Saturday, February 9, 2019

A Birthday in Dublin


My first time out of the country! I felt like I needed some luck of the Irish on my 23rd birthday, so I popped on a plane over to Dublin. It definitely wasn't what I was expecting, but it was a fun, interesting, history rich city. Plus, the company made it a fantastic week trip! Here are some of the highlights:


  • Phoenix Park at sunset - Europe's largest inner city park, home to the Dublin Zoo, the Wellington Memorial, and a beautiful walk! 
  • Kilmainham Gaol - aka the jail. It's most notable for housing prisoners from the 1916 Easter Rising. It incarcerated several female prisoners, even children when times struck hard during the potato famine. Look up some of the interesting prisoners, and learn a bit of history. The tour guide was great, and it was definitely worth having the guide to learn more of the history! 
  • Guinness Storehouse - even if you don't like Guinness, I think this museum is worth the price of admission. You get to learn about the process, the history of Guinness, its role in the Republic of Ireland, learn how to properly drink Guinness, and then enjoy your free pint in the Gravity Bar with an amazing 360 degree view of Dublin. We also had a great Guinness flavoured burger in the restaurant. 
  • Dublinia - I wasn't aware that the Irish were so proud of their Viking heritage, but this museum says it all. Connected to Christchurch Cathedral (the National Cathedral), it's a little bit cheesy, a lot interactive, and good for a laugh but also some history...and a few weird statues. 
  • Il Vilcoletta - a lovely little Italian restaurant tucked into the back of the Temple Bar area and inside an old cellar--the location was fun and the pizza was deliiiiiicous! 
  • Lighthouse Cinema--looking to see an artsy film? Want to have a drink and some yummy food while lounging in red velvet plush chairs and watch your movie. Head to this funky cinema in Smithfield Square (also just around the corner from the Jameson Distillery, but we didn't have the funds for that). 
  • Poolbeg Lightouse - for a few hours trip outside the city but still in Dublin take the North Wall Walk to the Poolbeg lighthouse. If you actually find the entrance to the North Wall, let me know cause I took us down a nasty route...but we got there eventually and it was beautiful and well worth the long walk! 
  • Book of Kells & the Long Room at Trinity College - SO WORTH IT! Absolutely beautiful while learning a lot about the creation of books during medieval times. I would've loved to have been a book illuminator. And the Long Room might be one of the prettiest rooms in a library I've ever seen! 
  • L. Mulligan's Grocer--a little bit off the beaten, path, but if you're looking for a nice meal in a cool atmosphere, this is the place to go. They bring out the menus in old books and recommend beers for each meal, which was absolutely delicious. The venison was melt in my mouth amazing! 




Dublin is not a cheap city, but it was fun--a great place to spend my birthday and a time to learn about my Irish heritage (I think).

Happy Travels,
       Hannah



Thursday, January 17, 2019

How Do We Defeat Real World Dragons in Fantasy Worlds: A Critical Essay

Many of you might remember me posting about the books I was using in my critical essay for my final coursework. I received several comments requesting to read the essay, and so I'm happy to post the essay discussing how real world problems are addressed in young adult fantasy novels here on the blog. Enjoy!

Introduction
            Fantasy has been part of my life as early as I can remember. My grandmother, a children’s storyteller, sang songs of the flying purple people eater and the troll under the bridge. My best friend and I were the pink and red Power Rangers, stopping the dangers of the tiny neighborhood in Louisiana. When I was younger, I saw fantasy worlds as a form of escapism, with life as an only child was often lonely. 
            For the better portion of my life, fantasy served exactly that role. It wasn’t until my bubble was burst with all the bad in the world, and after attending several discussions with my favorite fantasy authors, that I learned fantasy is not just a form of escape. To some, including the authors, fantasy is therapeutic. Bibliotherapy is an actual treatment used today. There are so many impossibly large injustices in our society that many readers and writers face these issues by writing them into worlds in which they can be defeated. 
            This method of slaying real world dragons in fantasy worlds is especially powerful in young adult and children’s literature. Half of the job of authors is respecting the age group for which he or she writes. It means acknowledging that young people are capable and have agency in their own lives. 
            The fantasy genre focuses on the major injustices of the world—such as sexual assault, human trafficking, war, etc—and manifests them into physical beings or missions that can be slain or accomplished. And children and young adults are the ones wielding the swords. 
In this paper, I will be looking at three specific works, one a classic, and two modern—The Lion, The Witch, and the Wardrobe by C.S. Lewis, Six of Crows by Leigh Bardugo, and Girls of Paper and Fire by Natasha Ngan. I will look at how the job of the genre has changed with time, as well as explore the therapeutic nature of reading fantasy and how effective it can be. 

