Archive for the ‘Books’ Category

Service of Book Clubs: Tips From a Pro

Monday, April 5th, 2021

Deb Wright

I asked Deb Wright to share what’s happening with book clubs in her Chicago suburb. You’ll soon see why she is qualified to cover the subject.

Deb leads two and is active in an additional two. She heads Shakespeare Readers Theater and co-directs a Great Books group while participating in Louse Penny and woman’s book clubs. Deb’s secret to keeping up with all those books: She speed reads while retaining what she reads.

She says eight is the ideal number of participants so there’s time for each to chime in. With Deb–and another retired teacher who is in three of the groups–a wandering or diverted discussion doesn’t have a chance. They are there to discuss books. Men and women participate equally in Shakespeare Readers Theater and Great Books.

As with most things, the pandemic has wreaked havoc on club activities. “In some odd way I feel on vacation! I don’t have quite so many to-do lists,” Deb said. Nevertheless, “everyone I’ve spoken to has been reading political, fiction and non-fiction on subjects they’ve wanted to explore.”

Photo: Shakespeare.org.uk

All four of her groups passed on Zoom meet ups although she says that the public library in her town continues its discussions via this cloud-based video communications app.

The women’s book club, made up largely of League of Women Voters members, normally meets in a bookstore. Members have stayed in touch through email. “This group always chooses a non-fiction book or sometimes a biography. We don’t meet in July and August.” There’s a list of some of the books the club read last year after the last photo of this post.

The Great Books group–that should meet monthly in the town’s Chamber of Commerce–is on hold. This 37 year old club, that Deb founded with her co-leader, hopes to resume in fall with a new anthology. There is one Poetry Night a year.

Because most of the members of the Shakespeare Reader’s Theater are seniors hesitant to meet in person during the pandemic, it, too, is on hold. Deb is one of three planners, one of whom is a retired teacher and a Shakespeare scholar, theater director and actor. Deb said: “We choose part of a play and volunteers read the selections. I do the explaining, kind of ‘in the meantime, Richard murdered…’ So I give the what’s happening between the scenes.” There’s also a great actor with a wonderful voice in the group who, with his wife, started a summer theater in town.

The Louise Penny group will meet again in August when Penny’s next book is released moving on then–back to once a month–to another well-written mystery series by Charles Todd whose main character is Ian Rutledge. They gather in the banquet-size heated garage of a member. It boasts superlative ventilation and quantities of space for participants to distance six+ feet apart. Penny is the author of mystery novels set in Quebec. The Canadian author’s main character is Chief Inspector Armand Gamache of the Sûreté du Québec.

Deb taught language arts [English] to all grades in a Chicago school but mostly 8th–adding American History from 1865 to the present the last five years. She’s also an artist and avid gardener. In addition to her garden and grounds, she cares for almost 100 indoor plants, four cats, an old house and her young grandchildren for weekly play dates. This summer she volunteered to tutor three first graders who didn’t cotton to remote and hybrid learning.

Have you belonged to a book club? Do you have questions for Deb?

Photo: amazon.com

Following are some of the books the woman’s book club read last year:

Where the Crawdads Sing by Delia Owens; Beloved** by Toni Morison; The Land of Sea Women by Lisa See; Beneath A Scarlet Sky by Mark Sullivan; Before We were Yours by Lisa Wingate; Born A Crime by Trevor Noah; The Only Woman in the Room by Marie Benedict and The Girl With Seven Names by Hyeonseo Lee. Deb added: “There were a couple of others but they were not worth reading.”

Deb said “**Beloved was almost too difficult to read; I would not read it at this point in time. We also read Educated by Tara Westover at the end of the previous year. Worth reading but intense–one of those triumphs of the human spirit.”

 

Service of Dreading the End of a Beloved Book or Series

Thursday, October 8th, 2020

Belgian Neuhaus chocolates

As I reach the end of a much-loved book or Netflix series I dread the anticipated feeling of loss. I’ll miss the characters I’ve befriended, fiction or non. With options to mingle and in-person entertainment cut off–especially for the covid-cautious–it helps to have something to look forward to if there isn’t a good movie on Turner Classic, a scheduled live online concert or event or reruns of a favorite series like “Blue Bloods” or “Law & Order.” [I miss Jerry Orbach.]

