Thursday, August 28, 2008

Race for the Cure

This is completely unrelated to books but because it is something that is dear to me I thought I would share my thoughts with you. A few years ago a friend invited me to join her in the Race for the Cure in Richmond, Virginia. On the day she ended up missing the race and I ran it on my own, but it turned out to be such rewarding event that I decided on that day, as my legs throbbed and my lungs burned, that I would do this every year unless I was bed bound with some ferocious illness. I ran again the following year and had the incredible privilage to run alongside a courageous lady who had been fighting breast cancer off and on for many years. As we ran the lady told me that this race was going to be her last. After years of fighting and of racing, "the sand in my hourglass is running out." I arrived at the finish line in tears - much to the distress of my husband and daughter. The day left me thoughtful and determined to keep on running in honor of that lady and others like her.

This year my family and I are going to drive north for five or so hours so that I can run in the Portland Race for the Cure on Septmeber 21st. I have a weak ankle and my back is in a mess but I will be there with bells on! If you live in Oregon or Washington please consider joining me. These races are extraordinary events and I would not miss one for the world. If you can't be there in person please consider making a donation to the Susan G. Komen for the Cure. Or you can sponsor me my run. I promise that I will give it my best, and I will tell you all how it went when I get home.

Book Bloggers Appreciation Week

From September 15th to 19th book bloggers of all kinds are going to join virtual hands to celebrate the wonderful work that we do. We do what we do because we love books and because we like to share our reviews, ideas, and musings with you, our readers. We hope that you (book bloggers and readers alike) will join us in this celebration and visit the numerous book blogs out there often during this special week. To find out more about this week please visit the My Friend Amy Blog.

Wednesday, August 27, 2008

Stephanie Meyer's Twilight Saga

Well, I have fully and completely caved. I thought I would give Stephanie Meyer's Twilight Saga a miss but then I read a quote from one of the books and found myself thinking that it sounded interesting. So here I am now listening to the first book in the series, Twilight, on audio. I am so hooked that I wander around the house and yard plugged in and doing my chores in a state of complete absorption - not in what I am doing but in what I am hearing.

I am not the kind of person who goes in for books about vampires and similarly unsavory characters, but this book is quite addictive. It reminds me fleetingly of another series that I have reviewed. In the Mortal Instruments Trilogy we meet a seemingly normal girl called Clary Fray who discovers that she not at all normal. She is the daughter of Shadowhunters - humans who hunt down and kill demons - and she now has to deal with the often dark and disturbing world that Shadowhunters live in. This world is populated by werewolves, vampires, and all kinds of terrifying creatures. The adventures that Clary has as she tries to find her way are fascianting, often horrifying, and splendidly compelling.

The review for Twilight will be in the October issue of Through the Looking Glass Book Review. Who knows, at the rate I am going I may even have a review of the second book in the series, New Moon, in that issue as well.

Monday, August 25, 2008

Elephants in real life and in children's books

Recently something very special happened in Portland, Oregon. One of the Oregon Zoo elephants had a baby. The zoo employees waited with great eagerness for the baby to come into the world and they were horrified when the new mother almost killed the baby soon after he was born. They quickly stepped in to rescue the little animal, and though he was trampled on by his confused and upset parent, the baby is doing well. The keepers and experts at the zoo hope that they will be able to reunite the baby and his mother permanently in the not too distant future. To find out more about this special baby please visit the baby elephant page on the Oregon Zoo Website.

I have a great fondness for elephants because I did my university dissertation on these marvelous animals. I have been lucky enough to get up close and personal with working Indian elephants as well as seeing both Indian and African elephants in the wild.

Because of my fondness for pachyderms I have reviewed a fair number of books about these wonderful animals. Of course there is Babar, whose stories I read in French when I was very little and whose adventures are still beloved by children all over the world. More recently Ella the elephant joined the ranks of bookish elephants. Recently I reviewed and greatly enjoyed the book What Elephant? This is a delightfully funny picture book about a little boy who quite suddenly acquires an unexpected house guest - an elephant. When he tells his friends and neighbors that there is an elephant in his house they simply don't believe him. Needless to say this is a very trying situation for the little boy. Wonderfully illustrated, this deliciously funny picture book is sure to make young readers smile.

