Homework for Children's Lit

I'd like as many of you as visit the blog here this weekend to say something very nice about my son and drop me a line or two in the comments section here about where you are in terms of your children's lit narrative, the poetry packet, or your lesson plan. 

Sorry I didn't give you advance notice about the class getting a project/work day last Thursday. Things progressed quicker than we'd expected and we found out at noon or so that we had a couple of hours to get our "house in order," literally before having to be at the hospital for my wife's c-section. Thanks for being understanding.

The Latest Saldaña!

10/15/09: Jakob Finn Henning: 20 inches long, 7 lbs. & 3 oz. So there!


We Were Here by Matt de la Peña

Today Matt de la Peña's third novel for teens is out. It's called We Were Here, and well worth reading. Three unlikely friends are brought together in a juvie home, each of whom is dealing with some pretty hardcore demons. They hatch a plan to escape their present circumstances and head to Mexico, where they think they'll find solace and peace. There is some violence in the book, the language at times is rough, and there is alcohol abuse. The three boys become the best of friends, or as best as you can become under such circumstances, but it takes running away for them to find their ways back or out. READ IT!!!

Also check out his other books: Ball Don't Lie and Mexican WhiteBoy. And check out de la Peña's website: www.mattdelapena.com.


More More "Latest Reviews" of The Case of the Pen Gone Missing

My understanding of the following review is that it is done by a ten-year-old reader. I'm thinking, How can we writing/reading teachers get our own students to read and write at this level? It's huge. By "it" I mean both the review and that a ten-year-old wrote it. I'm not surprised, just exstactic that here's the proof that it can be done: http://www.mystery-books.com/2009/07/mystery-book-review-case-of-pen-gone.html.

Even More "Latest Reviews" of The Case of the Pen Gone Missing

Click on the link and scroll down about halfway to find the review of my chapter detective mystery in Library Journal online, and will appear in the print version of School Library Journal in August: http://www.libraryjournal.com/article/CA6670898.html?&rid=. Very cool.


Latest Reviews of The Case of the Pen Gone Missing

First is Dr. Teri Lesesne's from her blog: http://professornana.livejournal.com/: She writes, "In a couple of hours, I head off to Chicago for ALA . Got up a little early to have coffee and play with Scout. Also managed to find time to read Rene Saldana's THE CASE OF THE PEN GONE MISSING (Arte Publico, 2009). This slim novel is a mystery along the lines of the Encyclopedia Brown books of the past. Fifth grader Mickey helps solve the case of a rare pen that goes missing in the classroom. The chief suspect is Toots, a classmate Mickey adores from afar. There is a nice twist with a mysterious letter from an "angel" which assists Mickey in solving the case. This new series will appeal to tweens and adds to the precious few books for this group with Hispanic main characters ( and Mickey's librarian is cool, too)." Thanks to her for her endless kindness to my books, and more so for her boundless advocacy for the tween and teen readers. No wonder my students love her Naked Reading, when I have occasion to use it.

The second is in the latest issue of Mystery Scene magazine, Issue No. 110, Summer 2009: "Child's Play: Books for Young Sleuths" by Roverta Rogow: "The Case of the Pen Gone Missing: A Mickey Rangel Mystery by René Saldaña, Jr. (Piñata Books, $9.95) is a tricky one for a young sleuth. The hitherto unattainable Toots Rodriguez solicits Mickey's help when she is accused of stealing a classmate's special pen, the one actually touched by the President of the United States when he signed a bill sponsored by the classmate's father. Mickey's observational skills are blunted by his attraction to this deadly damsel in distress, but a timely tip from a mysterious "Angel" puts him on the right track, and he not only finds the pen, but exposes the real culprit. A Spanish translation of the story is bound in with the English, making this a good choice for bilingual school and public library collections."


An Online Chat with Author/Illustrator Xavier Garza

The following is an author chat that took place on the 25th of June, 2009, between my EDLL 5351 Children’s Literature for Teachers and Librarians at Texas Tech University and author/illustrator Xavier Garza, using Chatzy.com’s chat room services. I’ve taken the liberty to make some corrections on misspellings, typos, and other minor grammar and usage errors for a clearer reading.

