“I’m Done”—A Visit with Author, Gretchen McLellan

“I’m Done”—A Visit with Author Gretchen, McLellan https://literatelives.wordpress.com/
I’m Done by Gretchen McLellan

Today I would like to introduce you to my friend, Gretchen McLellan, author of I’m Done, as well as Mrs. McBee Leaves Room 3  and, coming soon, Button and Bundle. Gretchen has been a friend of mine through SCBWI (that’s the Society of Children’s Book Writers and Illustrators) Oregon Chapter for many years. I hope you’ll enjoy her and her writing as much as I do.

LL: What was your inspiration for I’m Done?

Gretchen: Kids! In my former life I was a reading specialist in elementary schools. I heard, “I’m Done!” over and over and over again, but the children making this very public announcement rarely understood what being done meant.

I knew that I wanted to write a book with that title, and one day after work I decided to give it a try. I still only had a title, or so I thought. I said to myself, I’ll try this out as an animal story. (I usually write human characters.) Pick an animal, any animal. It was no stroke of genius that a beaver popped into my mind. Then my pen started moving, and this story poured out of me like water breaking through a proverbial dam.

But the unconscious inspiration for this story is much deeper. “I’m Done” is a deceptively simple phrase. Said with joy, frustration, or despair it takes on many meanings, all that resonate with me in the process of writing and in the journey toward publication and beyond.

LL: Describe I’m Done in 5 words:

Gretchen: a joyful celebration of perseverance

LL: What theme/s play an important role in I’m Done?

Gretchen: Perseverance. I am the poster child of perseverance. My journey to publication was as lengthy and arduous as an epic tale. At one point, I thought I was done. Finished. I was quitting writing, abandoning my dream. I knew I could not show up at another conference or retreat unpublished, ever again. I didn’t want to be an object of pity. But at the eleventh hour, I signed up for an SCBWI retreat for the last time, partially lured by the last-day-of-the-early-bird-discount email and the news that there was still a critique slot left with an agent, and partly because I wanted to see my friends.

It turns out I wasn’t done yet.

In that critique slot, I met my wonderful agent. I have two published picture books with three more on the calendar.

I didn’t give up and neither does Little Beaver.

LL: What is it about I’m Done that has turned out to be the most meaningful to you?

Gretchen: Definitely the relationships I’ve made in the making of the book, first with my editor, second with my illustrator.

Working with my editor was a joy. We had several rounds of written revisions that made the story better and better. Finally, the story was ready for the art. Then the f&gs (the folded and gathered pages of the printed but unbound book) arrived, and we had a phone meeting to discuss them. Sometime during the nearly two hours we spent on the phone together, I stopped and said, “Can you believe that we get to do this for work! This is so much fun!” Revising with her was a peak experience.

Next, the unexpected relationship with my illustrator, Catherine Lazar Odell, has been meaningful as well. Authors and illustrators rarely communicate. I have never written or spoken directly with any of my four illustrators during the process of making our books. If I’m invited to comment on the illustrations, my comments are filtered by the editor and art director, and rightfully so. I respect this process. Maybe it’s because Catherine’s and my editor realized how close we lived to each other that she broke protocol. But after the book had gone to press, she asked us if we’d like to exchange emails. We both did. What came next was up to us. Now I have the pleasure of gushing in person about how wonderful her artwork is and doing events together.

LL: What is the most fun you’ve had with I’m Done  since its release?

Gretchen: Doing story times at bookstores with an audience of families. I love creating all the adjunct activities that go with my books for story times. My story times involve puppets, fingerplays, chants and crafts, and are always under revision as I try to improve each time.  Sharing the stage doing Little Beaver’s voice and not only reading aloud with Catherine but watching her draw Little Beaver with kids is fantastic.

LL: Which of your picture books was easiest to write? Why?