Bibliotherapy 
Many readers joke about going to the bookstore for bibliotherapy. While we might make light of this term, bibliotherapy is an actual therapeutic technique utilized by therapists, and has been for centuries, going back to times when reading the Koranand the Biblewere prescribed for mental maladies.  
It has been proven that reading makes people more empathetic. However, it is also proven that readers connect and identify with fictive characters. In the article “Reading Therapy” on treatmentcenters.net, they outline what bibliotherapy is and how they utilize it: 
Bibliotherapy means to use a person's connection to the content of a book, piece of poetry, or other written text as an additional form of therapy, particularly when combined with other therapies such as writing therapy, have proven to have long-lasting effects in recovery." 
            Essentially, therapists choose novels with content and characters with which their patients will be able to connect. This form of therapy can help with stress and allows patients to see themselves in strong roles with positive outcomes. 
            However, the question begs to be asked--why not non-fiction? It is simply because fiction allows readers to bring their own experiences to the story and cater it to themselves. 
"The recovering individual has an opportunity to acknowledge their issues from an alternative point of view. Empathizing with the fictional character also allows the individual to reach an almost cathartic state of mind by gaining hope from the character's success and releasing emotional tension." 
These realizations can help patients reach a desire for change as well as safe, anonymous ways to discus their own issues (Reading Therapy). 
However, readers don’t need a therapist to prescribe them a certain book. It is almost a certain kind of book magic when a young reader experiencing trauma or another hardship stumbles across a book addressing their suffering. They delve into the new world and find themselves healing as the characters develop and succeed in slaying the wicked in the world. 
  

The Lion, The Witch, and the Wardrobe 
            The method of using fantasy as a way to give children power is nothing new. C.S. Lewis’s Chronicles of Narnia is an early example of a series of children’s novels that give both children and young adults power they might not realize they had. 
            At the beginning of The Lion, The Witch, and the Wardrobe, the Pevensie children are sent out to the country during World War I by their mother to keep them safe. They are utterly powerless in the face of the Great War and their strange new home. However, when Lucy discovers the world behind the wardrobe, they step into a reality where they are kings and queens. 
However, the children are still children, and a bit naïve. The White Witch manipulates Edmund into thinking he’d be her little prince: 
“I want a nice boy whom I could bring up as a Prince and who would be King of Narnia when I am gone. While he was Prince he would wear a gold crown and eat Turkish Delight all day long; and you are much the cleverest and handsomest young man I’ve ever met. I think I would like to make you the Prince,” (Lewis 45).
And thus with Edmund’s betrayal, the world shifts, and the Pevensie children must now face the White Witch and her army of cretins. They step from one war into another; however, in this war, they can pick up a sword and fight; they can slay the enemy.
            Many criticize the Narnia series for its overt Christian messages, though Lewis didn’t mean for the series to be Bible stories. His biographer George Sayer explained:
“His idea, as he once explained to me, was to make it easier for children to accept Christianity when they met it later in life… ‘I am aiming at a sort of pre-baptism of the child’s imagination.’” (Hardy 170). 
However, Lewis’s main objective was just to write fulfilling, effective stories that tickled children’s imaginations. While this book has more of a sense of escapism than therapy, any child who can identify with any of the four Pevensie children will be able to find healing and acceptance in Lewis’s words. They can mentally pick up the sword with Peter and slay the White Witch—whatever she might represent for them. 

