Monday
Mar022015

Happy Birthday, Dr. Seuss

I thought the young woman in front of me in checkout must have been a teacher with her stack of poster board sheets so I started a conversation. She was not. It turns out she was buying them to make large striped hats for a birthday party for her friend’s four-year-old. He shares a birthday today with Dr. Seuss. Cats in hats will be in attendance.

A wonderment began in my head as I considered what his whimsical books have brought to the children’s book world and to mine. I began with connections that started with my mother’s children’s literature course at Ole Miss when she brought home And to Think That I Saw It On Mulberry Street. This one still gives me comfort as the stories of how many times it was rejected vary from twenty to twenty-seven. (More on this story @ http://childrensbookalmanac.com/…/and-to-think-that-i-saw-) Let’s just say the rejections, and hopefully my persistence, give me something in common with Dr. Seuss.

Moving to my offspring and theirs, I follow with the oldest son tagging along with Bartholomew Cubbins up the turret stairs snatching off the 500 hats and wonder why few people place my quote “. . . just happened to happen and was not very likely to happen again.” Then his two siblings learned to read with the series of Dr. Seuss’s ABC, Hop on Pop, and One Fish, Two Fish, Red Fish, Blue Fish. Naturally the grandson named Sam got a Sam-I-am mug to drink from as he read (and sometimes ate) Green Eggs and Ham. All of them were readied for bed with Dr. Seuss’s Sleep Book. As you can see in the picture, they lovingly wore the covers right off the books.

My kindergarteners and second graders followed suit, and as time went on we even wound up with a book for older children and adults. Oh, the Places You’ll Go! makes a great gift for graduation or retirement.

I only know one caveat in this bit of admiration. Editors have been known to turn down manuscripts as “too Seussian.” Looking at his work, he does a lot of simple rhyming of cup and up, Sam and ham, cat and hat. But somehow, he also figures out how to turn that rhyme on a funny ear – “Every whale in the ocean has turned off its spout. Every light between here and Far Foodle is out.”

How appropriate that the National Education Association has named his birthday, March 2, as Read Across America Day in his honor. (http://www.readacrossamerica.org

Although Dr. Seuss himself has been gone from us for twenty-five years, my birthday wish remains, “Many happy returns in the lives of children and in adults who dredge up their inner child.”

Friday
Feb272015

Dilemma

A common parental dilemma arose in my son’s recent periodic phone call to report on how the grandchildren are doing. After telling me how much his oldest son (our oldest grandson) was enjoying the extra art classes that will turn his Bachelor of Arts into a Bachelor of Fine Arts degree, he finished with a rueful, “I don’t know how he plans to make a living.”

I’m thinking the grandson could look to his older cousin for a model. She fed her passion for photography through the last part of high school and college as he has done with his art. It has yet to feed her.

Like most graduates in the arts, making a living becomes a bit iffy. In the writing world, the advice is “Don’t quit your day job.” If you are really lucky as I was, the day job feeds a different passion. In her case, it’s “Don’t quit your night job.”  Since she was in high school, she’s known how to approach a table with, “My name is Lauren, and I’ll be your server.” She graduated almost two years ago with a degree in photo journalism and is still waiting tables while she earns enough for her next trip to an exotic location to take more pictures.

I’m guessing it will be a while before she sells enough of her photographic art to put a roof over her head and food on the table, but she’s working at it with an exhibit of her work with other young artists at a recent RAWartist exhibition in Phoenix. According to my unbiased son and daughter-in-law, hers was by far the best. Although I did not see it for myself, I feel sure I would have agreed.

Both of these grandchildren have produced work fine enough to grace my living room wall, but that doesn’t keep me from sharing their parents’ concern for the roof and food. What is my answer to the dilemma in case either of the grandchildren ever asks? Find a day job you can at least tolerate while you pursue the dream that gives you life. Perhaps, it will also eventually also give you a living.

Monday
Feb232015

FYI

Perhaps you wonder how closely you can rely on my book reviews. I thought I’d give a few principles I live by when I use my blog for these – more or less weekly.

1. I don’t do negative reviews. If I would not rate a book at least four out of five stars for its category, I pass on doing the review.
•    I know how hard writers work and bashing them does not fit my idea of fairness.
•    My review reflects only my opinion and someone else might like the book much better. I don’t want to be the one throwing a book under the bus.
•    Okay, for just a few, I might go to three stars if it is a subject that really needs to be out there or if it’s just a pleasant afternoon diversion.

