News Flash!

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For all our wonderful and loyal followers, we have a News Flash for you!

The Scriblerians have opened up a new site!

http://www.scriblerians.com   (click on book reviews to subscribe)

We will still post here, but we are hoping you will check out our brand new idea for the literary world. Here is a description of who we are and what we will be providing.

About the Scriblerians

The Scriblerians is a group of nine authors and critique partners who write for student readers. We agree that our target audience is not the students, per se, but their parents, teachers, and librarians. We want to nurture relationships with those adults who make book-purchasing decisions for their student readers by providing an essential service to them.

We want to provide reviews for books, especially those written for the Middle Grade and Young Adult markets, evaluating both content and literary quality.

This will help us recommend engaging, well-written books and offer discussion questions for popular books that may include questionable content for a Christian-worldview reader.

 

Here is an excerpt from of a critique done by Loraine Kemp.

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A Monster Calls by Patrick Ness is a bittersweet teen fiction about a boy struggling to come to terms with his mother’s serious illness.

Synopsis:

Connor, a twelve-year-old-boy, is faced with unbelievable stress – a dying mother, a father who has split from the family, a recurrent nightmare, a domineering grandmother, and bullies at school. Then, a monster visits. But this monster, which Connor initially believes is just a dream, insists that Connor “called” him. Between dealing with the above problems, Connor must listen to the monster’s stories that force him to confront his anger, confusion, and frustrations. And at the end of the monster’s three tales, Connor is forced to reciprocate by describing his nightmare – a story of truth, and the root of his depression and anxiety.

 

For the rest of the post including pros, cons, and general impression, hop over to our site http://www.scriblerians.com

Again, to subscribe, click book reviews and plunk away. We would love to see you there!

 

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Skellig

Written by David Almond

                                                          skellig

“I thought he was dead. He was sitting with his legs stretched out and his head tipped back against the wall. He was covered with dust and webs like everything else and his face was thin and pale. Dead bluebottles were scattered on his hair and shoulders. I shined the flashlight on his white face and his black suit.”

Michael has reluctantly moved across town to a new house. His baby sister is very ill and his parents are devastated and distracted, leaving Michael depressed and without his old friends. Exploring the overgrown yard, he ventures into a dilapidated garage. He discovers, under cobwebs and dead insects, a strange creature that resembles a weak old man named Skellig. He is such a pathetic being that Michael starts to take care of him. When Michael meets a neighbour, Mina, and he introduces her to Skellig. They move the winged creature to a safer place and take care of him until he starts to gain strength. Michael wonders if Skellig is part angel. Desperately hoping his sister survives a heart operation, Michael tells the creature about her. During the baby’s operation, Michael is sure she has died, but the baby lives, and the mom describes a vivid dream she had in the hospital of a winged creature visiting the baby before the operation. Skellig disappears but the healthy baby arrives home and the family is whole again.

Pros: The cover attracted me first, but soon the lyrical prose drew me in to the characters and the mystery of what and who Skellig was. Was it human, bird, angel or all of the above? The book is very clearly written from a boy’s perspective and voice, and rings genuine. Michael’s family is going through a lot of tension with the baby’s illness, and the mental anguish they are all going through is palpable. But the theme of the power of love carries through to the very satisfying end.

Cons: Michael and Mina associated with this strange human-like creature and hid this fact from their parents, so parents of younger children would have to remind them to never talk to strangers.

Personal Opinion: This is a very well written book with mystery, good character development and suspense, but more than that, Skellig can appeal to both YA and MG readers on different levels. The adventure of finding a mysterious creature in a scary place would appeal to the younger crowd and the lyrical prose and deeper themes would appeal to the older crowd. Skellig has won two awards and was nominated for five more, so this should give readers an idea of how popular the book has been. And I would agree wholeheartedly with their assessments. I highly recommend this book.

Discussion points for parents and teachers:

MG:

  • There are many friendships. Find and discuss three.
  • Michael was very unhappy in the beginning. How did Skellig help him feel better?

YA:

  • Themes are recurrent in the book, like love and nurturing, connections, death, and spiritualism. Choose two and elaborate.
  • The lyrical prose is different from many books. Describe the difference.

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How to Come Down from a Conference High

Tim, Lisa, Kathrese, & I just returned from Realm Makers. Next month a couple of others will be attending the ACFW conference. ‘Tis the (conference) season. So what do you do when you get home to come down from the conference high?