Six of Crows 
            Modern fantasy books now have moved more explicitly into the role of therapy, rather than total escapism. As Carla Greenwood wrote in her article “Reading as Therapy” for the World Literacy Foundation, “Writing is thought to be a valid form of therapy, especially for those suffering from post-traumatic stress or for those of us feeling overwhelmed by the pressure of modern day life.”  We live in a world where news outlets shove bad news down our throats nearly every minute of every day, so how do we deal with that? 
Leigh Bardugo ingests all this badness and deals with it by writing beautifully detailed, intricate Russian-inspired high fantasy novels. Her novel Six of Crows, based in the Grisha universe, follows a band of six criminals, all with very different pasts. The leader, Kaz Brekker, suffers from PTSD and copes with chronic pain in his leg. Inej, Kaz’s righthand woman, is the victim of human trafficking, stolen from her family as a young girl. Jesper, the gambling addict, struggles with his sexuality. Nina works as a prostitute in Ketterdam. Matthias deals with racial prejudice forced down his throat from his faith. And then there’s sweet innocent Wylan, who for years was the victim of his father’s vitriolic verbal abuse and no mother to stick up for him. However, I will focus on Kaz. 
Six of Crows was reviewed by Natasha Razi for the website Disability in Kidlit, and she too honed in on Kaz’s PTSD, saying: 
"Kaz is violent and often grumpy, but he also demonstrates PTSD traits that are often underrepresented in fictional depictions...he experiences frequent intrusive thoughts, his mind circling back to his trauma again and again. Intrusive thoughts are one of the defining characteristics of PTSD... Like many traumatized people, Kaz ties tremendous emotional importance to a single mission, stemming from his trauma." 
Readers with PTSD can connect with Kaz’s struggles and find healing in his character arc. Bardugo makes sure to show that embracing what others see as Kaz’s weakness is actually his strength. The cane that supports him is his go to weapon: “Kaz flipped the cane in his hand and pressed the carved crow’s head against Helvar’s throat,” (Bardugo 143). He is not broken; he is a force.
            After discussions we’ve had in class, I realize why Bardugo paired so many diverse characters together. On top of being a media heavy, bad-news spouting tea pot, our society is quite isolated. People try to deal with their issues and file traumas away. 
At the beginning of the story, Bardugo’s characters mimic that. No one in the group trusts one another. Right off the bat, Bardugo writes, “To say he [Kaz] trusted Inej would be stretching the point, but he could admit to himself that he’d come to rely on her” (43). They keep all of their detrimental pasts to themselves, thinking it for the best. But Bardugo pushes her characters beyond themselves, beyond the isolation that society has created, and forms an unlikely crew of unbreakable bandits. 
            So Six of Crows, and its sequel Crooked Kingdom, illustrates to young readers that in order to heal from their traumas, they must open up to others. A community of support leads to strength and success. It leads to bringing down the bad guys and basically saving the world. If you face your own demons, you can most certainly face the rest of the world.

Girls of Paper and Fire 
            The debut novel by Natasha Ngan is taking the young adult world by storm. Most young adult books dealing with larger issues don’t explicitly state what they are writing about, such as in Leigh Bardugo’s Six of Crows. Natasha Ngan expels this convention with an opening author’s note that states exactly what the book is facing: sexual assault. 
“While I realize these are hard discussions, especially for teens, it is of vital importance we have them. Books can be safe places to explore difficult topics. While we cannot always shelter young people from being exposed to sexual violence, whether through lived experience or indirectly, we can give them a way to safely engage and reflect upon these issues.”
Ngan later goes on to state what she hopes readers will get out of the story: “supportive relationships and friendships. The ability to find hope even in the hardest of times. The power of female strength. The knowledge that you can go through horrible things and not just survive, but live.” 
            I’m not quite sure how I feel about this technique. As we have talked about in class, authors work in equal partnership with the readers, acknowledging that they are intelligent and bring their own experiences to the work. In a way, Ngan steals that opportunity from the readers by stating what she feels the readers should get out of the story. And yes, these are important messages, however, if the writing speaks for itself, we don’t need this author’s note to tell us that. But let’s look at the novel. 
            Lei is a girl from a small village in the kingdom of Ikhaara. Several years ago, her mother was taken during a royal raid, and her family has never known what happened to her. At the start of the story, the bull king (a demon form) is choosing the eight human girls who will become his Paper Girls, aka his concubines. However, they are making an exception this year and picking a ninth girl—Lei. 
            At the palace, she and the other eight girls’ names are drawn night after night until the king eventually calls for Lei. And even though all the other girls have done their job and satisfied the king, Lei cannot. She fights him and runs from the palace, back to the Paper House, where she is chained up in isolation. But life goes on, and her job as a Paper Girl is not over. 
As their training continues, Lei’s walls are taken down by another of the Paper Girls, Wren, and she finds love in an unlikely and dangerous place. However, it is the start of her healing: “It gives me satisfaction to know there are some things even the King does not have the power to stop. It builds my confidence that one day we’ll be able to rebel with more than just our bodies and our live. That we will find a way to turn our growing hope and bravery into action,” (Ngan 273). 
            Lei soon learns that Wren is not all she appears. She is actually an assassin aiming to kill the Bull King. After a brutal rape committed by the King, Lei is ready to do whatever it takes to help Wren achieve her mission. But when Wren is suddenly taken away from the Palace after her mother’s death, it is up to Lei to kill the king. 
            I find it extremely important that Lei be the character to kill the king. She was the girl who experienced the rape, the girl who had the most to lose at the expense of the king. For her healing and mental health, she had to be the one to kill him. 
“It’s over. It is done.
Idid it. 
The King is dead,” (368). 
There are several topics that are not resolved in the story, but this one, the most important one, most certainly is. And after the mission is accomplished, she is allowed to start healing, through a feeling of safety and through Wren’s love: 
“Because that is what Wren is to me—my wings. And with her love, she’s taught me how to use my own. To fight against what oppresses me…A war might be coming. But we have the wings to fight it,” (379). 
Even though the ending is cheesy, it still accomplishes Ngan’s mission of finding strength in love. And she also demonstrates my question by manifesting the social injustice of rape as a physical demon that in a fantasy world, Lei is able to slay. She faces her demons, both literally and figuratively, and is then given the chance to start healing. 