Gretchen: I think I’m Done!, probably because it had been incubating, unbeknownst to me, for a long time. When I sat down to write, it came to me whole with a nibble, nibble, snap. Naturally, I made lots of changes to the first draft, and after the book sold (to Holiday House) made a lot more, before and after the art was in. But the story was there from the beginning.

But being “done” with a manuscript is often defined by the deadline to get the book to print so it can make its release date😊. I’d still like to make a change or two.

LL: Which of your picture books is your favorite?

Gretchen: I’m working with one of my editors on a picture book named I Hate Favorites! Does that answer your question?

LL: Funny! …on to the next question– How does your training as a reading specialist influence your writing?

Gretchen: I have shared a lot of books with a lot of children. I know the spell a good story can cast. Those that speak beautifully to children’s curiosity and hearts and honor who they are and their current developmental challenges are received with a quiet, active listening that is magic during a read-aloud. I try to write so that magic can occur. That involves knowing where kids are in their development as readers and as little human beings.

When I use repetition, rhyme, assonance and word play, I know I am writing in a way that is both pleasing to the ear, but also developing phonemic awareness, a necessary skill in becoming a reader. The nibble nibble snap, scoop scoop pat repetition and onomatopoeia of flish flish swish and wing wing zing in I’m Done! are examples.

“I’m Done”—A Visit with Author Gretchen, McLellan, https://literatelives.wordpress.com/
Mrs. McBee Leaves Room 3 by Gretchen McLellan

When I use an unfamiliar word (for the picture book set) I know I am adding to their vocabulary, sometimes giving children a word at the center of an experience that they don’t yet have a name for. For example, in Mrs. McBee Leaves Room 3, I explore the word bittersweet. The story is about the bittersweet of saying good-bye to a beloved teacher at the end of the school year. In the story Mrs. McBee explains the word to her class with a simile. “It’s like a swirly ice-cream cone with sad and happy twisted together.”

I am intentional about my word choice, aware of the role of picture books in building vocabulary. I don’t write down to the picture book audience, but I also try not to overload them with too many new vocabulary words either. In the reading field we talk about concept load. I can remember having too many new vocabulary terms loaded on me in school. It made me feel both ignorant and like screaming. I don’t want to make this mistake with my readers.

I am very aware that children’s background knowledge, or schema, influences their comprehension of a text. I ask myself what I can reasonably assume that a child knows about the topic (including vocabulary) and this influences what I state directly and what I can leave to the reader to infer. This is important in fiction and nonfiction texts. Reading builds schema, which improves future comprehension.  Furthermore, illustrations in picture books do lots of heavy lifting in providing visual information that aids comprehension. I write with the illustrations in mind too.

LL: Describe your early life as a reader/writer.

Gretchen: One of my most precious memories of school is my teacher reading Charlotte’s Web aloud. I couldn’t wait to go to school every day to hear more of that book. I can’t separate my early life as a reader/writer from my life as a listener. I still love the spoken word and listen regularly to books on CD.

I became a letter writer early, because I moved so much. Back in the days before instant communication, if I didn’t write the friends I had to leave behind, these friendships would die. I lived overseas and making international calls was too expensive. So I wrote letters.

My dreams of being a writer came much later when I discovered picture books as a mom.

LL: Describe your “literate lifestyle” now.

Gretchen: On the back flap of I’m Done! is the following:

Gretchen Brandenburg McLellan writes everywhere she can–in barns and bookstores, bathtubs and beds, cars and coffeehouses. She has yet to write in a beaver lodge.

That about says it all. I write where ever I can with whatever time I have, and I try to write every day. I have several projects going at once, setting one aside to gain the perspective of distance and shifting to another. Since publication, I have been doing a lot of business and promotional writing. This kind of writing doesn’t exactly feed my soul. But it is an unanticipated necessity in the life of an author. I need to write fiction to feel balanced.

LL: What are you presently working on, and what’s next for you?

Gretchen: I am revising several picture books and a couple middle-grade novels. I’m always open to the rush of a new idea and honor ideas when they come, because they come with their tanks full. I’ve got a lot of projects stuck in a long line at the pumps.

