Best books of July 2010

Here we go, it’s the end of another month. So, what is the best book you read this month? It could be fiction, nonfiction…any genre. What book did you really enjoy? Or, what book made a major impact on you? Please use the comment space to share the title and author and to tell just a snippet about your book to whet our readers’ appetites.

For me, my best book for this month is one that has been most meaningful. I’ve been going through a transitional period in my life and working through a number of issues including questions of what I’ve accomplished, my value as person, and coming to terms with the good and the bad, the wise and the foolish  in my past and personality. So this month (actually this whole summer) I decided to reread the workbook to Beth Moore’s Bible Study of Isaiah, Breaking Free: The Journey, The Stories. There was a particular set of lessons, week 6, entitled “Beauty from Ashes” that I just yearned to revisit. And it was such a blessing!

Moore’s gift is to help women comprehend how precious and beloved we are to God. I tend to be the kind of person who picks on myself, and the vision these chapters give of God’s passionate love and gracious good will toward me were spring water to my thirsty heart. I am so loved, and so are you!

In the fiction arena, I’ve just begun reading Cornelia Funke’s Inkheart, and I knew from these words in “Chapter 2” that this is going to be a book I will thoroughly enjoy. Funke writes:

“Meggie took her books whenever they went away. They were her home when she was somewhere strange. They were familiar voices, friends that never quarreled with her, clever, powerful friends—daring and knowledgeable, tried and tested adventurers who had traveled far and wide. Her books cheered her up when she was sad and kept her from being bored (Funke 15-16). ”

I have not found myself bored yet, and I am up to chapter 16.

So, what is your favorite book you read this month?

What Might You Read With Your Kids?

Last post, I suggested you might want to take advantage of the summer evenings to read aloud with your kids outdoors. But what should you read? There are always award-winning books—The American Library Association’s Newbery and Caldecott’s being the best known of an interesting range of awards.

However, the children’s literature field is far deeper than the handful of books that receive awards each year. Another option for reading as a family might be books that are presently popular with your kids’ peers. Your child can likely tell you what these are.

Or, perhaps you might want to share some favorites from your youth. My youngest son and I had a blast with Edward Eager’s Half Magic Books, and when my daughter and I read the wedding chapter in the final book of the Little House series, by Laura Ingalls Wilder, she had to take the book out of my hands and read it to me because I was crying so!  If you can’t recall any favorites, here are some tried and true selections that I think you and your kids would enjoy.

With younger children, you might want to bring out a handful of picture books. Miss Rumphius, by Caroline Cooney is one of my favorites, but my kids faves were any Berenstain Bear book they could lay their hands on. And don’t forget nursery rhymes and poetry, particularly with preschoolers. My son loved their bumping, tumbling cascade of sound and as a result took pure pleasure in finding rhymes on his own.

If you have elementary and middle school kids, treat them to some classics from the past. Any Beverly Cleary book is great for sharing as a family, and Beezus and Ramona is out in theaters this summer, although it reverses the title to Ramona and Beezus. Lloyd Alexander’s Prydain Chronicles are some of my very favorite books, but if you’re up for something a little more contemporary, any of Andrew Clements’ books make great reading, and all three of my kids (both my sons and my daughter)enjoyed Sharon Creech’s Walk Two Moons, Bloomability, and Chasing Redbird .

YA novels are hot even with adults this year, and you don’t have to love vampires to find something to read. There are contemporary selections, other types of fantasy, even historical fiction. Roseanne Perry’s Heart of Shepherd is a contemporary novel for ages 10 and up about a boy whose father is fighting in Iraq. Tolkien’s Hobbit and Lord of the Rings books are perennial best-loved books. I particularly love Megan Whalen Turner’s series beginning with The Thief, which she has finally followed up with a fourth book,  A Conspiracy of Kings. I can’t wait to get my hands on it!

You don’t necessarily even have to read novels with older kids. There are great collections of short stories grouped around a wide range of topics. And, my particular love, collections of folktales from every corner of the world.

If you can’t find anything you like on your own bookshelves, check out the local library or bookstore. Maybe subscribe to Cricket, or one of the other Carus family of magazines. Then stretch out with your family on the lawn, catch that gentle evening breeze, and read. Together.

Summer Evening Read-Aloud

You don’t have to go camping to enjoy a good book with your family in the great outdoors. Take advantage of the beautiful summer evenings and begin a peaceful ritual that builds togetherness, provides pleasurable entertainment, and invests in both a love of reading and an increase in reading skills for your child.

In short, take a blanket and a book out to your lawn (or with you to a local park), kick off your shoes, and you and the kids get comfortable for a great read-aloud. You don’t even have to do all the reading. Pass the book around and let everyone have a chance at both the reading, and relaxing and enjoying.

Although it may not seem so, listening to literature read aloud is a great means for building kids’ literacy skills and is something teachers often don’t have the time for in test-driven schools. It gives children the opportunity to practice visualizing what is read. It allows them to enjoy the story without what for some might be a good deal of labor. It provides practice at following a plot line, connecting cause and effect. And it helps build your child’s vocabulary.

Furthermore, if you vary your fare, it can introduce kids to a variety of genres. It has been my experience that sometimes reluctant readers are not truly reluctant at all, but merely haven’t found their genre yet, and when they do, just watch them soar!