Conclusion
            There’s no question that fantasy has changed over the years. As with all forms of society, it changes to adjust to what readers need. During Lewis’s time, young readers needed escapism. Now, readers have discovered healing through the written word, though escapism is a huge part of that therapy. 
            The world today is filled with terrible demons that seem unconquerable. That’s what books are for. Everything from The Lion, the Witch, and the Wardrobegiving kids the power to end a war; to Six of Crows showing kids that their society proclaimed weaknesses are actual strengths; to Girls of Paper and Fire that allow victims of rape to face their demons both literally and figuratively, the young adult fantasy genre is working hard to help young readers see themselves as people of power, people with agency, people who can pick up a sword and slay. Yes, these books are fantasy. But they are also hope and inspiration and have the power to inspire change in a world of demons. 



Bibliography:
“Reading Therapy.” Treatment-Centers.net: The Nation’s Best Treatment Centers. 2018. 
            <https://www.treatment-centers.net/rehab/methodologies/reading-therapy.html>
Bardugo, Leigh. Six of Crows. Orion: London, 2015. Print. 
Greenwood, Carla. “Reading as Therapy.” World Literacy Foundation. 9 October 2016. 
            <https://worldliteracyfoundation.org/reading-as-therapy-carla-greenwood/>
Handy, Bruce. God and Man in Narnia.”Wild Things: The Joy of Reading Children’s Literature as an Adult. Simon & Schuster: New York, 2017. 
Lewis, C.S. The Chronicles of Narnia: The Lion, the Witch, and the Wardrobe HarperCollins: London, 1950. Print. 
Ngan, Natasha. Girls of Paper and Fire. Hodder & Stoughton: London, 2018. Print.
Razi, Natasha. “Review: Six of Crows by Leigh Bardugo.” Disability in Kidlit. 26 March   2016. <http://disabilityinkidlit.com/2016/03/26/review-six-of-crows-by-leigh-bardugo/>

Saturday, January 12, 2019

My 15 Favorite Reads of 2018

This was a year of great novels! Here were my favorites!

1. The Problim Children by Natalie Lloyd
         A charming middle grade novel with magic; unique, distinctive characters; and a terribly exciting story! This is just the start of the adventures with Problim Children, so get ready for a wild ride! 

2. Her Body and Other Parties by Carmen Maria Machado
        Here's a chance to expand your reading with a collection of wildly different short stories exploring women's issues as well as same sex relationships. The writing is beautiful and wildly thought provoking with stories playing off of old wives tales and fairy tales. 