Of course there is also that most famous of elephants, Horton, who has a big heart and who hears what no one else is willing to admit is there. The new Horton Hears a Who Pop-Up is a terrific title for Dr.Seuss fans, elephant fans, and pop-up fans alike. Watch this space for my review of Horton Hatches the Egg, which is long over due.

Are there any elephant books that you enjoy? Please tell me about them.

Tuesday, August 19, 2008

Blog Book Tour For "Jimmy's Stars" - Day Three

Welcome to Day Three of the Jimmy's Stars Blog Book Tour. Below you will find an interview that I had with the author of this wonderful book.

1. What prompted you to write this book?
I am lucky that there is a tradition of storytelling on both sides of my family. I don't remember being read to as a child, but I DO remember hearing bedtime stories such as "The Time Mom and her Seven Siblings Dug a Pool in Their Front Yard When Their Mother Went to Town" and "How Daddy Escaped from Kindergarten Three Times the First Day of School." I always appreciated these stories, and were some of the first ones I wrote down as a very young child.

At the same time, I am a great love of history. I have always seen history as a narrative involving people, and a story arc...and the best characters are the ones that never make it into the history books. It isn't all about the names and the dates and the battles and the treaties. While those things were happening, the people who MADE them happen...the everyday citizen was going about his regular business. Sure, maybe he stormed the beaches of Normandy on D-Day...but before he went he was a high school kid who lied about his age to join the service (as one of the my shirt-tail relatives did).

This was especially brought home to me about 25 years ago when I ran across a cache of letters written by my maternal grandmother, my mother and her siblings during WWII. My mother and her three brothers were all in the service (the WAVES, the Merchant Marines and the Marines) and each sibling, whether at home or in the service, wrote each other the other seven siblings, plus their mother, at least once a week, often more. That is a LOT of letters, and apparently my grandmother saved them all. Not only that, but one of the Merchant Marine uncles kept a ship's diary that was in the stash, for some reason. My not-very-sentimental relatives basically gave me the letters, and shook their heads over the niece who would want such "trash." To me it was a treasure. What struck me about the letters was the juxtaposition of the ordinary and the extraordinary (what I tend to think of as History with a Capital H). For instance, one aunt wrote "Well, I guess the war is over. Lots of people whooping it up in Times Square. I went home and washed my hair." Or my diary keeping uncle commenting "German subs are following us. I am reading Steinbeck's THE MOON IS DOWN. I saw the movie before we left port, but I like the book better."

So, fired with enthusiasm for my new found information trove, I fashioned a family on the "homefront" based to some degree on some of my mother's family (not including my mom, although the WAVES do make a cameo appearance in the book) and the events of their letters. I spent an entire summer researching in the basement newspaper microfilm room in Carnegie Library in downtown Pittsburgh (I was spending the summer with these relatives). By the end of the summer, I could quote the Network Radio schedules for Pittsburgh from 1941 to 1945. I discovered that the way my relatives talk is actually a dialect known as "Pittsburgh-ese" and I made sure I was using the local slang and idioms correctly. I knew what movie theaters played what films. I knew which factories had been converted to war production. I knew everything except how to write a GOOD story. It was the first novel I ever completed, and when I did, I knew it was terrible. Mostly it was just a long narrative, including all my wonderful research...but no plot to speak of.

So I shoved it a drawer for twenty years. The only reason I didn't run it through a shredder was that I didn't want to lose all my precious research.

Twenty years later, I am suddenly struck with the notion to turn one of the book's episodes into a picture book called THE YEAR THE CHRISTMAS TREE STAYED UP. This was based on the true story that my Grandmother Smith put a Christmas tree Christmas 1942, and vowed not to take it down until all of her children returned home from war. It turned out that the tree was up for three years. (I have a Christmas 1945, it was nothing but a sickly-looking trunk, with a few scraggly branches remaining, dripping odd strands of tinsel.)