LL: How can Literate Lives readers help you get the word out about I’m Done?

Gretchen: If readers are willing, requesting the book at their local library is always helpful. Libraries usually honor patrons’ requests, and it’s easy to make one from the comfort of your favorite chair and computer.

Reviewing books on Amazon and Goodreads is helpful as well. This can be as simple as rating the book with the number of stars it deserves for you or writing a quick review that could guide readers to the book.

I think I’m Done! is right for many audiences for many reasons.

  • For children it’s an entertaining and humorous story about the value of perseverance/persistence and the joy of completing a task that you are proud of.
  • For parents and teachers, it’s a story that can lead to discussions about what it means to be done and what it takes to stick with something.

It’s a story that promotes social and emotional development. How many of us were criticized for not doing something well when no one ever defined what the job at hand entailed in the first place? I’m hoping that at home and at school, the story will help adults help children understand expectations more clearly and experience success more regularly.

If Literate Lives readers have Preschool-2nd grade teachers in their lives, a recommendation would be fantastic. Every teacher has heard “I’m Done!” and every teacher is looking for texts that promote emotional intelligence, reading development, community, and the value of perseverance.

In addition, I have resources available on gretchenmclellan.com for teachers to download e.g. a Readers’ Theatre adaptation of the story, chants, and blackline masters for crafts.

It wasn’t until I held the f&gs for I’m Done!  that I realized the story is a metaphor for writing—and so much more. How do you know when you’re done with a novel? How do you develop the internal guide that tells you to stop writing or painting or carving before it’s too late? I think this book speaks to young and old alike in so many ways. It speaks about the support we need in our creative work, how comradery can be so important to completing a project (and a distraction too!) and how we must develop an inner sense of quality, form, and beauty to know when we are done. So this book is for you too!

LL: Thank you, Gretchen! It is so interesting to learn about I’m Done!  in particular, and how you craft your books to help build early literacy skills in young readers. Little Beaver’s story, and your own, are both so encouraging.

I don’t know about my readers, but I most definitely have a little one on my Christmas list who I think might be receiving a copy of I’m Done!  this December.

Your Turn:

Gretchen’s story about her first book sale continues to inspire me as I seek publication for my own novels.

Have you ever felt, after a lot of hard work, that you were “done” before life surprised you with a wonderful opportunity? Please use the comment box below to share your story.

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My New Facebook Page: Debby Zigenis-Lowery, Author


Facebook Page; Debby Zigenis-Lowery, Author; https://literatelives.wordpress.com/
My Facebook page—Debby Zigenis-Lower, Author—is up and nearly fully operational. (When you see the widget in the right column here on the blog to connect you to the page, you’ll know I am at last truly done—however, it does contain an opening post.)

Yearning to Share

I’m excited about my Facebook page. There are so many things I long to share with you in quick, brief ways, too many to always write a post, and so many not requiring a full post. So, I hope my page will provide greater opportunities to share and enrich your reading, writing, parenting, and teaching practices.

What can you expect to find on Debby Zigenis-Lowery, Author?

“Play With Your Words” Writing Prompts

One of the most valuable things I learned when I studied for my master’s degree in teaching was that studies show two of the best ways to improve at both reading and writing are to read or write. Each helps to improve at both skills! With the exception of longer writing projects (which will be archived here, in Teacher’s File Drawer), I will now post writing prompts—for fiction, non-fiction, and personal journaling—on my new Facebook page.

Reading Response Exercises

These were another favorite in my Language Arts teacher’s toolbox. When students reflect on what they read, it helps them to understand the text more deeply and remember it better. Free reading + reading response exercises were my favorite Language Arts homework. Reading Response Exercises will also assist aspiring authors in reading like a writer, a practice highly recommended by the pros.

