Tuesday, June 28, 2011

Education Lifts Socio-economic Barriers (On a personal note)

I recently had an author ask what motivated me to dedicate my blog to literacy, especially for boys. It got me thinking of why I would want to take the time to research topics, read books for boys, review them, gather author interviews and pay my own money on postage for blog giveaways. I wanted to give the author a simple answer and then realized my motivations are not simple.

I was raised in a working class family, living from paycheck to paycheck. A few instances, my family even received government assistance. My mom never finished high school and my dad barely graduated. Nobody in my family had ever gone to college, no grandparents, no aunts or uncles or siblings. They worked hard, but never got ahead. My parents divorce complicated the picture.

As a child, I had one thing going for me. I was an avid reader. I read every book in sight. I ate up Little House on the Prairie and Amelia Bedelia. I burned flashlight batteries on The Boxcar Children. My parents rarely took me to the library, but we had this Bookmobile that came to our low income neighborhood once or twice a month and I waited for it every time, checking out stacks of books until it would come again. The few books I got as gifts, I treasured and read over and over again.

I remember my dad telling me about the "rich people on the hill that think they are better than everybody else." He convinced me that the people in the next rung of the socioeconomic ladder were snooty and didn't deserve to be there. That somehow they weren't hard workers, but just lucky.

I landed a full ride scholarship to a small two year college and qualified for Pell Grants. I didn't end up graduating until in my thirties, but I never gave up. I married a man with graduate education and moved into a modest home in the type of neighborhood my dad criticized. The first thing I noticed about my neighborhood is that my dad was completely wrong. My neighbors were mostly kind and smart. There were organized book clubs where people talked about ideas instead of other people. I was thrust into a world where those around me were educated. Most of my neighbors were college graduates, many with master's and doctorate degrees. My lesson learned was that the single most important thing in helping one move up the socioeconomic ladder is a good education.

So why a blog about boys and books coming from my background? I learned for myself that reading is the single most important thing in academic success. I also have a daughter and two sons. I saw first hand how the elementary educational system seems to favor girls and watched as boys lagged behind in reading. My son who reads has a huge advantage over my son who doesn't like to read as much. In reading to my boys, I was introduced to books, as a child, I didn't even know existed. Treasure Island and Where The Wild Things Are and then a boy wizard by the name of Harry Potter came along and even my boy that didn't like to read changed his tune. I fell in love with so called "boy" books and haven't been able to put them down since.

So a very personal long answer to a short question. I devote my time to blogging about literacy because I have a passion for it. Nothing could be better than that.

Sunday, June 26, 2011

Literacy Begins At Home

This week I read an article in the local newspaper that pointed out the disparity of reading scores in the local Hispanic community compared to that of the white community. Much was said about the educational system and how the schools should do more to help these children. While I agree the educational system should do whatever they can to help bridge the gap in reading scores, I was concerned that the article didn't mention anything about what can be done at home. After all, literacy begins at home. A child that is read to every day from day one will already have an advantage when school starts. Some of those children will be early readers. Most of them will already know the letters of the alphabet. All of them will have had positive experiences with reading.

Here are just a few suggestions to promote literacy in the home.

  • Set aside time to read every day.
  • Read aloud to your child even when they learn to read on their own.
  • Let your child pretend to read to you even when they can't
  • Have your child read to you.
  • Ask your child to predict what will happen next in a story.
  • Point out repeating words in a book like "the" and have your child find them.
  • Ask how, what, and why questions when reading.
  • Help children recognize letter sounds by pointing out the first letter of a word, ie. d is for dog.
  • Point out words that rhyme. Have your child tell you some words that rhyme.
  • Talk about words that mean the same thing like smile and grin.
  • Talk about words that mean the opposite like up and down.
  • Help children sound out words.
  • Use drive time to promote literacy. Point out the words on signs, ie. s t o p spells stop when you come to a stop sign.
  • Give books as gifts for every holiday.
  • Go to the library or local bookstore and participate in the activities they have for children.
  • Get your child their own library card as early as your library will allow. Take them to the library once a week or once every other week and let them pick out their own books.
  •  As your child gets older, consider getting them an eReader and give gift certificates for books so they can fill up their eReader.
  • Encourage reading of newspapers, magazines and even comic books. 
  • Buy or check out books with instructions or recipes to make things 
These are just a few suggestions out of hundreds. Please tell us what you do to promote literacy in your home. Remember, education begins and ends in the home.

Saturday, June 25, 2011

Blog Contest Winner Signed Copy of Wildfire Run

Wildfire RunThe signed hardback copy of Wildfire Run goes to Robyn. Winner was chosen by www.random.org. Thanks to all who entered and check my blog soon for more author signed book giveaways.

