Turning the Page for Library Support

An awesome video about the Toronto Public Library system and why it needs support.

I think most public libraries (or school libraries for that matter) could say the same. Every so often I see articles about how libraries are dying and how they’re not necessary anymore, but they continue to be a vital resource for their communities–for readers, for families, for educators, for students of all ages, etc. Now more than ever, we need our libraries.

(via bookshelves of doom)

Be an English Major

Fellow Candlewick YA writer and one of my favorite 2014 debut authors, Sarah Combs, recently sent me this article about why English majors matter. Needless to say, my heart swelled with bookish pride. For example:

“The English major is, first of all, a reader. She’s got a book pup-tented in front of her nose many hours a day; her Kindle glows softly late into the night. But there are readers and there are readers. There are people who read to anesthetize themselves—they read to induce a vivid, continuous, and risk-free daydream. They read for the same reason that people grab a glass of chardonnay—to put a light buzz on. The English major reads because, as rich as the one life he has may be, one life is not enough. He reads not to see the world through the eyes of other people but effectively to become other people. What is it like to be John Milton, Jane Austen, Chinua Achebe? What is it like to be them at their best, at the top of their games?

English majors want the joy of seeing the world through the eyes of people who—let us admit it—are more sensitive, more articulate, shrewder, sharper, more alive than they themselves are. The experience of merging minds and hearts with Proust or James or Austen makes you see that there is more to the world than you had ever imagined. You see that life is bigger, sweeter, more tragic and intense—more alive with meaning than you had thought.”

The whole article is fantastic. Edmundson defends not only the act of reading, as above, but also the act of writing and how deft handling of language allows us to “not merely to represent the world but to interpret it.” Isn’t every other major or career made better by the ability to represent and interpret the world and its ideas? Definitely click through to read the rest.

I’m a former English major and, even though people often make jokes about how unemployable we are and how useless it is to “sit around and read,” I can think of nothing more valuable than understanding language and being sensitive to the human experience. My English major certainly helped me get jobs (with health benefits!) and has made me a more thoughtful person overall.

Also, I gave a little cheer when I saw that the article writer was, in fact, Mark Edmundson, professor at the University of Virginia, my beloved alma mater. (Woohoo, English department!)

Thanks again to Sarah for sharing such an inspiring article! (And guys, you are totally going to want to read her book, Breakfast Served Anytime when it comes out next spring.)

Every Bean Matters

Not exactly writing related, but a lovely video by Ze Frank featuring a whole lot of jelly beans:

Of course this reminded me of Our Town and Mrs. Dalloway (because everything reminds me of Our Town and Mrs. Dalloway). Our lives are filled with all of these seemingly insignificant jelly bean moments. Make each jelly bean count–not necessarily by climbing Mount Everest or saving orphans from fire (okay, at least call 911)–but by appreciating and recognizing each bean. We only have so many beans and we need to appreciate them while we can.

This week, let’s try to acknowledge and appreciate our beans as much as possible.

Remember, Honor, Share

Today in the US marks Memorial Day, during which we remember and pay tribute to men and women who died in the armed forces. Amber Lough, one of my favorite 2014 debut authors and a former First Lieutenant in the U.S. Air Force, has a beautiful post up about what it means to remember and honor those lost in service.

For me, Amber’s post is also a reminder of how important it is to share stories. Some veterans might find it hard to talk about their experiences; some might not be around to share those experiences themselves. But I appreciate when people like Amber can talk a little about what she and others experienced and how it changed them. I’m so glad Amber is sharing stories now, both from her own life (as in her blog post) and from her imagination (as in her awesome novel).

Make sure to check out Amber’s post. Sending love to all feeling loss on Memorial Day.

Be a Bookish Kid

Updates from NESCBWI coming when my brain isn’t fried, but first, a lovely video about why we should all be bookish kids, no matter how old we are:

I love the idea of everyone processing their own story and realizing the expanse of possibilities through reading. Maybe you’re not going to tesser to other planets and save your dad from a giant brain, but you can still better process your own life and the lives of those around you having learned about  Meg Murry’s expansive love and bravery. All kinds of art can show you the possibilities of other stories, but I think there’s something to be said for reading in particular–it’s intimate and personal while still being expansive.

Endure and Prevail

Last week my dad mentioned William Faulkner’s Nobel Prize acceptance speech. I’d read it before, but it feels particularly meaningful now. My favorite part:

“I decline to accept the end of man. It is easy enough to say that man is immortal simply because he will endure: that when the last dingdong of doom has clanged and faded from the last worthless rock hanging tideless in the last red and dying evening, that even then there will still be one more sound: that of his puny inexhaustible voice, still talking.

I refuse to accept this. I believe that man will not merely endure: he will prevail. He is immortal, not because he alone among creatures has an inexhaustible voice, but because he has a soul, a spirit capable of compassion and sacrifice and endurance. The poet’s, the writer’s, duty is to write about these things. It is his privilege to help man endure by lifting his heart, by reminding him of the courage and honor and hope and pride and compassion and pity and sacrifice which have been the glory of his past. The poet’s voice need not merely be the record of man, it can be one of the props, the pillars to help him endure and prevail.”

