Sunday, August 1, 2010

Two Great Books for Young Readers

Right around the same time the horses came into my life, I also began writing. Writing to me had always been something that I could do to up a test grade, or use for extra credit with a quick essay. It came easily to me, but was never something I pursued for fun.

But somewhere in my mid-to-late thirties, things just started piling up in my head, like a huge mountain of laundry that keeps accumulating. I'd be at the bank, or Home Depot or something, and see a person, and questions would form in my mind. What did they do that day? Sometimes, if they looked sad, I would think, Did their dog just die? Is a loved one in the hospital? Or if I saw someone creepy-looking; Is this guy a murderer? An evil sorcerer? Stories would begin to form. I had all of these ideas, and it was driving me crazy. I had to get them out. So I started buying notebooks, and jotting things down whenever they popped into my head. It did wonders for my sanity. I now had an outlet, but what to do with all this material?

My mother-in-law really was the first one to encourage me. I had gotten in the habit of sending out emails to the family whenever we took a hunting or camping trip, include pictures of the kids, what we did, where we were, etc. And I would sort of write a short story of our experiences. All she did was say that I had a knack for it, and maybe I should think of writing.


That was all it took. For my birthday present to myself that year, I went to the writer's group at my local library. It was the best thing I could have done. They have been incredible at encouraging, teaching, helping massage half-formed stories into polished pieces, and were instrumental in helping me get my first (and only, so far) published piece, also garnering a small award. (Society of Southwestern Authors 2008 Honorable Mention)

Since then, I've learned that my love is children's books, and have focused my writing there. I joined a national organization, the Society of Children's Book Writers and Illustrators, or SCBWI for short, and began attending conferences. If anyone out there has even the faintest inkling of writing interest, I highly recommend joining some type of group, whatever your focus, i.e., mystery, romance, non-fiction, but the best place to start is your local library or community center.

I now am a proud member of a very tight critique group, re:Vision Writers. (Don't you love the play on words? Regarding Vision=Revision?) We meet once a month, exchange work, critique each others' pieces, and work on our own with the criticism we have gotten from the others in the group. We also discuss publishing news, ideas for sending queries to agents and editors, and books we love.

As I write this, three members of my group are attending the SCBWI's big annual summer conference in L.A., listening to famous authors tell stories of how they first got published, going to workshops given by editors and agents, learning the best methods for submitting work to publishers, hearing all the latest book biz buzz, schmoozing with other writers, and no doubt, taking copious notes.

With them in mind, and because I have such a love of reading, and children's books in particular, I've decided that I may as well use my blogging platform to branch out a bit and post on a couple of things besides the horses. Besides, it's beastly hot, and Poor Chroi and Keira are doing little more than eating and trying to keep cool.

I'm always looking for books that I think might interest my 12-year-old. The buzzword category that some boys fall into is "reluctant reader." Now my son is not necessarily a reluctant reader, per-se, but he is a picky reader. That, mixed with a learning disability, I have dubbed him a "tough" reader. It's hard to find things for boys to read anyway. Many of the books aimed at middle-grade readers are filled with either sports (not interested) or bathroom humor (eh). I find that in the stories my tough reader likes, there is usually some sort of adventure.

So, at a school book fair last fall, I picked up a book that looked intriguing. My son took one look at it, saw a picture of a girl on the cover, shrugged, and it sat on the shelf for months. I came across it recently on a book hungry search of the house and decided to give it a shot.

I couldn't put it down.

The Treasures of Weatherby, by three-time Newbery Award winning author Zilpha Keatley Snyder, is a book about a boy, a dilapidated mansion, and a mysterious girl. Harleigh J. Weatherby the Fourth begins the books as a smaller-than-average boy with a collection of indifferent relatives, a dwindling estate, and a very large chip on his shoulder. Everything changes when he meets a girl named Allegra, who doesn't seem to give him any answers but prompts him to find his own. Along the way, he begins to feel more confident, and less sorry for himself, finds allies he didn't realize he had, and discovers more than one treasure hidden in the grand old manor. He will also learn that some people he admired were not as honorable as they seemed.

This story has just the right amount of creepiness and suspense without being scary. Wrap it all up in the setting of an enormous old house with more rooms and staircases to explore than a kid could ever dream of, and you've got a book that will keep you up all night, turning pages. And, despite the cover, would be great for boys and girls.

As for the second book, run, don't walk to your nearest source, and get your hands on a copy of The Hunger Games, by Suzanne Collins. This was one of the buzz books at the first conference I attended. It took me awhile to pick it up - not because I didn't believe anyone when they said it was great, but because I didn't think it would appeal to me. Boy was I wrong! I couldn't put it down. The story centers around a teenage girl, Katniss, and her struggle for survival in a futuristic game to the death. Sounds dark, I know -- this book is intended for Young Adult readers. But the theme alone is about as dark as it gets. No overdone gore, drawn out violence, just that it is a present fact. Katniss's inner journey - worry about her family back home, questions over whether another gamer's feelings for her are sincere, and discovering her own feelings about a friend she left behind, mixed with the suspense of the Game itself, will keep any reader turning pages long into the night.
The Hunger Games is the first in a trilogy. Its sequel is Catching Fire, and the last is Mockingjay, due out later this month (8/24).

I loved both of these books, and I hope you do, too. If you've read them, let me know what you think!

8/13/10 UPDATE: Just so you know you're not the only adult reading kids' books, here's an article on the subject from the New York Times, highlighting The Hunger Games, Catching Fire, and the new release, Mockingjay.

1 comment:

  1. I love that you're writing about your writing (and reading) life. Great addition to the blog.


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