The only reason I dislike e-books is because I can’t gauge when the end will happen–how many pages or chapters I have left. So how can I slow down so the book lasts longer? I want to pace my reading as I do consumption of fancy chocolates. I try to eat only one a day.

I borrowed Erik Larson’s “The Splendid and the Vile” from the New York Public Library at a busy time and hardly started it when the library took it back. I’m now #195 in line for 255 copies. I haven’t mastered the pace and timing of borrowing. When I select a few books they all seem to arrive in my virtual book box at once.

I try not to binge watch episodes on Netflix of “West Wing,” “Call My Agent,” “Broadchurch,” and “The Crown” that I save for late night. I even split into two nights a good flick “The Half of It.”

E-books at the NY Public Library

I was disappointed by the first episodes of Darren Star’s new series, “Emily in Paris.” Maybe I’ll become fonder of the characters as I continue to watch.  He also created the iconic and fun “Sex and the City” among others. While the City of Lights never looked better and the fashions are terrific, so far the dialogue is predictable and characterization of the Americans and French clichéd, the former optimistic, friendly and creative, the latter luddite, unsociable and grumpy. Paris is also a highlight of  the “Call My Agent” series but the characters and situations are quirky and funny. [One of the actors called her agent because the director insisted she lie nude in a casket. The nude part was OK but being depicted dead in the altogether not so much.]

What entertainments do you look forward to during the pandemic? If you borrow e-books from a library how do you time your reservations so you don’t end up with either none for days or too many at once? Can you recommend some books–e, audio or traditional–TV series, movie or programs on a subscription-based streaming service? How many services like Netflix, Amazon Prime Video, HBO Max, or Disney do you subscribe to? Which is the best? How do you find time for more than one?

Emily in Paris. Photo: netflixlife.com

Service of Trust III

Tuesday, September 8th, 2020

Over centuries there have been millions of examples of King Solomon’s choice where mothers give up their children to save them. Nine year old Gittel’s mother did. The character of a prize-winning book, Gittel’s Journey: An Ellis Island Story, written for children six years old and up, Gittel’s experience was inspired by the flight of author Lesléa Newman’s grandmother who also escaped her homeland alone.

In the book Gittel’s mother was refused entry to the ship that was scheduled to take them both to America to flee Nazi Germany. She didn’t pass the health inspection so Gittel made the long journey by herself.

Imagine never seeing your parents again. Gittel did but Newman’s grandmother didn’t.  The tragedy of this loss resonates with many families. “All of my grandparents came through Ellis Island in the very early 1900s,” said David Reich. “Some came with a sibling, but none came with their parents and none of them ever saw or even spoke with their parents after they left Russia, Hungary and Poland, other than by letters.”

Lesléa Newman, author, Gittel’s Journey

At that time, author Newman told Bill Newman last week on WHMP Radio, Northhampton, Mass., “Gittel found her family [in New York] because many people were kind to her on the boat, they created makeshift families and she was taken care of on Ellis Island until her family could be found.”

Nurturing strangers, typical of the period, “stands in such stark contrast to the way the US is reacting to and treating immigrants seeking asylum from Central America and Mexico today,” said Newman, which is what motivated her to write the book to show children–and to remind all her readers–that “there are other choices when a stranger comes to your land.”

“Gittel’s Journey,” magnificently illustrated by Amy June Bates, won a 2020 Christopher Award because it exemplifies The Christophers’ motto, “It’s better to light one candle than to curse the darkness.” Like the other celebrated authors, illustrators, writers, producers, and directors of 20 winning feature films, TV programs and books for adults and young people the book also “affirms the highest values of the human spirit.”

Would you be able to let go of your child to save him/her? Is there a valid rationale for mistreating innocent children or anyone escaping danger? Will we again return to a caring culture that proudly and aggressively protects the innocent and fragile?

Photo: thechristophersblog.org

Service of Little Things Mean A Lot III

Thursday, August 27th, 2020

Money plant cutting

Since the pandemic began, I’ve written two previous Service of Little Things posts. Two of the following four little things may really be big.

My vote counts

I’m grateful for the link a friend sent me for the skinny on which exemption to check to legitimately send for an absentee ballot in New York State. https://www.nbcnews.com/specials/plan-your-vote-state-by-state-guide-voting-by-mail-early-in-person-voting-election/.

