cricketmuse

a writer's journey as a reader

Blog Spotlight: Mike Allegra


How can you not want to read a blog with this as its banner?

Mike Allegra

This is Mike Allegra, aka HeyLookAWriterFellow. Think of Steve Martin and Billy Crystal as children’s book writers. A little scary but Mike promises he keeps it clean. In fact he insists on it, even though he has been known to trot out some potty jokes now and then.  Besides writing an absolutely this-is-really-funny stuff blog, he is a very talented writer, doodler, and all around good guy. He loves to show off his cute kid, who I need to figure out how to bribe so he’ll pull my entry out of the next doodle hat round.

I don’t even know how I found Mike’s blog. I think we started frequenting the same blogs with our commentary and I popped in. Mike and I now banter until I get him to cry “uncle, already.” Yes, Mike, I am keeping score. But I should stay on his good side because I am really hoping to get a cow on a pogo stick doodle out of him one of these days. And, no–this is now a butter up attempt. There have been at least three blog spotlights prior to Mike (I’m going by who trades the most comments with me or who I’ve known the longest in the blogosphere).

So, if you are looking to connect with a talented published children’s author, or like witty writing, or hope to win a doodle (there is a batch of us petitioning for him to run his doodle drawings at least once a month) you need to pop in and visit Mike, who is more than just another writer fellow.

What We Say #10: of Chickens and Whistles


“George, do you think we can afford to go out to dinner and maybe take in a show? Will that be too expensive?”

“Why, Martha. The expense of going out on the town with my best girl is chicken feed. Grab your hat, darling, and let’s skeddadle downtown.”

George and Martha probably enjoyed their night out because more than likely George, being a generous fellow, had made his fortune and a spending money mattered no longer to him. In fact, a few dollars was a mere pittance, like tossing crumbs to the birds.

And that’s exactly where the expression “chicken feed” comes from–tossing small bits out at a time.  Chickens don’t have the capacity to chew up their food (ever see a chicken smile?) and must peck at small amounts. Apply that idea to money and chicken feed means a small amount of spending, not enough to worry or get choked up over.

image: thedo.gs not your average chicken

 

“Martha, are you going to be able to get that spot of gravy out of my tie? I have to look sharp for tomorrow’s presentation.”

“No worries, George. I’ll get it clean as a whistle.”

I doubt Martha was whistling was she worked on George’s tie.  Honestly, George, don’t you know gravy is just looking for the opp to drip on ties?

As for the expression “clean as whistle”, this one is pretty much as it sounds (sorry, the pun overcame the keyboard). About the time of Huck Finn and company, boys would find reeds and poke holes in them to make their whistles. The cleaner the reed, the cleaner or clearer the sound.

image: investitureachievement.org

Light and Eyrey


image:: pintrest.com Jane Eyre Silhouette Black and White Book Cover by Pendantmonium,

I am preparing myself early this year for when I announce we will be studying Jane Eyre.

“Do we have to?”

“Is that our only choice?”

“Isn’t that a chic lit selection?”

And that’s the question I shall endeavor to answer. Because the first two questions both can be answered with “no.” But we won’t go there for now.

So, is Charlotte Bronte’s famous classic novel of being true to oneself, of overcoming adversity, of embracing family over riches really a chic lit because it centers on a romance, intrigue, and a woman who is victimized more than once.

First off let’s look at a couple of definitions:

from http://www.chicklitbooks.com:

What is Chick Lit?

Chick lit is smart, fun fiction for and/or about women of all ages. Many of these books are written from a first-person viewpoint, making them a bit more personal and realistic. The plots can range from being very light and fast-paced to being extraordinarily deep, thought-provoking and/or moving.

Another perspective–from http://www.dictionaryreference.com:

chick lit

/lɪt/ Show Spelled [lit] Show IPA

noun

literature that appeals especially to women, usually having a romantic or sentimental theme.

At this point Jane Eyre could be considered smart, fun? probably not so much. First-person viewpoint–yes. Personal and realistic–maybe. The plot is not very light and could be considered deep, thought-provoking and moving. It does appeal to women and does contain a romantic theme. Perhaps it is chic lit. Then again, let’s explore “classic.”