Xavier Garza was born and raised in deep South Texas in Rio Grande City. He received his BFA from University of Texas-Pan American and later his MFA in Art History from UTSA. He lives with his wife, Irma, and their son, Vincent, in San Antonio, Texas, where he is a middle school art teacher at Vale Middle School and teaches art history at Northwest Vista College. Following is a bibliography of his work:

Zulema and the Witch Owl. Houston TX: Arte Público/Piñata Books, 2009.
Charro Claus and the Tejas Kid. El Paso TX: Cinco Puntos Press, 2008.
Juan and the Chupacabra. Houston TX: Arte Público/Piñata Books, 2006.
Lucha Libre: The Man in the Silver Mask: A Bilingual Cuento. El Paso TX: Cinco Puntos Press, 2005.

Creepy Creatures and Other Cucuys. Houston TX: Arte Público/Piñata Books, 2004.

Rene: Lisa: Have you ever worked in or been in an elementary classroom? How do you know how to gear your writing toward that level?
Xavier: I have been a teacher for 15 years, but at the Jr. High level for the most part. I base all my stories on my childhood memories and experiences. I try my stories on my 6th graders. They are close enough to the elementary level to get an honest opinion fromt hem on the stories.

Rene: Amber: In Charro Claus there is a segment where Charro and the Tejas Kid deliver toys to the children along the Texas/Mexico border. Due to the recent immigration conflicts, has there been any controversy surrounding this book?
Xavier: There has been only minor controversy. An online critic commented that Charro Claus brings fake green cards and social security numbers to Mexicans (check out the review here: Maybe there will be more controversy down the road since it looks like Immigration reform will be a hot topic in Washington again. I find things like the Border wall to be an idiot’s solution to illegal immigration. A wall is never a permanent answer to a problem; it’s just a temporary fix. As a child growing up in the Valley, so the border is very much a part of my life. Crossing back and forth between the US and Mexico was done as easily as going to Walmart or HEB.

Rene: Jessica: What book is your favorite to talk to an audience about? And why?
Xavier: Hi, Jessica. My favorite book is Charro Claus and the Tejas Kid. It’s a very personal book. When I was a child, my dad introduced me to the concept of Santa having a Mexican cousin while shopping at a local grocery store. I saw a Santa Claus wearing a Charro hat and asked my dad who this man was. He told me he was Santa’s Mexican cousin. Later, I listened to the song “Pancho Claus” by Lalo Guerrero. All these factors stayed with me. A few years back I realized that what Santa's Mexican cousin had never had was an origin story. I mean who was he? How did he come to be? Why does he deliver presents to the kids on the border? Is he helping Santa, or did he decide to just do it on his own? None of these questions had ever been answered, so I felt that he needed an origin. In short, he needed a story that answered all these questions. The Tejas Kid was inserted into the story so as to insert my own son into the story. I wanted to in my own way to introduce him to Santa’s Mexican cousin just as my father had done for me when I was a child. I also made Charro and Tejas look like both me and my son.

Rene: Kinsey: What inspired you to begin writing children's books?
Xavier: I was raised among storytellers. My dad and grandparents were storytellers, so it grew on me as a child. Eventually I decided to try and get my stories published, rather than just tell them. I have been lucky that I have always had people Like René Saldaña, Jr., (The Case of the Pen Gone Missing (Piñata Books, 2009) and The Whole Sky Full of Stars (Wendy Lamb Books/Random House, 2007)) and David Rice (Crazy Loco: Stories (Dial, 2001) to encourage me to keep going. I have been very blessed to have five books published thus far.

Rene: Bertha: How have non-Hispanic kids responded to your books?
Xavier: For the most part very positively. Lucha Libre has been very well received and is probably my most popular crossover book. It is the one book that you can find at virtually every Barnes and Noble. Kids really seem to enjoy lucha libre, which is a world filled with masked heroes and villains that do battle in the ring.

Rene: Kimberley: You say your dad and granddad are storytellers and they influenced you to tell your stories. Was Lucha Libre based on one of their stories, or another family members, or yours?
Xavier: Lucha Libre is based on two events: as a child, I often visited my cousins in Monterrey. On Friday evenings we would go see lucha libre at the Arena Coliseo in Monterrey. These fond memories of masked heroes (tecnicos) and villains (rudos) stayed with me for years. Later as an adult I met Mil Mascaras, and the idea came to me to author a book that shared the experience of seeing Mexican wrestling.