Thanks to Dee Garretson for graciously agreeing to sign the copy.

Tuesday, June 21, 2011

Blog Interview with Author: Dee Garretson

                                     Dee Garretson Author of Wildfire Run                                                                   and Soon to be Released Wolf Storm
 As readers, we pick up a book and finish reading it in a day or two or maybe a week or two. As writers, the process is much longer. As part of my book review process, I wanted to add author interviews when possible. I think it makes the book we're reading more special when we know a little bit about what happens behind the scenes. An author interview is like going on a backstage movie tour. Thank you to Dee Garretson for taking us backstage, ahh I mean back book.

When and why did you begin writing?
I began writing stories when I  was about ten years old just as a natural progression from all the stories I made up in my head.  I stopped writing once I went to college and didn’t start again for several years. I still made up stories in my head, and I wanted the challenge to see if I could get them down on paper in a way that other people would want to read them.

What is the hardest part of writing? 

The hardest part for me is spending the time to get the cadence right. I think storytelling is very similar to music – I want the reader to be enveloped by the story and drawn along with it. Balancing just the right amount of dialogue, description and action to make the story flow is the last step in a revision and the most time-consuming.

What were some of your favorite books growing up?
HARRIET THE SPY– I’ve always had a fondness for spies!
FROM THE MIXED UP FILES OF MRS. BASIL E. FRANKWEILER- Even now I can’t resist any book set in a museum
A WRINKLE IN TIME – This was the beginning of my love of science fiction.

How many books have you written?

It’s a little hard to put an exact number on it. WILDFIRE RUN is the first book I’ve had published, but before that I wrote a historical mystery which I totally rewrote so many times it’s as if I have written four different mysteries. 

What inspired you to write WILDFIRE RUN?

Way back when Jimmie Carter was president, I remember hearing all the criticism of his daughter, Amy, for reading a book during a state dinner. All I could think of at the time was that would have been me if I had been in her situation. It made me aware of the strange lives presidential children lead. I didn’t think much about it again until the presidential primary races in 2008. There were several candidates with younger children or grandchildren, and it led me to again to wonder what life would be like for children in that situation.  I knew that sort of character could really inspire me to write a story about them.

Your book, WILDFIRE RUN, is set in Camp David. What research did you do to find out about such a secretive place?

Researching Camp David and the Secret Service was extremely difficult because I wanted an accurate feel to the book, yet for security reasons there is not much factual information available, particularly since 9/11. I read every nonfiction book I could find that had mentions of the place and of the Secret Service. I purposely stayed away from any fiction, because I didn’t want to be influenced by other writers’ imaginations.  The rest of it just came from me thinking about what would make sense in a place like that, and then I let my imagination really go on the defense weapons.  Interestingly, the part about the pool being built over the old bomb shelter is true, according to one of the nonfiction books I read. Richard Nixon really wanted the pool in a particular site, and it cost quite a bit of money to reinforce the roof of the old bomb shelter so the weight of the water wouldn’t collapse it.

Is your main character Luke based on anyone you know?  

He is based partly on my father  (the inventiveness), and partly based on a boy who used to live in our neighborhood (the action-oriented part).   I find all my characters tend to be composites of more than one person, plus whatever I need to add to their personalities to fit the story.

What is one of the most unexpected things you learned writing WILDFIRE RUN?  

I was fascinated by all the little details I learned about Camp David. Unfortunately, in the interest of pacing some of them didn’t make it into the book.  One detail that did is the bit about Franklin Delano Roosevelt’s fear of fire and the wall that he could push open in his bedroom. Since he was in a wheelchair he wanted to make sure he could get out in an emergency.  

How do you keep the action so exciting in each chapter of WILDFIRE RUN? 

I’m a huge movie fan, especially of adventure-type movies, so I imagine each scene in my stories as if it were in a movie. That way I can make sure I have enough going on to keep the action moving.  Also, I know real kids don’t stand around just talking for too long without doing something, and I try to remember that as well.

How long did it take WILDFIRE RUN to get published once you finished it?

I finished the book in June of 2008 and started querying it. I signed with an agent in September of that year, but the book didn’t go onto submission to editors until the end of January, 2009. Within a few weeks we had an offer for a revise and resubmit. It took me about a month to get the revisions done and then the offer came in April. The book was released on September 1, 2010, so that means it took a little over 2 years. Publishing can be a very long process!

If you had to do it all over again, would you change anything in WILDFIRE RUN?

