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Jane Kurtz’s Planet Jupiter Blog Tour

13 May

The sign on the Music Millennium store near my house says it all:

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Jane Kurtz’s new book, Planet Jupiter,  celebrates Portland’s weirdness while telling a beautiful middle grade story of family and belonging.

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Author’s Summary: Jupiter and her family have spent their lives on the road, moving from town to town in a trusty old van, making do, and earning their living busking for tourists. But when their van breaks down, Jupiter’s mother rents an actual house in Portland for the summer so that Jupiter’s annoying cousin Edom, recently adopted from Ethiopia, can stay with them. Luckily, Edom doesn’t want to be in Portland any more than Jupiter wants her there, and the two hatch a plan to send Edom back to her mother. In the process, Jupiter learns that community — and family — aren’t always what you expect them to be.

Clearly, Kurtz’s depiction of Portland is one of the things I love. She captures the farmer’s market culture and all of the quirkiness of this city I call home. But there are other things that make this an excellent middle grade read.

The fact that Jupiter and her brother, Orion, are named after celestial bodies might seem contrived, but it is very Portland – I have neighbors who named their children after various species of trees! But Kurtz uses the names effectively and weaves celestial metaphors throughout her writing. This is the sort of thing I love pointing out to my students!

Jupiter’s fear of change and her desire to help Edom leave are like a snapshot of how Americans feel about refugees and immigrants generally. Fear of the other, fear of change are overcome when we have the opportunity to get to know people.

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Jane Kurtz is celebrating the release of her new book, Planet Jupiter, with an event May 16, 2017, at 7pm at Annie Bloom’s Books in Portland. Honoring the theme of music and busking in the book, she will be joined by special musical guests Colette and Madelaine Parry.

I hope to see you there!

 

A really good book day

3 May

Not one but two author visits yesterday…along with some author spotting.

It all started with Victoria Jamieson’s visit to my school.

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I managed to sign up the day the email went out and was able to bring my whole class. She spoke a lot about how she wrote her graphic novel, Roller Girl,  which I can’t keep on the shelves of my classroom library. At the end of her presentation, she gave us some drawing tips and took questions.IMG_0663

The girl beside me looked like she wanted to ask something but didn’t know what to ask, so I whispered, “Ask what she is working on now.” She did and her face glowed when Victoria said, “Great question!” and proceeded to show us the galley of her newest graphic novel, full of sticky notes marking the corrections she has to make.

I went through the rest of my day, thinking about how I can now draw more expressive faces and happy in the knowledge that, that evening, I was going to see A. S. King.

Her visit was courtesy of Multnomah County Library and took place in the lovely Taborspace, not too far from my home.

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She started off by reading from Still Life With Tornado, then went on to make us laugh, cry and laugh some more. She is always a treat to see in person. I got a signed copy of Me and Marvin Gardens  for my personal library. My classroom already has a copy and it doesn’t stay on my shelves much either. She has another middle grade novel coming out in 2019, and I am excited about that, though sad I will have to wait.

The audience was small, but cozy, scattered as we were at cafe tables or in cozy arm chairs. The funny thing was, there were local authors in the audience. I recognized Laini Taylor (Strange the Dreamer and the Daughter of Smoke and Bone Series) the moment she walked in by her highly recognizable pink hair. Cathy Camper (Lowriders series), one of the MCL librarians responsible for the event, was there. Rosanne Parry (Heart of a Shepherd, Turn of the Tide)  came too. Her middle grade novel, Turn of the Tide, is one of next year’s OBOB books for the 6-8 division.

All in all, it was a really great book day.

 

A Radiant Evening

6 Apr

Just as Spring Break began I received an email inviting me to a dinner event on April 5th, with Caldecott  and Coretta Scott King  Award winner Javaka Steptoe.

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I knew he was going to be in town and visiting one or more local libraries. The invitation seemed odd because it came in my school email and I usually get these sorts of things through my personal email, which is the one I use for ALA business.

I hemmed and hawed for a day or two because that week was already busy. I  then told myself  You’ll regret this if you say NO, so I emailed back my acceptance.

So, last night, I said goodbye to Lucy again after her walk and dinner and drove to the Firehouse restaurant in NE Portland. I arrived a little early because I worried about parking and waited in the car for a bit before going in. It was self talk time. I didn’t know if I’d know anyone and sometimes I have to gear up for social events.

When I entered the private upstairs room, I worried because the two people already there had on conference name badges. Apparently, the American Bookseller’s Association’s ABC Children’s Institute   is going on in Portland this week.We made small talk and eyed the beautifully arranged room. More name-tagged people arrived and I worried I’d been invited by mistake. Then, my Sibert colleague arrived as did a few other locals on ALA committees, namely the Newbery and Caldecott. Altogether we were maybe a dozen people. Finally, Javaka arrived and the event got started.

I was seated next to Javaka for the first part of the meal, which learned it took him FIVE YEARS to make this book. I asked him about writing his speech for the Newberry-Caldecott Award and learned that he has already written it because he had to submit it this week and will have to record it soon. In, fact, he had to write two speeches because he has to give a different speech at the CSK Awards banquet!

Javake moved around the table for the second and third courses of the meal, but I was not without conversation partners. This was heaven for kidlit nerds!

At the end, we all got a personlized, signed copy of the book and, since there was a lot of food left over, a doggy bag! Lunch today will be delicious.

Thank you Javaka and Little Brown Books for Young Readers for an excellent evening.

Fierce Reads

10 Oct

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Before watching the presidential town hall last night, I went to the Fierce Reads tour at Powells.

Although I arrived early, I had to take a seat in the fifth row because so many fans were excited to see the four authors who would be talking. Although my view was obstructed, I could hear everything clearly.

