And the Winners Are….

(Or the reason February 14th Isn’t Horrible.)

The Cybils winners are announced! Go here for all the awards, but the one I’m most invested in (though none of my three nominations that made it to the finals won…) is the Elementary/Middle Grade Speculative Fiction winner is:

And honestly, if they had picked anything else, I’d be incensed. It really was the best book we read.

And, because they turned out so awesome, here are A and K’s valentine’s boxes for their parties today.

OH! It’s also International Book Giving day! Find/buy a book to pass on to a child. I think I’m going to finally take those bags of books to our local children’s home. Seems like a much better thing to do today than to eat overpiced chocolate. (Now tomorrow, the chocolate will be discounted. I’ll eat it then.)

Happy Valentines Day!

Happy Christmas!

“And in despair I bowed my head;
“There is no peace on earth,” I said;
“For hate is strong,
And mocks the song
Of peace on earth, good-will to men!”
Then pealed the bells more loud and deep:
“God is not dead, nor doth he sleep!
The Wrong shall fail,
the Right prevail,
With peace on earth, good-will to men!” 
― Henry Wadsworth Longfellow

“One of the most glorious messes in the world is the mess created in the living room on Christmas day. Don’t clean it up too quickly.”  ― Andy Rooney

Happy Holidays from my blog to yours!

In Which I Drive 7 Hours for An Author

First, some background. I discovered The Lightning Thief on a shelf in my library in Macomb, Illinois. The cover was Awful…

(Even Rick thought it was awful.)

but I gave it a chance, and fell in love. I passed it to M, who adored it, as well. Over the next eight years, I would have another daughter, bringing the total up to 4, and we continued to buy (and love) Rick’s books. All of us. (Yes, we even got Hubby on the bandwagon.) And Rick became more and more popular.

Then, we finally got old enough to start thinking about going to author events. And #1 on the list of authors we would ALL love to see was J. K. Rowling. But we knew we’d never see her, so the real #1 was Rick. We know we should have seen him 7 years ago before he got HUGE, but that wasn’t in the cards. So we waited for him to come relatively close. We did think about going down to see him in Austin last year, but the timing wasn’t right, so we didn’t make it.

But THIS year, he came to St. Louis (only 7 hours instead of  9) and it happened to be on a weekend night, on a week when the girls had a small fall break. THIS WAS IT. And I bought the tickets, made the arrangements, and we were off.

(Hubby didn’t come; he went to Texas for a conference instead.)

The day of the event, we spent a good 5 hours at the St. Louis Zoo in the morning and then went swimming at the hotel in the afternoon. This is important because A, who is the BIGGEST fan of them all, ended up with a huge headache from dehydration, but still insisted on going to the event. (When I asked her the next day if it was worth it, even with the headache, she said, “HECK YEAH.”)

A remembered her Annabeth hat, but forgot her Camp Half Blood shirt,
so we made a quick trip to Target and found a purple shirt to make Camp Jupiter. 

It was at the St. Louis County Library, and we got there a half hour before the doors opened. The line was already halfway around the building. So we waited.

Wrong fandom, but we thought it was awesome anyway.

Once we got in, there was more waiting, but we had two copies of the books. They were snagged by A and C.

Look! A signed book!
We weren’t the only ones reading.

Eventually, the waiting ended, and the program began! Rick Riordan was a TON of fun. His teaching background comes out in presentations; he knows his fans and exactly what to say. From references to Twitter and Tumblr, shipping and “Everyone’s favorite character…. Octavian! Oh, wait. LEO!” He basically told his path to becoming Rick Riordan Successful Author, and even though I knew most of it already, it was still highly entertaining.

The best picture I took.

Rick took this one. We’re about a third of the way back,
all the way on the left. No, you can’t see us.

Then, at the very end, he did a really brief Q&A. I was smart enough to know that this part was truly unique, and turned on the camera to record. I missed the first question which was, “Rick, why are you so sassy?”

And then it was over. Too soon, I might add. I think we all thought we could have stayed there all night, but the hour was fabulous.

K won a Camp Jupiter shirt, which I didn’t take a picture of, and we made it back to our hotel, exhausted, but thoroughly happy. There are very few people (I’m not related to, anyway) I’ll travel any distance to, but I’m definitely glad I managed to get the girls to this one.

A Brief Personal Interlude

We said goodbye to my oldest, M, today. She’s off to Durgapur, West Bengal, for the next 8 months. And after 3 1/2 years of prepping and working to get to this point, she’s undeniably both really nervous and really excited. She said, as we were driving her to the airport, that this will be an Awesome Experience, even if she has to make it so by the sheer force of her will.

I hope so.

If you’re interested in following her adventures, she’ll be posting here once she arrives and gets settled.

Marissa Meyer Author Event

I look like a dork.

Marissa Meyer was in the store last night, and it was a lot of fun. I dragged one of my girls (C, on the far right) and she brought one of her friends (who keeps winning stuff whenever she comes to these things), and we had a thoroughly enjoyable time. Mostly because Marissa is adorable. She talked about how Cinder came to be published (she was super lucky!), was really good about not divulging spoilers, told some pretty awesome fairy tales, and was just a lot of fun.

