Teen’s Book Sells Millions

bestseller

 

The teenager from the title above took two years to write her book. Since publication, it has sold over thirty million copies in seventy or more languages. Yet she never saw a penny of the profits.

How unfair! Who robbed her of what she justly earned? Unscrupulous agents? Greedy relatives? Crony capitalists?

She was robbed, all right, but not by any of the above. No one stole her money. Instead, she was robbed of life. She never lived to see its publication.

The author’s name? Anne Frank. If you never heard of her before, it’s time to be educated.

Anne Frank

Anne was a Jewish girl living in Holland. Her parents had already fled Nazi Germany a few years earlier, but once Hitler invaded the Netherlands, the family had nowhere left to go. They created a hiding place in a warehouse and relied on the help of trusted Christian friends.

Anne had received a diary for her thirteenth birthday in June of 1942. Like any other teen diary, she filled it with all the innocence and joy of a well-loved child, and she eventually shared the normal teen angst of young love and the struggle to gain independence as an adolescent.

But time was marching every Jew in Europe toward annihilation. The shadow of the Gestapo attacked Anne’s happy-go-lucky view of life. While she maintained a clownish exterior, on the inside, Anne became a deep thinker. She began to record her thoughts on a world at war, on life, on humanity. For the next two years, she grew into a serious young woman, determined to hold onto joy.

On August 4, 1944, Holland’s secret police force, deputized by the Nazis, hauled away Anne, her family, and all those known to have helped them. After ransacking the apartment, the thugs left her diary on the floor as part of the debris. Friends found it and kept it.

diary of a young girl

Her father was the only one to survive the Holocaust. Anne, her mother, and sister perished in the concentration camp of Bergen-Belsen.

When Otto Frank read the diary, he agreed the world needed to know Anne’s story and her unsinkable, victorious spirit.

Other autobiographies have been written covering the atrocities of World War II. What makes the Diary of Anne Frank so special?

I think there are three reasons.

  1. Anne Frank really was an excellent writer. Who knows what novels or essays she might have written if she had been allowed to mature to adulthood? The words on the pages of her diary provide us with accurate and heartrending pictures of what she and the others went through living in the Secret Annexe.
  2. She wrote it in the “now.” Diary of Anne Frank really is a diary; it’s not a memoir. She recorded what happened on the very day the events occurred, or at least within the week.
  3. In spite of everything, Anne believed in the “good of man.” Her statement smacks of secular humanism, but having read the book several times, I believe she could see God’s image in man. Every person has the potential of God’s goodness in them. Her worldview strikes a chord in all of us. We want it to be so. We want Anne’s courage and optimism.

Jesus has overcome the world

Tomorrow, as we celebrate Christ’s victory over sin, may we be able to praise Him with all of our heart, mind, soul, and strength. This world still holds the evil that created the Holocaust. We are in the throes of a renewed holocaust as we hear of atrocities in Syria, Iraq, Afghanistan, the Sudan, Nigeria, and a host of other nations hostile to anything but their own creed.

But be of good cheer. Jesus has overcome the world.

 

Is This Your Child?

My heart was heavy when I saw this video. I really identified with its message. Have a look…

I was born and raised on a farm loving the outdoors and playing non-stop with my horses, cats, dogs, and friends on our property. I wasn’t into sports as much as our kids, but still preferred to be outside rather than inside, and invented very simple games to occupy my time.

But today, to be completely honest, I do enjoy my time in front of my screen, with FB, emails, or whatever. I can certainly see the draw of watching youtube videos and movies, but can’t say that games are much of a temptation.

Our kids’ generation’s screen habits started gradually, but have burst into their lives with video games and phones. We tried to limit our sons’ time on the computer when they were young and they didn’t own phones. And it worked most of the time. But when they went over to friend’s houses, how could we control that? Now, correct me if I’m wrong, but kids are almost considered weird if they don’t have phones. (I won’t go into that personal pet peeve)

I feel that this draw also takes them away from reading, and as a writer, I wonder how we can recapture their hearts and time. We as parents can try as much as we can while our kids are at home, but what happens when they leave? I am trying to picture how these kids who are hooked on games etc. will bring up their own kids. I have confidence that there will always be kids in sports etc. and I am encouraged by commercials on tv. about trying to get our kids off screens. And I know that many kids are able to moderate their time on screens. But there is much that we can’t identify with as adults who weren’t raised with these temptations. There is the world of difference between how we spent our time as kids, and how our kids spend their time.