3. Uprooted by Naomi Novik
       Oh, so lovely! I haven't delved into a fully fledged fantasy novel in quite some time, and this one was just wonderful! The world was rich and historical. The characters were memorable and three dimensional. And the plot was unlike anything I've read before. A must read. 

4. The Wrath and the Dawn by Renée Ahdieh
      I'd been wanting to read Ahdieh's series for quite awhile and finally got around to it this summer. The first installment in the series completely lived up to expectations and blew my mind. Fast paced, exhilarating, and brilliant. Plus, I loved all the Egyptian mythology! 

5. The Upside of Unrequited by Becky Albertalli
      This was the book I needed when I was a teenager, about seeing yourself for who you are, about feeling self conscious, about being conscious of the space your body takes up in a room, but learning that you are worthy of love for who you are. I cried so many times, underlined so many passages that my teenage self needed to hear. So really, just read the book. 

6. The Scorpio Races by Maggie Stiefvater
      As many of you know, I am a die hard Stiefvater fan. Even though this is one of her first novels, it was my last one to read. Which was worth it because it was beautiful and I loved every minute of it and it made me want a horse again (I never don't want a horse). I really don't think there's anything else like it, and she includes a recipe in the back of the book so you can fully delve into the story! 

7. The Seas by Samantha Hunt
       This was my plane read to London, and I honestly don't know how I got through four years of a creative writing degree without being asked to read this. The lyrical writing is absolutely stunning, and the prose makes you double think what you just read. I can't recommend it enough. 

8. Sky Song by Abi Elphinstone
      A beautiful, high fantasy middle grade novel. I absolutely loved the nature aspect as well as the playing with songs and voice! It's a good challenge for young readers and old alike. 

9. Rosie Loves Jack by Mel Darbon
      Finally another book with a main character with a disability. I've only read one other novel with a main character who had down syndrome, which was beautifully done. But this one was even more intriguing. The main character Rosie had absolute agency. This novel was beautiful and heartbreaking and heartening all at the same time. Just heck yes! 

10. The Bear and The Nightengale by Katherine Arden
      Russian lore is becoming more present in literature these days, and I think this novel is one of the best. It's magical, mystical, foreign, and atmospheric. There's a lot to follow so you better give this book your full attention. But I promise, it is absolutely worth it. Especially cause there's two more books. And they're brilliant. And she's coming to Bath in March so I'm going to tell her how brilliant she is :D 

11. Bridge of Clay by Marcus Zusak
       "I did my waiting! Thirteen years of it!" That's right, it's been 13 years since The Book Thief released. But the wait was completely worth it. Bridge of Clay is heartbreaking, challenging, amazingly written, captivating prose, completely original characters, and the most lovely way of telling a story that I've never read before. So basically Marcus Zusak is a genius. 

12. Rooftoppers by Katherine Rundell
       Charming, playful, musical, and all around wonderful. I've written about this book before, so I won't sum it up again. But it's a definite must read adventure story! Who wouldn't want to run across the rooftops of Paris? 

13. Private Peaceful by Michal Morpurgo
       Michael Morpurgo is a huge author over here, but I'd never read any of his work before. Which is just ridiculous because it's wonderful. He utilizes time lock in an effective manner and tells a story in a way that we think we know what's happening, but we actually don't. It's one of the most lovely World War 1 books ever! 

14. Skellig by David Almond
       The best middle grade magical realism novel I've read! Again, shocked that I'd never read anything from David Almond before. It's very reminiscent of "A Very Old Man with Enormous Wings" by Gabriel Garcia Marquez, and is a beautiful way of teaching kids how to deal with mourning as well as thinking for themselves. 

15. Gods of Howl Mountain by Taylor Brown
       A debut novel set in North Carolina during the prohibition. These were honestly the most unique characters with distinctive voices. I loved the plot and the setting, but I really just loved the characters...I can't talk enough about the characters! 

I read 61 books in 2018, which rounds on to 19,383 pages! I've set my Goodreads Reading Challenge to 50 books for 2019. Have you all set your reading goal for 2019?

Happy Reading,
     HER 

Sunday, December 16, 2018

Semester Wrap Up!

Portfolios have been submitted. Workshops have been critiqued. So many books have been read, and so many new pieces written. But I still can't believe that my first semester in grad school is nearly over. Just one day left! One third of the way through the year.