When I drilled down to New York, https://www.elections.ny.gov/VotingAbsentee.html I learned which option to check: “Unable to appear at the polls due to temporary or permanent illness or disability (temporary illness includes being unable to appear due to risk of contracting or spreading a communicable disease like COVID-19).

Queries to the NY Board of Elections and to one of my senators had gone unanswered.

 A tree grows in a NYC high-rise

I was thrilled that a cutting from a money tree, aka Pachira aquatica, Malabar chestnut or Saba nut–seems to have taken root. This baby [photo above] is two months old. I feel joy watching it grow.

E-book heaven

And while this isn’t little–I splurged and bought myself an iPad and I’m thrilled with it–the book world is my oyster thanks to the New York Public Library’s e-book collection. Some books I’ve reserved, photo right. I’d never wanted to read a book on a gadget but the library is still closed and in any case I am uncomfortable borrowing a book during the pandemic. Like any convert, I’m taken with this space saver that almost everyone else has owned for years.

Talent to Amuse

I learned that a wonderful series on Netflix–“Call My Agent”–is in production for another year. In French with subtitles, it’s a well done, funny show that takes place mostly in Paris. It’s about a quirky collection of talent agents and their famous clients.

Do you increasingly appreciate little things in these unsettling times? For what are you grateful?

“Call My Agent” cast. Photo: Netflix

Service of Borrowed Books from the New York Public Library

Thursday, January 16th, 2020

NY Public Library on east 96th Street. Photo: facebook.com

Visiting the New York Public Library branch on East 96th Street with my mother is one of my earliest memories. The system is 125 years old this year. As a result, it publicized statistics of most-checked out books over time which is significant because it’s the second biggest library in the country, behind the Library of Congress.

Photo: amazon.com

There was a distinct difference between the genres of books most borrowed by library habitués last year vs. those over time.

  • In 2019 citizens most checked out six adult fiction and four nonfiction books, leading with Michelle Obama’s memoir, “Becoming.”
  • The most borrowed since the beginning included six children’s, three fiction and one nonfiction book. Number one is “The Snowy Day,” a children’s book by Ezra Jack Keats.
  • The range of publish dates of last year’s favorites is 2017 to 2018; over time from 1936 to 1997.

Top 10 takeouts in 125 years

  1. “The Snowy Day,” by Ezra Jack Keats, [1962]: 485,583 checkouts
  2. “The Cat in the Hat,” by Dr. Seuss [1957]: 469,650 checkouts
  3. “1984,” by George Orwell [1949]: 441,770 checkouts
  4. “Where the Wild Things Are,” by Maurice Sendak [1963]: 436,016 checkouts
  5. “To Kill a Mockingbird,” by Harper Lee [1960]: 422,912 checkouts
  6. “Charlotte’s Web,” by E.B. White 1952]: 337,948 checkouts
  7. “Fahrenheit 451,” by Ray Bradbury [1953]: 316,404 checkouts
  8. “How to Win Friends and Influence People,” by Dale Carnegie [1936]: 284,524 checkouts
  9. “Harry Potter and the Sorcerer’s Stone,” by J.K. Rowling [1997]: 231,022 checkouts
  10. “The Very Hungry Caterpillar,” by Eric Carle [1969]: 189,550 checkouts

Top 10 takeouts in 2019

  1. “Becoming” by Michelle Obama biography [2018]
  2. “Educated: A Memoir” by Tara Westover [2018]
  3. “Little Fires Everywhere” by Celeste Ng [2017]
  4. “A Spark of Light” by Jodi Picoult [2018]
  5. “Where the Crawdads Sing” by Delia Owens [2018]
  6. “Pachinko” by Min Jin Lee [2017]
  7. “Circe” by Madeline Miller [2018]
  8. “Nine Perfect Strangers” by Liane Moriarty [2018]
  9. “Bad Blood: Secrets and Lies in a Silicon Valley Startup” by John Carreyrou [2018].
  10. “Milkman” by Anna Burns [2018]

Are you sad to learn that there are no children’s books on the 2019 list? What would the reason be? Have you read any of the books on the two lists? What are some of your favorites both recently and over time?