I showed this "masterpiece" picture book to an editor I had worked with, who gently pointed out that a story, where nothing happens except that a tree loses it's needles is not a terrific picture book. "But," she said. "I do like this family, and the rest of the characters. I like this girl Ellie and her brother Jimmy. Why don't you just expand this into a middle grade historical fiction?"

So I began to write. I did not back up or print off any of my work. I was humming along into the fifth chapter computer was struck by lightening. I now had a very expensive and completely useless piece of gadgetry, which would only function as a doorstop or paperweight. Worst of all, my new project had disappeared in an instant.

I began again. But this time, the story began completely different. New characters appeared, old ones bit the dust. And when I got the point where I had lost the old version, I realized that this new one was much, much better.
(I am not going to say that it was Diving Intervention that kept me from continuing down another dead end path to another crummy novel...but that lightening hit just at the time when it was not too late or too discouraging to start from scratch.)

Once I got going on this new version, the whole writing process, first draft, second draft, revision, only took 18 months. Of course, that doesn't count the two and a half false starts over the years, or the months and months of research.
2. Did you get some of your ideas from real stories of the period?
Well, besides the family letters, every time I mentioned that I was writing about WWII to anyone of a "certain age", I suddenly had more details and stories from these folks than I could ever hope to use. (However, the ones I didn't use are squirreled away for future use!) They came from such diverse sources as my next door neighbor's father (who I learned grew up only ten miles or so from my mom, in the Pittsburgh area), my father-in-law, a career Navy man, and a woman I met in a nursing home in Mississippi, who turned out to have gone through basic training with my mom at the WAVES training camp at Hunter College in NYC!

One character who I did not disguise or change his name was Commando Kelly. Commando Kelly was a Medal of Honor winner from the Northside of Pittsburgh, which is roughly the same area where JIMMY'S STARS is set. He was recognized for his bravely during the Italian campaign was a big hero in Pittsburgh. There was a Commando Kelly Day when he was given the key to the city and a big ticker tape parade. The exploits for which he was awarded the Medal of Honor follow pretty closely the scene where Ellie, Stan and Victoria (and the rest of their friends) "play Commando Kelly." An interesting note, is that after one of my uncle's read JIMMY'S STARS, he told me that after the war, Kelly opened a gas station in Northside...across the street from my grandmother's house! Now he tells me!!

3. Did you do a lot of research about the period so that you could better create the right atmosphere for the story?
I am a former librarian, so research is something I really enjoy. I could research forever...without writing a word. Research has to end sometime, but I did keep two things with me throughout the writing process. One is that I have a big collection of WWII music (I am a big fan of all kinds of music...and of WWII as a historical era). I always write listening to the music of what ever era I am writing about (this doesn't work for picture books, BTW). I listened to Glenn Miller and Benny Goodman and early Sinatra. I asked my relatives what THEIR favorites were during that time and discovered early Doris Day and Artie Shaw and the Dorsey Brothers. One of the big discoveries was of a compilation of "propaganda songs" put together by the Smithsonian. Although there was some fun stuff on there like Spike Jones' "Der Fuehrer's Face" and "Praise the Lord and Pass the Ammunition" and "Coming in on a Wing and a Prayer." there was also a lot of seriously racist stuff like "You're a Sap Mr. Jap" and "Goodbye Mama, I'm Off to Yokahoma." Music is like my own personal soundtrack/time machine that can put my head in a time and place I'm to young to actually have lived. It works every time.

My other extremely useful item was a battered Fall 1941 Sears & Roebuck Catalog that I picked up at a flea market years before I ever thought of writing a book about that time. The old Sears catalogs were literally a catalog for life. If you want to know anything about how middle class people lived at that time, get a Sears catalog. It will tell you everything from the names of the cosmetics to wallpaper patters to girl's fashions to what kind of jacket would an eleven year old boy wear in winter to what the furniture looked like (I discovered that a good chunk of my own home's furnishings are on that catalogs pages!)

