Saturday, May 30, 2015

Ramblings about Reading

Once upon a time reading and writing was only for a select few. Everyone else was too busy raising food and children, hunting for food, preparing food and clothing -- you know, the basic things that preserve life.
Once upon a time there were stories. Ah that’s the thing. Stories were what made life worth living. Stories were the passing of community information around and to the next generation. Stories were lessons learned and the good rewarded and the bad punished. Stories told in the evening once work was done. (Or they ran out of daylight.) Stories were entertainment for all and education for the young.
The storyteller was honored for his memory, and for his ability to create/ weave interesting tales, to choreograph call and response, and sometimes even to sing and lead the singing.  It’s no wonder that, in Ann McCaffrey’s Dragonrider tales, Harpers were the educators of the young as well as those who passed along the news among the various settlements.
Just because writing was invented didn’t mean the end of stories and storytelling. It just meant that the best stories, the most important information, could be recorded for others -- those who would never get to see/hear the storyteller -- to enjoy.
But now children needed to learn to decipher those scratches upon clay, those pictographs on Papyrus rolls, those mushed together letters on parchment, those printing press letters upon paper.  If life (creating food and clothing) was hard, then few could be spared to sit for the long periods of time needed to learn. But, as better methods of cultivation and weaving of cloth for clothing appeared, people had more time for education and books and reading.  
But it still had to be taught. It still had to be learned.
We have no records of books written for children to read in the early civilizations. They might or might not have had them. During the Middle Ages, when life was more difficult again, only children of the upper classes were taught to read and write – mostly boys, but some girls. (Girls had more of the home arts to learn – spinning, weaving, embroidery, the making of medicines in the still room, the care of the home — clean rushes on the floor at least once a season— cooking, care of babies, etc. They often didn’t have time to simply sit and read.) And once children learned to read, they were expected to read adult books.  The whole concept of a childhood was short – baby/ toddler/ youth – from age eight on they were expected to do their part with adults.
It was only after the industrial revolution that people extended the time of childhood to include the teen years. (Except for the children of the working class - who toiled in factories for 12 or more hours a day.)

Toward the beginning of the 20th century, the strange idea of limitation of child working hours and education for all took hold.  Which sparked a demand for teachers and textbooks. And free libraries. 

Thursday, May 28, 2015

Adventures (trying) Flying

I was weeding my email when I discovered this message to my sister. The first part is a repeat post written in 2012. But I realized that there was more to the story.  Here's the full adventure. (See the header above. This blog is about my adventures as a writer - and this one is a goodie. Not while it was happening, but … well, read and see.)

Why did I go to the Vermont College of Fine Arts in Montpelier in March (2012)?  (Besides the fact that I love the place?) I attended a Writing Weekend Retreat there.

And -- I had adventures on the way.

Firstly, about the time our plane should have been loading, we heard an announcement that Philadelphia (my next layover) had a backup and we probably wouldn't leave here for several hours. (a huge storm that missed Baltimore had slammed into Philadelphia and prevented planes from taking off.) Some people left the area to go to the food court, but I was among the ones who needed to change my connecting plane (I had only a 30 minute layover in Philly), so I got in the line for plane changes.  Good thing, too, because 10 minutes later they announced that Philadelphia's delay had cleared up and the plane would load soon.

Once in the Philly airport, I raced to my favorite Philadelphia cheesesteak sub place, only to find most of that area under construction and my option for lunch was a premade salad, sub, or wrap.  hmmmm. So I went on to the area where my connecting plane to Vermont was supposed to leave from.  Surprise.  That plane was delayed for an hour because it was flying from another airport hit by storms which had delayed their takeoff.  Whew!

Well, my plans to take a slow drive from Burlington (there is no airport in Montpelier) among the beautiful Vermont mountains, stopping to visit places -- like the Ben and Jerry's ice cream factory -- had to be cancelled because now it was 5 pm and I had to rush down I-89 to get to the college by dinner time. The drive was still lovely. Wisps of foggy clouds flowed down the mountainsides and wafted in the valleys between.  I had to keep the windshield wipers working because of the constant mist.

