goal. Clarisse is the human embodiment of this ideal. She strikes me as much younger than the “seventeen, and insane” that Bradbury claims. Maybe that’s why she seems insane, right? She’s much too busy living to be sucked into the constant clamor of her world.
Kathy: I’d forgotten that it wasn't the books that were important too. Though I read Clarisse as OLDER. Her questions and comments seemed designed to get a reaction from Montag. She was waiting for him. To help him. I found her calculating - in a good way. He had to think about someone other than himself. She “saw” him. He craved that. We all do. But, her insane is exactly how I hope to be and what I think Bradbury would want from us. Why do you think he made her seventeen? Because they still believe they are immortal? She was way too young for Montag.  Is that why? So we wouldn’t have to worry about adultery clouding the works? I like that! Yes, I think that is a great reason why he makes her 17. That and teenagers ARE insane. *chuckles*

I love that Bradbury ends with hope. No matter how bad things become, there are always monks holding onto the knowledge in the hopes that the next age will want - will need - what we have learned.
Kathy: I asked that question in my responses: who is the keeper of knowledge? Now I know.

There is a reason this is a classic. This book needs to be on the list of must reads for science fiction fans. I remember adoring it as a high school student - but something tells me that I didn’t suck all the marrow from the bones. I hope that people who did read this as students will take the time to read it again. Then, I hope they will turn off the television, go outside to catch a raindrop on their tongue, and help prove that we know better than to create a future like this.
Kathy: Unfortunately it’s read in 9th grade “regular” classes. Or should I say “taught”. Two of the girls I took to the beach almost threw up when they saw me reading it today. They hated it. They didn’t understand it. They couldn’t understand how I could read it for fun. I think if it’s used in high schools, it should be read in its entirety first! Then let the discussion be open before we revisit it for lessons. Too often schools take the classics and further turn students off to reading. Students feel that classics are just for learning our lessons. Not for enjoyment. One of the guys at the river reiterates that we shouldn’t become self-important. That the knowledge is more important than the carrier. I think we forget that, and we want them to see what we like about the book (sometimes I can’t tell if teachers actually like the book they are teaching. Or if they’ve read it just to read it) so we underline every metaphor and simile. We ferret out all the imagery. We turn the book into parts. We miss the story. We miss the hope - or it becomes just another theme to uncover and write about. Too often I see this. One girl only reads Twilight Saga. Over and over and over. First book she read that wasn’t preachy. Now afraid to read anything else. Of course, she’s of the mindset if the book isn’t knocking your socks off in the first two or three pages, why Anyway. I think it should be read. Maybe paired with another book on censorship - which is what they were told it’s about - then compared. Or something. I don’t know. In some ways, students are so young nowadays. Even though they have all this information at their fingertips. All this news. And these videos. And everyone’s every thought and action. Transparency. But no way to understand it. Gah! Must.Stop. Depressing self! Ok, must end on high note. My book had an Afterword and a Coda and a Conversation with Bradbury. Lots of good reading. In the conversation Bradbury is asked about his favorite genre and he replies “I love everything!” He also says he had a great life. And that the best thing teachers can do is hand students a book. My life motto. 

You said it, my friend. Life life. Read. Connect.
I think Ray would be proud if that is the enduring legacy he left for us.

Did you see that Neil Gaiman had a Bradbury short story? Here is the page with the audio file of Neil reading it. (Have I ever mentioned how much I adore Neil Gaiman’s voice? Serious author crush here.)
The text version is here: It will be published in a book, but was released early as a tribute to Ray Bradbury after his death.

Next week we'll be watching the movie version and chatting about that. After that? More science fiction! What would you consider the best way to read and/or teach a classic? 

Wednesday, November 2, 2016

Countdown to Heartless Blog Tour

As of the posting of this stop on the Heartless blog tour - there are SIX DAYS left until the book releases into the wild (on November 8th). You still have plenty of time to preorder and snag a copy the very first day it is on the shelves!

When I first heard about this Countdown Blog tour, I wasn't sure what each day's task would be. I loved this book enough to happily volunteer as tribute - even if my task ended up being something like "make a picture of a character from Heartless out of M&Ms and hat pins". (True story, that's actually what I said in my email!) 
A black heart for Heartless

I did participate in many of the other Heartless Countdown activities.... as you can see by some of my favorite photos.
My copy of Alice in Wonderland

Tea time with Heartless
(and my puppy)
Everyone deserves a crown

My assigned task, though, was much easier than handcrafting personalized hats or baking up delectable treats that would tempt the King of Hearts... 