If you’re lucky, your firstborn will start football and junior high while your second born starts the “big kids'” elementary school. Bonus if it’s the junction of first of the month (status reports) and critical project milestones. Nothing like the outside world to pierce your enthusiasm like an arrow through a hot air balloon.

Even if your week is a bit nuts and especially if you have time to ease back in, do a few things to keep the spirit alive.

1. Post pictures on social media

You get to see the conference all over again. Also it allows you to tag people while your memory is fresh. This helps keep you in the loop.

2. Post highlights on social media

Same reason and purpose as above. If time is limited, set specific times or do this when you have down time.

3. Blog about it

Yes, everyone and their mascots will be writing them too. You may not get many views but then again you might. If nothing else, you have a record of your time there.

4. Make a to do list

Did you have appointments? If so, follow up with the materials each person requested. If the person you met with wasn’t interested, send a thank you anyway. They took their time to meet with you. It never hurts to be gracious.

Gather the business cards you received and enter them into your contacts list. Correspond with anyone who might not have your information. Organize your class notes.

You’re all rejuvenated and ready to write. Set goals and get to work. That’s why you spent the money to go.

Now I’m off to fill out permission slips and emergency contact forms.

What is it about Star Wars?

Star Wars: The Force Awakens. The title alone is enough to stir excitement in even the most complacent person. This Christmas season we are treated with the much awaited addition to the popular franchise!

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As a science fiction/fantasy writer and Star Wars obsessor, I’m fascinated with what is causing the masses to flock to the theatres to take in the newest instalment in the franchise. Even after a couple disappointments with a few of the earlier Star Wars movies (Jar Jar Binks? Seriously?), I’m as loyal as any other Star Wars Fan. I have booked my seat for this Sunday and will be spending outrageous amounts for popcorn and a drink like everyone else.

Let’s take a look at the new captains at the helm.

J.J. Abrams (born in 1966) was a very impressionable 11-year-old when the first Star Wars movie came out. When he became a movie producer, his love for action and science fiction was obvious, taking into account a few of his movies in the past: Armageddon (1998), Mission Impossible (2006) and the Star Trek movies (2009 and 2013). He was also the co-creator of several t.v. drama series including Lost (2004 – 2010), and Fringe (2005 – 2013). He was nominated for seven Emmy awards, winning two for Lost. A rather successful young man, to say the least.

Then there’s Disney, no less! They bought the franchise from Lucas Films in 2012, and have thrown millions to promote this blockbuster, which Lucas Films and J.J. Abram’s company, Bad Robot, produced. Already the movie has received high ratings: Roger Ebert – 3.5/4. Rotten Tomatoes – 97%. The film is predicted to rake in over a billion dollars!

What I like about it is that J.J. Abrams took the same recipe that made the first movie incredibly popular, reshaped it a little, then added a few new faces who are similar to our first beloved characters. You have the resistance-affiliated droid (BB 8) carrying important information, stranded in the desert destined to meet the ‘nobody’ character (Ray) who is also jedi-obsessed. Instant chemistry, right? The galaxy is in disarray with two growing armies, the resistance and an evil army, headed for a war. There is non-stop action, a smattering of swashbuckling humour, and even our favourites, Han Solo, Chewie and Leia are there, ready to take us on a ride again!

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So, aside from the fact that the guys in charge are worth their salt and are using the same time-tested formula again, you have a movie with many popular elements that have been used forever (mythology/hero’s journey, epic characters, inspiring futuristic sci/fi). Stunning CGI from beginning to end, glues you to your seat, and an equally amazing orchestral score from the genius, John Williams, provides more for the senses to submerge you into the atmosphere and story. Complex and thought provoking issues like totalitarian rule, segregation, slavery, racism, gender equality spice it up.  And then you get a happy ending where the good guys win despite the incredible odds against them. We have also been long fascinated with the possibility of life beyond our stars, and here it is, with crazy creatures, liveable atmospheres on many planets and ways to get there and back in a nanosecond. What’s not to like?

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So why am I over-the-top excited about this movie? It takes me back to being a kid again, and who doesn’t love that? I’m eager to jump back on the emotional and visual roller coaster I’ve experienced in the past and will likely go back to see it again a few times, (more than my kids, I’ll wager).

So… are you going to the new Star Wars movie? Why or why not?