I hope we can get her back for her next book; I’d definitely go see her again!

A Brief Familial Interlude

I don’t quite know where to start (besides, I should have gotten this out earlier today!).  About two years ago, my oldest daughter, M, fell in love with all things India thanks in part to a blog post by Kristin Cashore. See, Kristin was going on about this Bollywood movie called Om Shanti Om, so I decided to watch it. M came in while I was in the middle of it, and was literally mesmerized. She then proceeded to obsess over India, and decided that what she’d really like is to spend a year there.

I figured it all would pass, and didn’t do anything to help or  hinder her obsession. But, it persisted, and she did enough research to decide that the Rotary Youth Exchange would be a good match for her. She contacted one of the local clubs, did the legwork to find out what it took to graduate early, and put the wheels in motion.

Fast forward to right now: through the help of the Rotary, she’s raised $1900 of the estimated $5000 total we figure it’ll take for her to spend a year in New Delhi. She’s turning in her application to get matched with a family (or two) there. She’s got her passport, and most of her shots. She’s saved what she can from gifts and allowance money, since we decided that it was more important for her to keep her 4.0 while taking a double load of classes this year than to get a job. Though she will go looking for something for this summer (she can’t leave for India before she turns 17 in August) as soon as she finishes finals in late April/early May.

Which brings me to the point of this. Hubby and I are comfortable, financially, but not by any means well off. So, we’re turning to our friends (and readers and family) to see if they’d like to pitch in to help our daughter make a difference. Maybe not while she’s in India (though she’s going to look for chances to help and learn the culture) but in the future. We’ve set up a Go Fund Me site, and are inviting people to contribute what they can.

What’s in  it for you? Well, we’re going to work with M — who is not a natural writer or journalist — to set up a blog detailing her experiences. But beyond that, just the warm fuzzies you get from helping a good kid do something amazing.

I’d love it if you could help out. I won’t hold it against you if you can’t. In these tough economic times, I understand. But every little bit makes a difference. And I appreciate every little bit that’s already been donated.

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Happy Christmas!

“Scrooge was better than his word. He did it all, and infinitely more; and to Tiny Tim, who did NOT die, he was a second father. He became as good a friend, as good a master, and as good a man, as the good old city knew… [A]nd it was always said of him, that he knew how to keep Christmas well, if any man alife possessed the knowledge. May that be truly said of us, and all of us! And so, as Tiny Tim observed, God Bless Us, Every One!”

Completely Gratuitous Post About My Girls

Since K has basically grown up here on the blog, the only one of my four to be born after I started blogging, and since today is her 6th (!) birthday, I figured I’d celebrate by letting y’all know what the four of them are up to these days.

K is still our most active child, climbing on anything and everything, begging to be put into gymnastics or swimming classes. She is reading the Betsy-Tacy books with her dad these days, which has led to a desire to go on “adventures”. She constantly laments that she never has enough to do, and so she has developed a talent for inventing things. These mostly involve her older sisters; it’s quite nice to have a couple built-in playmates.

The latest “adventure” was digging a “raccoon trap/home” in the field behind our house with a couple of neighbor kids.

Which brings me to eight-year-old A.

She is our resident math-whiz (“I like math!”), Percy Jackson fan (well, not the only one, but definitely the most passionate), Harry Potter nut (ditto), and proud Nerd (“Nerds rule!”) She has a fear of boys and tuxes (especially boys in tuxes), and loves the band One Direction. Huh. She must have older sisters.

C is 12 now, and is growing into a lovely young woman.

She’s still into writing and drama, begging to be put into drama classes and constantly writing stories. She has recently discovered a passion for dystopian fiction, devouring the Hunger Games trilogy and obsessing over the movie. (Yes, we did. Opening night.) She also has discovered spy books: she adores Ally Carter’s Gallagher Girls series, and was thrilled when she came to town a couple weeks ago. She asked a couple questions during the Q&A, and was doubly thrilled when Ally commented that they were good questions when she signed our books.

And M, our resident high schooler?

 She’s obsessed with all things India (initiated by a post by favorite author Kristin Cashore) and is currently working towards graduating early so she can spend a year in New Delhi on a student exchange. I still have trouble keeping her in books (right now she’s devouring the Hex Hall series), and she’s still all over the map (though she prefers fantasy) when it comes to reading. She recently splurged and bought herself this:

(She loves her Nook.) Hopefully, that’ll help with the keeping her in books problem…

There you have it: my four beautiful, smart, amazing daughters. (No, I’m not biased.) Thanks for letting me gush like this. A mom has to, every once in a while.

Sunday Salon: And Now for Something Completely Different

It’s been a while since I’ve done anything really non-bookish here. And it’s also been a while since I’ve shared pictures of my lovely girls. And it’s been a while since I’ve bragged about M… and so I thought I’d combine all three today. This past year, M has discovered that she loves photography (like mother like daughter?), and that she has a talent for it. She’s basically taken over my “good” camera (as opposed to the everyday one that the rest of the girls use), and loves walking around the house taking pictures.