On top of that, I invested in an encyclopedia of old radio shows...who was on them, which network, what years they ran, the radio schedules from 1930 to the mid 50's for the entire country. I know from experience that should I say that a particular show was at 7 pm on the Mutual Network on Fridays in Pittsburgh in 1943, I would HEAR from someone who would tell me I had gotten it wrong. (For some reason, people LOVE to point out the details you get wrong, and I work very hard not to give them a reason to!)

Since I live in Atlanta, and most of my actual memories of Pittsburgh are decades old (and sometimes incomplete) I could email or call up any one of my endless cousins, aunts and my mom to ask questions such as "Did Kaufmann's Department Store have elevators or escalators or both?" or "How long did it take to get from Washington D.C. to Pittsburgh by train?" or "How much did it cost to ride the Pittsburgh streetcars during the war?" I have thanked all of my "sources" in the acknowledgments at the end of the book.

One of my best sources of information about the Pacific war, came from an older cousin who I have never met. Not only did she send me her own memories of that time (she was a very small child at the time) and what her father (the Marine uncle) had told her about the war, but she sent me copies of the family pictures my uncle carried with him through the whole Pacific campaign (this uncle was a little like Forrest Gump...he managed to be at every important battle in the Pacific). These family pictures were ones I had never seen. I framed them, and kept these on my desk to remind me that I was not writing about the aunts and uncles I love...but about the children they were and that I imagined they might have been.

4. Do you find that you put some of yourself into your characters?
Not so much as I did in YANKEE GIRL. The personality of Ellie is a combination of my own mother, who was a take-no-prisoners kind of girl (and who frequently got into fistfights on behalf of her siblings) and my Aunt Agnes, to whom the book is dedicated. The only parts that are "me" would be the parts that deal with Ellie's emotions over seeing the Western Union telegram delivery boy/man at various times during the book. (That's about all I can say without going into spoilers.) Oh, and her friction with Aunt Toots. Toots was based on a relative from my dad's side of the family who always rubbed me the wrong way. She meant well, but she had absolutely no tact whatsoever. Ellie's relationship with Toots was 100% me at 12!

5. Did you have a goal in mind when you wrote this book?
I never start writing a book with a "goal" in mind, other than to finish it, and tell a good story. If I write with "an agenda" in mind, then I wind up with a not-very-good story. I think I managed to keep my own opinions or agenda out of the story, since I have had people both "assume" from reading the book that I both a pacifist and a militarist! My philosophy on foreign policy did not enter into the writing of this story at all! It's about the relationship between a
girl and her brother, and that people sometimes do the wrong thing for the right reasons. (Again...any more and I'll be blowing the last third of the book if you haven't read it.)

6. Do you think young readers should know about times in the past, and if so why?
OK...if I have ANY agenda, is that I am a big believer in the power of studying history. My personal motto is the one about those who forget history or doomed to relive it.

7. Your other work of historical fiction is about living in the south during the 1960’s. What other period(s) in history interests you?
I am pretty much a product of my family history. My family's known history only goes back as far as the 1880's, so that's about as far as my writing interest extends. To be perfectly honest, I don't think I could write a convincing book about something that I can't find primary sources readily available. I envy people who can write about the Middle Ages or Biblical times. How do they do that?

Right now I am working on a novel that takes place in 1925 Southern Illinois.
(My dad's family), and a companion piece that MIGHT take some of the same characters back to 1908. I also have a school story percolating about the Depression that combines to of my favorite things...the underdog and music. I will let you muse about that one!

8. What kinds of books did you like to read when you were young?
I pretty well read everything, although there were a few kinds of books I wasn't so crazy about. As much as I love animals, I couldn't read stuff like BLACK BEAUTY or THE YEARLING...invariably the animals dies. I also didn't much like fantasy. I never have managed to get through THE HOBBIT, let alone the LORD OF THE RINGS trilogy. My favorite books were...surprise, surprise...historical fiction! However, to show you there are no absolutes, my all time favorite book is CHARLOTTE'S WEB. It's funny, sad and PROFOUND!