Rene: Ashley A.: What other projects are you working on? And can you talk about what your writing process is like?
Xavier: I am currently doing a sequel of sorts to Creepy Creatures and Other Cucuys. The book is titled Kid Cyclone Versus the Devil and Other Creepy Stories. It is being done with Arte Público/Piñata Books, and consists of 16 scary stories such as “Llorona 911,” “Kid Cyclone Versus the Devil,” “The Saint’s Revenge,” and “Border Watch.” I am also working on another picture book titled La Llorona Versus the Donkey Lady. My writing process is rather simple. First, I come up with an idea by drawing on memories from my childhood. “Llorona 911,” for example, is based on a phone number that we kids passed around. You called the number and you heard a recording of a crazy, angry woman yelling and screaming at you as if you were her scoundrel of a child. A few modifications of this memory led to it becoming a Llorona story. Also, if I have an idea I write it down. I don’t do the whole story, but save the idea instead. Too many stories are lost because the ideas for them aren’t written down.

Rene: Edward: When you write your stories, which seem like they are more geared to a boy audience, do you think consciously of boys as your primary audience? What do you think boy readers need to become better readers?
Xavier: Not all my books are boy based, but I do like girl characters who are strong and a bit tomboyish. Luz, in Juan and the Cupacabras is a lot braver than her male cousin Juan. Also, Zulema in Zulema and the Witch Owl is a tough little girl. Almost all my characters are modeled after real people I have met. I think that what we need to do in order for boys to be better readers is do away with some of the “boys don’t read” stereotypes that are deeply imbedded in our society. We need to encourage reading not only in schools, but also at home. Parents need to encourage their children, boys and girls alike, to excel in education, and reading is a very essential part of reaching these ultimate success.

Rene: Kristin: What have you found to be the benefit of having parallel English and Spanish texts in your writings? Do you write both the English and Spanish translation independently, or do you write in one language first and then translate to the other?
Xavier: I speak Spanish fluently, but I don’t do my own translations. I write in English, and then the publishers get the translator. I am a firm believer in the advantage of being able to speak more than one language.

Rene: Whitney: What techniques do you use to come up with your artwork?
Xavier: I do a lot of pencil sketches, very rough drafts. The characters in Lucha Libre (El Vampiro, Evil Caveman and El Cucuy, for example) are all hybrids of different real life luchadores (Mexican wrestlers) that I combined to create new characters. I will develop the look of the characters first, and then decide on the colors. Something like Zulema and the Witch Owl uses darker, more raw tones so as to add to the dark theme of the story.

Rene: Brandon: Can you tell us about your first teaching experience? Were you nervous? If so, how did you deal with it?
Xavier: I was nervous my first year, but that lasted about one week. Teaching is very fast-paced. Basically I got hired in September, so school had been going on already for three weeks. I was basically told, “Here’s your 130 students, and there’s a closet with supplies. Deal with it.” As such I had to adapt quick, but in the end it made me believe that I can handle any teaching situation that comes my way.

Rene: Last Question: Multiple Questioners: What came first, your teaching or your writing? Did one influence the other? When did you start writing? Any advice for younger would-be writers?
Xavier: The storytelling and the art came first. As a child I loved to draw. Give me a box of crayons and some paper bags and I was ready to go for a few hours. When I went to college I was going to get a degree in Art, but with teaching certification. The writing came about because several people recommended that I should write these stories down. I finally listened, but it was a long process. It took me nine years from when I began to write down my stories and my first book finally being published. I started to write when I was 24, but I was always a reader. I tell any aspiring writer to just keep writing and to never give up. If you believe in what you do, then it will eventually happen, so long as you don’t ever give up.

Rene: Xavier, thanks for giving us this hour of your day. It was very awesome hearing from an author whose works we've been exposed to in class. We wish you well and continued success. Rene.
Xavier: The pleasure was all mine, René. It was an honor to communicate with your students. Nos vemos pronto.


Check Out My Interview with Eric Ladau

Follow the link to hear my interview with Eric Ladau of Houston's KUHF/FM 88.5. Eric's been interviewing authors for sometime and it was my honor to hang out with him, be it over the phone, for the several minutes we got to talk. Be honest, though: I sound like a dork, right?



The Thriller: Mankell v. Deaver, Masterpiece Theater, etc.

