FAMILIARITY DOESN’T ALWAYS BREED CONTEMPT

credit to neilcommonplacebook.wordpress.com

credit to neilcommonplacebook.wordpress.com

 

Derwood, Inc. by Jeri Massi. My all-time favorite novel to teach my fifth-graders. For eleven years straight Derwood, Inc. was one component of the literature curriculum in my Christian school.
Now, I am NOT a person who despises change. I thrive on change. If I had to stay with the same text for three years straight, I searched for ways to tweak lesson plans and make them better. Make them more applicable. More fun. NOT BORING. Because everyone knows the old adage,

Credit to zazabong.blogsopot.com

Credit to zazabong.blogsopot.com

Derwood never got boring. Jeri Massi’s story is both hilarious and serious, absurd and real. Every year the antics of the Peabody kids were a new thrill for my students and a much-anticipated reading class for me. More than once, as we read chapters out loud, we would literally ROFL. Well, not the teacher.
The book stars Penny and Jack Derwood, the two oldest of a blended family. Together they make a great kid-comedy team rivaling Abbott and Costello. Stir in three more siblings, a gang of bullies, and an international crime ring, and you have a recipe titled, “Don’t Stop. Read the Next Chapter.” By the end of the book, the characters have grown in their Christian faith while the reader never feels captive to a sermon.
You’ll delve into dangerous mysteries to be solved, yet even in the darkest moments a giggle may slip out of you. You’ll listen to Jack’s crazy stories knowing full well they are absolute figments of his imagination – but little brother Freddy doesn’t know that. There are bad guys who are really bad and bad guys who turn into good guys and good guys who maybe aren’t as good as you thought.

peaches
From a fifty-ton-mile-long octopus to a near-lethal can of peaches, Jeri Massi keeps you highly entertained and on the edge of your seat. Not only did she write a wonderful work of entertainment, she did it five more times. There are six books in the Peabody Kids series.
Unfortunately, Derwood, Inc. is no longer in print. After a search of several websites, I found editions may be purchased for as little as thirty-nine cents and as much as a thousand dollars! Four to nine dollars seemed the average for a used copy. My own library doesn’t carry the book (shame on them!), and I’d share mine, but it’s so tattered I have to keep taping in the pages!
In addition, BJUPress published a guide which teaches children how to write a good story. It sets up exercises to practice creating characters, using the five senses in descriptive writing, and planning a stair-step approach to build tension in the plot.

 

Q: You’ve been hunting for a new favorite in middle grade humor?

A: Derwood, Inc. Ready, set, read!

The Art of Self-Deception – Part I

I don’t know exactly when it started. Years ago, maybe, when the volume of commitments almost equaled my available time. What was I doing? Nothing extraordinary.

  • Full-time job and daily commute. Check.
  • Caring for my parents. Another check.
  • Evenings with my husband and children, followed by writing several pages on my WIP. Double checks.
  • Weekends for congregation & worship, errands, keeping house, and helping my family grow a vineyard. Quadruple checks.

Raise your hand if these sound like you.

Launching my first novel was a thrilling experience last year, but it edged me into a time deficit. Did I care? Not really. It simply proved that the harder I worked, the more successful I could be. I still believed everything on my schedule was necessary and could only be done by me… a deception that took root in the void of No Free Time.

My smartphone came to the rescue—calendars, lists, online shopping, alarm reminders, apps for reading the Scriptures, email and social media—and enabled me to become uber efficient. Addicted to my smartphone’s super hero qualities, I became the puppet, and it became the master.

In the spring of 2013, a health crisis brought my Figure Eight laps to a screeching halt. Curled up in bed in a fog of pain, I couldn’t tolerate lights or sounds—even conversations, and I had difficulty pulling my thoughts together and formulating words. My computer and phone lay idle for the first time in years.

pulse-traceAn unpleasant surprise greeted me after I emerged from my cocoon, not as a colorful butterfly, but as a wounded moth. No longer able to breeze through complex tasks, any small thing now required effort, time, and multiple re-do’s. In 2014, following another hospitalization, a team of doctors diagnosed me with an incurable, debilitating disease. Forced to cut back on work, my Type A personality rebelled, believing that non-productivity was tantamount to failure.