So grab that book and that blanket, and enjoy some family time outdoors.

Books: Lighthouses on the Sea of Time

Sometimes as a writer, particularly as a novelist who has not yet found a publisher for my novel, I get discouraged. I wonder why I am still putting in the hundreds of hours I have already invested in the writing.

Then I stumble on a quote in my reading that comforts, reassures, and empowers me to take up my mechanical pencil once again.

Such is the following, written by the historian, Barbara Tuchman, and included in Leonard Goss and Don Aycock’s The Little Handbook to Perfecting the Art of Christian Writing, page 8.

Here are Tuchman’s thoughts on books:

Books are carriers of civilization. Without books, history is silent, literature is dumb, science crippled, thought and speculation at a standstill. Without books, the development of civilization would have been impossible. They are the engines of change, windows on the world, lighthouses erected in the sea of time. They are companions, teachers, magicians, bankers of the treasure of the mind. Books are humanity in print.

Don’t you love it! The phrase “lighthouses erected in the sea of time” captivates me, and inspires me to create a work that will be a light for my readers.

Of course, nowadays, it is not just paper, cloth, and leather books that serve this purpose, it is plays, newspapers, magazines, e-books, videos, websites, and blogs as well. Yet at their heart, all require the same thing—someone who had an idea, thought about it, considered its pros and cons, imagined new variations of it, and wrote it down.

I like that as a historian, Tuchman included literature in the realm of vital words we would be missing without books. And I am energized and inspired to serve well in the literary realms to which I’ve been called.

Questions to Consider When Selecting Art for Writing Prompts

I had such a great time at the art fair last week. I walked up and down every aisle and peered into every booth. And for once, in addition to being there to feast my eyes, I was also on a mission to seek and find…art, for you.

As I looked at each artist’s creations my questions moved beyond “Do I like this? Why or why not?”

Instead I was admiring things like the sweep of energy in a piece. I was looking for characters young people might find interesting to write about, situations that might stimulate their imaginations, environments that could frame a flight of fiction, or artifacts that could reflect on the kind of person or creature that would use them or the circumstances in which they would be employed.

It was so fun!

Although the first artist I spoke to turned me down flat when I asked if she would be interested in having her art appear as a writing prompt to stimulate literacy in the home, (and it took me two rows of booths to get my courage up to even ask again!) everyone I finally spoke to was enthusiastic. Many of the artists possessed a strong commitment to young people and literacy. One said yes because he “had been a kid once.”

In all, I collected enough contacts to feature an art prompt every month, maybe twice a month if you, my readers show interest.

So, happy reading and writing! We’re going to have some fun!

Writing With My Granddaughter

       I had a great time at the art fair and have much to report, but not today.

My two-almost three-year-old granddaughter spent the night last night and we’ve been too busy having fun. (She’s napping right now, but since it’s not at home in her own room, I’m not so sure how long it will last. )

We’ve had a good time–making Valentine birds (a favorite activity ever since I sent her the pieces to make some for Valentine’s day), reading, doing puzzles, making oatmeal cookie bars, and writing. Yes, I said writing.

As you can see, we engaged in a fun pre-writing activity. (In this case not a planning to write activity, but an activity for young people who do not yet know how to read and write–preschoolers–like my granddaughter.)

What you do is cut out a shape, in silhouette, from colored paper. Make it large enough for you to write a couple of sentences on. Then ask your preschooler what she would like to say about your subject and write her words down as she speaks them.

You should have seen how fascinated Grace was to see what she had to say about pinecones appearing in print as she spoke. When done, of course, read your preschooler’s words back to her, let her decorate the shape, or tell you more. It’s a great way for young people to experience the way words and writing reflect what they may think and say.

Grace just got back from the family trip to Yosemite. I have a tall ponderosa pine tree waiting for us to record her vacation memories after she wakes up :-)

I’m Going to the Art Fair

I am going to the Salem Art Fair today, one of my favorite local events (my other favorites being the two or three fireworks displays shot off each summer). I love art. My learning style is decidedly visual, so wandering the booths of the art fair just feeds my creative spirit.

I will be taking a sketch pad, pencil, and a handful of colored pencils (as well as a hat to keep the sun off my head—this is an all day adventure—and sunscreen and money for lunch).

What I love to do is walk the rows of booths, every row! And I love to look at every piece of art on display. If I find something particularly striking I’ll sit down at one of the many picnic tables interspersed in the grass between each row and either describe it (practicing my descriptive writing skills) or sketch it just for fun. Sometimes an object or picture might inspire a snippet of dialogue between two characters. I’ll jot it down along with any story background that occurs to me. Or it might inspire a setting I’d love to someday fill with a story. I’ll take the time to write that down too. I pick up business cards, which often have inspiring pictures of the artist’s work on them, brochures, etc. and come home with a wealth of material to inspire future writing.

Because my way of enjoying the fair is so idiosyncratic, I go alone. Occasionally, I think, I should invite a friend, fearing a day amongst people who are both socializing and looking might make me feel a bit lonely. However, once I am there, I am glutted with visual beauty and the words they inspire, and the voices in my head and those I capture on paper are company enough for a lovely summer afternoon.