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.

 

November Fall Gratitude Leaves Classroom Project

November Gratitude Leaves, Teachers File Drawer, literatelives.wordpress.com

Tomorrow begins one of my favorite class activities of the whole school year–the daily posting of “gratitude leaves” on our windows.

Why do I love it so? Well, visually, the month of November in Oregon is terribly gloomy. With this practice, the gloom outdoors is gradually obscured by brightly colored leaves.

Even more so, here in the U.S., Thanksgiving falls in November, and so it seems appropriate to focus our thinking on things for which we are grateful.

Most significantly, Studies have shown that people who are grateful tend to live happier, healthier lives. I want the best for my students, and as the holidays make life more hectic, I need to remember I have so much to be grateful for!

What are Gratitude Leaves?

They are individual paper leaves, that we as staff cut out in a variety of shapes and colors. Each day, at the beginning of the school day, we pass out a single leaf to each students and every adult present. Then everyone writes one thing they are grateful for and tapes their leaves to the window. We continue to do this until we break for Thanksgiving.

By the time Thanksgiving break comes our windows glow with beautiful autumn colors as the western light shines through them.

My Gratitude Leaves, 2016

Here is what I wrote on my leaves last year:

  • I am grateful to have a husband who loves me and who is my friend and partner in life.
  • I am thankful Emmy snuggled with David and I to watch the family Halloween movie.
  • I am thankful that using the treadmill yesterday woke me up enough to get my work done.
  • I am thankful for my Grandparents and the way their love helped shape who I am.
  • I am grateful to be a child of God.
  • I am thankful for my delightful Grandkids.
  • I am grateful for my college education.
  • I am grateful to have a mother who loved to read, that learning to read came easily to me, and I have had ample access to books.
  • I am thankful for my charming, delightful, funny, marvelous grandchildren
  • I am thankful for chocolate.
  • I am thankful that I know how to read and have access to books!
  • I am thankful to be able to come back to work.
  • I am grateful for parents who love me.
  • Today is my writing day!

Your Turn

Today is my writing day! However, before I move on

Celebrate Halloween and Fall

I love the change of seasons. For me, every new season is cause for celebration because I usually have grown weary of the season is on its way out. So now, I’m celebrating the advent of Fall.

Golden leaves, crisp breezes, and, of course, the fun of Halloween…

So today, I decided to invite you to share in the fun with me on my Pinterest boards, particularly my “Celebrate Fall,” “Happy Halloween!” and “Costumes” boards.

Celebrate Fall

This board is full of crafts, activities, recipes, decor, and even prayers for kids, teachers, and adults, including:

Celebrate Fall literatelives.wordpress.com

 

A cute scarecrow craft from SomewhatSimple.com,

 

 

 

 

 

Celebrate Fall Debby Zigenis-Lowery's Literate Lives

 

 

Some gorgeous fall leaf and acorn cookies from Cookie Connection,

 

 

 

 

 

Celebrate Fall literatelives.wordpress.com

 

And some autumn inspired candles in hurricane vases from Amanda Jane Brown.

 

 

 

 

 

 

Happy Halloween!

This board is full of decorations, food, crafts, and fun for a fabulous Halloween. Including:

Googly Eyed Halloween Card literatelives.wordpress.com

 

A cute googly eye Halloween card from Taylored Expressions.

 

 

 

 

 

 

Witch Art Project literatelives.wordpress.com

 

A witch to inspire art lessons (and an article, “Holiday Art Work…Yes or No”)  from Drip, Drip, Splatter, Splash.

 

 

 

 

 

Leaf and Acorn Cookies literatelives.wordpress.comAnd some yummy-looking Frankenstein S’mores pops from Like Mother, Like Daughter.

 

 

 

 

 

 

Costumes

This board is full of traditional, historical, and of course, Halloween costumes, including:

Celebrate Fall Debby Zigenis-Lowery's Literate LivesAn awesome, book-inspired costume, The BFG, from theguardian.com’s World book day 2016: the best children’s costumes—in pictures.

 

 

 

 

 

Beautiful Butterfly Costumes literatelives.wordpress.com

 

Some beautiful butterfly costumes from Coolest Homemade Costumes.

 

 

 

 

Bunny Rabbit Coats literatelives.wordpress.com

 

And my personal favorite, these absolutely adorable bunny rabbit coats from In the Wishing Wood, on Etsy.

 

Enjoy

For some reason, Fall always inspires me to write Haiku. Here is my latest:

Sparkling leaves skirl down
the street; autumn rejoices
with bright confetti.

So let’s celebrate Fall. If you liked what you’ve seen, check me out on Pinterest.

Your Turn

What are some fun fall websites you have discovered and enjoyed. Use the comment box to share what you found and a link so others can go enjoy as well.

The Value of Writing and Reading Fiction (And Maybe, Non-fiction, Too)

Last weekend I read a blog post that was so provocative, inspiring, and engaging, that I decided I couldn’t wait for a monthly round-up; I had to share it now.