So, my pastor and I took a trip to Sweden recently where he preached at my father-in-law's church and where we helped my dad-in-law work on the old family farm house on a farm called Texabo. On the way over I got to catch Firewall, an Inspector Kurt Wallander thriller, produced by and or for Masterpiece Theater on PBS. I was afraid I was going to miss all three televised stories based on Henning Mankell's novels. But go figure, there it was, showing on the mini-screen before me. It stars Kenneth Branaugh, and he does a fair job, though I've always pictured Wallander in a whole other way. Thicker, more pasty maybe, bigger. But still, a good film. Anyhow, for my reading on the way I took with me two Jeffery Deaver thrillers, The Broken Window and The Stone Monkey, both of which feature his most famous CSI guy, Lincoln Rhyme. They were both page-turners. The first is about identity theft, and the whole time I was away from home I feared that if I swiped my card in a foreign land that I'd be left with nothing in the bank account. But it's also about big brother and their multiple uses of all kinds of bits and pieces of our information. The second was about dissidents in China coming over to the U.S. illegally, and before they even land on our soil, there's an explosion, set off by the very person charged with bringing them over. It's a good story, and I preferred it to the first. But then I went to a book store in Sweden and found a collection of short stories called The Pyramid, by Henning Mankell that feature a younger Officer Wallander. In each story, years have passed and we get to see the young man become Inspector Wallander. I'm halfway through, but I can tell you this much, I prefer Mankell to Deaver (whose Devil's Teardrop comes closest to competing against Mankell's writing, which is more literary, deeper). Dennis Lehane is perhaps Mankell's counterpart in the States.

Thanks to the men and women in the U.S. military who've given their lives to ensure our present freedoms. Thanks also to their families.


Video Book Talks Blog, To Open Soon

Over the last few semesters, one of the highlights for me has been the video book talks that I've assigned my students. I get to hear and see what they have to say about what they're reading, and better than me getting to see and hear, I get to show them to others, and in turn they get to hear and see and hopefully pass them on to others readers in search of what title to pick up next. But I imagine that it's a bit of a hassle to go down every one of my students' links that I provide on this blog in hopes of finding a VBT you could use. So, I spoke with Dr. Katie Button in the College of Education here at Texas Tech, one of my mentors, and the person in charge for establishing and basically putting together TTU's Children's Literature Festival these past several years. Anyhow, she had set up a book talk session that we offered to students and colleagues and anyone who was interested once, maybe twice a semester. Though successful, they seem to have fallen by the wayside, and I attribute that to the inconveniences of life: would that none of us had work or studies or both, so that we could do nothing but read and talk about what we're reading, but alas, life rules. And overtakes these other important aspects of a person. So, we are putting the two together: a blog for childrens and YA video book talks. Mostly, initially, it'll be where my students upload their digital assignments, but the idea is for others to produce their own video book talks and submit them for consideration. My dream is that elementary, middle, and high school students, teachers, and librarians will also take part in the upkeep of this site. For my (very dorky) video welcome, visit http://www.chatandchewbooktalks.blogspot.com/.


Titles for My Summer 1 5351.001 Children's Lit

Following are the covers to the books I'll be using for my Children's Literature class this summer:


Texas Institute of Letters Awards Announced...

On April 18th, the Texas Institute of Letters named its award winners and runners-up. I was honored to serve and chair the Friends of the Austin Public Library Award for Best Children's Book and the Friends of the Austin Public Library Award for Best Young Adult Book committees, along with Jean Flynn and Bobbi Samuels. They made the work easy and fun. And thanks to TIL for the opportunity. To all of the authors and publishers who participated, thank you for the wonderful books that you are writing and publishing; our children and young adults will benefit greatly.

Here are the winners and runners-up:

In the Children's Book category,
the winner is
Benjamin Alire Saenz for his picture book A Perfect Season for Dreaming/Un tiempo perfecto para soñar, illustrated by Esau Andrade Valencia (Cinco Puntos Press).
The runners-up are
Ten-Gallon Bart and the Wild West Show by Susan S. Crummel
Join Hands by Pat Mora
Yellow Moon, Apple Moon by Pamela Porter
In the Young Adult Book category,
the winner is
Claudia Guadalupe Martinez for her first novel, The Smell of Old Lady Perfume (Cinco Puntos Press).

The runners-up are
Chicken Foot Farm by Anne Estevis
Birth of the Fifth Sun by Jo Harper (non-fiction)
My Life as a Rhombus by Varian Johnson


Just In, Literally

UPDATE (04/16/2009): In Book Fiesta, Mora sings the myriad ways kids read, and with whom and to whom, where, and in what languages. From sitting inside a whale's mouth with friends to lying out in the open alone, everyone of these kids are reading. And that's what ought be celebrated. The artwork by Rafael Lopez is classic: colorful, playful, and detailed. Included at the end is a history of how El dia del los niños/El dia de los libros started. Another success for this poet/illustrator combo.