2. I review books for all ages.
•    I like books for all ages.
•    I figure, though I assume my readers are adults, they either buy or borrow books from the library for children – kids, grands, nieces, nephews, friends, slight acquaintances.

3. Usually these books are ARCs (Advance Reading Copies).
•    Most of these come from Net Galley which connects writers and publishers with book-reviewing bloggers and offers books before their official release date.
•    I don’t have to review Net Galley books on my blog just because they kindly let me read them. This leaves me free to blog about those that I think will appeal to my audience.
•    I keep a card showing release dates with these Kindle downloads so my reviews will be timely.
•    Others ARCs come from writer friends who send me a copy, but I don’t blog about a book simply because it came from a friend. I still have to have those stars!
•    Just because I didn’t blog about a book doesn’t mean I didn’t like it. I may not have had time to read it yet or I may have liked more books than I have time and blog space.
•    I try to time these ARC blogs close to the release date so my readers don’t have to wait too long for them. (I can’t wait for you to get a couple of the upcoming April releases!)

4. No book is for everybody.
•    This means I can’t guarantee that you will love a book just because I did.
•    It also means I try to give enough about the genre and story line so that you will know whether you want to try it or not. I’ll even note what I see as small flaws in otherwise good books. So many books, so little time – I don’t want you to waste yours.

5. Do I get a reward for these reviews? Yes – a feeling of satisfaction on those occasions when blog readers let me know my recommended book has been just right for them or their gift recipients!

Friday
Feb202015

Under the Influence

A recent challenge making the rounds on Facebook has been to name a book that has had a lifetime influence. Like many writers, I could have gone the obvious route and made an honest case for Little Women, picturing myself as Jo, but I’m not going there. Instead, I’m choosing Heidi.

Books were as much a part of my growing up as cornbread – and I grew up in North Mississippi. They came from the limited school library or the bookmobile or were traded about among friends. I don’t recall owning one of my own until my tenth birthday. With a span of only three and a half years among the first three McGee girls, bought books were community property.

On that birthday, Aunt Ruth gave me Heidi for a present. How I loved that book with its curmudgeon grandfather, Swiss scenery, and miracle cure! Another whole layer came from the feeling that this book belonged to me. I might lend it to a friend or share it with a sister, but it came back to me to be read again. And again. And again.

Little did I dream growing up in that rural community that I would someday visit Switzerland more than once or that I would have a grandson who was born there. Nor did I know that Heidi’s influence would be so strong that I would catch myself in the Alps, as an adult who should have known better, keeping a sharp eye out for grandfather’s hut or his mountain goats.

The lifetime influence? Perhaps this joy of ownership is why there’s hardly a room in my house without overstocked bookshelves (with my name in them, often signed by the author) and for sure why none of my ten grandchildren have finished their first year in the family without books of their very own – also frequently signed by the author.

Monday
Feb162015

The Sound of Music Story

No book is for everyone – a piece of advice that editors sometimes give to writers who are trying to get their books published. What editors want to know in the query letter is who they can expect to get excited about reading their proposed book.

The Sound of Music Story by Tom Santopietro, to be released on February 17, is a book with a title that probably answers this question. This is a book for fans of the movie – and really big fans, at that. The book begins with a look at the original von Trapp family and the original German movie versions of their story in Die Trapp-Familie and Die Trapp-Familie in Amerika which had previously been combined into an English version called The Trapp Family in 1961.

The book goes on into the Broadway production, the casting of the characters and discussion of the also-rans, the weather problems in production, the reactions of the original Trapp family to the movie, controversy and panning by the movie critics, the afterwards for all the characters in the movie as well as each of the Trapp family. What is fact and what is fiction is a strong thread in the narrative.

It was a book for me since I had good memories of going with Al to see the original English version of The Trapp Family in the Joy Theater in Pontotoc, Mississippi and a few years later to The Sound of Music in London, England shortly after it came out. I know – go to London and see an American movie – but we were on a short vacation from the Army’s current selection of a home for us in Belgium, and we wanted to see what all the hoopla was about.

The first movie had more traditional folk music and none of Rodgers and Hammerstein, but much more of the Trapp story after they escaped. In fact, I found myself just a bit disappointed the first time I saw the second movie end with the escape. The second became a family favorite and one I continue to watch even without children.

If you like The Sound of Music and want every detail of the real and the make believe, this book is for you. If you don’t necessarily want to see every facet of the story, you can skim and skip through parts and still enjoy it. If you don’t like The Sound of Music, we may need to talk, but you can skip this book.