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Posts Tagged ‘Tamara Ellis Smith’

The short thought: Oh my goodness, love, love, love. 

And now, the long:

Even though I’ve been eagerly anticipating this book’s release, and even though I had it sitting on my to-read pile, and even though I’d heard gushing things about COUNTING BY 7s by Holly Goldberg Sloan…it sat, unopened. 

I didn’t want to not-love it. I’ve been doing a lot of not-loving in my reading lately. But then my good smart friend, Tam, mentioned how much she loved it. 

I am feeling so so thankful for Tam. For lots of reasons, but at this particular booky moment, for nudging me to read the exact book I needed.

7sFrom goodreads: Willow Chance is a twelve-year-old genius, obsessed with nature and diagnosing medical conditions, who finds it comforting to count by 7s. It has never been easy for her to connect with anyone other than her adoptive parents, but that hasn’t kept her from leading a quietly happy life . . . until now.
 
Suddenly Willow’s world is tragically changed when her parents both die in a car crash, leaving her alone in a baffling world. The triumph of this book is that it is not a tragedy. This extraordinarily odd, but extraordinarily endearing, girl manages to push through her grief. Her journey to find a fascinatingly diverse and fully believable surrogate family is a joy and a revelation to read. 

There are so many reasons to love this book. I think it’s the kind of book that will touch people in different ways. For me, there is a very personal reason why this book touched my heart. My father was killed in a car accident. Loss is always hard. But when it happens without any kind of warning, it shakes everything. There is no preparation, no plan in place.

It happened a long time ago, and yet, sometimes, particularly in October, it feels not so long ago at all. And this October, on the anniversary of his death, my lovely amazing daughter turned 19 – the age I was when he died. So. I cried while reading this one. A lot. But I needed to, and this book helped me realize that. And, a little bit like what happens to Willow, some surprising things – some good, but confusing things – got wrapped up in that time. Loss or not, life goes on. Grief can get mixed up in goodness, too. And anniversary dates can get new meanings. 

But this also means I need some help articulating what else I loved about this book. 

Tam and I exchanged a few emails about it once I was done reading – and then Sharry chimed in too. I’ve decided to post our thoughts below–our comments may be raw and rough, but they are also honest and true. 

ME:  Love is such an elusive thing, ain’t it?  I think it’s because all the characters are so imperfectly perfect. Just doing the best they can. There’s so much good being done in small simple ways that turned out to be bigger than they should have been. And serendipity always makes my heart thrum, even when it’s orchestrated. Most of all, I think it’s because it made me cry when I needed to, but didn’t have a reason. I do love getting in other peoples’ heads.

TAM: Yes!  They were so imperfectly perfect.  And yes they were all trying to do good in their own small ways. They were also all so big hearted.  Even if they didn’t quite know it.  I think I love that.  Watching a heart reveal itself.  It all felt so raw to me.  Like watching a running race.  Bodies moving, hearts pumping, breath moving in and out.  Willow and everyone around her were so raw and alive.  Serendipity makes my heart thrum too…  I can never get enough.  How we are all connected. How we inevitably, unintentionally affect one another.

 ME: And the white space too. That there’s room to figure out what each person is thinking – it’s not spelled out. In fact, I’m sure we filled the gaps in slightly differently. But that’s the magic. We read the same book, but a different one too. 

TAM: Yeah!  The white space!  I LOVED that about Counting By 7s. White space combined with heartful characters really works magic, I think.  You are drawn in by their hearts and then once you are in, you are given space to let yourself feel and imagine and hope and create….  Kind of spectacular.

SHARRY: I loved Willow–all of her quirks and lovely oddness around her brilliance. I loved the cast of outsiders and how they came together–how their own outsiderness made them empathetic and responsive to what Willow needed. I loved watching especially Dell and Quang-ha blossom and reveal themselves. I loved the way Holly showed and handled Willow’s grief. I cried through half the book and laughed through the other half. 

Yep. Go read it. Get connected. (Yes, I am being bossy.)

Sarah Tomp

WRITING ON THE SIDEWALK

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When Lin Oliver, President of SCBWI, spoke to the San Diego chapter last year, she said, “There is no friend like a friend in thinking.”

I wouldn’t still be writing without those friends of mine. The ones who read my work at its roughest and ugliest. The ones who let me read theirs. The friends who are willing to peek into the deep dark corners of my brain and heart and soul to help me see what’s there. The friends who I can trust to tell me the truth about my writing. And, going the other way too–the ones that trust me with their hopes and dreams, one scene at a time.