Her favorite subjects, though, are her sisters. And, perhaps not surprisingly, they love to have their pictures taken.

K being sassy:

I love A’s freckles!

And she’s really not like this all the time, but C does pouty SO well.

And, as everyone knows, it’s hard to get one of yourself, when you’re the photographer. Good thing M’s resourceful.

Aren’t they great? (And yes, I am proud of all of them!)

Kicking it Up a Notch: When Children are Stuck in a Reading Rut

Imagine this scenario:

Your first child is a precocious kid. She asks you to read aloud books like The Secret Garden or House at Pooh Corner when she’s barely four years old. She’s a bit of a slow learner when it comes to reading (which you happily blame on the school system in Mississippi), but by the end of first grade, she’s reading books like Junie B. Jones and The Magic Treehouse series to herself. She seriously takes off in second grade, and by third grade she’s devouring Harry Potter (all of them that were printed by that date, anyway) and anything else she can get her hands on. She progresses increasingly as she gets older; nothing is too difficult, to obscure, or too big for her.

Then along comes your second child. She’s not as precocious; she’s happy to have you read picture books aloud to her well into kindergarten. Eventually, she asks you to read Wizard of Oz aloud, but that’s pretty much all. She dabbles in Narnia and with Harry Potter, but is not enthusiastic about them. She learns to read faster than her older sister (different school system), and is also able to read Junie B. Jones and The Magic Treehouse books (as well as Clementine) by the end of first grade. And then… she stalls. Second grade, third grade go by and she really shows no sign of being interested in longer books. That’s not exactly accurate: she has discovered that she loves having longer books read aloud to her: Matilda, the Ranger’s Apprentice, Sisters Grimm and so on. But, she shows no sign of desiring to read ahead in the book (unlike her sister), to pick up the book on her own after you close it every night.

Sound familiar?

Obviously, this is based on personal experience, here: M is our “reader”, devouring books, sometimes as many as one a day. C is our extrovert: it’s not that she doesn’t like reading, or that it’s difficult for her. Rather, there’s better things that she wants to do with her time. And, to tell the truth, long books intimidate her.

I have thought about pushing C; M and I have thrust books at her, telling her that she’d LOVE this, that or the other. We’ve bribed her: the only way she read Order of the Phoenix was that we wouldn’t let her see the movie until she finished. But, I wonder about either of these approaches: I want C to love reading, and she’s not going to love reading if she’s forced or coerced or bribed to do it.

So, what to do? I’ve thought long about how to get C to enjoy what she’s reading, to be excited about books — long or short — and these are some of the ideas that seem to have worked for us.

1. Find a genre that your child is interested in. For M, we let her read the Harry Potter books over and over, and threw fantasy books at her as often as possible. Sure, we gave her other books to “branch out” but mostly we let her read where her interests were. For C, however, it’s not been so easy. She enjoys picture books, and still pilfers through our picture book piles every library day. So when I’m at the library, I pick up a few picture books with longer stories that I know C will pick up and read. Fairy and folk tales, books about girls her own age (Moxy Maxwell or Bobby Versus Girls, Accidentally), and general non-fiction, are also all things that she likes.

2. Try Graphic Novels. This was the big winner in our house. Graphic novels like Babymouse and Diary of a Wimpy Kid, or Dork Diaries and Ellie McDoodle, bridged the gap between early chapter books and more difficult middle grade books for C.

3. Don’t push it. You know the saying “at least they’re reading”? Think about that. Reading is not supposed to be a chore, it’s supposed to be fun. And if they LOVE reading Magic Treehouse (even though you think it’s crap), then let them read Magic Treehouse. Besides, if you push a kid to read something they’re not ready for they’re going to end up hating it (or at the very least, not getting much out of it). And that would be worse, I think, than them reading under their grade level.

4. Have someone else — a librarian, a friend, a teacher — suggest books. Sometimes, the reason your child isn’t progressing is because it’s coming from you, the parent. (Sad, but true.) There are other sources to get book recommendations. Have your child (not you!) talk to them, and get some ideas there. They might find something they really like. Included in this are fads, which are not always bad. Perhaps part of the reason M read Harry Potter was because everyone around her was reading Harry Potter. Likewise, C willingly reads and loves the Percy Jackson books because they’re popular right now.

5. In that same vein, try a parent-child book group. I’m not going to go into details, but rather send you over to Imagination Soup for some great ideas and reasons why this works, and works well.

Oh, and 6. Keep trying. Just because they don’t love Saffy’s Angel right now, doesn’t mean they won’t love it later. (We handed the book to her at the end of third grade; she could have read it because she read well enough. But she didn’t actually read the book until a month ago, and started it only because she couldn’t find anything else to read. She did like it, in the end.) Time and patience, as with everything, is the key.

Because, in the end, you don’t want to raise a precocious reader. You want to raise a child who loves books. Right?