My job is to share some thoughts about Heartless (below) and to let you know that there will be a LIVE STREAM of the launch event on November 7th at 7 PM PST! Be sure to join Marissa that night! 

My Thoughts:

Fracturing classic old tale? Marissa Meyer has this down cold. The Lunar Chronicle series was one of my favorite in recent years. I loved how she took the bones of beloved fairy tales and warped them into something science fiction-y and altogether new. So I came into this book with incredibly high expectations. I was looking for all the little call-backs to the traditional tales combined with the rich re-imagining that I had enjoyed so much in her first series.

Instead of altering the setting and punching up the kick-ass factor of the leading ladies, Meyer uses Heartless to focus on developing the backstory of a villain we all love to hate. The Red Queen is so completely over-the-top awful, right? Was she always like that? Or did she begin as a girl with hopes and dreams who lost her way?

We all know how this story ends, which makes weaving a believable beginning so much more challenging. Meyer had to create a brand new world that fits seamlessly with one that most of her readers already know very well. I went into this story with a deep fondness for Wonderland that made me a little bit concerned about how she would handle this aspect. I was completely impressed by Marissa's clear understanding and new, entertaining, yet respectful handling of the world and the characters.

What I loved:

-- My stomach rumbling every time Cath describes her delectable treats. I would love to get my hands on her special lemon tarts for sure!

-- How Meyer tickled my brain with all of her Wonderland connections. Some were huge parts of this story, like the Cheshire Cat. Others foreshadowed the world we know is on the horizon, like her mother’s behavior that is eerily similar to how she will be as the Red Queen. Sprinkled throughout the entire story are other, tinier references (like “that kind of food”) which make Meyer’s love and respect for the original world quite clear.

-- How the main characters get introduced. They are intriguing right from the start. Cath is determined, meticulous, and passionate. We first meet her while she is baking lemon tarts and forgetting to prepare for the king's ball. I sympathized with her love of food and with her desire to pursue her own goals, in spite of her parents' expectations. Jest begins his portion of the tale with a mysterious entrance, a series of amusing word plays that poke fun at the stodgy members of the court, and a peek into his sensitive side as the two first meet.

Most of all…

Cath and Jest. I'm not always a "book boyfriend" kind of reader - but Marissa knows how to craft a guy that catches my attention right along with her heroine's. I knew that this tale wouldn't have a happily ever after... which made the love they found and the trials they overcame all that much more poignant.

If you loved the Lunar Chronicles.... if you love Wonderland and always wanted to know "what's the Red Queen's deal?".... if you want to dive into a world you love and see it in a whole new light.... Heartless will be right up your alley.

Long before she was the terror of Wonderland — the infamous Queen of Hearts — she was just a girl who wanted to fall in love.  (Tag line from Goodreads) 

Hardcover, 464 pages
Expected publication: November 8th 2016 by Feiwel & Friends
ISBN 1250044650 (ISBN13: 9781250044655)

Learn more about Marissa Meyer at her website - 

Join the #HeartlessCountdown! See the 50 daily challenges from @FierceReads:
Check out the #HeartlessCountdown tag on Twitter and Instagram so you can join in on the fun - and maybe win a special edition ARC!

(I received an advanced copy of Heartless from the publisher, but that in no way influenced my thoughts on this book.) 

Thursday, October 20, 2016

Wonder Women: 25 Innovators -- Nonfiction Book Review

Wonder Women: 25 Innovators, Inventors, and Trailblazers Who Changed HistoryWonder Women: 25 Innovators, Inventors, and Trailblazers Who Changed History
by Sam Maggs (Goodreads Author), Sophia Foster-Dimino (Illustrator)
Hardcover, 240 pages
Published October 4th 2016 by Quirk Books
ISBN 1594749256 (ISBN13: 9781594749254)

I can’t get enough of books that showcase amazing ladies from history. So often, though, we get the same ten biographies. I adore Sally Ride and Eleanor Roosevelt, but I also want to know about women who have been more neglected by publishing until now. So when I heard that Sam Maggs was going to share the stories of another twenty-five history changing women, I knew I wanted to get my hands on that book.

Maggs splits the history-making ladies in her book into five chapters: Science, Medicine, Espionage, Innovation, and Adventure. We get substantial information on five women in each chapter, but we also get seven shorter biographies at the end of each chapter. As an added bonus, each chapter concludes with a Q&A with a woman currently working in the field. I was also impressed at the range of time periods, cultures, and orientations represented throughout the book. If you are looking for a more intersectional read than you’ll normally get, this is the right book for you! 