9. You obviously love to write or you wouldn’t be doing this. What do you find hard or not enjoy about the writing process?
The one thing I don't like is writing a first draft when I don't know what's going to happen next. I have learned to write out of sequence, and to make a row of X's any place where I don't know something...a character's name, or a scene, or sometimes, even whole chapter sequences. I used to start with chapter one, and try to plough through one chapter after the other. If I got stuck, I would stay stuck. This usually resulted in a one chapter book, never to be finished. As much as I hate to leave a first draft with "holes" in it, I know that when I come back to it in the second draft, the puzzle pieces that I am missing will be there.

10. Do you share your thoughts and ideas with family members or friends while you are writing or do you like to surprise them with the finished book?
Not very often. While I don't hesitate to pump my family or friends for information I need, I usually don't tell them what I am writing unless they ask. If find that "talking about the story" takes the edge off my need to write.

The other blogs participating in this event are:

Please visit these blogs to read their reviews and to see what activities they have planned for the next two book blog days.

Thank for joining me on this blog book tour.

Monday, August 18, 2008

Book Blog Tour for "Jimmy's Stars" - Day Two

Now that you have read my review of Jimmy's Stars I thought you might like to learn a little bit about the author.

MARY ANN RODMAN’s debut novel,Yankee Girl, was chosen as a VOYA Top Shelf Fiction for Middle School Readers and an NCSS-CBC Notable Trade Book in the Field of Social Studies. She lives with her family in Alpharetta, Georgia. To find out more about Mary Ann Rodman please visit her website.

Mary Ann Rodman has written several books in addition to Jimmy's Stars. These are:

First Grade Stinks - Coming out next month

Surprise Soup - Coming out in the spring of 2009

The other blogs participating in this event are:

Please visit these blogs to read their reviews and to see what activities they have planned for the next two book blog days.

Blog Book Tour for "Jimmy's Stars" - Day One

I am delighted to offer you my first Blog Book Tour. The featured title is Jimmy's Stars by Mary Ann Rodman. The schedule for the Book Tour on this blog is as follows:

Day One: Review of Jimmy's Stars

Day Two: Information about the author

Day Three: Interview with the author

Here is my review of Jimmy's Stars. I hope you enjoy it.

Jimmy’s Stars
Mary Ann Rodman
Ages 9 to 12
Farrar, Straus, and Giroux, 2008, 0-374-33703-9
When Ellie learns that her beloved brother Jimmy has been drafted and will be going off to war she is devastated. Fun loving Jimmy who calls her “Movie Star” and who tells Ellie that she is beautiful, is one of the best things in Ellie’s world and she cannot imagine what life will be like without him around. Ellie has already had to sacrifice so much for the war. Why does she have to give up her brother as well?
But she must, and on October 2nd, 1943 Jimmy gets on a train to go to boot camp. Before he leaves, Jimmy promises Ellie that he will come home for Christmas and she holds this promise close to her heart in the days following his departure. The situation is not helped at all when Aunt Toots comes to stay and when Ellie’s mother goes to work in a factory. Now Ellie has to do more chores than ever and her family members are rarely able to spend much time together.
When Jimmy does not come home for Christmas Ellie is hurt and furious. He’d promised her and she feels horribly let down. Christmas without Jimmy just doesn’t feel right and Ellie cannot understand how Jimmy could do such a thing. When the family of Victoria - Ellie’s mortal enemy who lives across the way - gets a telegram Ellie begins to realize how lucky she is. At least Jimmy isn’t in the line of fire on some island in the Pacific.
In this moving and powerful book readers will get a very real feel for what it was like to be a child on the home front in America during World War II. They will read about scrap drives, ration cards, and victory gardens, and they will discover what it meant to have to put up with things “for the duration.” Most of all of course they will see how painful and miserable it was for families who had sons, brothers, uncles, or cousins in the service. Sometimes one did not know where family members were for months on end, and always one lived with the fear that the Western Union telegram delivery boy would come to your door.
Packed with intimate details about life in America during World War II, this book will leave readers with a meaningful picture of what it was like to live through those very hard years.