* * *

Sitting at the table this morning, grading, I spied the postman walking up the ways to our front door, package in hand. I've ordered enough books over the years, and had others shipped by different publishers for review, to know it was a book he was going to drop off. I didn't know which one, because it was only last night, late, way past midnight even, that I placed an order for Gaines' Mozart and Leadbelly: Essays and Stories (to reread the essay by the same title, which has to do, in part, with the craft of writing), and so I knew it couldn't be it yet. Not even with the great work that Better World Books does. And I don't have other orders still outstanding.

Well, the good folks at HarperCollins sent me a review copy of Pat Mora's latest picture book. Artwork by one of my favorites, Rafael Lopez. The book's called Book Fiesta! Celebrate Children's Day/Book Day, a bilingual set up. I'm getting ready for work so I haven't had a chance to read it, but I will, and I'll post my review of it post haste. You're probably saying it would've taken me the time it took me to read the book as it's taken me to write this pre-review post, but whatever. I'll get it done.


A Solid Read!!! Matt de la Peña's Next

Though it's not due out until October of this year, I was able to get my grubby hands on Matt's upcoming novel for teens, We Were There (Delacorte Press/Random House). I've been a long time fan of Matt's work, dating back to that day browsing the Teen shelves in the Barnes & Noble in McAllen TX. But if I'm gonna be up front about this, I have to say that when I first saw the Spanish surname, and then saw that he was being published by Random House, my own publisher, I didn't want to spend the bucks on this book, this Ball Don't Lie novel. I think it had to do with me being jealous of the guy, who I'd never met, didn't want to meet. Or maybe it had to do with my wanting to be the house's only Latino YA male writer (though I know there are more than just Matt and me, but I was blinded, maybe?). Or whatever. Maybe I didn't have the cash on me at the time, and then the next time I came in I forgot that he was even there.

Eventually I did get to meet the guy, in San Antonio, and Adrienne Waintraub at RH must've sent me a copy of Ball Don't Lie, then in paperback already, so that I could, if I wanted to (fat chance! right? knowing what you know about my feelings described above) be up on other folks who'd be attending either TLA or NCTE. She also sent me copies of Dana Reinhardt's first two titles. All I'm saying is, I shouldn't've read his book, man. Because if I hadn't I wouldn't've been so kicking myself on the backside for not having read him before getting a free copy from AW, and I wouldn't've been thinking, Okay, I might want to meet the guy who wrote this novel. And then I did meet the dude, and it turns out he's an awesome guy to boot. Real buena gente, I'd call him back in deep South Texas, good people, and real, as in a lot and authentic both. Back then he was talking about his next book that he was working on, this Mexican WhiteBoy manuscript that he was excited about because he would be exploring some stuff about race, ethnicity, language, being and not being a part of a culture, and the like. I'm happy we hit it off.

We've met again a couple times at different functions, and always it's great to hear him talk about his writing, his work teaching, what he's reading. And about his life. And I tell him about my wife and boys, what I'm reading, my teaching, etc. And the last time we met, fall 2008 for NCTE, again in San Anto, he told me about this new book of his. He said, first, that it would be so very different from what he'd already done in the first two books. Not a sports-based story (though there is some hoops in this one too, but not as a backdrop like in the first two). Dealing with others sorts of struggles. I didn't get much in the way of plot, or character, or even the process. He did joke that he kept the language cleaner in this book than in the first two. (It came up because I've told him that his use of graphic language is what is keeping his books out of the classroom across the country; I'm a teacher in Texas, a teacher of teachers, I know). And I got no clue what he meant by "keeping it cleaner than the other two," because language again will be an issue. But I'll tell you this much, the characters are so very compelling, the story itself (though seemingly nothing is happening except for three group home kids escape, making off with the group home's petty cash fund, and head south to Mexico) is very moving. I grow to feel for these boys who I'd maybe normally dismiss if I saw them walking down the hallway at school where I used to teach, or down the ways at the mall. Boys I'd like to avoid because trouble is very much written in their faces, in their struts as they saunter down the breezeway, in their flat nothing looks as they pass you by. Trouble-makers, who cares about them? Well, Matt makes you care about them. Makes me, anyhow. And hopefully you, too. And, it's a book like this one that will so appeal to young men today who are facing similar struggles as Miguel, Rondell, and Mong. Maybe not to the same extent or in the same way, but kids looking for a way, not a way out, but a way to someplace different where they can move forward. And Matt's writing, in general, is the kind of writing that high school teachers can feel comfortable teaching in an English class because it is writing that blows away any kind of categorization. That is, some teachers might feel iffy about teaching YA lit because it's this or that. Not Matt's stuff. It's got the makings of becoming canonical. Lasting.