Wonderful Words: Quotes

I love quotes. I love ideas powerfully stated. I love words strung together in marvelous ways. (To refresh your memory, check out my post here.) While I have had fun preparing omnibus quote posts, I have so many quotes collected, and I long to share these beautiful and inspiring words more often. Now I can on my new Facebook page.

My Literate Lifestyle & Writing Journey

I will also use my Facebook Page to share my literate lifestyle and writer’s journey—books I’m reading, projects I’m working on, insights and organizational strategies—and I hope you will share yours. I’d like to be a friend and comrade to you in your pursuit of a literate lifestyle.

Your Turn

My vision is that this new Facebook page—Debby Zigenis-Lowery, Author—will facilitate more daily interactions and opportunities for us to encourage one another. Please use the comment box below to let me know how I can be a help to you.

Fall 2018: A New Schedule for Literate Lives


Fall 2018: A New Schedule for Literate Lives; https://literatelives.wordpress.com/
This month’s theme, “A New Season, A New Year, A New Life” will manifest itself the most obviously in a new blog schedule and strategy.

The Biggest Change

Starting this week, I will be posting on Thursdays.

Why Thursdays? I make this change (back to what was, initially, part of my blog schedule) out of consideration of my audience: individuals (including writers), parents, and teachers interested in nurturing literacy both for themselves and their kids.

As we move back into the school year, it occurs to me that many of the nurturing literacy ideas I share need some lead time in order to be incorporated into lesson plans and family activities (which will now mostly occur on the weekend).

Thursday is a good day to introduce ideas for the weekend and following work week.

Additional Changes

Blog posts will now be scheduled for the first, third, and (when it occurs) fifth Thursday of each month.

Why?

The reason for this change is my desire to share more from my daily reading, and quote, reading response, and writing prompt collections. I have been doing this in the form of “omnibus” posts, which I enjoy creating, but which also keep me from creating more, meatier posts.

Therefore, I am starting an author’s Facebook Page.

What You Will Find Here on Debby Zigenis-Lowery’s Literate Lives?

Here on the blog I want to delve deeply into the reading, writing, teaching and learning life, share more complex Language Arts lesson ideas, and interview writers and possibly even host some guest bloggers.

I will continue to update my reading log.

I will also strive to do a better job updating my Teacher’s File Drawer, Reading Response Exercises, Play With Your Words: Writing Prompts, and The Literate Family’s Fun pages.

What You Will Find on My Facebook Page

This is where the recommendations from my daily reading , quotes, and writing and reading response prompts will now appear.

Also, you will find occasional updates about my writing, publication, and writing goals or activities.

My vision is that the page will facilitate more daily interactions and opportunities for us to encourage one another.

Your Turn

As I am rethinking this blog, are there any ideas or feedback you would like me to consider? Please use the comment box to respond. I value your feedback and encouragement.

The Best of the Best Ereads of Summer, So Far…

The Best of the Best Ereads of Summer, So Far...; Debby Zigenis-Lowery's Literate LivesThis summer has been a “medical” summer. As those of you who are teachers know, any procedure that can be postponed until summer break usually is, and that is precisely what happened with this household of educators.

The positive side of this quiet summer is that I have had a lot of time for reading, both books and on the web. In fact, I saved so many articles for this “Best Ereads” post that I had to delete a few in order to not to run over long. So, these are actually the best of the best articles and blog posts I’ve read this summer so far.

Education

A cautionary tale… This title seems to say it all, or does it? Although I accept, in fact already believed, that eye/hand coordination can impact academic performance, the article does not conclude that gross motor skills, as the title implies, is the key. The most important thing I learned from this article is that it is essential to read critically, and to exercise this skill with all media, especially electronic.

The Life of the Mind

This article explores the value of imagination, which is greatly unappreciated world-wide. According to Rivandeneira, “Imagination is a practical means for achieving and enabling…commonly valued skills.” I whole-heartedly agree. Imagination is not only a necessity for children and artists, it is the engine behind problem-solving and the creation of every practical thing that makes life in the twenty-first century good. Keep exercising yours and encourage your loved ones to exercise theirs.

