Friday
Jan202017

Anticipating Book Festival

Winding down the last day of the Fay B. Kaigler Book Festival each year leaves a mixture of fatigue (three back-to-back days at least twelve hours long) and wistfulness (another whole year before it can be repeated). It’s the replacement of my childhood anticipation of Christmas and birthday celebrations.

I’ve learned a lesson from those childhood events. I know not to start thinking about the next one immediately because the wait gets too long. The trick is knowing when to begin anticipation again since a certain amount of expectancy carries its own enjoyment.

I got this year’s “Save the Date” brochure for April 5-7, 2017 before Christmas. Despereaux runs across the front with his needle and red thread. From a favorite book, The Tale of Despereaux, the little mouse presages the awarding of the Southern Miss medallion to a favorite author, Kate DiCamillo, at this year’s festival. Still, December to April forms a wearying distance to begin anticipation. I put the card on the bulletin board and the event out of my mind – well, mostly.

This week, I woke up from a dream where I scurried around at the book festival, looking for the people I needed to get to the next luncheon, stopping to meet old friends, and answering questions from new attendees along the way. I decided it was time to anticipate.

I invite you to look with me. Authors and illustrators share their publication paths, which are never the same; their strengths and frailties as human beings; and their passions, with similarities that may end with their dedication to book-lovers. Workshops galore combine information on trends and issues for librarians and readers, fun experiences to carry home and share with children by vivacious presenters, and previews of new books with hints on using them to engage children. Awards abound. The Kaigler-Lamont award for an outstanding school librarian, and the Magnolia Children’s Choice Awards, children’s selections of their favorite books, are bookended by the prestigious Southern Miss Medallion for an experienced writer’s body of work and the Ezra Jack Keats New Writer and New Illustrator Awards for those beginning their careers.

For longtime attendees, the best part of the festival may be renewal of friendships formed with people first met while standing in line for a favorite author’s signature, lunch companions from years past who circled the round tables for lively book talk, or former USM students who helped with the festival as part of their coursework returning now as librarians and professors.

If any of this appeals to you, go to www.usm.edu/childrens-book-festival for more information. Helpful hint: If you can only come one day, make it Thursday.

Monday
Jan162017

The Amazing Age of John Roy Lynch

On rare occasions in the publishing world, an author and illustrator connect as friends and collaborators. Such is the case of Chris Barton and Don Tate, the author and illustrator of The Amazing Age of John Roy Lynch, who live in Austin, Texas. The book begins, “John Roy Lynch had an Irish father and an enslaved mother. By the law of the South before the Civil War, that made John Roy and his brother half Irish and all slave.”

In the picture book biography, John Roy’s story begins at his birth to the free Irish overseer who intended to buy freedom for his slave wife and children but died before he could accomplish his goal. Instead of becoming free when he was two, John Roy’s life moves from one slave situation to another, through his difficult early life as a free man, and on to his ultimate role as a United States Representative.

Representative Lynch's quote in the book, “When every man, woman, and child can feel and know that his, her, and their rights are fully protected by the strong arm of a generous and grateful Republic, then we can all truthfully say that this beautiful land of ours, over which the Star Spangled Banner so triumphantly waves is, in truth and in fact, the ‘land of the free and the home of the brave,’ ” makes this an appropriate read for Martin Luther King Day.

Both the author and illustrator notes express regret that so little is known about the days of Reconstruction. Their back matter includes a historical note, a timeline, both author’s and illustrator’s notes, possibilities for further reading, and graphic maps. This book with its lively text and illustrations recounts the true story of one man who experienced going from a teenaged field slave to U. S. Congressman in ten years’ time. It helps shine a light on a little known period of American history and on the promise and potential in the American people.

Friday
Jan132017

Mixed Messages

I can almost watch the long “To-Do” list growing as it waits. My mother instilled a work ethic long ago that said pleasure comes only after all the chores are done. Most of the time, that’s not a bad idea.

But sometimes, another admonition that I did not get from her, “Take time to smell the roses,” calls out to me. On a recent cold winter afternoon, I sat in front of my fire surrounded by writing paraphernalia, but drawn to the hazy view of the bird feeders out the window. Dreary gray skies had the forecasters hinting of possible snow. (Ha! This is South Mississippi. All we got were a few spectacular icicles.)

