Bibliotherapy and Star Wars

I’m pleased to report that I’m back to writing. It’s wonderful. I found myself dancing around the kitchen yesterday evening. Not that I don’t normally, but… With particular zeal! I plan to curl up this afternoon on the day bed in the sunroom with some tea and turn the TV onto a music channel. Something non-distracting like “atmospheres.”

NPR did write again and asked for the name of a librarian to interview about children’s self-help books. With rare exceptions, I’m somewhat biased against these books.

For example, I’d rather suggest Molly’s Family by Nancy Garden than a more didactic introduction to the idea of two moms because it’s the story, writing, quality of the illustrations that make us care about the characters. Molly is our hero, and that makes us more aware, more sensitive than any published lecture of how an intrusive adult voice would frame her family diversity.

Anyway, researching the subject a trusted librarian did assure me that some of the self-help books were good (which I knew, though I thought they were more rare).

So, I gave NPR the names of three ALA uber librarians and contact information for IRA’s special interest group on bibliotherapy. (This is not to say the bibliotherapy experts wouldn’t use a literary trade book).

Planning to watch “Smallville” tonight in hopes it’ll improve, and fascinated to study the DVD release promo for “Star Wars” with Carrie Fisher’s Princess Leia clinging fearfully to Chewbacca as the men jump forward with their blasters. It’s totally out of character for Leia as portrayed in the films, which is interesting, though Greg reminds me that this was still several years before Sigourney Weaver‘s Ripley.

I’d like to thank writer/actress Carrie Fisher for making sassy, petite, smart, curvy, long-haired brunette women the ultimate male fantasy for my generation. A lot of us owe you, honey!

Mystery At The Club Sandwich

New titles include: Mystery At The Club Sandwich by Doug Cushman (Clarion, 2004). It’s this sort of Humphrey-Bogart-esque dectective story in black-and-white illustrations about an elephant detective, Nick Trunk, on the case of Lola Gables’ lost (lucky) marbles. Very tongue in cheek. Ages 7-up.

Last night Greg and I went out to dinner at Katz’s and then to the bar at the Hyatt, mostly because it has a nice lake view through the trees. One thing I love about this city, even at its most famous 24-hour deli, you can still order anything on whole wheat. Ie., lox on a whole wheat bagel with no-fat cream cheese. Delicious. The restaurants and bars on the south side of the lake are less popular because they don’t offer the view of the bats available from the north (largely in part to the size and proximity of the Austin American Statesman complex). I don’t begrudge them of it though, being a former reporter myself, and besides, my pal and children’s illustrator Don Tate works there.

Today I have officially nothing on my calendar, which means I’m pretty busy. I just finished reading and critiquing a friend’s middle grade novel manuscript, packaging up a signed book to donate to a fund-raising auction, and pulling together a list of children’s books related to various issues in case NPR’s All Things Considered wasn’t just flirting with me via email and they really do follow up about an interview. What I’m not doing (yet): working on my revision, but the muse has started whispering.

2004 Picture Books

Some highlights from the picture book front lists:

A Woman For President: The Story of Victoria Woodhull by Kathleen Krull, illustrated by Jane Dyer (Walker, 2004). A well-crafted and inspiring picture book biography about the first woman to own a newspaper, speak before Congress, have a seat on the stock exchange, and run for president. Highly recommended. Ages 7-up.

Note: only this past week, I was talking to an education professor about how incredibly few women (and, for that matter, minorities) are on the standards requirements for Texas elementary students. I strongly encourage educators and parents to keep in mind that just because it’s not required to introduce a particular historical figure of note by one’s state doesn’t mean that they can’t make the extra effort. This biography is an excellent step toward balancing against the many biases in the system, and it’s lovely in its own right.

Cesar Si, Se Puede!/Yes, We Can! by Carmen T. Bernier-Grand, illustrated by David Diaz (Marshall Cavendish, 2004). Written in eloquent palm poems, this picture-chapter book eloquently illuminates the life of Cesar Chavez, Friend of the Farm Workers and American hero. Ages 7-up. Highly recommended.

Note: in South Austin, a mural of Cesar Chavez on the side of a building was defaced some time ago with gray paint, splashed carelessly across his face and the surrounding landscape. It always made me ache as I drove by, wondering who in the predominately Mexican-American neighborhood would do such a thing. Wondering if it was someone inside or outside of that community. Wondering if they had even known who Chavez was or what his life’s work had meant. Then one day I saw that someone had spray-painted over the gray paint in red. “Viva Cesar!” they wrote. I don’t normally have much patience for folks who get creative with paint on other people’s property. But in this case, I’m willing to make an exception.