Not only do we learn about lots of less-known women, but we also get all that informational goodness in a humor filled, entertaining style that makes it entertaining as heck. I can't think of many times I've read biographies and smirked and chuckled so much along the way.

My favorite features: (Besides the pure joy of the history geek and the patriarchy punching…)

-- The Q&A at the end of each section. I said it above, but it bears repeating. Wonder Women did a great job of telling about women from the past and ALSO inspiring me with the lives of women currently making the world a better place.

-- The mini-biographies. If you get inspired by the stories of the women in the longer sections, this gives you more names you can research later!

-- The snarky humor. I love that nonfiction has gotten so much more fun to read, and Maggs does a wonderful job. I chuckled and smirked and groaned…. and enjoyed learning about these women’s lives even more because of it.

Teaching Opportunities:

Upper Elementary - I teach upper elementary, and I plan to use selected biographies with my students. Pre-read each entry to decide which ones are appropriate for your students. Several of them had enough detail about reproductive issues to knock them out of the running for use with this age group, but there were plenty that would make excellent short reads.

Upper Middle School and up - put it in your classroom libraries - stat!

How else to use it:

Gift Giving and Girls' Night Crafting: 

Since Crafting with Feminism by Bonnie Burton was just released (pub date 10/18), these two books would make the perfect gift for any wonder women in your life. She’ll have twenty-five new choices for her “Heroes of Feminism” finger puppets!

I'm gathering up my girl gang to set up a crafting night. We're all teachers, so this time of the year is a bit on the wild side, but I'm looking forward to making finger puppets of some of these

Even though I received an advance copy of the book, I made sure to pre-order another copy. This is absolutely the kind of book I want to see more of in the publishing world. I'm putting my money where my mouth is! 

Sunday, October 2, 2016

Write This Down Blog Tour

Welcome to the Write This Down blog tour!

Write This Down
by Claudia Mills
Hardcover, 256 pages
Published September 27th 2016 by Farrar, Straus and Giroux (BYR) (first published September 26th 2016)
ISBN13: 9780374301644

Source of book: I was sent an ARC of this book in exchange for my honest thoughts.

When I received a copy of this ARC, I knew it was going to be a great match for me and for my students. I teach many kids who love to write, and they love to see themselves reflected in the books they read. I loved Autumn's passion for writing, and I loved that her best friend was a knitter. Making - with words or with yarn - is so much better than just consuming! I cared about their lives, and I was hooked and couldn't put the book down.

So when I was also asked to participate in the blog tour, I knew I wanted to get my passionate writers involved as well. I invited a little cluster of them into my classroom for a discussion of writing and writers, and we brainstormed a list of questions they would like to ask Claudia Mills. They immediately started passing my copy of the book around and chatting about it with one another. I was thrilled to see this, because I wondered if the things I connect with as an adult who was a kid like Autumn would also click for my 5th graders.

Writing a book that celebrates writing and creating is wonderful, but I'm also so thankful for authors who take the time to share their insights with young readers and writers. Thank you so much for your wonderful words and the gift of your time, Claudia! (I have to admit - I kinda want to know why her nickname in junior high was Tarzan now...)

Author Interview: 

Thanks for all these great questions, Maria, and for giving me the chance to answer them!

1) How did you get your first book published? How many had you submitted for publication before that one got published?

I have the most unusual “how I got published” story of anyone I know. My first “grownup” job was working at a big New York City children’s book publisher: Scholastic. I was an editorial secretary/assistant to three editors, back in the days when all correspondence was produced on an old-fashioned typewriter. I had started submitting manuscripts to other editors in New York City, and they all came back rejected. I don’t remember exactly how many rejections I had at that point – maybe a dozen? Then I hit upon the idea of sending one of my own stories to my own publisher, to Scholastic, using a pseudonym, a fake name, so they wouldn’t know it was me. The first story I sent to Scholastic was rejected – and I was the one who had to type the rejection letter! Ditto for my second story: I had to type another rejection letter to myself. But when I sent them my third story, they actually asked me to write an evaluation of its strengths and weaknesses, and I surprised myself by finding plenty of things that needed to be fixed. The editor mailed the author (me!) a copy of the report her assistant (me!) had written (to myself!) and invited me to revise it according to those suggestions and resubmit it for publication. That became my book At the Back of the Woods.  

2) Are there any special ways you get your ideas? Do you keep ideas in a writer’s notebook? If so, can you show us a page from it?

It's a sample page! How cool is that?
I mainly just get my ideas by sitting down with my writing tools – favorite clipboard, pad of white, narrow-ruled paper, and Pilot Razor Point fine-tipped black marker pen – and scribbling a series of little thoughts and notes. Here’s one of my brainstorming pages. You can see that I start with the most ridiculously simple and basic items like: “things that can happen.

