Life with Lukas

When he's not reading or writing, Lukas likes to sit back and relax.


Reading Life 25

My family and I were out at the Mahon Library yesterday, that's the main branch of the public libraries here in Lubbock TX for their Friends of the Library book sale: two items I'd like to speak to: first, one parent's reason for not getting a book for his daughter; second, the ton of books we got.

So, as to the first point: I'm looking through the YA shelf trying to fill in some glaring oversights in my own collection, when I hear a girl ask her dad whether she can by a copy of some title (now I wish I had been paying more careful attention to the title itself). His question wasn't, "Well, how much is it?" ($3 if it was a hardback; $1 for paperback on this side of the sale, though across the floor a ways hardbacks were 4 for $1 (that's 25 pennies each!!!) and 8 paperbacks for $1: more on this when I get to point 2). Nope, the dad pointed out that she'd already read this book and so he wouldn't pay the measely sum. I mean, she had read it, and so why make a book that she wanted to make part of her collection a part of her collection, right? It was like wasting that money, right? Nevermind that he's probably got a ton of DVDs at home of his favorite movies (I'm assuming this to be the case, but you get the point: we buy DVDs of films we love b/c we love them and want them to be part of our collections; we take pictures of our kids at one portrait studio or another in spite of having lived first-hand through our kids' lives, and yet we pay huge prices for this pics, b/c we love our kids and want to remember them just this way when they're grown and no longer "just this way.") The girl tried again, but to no avail. What a loser of a dad this guy was. I don't mean he's not out for her absolute good; I'm not saying he beats her unmercifully; or that this one moment in the girl's life will make of her an illiterate. The girl's most likely going to turn out just fine, if not better than most. After all, she's at a book sale at a library on a Saturday afternoon. But for the dad to pass up on a huge chance like this to show her the importance of owning books, especially books that we love, well, the guy blew it. And I blew it for not saying so. I was just struck dumb that a dad would say no to a book, and one that cost so little.
Point two: the other section of the book sale: I gave the prices above: that's dead-on accurate, no lie. My wife and I walked out of the joint with two bags full of books, mostly for our boys, but a couple for Tina and more than a couple for me. Here's a list of the hardback, seemingly unused, practically new books I got: Al Capone Does My Shirts by Choldenko, Bull Run by Fleischman, Johnny Chesthair by Lynch, Shadow of the Red Moon by Myers & Myers, An Island Like You by Ortiz Cofer, Milkweed by Spinelli, Probably Still Nick Swansen by Wolff, and Hush by Woodson. In addition, I got a paperback (my second copy and meant as a giveaway) of Zuzak's Figthing Ruben Wolff. What a deal. I can't wait to the next Friends sale.


Reading Life 24

A Couple of Boys Have the Best Week Ever, written and illustrated by Marla Frazee
When Marla and her editor Allyn Johnston described this book last year at TTU's 3rd Annual Children's Literature Festival, I couldn't wait to get my hands on a copy. So I told Allyn sometime during that visit that I'd absolutely have to get a copy of it when it came out. She was so kind then, saying she'd send me a copy first thing. Then last November, I saw her at NCTE where she was hanging out with one of her writers at the Harcourt booth for a signing. I stopped by to say hello, and right behind her I saw the FNG (or is it F&G: either way, it stands for Fold 'N Grab: picture book's ARC). I pointed it out and told her how excited this was. She remembered having promised me a copy, and today I got it in the mail. So thanks, Allyn, and thanks to Marla (and to A.J.'s editing on this project)! How witty and funny and touching. A story about two boys who are on the verge of wasting a week at Nature Camp, opting for hanging out playing video games and the like, but they come through at the end, doing for Bill (the granddad who's all about Antarctica) a real kindness using the very nature around them. Can I already choose one of my year's favorites? Whatever! This is one of them!

Reading Life 23

La Línea by Ann Jaramillo
I don't get it, how this book didn't get the Belpré nod for writing (this one, or Soto's Mercy). Though it deals with a oft-dealt with subject (that of illegal immigration into the States), the story is way different in that for the first time in a book that treats this timely topic; instead of highlighting the horrors handed out to immigrants by Border Patrol agents, the Minute Men and other like-minded militia, or other "hateful" Americans, Jaramillo presents the dangers faced by travelers northward at the hands of fellow Mexicans: there are train gangs who seek out girls aboard the mata gente trains, the federales who cheat and steal from their own, and others who physically assault and threaten with rape if they don't get money from those wanting nothing more than a place to sleep. The majority of the story takes place in Mexico, and though Moises, the coyote (who turns out to be a good guy and not the mean-spirited monster who would abandon his charges in the middle of the desert or locked in the back of an 18-wheeled trailer) does get shot in the arm by a militia member in the desert, and though the brief time in the desert does take a toll (often ending in a miserable death), the getting to south of the linea, the border, is the harshest ever presented in YA fiction. There is nothing magical, fantastical, or romanticized about this book, with the exception of the ending, which is a bit Hollywoodish for my tastes, but still, possible. I didn't have to suspend too much in that regard. Please, even an honor for a good book.


