Writing Life 17

Check out Clarissa Martinez's piece in the Valley Morning Star on Reading Rock Stars and Kennedy Elementary (Intermediate): http://www.valleymorningstar.com/news/denise_22443___article.html/pulled_shyly.html


Writing Life 16

This past week, Tuesday and Wednesday, I had a blast visiting with the 4th and 5th grades students of Cesar Chavez Elementary in the PSJA ISD and the 6th graders at Kennedy Elementary in Mercedes ISD, both awesome schools full of awesome readers in the Lower Rio Grande Valley of deep South Texas. I want to thank Clay Smith and Harper Scott of Texas Book Festival/Reading Rock Stars, two wonderful programs that have been running for a good while now (check out their work on http://www.texasbookfestival.org/), Dean Dahlia Guzman and Dr. Steve Schneider of UT-Pan American (COAH) and organizers of FESTIBA, and the librarians at the six different schools the authors got to visit for preparing the kids from K-6 in various ways, specifically Ms. Laura Bernal at Chavez and Ms. Elida Elizondo at Kennedy. And we can't forget their administrators for opening their doors to this brand of literacy advocacy. Apologies for this post to Ms. Bernal because though I had my camera with me, I am not used to carrying it and taking pics of where I'm at. And go figure, no pics of Clay and Harper either. Though Harper and the librarians have promised to forward to me the pics they took and as soon as that happens, I will upload those. Following, then, are shots of the authors, illustrators, schools, etc.

René Colato, author of I Am René, The Boy/Soy René, el niño

Amada Irma Perez, author of My Diary from Here to There/Mi diario de aqui hasta alla

Lee Byrd, author of The Treasure on Gold Street/El tesoro en la Calle de Oro

Antonio Castro, illustrator of The Treasure on Gold Street/El tesoro en la Calle de Oro

Thanks to Nancy, one of our UT-PA volunteers (along with Yesenia), for taking pictures at Kennedy. This one is of me, way off in the distance, reading "Kiss Me Kate" from The Jumping Tree on this very old, very cool stage talking to the kids.

Other authors in attendance at other schools were Diane Gonzalez Bertrand, Xavier Garza, and Carmen Tafolla.
More to come.


Children's LitBlog 2

I can't say how much fun I've been having reading over my Children's Lit students' latest project, a poetry folder, which is way different than I'm used to assigning. The creative writing teacher in me has always asked students to write their own poems (the idea being that if would-be teachers go through the process of writing their own poems, they'll be better equipped to teach poetry writing to their kids: a fine idea, I'm sure); this semester, my first time teaching Children't Literature for Teachers and Librarians (most of whom hope to teach at the elementary level), I asked them to do something perhaps more useful to them as teachers of reading. The project is simple (or so I thought, until a few students said it was a bit more difficult than they thought it would be, though very fun at the same time): collect from your childhood interactions with poetry or from your more recent experiences with poetry meant for children 20 pieces that would make up their Top 20 Children's Poems (for immediate use in their classrooms, beginning on day one!!!, or ELSE!!!!!). They'd include the bibliographic information and a brief note stating why they chose this poem and or how they will use it themselves to promote the love of poetry with their little ones when it's time. And boy, I've read some awesome poems, both new and old: from Mother Goose to J. Patrick Lewis, from Shel Silverstein to Janet Wong. Livingston and Prelutsky. Fletcher and Florian. Man, the expereince grading has been fantastic for me. It got there, for a while, though, that I'd gotten into it so much (you've got to understand that when I read poetry I actually read it aloud or aloud in my head, right), so it got to the point that I was reading other stuff that wasn't poetry (Stuart's Cape, for example, by Sara Pennypacker) and I was reading all rhythmy, you know. I couldn't get out of that wonderful funk. Please visit my Children's Lit students' blog (down down below on my blog) to read their choices and their notations. I promise, you'll enjoy them thoroughly. I did!


Reading Life 27

Clay by David Almond

Like I thought would happen as soon as I finished this one of Almond's books: I loved it. I know some wouldn't necessarily care for the ending, very open-ended, readers left with more questions than answers, but like I've tried explaining to some readers about this sort of closing: it's not a closing at all: this portion of a person's story does come to a conclusion, but as happens in real life, when one problem is solved, we've still got several more to deal with, and we can count on a few new ones tomorrow, the next day, etc. Life's never about all loose-ends tied neatly by such and such a date. Some problems, right, we never solve. And so happens to Davie in Almond's story: he ends up the wiser, but at a loss.

A quick summary: Davie meets up with Stephen, a kid who's got powers over ordinary folks, who hypnotizes Davie with very venomous but logical-sounding arguments about God's having abandoned His creation because we're a bunch of numbskulls and live lives counter to what He'd hoped and so He simply turns His back, waiting for us to destroy ourselves absolutely. In Felling, where Davie's from, the two create a monster of their own, who's got characteristics of both boys: naive and innocent (from Davie) and evil and sinister (from Stephen). As the boys are opposite in every way, the monster, named Clay, is a conflicted creature. Though speaking of God and mammon, this verse in the Bible certainly applies in this story: one cannot serve two masters. The story comes to a head when Davie wants to bring the monster's life to a humane death, while Stephen would rather train him to kill, destroy.