The Train Of The States by Peter Sis (Greenwillow, 2004). Sis offers a journey from one state to another with each turn of the page, highlighting the official symbols and related facts for each. A must-buy for every elementary library. Ages 5-up.

Note: the dedication is to twenty-two years in the U.S. and at Greenwillow. The latter, in today’s volatile publishing climate, is stunning.

For those with an interest in English-Spanish bilingual books, surf over to Raven Tree Press, which among other front list titles is featuring My Pal, Victor/Mi amigo, Victor by Diane Gonzales Bertrand, illustrated by Robert L. Sweetland. I’ve already featured Diane quite extensively on my Web site. She is a fellow Texas writer though from San Antonio (not Austin, like me). We often see one another at events like the annual TLA conference. I enjoy her company and admire her stories. They are refreshingly inclusive of middle class Mexican Americans. She’s a great speaker, too.

And some picture books in my In box, which I haven’t yet had a chance to read include: An African Princess by Lyra Edmonds, illustrated by Anne Wilson (Candlewick, 2004); The Groundhog Day Book of Facts and Fun by Wendie Old, illustrated by Paige Billin-Frye (Albert Whitman, 2004); Hana In The Time Of The Tulips by Deborah Noyes, illustrated by Bagram Ibatoulline (Candlewick Press, 2004); Going North by Janice N. Harrington, illustrated Jerome Lagarrigue (FSG, 2004); My Chair by Betsy James, illustrated by Mary Newell DePalma (Arthur A. Levine, 2004); Mary Ann by Betsy James (Dutton, 2004); I Know It’s Autumn by Eileen Spinelli, illustrated by Nancy Hayashi (HarperCollins, 2004).

Teddy Award

I’m pleased to announce that Ninjas, Piranhas, and Galileo (Little Brown, 2003) by Greg won the Teddy Award, sponsored by the League of Texas Writers, in the longer-works division and that the other two finalists, My Father’s Summers by Kathi Appelt and My Road Trip To The Pretty Girl Capital Of The World, likewise were celebrated. More on each of those great titles:

MY FATHER’S SUMMERS: A DAUGHTER’S MEMOIR by Kathi Appelt (Henry Holt, 2004). Poignant. Powerful. Poetic. Appelt’s memoir is her best work to date. Heartfelt and hopeful, she describes the impact of her father’s departure, her first kiss, and a surprisingly close connection to a defining day in American history. This book will resonant with young adult and adult readers alike. Five stars. Ages 12-up. Recommendation by author Anne Bustard. This memoir is already getting Newbery buzz.

MY ROAD TRIP TO THE PRETTY GIRL CAPITAL OF THE WORLD by Brian Yansky (Cricket, 2003). In this journey to the self (and from Iowa to Austin), Simon’s struggling to keep things together. He’s skating the law, recently dumped, and dealing with a dad who just doesn’t understand. Overwhelmed, he hits the road to find his biological parents and wisdom about evil advertisers, scary giants, witches, ETs, friendship, nature/nurture, and, well, pretty girls. One part magic, two parts tall tale, this YA debut is one to read and remember. Ages 12-up. This novel was honored earlier this year by the Texas Institute of Letters as the winner of its YA award.

Finalists in the shorter-works division, included an Austinite I was honored to meet for the first time: Karin Cates, author of The Secret Remedy Book: A Story of Comfort and Love (Orchard Books).

A number of additional children’s and YA authors attended to show support for the various finalists and celebrate Texas literature, which was quite gracious.

PEN award

Are you a writer with two (but no more than five) published books and financial need? Or, rather, do you know someone who is? If so, check out the PEN award. Past winners are: Lori Aurelia Williams, Graham McNamee, Franny Billingsley and Deborah Wiles.

Note: this is not a hint. Though I’m certainly a working writer, as is my spouse, he had a substantial day job. Other writers need it more.

Speaking of Greg, tonight is the Teddy Awards! Ah, the suspense!

Wondering what’s new and noteworthy? Check out Hot Off The Press from the Children’s Book Council. Congrats to my pals Carolyn Crimi (Boris and Bella, illustrated by Gris Grimly (Harcourt, 2004)) and Carmen T. Bernier-Grand (Cesar: Si Se Puede! Yes We Can, illustrated by David Diaz (Marshall Cavendish, 2004)) on the most deserved attention.