Thursday, September 30, 2010

Banned Books Reviewed link

Townsend's WarblerImage by ru_24_real via Flickr
My wonderful agent Suzie Townsend had a great Banned Books Reviews post today on her blog.  Check it out.

Sorry Suzie.  Couldn't find a pic of you on Zemanta Assitant. But I did stumble on this picture of a Townsend's Warbler.  It's shares your name and upbeat personality so I thought you'd appreciate it. It also has the advantage of not infringing on anyone's copyright.
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Tuesday, September 28, 2010

Virtual Classroom visits

Image representing Skype as depicted in CrunchBaseImage via CrunchBase
Lately I've been posting about banned books, but today I want talk about the importance of celebrating literacy to encourage reading.  A great way to kick off or culminate a literacy focus for your school is through an author visit.  I say this not just as an author, but as a former teacher.  I've seen so many connections between writer and reader from both sides.  They can be truly transformative.  I recall one school visit where a student was so excited about the topic (bald eagles) that he ended up assisting me in a fact game.  He was thrilled.  I learned later that this student was autistic and did not generally participate in class discussions.  Other visits have culminated in story writing, art displays, research projects, and book journeys that may not have otherwise happened.  

Unfortunately, in this climate of economic constraint, not all schools can afford to have an author visit no matter how wonderful the connections between writer and reader.  Now, there is another way, a virtual author visit using Skype.  While I've not myself participated in a virtual classroom visit, many of my colleagues.  While they do pose some challenges, virtual classroom visits can be very rewarding.  This summer when visiting Salt Spring Island, my colleague and friend Margriet Ruurs showed me how it's done.  One of these days, I'll give it a  try.  But, in the meantime Margriet has written a helpful article about it in Canadian Teacher Magazine;  Using Skype to Bring Experts into the Classrooby Margriet Ruurs.  You won't regret it.
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    Friday, September 24, 2010

    The Gryphon Project by Carrie Mac

    I just finished The Griphon Project by Carrie Mac, a book I've been looking forward to reading long before it won the BC Book Prize for Young Adult Literature this year.  I love Mac's writing, it's usually tight, yet language rich with unusual thematic juxtapositions and metaphors that make you stop and say "Wow!  I wish I'd written that."

    Although I enjoyed it, I found The Gryphon Project to be a little less satisfying than other books I've read by Mac.

    The sci-fi story with a recognizable near future setting evolves around Phoenix, her brother and their friends.  When we first meet her, Phoenix has the ideal family, the ideal older brother, and the ideal life, other than the fact that she has only one life left after having used two up prior to the age of six.   Most people in her social class are allotted three lives, and most still have all three. Gryphon, Phoenix's older brother, is an all star athlete and poster boy for Chrysalis, the governing body who controls after death recons.  This ensures that their family leads an even more privileged existence. But things start to go awry when Gryphon and some of his friends engage in progressively more and more risky stunts.  By contrast, the lack of recons available to her, turn Phoenix into a worrier.  Secrets that she'd rather not know are dropped into her lap just before Gryphon has a horrible accident.  Unbelievably, Chrysalis deems Gryphon's death a suicide and everyone knows there are no recons for suicides. There's only one way to prove Gryphon's death was an accident, but his friends aren't talking and have shut Phoenix out.  Still, Phoenix is determined to break their code of silence and save her brother even if it means risking her last life by going into dangerous territory.

    Although the book has some great writing and interesting plot twists, in the end it was a little disappointing.  I found the main character's self-absorption got in the way of a story. This may be a case of Mac trying to take on too much in one story. While the The Gryphon Project never really lived up to it's science-fiction thriller billing, it did raise some very compelling social issues; something Mac has always shown herself to be a master at. The Gryphon Project isn't all I'd hoped for, but it is worth a read.

    Monday, September 20, 2010

    The Oak Bay Book Worm is reading Waiting for the Whales

    For the last several months, The Oak Bay Book Worm has been reading a different book every week, Alice in Wonderland, Treasure Island, Moby Dick are a few of the books being read.  My dog Ruby, aka "the shadow" is checking out what the Oak Bay Book Worm is reading this week; it's Waiting for the Whales!  Dan Bell, the creative horticulturalist behind The Oak Bay Book Worm, and all sorts of other horticultural masterpieces, you are awesome!

    By the way, if you like what you see, let the Parks & Rec. Department of Oak Bay know.  I'm sure it would be a treat for them to hear some positive feedback for their wonderful living art, especially art that has encouraged reading.  And, it's always nice to have one of your own books on the Book Worm's reading radar.

    Laurie Halse Anderson - Speak Poem

    Here is Laurie Halse Anderson reading from her poem, "Listen".  Once you've listened, I hope that you too will speak out about how books help to heal...