5 Reasons Writing is Important to the World

In this post, on HelpingWritersBecomeAuthors.com, K.M. Weiland shares the experiences that made her a writer, the questions that had her doubting her career choice, the wisdom of others that provided answers to her questions, and the five reasons she is able to conclude “writing is important to the world.”

Don’t take my word for it. Go read the post now, and then come back.

Wasn’t That Inspiring!

I’m tempted to quote so much of what she said, but of course, you’ve already read it. Instead I’d like to comment and elaborate on her 5 conclusions and how they resonate for me.

5 Reasons I Agree Writing, and Thereby Reading, Stories, both Fiction and Non, is of Value for Us Personally and for Our World:

“1. Stories give us good truths.” They show us how the world works. They inspire us to be better and often show us how. Stories, both fictional and non, are therefore empowering.

“2. Stories give us bad truths.” Stories, again both fiction and non-fiction, can serve as warnings. They provide a training ground for discovering strategies and ways of being that work and ones that do not. Better yet, as a reader, you get to discover these things vicariously, rather than have to suffer the consequences of dangerous, foolish, or selfish/narrow-minded actions.

“3. Stories open our minds and teach us empathy.” Effective educators know that reading fiction and experiencing life through a character’s mind and heart, expands our and our students’ wealth of experience. They show us how other people’s feelings and thought processes work, as we experience them through character. Thus story, both fiction and non, helps develop empathy for others.

I love this Merriam Webster definition of empathy:

the action of understanding, being aware of, being sensitive to, and vicariously experiencing the feelings, thoughts, and experience of another of either the past or present without having the feelings, thoughts, and experience fully communicated in an objectively explicit manner; also :the capacity for this

In a world that seems to be growing smaller, more crowded, and more conflicted each day, empathy is an absolutely essential skill for living together in harmony.

“4. Stories offer us archetypal role models.” Weiland asks “if you’ve ever been in the midst of a difficult experience or faced by an overwhelming decision—and you were helped in remembering a character who endured something similar?” Have you? I know I have. At one very difficult time in my life inspiration provided by a fictional character helped buy my children 15 more years with an intact, functional nuclear family.

“5. Stories teach us to hope.” In our messy, messy world and our imperfect, challenging lives it can be tempting to just give up. But stories show us the effort to not just survive, but thrive is worthwhile. They remind us that light and hope remain in our world. While we cannot live lives of unadulterated bliss, times of joy, of love, of peace do exist, and if we make wise choices on our journeys, we will experience them and carry their memories within us along the way.

Your Turn

What do you feel is the value of reading and writing? In focusing on Weiland’s post, is there anything you think I missed? Please share in the comment space below. I love to hear from you!

 

Enchanting Openings: The Throme of the Erril of Sherill by Patricia A. McKillip

Enchanting Openings: The Throme of Erril of Sherill by Patricia McKillipLast night, I began reading Patricia A. McKillip’s The Throme of the Erril of Sherill and I went to bed enchanted.

Selecting a New Book

I had just finished an author biography the previous day, so it was time to select a new book. I consulted my reading list. Ah. Time for a fantasy. The first book I picked up was not The Throme of the Erril of Sherill. It was however, the next book behind the bookmark on my fantasy shelf. Delighted to be reading a fantasy, I sat down to enjoy.

Within five pages, I had decided this was not the book for me. So disappointing, but that did not mean I couldn’t read a fantasy. Back to the bookshelves I went, and McKillip’s The Throme of the Erril of Sherill was next in line. 

I have been enjoying Patricia McKillip’s books for more years than I am willing to confess. Suffice it to say, I started out with the Riddlemaster of Hed trilogy and went on from there. However, somewhere along the way I had bypassed The Throme of the Erril of Sherill.

Enchantment

Within the first three sentences, I knew this book would be a delight. McKillip begins:

               The Erril of Sherill wrote a Throme. It was a deep Throme, and a dark, haunting, lovely Throme, a wild, special, sweet Throme made of the treasure of words in his deep heart. He wrote it long ago, in another world, a vaguely singing, boundariless land that did not exist within the kingdom of Magnus Thrall, King of Everywhere. The King had Cnites to come and go for him, and churttels to plant and harvest for him, but no Cnite had ever looked up into the winking morning sky and seen Sherill, and no churttel had ever looked at the rich clods of earth between his boots and seen the Erril’s world. Yet the Erril, long, long, ago wrote a Throme of singular and unsurpassed beauty, somewhere in his own land called Sherill, and the dark Kind of Everywhere desired that Throme.

Analysis

At first, it may strike you as odd that this captivated me, considering its weird, undefined words (Throme, Sherill, Cnites, and churttels) and repetitions, and yet, it was the very first words and repetitions that enthralled me.