The great thing about writer friends is their collective brilliance. They think about things that matter; to me, and to the world. They are creative and surprising. Oh so entertaining! They make me laugh. And cry, but for the right reasons. They are aware. They feel things and admit those feelings.

It wasn’t so long ago that I was in a dark dreary place with my writing. I was feeling the utter fatigue – and despair – of writing into a kind of void. As my Super Blog Buddy astutely pointed out, “You and writing just aren’t getting along right now.”

I hated that I needed outside validation to mark my writing as worthy. But, at the same time, I’d set off on this path with certain goals in mind. Namely, getting published. And if that wasn’t going to happen, then I needed to reevaluate my life. Because writing had completely consumed my life. That’s what I did. That’s what I thought about. Talked about. Obsessed about. Between my kids getting older and handling their own social lives – no more play dates and outings with play groups – and using every spare minute for writing, other friendships have faded a bit.

All my very best friends are writers. So, as I contemplated this revamping of my life, I had to imagine it without these friends. Without, perhaps, any friends. I started plotting my disappearance. The way I’d gradually back off from my critique group. The way I’d stop posting with my weekly check-in group. The way I’d live in a dark, damp cave.

And then, I received a bit of support. Finally, someone – who didn’t know me, who didn’t have any particular obligation to – liked something I wrote. All of a sudden, I didn’t have to pack my cave bag. I don’t know if I would have been able to see my cave plan through. For now, it’s put on hold.

The other night I had dinner with a new writer friend. A friend of a writer friend who was visiting San Diego. Of course we had plenty to talk about. But one thing we talked about  – of course – was rejection. And disappointment. Sorrow. The need to acknowledge it and own it. That’s much harder than feeling it.

And then, because life is like this, my dear friend Tam wrote this post about longing. A must read for writers. Must read. Must.

That’s the hardest thing about having these writer friends that I adore. The ones I think with. I feel their rejections and disappointments almost as deeply as my own. I love their stories. I believe they have something important to say. I know their work is good and strong and true. I feel their deep primal longing, right beside mine.

Yours in thinking,

Sarah

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One motherly regret (that I’m willing to admit publicly) is that I never participated in a mother-daughter book club. Curious as to what the girl-child and I missed out on, I’ve convinced my dear friend Sharry Wright into sharing some of her tips for planning and facilitating a mother-daughter book club. 

collage_blog_titleAfter you read this post, be sure to check out Sharry’s lovely blog, Kissing the Earth, which she authors with fellow author, Tamara Ellis Smith. It’s chocked full of gorgeousness in both word and image form.

Hi Sharry! Thanks for being here on WOTS today!

Hi Sarah! Thanks so much for asking me to talk a little about one the most favorite things I get to do—work as a moderator for mother-daughter book clubs!

Please describe your group to us. 

Right now I have one group of five mothers and their third grade daughters and one group of five moms and sixth grade girls. And another group of third graders starting up soon. I let the moms decide a meeting time that best fits their busy family schedules.

How often do you meet?

We meet about once a month. The younger group meets for two hours on Sunday afternoons, the older group for two hours on a Monday or Tuesday evening. They take turns hosting at their homes—the host provides tea and sweets for the Sunday group and a light supper for the older group.

Sounds delightful!

How are the books chosen?

The hosting girl chooses the book to read and discuss from a choice of three that I give her—three books that I think she will especially enjoy, but will also be appropriate for the whole group and make for a lively and rich discussion. Then a week before the meeting, I correspond with the hosting mom and daughter to help them come up with four or five discussion questions. At the meeting, I start the discussion and then turn it over to the hosting girl, moderating as needed to keep the discussion on track and on time.

What kind of book leads to a good discussion?

I have found that the books that make for the best discussions are those with some ‘meat on their bones’ so to speak. I try to only offer well-written books with well-rounded characters that both the girls and moms can invest in. I look for stories with strong thematic threads, with characters in difficult situations who have to make difficult choices and do things that are hard for them to do. Some of the best discussions come from the question—how would YOU act, feel, respond in the same situation? We’ve had some great discussions about characters who were forced to stretch and grow, or characters that had to face their flaws and the flaws of others.

As you well know, one of the great benefits of coming out of the MFA in Writing For Children and Young Adults from Vermont College of Fine Arts where we basically lived and breathed children’s literature around the clock for two years, was the entry into a lifelong community of children’s book writers, teachers and librarians who all share this love of reading, writing, teaching and discussing Middle Grade and Young Adult literature and are fantastic resources for recommending great books. 