Photo: nypl.org

Service of Counting on a Brand: Bye-bye Microsoft E-Library

Monday, July 29th, 2019

Photo: crosswordology.com

How do you know you can trust a brand to keep its products in business and parts available for as long as you need them? The question doesn’t apply anymore just to major appliances, motor vehicles, furnaces, solar energy technologies and gadgets like VCRs, CDs and DVDs. The subscribers to Microsoft’s E-Library know what it’s like to be left in the lurch. I heard about their loss on NPR.

Lulu Garcia-Navarro and Josh Axelrod reported “Starting in July, Microsoft will be closing its e-book library and erasing all content purchased through the Microsoft e-bookstore from devices. Consumers will receive a refund for every e-book bought.”

Photo: e-library.co.za

I read traditional books but some of my best friends rely on e-books. I’d be irritated if I’d paid for a book and was left hanging at a crucial juncture when Microsoft pulled the plug.

Garcia-Navarro interviewed Aaron Perzanowski, a professor at Case Western Reserve University, who pointed out that losing a book you’ve annotated and use in your job is more than exasperating. Think of lawyers, teachers or academic researchers who have spent time to study a book and write themselves virtual Post-It notes on manuscripts. The additional $25 refund doesn’t make this customer whole, said Perzanowski who also wrote the book “The End of Ownership: Personal Property in the Digital Economy.”

“In a University of Pennsylvania Law Review article, Perzanowski found that users are often misled when they click the ‘Buy Now’ button, thinking that they’ve gained permanent ownership of digital content.

Photo: garageenvy.com

“‘You can go out and buy a car and you think you own the car because it’s parked in your garage,’ Perzanowski says. ‘But in reality – how it functions, who can repair it, what replacement parts are compatible with it – all of that is controlled through software code. And, so I think that line between the physical and the digital is getting increasingly blurry.’”

The culprit is a tool called Digital Rights Management or DRM software. “Your car, your smart home appliances, your home security system – all of these systems have software that allows for this kind of control over how the devices are used, and I think we’re going to see these same sorts of situations crop up in the context of physical devices that are being used in people’s homes.”

Have you lost the use of something you owned because there are no parts available to repair it or did you learn that, like the e-books you bought, you really didn’t own it at all? Do you factor in shelf life when buying things for your office or home or are you resigned to short-lived pull-by dates on almost everything but processed honey with its forever lifespan?

Photo: geofflawtononline.com

Service of Whose Job is it Anyway? Fact Checking a Nonfiction Book

Thursday, June 13th, 2019

Photo: arstechnica.com

Writing a book is daunting. Grasping the tremendous amount of information often gathered over many years and then wrapping it in the coherent and engaging form of a nonfiction book leaves me in awe and admiration of authors. Writing is just the second of many essential steps.

Lynn Neary wrote “Checking Facts in NonFiction,” a transcript of an NPR program I heard on Weekend Edition Saturday. “Authors, not publishers, are responsible for the accuracy of nonfiction books. Every now and then a controversy over a high-profile book provokes discussion about whether that policy should change.” Fact checking is in an author’s contract with the publisher.

Photo: phys.org.

The controversy Neary mentioned involved feminist author Naomi Wolf’s latest book Outrages: Sex, Censorship and the Criminalization of Love. Matthew Sweet, the host of a BBC 3 podcast “Free Thinking,” said in an interview “I don’t think any of the executions you’ve identified here actually happened.” According to Neary, The New York Times joined the fray adding that she’d also made errors in previous books.

An author/journalist friend wrote me in an email: “It’s a privilege to be an author and it’s also a responsibility. We’re human and mistakes are unavoidable…and it sure would be nice if publishers were willing to pick up the tab for fact-checking. But at this point, they’re not, and I think there is a level of due diligence where you are responsible for either hiring a fact-checker or putting in the long, tedious hours to do it yourself.”

Photo: phys.org

Neary reported that Maryn McKenna “paid $10,000 to have someone check the facts in her last book ‘Big Chicken.’” McKenna concentrates on science and health. Best-selling authors like Wolf– and another author caught with errors, Jared Diamond who wrote “Upheaval”–can afford to pay fact checkers McKenna told Neary.

McKenna said “It really makes one wonder whether accuracy, as a value, is something that’s really top of mind for publishers or whether there’s a separate calculation going on about sales volume that accuracy and veracity doesn’t really intersect with.”

