I hadn't meant to abandon this blog for seven months but that's how long it's been since I posted. In the spring of 2016 we decided to move back home after living most of our adult lives away. Home was just one county south, but it felt like a new country. Preparing our old house to sell, finding a new home, sorting and packing, shedding everything that wouldn't fit in a much smaller place, moving and then traveling back and forth for months until our prior house sold . . . well, it took much longer and way more energy than I imagined.
Now a new year has arrived with fresh hope and perspective. It's strange and wonderful to return to the place where I spent my early days. Everywhere I look are reminders of the sights, sounds and smells that shaped my view of the world. We writers of children's books count on childhood memories to help us relate to our characters.
Home is a popular subject in middle grade books. Most of them feature characters searching for a place to belong. In Augusta Scattergood's The Way to Stay in Destiny, Theo fights to stay in a boarding house where he's found friends who understand his love of music and baseball. In J.K. Rowling's Harry Potter series, Harry dreads summers with Aunt Petunia and looks forward to the school year when he can return to his beloved Hogwarts Academy. Bod Owens in Neil Gaiman's The Graveyard Book is adopted by ghosts in a cemetary.
The places we grow up weave into the fabric of our souls. If we followed Theo, Harry and Bod into adulthood, we'd see the boarding house in Destiny, Hogwarts Academy and the graveyard playing roles in their lives. We'd see those places call them back. That thread from home, it's always attached.
I've lived for so many years in oak-shaded copses, I've forgotten what it's like to be surrounded by the ocean. Here, there's water north, south, east and west. The air smells of salt and gulls cry overhead, reminding me of toes dug into wet sand. I love moss-draped oaks, narrow country lanes and rolling pastures dotted with livestock. I miss seeing cows and horses emerging from early morning mists, rustic barns and sandhill cranes. I've never been a keen boater or swimmer, never longed for life in a city by the sea. But a part of my heart answers back when the ocean calls.
Three and a half months left to achieve my goal of reading five Newbery and five Printz books this year. I've finished my Printz list and enjoyed two Newbery winners since my last post on the subject. Here are the novels I haven't reviewed:
Where Things Come Back by John Corey Whaley won the 2012 Printz award. Seventeen-year-old Cullen Witter spends a lot of time daydreaming about Ada Taylor (his perfect girl), zombies attacking Ada's current boyfriend and and escaping from Lily, the tiny Arkansas town where nothing ever happens. At least until his brother Gabriel disappears. At the same time, an obsessed ornithologist claims to have spotted an extinct woodpecker in Lily. As Gabriel's disappearance stretches to months and Lily is overrun with birdwatchers, Cullen's family and friendships unravel. Ada, who has a thing for boys with bad luck, finally notices Cullen. He tries, really he does, to be happy but Ada isn't exactly what he imagined and she complicates his life. Meanwhile Cullen struggles to hold onto his belief that his brother will return. But how long can you believe in things coming back?
Skellig by David Almond won the 2000 Printz award. Michael retreats to the crumbling garage at his new home while inside the house, his frail baby sister needs constant medical care. Among the garage's spiders, dust and dead bugs, Michael discovers a dried up, wrinkled old man named Skellig. The man tells him to go away but Michael brings him Chinese food and aspirin. He keeps Skellig secret until he meets his neighbor Mina, a home-schooled girl who quotes William Blake and nests in a tree drawing birds. Micheal brings Mina to see Skellig and shows her the bumps under the man's coat on his back. As Michael's sister is hospitalized, he and Mina move Skellig from the falling down garage to an abandoned house. Then they convince the old man to take his coat off and he unfurls the wings they hoped to find underneath. Mina believes Skellig is a bird-like creature left over from ancient times. But Michael dares to hope he's an angel and if he is, maybe he dares hope his sister will survive.
A Single Shard by Linda Sue Park is the 2002 Newbery winner. Young Tree-ear lives under a bridge in 12th-century Korea with his old friend Crane-man. They are the poorest of the poor, living off garbage scraps and rice that falls from sacks. Tree-ear's greatest joy is peeking from his hiding spot to watch the ancient potter Min create graceful celadon pottery. One day he dares to examine Min's boxes, drying in the sun. The old potter catches him and the boxes smash on the ground. Tree-ear hauls heavy loads of clay in a rickety wheelbarrow to pay Min back while he dreams of making pottery. When he's worked off his debt, he convinces Min to let him continue working for a noon meal. Then the royal ambassador comes to select pottery for the palace. Even though Min has ignored the boy's pleas to teach him the craft, Tree-ear is determined to help his master win the royal commission. But what will it cost him?
Flora and Ulysses by Kate DiCamillo won the 2014 Newbery Medal. DiCamillo makes me never stop trying to write the best book I can. Every book she pens is unique and stunningly beautiful. Flora and Ulysses opens with a squirrel being sucked up by the Ulysses 2000X, a super sonic vacuum cleaner. Ten-year-old Flora Belle Buckman rescues the unfortunate creature and names him Ulysses. Ulysses wakes from his near death experience with super hero powers and a love of poetry. Flora takes him home and the two become instant friends. But Flora's mother, horrified by the germy squirrel, plots to carry it off in a sack and conk it with a shovel. Flora enlists the aid of her father, a boy with hysterical blindness, a neighbor and a wise old woman to help save the squirrel. The book is told in alternating comic book strips and text with Flora's favorite comic book phrases and advice sprinkled throughout. When Flora learns the squirrel can type she thinks: Holy Bagumba. Things are going to change around here. We're going to slay villains left and right. But she never counted on the arch villain being her mother.
So that's seven award-winning books read this year. Three Newbery's to go.
And now a word about today's art. Goat. Don't ask me why. I had a sudden urge. I've never drawn one before. I like goats but I'm not familiar with them like I am with horses and dogs. This creature would probably be insulted by its portrait. I'm sure the proportions are off and I wasn't careful with the markings. But I loved drawing this goat and I can't wait to draw more. If you have a creative urge, don't ignore it. Stop what you're doing. Pick up your pencil or brush or lump of clay, head for the computer or whatever instrument you use to create and go for it!
I write middle grade and young adult books with a magical twist. And creatures, always creatures. I'm represented by the fabulous Leslie Zampetti of Dunham Lit.
Baggott, Asher & Bode
Rear in Gear
Kate DiCamillo on Writing