The birds seemed to be aware and began stocking their equivalent of bread and milk. Had they heard the forecast? I’d refilled the nyger seed for the finches who waited no more patiently than three-year-olds for a turn at their feeder. A swarm of cardinals behaved better and made room for a couple of mourning doves at their two feeders while the overflow crowd pecked around at the nyger seed the little birds had scattered on the patio. One mama cardinal found a post on the patio chair between feedings to fluff out her feathers and get warm.

There lay my temptation – the entertainment of stopping to watch the birds jockey for space to feed or taking care of the long “To-Do” list? I’m a bit different from my mother in thinking that smelling the roses ranks closely with and sometimes takes precedence over getting the list finished. Maybe I could satisfy both. If I could get a blog out of it . . .

Monday
Jan092017

Pax

Sara Pennypacker prefaces her middle grade novel Pax with a quote that foreshadows the vagueness of her setting, “Just because it isn’t happening here doesn’t mean it isn’t happening.” The setting is war and could be anytime, anyplace. Into this setting, comes the mutual love of the boy Peter and his pet fox Pax.

Trouble comes when Peter’s father, his only living parent, enlists in the military. He lets Peter know there will be no place for the fox out in the country where he takes him to live with his grandfather. He drops the fox off by the side of the road. There’s a sense of the father getting rid of both to go to war.

Peter strikes out the next morning from his grandfather’s house planning to retrace the three hundred miles to find his fox. As if this did not seem impossible enough, he breaks his foot shortly into the journey. The hermit Vola, suffering herself from post-traumatic stress syndrome, helps him cope, shares some helpful philosophy, and teaches him to navigate with crutches before she makes a connection with a bus driver who will help him cover much of the mileage back.

In the meantime, Pax, who has never had to forage for himself in the wild, is taken in and instructed by a family of wild foxes. The story switches back and forth between Peter and Pax with the war an ever-present obstacle for both of them. She calls the humans, who turn on each other, the “war-sick.” Tension builds for both the boy and the fox as she leaves Peter and Pax alternately at the end of a chapter to switch to the other with the reader apprehensive that no satisfying ending is possible.

Pax will keep one from drifting off to sleep and will linger in one’s mind after the final page is finished. It is an excellent book for reading and discussing between middle graders and their parents or grandparents or in a classroom, particularly for the effects of war on children, animals, and nature. Perhaps one of the discussion questions could be whether that satisfying ending ever comes.

Friday
Jan062017

Revision as Solace

I love finding a quote which makes me wish I had said that. From Poets and Writers, Nov./Dec. 2016 issue, Paul Hertneky, author of Rust Belt Boy, said, “Revision became my solace, my drug of choice, the only activity that could make me feel better.”

I can’t remember when I first discovered that the struggle was getting the first draft down, and the fun began with rewriting. I had never thought to equate revision with solace or a drug of choice, but I know well the satisfaction of becoming wrapped up in whittling a writing until less becomes more.

My first major work with an editor came with a letter that was neither an acceptance nor a rejection. The letter from Highlights for Children recounted an editorial meeting that produced a list of nine questions or issues for the article I had submitted. At the end, the editor apologized for the two long pages of notes but invited me to work on it and submit it again if I liked. I answered the questions, which were easy, and put on my revision hat. After a bit more back and forth with the editor as we improved the piece, it was accepted and published.

My most recent response from a submission came from an editor who had read my whole manuscript and listed about four elements in the middle grade novel that needed attention with suggestions about why they didn’t work for her. Her critique made sense. Back I went to a place and people I had come to love when I first wrote the book. I found not only solace, but excitement as I tweaked and supplemented the areas she found lacking. With no promises from the editor for anything other than another read, I found the joy of revision satisfying as I added depth to the characters and elements that filled holes in the story line.

So, when does revision come to an end? Like sopping up the dab of gravy in the corner of a plate with last bit of biscuit, the end comes for me when all I can think to do is switch “the” to “a” and back again.

Of course, there’s always the possibility that my submission will go to a wise editor with fresh eyes who sees something I’ve missed. In that case, bring on the drug of revision.