3) Is there a special way you brainstorm? We love to use special color pens. Do you?

Oh, colored pens would be wonderful! Maybe I should get myself some! But I use the same pen always and my special way of brainstorming is just thinking aloud on the page. I write instructions to myself like “Something funny has to happen!” or “What is this book really ABOUT?” And then I just sit there writing replies to my own questions and comments.

4) We’ve written stick figure comics, stories about the children of fairy tales, ponies vs. vampires, and written a script of a talk show using our classmates. Our teacher liked to write stories about aliens and time travel in elementary school. What kind of stories did you write when you were little?

I want to read all of these! I can’t help but wonder what “ponies vs. vampires” is about! My sister and I spent much of our childhood making up – but not writing down – stories about princesses in the imaginary countries of Bladen (perfectly round), Maloone (shaped like a star), Socker (shaped like a sock), and Moo (shaped like – you guessed it – a cow). Now I so wish we had put them in writing. Most of what I did end up writing down were stories drawn from my own life, such as the collection of my 8th grade real-life misadventures, T Is for Tarzan (“Tarzan” was my junior high school nickname – don’t ask!).

5) Can you share something with us that you wrote when you were in elementary or middle school?

The stories from T Is for Tarzan are too long to share here, but here’s a poem I wrote in fifth grade about the fantasy world I created with my best friend, Susan Crystal. 

Susan Crystal and I have reason to fear
That on some day in a faraway year
We’ll jump up and down and shout out loud
And take up residence on a pink cloud.

Susan Crystal and I have reason to think
That we’ll someday move to a cloud that’s pink.
With cats and dogs and chicks and pigs,
We’ll stay up all night and dance Irish jigs.

Susan Crystal and I have reason to do
An interesting project on a cloud that is blue.
We’ll build a labyrinth, never doubt,
That will just about make your eyes pop out.

Susan Crystal and I together will dwell
In a place much like Heaven and not much like Hell
And there we’ll show you how much we can do
On a cloud that is pink and a cloud that is blue.

6) What are some of the books you loved in elementary school?

Oh, so many! I loved Anne of Green Gables, The Secret Garden, A Little Princess, A Wrinkle in Time, and the “adventure” books of British author Enid Blyton (Castle of Adventure, Island of Adventure, Circus of  Adventure, etc.). Most of all, I loved, and still love, the “Betsy-Tacy” series of Maud Hart Lovelace, based on her own childhood in Mankato, Minnesota, at the turn of the twentieth century. I have read them over and over again countless times. To this day, my favorite book in the whole world is Betsy and Tacy Go Downtown.

7) Which of your books have been the most popular? Which was your favorite to write?

It’s so hard for authors to guess which of our books will be the most popular, or to figure out why one book appeals to readers more than any other. My most popular book, by far, is 7 x 9 = Trouble!, about a third-grade boy struggling with the times tables. For many years, it sold more copies than all the rest of my books put together. I think my favorite to write was my recent middle-school novel Zero Tolerance, about a seventh-grade girl who is facing mandatory expulsion for bringing the wrong lunch to school by mistake (her mother’s lunch, which contained a knife to cut her mother’s apple). Usually when I write a book I have a pretty good idea of how the story is going to turn out, but when I wrote Zero Tolerance, I wasn’t sure until the very end of the book whether Sierra would get expelled or not, and whether she would even care at that point if she did. So I had to keep on writing to find out what was going to happen.

8) What do you like to read for inspiration?

My current favorite inspirational book on writing is the new book by Elizabeth Gilbert called Big Magic: Creative Living beyond Fear. If I had time, I’d read it over every single day! Other wonderfully encouraging books for writers are If You Want to Write by Brenda Ueland and Bird by Bird by Anne Lamott. 

There you have it - an amazing set of answers from an amazing author.

Visit the other stops on the blog tour for this great book!

Calling All Authors! Blog Tour for WRITE THIS DOWN
September 27: Ruth at ruth ayers writes
September 28: Cindy at Charting By the Stars
September 29: Melanie at Two Writing Teachers
September 30: Niki at Daydream Reader
October 1: Kathy at The Brain Lair
October 2: Maria at Maria's Mélange

Tuesday, September 6, 2016

Secret Coders Reading Without Walls Blog Tour

I'm so thrilled to be part of the Reading Without Walls Blog Tour! I firmly believe in the idea of reading outside of your comfort zone - whether that means a new topic, format, genre, or characters that are not like you. Expanding our horizons, and those of the readers under our care, is the best way to make positive change in the world.