The other blogs participating in this event are:

Please visit these blogs to read their reviews and to see what activities they have planned for these three book blog days.

Friday, August 15, 2008

A sweepstake to enter and an opportunity to vote for an award

Chronicle Books is hosting its World Almanac for Kids Brainiac Sweepstakes. Anyone ages 13 and up can enter. The deadline for entries is September 30th 2008. The first prize is a top-of-the-line computer, books, A Cookie Magazine subscription, games, and more. Visit the Sweepstakes Page for more information and to download the entry form.

Children who are prekindergarten to 12th grade can now participate in the Kids' Choice Awards., the family-friendly online bookstore, is hosting their first Kids’ Choice Book Awards. Now through Sept. 1, children pre-kindergarten through 12th grade can log onto and nominate their favorite summer reading book. wants to encourage children of all ages to dive into a few good books this summer,” said Chairman Lee Martin. “With families cutting down on summer travel due to the rising cost of gas and food, reading offers children the opportunity to journey to another time and place and experience the many adventures of a book.”
Nominations for the 2008 Kids’ Choice Book Awards will be accepted in the categories of grades pre-kindergarten through first, second through third, fourth through fifth, sixth through eighth and ninth through 12th. All children who log onto with their parent’s permission and provide a nomination and parent’s contact e-mail address will be eligible for a $20 gift card. One gift card will be awarded in each category. Printable summer reading bookmarks that include a place for children to write down their favorite books will also be available at the site.
The winning books and authors will be announced Sept. 15. Winning authors will receive a feature spot on the home page from Sept. 15 through Oct. 15 and will be listed on the Kids’ Choice Awards Web page for one full year until the 2009 awards. Children awarded gift cards will also be recognized by first name on the Kids’ Choice Awards Web page.
“We are eager to see the variety of books that so many young readers will take the initiative to nominate,” Martin said. “Summer reading helps kids stay at the top of their academic game when school is out, and we hope this award adds a little extra incentive to discover a good book.” is an online bookstore founded to provide families a protected shopping environment. Headquartered in Knoxville, Tenn., offers more than 1.6 million family-friendly books, savings through distributor-direct prices and support to nonprofit organizations by donating 5 percent of each transaction to a customer-selected charity. For more information, visit

Monday, August 11, 2008

Back-to-school event for adults

For those of you who will soon be getting back into the swing of sending a children or children to school, here is an event that you might like to participate in. On August 16th will be hosting a Back-To-School Bash for grownups. As MommyTalk says "Getting ready for back to school isn't easy. We deserve a bash, don't we?" Up until August 15th you can enter a back-to-school contest and on the 16th you can join other grownups online for a celebration. For more information take a look at the event page.

Monday, August 4, 2008

The New Issue of Through the Looking Glass Book Review

This month on the Through the Looking Glass Book Review visitors will find reviews for a wide variety of books, along with some interesting features, profiles, and spotlights.

  • We are celebrating the last real month of summer. You will find reviews of general summer books and reviews of beach related books.
  • The special feature is about circuses. If you love the big top and would like to find books about circuses, circus people, and circus animals then this is the feature for you.
  • In the Bookish Calendar you will find links to a number of interesting feature pages that explore books about, among other things: The dropping of the first atomic bomb, the erupting of Mt. Vesuvius in A.D 79, the discovery of gold in the Klondike, and the birthday of musician Louis Armstrong.
  • The award winning book for this month is The Adventures of Marco Polo by Russell Freedman
  • The series spotlight for August is The Rats of Nimh Trilogy
  • Jeanne DuPrau is the author who is spotlighted in this issue. Her book The Prophet of Yonwood is reviewed in this issue as well.
  • The Editor's Choice title for this month is The day the World Exploded:The Earthshaking Catastrophe at Krakatoa by Simon Winchester. This book is beautifully written and presented, and in it Simon Winchester not only describes what happened to the island of Krakatoa in the late 1800's, but he also shows his readers that the event had a truly worldwide impact on the environment and on people.

I hope you enjoy this new issue and that you are having a wonderful summer.