My author/journalist friend, who did her own fact checking for her fifth book—it was nonfiction–added: “I also asked a leading neonatologist to read the whole manuscript so he could tell me what I got wrong, and he very generously pointed out my errors so I could correct them before the book went to press. I’m sure there are still mistakes in there somewhere–there was so much conflicting source material and as a journalist there’s also a point where you need to make your best judgment. (For instance, newspaper eyewitness accounts of the same event on the same day conflicted, which I explained in the end notes.)”

The author/journalist added: “I was terrified of making mistakes and agonized over details. So while this opinion might come back to bite me, my feeling is that there was a level of sloppiness in Wolf’s book that’s troubling.”

Photo: pediaa.com

Neary wrote: “Money, says literary agent Chris Parris-Lamb, is the main reason writers don’t get their books fact-checked.” Parris-Lamb told her “I would like to see every book fact-checked, and I want to see publishers provide the resources for authors to hire fact-checkers.” Neary said: “Parris-Lamb sympathizes with writers, but he doesn’t expect publishers will start paying for fact-checking anytime soon because, in the end, he says, the author has more to lose than the publisher.”

Do you read nonfiction? Do you assume the information in the biographies, history, memoirs, journals and commentary you read is accurate? Does a sloppy research job feed the fake news monster? Given the state of book publishing today, what if anything do you think will inspire publishers to step up and pay for fact checking?

Photo: prowritingaid.com

Service of a Surprise Ending: Books Win, E-Books Lose

Thursday, January 3rd, 2019

Photo: teleread.com

I wasn’t tempted by e-books. I stare at a computer all day and when reading for enjoyment, I prefer holding a book. Further I can find a comfortable position on a train or in a pile of pillows at home and balance the book on my lap.

“According to the American Booksellers Association (ABA), a non-profit trade organization for indie book shops, its membership grew for the ninth year in a row in 2018, with stores operating in more than 2,400 locations. Not only that, sales at independent bookstores are up approximately five percent over 2017.” So wrote Joshua Fruhlinger in observer.com.

Photo: quotemaster.com

He reported in November 2018 that e-book sales are stagnant. “E-book sales have slipped by 3.9 percent so far this year, according to data from the Association of American Publishers, while hardback and paperback book sales grew by 6.2 percent and 2.2 percent, respectively. During the first nine months of 2018, hardback and paperback sales generated nearly $4 billion combined; comparatively, e-books only raked in $770.9 million.”

Photo: amazon.com

Simultaneously, he noted, Barnes & Noble is limping, even though it put so many of the small booksellers out of business. (Remember the movie “You’ve Got Mail” with Tom Hanks and Meg Ryan?) “According to the ABA, the number of independent booksellers increased by 35 percent from 2009 to 2015—the same years that Amazon was pushing the Kindle and Barnes & Noble was pushing its own e-reader, the Nook.”

He added “The numbers are indeed bad: According to Nielsen, 2016 e-book sales among the top-30 sellers were down 16 percent from their 2015 numbers. E-books’ share of all books sold is also on the decline, accounting for 27 percent of total sales in 2015 compared to 23 percent in 2016.”

Alexandra Alter in The New York Times used the word blockbuster to describe 2018 results for book publishers. “Hardcover sales are up, and unit sales at independent bookstores have risen 5 percent.” She mentions three books–“Fear,” “The President is Missing,” and “Becoming”–that passed the million-copy mark. Sales of some books were so brisk that they were out of stock at the height of gift-giving time. That’s not so hot for the authors who lose in both royalties and ratings.

Photo: visitlondon.com

The reasons for the book revival? Fruhlinger attributes it in part to “the simple joy that comes with scanning bookshelves and the subsequent, sensual act of reading an actual book. It seems that of the very few things people want to shop for in-person, books are one of them.” And he feels that hearing of the death of the book industry electrified fans into action.

He’d end up with nothing to read if he’d forgotten to charge his Kindle before a flight and resented that he couldn’t lend a book he loved. Twice he lost his Kindle when he left it behind, first in a plane’s seatback pocket and then plugged in for a charge in his hotel room.

I’d like to add that wrapping and giving a book as a gift is more satisfying than giving a virtual book.