To keep the action flowing, my editor and I decided we needed to cut back on some of Callie’s character development. I really regret that, because I love her character. 

What advice do you have for someone who wants to be a writer when he or she grows up?

The common advice is to read, read, read, and you can’t go wrong there. I think the other part of it is that you need to go out and experience life before you can write about it. Try lots of hobbies or sports, learn about odd subjects, and find out about other people outside of your family and friends.   Good writers tend to be good observers, and that’s a skill that can be developed. 

Tell us a little bit about your next book.

WOLF STORM is another middle grade adventure story about of group of young actors on location in the mountains filming a science fiction movie.  They are in an isolated location working with a group of trained wolves, and when a major storm hits, they find themselves alone trying to survive.  They soon realize there is a pack of wild wolves who don’t like the presence of the movie wolves on their territory. I had a terrific time writing this, researching wolf behavior and movie making. The main character, Stefan, is a newcomer to the movie business, and it was fun to build the conflict between him and the girl playing his sister, Raine, a veteran star who is very unhappy working with an amateur.
Many thanks to Dee Garretson for taking the time for such a thoughtful interview.
Be sure to check out the book trailer for Wildfire Run:

Wildfire RunAlso be sure to comment on the previous blog post giveaway for your chance to win a copy of Wildfire Run. 



Monday, June 20, 2011

BLOG CONTEST - Free Signed Copy of Wildfire Run

The funnest part about having a blog is having a contest. I am giving away a free hardback copy of Wildfire Run
by Dee Garretson. The author has graciously offered to sign the copy. Thank you Dee Garretson.

To enter, please comment on this post. Also, please check out the book review in the previous post and check back for an online interview with author Dee Garretson.


Sunday, June 19, 2011

Wildfire Run By Dee Garretson - Book Review

  Wildfire Run
The president's son, Luke, always has an entourage of Secret Service agents following him, even when he goes on vacation to Camp David. Through a series of catastrophic events, Luke and his friends Theo and Callie find themselves separated from the Secret Service agents hired to protect them, and in the dangerous path of a raging wildfire. The three of them must rely on their own ingenuity to outsmart the security measures that were designed to keep away criminals, but now stand in the way of their safety.

This tightly written debut novel by Dee Garretson is a fast paced thriller that will appeal to boys. Each chapter is filled with action that never slows down. The interlacing of technology throughout the novel adds excitement and interest. Highly recommended middle grade novel for boys ages 9-12.

Wildfire Run is the first novel in the Danger's Edge Series. The next novel, Wolf Storm, is due to be released 9/1/2011.

Next post will be an online interview with author Dee Garretson. Check back soon for a chance to win a signed copy of the this book.

Saturday, June 18, 2011

What is a Book Genre?

A book genre means putting books into categories. There are two main book genres: non-fiction and fiction. Non-fiction are factual books and fiction are made-up stories. Under each of the main genres there are sub-genres or sub-categories. Some of the sub-categories have sub-categories as well. It can get confusing for a child when they are asked to categorize their book into a genre. Sometimes a book will fit under more than one category like a fantasy adventure.

 Informational Factual Books - These are books about a variety of factual topics such as animals, science, weather, history, etc. Some examples of these books good for boys are Secrets of a Civil War Submarine and  Candy Bomber: The Untold Story of the Berlin Airlift's "Chocolate Pilot"

 Biography - Books about a real person written by another person. Examples include Leonardo Da Vinci and
Who Was Martin Luther King Jr.?

Autobiography - A story of a real person written by that person. Includes: Through My Eyes and Have Heart: David Eckstein

 Action/Adventure - A story in which there is an element of danger and risk. Examples include: The Adventures of Tom Sawyer and Wildfire Run
 Fantasy - A story with elements that are impossible. It often involves magic. Some familiar fantasy books are Harry Potter and the Sorcerers Stone and  Beyonders
 Historical Fiction - A made-up story that takes place in the past. The setting is real, but the characters are fictional. Examples: Al Capone Does My Shirts and A Single Shard.
 Horror - Fiction where the events cause dread for both the characters and reader. Examples: The  Haunting of Derek Stone and Goosebumps
 Mystery - A suspenseful story that involves an event that isn't solved until the end of the book. Examples include Hardy Boys Series and Ravens Gate (The Gatekeepers) by Anthony Horowitz.
Realistic Fiction - A made-up story that could happen in real life. Examples include: Hatchet and Maniac Magee  
 Science Fiction - A made-up story that involves the use of science and technology. Examples:  Ender's Game and Star Wars 
 Traditional Literature - Stories that are passed from one generation to another and include tall tales, folklore, fables and fairy tales. Examples include: Paul Bunyan and The Ugly Duckling.