During the holiday season, I finally admitted I was not improving. When I reluctantly asked my family for assistance around the house, they blew away another dangerous deception. They gave me unconditional love even though I couldn’t do everything I’d done before, and they happily—yes, happily—stepped in to help. To my amazement, they expressed gratitude that I would allow them to come along side. When I confided to my friends I discovered they didn’t shun my weakness either, but rallied around me.

Self-reflecting in this new year of 2015, I’ve found the courage to ask questions.

Why was I doing all these things? Love-certainly, but did a deeper need for validation drive me even harder?

Was it the perfectionist in me or because I feared a loss of love or respect if I wasn’t Superwoman 24/7?

Did I hope to earn the Lord’s approval by being a good person?

Examining my heart for the truth will be a challenging hike over mountain terrain, but I believe the answers will come, along with breathtaking views.
hiker on mountain
Are you too busy to reflect on your inner self instead of how you are fulfilling expectations? What tasks are you doing that could be borne by others?

My Creativity is Like a Pot of Soup…

“The next person who drags me away from this room is going to bear the brunt of my very focused wrath!”

Such was my warning to all in my household after the holidays had let a thick layer of dust gather on my keyboard. My family just chuckled and went about their business. But at least I was allowed an hour or two of uninterrupted writing and illustrating. I had to work on a manuscript, get a blog entry sorted out, do some critiques, prepare a few school presentations, and continue working on an illustration project. Upcoming deadlines felt like someone had thrown a fifty-pound backpack on me. Christmas and New Years had been fun, but it was time to come back down to earth.

Then came the phone call from my mom’s facility.

“Your mom has bumped her leg!”

Now, you must understand, my mom is 96 and no injury is a simple thing anymore. What started out as a blood blister the size of a toonie, soon became a major hematoma. All plans for the week were cast away in a split second. After many doctor’s visits and trips to Emergency at the hospital, we now had a huge ulcer on her leg that required constant attention. Once again, my keyboard was gathering dust.

When my kids were small, I denied myself most artistic and creative endeavors because I knew my personality. When I allowed myself to get into something creative, I was like a kid with a video game, a seagull with someone’s lunch: I did NOT want to let go! So consequently, to be the best parent/taxi-cab I could be, I waited until the kids were out of school and finished with organized sports before I pursued my creative outlets.

But now with an aging parent, I am back into the same role I had as a parent of younger children. Only now, my darling little mom (who was and still is my hero) has memory and health issues that need constant supervision.

God has given me creative gifts, but he has also put people in my life that he expects me to care for. And even though at times I have to be pulled away from my work to care for them, God is all about relationships too. And I never want to regret not spending as much time as I could with those I love. Of course there are times I must meet deadlines, but if I’m really honest (and organized), I do have time to look after my mom.

And I usually benefit just as much as those I’m caring for. Often my loved ones sneak into my stories, and my illustrations. It’s no surprise after raising two boys that I’m comfortable writing in the voice of a young male. And my mom’s sayings and witticisms have wiggled into my older characters’ dialogue.

My creativity is like a pot of soup that I have to put on a back burner every now and then, but during life’s sidetracks, the soup is being flavored with each relationship and struggle. So each time I come back to being creative, I am slightly different than I was before, but better.

Yes, I still get frustrated when I have to once again shove the pot on to the back burner, but seriously, how can you resist spending time with fun people? In case you’re wondering, my mom’s a beach babe and I’m the star in Hungry Games.

IMG_4025

So, how do you manage when you are hauled away from your creative projects?

 

The Killilea Family: In Everything Give Thanks

As November arrives and the Thanksgiving/Christmas season of goodwill begins, I will inevitably bump into a grinch who grouses about his or her lack of blessings. The economy is awful, their health is failing, the family is falling apart. Their greatest joy seems to be passing on bad news. I have the feeling I ruin the day further by promising to pray.