I have learned a ridiculous amount in a very short span of time. I've settled on a manuscript for the rest of the year. I've experimented with voice and point of view and age range. I've learned how to question my writing, how to go back and make it the best it can be. I've read so many great books that have helped to further my writing and given me something to aim for in my own writing as well.

Many people say that you don't need to study writing to be a good writer, and that's fine. But writing is like any other profession or talent or skill. To get better at it, you have to be surrounded by it. You have to practice it. You have to breathe it. That's what this year is for. Living and breathing writing, specifically, the writing that I want to do. I can't wait to see what these next two semester's bring!

Here's a recap of the semester!

Favorite Books:
       From my set reading list:
               Private Peaceful by Michael Morpurgo (a beautiful World War 1 story with a clear voice, an            amazing sense of tension thanks to Timelock, and nostalgic characters)
   
               Rooftoppers by Katherine Rundell (a charming middle grade novel that makes the normal world seem magical and has the most adorable, unique voice!)

               Skellig by David Almond (a magical realism novel showing kids how to deal with mourning and their emotions. Absolutely lovely imagery and symbolism with a simple story)

       From my personal reading:
                The Bear and the Nightengale by Katherine Arden (magical realism with a russian setting and playing with russian mythology. Huge and atmospheric with bold characters--so lovely!)
         
                Rosie Loves Jack by Mel Darbon (realistic fiction following a main character with down syndrome who goes to London in search of her boyfriend who's been taken away. Poignant, strong voice, and an absolutely necessary read!)

                Sky Song by Abi Elphinstone (middle grade fantasy. Complex plot with a girl who's voice is being stolen, a boy set in his ways, a fallen goddess trying to take over the world. Beautiful nature imagery and strong friendship).

My Writing Takeaways:


  • Write the book that you want to write, that you don't see on the shelves. Don't think about the industry as you're writing it. 
  • Character questionnaires are extremely helpful. They can be downloaded online and just make you probe your subconscious and figure out things about your character. 
  • The opening of your book must give a preview of what's inside your book. 
  • Influences make you into the writer you're meant to be. So be alert, relaxed, and allow yourself to be surprised by life and how it affects your writing. 
  • TIMELOCK keeps the pace moving forward and adds to the tension of a story. 
  • Endings in all sense of the word are important. Make sure you leave the ends of chapters with a bang, making the reader read on. Don't rush your big ending. What do you want to leave the readers with? 
  • Justifying the rule Show don't Tell: Because showing allows the reader to be active in book and bring their own experiences to the story. 
  • Reading poetry makes your mind think differently and can help spark ideas in your work. Play with words and language. Keep a bag of pretty words (and minuscule words).
  • **End sentences with strong images, not unnecessary words. 
  • Kids and young readers are a lot more sophisticated than we give them credit for, but also know what kids of your age group can handle. 
  • Realistic relationships are created through light and shade in a novel. 
  • Take character temperature at the beginning and end of the scene. If they are the same, the scene is too static. 
  • Antagonists need to be worthy and have reasons, even if they are terrible reasons. 
  • Need some tension? Throw a bomb under the bed
  • Reticular Activating System: as soon as you put a value on something, you'll make connections. 
  • Think about what you're really trying to say, and try your hardest not to say it. 
  • The Story Questions: What readers want answered, drives the story forward, questions are replaced throughout the book. 
  • First draft is telling the story to yourself. You have to do that first. 
It's been a long crazy semester. I've learned a lot. For once in my life, I know that I am a good writer--a good writer with mountains of space to improve. Because isn't that what we're always doing? I've learned that I'm good at voice, at balance of action and dialogue. But I often overwrite because I don't think I'm getting my story across. Sometimes I need to amp up the twists. 
And I'm so excited to start my manuscript, to create the atmosphere that I envision in my head. Stay tuned for what the next semester has in store! 

Happy Holidays, 
      HER 


Sunday, December 2, 2018

Book Review: Rooftoppers by Katherine Rundell

Okay, so no, this blog is noT turning into a book review site. It's just that heavy reading has been half of my workload for grad school this first semester, and I have read some truly wonderful books! I will do a wrap up of my first semester's learning because my last class is next week. NEXT WEEK! But first, I want to talk to you about Rooftoppers by Katherine Rundell because it is just utterly lovely.