Let's start with format, shall we? One of the goals of this blog tour is to introduce our readers to the cool new graphic novel series Secret Coders, by Gene Luen Yang and Mike Holmes. If you aren't yet sold on graphic novels being a fabulous way to spark interest, learn new things, and build critical thinking skills - it's time to take the plunge! (You can learn about some of the reasons I love them in a post I wrote a few years ago....) 

Secret Coders is an introduction to some of the basic concepts of computer programming, tied up in a fun story about a trio of kids at Stately Academy. The first one introduces simple coding, repeat loops, and even binary with the eyes of creepy birds on the campus. The only real downside to the first book is the total cliffhanger! Thankfully, it didn't take long for the next book - Paths and Portals - to appear. In the meantime, kids could take a look at the Secret Coders website to learn more about the characters and the "old school" programming style of this book.

In Paths and Portals - we jump right in where the first left off. Kids may want to do a quick reread of the first one to help them remember exactly what was going on at Stately Academy. (Which, for the record, is another beautiful thing about graphic novels. Kids are generally thrilled to do rereads of old titles, helping them discover new things each time.) Hopper continues to build her coding skills, and invites the reader along for the journey. The narrative frequently pauses to ask the reader "can you do this?". What I love best about that is the fact that Hopper's solution is presented as just "one way" the problem could be solved. 

Who will love these books? My classroom is targeted toward advanced students in grades 2-5. I found that my younger kids (2nd and 3rd graders) were the ones most drawn to the first book in the series. They are kids who love math, science, and coding. With the recent emphasis on computer science with international initiatives like Hour of Code, I think this series will appeal to upper elementary kids who are beginning to dive into the world of coding. 

-- Kids love puzzles. Help them learn more about binary and other base systems in math. 
-- Set them up for the courses on the Hour of Code site. There are some that are designed to be a single hour or two, and others that will help them build more sophisticated skills in code. 
-- Who is Hopper named after? Kids will be fascinated to learn more about Grace Hopper! 

As the second part of the Reading Without Walls Tour, we got the chance to dive into one of the MacMillan's STEAM books. I gleefully chose the Sally Ride photobiography, since I'd been eyeing that one for purchase for my classroom this year.

"You Can't Be What You Can't See."

Well - SOMEONE has to be the first - and that someone becomes an inspiration to future generations. I'm currently reading Radioactive!, a book about Irène Curie and Lise Meitner. Meitner's story begins with the description of how Marie Curie's life inspired her to realize that women could have a career in physics. We need to fill the walls and shelves of our classrooms with the stories of the men and women who broke barriers in all fields to help the next generation see themselves everywhere they'd love to be.

I've always loved science and science fiction. Some of my fondest childhood memories are of watching shuttle launches with my parents. Sally Ride was one of my earliest heroes, and I don't know that I fully realized how amazing it was that she was part of the "Thirty-Five New Guys" that trained to be part of the newest NASA missions. Now, having read more about the women who tried to break in earlier, it means even more to me to learn about her life and accomplishments.

I love that Sally Ride followed her dreams - as we want all of our students to do. I also love that she dedicated her post-astronaut years to helping children - with a focus on girls - learn more about science. My goal is to continue her work and make sure all of my students can see faces that look like them in any field they long to join.

Other books about women in science

Dreaming of NASA? Learn more about people who work there:

Check out the rest of the tour!


August 31: Colby at Sharp Read
September 1: Jess at Reading Nook Reviews
September 2: Samantha at Forest of Words and Pages
September 5Jennifer at YA Book Nerd
September 6Maria at Maria's Mélange
September 7Gigi at Late Bloomer's Book Blog
September 8Jen at Starry Eyed Revue
September 9Cheyenne at The Hollow Cupboards
September 12Anya at On Starships and Dragonwings
September 13April at Good Books and Good Wine
September 14Cindy at Charting by the Stars
September 15Erica at The Book Cellar
September 16Sandie at Teen Lit Rocks
September 19: Asheley at Into the Hall of Books
September 20: Daphne at Gone Pecan
September 21Mary Ann at Great Kids Books
September 22: Kathy at The Brain Lair
September 23: Michelle & Leslie at Undeniably (Book) Nerdy
September 26Laurie at Reader Girls
September 27: Margie at Librarian's Quest
September 28Victoria at Art, Books, & Coffee
September 29Cee at The Novel Hermit
September 30: Amanda at Forever Young Adult

** I was provided with copies of both Secret Coders books and the Sally Ride Photobiography for free from the publisher. My thoughts about these titles are entirely my own **

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