Memorial Day History

May 30, 2011

In honor of those men and women who’ve given their lives in service to the United States, I offer the following videos. The first is a slide show of thanks. The second is a link to a concise history of the Memorial Day holiday from the History Channel.

As you gather with friends and family this weekend, please remember what makes our freedom possible. Thank you.

History Channel link:


Contest: Author Catch-up

May 27, 2011

I asked Kirby Larson and Pat Lowry Collins about their newest books because the ones we reviewed previously on Damsels were such great reads.  It’s fun to follow the careers of authors whose books you admire.  When I was a kid, there were some authors whose books I couldn’t wait to get my hands on.  I didn’t have the internet and all my current knowledge on how to track upcoming releases, but as soon as something hit the library shelves, I would read their latest as fast as I could, then wait eagerly for the next.

For an entry in our contest, tell us an author whose books you eagerly anticipate, and/or whose books you can read over and over.  One winner will get Kirby Larson’s The Friendship Doll, the other will get Pat Lowry Collins’s Daughter of Winter.  Winners will be drawn next Friday, June 3!

Book Review: Daughter of Winter

May 25, 2011

Daughter of Winter
Pat Lowery Collins
Age 12+
416 pages

Set in the winter of 1849 in the shipbuilding town of Essex, Massachusetts, Daughter of Winter is an engaging survival story about twelve-year old Addie and her search to discover just who she is. Addie’s father travels west to seek gold, leaving his family behind. When the flux takes the lives her mother and brother, Addie is suddenly left all alone. Afraid of being forced to go live with another family and of becoming a glorified servant, she takes to the woods, hiding from the town’s people when they come to get her. In the woods, she meets a Wampanoag woman who takes her in, and slowly Addie’s past unfolds.

I really enjoyed this book. It was an easy, fast-paced read that was chock full of historical details embedded seamlessly into the story. Each character brought different information to the reader. Addie’s best friend allows the reader to learn some shipbuilding details. Her teacher, not only lets the reader understand how one room schools worked, but also gives a glimpse of how the Irish were treated in 1840s Massachusetts. Nokummus, the old Indian lady, lets the reader understand her culture through her simple actions of everyday living.

Another aspect that I love about Pat’s writing is her ability to make you feel like you are right there with Addie. Her descriptions of Addie’s struggles to build a fire or the icy cold water of the bay hitting her face are very evocative, and I could easily imagine myself there with Addie, cold and hungry. I always managed to get pulled into each scene. I noticed this in Hidden Voices, and it stood out again in this book. Pat has an amazing gift with words when it comes to painting a scene and drawing the reader in.

I’d call this a coming of age novel. It’s definitely a historical story about adventure and survival but throughout the novel each scene moves Addie closer to discovering just who she is. She grows as a character and in the end the decisions she makes are truly hers. Addie is a character that the reader can easily like and root for. She’s strong but still vulnerable. She’s courageous and proud but still able to accept help when she really needs it. Daughter of Winter is worth the read. Pat’s magical way with descriptions will bring the past to life, and Addie is sure to tug at the reader’s heartstrings and have them rooting for her until the end!

Book Review: The Friendship Doll

May 23, 2011

The Friendship Doll
Kirby Larson

Ages 9-12
208 pages

(Two months ago, I posted an update on several authors who have given interviews for us.  This week, we’ll review new books by two of them and host a give-away.)

Kirby Larson’s latest work of historical fiction, The Friendship Doll, was a delight from start to finish.  As if anyone who read Hattie Big Sky could doubt that it would be.  The two books have little in common, but through Hattie, The Fences Between Us, and The Friendship Doll, this lovely author has managed to cover most of the early 20th century, a time when the world was at its worst but somehow produced the richest stories.

But I digress.  The Friendship Doll tells the story of four young girls and their encounters with a Japanese Friendship Doll named Miss Kanagawa.  The “historical fact” part of this book is that in 1927, fifty-eight hand-crafted dolls were sent from Japan to the US as a sign of goodwill and friendship.  They arrived in New York City and were welcomed in a lavish ceremony, including a speech by one of Theodore Roosevelt’s granddaughters.  A fictional girl on the welcoming committee, Bunny Harnden, is the first of the four girls to be touched Miss Kanagawa, a doll who takes herself and her role as an “ambassador” a little too seriously.

From Bunny’s story in the years just before the Great Depression, we move forward in time and westward across the US to Lois Brown, living in 1933 Illinois.  Willie Mae Marcum in 1937 and Lucy Turner in 1939, along with Lois, have all had to go without as their families struggle with unemployment.  These girls never meet each other, only the doll.  But each girl has a friend they love and help, and each in turn helps an arrogant doll discover her own capacity for love.

The book reads like four novellas strung together by a common character (Miss Kanagawa) and common themes of loss and friendship.  I loved this structure, while at the same time I wished that each story could have been longer.  Each girl was compelling in her own way.  Many stories have been set during the Depression, but Kirby managed to find some that haven’t been told over and over.  Lois, for example, goes to the Chicago World’s Fair–not your average Depression story.  Lucy’s story has elements of The Grapes of Wrath, but from a child’s perspective.  All of these stories give a rich, complex portrait of this country just before and during the Depression that couldn’t be given just by reading a full-length book about any one of them.  But darn it if I don’t wish it could be so!