Once at Vermont College the weekend began with a lecture about laying a foundation -- important in YOGA as well as writing. (complete with Yoga instruction) Ouch. I knew that after toting my heavy bags through two airports, plus yoga, I was going to wake up in pain the next day.  And I did.
But it was worth it. 

Saturday and Sunday at the Writing Retreat

Vermont is beautiful in March, especially when surprised by a heat wave of 65 degrees, which will go up to almost 80 degrees later this week. (The skiers expecting snow probably weren't so happy.)

Al three of the faculty at this writing weekend were fabulous, pointing out things that made us all sit up and take notice.  ( Coe Booth's lecture about Secondary Characters!) I had a consultation with Little Brown editor, Alvina Ling, who pointed out some major changes I could do to my work in progress. And the third thing I jammed into this day was a 4+ hour stretch of learning how to use my new composing software -- Scrivener. (I think I may have a bit of it figured out now)

In the evening we did readings from our works in progress.  Most of them were YA, some of them were Middle Readers (which means older Elementary and into Middle School).  I think mine was the youngest one there, and, deducing from the laughter, the funniest.  Many people did say it was also the most dramatic, but what can I say? I'm a children's librarian who loves to perform.  A quiet person with a drama queen inside of her.

Sunday was so sad.  None of us wanted to leave.  But, since I had an early flight to catch, I had to leave at 1:30, right in the middle of an interesting panel discussion of all three of our faculty -- Coe Booth, Holly Black, and Alvina Ling.  Another participant had an even earlier flight, so she joined my on my drive up I-89 from Montpelier to Burlington.

She made her flight.
Me?  not so much.

As I was passing through security, I got a call from the airlines that my flight had been delayed and wouldn't leave for an hour.  Grrrrrr.  I could have stayed longer! Then I was called up to the podium and told that, naturally that meant my connecting flight in Philadelphia would have to be changed.  Double Grrrrr.

I began getting email after email from the airline -- more flight changes.  At this point I didn't know if I were getting a connection in Philadelphia at 7 or 8 or 8:30 --
but they assured me that I DID have a seat.
In some plane.
That would get to Baltimore.

Philadelphia airport was -- interesting.
You do remember that I left Montpelier at 1:30 pm, right?
It was now 5:30 and I was only halfway home.  I picked up a sandwich for dinner (the wing of the airport that I was in was under construction and there was only one choice of food supply), found my boarding place and sat.  and sat.

It turned out that half of the people there were waiting for a flight to New York City.  And waiting.  Finally, they announced that they couldn't fix the broken window in their airplane and they were getting a different craft for them.
What about the Baltimore group?  We were asked to move to a different boarding place and would be informed as to when our flight would leave once we got there.

This was a dangerous spot to be.  It was right opposite a pastry shop in the terminal. I got myself a cupcake.  Then an almond pastry. If we were to be delayed here much longer, I think I would gain at least 5 pounds!

Oh joy!  our plane was announced -- we left after 8 pm. Landed in Baltimore and I had no problems finding my car in the long term parking lot. (where I ate the other half of the sandwich I had bought in Philly.)

I should be home in a half hour, right?
There was a traffic jam at the Harbor Tunnel on I-895 (the old tunnel).  It took more than an hour before I pulled into my driveway.

Meanwhile, Arians -- the 12-year-old had been sending me messages (which I could read while we were stopped dead at the toll booths of the tunnel.)  "Are U home yet?"  She stayed awake until I could give her a good-night hug -- at 10:30 pm!!!

Let's see.  Left Montpelier at 1:30.
Got home at 10:30.
Nine (9) hours.
I don't think that I'll fly US Airways again.
(and, I haven't)

Tuesday, May 26, 2015

When you get a nice rejection, what do you do?

What do you do when your manuscript submission is rejected?
Send it someplace else, right?

Okay, what do you do when the rejection letter tells you that they'd like to see something else you have done?

Did you know that women and men react differently to this invitation?
Yes, we do.  (I've found myself doing this, too.)

Writer, Editor, Poet Kelli Russell Agodon writes about this very problem in a post called, "Submit Like a Man: How Women Writers can become More Successful."