Some other terms you might hear that are sub-genres of those listed above, namely science fiction.

Dystopian - Fiction in which the setting is a nightmare world. Examples include: Lord of the Flies and Hunger Games.
Steampunk - World where steam power is still in use. Usually the 19th century and/or Victorian Era. Examples: The Clockwork Three and The Anubis Gates.
Utopian - Fiction in which the setting is the perfect world. Examples include: The Giver 

Tuesday, June 14, 2011

Dads, Boys and Books

With boys lagging behind girls in reading, it is more important than ever to give boys a role model for reading. The most important role model in a boy's life is a good father. When a boy sees his dad reading, he is not afraid to follow the example. I don't advocate a father reading with his son in lieu of his mother, but in addition to. Setting aside story time on a nightly basis helps form strong family bonds between children and both parents as well as promotes literacy.

In our home, my husband chose more actively engaging books like Where the Wild Things Are than I did. I usually chose the sweet books like Guess How Much I Love You. This meant that our boys thought Dad was more fun than Mom. The boys loved it when their dad would make the roar of a dinosaur or shout of a monster. Somehow Dad's voice was scarier than Mom's.

Some of my suggestions for reading.

1. Start early - Even when your babies are brand new, they are soothed by the sound of your voice. This is a great time to read short books like Goodnight Moon.
2. Set aside reading time every day. Right before bedtime is a good time.
3. As your children grow, let them help pick out books.
4. Make trips to the library together.
5. Give books as gifts to your children and keep a lot of books around the house.
6. As your children grow, choose books that will grow with them. Read a chapter a night.
7. Keep reading to your son, even when he can read alone.
8. As your child learns to read, take turns reading with him read.
9. Challenge your son by reading up, that is reading books above their reading ability. They will still comprehend and it helps them learn new vocabulary.
10. When your child no longer wants you to read with him, "share" books with him. That is, make sure you read the books your child reads.
11. Ask your child how he liked a book you both read.
12. Make sure you always let your son see you reading whether it be a book, magazine or newspaper.

I loved it when my husband brought home books by Orson Scott Card. When he was done reading one of the books of the series, he gave it to my teenage son to read it. When my son was finished, they would talk about the book. Since we don't usually get two words out of my teenage son, whole sentences about how good the books were was quite an accomplishment.

A child's academic success directly correlates with how well they can read. In raising a reader, you breed success.

Saturday, June 11, 2011

Summer Writing Topics for Boys

I know, it's hard enough to get some kids to read over the summer, let alone write. However, some of my writing ideas have come from my son's storytelling. And remember, your children don't have to write a story, they can tell one as well. I found one trick to getting them to write one is to ask them a question and get them going on a story. Then when they are finished, I say, "That was a great idea. Do you think you could write it down for me so I don't forget. Maybe when you are done, you can read it to Dad, or Grandma, or so on."

Here are some great story starters.

1. What would happen if you had a pet snake that grew legs?
2. If you could be the general of an army, how would you make it a good army?
3. If you got lost in the woods, what would you do to survive?
4. If you could have the house to yourself for a whole week, what would you do each day?
5. What if you lived in a real Candyland?
6. If you could be a superhero, what kinds of things would you do? What would you look like? What superpowers would you have?
7. What would it be like to be taken hostage on a pirate ship?
8. What would it be like to live in a land with no parents and no rules?
9. If you were president of your country what would you change? What would you keep the same.
10. Create a new soda flavor and tell me what you would use for the ingredients, how it would taste, what it would look like. Draw a picture of the can when you are done.
11. What would it be like to shrink and be the driver of a remote control car?
12. What do you think it's like to grow really old?
13. If you were stranded on a remote island, how would survive? How would you get off?
14. Describe what would happen if you had an imaginary friend that became real? Describe your friend. What he looks like. What is his name? What do you like about him? What do you hate about him?
15. Describe what it would be like to be a cowboy or bank robber in the 'old days'.

You can create questions of your own, but make sure they are open ended questions. If you ask a yes or no question, that is the only word you will see on the paper.

One of my sons wouldn't write, but I found something to talk to him about by having him describe an Underground adventure he always talked about as a younger child. It gave us something to talk about and I was able to channel that adventure into a book I wrote for him. He has loved giving me ideas and at 17, he still gives me feedback on the book that we both hope to publish one day.