Maybe I'm saying all this because I did read the dude way back when I got a book of his for free, or because I've met him and we've become friends, or maybe because it's the solid truth that I'm telling. Whatever, I'm saying so. So there! It's the book to look for this year.


The First Review: Kirkus Reviews!

April 15, 2009

Saldaña Jr., René
A Mickey Rangel Mystery, P.I./Colección Mickey Rangel, Detective Privado
Illus. by Giovanni Mora
Carolina Villarroel

Mickey Rangel, a sweet, intuitive and smart fifth-grade student, faces the challenges of his first case as an amateur detective: the theft of an elegant pen, engraved with the White House logo and the President’s signature, a gift to classmate Eddy from his senator father. The pen has gone missing from Miss Garza’s classroom. The prime suspect: the gorgeous and distant Toots Rodríguez, Mickey’s secret love and his enemy’s girlfriend, who appeals to Mickey to clear her name. As it often happens in the best mystery stories, Mickey comes to the unexpected solution of the enigma with the help of a mysterious “angel,” who leaves him an anonymous message. This bilingual chapter-book edition, the first in a series of Mickey Rangel Mysteries, will engage intermediate readers in both languages, English and Spanish, and offers multiple possibilities for school projects, group discussions and read-aloud sessions. Villarroel’s well-crafted translation into Spanish maintains the suspense and humor of the original English version, narrated by Mickey in fine, hard-boiled style. Mora’s illustrations add a refreshing touch, effectively breaking up the text in this appealing introduction. (Mystery. 8-12)


Slaps on the Backs of Cool People

Special thanks to Katie M., Delia, and Maria for volunteering yesterday, Saturday morning and all day actually, at the Mother/Daughter function in the College of Education. I had a great time doing my part, and I hope they did as well. I hope the best for the moms and daughters who showed up as well. Maybe we can start a book club involving some of these families. Fingers crossed.

The Case of the Pen Gone Missing: A Mickey Rangel Mystery

So, here is the cover for sure this time. It looks awesome. The bilingual chapter book will be out in May of 2009. Soon. Ya merito.

I'm also working on a revision of a novel my editor's looked at and sent five pages worth of notes on.

And on getting a collection of stories, selected and new, to a really cool indie publisher in Texas.

And researching conjunto music to keep working on another novel I've got going.

And another publisher in Texas is looking at a novel too.

So it's a busy time.

Oh, and this Tuesday evening, my students at Texas Tech are meeting with graphic novelist Dwight MacPherson in a chatroom sponsored by ALAN. It's open to whoever wants to show up for the hour-long event, but try to read his KID HOUDINI & THE SILVER DOLLAR MISFITS so you can participate fully. Check out his blog as well, posted below in another entry to check out all he's up to. To join the chat, follow the links posted on ALAN's website, also posted below. 9-10PM EST/8-9PM CST.


Can't Wait to Read, Etc.

You've got to know I'm a big fan of Matt de la Peña in the writing world and without. He's a very cool and hep cat (and obviously I'm not for using such language in public, but whatever, it's my blog and not yours--he he he), and soon, he promises me, I'll be getting an advanced copy of his next novel for teen readers: We Were Here (Delacorte). I'd also like to watch the movie based on his first book, Ball Don't Lie (Delacorte). If for no other reason than to catch his stretching what should've been a few seconds into several. I understand from reviews of it that it's a solid flick. To read an interview with Matt, find a copy of MultiCultural Review (Vol. 18, No. 1; Winter 2009). I'll see if I can get permission to post it on here.