Mark Twain’s definition is universally accepted: “A book which people praise and don’t read.” However, Jane Eyre is read evidenced by it still being in print, let alone being studied in AP courses. Plus, look at all the film versions of JE.

I put the question to the guy students in class and most said the novel held their interest. The language, the setting, the intrigue, the cousin plot, the bitter aunt, and of course that underplot of a possible vampire living upstairs–wait, that’s a different novel (or is it?)

The verdict? How about JE is a classy literary novel focusing on a woman who overcomes her unjust circumstances. Oh, yes, let’s not forget Mr. Rochester.

Any thoughts?

Did you dread reading Jane Eyre in high school and roll your eyes or embrace the story of a strong young woman who finds happiness after much travail? (yes, I am slanting the vote).

 

Oh the Wonderful World of Disney Classics


Writing about Reading Rainbow made me think how fortunate I am to have grown up with the real Disney. The one where Walt would step out from his desk and spin a little introduction relating to the feature presentation. Tom Hanks in Saving Mr. Banksgot it down pretty well.

Wwod open.jpg

image: wikipedia.org What a wonderful world

Sundays nights I would look forward to whatever presentation Uncle Walt had for us to watch.  There was always a variety ranging from live action movies with top actors of the day to mesmerizing and delightful animated shows (my favorite).

With the advent of packaged programming I was able to introduce my own kiddos to the Disney treasures through the thoughtful purchasing practices of our local library. Presented as Walt Disney Treasures, these are samples of Disney’s live action best. Even though the kiddos are grown up and gone, the MEPA and I don’t mind checking out one of the treasures for our nightly movie watch.  Disney didn’t cut corners on production. The acting and scripts were always prime and still hold up well after all these years.

Do you remember Disney? Better yet, anyone come across the re-released treasures?

A couple of Treasure favorites so far:

images: amazon.com


September is Library Card Drive


You do have a library card, right? I actually have around four: local, adjacent community, university, and former–I just might visit there someday. I have more library cards than credit cards, and I’m glad of that.
September is back to school and it makes sense to also designate the month as Library Card Month. As students get into the routine of going back to school, getting them into the routine of going to the library is just as important as having sharpened pencils and a dependable pen.
To twist an old selling point: “The Library Card. Don’t leave home without it.”

Summer Wonders


Returning school goes beyond getting back into a routine because it means I also have to make adjustments to my practicing for retirement. No more rolling over and going back to sleep, no more schlepping around in jammies, no more naps, no more odd eating hours, or meals for that matter. And worst of all, no more diving into books for an entire day and barely coming up for air. Responsible English teachers don’t partake in any of the above behaviors. At least not during the school year. Yet, summer vacation does allow me to practice the art of retirement and one of those skills is thoroughly enjoying a really good read. I was fortunate this year and enjoyed more than my usual share of good reads:

All the Light We Cannot See by Anthony Doerr

Breathtaking in its flow and style, I absolutely devoured Doerr’s novel about two lost children. Set in WWII, Doerr portrays the war in a way I’ve not encountered before. One perspective is through the blind eyes of Marie, a young French girl whose indomitable spirit carries her beyond the war’s cruelties. The other perspective is that of Werner, a German youth whose talents land him in the Hitler Youth. The parallel stories eventually telescope down to a satisfying denouement. Doerr, already an award-winning author, will do doubt increase his presence with this amazing tale of how the spirit can overcome its surroundings.

Mr. Penumbra’s 24 Hour Book Store by Robin Sloan

Sometimes I simply have to take a break from the pedantic pace of classics, or step away from serious literary excursions. Mr. Penumbra helped me to once again find the wit in wordsmithing. This foray into classic literature name dropping reminds me of Jasper Fford’s Thursday Next series, which is a delight in how it metafictionally pokes fun at how serious we tend to take our literature. Robin Sloan not only lovingly jabs at academia, he embraces our wanderings over to the dark side of technology via Google (those villains). Yet, bad guys (technology) aren’t so bad, once you understand them, and often they prove helpful overall because they are just misunderstood.

Remains of the Day by Kazuo Ishiguro

My first introduction to Ishiguro and of the three novels I read of his over the summer, this one is certainly the best in my opinion. The voice of nationalistic pride and misguided directive is so artfully penned in this memoir of a proper English butler. The bonus being how well the film adaptation captured the slow realization of how corrupted Steven’s outlook was after all.