Complaints. Credit to robliano.wordpress.com

Complaints. Credit to robliano.wordpress.com

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

In my own seasons of calamity I have learned to be content, and I hope I will honestly be able to say at the end of my earthly life when all seasons come to a close, “I know both how to be abased and how to abound.”
One of those difficult seasons arrived early in life when my sister was born. A victim of the German Measles epidemic in the mid-1960’s, Tricia entered this world with several congenital defects. For her first two years, she was in and out of hospitals as doctors became detectives in discovering what was wrong and what, if anything, medicine could do to help. One of her challenges was cerebral palsy (CP).

Karen
So when I was twelve and Tricia was two, my mom handed me a book. Karen. A true story, Marie Killilea wrote about the hardships of raising a daughter (Karen) with CP. Except the hardships were laced with such joyful episodes of the Killilea family loving and supporting each other, how could I feel sorry for them for long? I identified with them. My family was like theirs.
Karen’s parents treated her like all of their other children. While she had a delightful personality, Karen was no angel, and she paid the consequences just as her brother and sisters did. That’s how my parents treated Tricia. Karen’s siblings helped teach her to walk and eat and play like other children. That’s what my brothers and I did with Tricia! They even had a dog who assigned himself the duty of Karen’s guardian. Well, the similarities ended there. Our dog wasn’t that talented.
The book was not a new publication when I first read it. Karen was born in 1940. Most doctors of the era advised Marie and her husband to place Karen in an institution and forget they ever had a daughter with that name. In response, Marie pioneered the founding of the Cerebral Palsy Association of Westchester County which later joined with other local organizations to form Cerebral Palsy Associations of New York State (CP of NYS) . With the help of a few willing doctors, they tried highly experimental exercises to help Karen coordinate her muscles. Their success brought new hope to thousands of other families who were struggling with the sorrows of CP.

 

Marie Killilea also wrote a sequel, With Love From Karen, and a young children’s version of Karen titled Wren.

With Love From karen                                                                   wrenWhile Marie passed away several years ago, Karen, now in her mid-seventies, still lives in New York state.
Do you want to know what it’s like to live day by day with a child who requires constant physical care? Read Karen. Do you want to expose your children to situations where people rise up courageously to face circumstances beyond their control? Have them read Karen. Is your family going through its own rough season? Be encouraged. Read Karen.

Love is Contagious (More From Mitali)

Last Saturday I posted the first half of an interview with Mitali Perkins. Mitali has written several books for children and teens, two of which I’ve read –Bamboo People and First Daughter – and several more are on my to-read list. Her writing spans many cultures. Not surprising, since Mitali has lived in several countries.

 

As a person who was born in an Asian country yet America is her home, have you experienced the prejudice that Sparrow experienced in First Daughter?

 

Mitali PerkinsMitali: To some extent, yes, especially when we first arrived and I was the foreigner/new kid in school. But everything gets intensified in the celebrity limelight, so Sparrow’s situation was unique.

I had introduced myself to you by sharing that I had also moved more than a dozen times while growing up with an Air Force dad, so I knew what it was like to always be the new kid. If it’s not too intrusive, may I ask what position(s) your parents held that caused you to move all over the world?

Mitali: My father is a civil engineer so he worked to help build ports and harbors.

 

 

Many readers of Scriblerians are also writers. They’re interested in some of the minutiae of publishing. For instance, book covers. I’ve displayed several of your covers here. I think the art on both Bamboo People and First Daughter is excellent. It gives a sense of the flavor of each story. Bamboo People is full of shadows, and First Daughter shows a hip, South Asian teenager sporting a sweet and cheerful smile. Do you design the covers yourself, or do you get to approve what other artists create?

First_Daughter_Extreme_Makeover

Bamboo People

 

Mitali: I have little say in the covers. In the beginning of my career, I had none. Now I get some input. But I am in awe of artists since I neither paint nor draw so it is monsoon summer 2hard for me to be critical. I do scrutinize them for cultural accuracy, though.

Secret Keeper

Do you consider yourself a plotter or a pantser? I would guess that Bamboo People needed a detailed outline, but perhaps First Daughter skipped through some unplanned adventures.

Mitali: People come first in my stories, with place a close second, and then I wrestle with plot. A growing edge for me is increasing tension in my stories. I want the reader to keep turning pages. Pacing is also a challenge. The passage of time is tough – “days passed,” “three hours later,” etc. seem stiff and heavy-handed so how do you move your characters through time naturally and easily?