 

 

 

 

 

The Giver – And More

The-GiverLois Lowry’s Newbery Medal winner The Giver has been part of the literature curriculum in both Christian schools where I have spent my teaching career. Years ago, I had read the book and found it disturbing, but intriguing. It lacked a true resolution. Even though my natural optimism held high hopes for Jonas and Gabe, I would never know for sure. I hate making up my own ending. I want to know what the author had in mind.
Oh. There’s a Book Two?

Actually, Lowry wrote a quartet.

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Our English teacher graciously loaned me all four books. I started over with The Giver, and then read the next three as though they were one huge volume.
Satisfying. Very satisfying.
Gathering Blue introduces the new main characters of Kira and Matt who seem to have no connection to The Giver until the last three pages. It still leaves us hanging since Kira cannot have her heart’s desire.
Messenger continues with Kira and Matty, and we only get a few clues regarding any connection to the quartet’s original title. While Book Three hints at a better future, it also ends in sorrow, and we know there’s got to be more.
Finally, in the last section of the fourth novel, Son, Jonas and Gabe reappear, nothing hidden, and we can see what Lowry intended all along.

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art by Thomas Kinkade

All four tales can be read as stand-alones, but string them together, and the final novel weaves every thread of the previous stories into a tapestry of God’s love. Which is an odd thing to say, because like A Wrinkle in Time, whose message is similar, the word “Jesus” is never mentioned.
For that specific reason, The Giver and its companions are controversial in some Christian circles. Schools use it as a study in types of government since it so closely parallels communist societies. Students in Christian schools are challenged to consider the spiritual insights in the book.

We are free to interpret the series, as well as each individual novel, as we wish. Isn’t that what makes a great book? Like art, classic literature doesn’t dictate; it leaves room for discussion. Do any other classic books for tweens and teens come to mind that lead to lively debates?

 

How far is too far?

And no, this time I’m not talking about boundaries for expressing physical affection or promoting saving sex for marriage. Plenty of discussion about that on my “Waiting Matters… Because YOU Matter” blog.christian-fiction-2

What I’ve been wondering is this: Are there places that Christian fiction shouldn’t go? Are there subjects too taboo to make an appearance in a work of fiction considered “Christian”? What is absolutely, positively, without question off-limits? And I’m mostly questioning subject matter rather than the inclusion or exclusion of profanity.

Now I want to be perfectly upfront. The tagline I’ve adopted for my fiction writing career is:

Realistic Contemporary YA Fiction — The Unflinching Realities

And I already mentioned my blog that very candidly addresses abstinence and renewed abstinence so it’s safe to say I don’t shy away from tough subjects or touchy issues. My philosophy about such things can be summed up like this –

The world never misses an opportunity to discuss issues of a “mature subject matter” and neither should Christians. Sin and its consequences are a reality. So are difficult decisions. Jesus’ power and presence are the answer to both.

So you may be wondering what’s up with the “how far is too far?” question. Actually, I’m wondering the same thing myself. You see I normally engage in conversations promoting more grit, more edge, more reality in Christian fiction. But I suddenly find myself asking “When is enough enough?”

file000739253401I’m reviewing a manuscript for an acquaintance who’s wondering if his story “goes too far”, whether the premise will be offensive to Christians. While the premise is interesting, the question “But why write a story about THIS?” keeps spinning through my brain, like a coyote circling a cluster of Conestoga wagons bedded down for the night. Does this go too far?

It’s gritty and edgy to be sure. But maybe it’s the “reality” part I’m struggling with as the story is clearly speculative fiction, taking place in a “what if?” world that sprouts from a ghastly, if interesting, premise. Do we really need a story about this? Even as I ponder my own reaction to the story, a chill creeps over me as the real-life events of the past several months play through my mind.

A year ago did we have any real clue the dark path our country and our world would be headed down? Did we have any grasp of the hatred and persecution that would be directed toward Christians and traditional values? Maybe what concerns me about this story is that its other-worldly reality isn’t as far of a stretch as I’d like to think, especially considering recent events.

I’ll admit “But why?” is a question I find myself asking a lot—and not just about fiction storylines. I have a curious naturfare in general. But I really want to know the “But why?” behind this story. I’m trying to decide if I need/want to know the answer WHILE I’m reading or wait until I finish.

Now, back to my original questions: “How far is too far?” and “When is enough enough?”

I’d love to hear your thoughts!