The Mockingbird Next Door by Marja Mills

As a TKAM devotee I jumped on ordering Mills’s account of her time with Harper Lee faster than freckles popping out during a July heat wave. Lee has become such a recluse over the years it has been feared this national treasure will leave little behind in way of knowing who she really was. Fortunately Marja Mills went beyond her journalistic assignment and got to know Harper Lee as friend and neighbor allowing fans and readers a delightful glimpse into what Scout might have been like in the real.

The Push Cart War by Jean Merrill

This cannot possibly be a kids’ book! The wit is droll in delivery and its lampooning so adroit I don’t see how children could appreciate it fully. Maybe I’m only bereft in my opinion since I missed this one growing up. I think I got sidelined by Encyclopedia Brown. Just like The Phantom Tollbooth or Alice in Wonderland is not strictly for children, neither is Merrill’s classic. I’m ever so glad I found it and I made up for lost time.

The_Pushcart_War_-_cover_image_1964

image: Wikipedia

One Whole and Perfect Day by Judith Clarke. A Printz Honor Award
YA reads are hit and miss for me. There tend to be riveting and noteworthy like Hunger Games and Divergent or fall into high school drama–been there done that and see it everyday. Now and then I do get to pick up a YA which should be in what I call the YA+ category, meaning it’s more towards literary then temporal contemporary (I think it has lasting merit, not trendy, and an adult shouldn’t be embarrassed reading it). Clarke’s novel concerning a girl’s desire to have one day where her family is not dysfunctional fills that YA+ bill. Set in Australia, Lily does indeed have an odd family and what is even more odd is Clarke’s approach to the Point of View–it’s omnipotent, which has fallen out of favor. With almost Dickensian flair for characters and situations, Clarke provides a plot that slowly builds to the becoming a whole and perfect story–pretty nearly.

What’s really the wonder of these summer reads is that they were all recommends found on blogs I perused. Following other Book Boosters definitely has its benefits and I no longer have to forlornly drift the stacks hoping to uncover the newest hot read or find a lost treasure.

How about you?  Any really good reads found and savored over the summer?  Any great recommends discovered while catching up on your blogs?

Labor Intensive Days


Well, those laid-back, lazy days of summer break get stowed away with my white shoes after September 2. (Yes, I know I’m showing my age by my stodgy self-imposed fashionista rule).

White shoes for summer

September whites still a no-no? image: theclothingmenu.com

 

What I don’t like about the first day of school:

  • Trying to get through the name rosters without totally slicing and dicing the pronunciation.
  • Going over classroom expectations because even though I need to, I doubt anyone is seriously listening to yet another teacher reeling off the rule spiel.
  • Fretting over what I’m wearing. Hair and wardrobe malfunctions do not create good first impressions.
  • Trying to reason with my stomach that grazing days are done for now, and to please hush it’s malcontent state. Especially since our hallway is slated for second lunch this year.
  • How tired I am at the end of the day. Remember the Barbie clip in Toy Story? Yep, that “it’s exhausting being that up and happy feeling” really does slam a person.
  •  My feet hurt. Stylish shoes still rule over sense. I doubt I will rock Reeboks to school.
  • Timing bathroom breaks. And no, my classroom is not even close to the staff rest rooms. I have line up with everyone else. On the other hand, I do get to hear some unexpected choice bits while stalled for time.
  • Dreading that stage fright feeling of “am I gonna bomb or be the bomb?” Really, it’s like running a three show routine with three different audiences. Are they going to get my jokes? Do they respond in the right places? I commiserate with ever Saturday Night Live host about this time of year.

But the cool thing about September is that I do get to go back to school.

  •  There’s that excited buzz of the new as everyone returns to the hive of learning.
  •  What about the opportunity of “clean slate”–never mind last year, this year is gonna be even better.
  •  New clothes! I took advantage of Coldwater Creek closeouts this year.
  • Renewing and forming friendships among staff. “Old and new faces sharing spaces.”
  • Trying out new ideas on old curriculum. “I can’t wait to release this new perspective of Beowulf.”
  •  Schedule–I like a well-ordered life and getting back into a routine makes me humm like a happy llama.

What are your back-to-school thoughts? What side of the desk are you on?