What do you hope readers will take away from your books?

Mitali: Unforgettable characters, I hope. Mirrors to see themselves reflected and windows thrown open into lives that are different than theirs.

You have certainly accomplished those goals! I was amazed that I could sympathize with both sides of the conflict in Burma. Kind, decent characters could be found in the city, in the jungle, in the military. And in Sparrow’s world, even the most obnoxious people possessed something golden within them.

A just-for-fun question: if you could meet one of your characters in real life, which one would it be, and what would you do together?

Mitali: I would like to have coffee with Sparrow and take Chiko to see a good doctor here in the States. But all of them are dear to me.

Maybe that’s the key as to why I enjoy Mitali’s stories so much. She loves her characters. And I end up loving them, too. Because love is contagious.

Two questions for our followers and any readers exploring Scriblerians: What characters have you fallen in love with? Why do you think you were so passionate about them?”

 

 

 

Meet Mitali Perkins

 

When I last took a turn posting in Scriblerians, I featured Mitali Perkins as an author who uses wise parents as characters in her books. I hoped to bring you an interview for my next post. Mitali very graciously agreed to said interview, and I’m delighted to share what she has to say about writing stories that appeal to young readers. With a first glance at Mitali’s infectious smile, I was eager to learn more about her. I hope my enthusiasm is contagious, and you, too, will want to read her books.

Mitali is now an Honorary Scriblerian!

 

Mitali_Perkins_2007

 

Nickname: “Zommie,” which is what our dogs call me.

Genre: Children’s/Young Adult Fiction.

Personal Philosophy: I love Jesus.

Favorite Scripture: Philippians 2: 1-4 is my vocational banner verse. “Therefore if you have any encouragement from being united with Christ, if any comfort from his love, if any common sharing in the Spirit, if any tenderness and compassion, then make my joy complete by being like-minded, having the same love, being one in spirit and of one mind. Do nothing out of selfish ambition or vain conceit. Rather, in humility value others above yourselves, not looking to your own interests but each of you to the interests of the others.”

Favorite Quote: “The challenge for those of us who care about our faith and about a hurting world is to tell stories which will carry the words of grace and hope in their bones and sinews and not wear them like fancy dress.” — Katherine Paterson

In high school I was… the Asian nerd, fresh off the boat.

 

 

Mitali Perkins

 

Thank you, Mitali, for agreeing to take time out of a busy schedule for the Scriblerians.

In my last post here I expressed how I found it extremely refreshing to read your teen fiction because the main characters have GOOD parents! These are intact families with both Mom and Dad loving each other and watching out for their children. Chiko and Tu Reh and Sparrow all experience growth by making their own decisions and relying upon the good examples of their parents. This goes against the grain of many books in the same genre. Did you have any trouble convincing an agent or editor that a broken home or a foolish parent is not required for teens to be good hero material?

Mitali: Thanks so much. No, none at all. My editors have all been supportive of my characters’ loving parents.

 

Without getting preachy, you create characters who are Christians. Do you consider yourself a Christian author or an author who writes Christian fiction?

Mitali: I think of myself as a follower of Jesus who writes books for kids.

 

In the writing process for Bamboo People, what was the balance between researching Burma’s recent history and your own experiences in the country?

Mitali: I mostly relied on research because I had lived there a while ago. I also interviewed missionaries who are currently living and working there.

Have you worked with people on both sides of this conflict?

Bamboo PeopleMitali: Not firsthand. But we love and support close friends who do.

 

 

 

First_Daughter_Extreme_Makeover

 

I loved the names that you gave to Sameera/Sparrow in First Daughter, Extreme American Makeover. I could see Sparrow gradually grow into the more grown up Sameera. How do you come up with names for your characters?

Mitali: They just come to me, and then they stick.

When I see your smile in photos, I can imagine that your family may have also called you Sparrow or something similar when you were a child. What percentage of Mitali Perkins makes up Sparrow’s character?

Mitali: Most of my main characters are like me. But I wasn’t a petite child; I was hefty! I was the fattest baby ever born in Shebashodon General Hospital in Kolkata, India. I made headlines!