Can I safely say that if I was raised today, I wouldn’t be hooked on screens too? I can’t, in all honesty.  I doubt it, but I will never know.

As a blog writer, I feel that I should have some answers, but all I can do is present the very complicated problem, and offer what we did as parents. I’m very interested to hear what your thoughts are on this!!

Never Too Crazy to Read

The past four months have been the craziest of my life.

Take one couple’s residential pack-up and a move nearly 500 miles spanning three states, traveling in a small sedan with four dogs weighing a total of 130 lbs., and you have the setup.

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Image courtesy of Morguefile free photos

Yet, mentally and physically exhausted at night, I continued my habit of reading a novel for at least a half-hour or more before falling asleep. Fiction took me by the hand and led me into worlds far removed from the stress of boxes crowding every room, dozens of accounts requiring changes, and last-minute veterinarian and doctor visits. Each fictional world–even an unfamiliar one–felt more normal than the real one I lived in and gave me a short period of peace and relaxation.

I’ve always loved books, but their priority struck me when I made a note (on one of many lists) to be sure to include my Kindle in the car with essential personal items in case the moving van arrived late at the new house. It was critical that I immediately have something good to read.

When I hear someone say life’s too crazy and there’s no time to read, I smile a gentle little smile and hope one day that person will discover the truth.

During which difficult times did you find solace in a book?

PLEASE!! Give Me Characters Who Yearn!

Picture this… You entered a fancy bakery and restaurant with the intention of ordering their best apple pie. But you noticed upon going to the washroom past the chef’s window that they were emptying cans of premade apple pie filling into the pastry. Would you quickly exit? (After first using their washroom of course…)

This disappointment would have been the same feeling I’d just experienced after investing money and time into a book with lame characters. A friend, who’d loved the novel, had suggested it. Yet after about two chapters, (I really gave it a try, since I’d spent over $14 on it) the characters’ lack of  basic yearnings in life distanced me from caring about them. Now, I’m not talking about the desire to stay alive after the murderer is on the loose. I’m talking about inner yearnings before the plot even shifts into first gear: something that we as readers can identify with, and causes us to route immediately for that character.

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The above apple pie was started with a canned, uninteresting product, so no matter what spices and other ingredients were added, the foundation was only going to be barely acceptable. (This B.C. girl is a connoisseur of apple pies) The same goes for the bland foundationless characters in the above-mentioned book who were merely reacting to events around them.* Snore * 

An excellent book for writing fiction is A Writer’s Guide To Fiction by Elizabeth Lyon. She points out that plot alone sustains few stories. Our protagonists need a universal human need such as self-respect, identity, family unity, survival or belonging. Connect your characters to the past where that need was denied or made impossible and you’ve got someone we can care about. During the story’s plot this need should be fulfilled.

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In The Hunger Games series, the Harry Potter series and of course my all-time favorite, Star Wars movies, the protagonists started off with definite yearnings that we could all identify with.

Robert Olen Butler, a Pulitzer Prize winner for A Good Scent From A Strange Mountain discusses yearning:

 

“Yearning seems to be at the heart of what fiction as an art form is all about. It’s based on the fact that fiction is a temporal art form—it exists in time—and it’s also an art form about human beings and their feelings. Any Buddhist will tell you that as a human being on this planet, you can’t exist for even thirty seconds without desiring something. My favorite word is yearning because it suggests the deepest level of desire. My approach [to teaching writing] tries to get at essential qualities of process for the aspiring artist beyond what is inherent in the study of craft and technique. This notion of yearning has its reflection in one of the most fundamental craft points in fiction: plot. Because plot is simply yearning challenged and thwarted.”

 I LOVE his last comment! I’ll be quoting that a few more times, I’m sure…

So, I need first and foremost good characters who yearn for something, to pull me into a book.

What pulls you into stories the MOST? Plot? Characters? Setting? Perhaps a mixture of all three? (oh, and do you also like apple pie?)

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!

Guess What Kids Are Reading!!

2015 is shifting into gear, but while most are looking forward to what’s around the corner, I spent some time analyzing a 2014 Scholastic survey concerning kids’ reading habits.

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I skimmed over the report with mild interest, but a few points caused me to stop and reflect. While I predicted a few of their findings, some were not at all what I expected.

The part of the survey that immediately perked up my ears, being a writer, was what kids wanted in books. We spend long hours trying to predict this very thing so I fast-forwarded to this part. Little surprise that 70% of kids (more in the 14 and below age group) prefer books with humour, and less surprise that most wanted to read a mystery, or at least about a problem that needed to be solved by the main characters. Hence the popularity of Harry Potter, Captain Underpants, Diary of A Wimpy Kid and the Percy Jackson books.