It's a spooky story. Much of the violence is implied, though there are plenty of fights. Beautifully written, and deep.


Reading Life 26

Though I'm only halfway through, and though it has a copyright date going back to 2005, and though I've had it on my "Current Reads" list for several months now having read only a bit of it in that time, I'm finally getting to David Almond's Clay, and can say I am very much enjoying it. It's dark like Kit's Wilderness, but raw like The Fire-Eaters. It takes an age-old tale, older than Frankenstein even, and makes something newish with it. It's not just about wanting to make something living out of something very much inanimate, but more about how malleable a weak ego can be. I'll blog more on it later; for now, am enjoying it. There's something very gothic about this book, and about Almond's writing in general.


The Latest Poll Question: My Bad

I only just now saw my gross omission: So, if you are among those who choose to listen to the audio version of a book when you choose to read for yourself and you want to be counted, then leave a comment on this post. It won't show up on the percentages, but at least folks will know. I know that I can count at least two, probably three folks on this list: among them my brother, Eddy. But he'll have to drop a comment if he wants to be counted.


Writing Life 15

This is the very beginnings of my latest novel, The Whole Sky Full of Stars. On the Post-It note is the original idea that eventually became the longer story. I was working at a Barnes & Noble in Atlanta while I was working on my PhD, and standing behind the register, when you get all your extra duties done, and when there aren't any customers waiting to get rung up, well, this is what I did, I wrote. Not long stuff, obviously, but short little things, cositas, I'd say in Spanish. Later, I expanded on the Post-It, this time directly into my journal. When my editor sort of rejected my novel, one I call The Good Long Way, I asked for another 6 months, at the end of which I would submit something different. I had no clue, though, what I was going to write for her, so I pulled out the journal, started flipping through it, and came across this entry. And it was a go from there. Though there are changes from these first drafts and the actual book, not much changed really.

Life with the Boys--Writing

What can I say? Writing begets writing. Lukas has his letters pretty close to down pat (here, he's doing his "homework," while Mikah writes circles, which he reads, "Ball, ball, ball"). I just hope they won't be my competition later in life, unless when I'm old and useless their writing makes them millions and I can live with either or both of them and get the really good soup since I'd be all toothless and bald. So I'd also want a very expensive toupee or a very cool fedora.

Writing Life 14

So, today I visited Dimmitt Middle School in Dimmitt TX, and I had an awesome time with the students there and with the teachers, and especially with Super Librarian Walta Evans, who I met several months back at a Texas Library Association annual conference. She mentioned to me at the booth where I was signing that she'd love to have me visit with her kids, and Dimmitt is in west Texas and my family and I now live in west Texas, and so it made sense to me to go. Then a few months later, I met Walta again, this time in Austin at the Texas Book Festival (what a great festival! one you can't miss!), and she reminded me of her invitation. After a bit of phone tag we settled and planned on today. Man, what a fantastic school full of kids full of enthusiasm for reading and writing. Following are some pics:

SuperLibrarian, Walta Evans


Life with the Boys, the Cats, Etc.

Lukas, just yesterday. Don't let the smile fool you. He's slick.
Mikah enjoying--I mean, really enjoying--his mother's cooking!
Lukas, the Reader (check it out, it's Scooby he's reading; the kid is so cool!)
Like Big Brother, like Baby Brother: Mikah likes anything with trucks.

Mikah with ISBN, our Maine Coon, who looks so happy, don't he?

Here's Cotton, our most recently taken-in cat. In this shot, he's keeping me from my work.

ISBN, pronounced Isben.

Here's the Etc.: the fat one on the left is me, the pretty one in the yellow dress is my sister, Irma Laura.


Life with Mikah

No boy was hurt during the filming of this scene. But boy, it's funny.


Adolescent LitBlog 8

Street Love by Walter Dean Myers

I'll agree with those who have said that getting into the book is a bit on the slow side, but once it gets going, man, it gets going and it's non-stop. It's a deep book, and, like some have mentioned on the blogs or in class, at once an easy read for those students who would prefer a plot- or character-driven book. Nevermind reading the book as poetry, if you don't want; but if you do and you're ready, this title is chockfull of it all: allusions, poetic devices of all kinds, a good mix of rhythms, and more. My personal favorites: the allusion to Margaret Garner and the Flying Africans in the one chapter titled "Junice Thinks of Calling Damien," pp. 87-89. There is that same sense of desperation that Garner would've felt, perhaps, leading up to the capture of the Garner family, recently escaped from slavery in Kentucky. How horrible must slavery have been that she'd do what she did to one of her children and would've done to and or for the other kids.

Read also Toni Morrison's Beloved (for another version of Garner) and Song of Solomon (for reference to the Flying Africans).