Monday, May 25, 2015

Nonfiction Monday - The Tree Lady

Hopkins, H. Joseph.  The Tree Lady; the True Story of How One Tree-Loving Woman Changed a City Forever.  New York: Beach Lane Books, 2013.

                        Picture book biography of Katherine Olivia Sessions who loved working with plants. When she moved from the heavily wooded northern California to the southern Californian San Diego desert, Sessions was determined to discover what kinds of trees would survive there – and she did. 

                        Actually the author repeats those last few words, “and she did,” over and over again in this book with variations. 
                                    “Not everyone knew how to hunt for trees. But Kate did.” 
This repetition gives a rhythm to the writing and a positive spin to Kate’s lifelong project.  
           (As a new San Diegoan, I thank her.)

Monday, May 18, 2015

Nonfiction Monday - Locomotive

Floca, Brian. Locomotive. New York, Atheneum Books for Young Readers, 2013.
            2014 Caldecott Medal / Sibert Honor Book

                        A lyrical description of a train trip by two children (boy and girl) and their mother across the Great Plains to San Francisco (to meet their father who is pictured, but not mentioned in the text) during the summer of 1869, soon after the Union Pacific joined with the Central Pacific which connected eastern trains to the Pacific ocean.
 Extensive notes at the end of the book explain the background of train travel at this time period.  Floca, who illustrated as well as wrote this book, takes advantage of his complete control by playing with the typeface to give even more emphasis to certain parts of the tale – especially the sound effects.

                        CLANK CLANK CLANK!
                        Men came from far away
                        to build from the East,
                        to build from the West,
                        to meet in the middle.

                  It’s not poetry, but it is rhythm. “…the passengers, have packed and shipped and sold their things, all their things, everything.” (I love this repetition, this interior rhyme pattern.) Unfortunately, there is no information about the people’s responses to this mode of travel, even though the illustrations feature this family. The text focuses on facts about the train and the illustrations show this trip across America. (I would love to know what created the land formation called the Devil’s Slide.) Even the endpapers will fascinate the train aficionado illustrating the route and showing how fire and steam propel the engine. A good example of illustrations being part of the story and extending it.

Thursday, May 14, 2015

Deer Attacks Person

Usually deer attack cars during the fall - during mating season, but a friend of mine was attacked last night by a male deer.  She was taking the back road from Pennsylvania to Bel Air, Maryland and it jumped out into the road, crashing into the front grill of her car. The grill is now dead, but she survived with minor injuries.

This put me in mind of my own experience of being attacked by a male deer.

Coming home from Fallston one evening on Glen Arm Road, a deer jumped out (full rack male) attacked the car ahead of me which began sliding sidewise, and in the next second crashed into my driver's side. 
As soon as I opened my eyes again, I desperately braked, finally coming to a stop four inches from the back passenger door of the car (sidewise, remember?) in front of me. When I got my breath and took a good look at the people in that car, I realized I was four inches away from smashing into a child strapped into a child's seat. 
I'm not sure how damaged the car ahead was, he was able to drive away, but my only damage was a big dent in the driver's side door and blood and deer hair all over it and the window. From then on, I tried to avoid driving on back country roads at twilight - because that's when the deer come out of the woods. And Attack!

Monday, May 4, 2015

Nonfiction Monday - The Boy Who Loved Math

Heiligman, Deborah. The Boy Who Loved Math; The Improbable Life of Paul Erdos. Ilus. LeUyen Pham. New York:  Roaring Brook Press, 2013. 

This is a picture book biography of a mathematical genius who did not remain huddled in his room working with math , but traveled the world, sharing his ideas and solving many difficult, previously unsolved math problems in group situations and encouraging other mathematicians to work together. 

Heiligman pulls the reader (even math haters) into this book by beginning with simple numbers – Paul’s age (4) when he could calculate how many seconds a person had been alive. 

By the time Paul turned 10, the reader can’t wait to find out about Prime Numbers along with Paul. 

Heiligman compares how his mother took care of young Paul to the way the adult Paul assumed everyone else would also take care of him as he traveled from mathematician to mathematician making very long visits. 

Amazingly enough all were honored to take care of this genius.