“For those who identify as introverts, the interior journey offers an alternative path to deeper meaning—one steeped in silence and solitude, rest and simplicity, wisdom and tradition, beauty and mystery.” — Lacy Ellman

Being an introvert myself, it has been so exciting to find so much being written on the study of introversion and the introvert lifestyle. (Quite Revolution, the blog on which I found this article, is one of my favorites.) I really valued Ellman’s contributions to the discussion.

Jane Yolen is the queen of Folkloric Fantasy, the genre in which I write, and so I both enjoyed and was inspired by Windling’s profile of the prolific author. In addition to talking about Yolen’s fiction writing, Windling and Yolen discuss the centrality of writing in her life, a topic highly espoused here at Literate Lives. Enjoy!

As an introvert, I often find myself overwhelmed by the rapidity of communication options, deluge of information, and unending bombardment of the twenty-four hour news cycle. Therefore, I really appreciate Ta-Hehisi Coates and Jen Pollock Michel’s call for thinkers to be given time to think before being expected to provide insight and answers. This is a provocative read.

To facilitate your journey into the life of the mind, here are some writing prompts for August from A Symphony of Praise.

Writing

Yikes! I’m still running long. The following are posts deal primarily with fiction writing and the professional writer’s life, two areas in which I seek to continue learning and growing in skill:

This last is for both writers and Language Arts teachers: “Grammar and the Singular ‘They,’” b Steve Laube. This article addresses an issue I struggle with, especially here on the blog. I want to be gender inclusive. I will often alternate between he and she, but even doing that, things can get clunky. Therefore, I found this article by literary agent Steve Laube very helpful.

Your Turn

What have you been reading online this summer? Any particular article that inspired or excited you? Please share the title and link in the comment box below. Let’s encourage one another!

The Best Book of Spring 2018

The Best Book of Spring; https://literatelives.wordpress.com/The summer solstice has passed, and so I thought it’s about time I posted my best read of Spring. For a long time I debated between several books, then I finally chose one, then in early June I picked one up that knocked all the others out of first place. Therefore, since I didn’t recommend a new book each month, I’ll recommend the first “first place” book, then the one that undeniably was the best read of Spring.

Almost Best: The Illuminator

This is a work of historical fiction by Brenda Rickman Vantrease. I found both the setting and the characters fascinating. The novel takes place in fourteenth century England, where Wycliffe’s translation of the Bible into plain English is outlawed, Dame Julian of Norwich has retreated to a hermit’s cell, and people of the Jewish faith are shunned and persecuted. The main characters live near Norwich, and Dame Julian actually plays a supporting role in the story!

However, the novel belongs to Lady Kathryn, a struggling widow who takes in a manuscript illuminator and his daughter as lodgers in her home. As their families mix, religious controversy mounts, and a peasant’s revolt brews, both she and her newfound companion struggle to fulfill their responsibilities to their children, their church, and society while trying to grab hold of just a little bit of happiness for themselves.

It is a gripping tale.

The Best Book of Spring; https://literatelives.wordpress.com/Best Book of Spring 2018: Six of Crows

This is the first book in a fantasy duology set in Leigh Bardugo’s “Grisha World.” (I  read and raved about her first Grisha trilogy in What I’m Reading Now: Leigh Bardugo’s Shadow & Bone.)

Six of Crows  takes place after the events of the Grisha Trilogy and is set outside of Ravka, the nation previously featured. Because of this, I was not sure I even wanted to read it; I had loved the original trilogy so much. However, as soon as I dipped a toe in the water, Bardugo captured me as swiftly and completely as she did with her first series.

To say Six of Crows  is a “heist” story would be like saying “Lord of the Rings” is a quest story. The world, the individual settings, the characters, and the stakes make it so much richer and deeper than something to which you can simply assign a label .