 

Since I don’t want to go too long in a blog segment, I’m saving the rest of the interview for next time. Mitali will share a little of her own childhood, and we’ll talk about her experiences with the publishing process.

If you have already begun reading her books, let us know what you think of them. If you want to learn more about Mitali, you can find her at http://www.mitaliblog.com.

 

 

 

 

 

It’s More than Okay to Love your Mom

A couple of weeks ago, Lisa posted a blog in Scriblerians talking about moms in YA literature. I reacted quite strongly about the lack of good mom role models in modern YA novels.

 

Bamboo People

 

The very next week, I read a novel by Mitali Perkins titled Bamboo People. Not only did it have an excellent role model in the main character’s mom, two other moms stood out as women to be admired as well. AND two dads! I was so excited to find an author who wrote in a style I admired, that I emailed her and gushed my appreciation. I also asked for an interview for a future Scriblerian post. She graciously agreed. Stay tuned!

 

But back to Bamboo People. This is the kind of fiction that I love. Realistic. Gripping. Teens striving to be the best people they can be – so their parents will be proud of them!

 

By the title alone, you know the story does not take place in America. The setting is Burma. Or Myanmar if you are supportive of the communist regime that runs its government. (Another tidbit that I learned from this real, gripping, fictional story.)

 

Burma

 

 

Chiko is the son of a doctor. His father has been sent to prison on a trumped up crime. In Burma the reality is that an educated man should be feared, thus imprisoned. Chiko is forced into the army, and he must figure out how to survive without shaming his parents.

 

Tu Reh is a member of the Karenni tribe. Strongly independent, mostly Christian, his people flee from the army’s intended annihilation. When he stumbles upon a wounded Chiko, Tu Reh must decide: kill the enemy or offer a wounded boy refuge. Which decision would his Christian father find most honorable? Since his father is away on a mission, Tu Reh cannot ask for advice directly.

 

credit to deepspeakingup.wordpress.com

credit to deepspeakingup.wordpress.com

 

The mothers do not tell their sons what to do. Mitali Perkins writes in such a way that the reader knows the mothers have already instilled righteous values in their boys. They encourage, they praise, but each boy must make an adult decision on his own. This is the perfect meld of the protagonist solving his own problem AND his parents as influential mentors in his decision.

 

When I returned to  my local library, I searched the shelves for more Mitali Perkins books. They only had one: Extreme American Makeover. Totally different premise, far more lighthearted, but the parents were there, married, loving each other, teaching their daughter right from wrong. Mitali has several other books published. I’m looking forward to reading them all.

 

Realistic and gripping, with excellent parent role models. What other YA books are out there that you may know? Inform me!

What is family?

One of my favorite books as a child,
(and as a teenager babysitting),
was this one:

Are You My Mother? (Beginner Books(R))

In this story a baby bird falls out of the nest,
and goes out in search for his mother.
None of the objects, animals, or even a digger,
can replace his parent.
It is a sweet and endearing book
and if you don’t own it already you must go purchase it so you can read it to your (future) children/grandchildren. 🙂

The definition of family according to the dictionary is:

any group of persons closely related by blood, as parents, children, uncles, aunts, and cousins

But what if I were to tell you that great books tell us otherwise?
Family is so much more than that.
Anyone who reads knows it.

In Anne of Green Gables,
her family is the whole town.

Anne of Green Gables (Formatted Specifically for Kindle)

Harry Potter had Hagrid, Hermione, and Ron.

Product Details

On his journey in Lord of the Rings Frodo’s family grew from Bilbo,
to include elves, dwarves, and a powerful wizard.

You see, family is so much more than those who are related to us,
and I think that is the primaray function of many books:
to show us how much bigger our “family” is.

It’s true, blood is thicker than water,
but there is no mention of similar DNA. 😉

What is your favourite non-traditional family story? I love to hear from you. 🙂

 

DOES YOUR CHILD KNOW WHAT A SHEPHERD DOES?

So often, we Scriblerians review books, talk about authors, and recommend the latest or the best that we’ve read ourselves. As I happened to read that most familiar of psalms, number twenty-three, I was reminded how much I take for granted when reading scripture. The Bible is literature, too!