Life 5

What a wonderful way to celebrate the life and life after death of a child of the Rio Grande Valley, Michael M. Rutledge, who literally gave of himself that others might live. Though the number of organ recepients is four, Michael's Legacy (not the award called Legacy, but his real legacy) affects us all the world over. Do what you can, if you can, and if not for this life-event, another similar to it. Also, visit places online like OrganDonor.gov for more information. PS: muchos abrazos to Mr. Ernesto Duenas at Liberty Middle School in Pharr TX for getting this all set up in honor of young Rutledge.
René Saldaña, Jr.

Come and join us for a night of art, music, and celebration! Ofrendas del Corazón is a silent "heart art" auction, which will take place Friday, February 8, 2009 , at the Habanero Café in downtown Pharr . Between 50 and 60 wooden hearts have been given to various students, teachers, and members of the community such as local artists, musicians and business owners to decorate. We have been really fortunate to get some of our hearts signed by authors such as Sandra Cisneros, Rene Saldana, and Xavier Garza, David Rice and others. Comedian Carlos Mencia also signed one, as well as the rock band Evanescence and latin-rock band Del Castillo. Most authors and musicians have also donated a signed book or CD to accompany their heart. All the proceeds from the event will benefit the Michael M. Rutledge Legacy Award. Michael Rutledge was a sophomore at PSJA North involved with the Raider Band and the Dual Language program. The first award will be given in 2009 to a PSJA North Dual Language student who has already been accepted into a college or university. The heart has taken a significant meaning for us since Michael, through his parents’ gift of organ donation, was able to give life to four Texas residents.

For more information, email
michaelslegacy@yahoo.com or call (956) 884-9776.


Writing Life 13

One of the cool things about being in this writing business and the teaching business at once is that sometimes (if your university, in my case my college, the College of Education/C&I/Language Literacy, sponsors a literary festival, and you get to take part in it at whatever capacity) you get to meet an author, maybe two. I was fortunate enough to meet and hang out with three: J. Patrick Lewis, Janet S. Wong, and Mel Glenn. Each in his and her own way held audiences spellbound. Each very entertaining. And very much worth the money to get them to visit your school or library if you can get them. Note the list below of places to visit for their websites. You'll find contact information there.
Dr. Katie Button did a fantastic job again! in planning and seeing this, Texas Tech's 4th Annual Children's Literature Festival. I can't wait to help with planning next year's.


Reading Life 22

The White Darkness by Geraldine McCaughrean: Printz Award winner 2008
This year's selection as the Printz Award winner by the ALA committee has caused a few to question their decision. I mean, a great many of us it seems (from various lists, formal and informal discussions, mock committees, writers/teachers/librarians/readers, and the like) felt (and still do, some of us) that Sherman Alexie's The Absolutely True Diary of a Part-Time Indian should've taken the prize. My inital reaction was one of surprise, I admit. But I purposed to read the winner to be able to make a more informed decision.
The White Darkness is a wonderful book, a thriller about a girl, Sym, who's naive about life and love and family and truth. So the main character is indeed flawed. To boot, she has an imaginary friend, but unlike no other: Titus Oates, an historical figure, dead some 90 years, frozen to death at the age of 32 in the South Pole and whose body was never found, Sym's love interest. And who proves to be her common sensical make-believe friend.
Her uncle Victor (not really a blood uncle but a family friend and Sym's now-deceased father's business partner) plans a trip to Paris, to include Victor, Sym, and Sym's mother. At the train, Sym's mother realizes her passport is missing, and so she's left behind in London. In Paris, Sym gets what should be obvious clues as to her uncle's madness, but she ignores them. All part of Victor's years' long ruse. His plan is to take her to the South Pole in search of Symmes' Hole, the entry way into a concentric maze of smaller and smaller earths populated by pure beings. Well, it's a thriller so there's got to be explosions of the only way back to civilization, phones go missing, radios are spilled upon an ruined, and people are knocked out by Victor's special tea. And the search for Symmes' Hole begins.
McCaughrean's language is beautiful, the story, for the most part, is well-put together, and as a thriller, it works. I liked the use of the imagined/ghostly Titus Oates; it helped flesh out the main character, Sym. The ending, I mean the very last scene, down to the last sentence, falls short. Slightly out of character, but at once in character, I guess. If that's possible. I think it could've been 50-75 pages shorter (the cut, cut, cut writer in me says). But I still wanted to go on, the fan of thrillers that I am.
Ultimately, I feel the Printz committee got it wrong, though. Alexie's book offers more in terms of human nature, story, and all things literary. That book's got poetry, man, it's got humor, tragedy, and a very cool story.
What's done is done, though. So congrats to McCaughrean for a fine book.