Are there any taboo topics? 

In terms of taboos, I do try to keep the books we read age appropriate. I’ve had, on occasion, one of the girls with an older sibling ask if we can read a certain book that I know is too sexual or too violent for six graders, too scary or upsetting for third graders. And I have made a solemn vow to both my groups that I will never bring them a book where the dog is killed!

GOOD CALL! No dead dogs!

Any recommendations for others wanting to form their own group?

For anyone interested in starting a mother daughter book club, I say, do it! I was lucky enough to enjoy many years of mother daughter book clubs with both of my girls (now 22 and 25!) from the time they were 9, well into high school. My girls and I look back on the time we spent reading and discussing books together as incredibly precious and valuable. 

I would recommend keeping the group manageable—five or six mothers and daughters makes for a nice sized group. Use your local children’s librarian and independent bookstore children’s book buyer as resources—they love to talk about and recommend great books! If you don’t want to meet in each other’s homes, most libraries have a public meeting room you can reserve for book club meetings.

Thanks so much for being here, Sharry!

If anyone has any questions about parent-child book clubs, ask away!

Sarah Wones Tomp

WRITING ON THE SIDEWALK

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I finally read Ask the Passengers by A.S. King. I’ll be honest, I resisted this one for a while. Despite the buzz, the praises, the raves, the Love with a capital L, the fact that I loved her other books (Please Ignore Vera Dietz and Everybody Sees the Ants), I just wasn’t picking it up.

Then my friend Tam reviewed Ask the Passengers for Bookbrowse and I caved.

I’m so glad I did.

The official description:

Astrid Jones desperately wants to confide in someone, but her mother’s pushiness and her father’s lack of interest tell her they’re the last people she can trust. Instead, Astrid spends hours lying on the backyard picnic table watching airplanes fly overhead. She doesn’t know the passengers inside, but they’re the only people who won’t judge her when she asks them her most personal questions . . . like what it means that she’s falling in love with a girl.

As her secret relationship becomes more intense and her friends demand answers, Astrid has nowhere left to turn. She can’t share the truth with anyone except the people at thirty thousand feet, and they don’t even know she’s there. But little does Astrid know just how much even the tiniest connection will affect these strangers’ lives–and her own–for the better.

In this truly original portrayal of a girl struggling to break free of society’s definitions, Printz Honor author A.S. King asks readers to questioneverything–and offers hope to those who will never stop seeking real love.

My thoughts:

  • As someone who was transplanted to a small town in 7th grade and went to another small town for college, the small town setting felt real. It’s hard to be “different” anywhere, but it seems to me it’s especially hard to hide in a small town. I wasn’t especially different in any glaring way, but I sure felt watched. And I saw others suffer the burden of their different-ness. 
  • I ached for Astrid as she struggled with the idea of falling in love. First loves are tricky and confusing and exhilarating – regardless of the who or what gender. It’s not easy to know what to do, how to act, who to tell ~ and then throw in the fact that some people will hate you for who you love, well, that’s tough stuff. Personally, I loved how her falling in love felt so familiar.
  • And, I loved how we are reminded that love is separate from physicality. Even though Astrid realizes she’s in love – she’s not ready for sexual intimacy. It has nothing to do with sexual orientation and everything to do with the fact that those explorations are nerve-wracking and awkward. Those moments are huge and kind of scary. That’s what is captured here so beautifully.
  • Astrid has a habit of sending her love out into the world. Specifically, to the airplanes that fly overhead. This idea sounded kind of hokey to me and, quite honestly, was one of the reasons for my resistance towards this book. Figures it became one of my favorite parts of the book. After Astrid sends her love and questions out to the universe, we read a short interlude in the perspective of the person in the airplane – who “received” her message. These vignettes serve  as peeks into other lives and other kinds of love. They are amazing, trust me.
  • I also loved how we see so much of Astrid’s life – beyond falling in love. We get to know her (kind of messed up) family, her best friend, her work place and co-workers, her school – it’s a wide wide lens, yet lots of close-ups. The world is so real.

Okay. Now go read a fantastic interview with A.S. King (do you see how her name spells “asking” – ? !) on Tam and Sharry’s blog, Kissing the Earth.

And for those who are working on the craft of writing books for young people – I find this very very interesting. As read on Bookbrowse’s Beyond the Book exploration, A.S. King did not go to school for writing. Instead (edited for length):

She began writing after she spent six straight months reading a book a day. … Fifteen years and seven novels after she sat down at that typewriter, she got her first book published.”