Teens that were 14 and up seemed to still enjoy a laugh but appreciated books that had romance and/or helped them forget about real life for a while. Hence, the popularity of Hunger Games, Divergent and Twilight. But one of the biggest sellers was the Harry Potter series. Still! That caught me off guard. Not that they aren’t good books, but that teens still read them.

There were interesting but predictable findings about what makes frequent readers and how many books are read by different categories of readers, but what made me take another glance were the surveys concerning e-readers. From 2010 to 2014, there was a 40% increase of kids who’d read e-books. That wasn’t a big ‘ahaa moment’ for me, but what I saw next, was.

77% of kids from 6 – 17 said that most of the books they read were print books, and furthermore 65% would read print books even if e-books were available. I figured that most kids would far rather be reading on screens of some kind. Is this because kindles, and e-readers are not as available to kids that age?

I like to think that maybe I’m not as old fashioned as I thought I was. I still like to curl up and finger the pages of a book, breath in the smell of a new book, and keep them on my shelves as old friends that I like to visit every now and then.

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But take a look for yourself at the link. Tell me if there are any things that jump out at you.

http://www.scholastic.com/readingreport/

 

 

 

Does your novel need a Teacher’s Guide?

One of my few fond memories of the junior high years occurred in seventh grade English class. Together we read Around the World in Eighty Days by Jules Verne.

Our teacher seemed to have a lot of knowledge of the story, and she made it come alive. But I never noticed her referring to notes. She reviewed new vocabulary words with us and asked an occasional question to spark discussion, but otherwise we simply read. It didn’t feel like school at all! It was reading, something I did for pleasure at home when I had the opportunity to get books from the library. (My parents didn’t have the budget for purchasing books at the time.)

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By eighth grade, my family moved. Organized reading at my new school consisted of the SRA Reading Laboratory.

Laboratory? That was enough to discourage me right there. It was a color-coded system of cards containing segments of stories, at least in its early stages when I encountered it.

And I hated it.

“Why can’t we read a real book?” I asked my teacher, and she ignored the question.

I’ll admit that the top reader in my class said she enjoyed using the system. (In case you’re unfamiliar with the SRA Reading Laboratory, it adjusts to students’ reading abilities by starting them at a color/level they’re capable of and allowing them to work through and upward into higher levels at their own speed.)

But back then I wondered if these dissected stories were real literature. At thirteen years old, I hadn’t been exposed to enough books, particularly the classics, to recognize them. And I wasn’t fond of having to stop reading after each segment/card to answer questions before I could continue. Talk about interrupting the flow of a story.

I’m sure the SRA Reading Lab has improved since my day, and if you or your child loves it, that’s great. If you’re a teacher, and it helps assess and place students at the appropriate reading level and encourages their reading, I think that’s wonderful.

But each time the teacher passed out her copies of Around the World in Eighty Days, I felt such a thrill. I couldn’t wait to get that book into my hands again, and I was sorry when we turned them in at the end of class. I would’ve been extra sorry if I’d known how rare an experience reading a good book together as a class would be. I never again experienced a group read in school.

Do entire classes ever read a book together nowadays? I hope so. (And I don’t mean each student reading the same book on a computer screen.)

To encourage teachers to bring more classic and new literature in paper form into their classrooms for a group reading project, more and more middle-grade and young-adult authors are creating teacher’s guides.

I’ve looked online and found a few I like for some of my favorite debut novels. One was on the author’s website, another on the publisher’s. Everyone seems to do something a little different, but these guides are not simply a list of several discussion questions, as for a book club. They include a variety of activities and questions covering a number of subjects, from the arts to the sciences.

My Teacher’s Guide for Bird Face is on my website, www.cynthiattoney.com, listed under My Work on the home page as well as on others. It’s a reproducible PDF, so anyone is welcome to download and copy it as needed for use. It’s currently eight pages long, but each time I review it, I think of something I want to add.

I just came across a 45-page guide for using a novel to teach reading and language arts specifically: How to Teach a Novel. I wish I’d found it much earlier because it’s loaded with ideas for teaching any novel.

This is probably the longest post I’ve written for The Scriblerians, and there’s more I’d like to say about developing teacher’s guides! But I hope those of you who are familiar with them or who’ve begun creating one yourself will share some of your knowledge in the comments.

Thanks, happy reading, and happy teaching!

cynthia-toney Cynthia