Stay tuned Friday for a chance to win either a signed copy of The Friendship Doll or a signed copy of Pat Lowry Collins’s latest, which Jennifer will review later in the week.  That’s right–one contest, two winners, two different books.  Hope you’re enjoying our “catch-up” week!

NESCBWI Annual Conference

May 18, 2011

I hadn’t missed my local conference since I started attending writing conferences in 2007, but this year I contemplated not going. I’d been really frustrated with my last couple of conferences, getting very little out of them. It’s only because of my mom (gotta love moms) that I ended up going, and I’m really glad I did! This year was “big”! NESCBWI was celebrating its 25th consecutive conference, and did so in style with a great line up of keynote speakers that included Tomie DePaola, Stephen Mooser, Lin Oliver, Harold Underdown, and Jane Yolen.

Saturday started off with Jane Yolen’s great keynote on rejection. The highlight of the speech for me was that we have to remember that rejection isn’t personal, and that even though we (as writers) have left our heart and soul on the pages we submit, the editor only sees the words and is only rejecting novel, not us. I also picked up a few “writer” acronyms that (I’m not sure how) I didn’t know about! My favorite being BIC or Butt in Chair! Something I need to do more of right now!

I wasn’t too enthusiastic about my Saturday workshops when I signed up for them, but I ended up really liking them. I got some good information and the speakers were very good. I ended up taking two nonfiction workshops: Research Techniques for Nonfiction and Using Photographs in Nonfiction. Both were taught by Loree Griffin Burns (who’s a great speaker) and I walked out of the workshops knowing more than I did going in—that’s the best kind of workshop!

The third workshop I took was by Tami Lewis Brown called Levitate Your Fiction. She talked about seven “magical” tools for levitating your fiction. Note: I can’t list all of them here with explanations because we were asked not to repost presenters’ work without their permission, but I can highlight a few of the points that really spoke to me. The first thing we need to do as writers is find the incredible (the “beyond belief”) element in our novels. It is our job to make the unbelievable element real. We have to ask ourselves what element is “beyond belief” and how we will make it “credible.” If you can convince the reader this element could be nothing but “true,” it will levitate your fiction to the next level. The other point that really stayed with me was that we need to “hire a skeptic.” We need someone to ask the hard questions, create obstacles, and raise doubts. And it doesn’t just have to be your reader; it can be in the form of skeptical character.

Saturday afternoon and Sunday morning we were privileged to hear Lin Oliver, co-founder and Executive Director of the SCBWI, and Stephen Mooser, co-founder and President of SCBWI, speak. I knew nothing about the history of SCBWI and how it was founded. Lin, Stephen and Jane Yolen started the first SCBW, the “I” was added soon after when illustrator Tomie dePaola joined. It really was a treat to hear all four keynote speakers talk about the history of SCBWI.

I also submitted a very rough draft first chapter of Avrina for a critique. I’ve never written science fiction before, and I was hoping just to get some feedback that would help me as I wrote the first draft. My critiquer, Stacy Whitman, is WONDERFUL. I have never had an editor take so much time and put so much effort into 10 pages of mine. She gave me lots of useful feedback that has already given me ideas for how to reshape the first chapter and pull her comments through the entire novel. Sunday I had a two-hour intensive workshop on World Building with her that I really enjoyed. I’m definitely on the right track with my world building, and I have a renewed passion to keep writing Avrina now. This was what I wanted, but had been missing from past conferences—that desire to write! I’m so glad I didn’t skip this year. I’d have missed out big time!

Happy 2nd Birthday Damsels!

May 14, 2011

“Come along and follow me . . .”

May 11, 2011

To a musical extravaganza!

Looking at our Pictures from the Past last week made me think about what I liked to do as a kid.  And one of the things that came to mind was watch old movies.

It might have been because my parents were into musicals. Or perhaps it was because there was nothing else on television on a Saturday afternoon. But I loved watching movies—musical or not—from the 1930s and ’40s. Many of these films were pure escapist entertainment for a country recovering from The Great Depression and a world soon to be at war again. Of course as an elementary school aged child, I didn’t understand that. All I knew was that they were entertaining and engrossing.

Now we come to confession time—I was a huge Shirley Temple fan. I loved watching her movies. I loved singing her songs. My parents even bought me an album of her greatest hits. And in looking at video clips of those movies another thing came clear. Shirley Temple was an amazingly talented child. I knew that, but as an adult I can better understand the complexity of what she did.

Shirley Temple began her career when she was three. A year or two later, she was a huge star. And even though her career waned when she was a teenager, I’m still a fan.  She grew up to be an ambassador to Ghana and Czechoslovakia. I’ve always thought that was really cool.

Here are a couple of clips for your entertainment. The dancing in the first one—from the film “Captain January”—starts about halfway through. Anybody recognize her dance partner?

And here she is in the movie “Stowaway” from 1936. I assume this film was colorized (like the previous clip), but I couldn’t find it in black and white. My favorite part is near the end when she impersonates Fred Astaire and Ginger Rogers. Enjoy! 😀