    Sunday, September 19, 2010

    Speak shouldn't be silenced by censors

    Censorship is rearing it's ugly head again, this time in Springfield, Mo where a university prof by the name of Wesley Scroggins wrote an opinion piece for the local paper where he characterized Speak, by Lauie Halse Anderson as filthy, immoral soft porn.  Apparently professor Scroggins doesn't understand that the rape scenes in the novel are not there for titillation.  His conclusions are disturbing at best.  I'd like to remind readers that Speak was a Printz Honor Book, a National Book Award Finalist, and a New York Times Best Seller that has given voice to victims for the last ten years.   

    I'm sad to say that the need for books that give victims a voice are as important today as the day Speak was released.  A mere week ago in a community near Vancouver, Canada, a 16 year old girl was drugged and gang-raped at a rave.  Cell phone pictures were posted by a 16 year old boy with no thought of the fact that this girl is forced to relive that horrendous experience time and time again.  If more of the young people involved had read Speak, and gained insight into how insidious and horrendous rape is, the situation might have been prevented.  I have given Speak to countless young women, including my own three daughters.  I wish I had given it to more young men.  This is an important book that NEEDS to be available.  And it's important that we speak to our young people about the difference between consensual sex and rape.

    Wednesday, September 15, 2010

    Book Airlift to LA

    A few months ago, I was contacted by Helaine Becker, a writer friend.  She'd been in LA and had visited a school with virtually no books on the library shelves.  Not one to accept the status quo, Helaine decided to do something about it.  That something is about to come to fruition.

    The following is a press release she sent along this morning.

    Children’s book author orchestrates Canada-wide book drive to stack library shelves of inner city school in Los Angeles.

    Helaine Becker’s Airlift to LA highlights the state of Canadian school libraries.

    August 23, 2010 (Toronto, ON) Shocked by the empty library bookshelves during an author visit to a Los Angeles-area elementary school, children’s book author Helaine Becker is taking action. She’s started a campaign to put books in the hands of disadvantaged children in LA, and, just as important, is bringing attention to the alarming state of Canadian school libraries.

    Becker, an award-winning Toronto area author, has written over 40 books for children, including Science on the Loose (Maple Tree Press 2008), and is known for her wacky, off beat humour for the younger set.

    In a recent trip to California, Becker collected over 650 books (most were discards from more affluent schools) for Barton Elementary School, located in an inner city area of Long Beach. Books not up to library standards were given directly to the children and for most of these children, it was the first time they had ever owned a book or even read for pleasure. Now back in Canada, Helaine is spearheading a campaign — Airlift to LA — to stock the shelves of another Los Angeles-area elementary school in the Compton district.

    “The three schools I visited were all understaffed, underfunded, and under stocked to the point of breakdown,” explains Becker. “I was completely shocked by how bad the situation was there. The way U.S. schools are funded through property taxes means schools in low-income areas have virtually no ability to meet existing school standards, nor to effectively educate the next generation.

    “My hope is that by helping the kids in the Compton-area, we will not only deliver books to kids who need them, but also draw attention to the fact that Canadian school libraries are heading the same way. Our libraries are also dramatically underfunded, in every single province and territory,” explains Becker who recently visited a northern Canadian school whose dusty shelves included books such as The Red Indian and Young John Kennedy. “If you only have a part-time library tech to come in and look after the place one half-day a week, and no funding to restock the shelves with books less than 50 years-old, well, Compton, here we come.”

    A long-time advocate for school libraries, Becker sees helping the children in LA as a short-term solution. “The real problem we are trying to address is the systemic problems we face on both sides of the border. Almost none of the school libraries I visit are up to Canadian standards set by the Canadian Library Association,” says Becker who authored a document that allows the public to determine how their school libraries stack up. “If they do the assessment they will see how poorly we are doing and, as a result, why our literacy numbers are going sideways. My hope is that the public will use the results to put pressure on the government to put the funding back where it can do so much good — in a fully-functioning, fully-staffed school library.”
    Becker has partnered with Sandra Tsing-Loh, columnist and local celebrity in the LA-area and an advocate for public education, and Rebecca Constantino, founder of Access Books — a non-profit organization which organizes book drives and funding for underserviced school libraries. Last week, Becker shipped approximately 1200 books from over a hundred Canadian authors, publishers and the public to LA. in advance of the book presentation event at Ralph Bunche Elementary School, October 2, 2010.

    The event will include author presentations by several Canadian writers including Becker, Wendy Kitts, Rob Weston and Kari-Lynn Winters who will also help refurbish the Bunche school library by sorting and cataloguing books and painting wall murals with the students.

