Best Book of November: Spider’s Voice by Gloria Skurzynski

Spider's Voice by Gloria Skurzynski: Best Book of November review on Debby Zigenis-Lowery's Literate LivesThis November I have enjoyed a lot of great reading, from the fantasy of J.K. Rowling’s Harry Potter and the Prisoner of Azkaban, to the mystery of Stephanie Barron’s Jane and the Canterbury Tale, to history in a delightful discovery, Spider’s Voice by Gloria Skurzynski.

The Delightful Discovery

I first encountered Spider’s Voice in our city’s one, independent bookstore, the beloved, and now no longer in business, Jackson’s Books.

As a parent and as a children’s writer (I was writing and publishing folktales with Cricket Magazine at the time), I loved their vast children’s selection and shopped faithfully when I had money to spend on gifts, or I just wanted to see what was new. (They also had a fabulous fantasy section. That is my other favorite genre.)

I saw Spider’s Voice when it first came out–a very lean time in my life; noted that it included the  historical Abelard and Heloise in its cast and therefore was medieval historical fiction, a favorite; and denied myself the purchase because, as I said, financially things were pretty rough for me and my family at the time.

But the book haunted me. So often after it had disappeared from the shelves, I wished that I had bought it, or at least jotted down its title and author, like I usually do, so I could buy it later. And I guess, somehow, in the more than a decade that passed I did find it and buy it, because when it came time to read a novel from my children’s hardback shelves, moving forward from the letter Z, there it was.

Awake with insomnia, I pulled it from the shelf and sat down to read, not even glancing at the blurb. Then, as I got a few pages in, I began to realize, This is it! This is the book I wished I’d bought!

I have no memory of finding it, buying it, or shelving it, but I read it through, beginning to end, in one sitting, and did not go back to bed until after 3:00 A.M.

Spider’s Voice: Worth the Wait

Spider’s Voice is the story of a young shepherd boy, named Aran, born mute to a brutal father, who is sent with his older brother to Paris to sell the year’s thread. When his brother drinks up their earnings and is robbed of the rest, he sells to a peddler in grotesques so he need not return homw empty-handed. Aran is rescued by the famous scholar Abelard, because the great teacher in Paris’ famed University is in need of a servant who cannot be interrogated.

Through his adventures and travails in service to the famous lovers, Abelard and Eloise, Aran comes of age, and develops a wisdom of his own.

I was not disappointed!

Your Turn

Is there a book you waited a long time to read? Was it worth the wait?

Use the comment box below to explain. Please be sure to include the title of the book and the author’s name, in case one of our fellow readers wants to give it a try.

Thanks, I love hearing from you!

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Reading Response/Writing Prompt for Characterization

Characterization Reading Response Writing PromptSome of my most viewed posts are the ones I create for use in the classroom. Thank you, teachers! However reading response exercises are not only useful in teaching reading, but for helping fiction writers develop their stories. Today’s focus: Characterization.

Characterization Reading Response

What is the main character (or one of the supporting characters) in today’s reading grateful for?

This question helps to build students inferential reading skills, as it is not particularly likely their selection will have dealt with the topic of gratitude. Students will need to look for clues in the text that help them understand what the character likes, what the character longs for, what the character values, in order to infer what this character is grateful for.

Characterization Writing Prompt

What is the main character, or a supporting character in your story or novel grateful for?

Strong characters are created, not when we sit down and list their traits, values, and preferences, but when these things are demonstrated through your character’s actions, words, thoughts, and feelings–especially sensory feelings. This is the season for Thanksgiving, so leverage that holiday feeling by imagining what your main character or other characters are grateful for.

Your Turn

Can you share what you are reading? How about providing the author and title of the work, and one of the things a main character is grateful for.

Writing? Whose character did you develop today? What is he/she grateful for?

I love to hear from you. Happy reading and writing, and thanks for joining me here at Literate Lives!

 

Best Books of September and October 2017

Time has run away with me this past season. School has started. Wildfires have burned unfathomable numbers of acres. I have struggled with, first, smoke-triggered asthma then simply continued asthma complications, and now we are one week into November, and I have not shared any of my favorite reads with you from the past two months.

I shall now make amends.

Two of the books I enjoyed this fall were continuations of series, Of Noble Family by Mary Robinette Kowal and Beastly Bones: a Jackaby Novel by William Ritter. Both are historical fantasies with female protagonists, but that is about as far as their similarities go. Both were equally as good as their predecessors, and I enjoyed them immensely. If you would like to know more about them, click here.

During these months, I also discovered a new mystery heroine (and author), and hunted down more books about her. Therefore, I would like to introduce you to To Shield the Queen, by Fiona Buckley, as a third, best read of the fall.

In To Shield the Queen, Ursula Blanchard goes to serve as a lady-in-waiting to Queen Elizabeth I and finds the court aswirl with gossip about an affair between the married Robert Dudley and the queen. Literate Lives Best Book of September and October 2107 Fiona Buckley's To Shield the QueenSent by the queen to quash these rumors and help care for Dudley’s ailing wife, Ursula discovers the truth behind the scandal and uncovers a murderous plot that strikes far too close to herself and those she loves.

I enjoyed not just the delightful puzzle a mystery always poses, but also the character, Ursula, the people she comes to care about, and the portrait of her world created by Buckley. I am looking forward to reading more of the books in this series.

 

While Your Heart Breaks, Teach Someone Read

While Your Heart Breaks... Empathy and ReadingMy heart breaks today as still more friends and family mourn lost loved ones.

The  hurricanes, wildfires, and other natural disasters that have hit in the last months were destructive enough. Do we really have to destroy each other?

Despite today’s golden sun and blue autumn skies, our world, our country looks cold and dark, and it feels as though there is so little any one of us can do to make things better.

But there is.

Pray for comfort and healing for all who hurt.

Look for ways to be kind to others–anyone…the homeless person in the stairwell, the driver waiting to pull out into crowded traffic, your partner after a long day.

And for those of us privileged to be raising or teaching young people, help them learn to read. Their ability to read fluently and with understanding is essential!

Why? Because reading, especially fiction, builds empathy, something that seems in short supply these days. Don’t just take my word for it.

“In literature we feel the pain of the downtrodden, the anguish of defeat, or the joy of victory, but in a safe space… we can refine our human capacities of emotional understanding. We can hone our ability to feel with other people who, in ordinary life, might seem too foreign—or too threatening—to elicit our sympathies. Perhaps, then, when we return to our real lives, we can better understand why people act the way they do.”      ~Keith Oatley

“Nonfiction books teach us new facts, but the real magic is fiction. Here, we zip another’s skin over our own bones and suddenly see through their eyes, learn what it feels like to be someone other than ourselves. Fiction imparts the gift of empathy. It’s also a vehicle for… warnings, for reflection, and most importantly . . . for hope.”     ~Hugh Howey

“Fiction is one of our most useful tools. Fiction is an empathy machine. If you have fiction, you have a way of relating to other people and other identities, and that is so huge. So if I write good children’s fiction, I have a chance of making the world a better place in the future and indefinitely.”                  ~Neil Gaiman

Thank you to the many authors, past and present, who have helped us learn to love and care and feel for others.

Let us each do our part to spread kindness everywhere and every day, and let those of us who can help young people learn to read. Then, maybe, our tomorrows will not look so bleak.