Sophie, the girl with hair the color of lightning, was found as a baby floating through the English Channel in a cello case by Charles Maxim, the most charming British academic you will ever have the pleasure of reading. Charles, with the permission of the State, raises Sophie as his charge, but loves her as his daughter. But Sophie's upbringing is unusual, not exactly what a young woman in England "should" be studying--and she most certainly should be not be wearing trousers.

Even though she loves her life with Charles, Sophie is utterly convinced that her mother is still alive, and though she was a baby when she was found, she swears that she has memories of her mother wearing trousers and playing the cello. So when the state decides that Charles is an unfit guardian and plan to take Sophie to an orphanage, Sophie discovers a clue about her mother--a Paris address on the cello case that she was found in twelve years ago. So instead of complying with the law and heartbreak, Charles and Sophie pack a bag and jump a ship across the English Chanel for Paris, on a Mother-hunt.

Instantly, Sophie is convinced that Paris is the right place for her, that it feels like home. However, answers are not coming as easily as she might hope. The Parisians are not as polite as the English, and no one wants to help her find her mother, who most likely died in the shipwreck.

Just when all seems lost, Sophie meets Matteo, a rooftopper--aka an orphan who's made his home out of living on the rooftops of Paris, a magical and dangerous life. Sophie's eyes are opened to this hard, new way of life, but in it, she finds a group of loyal, brave friends and answers to all her prayers. Because from the rooftops, one can hear everything--including the cello music of a woman with lightning colored hair, the same as Sophie's.

I think I can honestly say that, apart from Skellig by David Almond, Rooftoppers is my favorite read of the semester. Sophie is the most unique, odd, charming, utterly herself character
with beautiful ways of seeing the world. I was underlining her thoughts like crazy. I think Charles might be one of my favorite adult characters in a middle grade book, an adult character who both believes in the agency of children and the agency of women. He's a true feminist. The voice of the story is witty and exciting, with unusual, exciting descriptions. I finished this book in two days, and I was sad to finish it.

My favorite quote: "Mothers were a place to put down your heart. They were a resting stop to recover your breath."

This is an absolutely must-read. I'm not kidding. Read it!

Happy Reading,
    HER 

Friday, October 26, 2018

Book Review: Utterly Me, Clarice Bean by Lauren Child

Utterly Me, Clarice Bean is the 4th book in my set reading for the MA, and it was such a joy! Really, I've enjoyed everything I've read so far (Charlotte's Web, Where the Wild Things Are, Skellig). But I chose to specifically write about the Clarice Bean series (aka the British equivalent of Junie B. Jones) because, as I was reading and presenting on it, I realized how beneficial of a book this would be for children with disabilities that make reading challenging and therefore just don't read.

Clarice Bean is an average girl with one too many siblings and who has a deep love of the Ruby Redfort mystery books. She wishes she had an exciting life like Ruby's spy life, but instead she must deal with a sneaky grandpa, coats being rearranged at school, her siblings, and her best friend Betty Moody.
Clarice is actually quite excited for a school project when the class is assigned to pick their own book to do a book report table on. They must have a display and show what they have learned from the books. The winners will get a secret prize and their names on a gold trophy. Naturally Clarice and Betty choose the Ruby Redfort book to do their report on. But then several mysteries throw their way into Clarice's way to victory.
First of all, there's a mysterious barking coming from her grandpa's room. Then Betty goes missing. And THEN the golden cup that the winners are supposed to get their names on goes missing! It's all just going to the dogs. And Clarice is left on her own to solve all these mysteries, discover what she's learned from the Ruby Redfort books, and deal with everyday problems.

Clarice Bean's voice is established immediately, and this little girl is hilarious and sassy. I love her. I actually wrote "lol" on nearly every page. But Lauren Child is very witty in the way she sets this book up, which I think is just perfect for children with attention struggles. She plays with the size of text to pull kids' attention back in and forms some of the story's words into shapes. She also has installments of the Ruby Redfort books sprinkled throughout Clarice's own story, so it's almost like breaking up the book, keeping it fresh, and holding your child's attention.
Anyone will enjoy this book because the writing is charming and Clarice Bean is hilarious. But if you have a/know of a child who doesn't like reading just because books can't keep their attention, hand them this Utterly Me, Clarice Bean. They might just get sucked in.