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The author that I and most audience members were most excited to see was Leigh Bardugo who was promoting her newest book, Crooked Kingdom,  the sequel to Six of Crows.

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Kami Garcia, author of the Beautiful Creatures series, was promoting The Lovely Reckless.

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There were two new authors to me, Emma Mills and Caleb Roehrig, who were promoting their mysteries This Adventure Ends  and Last Seen Leaving  respectively.

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Although I enjoyed listening to each of the authors talk, I only took notes on the parts where they offered writing advice for aspiring writers that I can take back to school. They were specifically asked for advice for young writers who might be considering NaNoWriMo, but I think most of it is relevant to writing at any time. Here is what I gleaned:

  • don’t be afraid to write badly
  • write 2000 words a day
  • have a plan, but banish the idea of perfection in a draft
  • if you get stuck, write what you are thinking at the time to break the paralysis between your head and your hands
  • when you get stuck
    • talk to your characters
    • verbalize the problem
    • with the point of view you are writing
    • step away from the problem (run, drive, get out of the house)
    • work/focus on something else
    • don’t go online
  • the more obsessed you become with solving a problem, the less likely you are to  solve it
  • talk to friends/critique partners – they may help spark a new idea

They all agreed that the first draft is just a baby step. My favorite line of the afternoon came from Kami Garcia who said, “Revising is the real thing”.

 

 

Custard and Parasols

27 Jul

Instead of spending Monday night glued to my radio listening to the speeches at the Democratic Convention, I went to Powells to meet Gail Carriger.

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She is the author of the Finishing School series I finished in April.She was in town promoting her newest novel, Imprudence, the sequel to Prudence, and the second book in the Custard Protocol series.

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Unlike many author presentations, Carriger gave a very brief presentation, covering topics she is asked about a lot. She spent most of the time answering questions of the packed house. Through the wide range of questions, we got to know Gail Carriger’s sense of humor, writing routine and plans for the future.

I’ve been reading her series out-of-order. I started with the Finishing School series, the began The Custard Protocol.  Now, I have her first series, The Parasol Protectorate,  in my queue.  Each of these series is unique unto itself, but they are all set in the Steampunk world she created and there are some characters that overlap. I loved how Carriger explained that each of these repeating characters seem to be a little different in each series because are shown as perceived by protagonist of the series. I was impressed and that helped explain why the Lord Akeldama of Prudence is so different from the Lord Akeldama of The Finishing School.

Of course, I took my moment to get my books signed and chat for a few moments with Gail.

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When I got home, I learned I had missed some fabulous DNC speeches, but I didn’t mind. I could watch them online. I had enjoyed a marvelous evening and had a new book to read.

Celebrating Authors

24 May

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Nervous anticipation buzzed in the room as I entered. Children, with  proud parents nearby,  mingled around a table of cookies and juice, all clutching letters in their hands. They were the authors of the letters and tonight was the night of the 2016  Oregon Letters About Literature Awards. Three of my 6th graders were honorable mentions and this was an event I didn’t want to miss for the world.

They’d written the letters all the way back in December, writing to an author whose book had moved them to some new sort of understanding. I sent them to the Library of Congress, who sent the best back to Oregon for judging. And here we were, five months later, celebrating.

Fonda Lee, local author of Zeroboxer,  opened the event. I was interested as she told us about the books and authors who influenced her, and the writing partners and critique groups that made her a better writer. I got weepy as she shared the comments Holly Goldberg Sloan, Renee Watson and Laini Taylor with whom she shared the letters the three  First Place winners wrote to. Not ten minutes in and I was emotional!

Pride swelled as my first student stepped bravely to front to read her letter aloud. Her mother, sitting in the same aisle as me, was not the only parent recording her child last night.This girl was very poised and spoke in a clear, confident voice. I chuckled when  my second student , the one I think of as my poet, went up. Like the first student, she wore a black dress, but, in her own inimitable style, she had Converse on her feet. I watched her parents, beaming proudly as they held back tears.

I listened attentively as the other students read their letters, but for me, the best had been read. Driving home from the event, I reflected on how much all my students have grown as writers this year. It’s been a year of big changes for me, but, tonight, I know I have done a good job.

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Inspiring Middle School Readers & Writers

2 Mar

Today is Read Across America Day, a celebration of reading on Dr. Seuss’ birthday. Some students in my class will truly read across America in a Skype reading session with students in Madison, Wisconsin and Portland, Maine. The high point for me was yesterday when I took my last period class to hear Rosanne Parry talk about her writing life.

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I first met Rosanne when her first book, The Heart of a Shepherd,  came out. Her dad came by the school to drop off some copies of her book and let me know she had attended our school when she was young. A published alumnus, I thought, we must get her in! And so we did.

I saw her around at bookish functions and at school board meetings where she lobbied hard on behalf of school librarians. I am now at a new school and Rosanne has just published her fourth book, Turn of the Tide.  When I heard she was coming, I jumped at the opportunity to take my class.

She started off by telling the stories that inspired each of her novels.She told of a college trip to Eastern Oregon where you left you key in the car’s ignition in case someone came by and needed it. She told of her experiences teaching in the Olympic Peninsula at a school operated by the Quinault Indian Nation and of the history of whale fishing among the Makah.

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She talked about the difficulty of navigating the Columbia River Bar. She held the rapt attention of the students as she retold the story of an American army captain visiting with Russian soldiers in the former East Germany, after the Berlin Wall fell. I’m sure they were all visualizing naked Russian men running down the street wearing each other’s prosthetics. I was most touched at how she teared up when she described the hardships these men had suffered during the Siege of Stalingrad.

She truly showed the students how a slice of life can be an inspiration for their writing.

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