Yep.

Sarah Wones Tomp

WRITING ON THE SIDEWALK

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Each morning Luna and I take basically the same walk. We walk the perimeter of our housing development, seeing a lot of sameness. The houses looks like a lot of the same – something our homeowner’s association takes very seriously. The landscaping is a lot of the same. And we see a lot of the same people/dogs/even cars. I don’t mind the same because I’m not walking for the view, mostly I’m deep inside my head during these walks and Luna seems to always find worthwhile sniffs and smells.

But this week I went back to work after a month break and our time for this walk has changed. Back to walking in the dim dark of too early. We see our old familiar people/dogs/cars, but this time I’m missing a couple of changes from our later walks. (BTW, Tam and Sharry each wrote lovely posts on light and dark over at Kissing the Earth.)

A cat and a pig.

During the later morning walks, there was a stretch of our routine walk where a young cat would join us. Luna likes cats, actually, but most won’t let her say hello. So of course I was surprised the first few times that this cat showed such confidence in approaching a dog. It would walk with us for a stretch before stopping and letting us go on. After a week or so,  we started to anticipate and look for our kitty-friend. One day the cat jumped out from a bush and seriously startled us – and then I swear, the way Luna and her friend moved, it was the equivalent of canine/feline laughter. So so funny.

And not far beyond the cat spot lives a pig. A giant, pink, with folds and folds of fat, pig. Not pot-belly. Not piglet. Pig. It’s not as predictable as to when we might get a glimpse, but we were lucky enough to see a few times of rooting in the dirt. I have no idea why someone would have a great big enormous porcine companion in our neighborhood. But, it was still fun to see – and to see Luna cock her head in such confusion.

But now that we’re back to walking so early, we don’t see our kitty friend. I wonder if it looks for us?

When I first started writing, I could – and did – write anywhere. On anything. I’d jot down little bits of things while waiting for my kids. Or standing in line at the grocery store. Early morning, late at night. Nap time.

Then I got more serious and disciplined, especially once I was writing for the VCFA program. I developed a routine.

But then I couldn’t write if I wasn’t in my routine. It had to be in my spot, at the same time of day.

Lately I’ve been scribbling more. At random times, on scraps of paper and in way too many different notebooks. It feels good. Messy, but organic. Kind of like a pig.

Today I’m going into work a little later than most days. I think Luna and I will walk a little later too. Maybe we’ll see our kitty.

Sarah Wones Tomp

WRITING ON THE SIDEWALK

 

 

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I have read many developing (unpublished) picture book manuscripts that are actually short stories.

THERE IS NOTHING WRONG WITH SHORT STORIES.

I love short stories. To read, to write, to experiment with. They are worthy of their own  separate post.

BUT…  short stories are not picture books.

My short story, GOING CLAMMING, appeared in the August 2008 issue of Highlights Magazine. When I first wrote this story I thought it was a picture book. As with many picture books, my target audience was between 4 and 8 years of age. The setting is picturesque, allowing for stunning illustration opportunities. However, this is absolutely a short story. (You can read it here please excuse the ads intermingled in!)

PICTURE BOOKS…

  • PROVIDE ILLUSTRATION OPPORTUNITIES. More than just an interesting setting, picture book illustrations need room for movement. To be alive. The action and story need to allow for pauses and page turns. Picture books are a place to slip into.
  • ARE SIMULTANEOUSLY COMPLEX AND SIMPLE. Because the ideal picture book has both adult and child appeal, they have big ideas distilled into simple bits of clarity. They make kids – and adults – ask questions. To discover the wide world in a safe place.
  • REQUIRE A PARTNERSHIP IN READING. Reading a picture book is a joint venture. They are designed to be read by an adult to a child. And so…
  1. The words and language and sounds must beg to be read aloud. Think rhythm and beat.
  2. Picture books evoke a feeling to be shared: humor and laughter or something more thoughtful and serious. But something that makes a connection between the adult and the child.
  3. The brilliant and lovely Tamara Ellis Smith describes this magical experience as the Vibrant Triangle as a guest on Liz Garton Scanlon’s blog. READ HER THOUGHTS HERE. Now. Then read ALL THE WORLD by the same Liz Garton Scanlon.

When these elements come together, wow, it’s magic.

Sarah Wones Tomp

WRITING ON THE SIDEWALK

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