**Plus, this book promotes kids reading what they enjoy, rather than what they are required to read, and I think that's incredibly important. Clarice shows that she's able to learn something from a popular fiction book. So all the power! But I'm off my soapbox now.

Happy Reading,
         HER 

Wednesday, October 3, 2018

Review: The Tail of Emily Windsnap by Liz Kessler

I started reading the Emily Windsnap series when I was about 10 years old, right when they came into publication. And they were my absolute favorites! So much my favorites that I wrote a letter to the British author, Liz Kessler, a couple years later about how much I loved her books and how I was a writer too and wrote all the time and wanted to be published.
Well, to my 12 year old astonishment, I received a letter back from this amazing author encouraging me to keep writing. I've saved that letter for 10 years now, displaying it proudly on my wall. Never did I think I'd get to the day when I would meet Liz and be able to show her the letter that she sent me all those years ago.
Well, that day did come this past weekend. I finally got to meet Liz at the Bath Children's Literature Festival, listen to her speak, and finally show her the letter she sent me. She was so touched that she nearly cried, came all the way around the table to hug me and take a picture with ME on HER phone, which never happens. I'm so blessed that I was able to share with her how much her letter touched my courage and influenced my writing career. It is one of the highlights of my life, thus far.

But this is a book review. Since my MA Writing for Young People at Bath Spa University starts tomorrow, I thought I'd reread the first The Tail of Emily Windsnap to prepare and also just to reread. Cause why not? I wanted to look at it with the critical eye of an adult and a writing student. I was just as extraordinarily pleased with it as I was when I was a child.
The book instantly hooks readers and really pulls us into the story by having Emily, the first person narrator, address the audience by sharing a secret with us. And we, of course, are the only ones to know. But she doesn't just come right out and say what her secret is; she reveals the secret through scene--the secret that she's a mermaid! But how is this possible? Her mother's afraid of water, and she's never known anything about her dad.
It's not until she meets her first real life mermaid, her new bff Shona, that answers start to fall into place. After a day at mermaid school with Shona, Emily discovers who her father might be--a siren who broke the rules and fell in love with a human. But what's happened to him? Where is he? And how does she get to him?
With the help of her new fin and her loyal, brave best friend, Emily is determined to find the truth and bring her family back together.

Kessler's writing is simple yet beautiful. The dialogue is fast paced and skips through unnecessary bits of the story, that might be important to an older mind but a younger mind would just blitz over anyway. But my favorite part of Kessler's writing is her use of verbs. She utilizes the absolute perfect, imagery-inducing verbs, and I LOVE it. I'm quite jealous in fact. I enjoyed the charming details to create a mermaid culture like siren classes and the word "swishy," which just really makes the book come to life. I might even start using "swishy" again to describe the coolest of cool things.

But as I was reading this, I was trying to remember why I was so in love with it as a kid. I was never really taken to the beach yearly, and I'd never had an obsession with mermaids, even though I did love Ariel. Reading it now, I remember. A--I felt a slight connection to Emily, feeling outside of her school, not really having a place among friends, but just needing one good friend. And B--we'd just moved into a house with a pool, and literally the only thing I wanted to do was play mermaids. I was a mermaid literally every day of the summer. And that was my a-ha moment. Thanks to my pool, Emily Windsnap and I became bffs.

After listening to Liz speak at the Bath Children's Literature festival, I loved hearing her take on how stories come to her. First of all, she advised all young writers to carry a notebook with them everywhere, which I 100% support. Second of all, she said that she doesn't make up characters or put pieces of people together. For her, the story already exists and choose the writers. And again, I have to whole-heartedly agree with this.
I've never had to sit down and think through Cheyenne's character or her story. It's always just come to me, and I'm glad to hear that I'm not the only author who thinks this way.

Apart from this being a review, this is also an encouragement to young readers/writers--write authors! We may not always respond, though some still do (obviously). But we can't tell you how much it touches our hearts that the stories we manage to pen make a difference in our readers' lives the way that Liz Kessler made a difference in mine.

So go read Emily Windsnap! She's on her 9th journey (and still going).

Happy Reading,
      HER