    For more information on Airlift to LA go to

    To see how your school library “stacks up”, download the Canadian Coalition for School Libraries and Canadian Association for School Libraries Library/Media Assessment Questionnaire at


    For further information on Airlift to LA contact:

    Wendy Kitts
    506-382-4360 or 506-852-1600

    Helaine Becker

    To send a book donation by October 2, 2010:

    Airlift to LA
    c/o Access Books
    3622 W. Slauson Ave.
    Los Angeles, CA 90043

    Happy Birthday "I'm Here. I'm Queer. What the Hell do I Read"

    I just wanted to wish send a birthday shout out to "I'm Here.  I'm Queer.  What the Hell do I Read."  This blog is a great resource, was voted "BEst GLBT Book Review Blog in 2009, and is celebrating their 3rd birthday.

    Thursday, September 9, 2010

    Mockingjay brilliance

    It's been about 2 weeks since I've read Mockingjay.  I hesitated to write about it immediately, mainly because I wanted a little time to digest it.

    Off the top, I have to say that Suzanne Collins is brilliant.  The story is brilliant.  The ending is brilliant.  The entire trilogy is brilliant.  And disturbing...very very disturbing.  This is likely why it's come under fire.  "Too violent.  Too bleak.  Too frightening for young people," or so I've read.

    For my part, I couldn't agree more.  It is too violent.  It is too bleak.  It is too frightening.  Far too frightening.  And it ought to be required reading; not just for young people, but for parents, lawmakers, and especially for politicians.  The thing is, this world could easily be our own not too far down the road. The thing is that the decadence and corruption and struggles for power and the human pain and suffering in this book are so close to home that it takes my breath away...still.

    Katniss is a pawn in a game that she can never win, not unlike the children of war today. She is appalled that some of the people she loves and respects do terrible things.  They hope and pray that the end will justify the means.  Katniss is appalled that she too does terrible things.  How wildly different is this from war torn countries of today and yesterday?  Ms. Collins simply imagined things on a post-apopoliptic world scale.
    Her trilogy suggests that there can be no real winners in war.  There will always be someone hungry for power.  There will always be decadence and exploitation.  But Collins does leave room for hope, even if it is a slender thread.  As Katniss says, "...on bad mornings, it feels impossible to take pleasure in anything because I'm afraid it could be taken away.  That's when I make a list in my head of every act of goodness I've seen someone do. It's like a game...But there are much worse games to play."

    The Book Worm

    This is so cool.  The municipality of Oak Bay always does these very cool garden instillations close to where I live, and close to the local high school, Oak Bay High School.  This summer they did a reading bookwork all created with flowers.  Every Monday the title of the book would change.  It's been Treasure Island, Harry Potter, and lots of other great titles.  This week, the book title was OBHS Course Selection Guide.  Too funny.  I love creative people, and creative municipalities!

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    short list announced for Victoria Book Prizes

    The big news in Victoria today is that the finalists for the City of Victoria Butler Book Prize and the finalists for the Bolen Books Children's Book Prize have just been announced.

    Finalists for the Butler Prize for adult literature are:

    Frances Backhouse for Children of the Klondike (Whitecap Books) 
    M.A.C. Farrant for The Secret Lives of Litterbugs (Key Porter Books) 
    Eve Joseph for The Secret Signature of Things (Brick Books) 
    Jay Ruzeky for The Wolsenburg Clock (Thistledown Press) and
    Deborah Willis for Vanishing and Other Stories (Penguin Canada) 

    The finalists for the Bolen Books Children’s Book Prize are:

    Dede Crane for Poster Boy (Groundwood Books); 
    Michelle Mulder for After Peaches (Orca Book Publishers) and
    Sylvia Olsen for Counting on Hope (Sono Nis Press).

    The winners will be announced at the awards gala on October 13.

    Wednesday, September 8, 2010

    What's a writer to do!

    There's been an interesting discussion on swearing in YA literature on one of my listserves.  Of course to swear or not to swear is a decision that most young adult writers will come across at one time or another just by the nature of characters they write about.  Even if your protagonist doesn't curse, one of the characters in many stories probably will.  Some writers have been quite creative about how they handle swearing.  For example, John Green in An Abundance of Catherines, used "fuggin" instead of the obvious.  In my newest novel, Steps, which is not yet published, my character used "friggin," etc.  But, in the novel I'm currently working on, I may need to be more explicit in order to be true to some of the secondary characters.  My preference with cursing is similar to my approach to violence in film.  So long as it's not gratuitous, I can deal with it.  But, sometimes that doesn't work in fiction.  What about those teenagers who I pass in the park near my house?  The lot of them swear like truck drivers.  If I'm painting a realistic picture of teenagers hanging out, it may well involve gratuitous swearing.

    Love to hear your take on these things, especially given many of us need to get our books into schools to actually make a living as writers, especially here in Canada.  What's a writer to do!