“The Lord is my Shepherd. I shall not want.”

shepherd

 

 

 

I’ve known Psalm 23 my whole life. When I was little, people read it to me. Later, I memorized it, and over a lifetime I have daily read the psalms for decades. When it’s number twenty-three’s turn, I tend to run through it once again. Ho-hum. And shame on me.

But it struck me on my last reading: how do these words sound to kids the first time they hear the psalm? What were my perceptions when I heard this at age three, five, eight?

I want to look at each verse through fresh eyes. Today, let’s start with verse one. Just the first part of it.

 

THEORETICAL CONVERSATION #1

You: The Lord is my Shepherd. What does that mean?

Kid: Oh! Oh! A shepherd wears a long robe and some kind of scarf on his head, and he carries a stick that looks like a candy cane, and he tells the sheep where to go.”

You: That’s right. And do the sheep always go where he tells them?

Kid: Yeah. But if they don’t, he has a dog that chases them back to all the other sheep.

You: What if he doesn’t have a dog?

Kid (takes a moment to think): He yells at ‘em?

You: Maybe, but that’s what the candy cane stick is for. He grabs the sheep with the hook part and pulls it back to the rest of the flock.

Kid: Ow!

You: Yeah, but it doesn’t hurt as much as a wolf eating it after it runs away.

(Now, that could make an impression on a young mind!)

You: Do you know that Jesus was really talking about God and people? Jesus is the Shepherd and the people are sheep?

Kid: I’m a sheep?

You: You’re like a sheep. You don’t always know the right thing to do, but Jesus the Shepherd does. He tells you which way to go and what you ought to do.

Kid: So who is like the wolf?

You: Anyone who tells you to do something bad so you can get in trouble. The devil, for sure. Sometimes, bad people who try to get you to do the wrong thing could be called wolves.

Kid: But Jesus doesn’t grab me with a candy cane stick when I get in trouble.

You: No, but he uses people to make you behave or protect you from trouble. Remember when your dad held onto you so you wouldn’t go over the edge of the waterfall?

floating on Grafton Pond

floating on Grafton Pond

 

I could go on with this fictional conversation, but you get the idea. What if you had a similar talk with a child in your own life? Or maybe you already have. I’ll bet the child’s viewpoint was as refreshing to you as yours might be to him or her.

Once a week, I’ll be adding additional dialogs concerning Psalm 23 on my personal blog, www.my2ndnature.wordpress.com. Come on over and check it out. You might be able to use those conversations as a jumping off point for a discussion in your own family.

 

 

 

 

Secret Letters From 0 To 10

A good writing friend presented me with a gift last year, the children’s book, Secret Letters From 0 to 10 by Susie Morgenstern. I’m ashamed to tell you that I had never heard of the book or the author until that moment. What a precious story!

Friends at Cafe de Flore (Fotopedia)

Friends at Cafe de Flore (Fotopedia)

The main character, Ernest – don’t you love the name? It fits him to a tee — is a ten-year-old boy who has never had a life. Ernest lives in France and has been raised by his grandmother, a woman grieving the loss of husband, daughter-in-law, and son. She has no energy or enthusiasm to raise another child in her old age, so Ernest gains no aspirations other than to excel in school and continue his unknowingly lackluster life of three dull meals a day and homework.

Enter Victoria. The new girl in his class is a bundle of energy, and she has zeroed in on Ernest. She teaches him to LIVE. The only sister of thirteen brothers, Ernest is simultaneously enthralled and befuddled by Victoria and her wild and crazy family.

Because of Victoria, Ernest and his grandmother learn to enjoy experiences such as walks down the street or delectable cuisine whipped up by their new housekeeper, Henrietta, hired on Victoria and family’s recommendation.

Ernest finally dares to search for his long lost father, a subject never before broached with his grandmother. Between his great grandfather’s coded letter from World War I and a packet of ten years’ worth of letters that arrive from his father, Ernest tries to figure out why he was abandoned and if he could ever have some kind of relationship with his father. While Victoria has taught him about family, the secret letters teach him something more.

51VlW7erCiL_003

Susie Morgenstern has written dozens of books for children. I look forward to discovering more of them. If you have read others, please let me know which stories are your favorites.