Blog Spotlight: Valerie R Lawson


One of the reasons I began blogging was to build my platform–you know, the mantra that Kevin Costner inadvertenly began in Field of Dreams: “build it and they will come.”

While I have yet to promote my books (ahem, I have to get manuscripts published first) I have met other writers who focus on young adults and middlers. Valerie is one of the first Society of Children’s Book Writers and Illustrator writers I found here at WordPress.  I will have to say this about Valerie: she is enthusiastic about both SCBWI and writing!

In her own words, or words I found at the bottom of an interview about her:

Valerie Lawson is a young adult contemporary author who dabbles in middle grade mysteries and practices the art of cursing while driving. She has been known on occasion to wield sarcasm like a +5 Holy Avenger. In her previous life, she believes she was a Mayan goddess as evidenced by her love of chocolate and Javier Bardem. (She recognizes that Javier is Spanish, but she doesn’t care.) She lives in Broken Arrow, Oklahoma, with her husband and two children who suffer through her delusions of grandeur and bouts of madness with grace. You can read more about her writing journey on her blog at Barbies on Fire or follow her on Twitter.

I have yet to make it to the annual Los Angeles SCBWI Conference. I vicariously attended the event through Valerie’s vivid play-by-play descriptions of the workshops and functions.  She promotes her own OK SCBWI conference and tosses out contests and opportunities to further one’s craft. When she is absent from the blogging spectrum for a while I know it’s because she is immersed in her own writing projects–which is a good thing.

So, thanks, Valerie, for being the cheerleader you are when it comes to getting out there and doing something with our writing.

Six of One


Perhaps it’s because I’m basically an old-fashioned kind of girl that I tend to toss out old phrases like “don’t count your chickens,” “look before you leap,” along with one of my catch alls: “six of one, half dozen of another.” I tend to add that one in when there is a stalemate to a discussion. I can see there is more than one way to approach a matter so for argument’s sake I acknowledge we agree to disagree.

I then realized there truly is a different way to see and do a lot of things which can head up some fairly heated debates. For instance:

  • Storing glasses: rim down or rim up in the cupboard?
  • Shoes and socks: put socks on first and then shoes or one sock one shoe one at a time?
  • Chilled water: store water in the fridge or water and cubes as needed?
  • Bedsheets: pattern down or pattern up?
    Swimming: dash in or bit by bit?
  • And the age old toilet paper controversy

Over or under: click here for the definitive debate

Can you add your own “see it two ways” to the list?

 

Reading Rainbow Redeux


I grew up with Reading Rainbow. Well, kinda sorta.  The MEPA and I were fairly strict about television (that and we didn’t want to pay for cable) and pretty much the only TV the kiddos watched came via PBS programming.  Reading Rainbow won out over Sesame Street and Mister Rogers. I didn’t want the television to be their babysitter so I would plunk myself down on the couch with them and we would relish our R&R time together.

image: geocaching.com “Take a look. It’s in a book. Reading Rainbow.”

The Grammy Award winning program aired from 1983 to 2009–that’s a lot of books! Levar Burton became as recognized and as trusted as Big Bird and Mr. Rogers in guiding children towards enrichment.

When Reading Rainbow went off the air, the world seemed a bit dimmer. Even though I hadn’t watched the show for years since the progeny grew up and moved to other entertainment *sniff* I still nurtured a soft spot for Levar’s brand of book boostering; if an episode aired and I happened to have the time I would watch it. With the passing of Reading Rainbow I thought “Well, there goes that wish.” You see, I harbored the secret wish of writing a book that might be selected as a Reading Rainbow feature read.

All is not lost, because Levar has fulfilled one of his secret wishes and has purchased the Reading Rainbow brand and is creating an app for this generation.  He initially hoped to raise one million dollars on Kickstarter–that amount was achieved in only one day.  He recently ended his campaign with a staggering amount of over five million dollars.

For more information go directly to the website. I’m looking forward to introducing Reading Rainbow to the grandkiddo.  Heck, I might download the app for myself.

Are you nostalgic for a little Reading Rainbow. Check this out:

Or maybe this one:

It’s easy to see Reading Rainbow made an impact on one generation.  I foresee its impact on this one.

But you don’t have to take my word for it.

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