It is the tale of six damaged, gang affiliated, ragamuffins from the “dregs” of “Ketterdam” society who set out to save the world and win a fortune. Each has his or her own reason for wanting the money, reasons firmly rooted in their hurts and in their pasts. Each is terribly lonely; yet yearning for community, they are terrified to commit. However, in order to win their fortune, even to survive, these six very different individuals must trust each other unwaveringly with their very lives.

I hated every moment I had to put it down!

Your Turn

What was your best read of spring. You don’t have to limit yourself to just one book; I certainly did not. Use the comment space below to provide author name and title, and please, tease us with just a little bit of what the book is about. Let’s encourage one another!

The Best Ereads of Spring: Reflections on Parenting, Reading, Writing, and the Mind

The Best Ereads of Spring: literatelives.wordpress.comI had the opportunity to do a lot of reading this spring and so accumulated a lot of candidates in by “best ereads of the season file.” Finally I narrowed them down to these six reflecting on parenting, reading, writing, and the mind.

Hello, Mother’s Day, Father’s Day, and Graduation

In Parents: Let Go of Graduation Nostalgia, by Jennifer Grant, the author chronicles her resistance to the nostalgia and even grief that can accompany a child’s graduation. With the premise that yes, our years of parenting were magical and significant, it is wise to savor where we are, perhaps even with younger siblings, and the opportunities that will open up for us and our graduates as they move into their adult lives.

Reading and Family Life

These next two articles celebrate the fun and health benefits of a reading life.

In How to Make Reading Fun: 25 Ideas Kids Will Love, by Jean Reagan. Reagan includes innovative ideas like having your child read a wordless book to you, reading a book which might include words or names you find difficult to pronounce, and much, much more.

For those of us with an overactive sense of guilt about the time we put in reading, Andre Calilhanna‘s Can Reading Books Lead to Better Health?  is a refreshing antidote. With headers that include, “Increases Longevity by 23%” and “Reduces Stress,” lovers of reading can throw guilt out the window and indulge in their favorite pastime with a clear conscience.

For Fiction Writers

First of all, for fiction writers, here is an excellent article by Dash Buck, Three Writing Exercises for Better Characters, which I would have titled “Three Awesome Writing Exercises for Better Characters.” It made me want to try them right away. (And isn’t the illustration, Butterfly Book by Rick Beerhorst beautiful!)

For writers working on planning and story structure, The Triangle of Structure for Writers, by Sarah Sally Hamer, is informative and provides a handy 3-sentence fill-in-the-blank exercise for crafting an effective inciting incident.

A Quiet Mind

One of the issues I struggle with is quieting my mind. Unless I am reading, writing, or–okay, I admit it, staring at the television, it ceaselessly ruminates, reflects, remembers, worries, plans, and imagines, which in reasonable quantities is, perhaps, a useful trait for a writer to have. Running out of ideas is definitely not an issue. However, resting and simply enjoying the moment is. Therefore, I connected immediately with and was inspired by Mindfulness and Memory, by Pamela Moore. Even the image chosen to accompany the article is deeply soothing, and the active form of mindfulness she describes is something that feels so much more doable with a busy mind like mine.

Your Turn

Have you found any great articles on the web? If so, please use the comment box to share them with us (include author and title or web address, please). Tell a little about why you liked it. Let’s encourage one another.

Best Book of February 2018–The Road to Paradise: A Vintage National Park Novel

Best Book of February 2018--The Road to Paradise: A Vintage National Park Novel, Debby Zigenis-Lowery's Literate LivesFebruary was a difficult month. I don’t want to be a whiner, but there nearly was no best book of the month for February because the challenges we faced as a family made it difficult for me to maintain the attention span necessary for reading long works.

However, in the last days of February, I attended a writers’ conference (the OCW Winter One-day Conference) and bought a book by an attending author.

Return to Mount Rainier

A few years ago my husband and I camped for a week on Mt. Rainier. It was a wonderful trip. The park was so beautiful, interesting, and inspiring. Therefore, when I picked up the novel, The Road to Paradise: A Vintage National Park Novel  by Karen Barnett, I knew I had to buy it.