Bold/italics are mine. Writers, we’ve got a job to do. Let’s help humanity prevail.

Make sure to click through to see the whole speech; you can even listen to Faulkner read it!

(image: Wikipedia)

Days of Remembrance and Why Stories Matter

This week is the national Days of Remembrance, which commemorates Holocaust victims and survivors. I remember learning about the Holocaust in school, primarily with two main books. The first was Number the Stars by Lois Lowry, which my class read in third or fourth grade. I knew about WWII in general, but this was the first time I remembered hearing about the significant threat to Jewish people during that time. The book provided a safe way to learn about a very scary part of history; the threat to Ellen’s family is very real but Lowry is careful not to go into too much detail about what could have faced the Rosens if they’d been caught.

Night by Elie Wiesel was another significant book in my learning about the Holocaust. By the time I read it, I was in eighth grade and knew millions of innocent people had been tortured and killed. I didn’t expect Night to affect me so, but I read it in one evening and spent the entire time crying. For me, it was an opportunity to understand the Holocaust in a very personal way. Somehow it’s easy to gloss over statistics about how many people died; it’s far harder to ignore real stories about the horrors that individual people experienced.

Which is why the Days of Remembrance and honoring all the specific victims and survivors are essential. We need to hear their stories and remember that these were/are specific people with specific lives. They were mothers and singers and readers and kids who liked silly jokes and lawyers and on and on. All of their stories are valuable and need to be shared.

The United States Holocaust Memorial Museum has resources for taking part in the Days of Remembrance, including a webcast of the national ceremony on Thursday, April 11 at 11:00am. In case you can’t take part in an organized event, you can also share the stories of victims and listen to the stories of survivors, as documented on the museum website. Make sure their voices are heard.

This Is Real Life

The Hub is currently going through a great series about the “next big thing” in YA. One post I was especially glad to see was this one about contemporary/realistic fiction. As a writer of contemporary realistic YA, I know it doesn’t always seem as fun and flashy as some of the other genres–no monsters, no time travel, no awesome steampunk outfits. (Unless we’ve got a real-life steampunker on our hands, in which case I want to read that book.) But it’s a solid standby for the genre. As Kelly says:

“It is the bread and butter of YA fiction because it is the essence of what the teenage experience is. It’s happy. It’s dark. It’s tough. It’s romantic. It’s mysterious.”

Which is one part of what I love about contemporary YA. As much as I love to read about other worlds and heroic adventures, it’s also great to connect with characters who are dealing with very real issues and having very real adventures.

Kelly offers many suggestions for contemporary realistic YA reading that covers a breadth of topics like grief, sex, graduation, obesity, and secrets. There are so many topics and options because YA is ever-evolving and expanding. Kelly says it way better than I could:

“Nothing in contemporary YA fiction is sacred. There are no topics too light nor too dark to dig into, nor should there be. Even topics that emerge again and again — things like cancer or depression or first love or friendship — are still new and fresh upon each telling. Teens live a million different experiences, and even when faced with similar challenges, each individual tackles it in his or her own unique manner.

This is why there is and never will be a “next big thing” in contemporary fiction. The only trend and the only prediction that can be made for reality is that teens live it each and every day, and having a robust selection of stories about real experiences is crucial. But it’s not simply about having them that matters — reading them and knowing about them is just as critical.”

I want to put this on a big flag and wave it around. Contemporary YA may not get the buzz that some other genres do, but it’s filled with love and hope and truth and humor, and all of that matters.

Make sure to check out the full post because it’s so good.

Fight (and Write) Like a Girl

Last night I went to Boston GLOW’s Fight Like a Girl! author panel, and it was awesome!

The MG panel–Lynda Mullaly Hunt, Padma Venkatraman, Erin Dionne, Jennifer Carson, and Ellen Booraem

Techincally, there were two panels–one for middle grade authors and one for YA authors. Even though you could have just attended one or the other, I was glad to see both. Panelists tackled different issues, like how setting was used or how the line between weakness and strength is blurred or how reading allows for greater empathy. It was inspiring to hear so many fantastic MG/YA authors talk about their work, and to hear about an organization dedicated to helping women become active leaders in their communities and the world.

The conversation got me thinking about the different ways in which my characters are strong and weak, and how these qualities are manifested b their actions.

Other fun stuff:

  • Hearing about people’s inner nerdiness.
  • My new Fight Like a Girl t-shirt.
  • Meeting new writer friends, seeing old writer friends get to be friends.
  • Being prompted to ask my question in the YA Q&A session (since I tend to freak out about raising my hand).
  • Swag bags.
  • Hearing about Boston GLOW’s 2013 IGNITE Change Leadership Contest.

Thanks to everyone who helped make this event so inspiring and so much fun! I’m feeling stronger already.