Kid Houdini and the Silver Dollar Misfits, a graphic novel

by Dwight MacPherson

First, check out Dwight's blog at http://dwightmacpherson.wordpress.com/. He's the author of one of the coolest graphic novels aimed at the young struggling reader, though I'd also have high school-aged struggling readers pick it up, it's that good. As a matter of fact, I like the book so much that I've asked him to do an author book chat with my students, and he's agreed. Another cool thing is that C.J. Bott, through ALAN (that is, Assembly on Literature for Adolescents/NCTE) is setting up the chat, and will likely open up the chat to folks interested in Adolescent literature, graphic novels/comic books, or MacPherson himself. Check out ALAN's site for updates: http://www.alan-ya.org/. Also check out C.J.'s very informative book on bullying in YA literature titled The Bully in the Book and in the Classroom (Scarecrow Press, 2004) and its more recent follow-up, More Bullies in More Books (Scarecrow Press, (forthcoming) June 2009).


Reading Life

Just finished Give a Boy a Gun by Todd Strasser. The story is compelling. It's a challenge to write about violence in the schools, especially gun violence, especially after so many instances of school shootings. Even the way it's told (short snippets of either written or oral interviews from various perspectives) wasn't a distraction. As a matter of fact, I think this sort of distancing from the main characters (in this case, the "shooters") helps tell the hard story. My concern is that the story is weakened by the obvious anti-gun sentiment as expressed in the footnotes. Sure, the studies have shown all this stuff that is quoted in articles and books, but it seems skewed to me. That a shooter trained for a summer with the Boy Scouts how to shoot targets then ends up pointing that weapon at humans later is factual, but where are the countless other stories untold of the many more thousands of Boy Scouts who go through the same training, have access to guns, and don't kill with them? It is not in the access and ownership where the problem lies, nor in the production and importing of said weapons, but in the person. True, no amount of training will help a kid not point it at another human with ill will when he's aiming to anyway. Same as with sex ed: no matter how much we tell kids about unwanted pregnancies and STDs, and how to prevent them, girls still get pregnant, boys get girls pregnant, and STDs are passed from one to another. I'm not saying there aren't things we can do to keep school shootings from happening, but there has to be more than saying guns are bad.


Valentine's Day Book Sale

The Friends of the Library in Lubbock have done it again, they've sponsored another successful book sale. This one on Saturday, Feb. 14. Doors opened at 9AM. My wife and youngest boy were there at 8:30 and Lukas and I went to church to pray with some of the men. Then I dropped Lukas off at around 10:10, and a friend and I went to dump an upright piano we'd found for free at a garage sale. It was fun to see the huge front loader take it up and drop it, mostly in pieces now, into the oversized bin. Then I set out to meet the family at the book sale at Mahon. Here's a list of what I got (I'm not even going to try to list even a quarter of what my wife and boys got):

Seedfolks by Paul Fleischman (pbk)
Give a Boy a Gun by Todd Strasser (pbk)
Gothic! Ten Original Dark Tales, edited by Deborah Noyes (hdbk)
The Truth or Something by Jeanne Willis (hdbk)
American Eyes: New Asian-American Short Stories for Young Adults, edited by Lori M. Carlson (hdbk)
Sky by Roderick Townley (hdbk)
Claws by Will Weaver (hdbk)
Sammy & Juliana in Hollywood by Benjamin Alire Sáenz


Humble ISD's Teen Lit Fest '09: Expression!

Okay, as if it wasn't just about the coolest hanging out with Terry Trueman, Sonya Sones, Gail Giles, Neal Shusterman, Deb Caletti, Judson Roberts, and Cortnee Howard, throw in some very cool and hip middle and high school librarians (from Texas! Whooeee!), an auditorium full of young adult readers, and you've got yourself a party. And cooler yet: each author was assigned one of the district's school mascots (I walked alongside a colt and a mustang), then we did a panel Q&A session first thing: a modified Inside the Actor's Studio, where we were asked various questions and each of us gave our answers: questions were student-supplied. Then we went our separate ways to our break out sessions. Like I've done before, my breakout session was sitting side by side with Terry Trueman, entertaining student questions. He's the funny man, to my straightman bit. And he is hilarious! At least this time he didn't spill his bottle of water on me. Three sessions like that, then a signing, and a great dinner. Great conversation on top of that later that evening, and getting to read Sonya Sones' Stop Pretending on my flight home: not a bad way to end an already fantastic weekend! (An aside: next time you see Sonya, ask her to tell the story about her pen; what a find!)


Be There or Be Square!

Texas Tech University's Fifth Annual College of Education Literature Festival is quickly approaching: Feb. 29. Some very awesome authors are coming to visit with our students: Monica Brown, Amjed Qamar, and Dana Reinhardt. For more details: http://www.educ.ttu.edu/edll/fifthliteraturefestival/