A day later, I began to read it, and I finished it on the last day of February.

The Road to Paradise: A Vintage National Park Novel

The Road to Paradise: A Vintage National Park Novel, by Karen Barnett, tells the story of a young woman who goes to work as a naturalist in the fledgling national park and a story of the struggles our national parks have faced since their founding.

Margie Lane, a senator’s daughter and amateur naturalist, fleeing an unwanted suitor, gets a job at Mount Rainier National Park where she hopes to bury herself in the beauty of God’s creation. She falls in love with the park (and is even inspired by it to write poetry, as I was). Unfortunately, her presence brings unhealthy attention and even danger to this wildly beautiful place, and Margie, accompanied by the handsome chief ranger, must fight to protect its delicate habitats and grand swathes of wilderness from the ravages of over-development.

I so enjoyed reading this book and revisiting all the wonderful places I remembered.

“A Vintage National Park Novel”

I love the idea of exploring the history of our national parks through story, so I checked the “Books by Karen Barnett” page at the front of the novel hoping to find more. No luck.

However, in preparing for this post, I checked out Barnett’s website. On her “Books” page, I discovered Where the Fire Falls: A Vintage National Parks Novel, set in Yosemite, coming out in June of this year! During all my teen years and early adulthood, my family met for an annual reunion in Yosemite National Park. You can bet I’m looking forward to reading this new national park novel and, hopefully (hint-hint, Ms. Barnett), many more.

Your Turn

Have you enjoyed any books set in a national park? If so, please use the comment space below to share the author and title.

Did you read an awesome books in February? Again, please use the space below to share.

Let’s inspire and encourage each other!

December/January Reading

As it is for most people, the holiday season is a busy time, and so I never blogged my December reading. Now that it is February, here is my December and January reading list and some thoughts.

December

The long descent into the darkness of winter is always a challenge for my spirit. Therefore, the first book I completed reading in December is, for me, the literary equivalent of comfort food: A City of Bells, by Elizabeth Goudge. I returned to it, because Goudge books, despite all their characters trials, always sparkle with hope and light. A City of Bells is the story of a wounded veteran who finds his calling, an adopted young girl finds her inner strength, and a mysterious stranger who is sought and loved by the people his life had touched. I love this book, and it carried me right into December.

Another carryover from November was Donald Maass‘ The Emotional Craft of Fiction. Maass’ premise is that it is emotion that hooks readers of novels, and in The Emotional Craft of Fiction  he provides models and explanations of the many ways an author can incorporate emotion in their own fiction.

Next I read Stephanie Barron‘s Jane and the Twelve Days of Christmas. As with Barron’s other Jane Austen mysteries, this novel was entertaining and provided a good puzzle.

I followed Barron with Robin Jones Gunn’s Finding Father Christmas. I loved it. This is the story of a young woman who, growing up with an eccentric single mom, never knew her father. Now her mother is dead, and she decides to search her father out. Her mission takes her to a small village in England, where slowly she unravels her personal history while striving to protect the new friends she has made.

Equally enjoyable was the sequel, Engaging Father Christmas.

JanuaryInk & Bone: December and January Reading, Debby Zigenis-Lowery's Literate Lives

Because I was incredibly sick most of the month of January, I did not engage in a lot of novel-reading (I read mostly short things, like blog posts). However, I did start and finish one novel, Rachel Caine’s YA fantasy, Ink and Bone. This book has a fascinating premise: The great library of ancient Alexandria was never destroyed, and in the near future world in which the novel takes place, information is widely available, but strictly controlled, by the all-powerful, world-ranging library. Jess, the son of a very successful book smuggler, is sent to be educated at the great library, where the young man discovers both a wonderful cohort of friends and the sinister truth about this library system that controls all the knowledge of the world. I very much enjoyed this book and will definitely be reading its sequels.

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!

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.