Childish Nonsense

Exploring Children's Literature

Remembering Moore

I promised myself to get more regular with these posts. Maybe next time.

I was writing a whole different post yesterday before the tornadoes hit Moore, OK, but I find I can’t ignore that now. For days, I burst into tears now just from having the news on. There have been a few other times in my life when that was also the case, but this is especially bad, coming as it does so close on the heels of Sandy Hook, Hurricane Sandy, and the Boston Marathon bombing.

Over the years, I’ve heard various people say that they wanted to “see” a tornado. I’ve tried to convince them that no, they don’t. The fact is, you don’t see a tornado. You are INVOLVED with a tornado. You are affected by a tornado. You are endangered by a tornado. The closest I’ve ever been to one was about five miles from my husband’s family farm in Iowa when we lived there.  We knew how to read the clouds very well. One time, the clouds overhead started moving in a circular pattern. I ran for our dingy, dirty basement. It hit a town very near us. I don’t care to do that again. There were a few other instances, but the memory of that circular motion stuck with me.

The new reports always try to show the devastation from tornadoes, floods, hurricanes, earthquakes, etc., but nothing compares with experiencing the devastation first-hand. It’s not something I’m recommending. Just saying photographs can never show it. You can’t imagine it if you’ve never experienced it. Even adults with all their faculties and good control cannot help but be affected.

Imagine being a child in the midst of the destruction. The world doesn’t make much sense to begin with. Now you’re being told you have nowhere to sleep. No snacks. Not even any water to drink. Some of your friends are gone. Your parents are at a loss to help you put things into perspective.

These children need comfort – in a hundred different forms. Listen to them and help where you can.

I took time this week to read Mexican Whiteboy by Matt de la Peña. Matt is one of the speakers at the Los Angeles conference I will attend in Mexican WhiteboyAugust. I can hardly wait to hear him in person now. I’ve always been fascinated by ethnic and racial identity as an issue. I took African American history at my nearly 100% white high school back when that was a new thing. Anyway, this book has a lot to do with what it means to be white or Mexican or black or all of the above.  Of course, nothing is ever simple. The book is also about finding a place in the world and learning to be happy with what you are. The main characters also learn to accept their parents as imperfect human beings who need love and acceptance. In this society where races and ethnic backgrounds are mixing, it’s more important than ever to celebrate those backgrounds. Highly recommend this book.  Of course, all the baseball references don’t hurt.

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Happy Mother’s Day

happy-mothers-dayWhat is the most dangerous job in the world? If you said anything other than being a mother in a children’s book, no porridge for you! (The second most dangerous job is being a dog in a children’s book.)

Why do writers get the urge to kill off the mom? It’s an easy – though not always lazy – way to create tension. As we all know, a story without tension is – not to put too fine a point on it – boring. Little Red Riding Hood going to Grandma’s – yawn. Little Red Riding Hood nearly eaten by a wolf – tell me more. What creates more tension than losing your nurturer/confessor/source of all guilt? (Hey, I’m talking in general terms here. My mom never believed in guilt. Bless her.)

Why the mom? First of all, we all have one. It’s a theme everyone can relate to. Second, our feelings toward Mom are the first ones we ever felt. These emotions may have become complicated over the years, but they are primal at their core. Even people who have not seen their mothers since their day of birth or have not talked to their mothers since they left home can understand. Third, these emotions are important partly because they’re so complicated. We can feel for villains because, no matter how much we think Mom infuriates us (again, general terms), she’s still Mom. We do still love her. Fourth, we only get one. Theoretically, anyway. (I know stepmoms and adopted moms hold a special place also.) Losing her is always a tragedy.

So, on this Mother’s Day, think about how much you love your mom. Or think about how much you miss her. If you can’t forgive her for not being perfect, try to be a better person yourself. Hug every mom you see. And, if you’re a writer, try not to kill her off.


Also, here’s my review of a book I recently read.

Catalyst by Laurie Halse AndersonCatalyst

Viking/Penguin Group, 2002

ISBN 978-0-670-03566-1

Kate has teenage angst big time in this book from ALA Top Ten Best Books for Young Adults for 2003. She’s a chemistry genius and running dynamo but has no time for English or history. Long after her friends have been accepted to Harvard and Stanford, she’s still waiting to hear from the only college she applied to – MIT. In a constant battle between Good Kate and Bad Kate, she tries to control situations over which she has no control and lets other situations slide because she doesn’t know what she wants. The neighbors have a fire that forces Kate to bunk with their daughter, with whom she has never had any rapport. They achieve a sort of détente until the unthinkable happens. Anderson does a great job of dragging out the feelings all teens feel, but the adult in me wanted some kind of resolution, and there’s very little of that.

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May Day 2013

The registration for the LA Summer Conference of the SCBWI opened April 18. My friend Sue Peters and I will be making the pilgrimage to the source of all things SCBWI. It should be a fun and exhausting trip. I promise to report back. One thing I like to do before conferences is to familiarize myself with the work of some of the speakers. For an event such as the LA conference, I never get as much reading done as I would like because of the sheer volume of materials available and because I do have other reading to do.

The trip to the library was very productive, though. Of course, the best books are not always available, which is probably a good thing. That often means some kid is reading them. The first keynote is Laurie Halse Anderson, and I am reading Catalyst now. I checked out the three picture books that won the Caldecott Medal for David Wiesner and an award winner from the “39 Clues” series by Peter Lerangis. So sue me for liking variety.  I enjoy traveling, but the best part of traveling, for me, is getting ready to go. In the case of writer’s conferences, that is surely the case.

David Wiesner is, let’s say, very inventive and has an unexpected view of the world.  His picture books are exactly that. Pictures that tell stories. I can see them as read-alouds where the adult would constantly ask the child-on-the-lap questions about what’s going on. Or very young kids could “read” them totally on their own.

Tuesday (1991 republished 2011, Sandpiper, ISBN 9780395870822) is probably my favorite of the three. It asks a lot of what if questions. What if lily pads were really magic carpets and frogs could fly on them at midnight on Tuesday? What if people witnessed this miracle but couldn’t convince anyone of the truth of the flying frogs? What if, the next Tuesday, pigs could fly? Laugh-out-loud funny.

The Three Pigs (2001, Clarion Books, ISBN 9780618007011) begins as the traditional story, but quickly becomes something else. The pigs escape The Three Pigsone-by-one to the relative safety of the off-page world. Not satisfied with escape alone, the pigs make friends with characters from other pages. Eventually, they have to go somewhere, so they invite their new friends, including a very large dragon, back to the homestead. Boy, is that wolf ever surprised!

Flotsam (2006, Clarion Books, ISBN 9780618194575) is about a kid at the beach, who finds an underwater camera. When he has the film developed, he discovers some surprising things: beautiful underwater scenes surely, but also one photograph that telescopically includes the last several finders of the camera. Taking his cue, the boy loads the camera with new film and includes himself in the photo of the finders. The reader then gets to see the next finder.

To explore Peter Lerangis’ world, I chose The Viper’s Nest (2010, Scholastic Inc., ISBN 9780545060479) to read because it was one of the award winners by Lerangis. Little did I realize that this is one series where it’s a good idea to read the preceding volumes first. Once I got past my confusion with the characters and what they were up to, it’s a wonderful and exciting adventure. I love the fact that the kids are world travelers and thus give the reader a taste of geography. The puzzle aspect forces the reader to think. Also a plus. An appealing, well-done, and popular series.

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