Fruhlinger is a fair and balanced reporter. He wrote about a friend who tears through many e-books a week on his phone which is always with him. “Perhaps after years of e-book hype (and/or fear-mongering), we have finally arrived at a middle ground. When it comes to travel and convenience, it’s hard to beat e-books. But when it comes to a cozy book shop visit on a Sunday afternoon followed by a cup of coffee and your favorite author, nothing beats the real thing. And it appears that after years of experimentation with e-books, many people are realizing the same thing.”

Do you prefer e-books to hardcovers or paperbacks? Why do you think e-books are losing the competition in this all-things-digital-are–super-age? If you’re planning to write a book would you try to publish an e-book or a traditional one?

Photo: pinterest.com

Service of the Difference Between Writing Books for Children and Adults: Author Meadow Rue Merrill Tells All

Thursday, November 8th, 2018

Meadow Rue Merrill signing the contract with RoseKidz for the Lantern Hill Farm series

Author Meadow Rue Merrill, a 2018 Christopher Award winner for Redeeming Ruth: Everything Life Takes, Love Restores, an inspirational memoir, sent me a copy of her new book, The Christmas Cradle, for children 4 to 7. [I promoted the 2018 Christopher Award winning books for adults and young people which is how I met her.]

I took advantage of her generous spirit to ask her questions because of her expertise in so many writing genres.

Speaking of generosity, the mother of six donates 10 percent of her royalties from the Lantern Hill Farm series, [The Christmas Cradle is one], to Compassion International. All of the royalties from Redeeming Ruth support orphans and children with disabilities in Uganda. More about Merrill at the end of–and throughout–the Q & A.

Do you think of different ideas for children’s vs. adult books?

Ironically, I began experimenting with ideas for children’s books long before I sat down to write a book for adults. Writing for children seemed more accessible—not because it is easier but because I strongly connect with my childhood. However, while taking workshops and attending conferences to develop my skills as a writer, my family adopted Ruth, an abandoned baby from Uganda who had multiple disabilities. So many people began asking about Ruth, I started writing her story, which turned into my memoir, Redeeming Ruth. A few months after it was published, I received a contract for a five-part children’s picture book series, Lantern Hill Farm. So you never know where you’re writing journey will take you.

Is your inspiration from a different place?

I’m inspired by events and images and words that touch me deeply—whether something that makes me laugh or cry or makes me question why the world is the way it is and how to make it better. I began writing Ruth’s book as a happily-ever-after adoption story, but when Ruth unexpectedly died from health complications shortly before her eighth birthday, it became both a spiritual lament and a treatise on the power of faith and love.

Many ideas for books come from my life and family, like The Backward Easter Egg Hunt, the first book I wrote for the Lantern Hill Farm series. A friend had asked me to organize an Easter egg hunt for a party. She had a basket full of plastic eggs, but I’d neglected to buy the candy. On the way to the party with my kids, I scratched down some ideas for a scavenger hunt based on the Easter story and gave the kids empty eggs to fill. They liked it so much, I turned it into a book, and my agent suggested a series. Walah! Lantern Hill Farm was born. Each story is designed around an activity to help children share God’s love with their family and friends around holidays.

How complex can you make subject matter for kids?

For the youngest readers, a picture book typically needs to focus on a single issue or problem. But that issue or problem can come from a complex experience. The challenge is writing about that experience in a way that is truthful and compelling but with a very limited number of words. My Lantern Hill Farm books are available in a longer version for older readers and as board books for the youngest readers. Reducing the text of each story from 800 words to about 150 was a real challenge, but I was surprised how many words I could eliminate and still have a complete story. I tend to write a much longer first draft to find my way into each story. Then I reduce, reduce and reduce to make that story stronger.

Are there techniques to simplify a basic story?

Once you know where your story is going, take out everything that isn’t necessary to move the story forward. That goes for writing for children or adults. Since I don’t always know where my story is going, it takes me a lot of extra writing to get there. The more I discover of the story, the more I know what to get rid of.

Because a book for young children is usually much shorter than one for adults, is it easier—and faster—to write? 