Friday, June 10, 2011

Children and Book Banning

Recently, a friend asked if I ban certain books at my house. As parents and educators it's natural to want to protect children. However, is banning books ever a good idea? I don't think so. It just makes kids more curious. The first thing I do when I hear a book is banned is check it out from the library and read it to find out why. Isn't it natural for children to do the same?

When my aunt was a teenager in the late 1960's, my grandmother would cut out every article on drugs, alcohol and hippies. Every morning when my aunt would see holes in the newspaper, she would rush to her friend's house to see what her mother cut out for the day and read the entire article. She probably wouldn't have read any of them at all if they had been allowed. The more my grandma tried to control her life, the more rebellious my aunt became. She eventually ran away from home, moved in with Janis Joplin for a few months and became addicted to drugs.

Book banning usually achieves nothing. We often miss out on great teaching opportunities when we close our minds to certain books. A conversation I had with my most internally aware child when she 14 to 15 years old went something like this.

"Mom, why would Huckleberry Finn  (Mark Twain) be one of the most banned books of all time?"
Me: "I guess because of the use of the 'N' word."
Child: "What 'N' word?"
Me: "'Nigger'. It's a derogatory word for African Americans and we don't use it in our home."
Child: "Well that's a stupid reason to ban a book. Isn't that how they talked back then?"
Me: "Yes, it was."
Child: "Well how are people supposed to stop talking like that if they can't read about how mean it sounds?"

My child made the point I have always felt. How are we supposed to make sure history doesn't repeat itself if we ban it from books? Thank you Mark Twain! Thank you Harper Lee!Thank you to all of the authors that make us think, make us feel and make us change. I listened to a talk from an author who worked with children of abuse. He wrote a book and used the language those children used on a daily basis. That book was banned from the school libraries for the explicit language, yet it changed the life of several readers who saw themselves on the pages. That book gave the readers hope who read beyond the language and recognized a way out of their situation. How sad that book wasn't allowed to touch more lives.

My mother in law once chided my daughter for reading a book she felt was inappropriate. Then she asked me why I would let my daughter read such an awful book. Truthfully, I had no idea the book was an adult romance full of gratuitous sex scenes that probably were inappropriate. I didn't know until I pulled the book out of the garbage, brought it in the house and asked my daughter why she threw it away. Her reply, "Mom, it's a really nasty book.I don't want to read it anymore." Without another word,  I put it back in the garbage can.

My daughter learned how to choose her own books and I learned how to use the book discussions to teach morals and values. I would rather have my child read a book and say, "What was it about that book that is bad?" rather than say, "I'm going to be bad and read the book you don't want me to read."

 I believe a parent should teach values to their children, both religious values and common decency values. When we let our children choose what they read, we tell them we trust them to make the right choice. That doesn't mean we should bring any and all books into our home. We have to keep in mind age appropriateness. As long as a child is still young, it is the parent's responsibility to choose appropriate reading materials. However, there will come the time when our children are exposed to books that will go against our belief system.Our children are better informed if we explain why a book is against our belief system and let them make a choice rather than telling them they can't read it. It usually doesn't become an issue until middle school.

Just remember, the harder a parent or group pushes to ban a book, the more that book is brought to the attention of a child. The more attention a book gets, the more curiosity it spurs to read the book. It becomes the 'forbidden fruit'. In the long run, banning a book will have the opposite effect by pushing the child to read something they may not have just out of curiosity.

Thursday, June 9, 2011

Middle Grade Author List for Boys

My list of awesome middle grade authors for boys. These authors write great books for boys. Their work encompasses ages 8-12 and middle grade 10-14. Lists are always a work in progress and more great authors will be added when I find them.

Lynn Reid Banks
Dale E. Basye
Holly Black
Judy Blume  
Michael Buckley
Sheila Burnford
Beverly Cleary
Andrew Clements
Eoin Colfer 
Sneed Collard  
Christopher Paul Curtis
Roald Dahl 
Kate DiCamillo 
Tony DiTerlizzi
Neil Gaiman  
Dee Garretson
Fred Gibson 
Will Hobbs 
Anthony Horowitz  
Brian Jacques
Jeff Kinney
Rudyard Kipling
Matthew Kirby
E. L. Konisburg
C.S. Lewis
Jack London
Dean Lorey 
Brandon Mull
Phyllis Reynolds Naylor 
Mary Norton
Wendy Orr
Linda Sue Park 
Katherine Paterson  
Gary Paulsen 
Rick Riordan 
Thomas Rockwell
J.K. Rowling
Louis Sachar
Angie Sage
Darren Shan
Obert Skye
Lemony Snicket  
Jerry Spinelli
Will Weaver 
E.B. White