My first thought was, “Jabberwocky!” It reminded me of Lewis Carrol‘s famous nonsense poem. The most obvious connection was the made-up words, however that was not all.

Although written as prose, this first paragraph is quite poetic. How?

First, it’s in the use of internal rhyme, for example, “Erril of Sherril.”

Furthermore, Mckillip uses repetition in a poetic way: “It was a deep Throme, and a dark, haunting, lovely Throme, a wild, special, sweet Throme made of the treasure of words in his deep heart.”

McKillip also employs alliteration (my particular favorite!): “a wild, special, sweet Throme…” The “wild,” “special,” and “sweet” just whisper to me like someone telling me a fantastic secret.

Furthermore, she did all this with complete confidence and authority, trusting her readers to understand and join in the journey.

And of course, there was the content itself:

  • The mysterious, yet decidedly haunting and musical Throme
  • The ideas of a boundriless land and a land literally named Everywhere
  • The curious citizens of Everywhere, Cnites and churttles, who have never seen Sherill
  • And, of course, the “dark” King Magnus, who desires the Throme.

The stage is set for a magical adventure.

Anticipation

I only read Chapter One last night, because it was a work night, and I am still recovering from a cold and needed rest, but, WOW, I am looking forward to reading more tonight.

Your Turn

Have you ever read a novel or short story that cast its spell over you with the very first words? Please use the comment space below to share the title and author, and the reasons it instantly grabbed hold of you.

Thanks so much! I love hearing from you!

 

 

Favorite E-reads of the Month: August/September

The time has come to share some of my favorites e-reads from the past month. These are posts I have found thought-provoking, intriguing, or inspiring. Enjoy:

7 Reasons Why We Like Novels
by DiAnn Mills, The Write Conversation
“6. Healing takes place within the storyline. Subject matter that touches our personal pain addresses ways we can survive our past. By exploring behavior, we gain new insights.”

Friends, Countrymen, Take Up Your Words!
Writer Unboxed
“We must unite as writers to take back our noble, our good, our mighty ordinance. Love, truth, respect, understanding: these are the words that need declaration.”

Art as Therapy: Alain de Botton on the 7 Psychological Functions of Art
by Maria Papova, Brainpickings
“…art’s most intimate purpose: its ability to mediate our psychological shortcomings and assuage our anxieties about imperfection… far more than mere aesthetic indulgence, art is a tool — a tool that serves a rather complex yet straightforwardly important purpose in our existence.”

Priorities Series – Part 1: Brain Dump
She Makes Time
“this is my favorite priority sorting activity! The sky is the limit with what you can discover about yourself, your past, and your future.”

Introverts as Revolutionaries?
by Susan Cain, Psychology Today
“…a question that has long intrigued me: whether there’s something about the nature of shyness and/or introversion that inclines people to nonviolent modes of resistance.

How Much Do You Value Yourself? A Radical Prescription for Personal, and World, Peace
by Steven Stosny, PhD, Psychology Today
“High self-esteem tends to create a sense of entitlement. When the world does not meet their entitlement needs, many with high self-esteem feel wronged and may retaliate with manipulation, abuse, or violence.
“Self-value is more behavioral than emotional, more about how you act toward what you value, including yourself, than how you feel about yourself compared to others.”

Favorite E-reads of the Month: August & September: literatelives.wordpress.com
Source: Sehnsucht (c. 1900). Heinrich Vogeler / Wikimedia Commons

Longing for More
by Andy Tix, Ph.D., The Quest for the Good Life
“‘Sehnsucht’ is a popular German word with no simple English translation…. . C. S. Lewis often relied on this concept in his writings, defining it as ‘inconsolable longing’ for ‘we know not what.’ …Lewis suggested how Sehnsucht involves ‘thoughtful wishing.’ …Sehnsucht has to do with an intense desire for something beyond our human capacity to fulfill. It is a bittersweet feeling that seeks a slice of perfection at the same time that perfection remains elusive.”

I really enjoyed the way these articles celebrated things I value or enhanced my awareness of different ways of thinking, understanding and tackling life.

Your Turn

Have you read anything in the past few weeks that made a deep impression on you? Please share titles (and links if you read it on the web) in the comment section below.

Did you check out any of the links I have included? If so, please share your thoughts or a favorite quote.

I love hearing from you!

Teacher’s File Drawer: Character-Based Reading Response Exercise

Good teachers know, the more time our students spend reading or writing, the more they strengthen both their reading and writing skills. Using reading response exercises after a timed reading, either of a class novel or self-selected novel, gives our students time to practice both.

To make it easy for you to incorporate this practice in your classroom, feel free to use the reading response jpg below.

Character-Based Reading Response

Character-Based Reading Response--Literatelives@wordpress.com

Your Turn

l have always loved reading my students’ responses to literature. I’d love it if you would share any responses that delighted you. (Of course, do not use student names to protect privacy.) Enjoy!