Photo: amazon.com

Faster, yes. But only because a picture book contains fewer words to place in order. I suppose that also makes it easier, but I wouldn’t call it easy. Publishing my first picture book came after two decades of reading picture books to my own children. Thankfully I have a houseful! During that time, I was also working on my memoir and a middle-grade novel. For me, writing is a slow journey of discovery. The greater the number of words, the longer that journey takes. While my picture books take less time to write, I’ve been thinking about them ever since having children.

How did you choose your illustrator—or does the publisher select the illustrator?

My publisher, RoseKidz, selected the illustrator for the Lantern Hill Farm series. When the first book in the series, The Christmas Cradle, came out this fall, the characters were different from how I had pictured them, but I love how the artist, Drew Krevi, who has worked for Disney and Marvel Comics, captured the fun and excitement of the story.

Do you think today’s children’s book authors have different challenges than those writing before the Internet, smartphones, electronic games and gizmos existed?

I’m not sure if the authors have greater challenges or if the children do. Maybe it is a little of both. But certainly, technology has a way of disrupting attention spans of writers and readers alike. In my own home, I limit how much tech my kids (and I) have access to. For instance, we don’t have Wi-Fi. We run our Internet through a cord in the wall, so it is only available in a single spot. That opens up the rest of the house for reading—and we keep plenty of books.

What were your favorite children’s picture books when you were a child?

Cyrus the Unsinkable Sea Serpent, by Bill Peet, about a misunderstood sea monster, any and everything by Beatrix Potter and a children’s picture Bible that I carried around my childhood farm while my mother took care of her sheep and chickens. Regrettably, I had few picture books as a child and was rarely able to go to the library because my single mom was in college and had a farm to run. But the books I did have, I clung to like keys to a magical kingdom. They opened my mind to a world where things weren’t always what they seemed, where animals talked and life was ordered by something beyond what I could see. Perhaps because books were somewhat rare, I valued those I did have all the more.

Do you have other questions to ask this prolific writer? What were your favorite books when you were young?

Photo taken at The Christmas Cradle launch party in the 200-year-old barn of the real-life Jenny, whose generosity and love for others inspired the character in the book. Merrill reads to Ezra, her youngest child.

former journalist, Merrill was a correspondent for The Boston Globe, wrote parenting essays for The New York Times, was a contributing editor to Down East magazine and co-wrote a history for Harvard University–all while raising six children. She currently writes for children and adults from a little house in the big woods of midcoast Maine, where she lives with her family, one pig, an all-kinds-of-cute rescue puppy and a flock of mischievous chickens.

Service of Contests for Kids: We’re All Winners

Saturday, August 18th, 2018

Contests that teach, encourage and reward kids to better themselves and/or their communities help us all.

Author Karen Russell told NPR “New Yorker Radio Hour” listeners on a recent August weekend about how proud she was to treat her family to a pizza when she was a kid. An avid reader, she’d qualified for a free pie with one topping through Pizza Hut’s Book It program. She’d read 10 books.

Books tossed recently at the Millbrook, NY Transfer Station

Book It was founded in 1985. It runs from October 1 to March 31 for children from Kindergarten to the sixth grade and homeschoolers can also participate.

Things may have changed since Russell won her pizza. She read printed books and today many children use Kindles and other tablets. Some may still record their books on paper and some access an app that reaches teachers who track their participation. But the goal remains–to promote reading.

The National Road Safety Foundation [NRSF] conducts contests for kids to help its campaign to drive down the number of traffic accidents, deaths and injuries here. I know about it because a colleague, David Reich, runs and promotes the contests. One is “Drive2Life,” in its seventh year, in which teens submit messages to be turned into public service announcements [PSAs] to warn drivers about the dangers of speeding. This year’s winner, a California 8th grader, received $1,000 and a trip to New York where he collaborated with Emmy Award-winning producers to script, film and edit his winning PSA, “Cars Aren’t Toys.” The PSA aired on “Teen Kids News” on 150 TV stations.

Photo: fcclainc.org

In addition to Drive2Life, there are NRSF Drive Safe student contests in Washington DC, LA, Chicago and Atlanta as well as Safe Rides Save Lives for members of Family Career and Community Leaders of America [FCCLA] and #DrivingSkills101 for Students Against Destructive Decisions [SADD] Chapters nationwide.

Can you name other great contests for children? Did you participate in any when you were a kid?

Photo: washingtonautoshow.com

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