Winner of The Trouble with May Amelia

March 30, 2012

Since, as Jennifer pointed out, we can’t enter our own contests, Danielle wins The Trouble with May Amelia!  Please send me your snail mail address and I will get it in the mail next week!


The American Spelling Book

March 28, 2012

I have a replica of The American Spelling Book: Containing the Rudiments of the English Language for the Use of Schools in the United States (whew…that’s a mouthful of a title) by Noah Webster published in 1824. I’m sure when we all hear the name Noah Webster we think of the man who compiled a dictionary which became a standard for the American English language. He also compiled The America Spelling Book, which was the basic textbook for young readers in the early 19th century.

I am fascinated by the book and have been reading it. The opening lesson starts with the following passage:


IN the English alphabet there are twenty five single characters, that stand as representatives of certain sounds. A, b, c, d, e, f, g, i, j, k, l, m, n, o, p, q, r, s, t, u, v, w, x, y, z. H is not a mark of sound; but it qualifies or gives form to a succeeding sound.*

In order to understand these letters, or rather the sounds they represent, it is necessary to decline the meaning of the words vowel, diphthong and consonant.

A vowel is a simple articulate sound. A simple sound is formed by opening the mouth in a certain manner, without any contact of the parts of it. Whenever a sound can be begun and completed with the same positions of the organs, it is a simple sound.

A diphthong is a union of two simple sounds, pronounced at one breath. To form a diphthong, there are necessarily required two different positions of the organs of speech.

A consonant, or, as it is called by the ancients, a close-letter, forms no distinct articulate sound of itself. In pronouncing most of the English consonants, there is required a contact of the parts of the mouth, and the union of a vowel; though some of the consonants form imperfect syllables of themselves.

This first chapter goes on to explain pronunciation of the letters, combination of letters and talk about accents, emphasis and cadence. Then from there come the charts of words, broken down into lessons. It starts with simple one syllable words and works up to more and more complicated words. If I’d studied this book as a kid my vocabulary would be amazing. I’ve had to look up more words from the later spelling lessons! We’ve lost that eloquent (and sometimes complicated) way of speaking from the 18th and 19th century. From there the book starts to move into reading passages. And this is where I fell in love with this book. I love the observations about life and people, the little history lessons, and most of all the fables.

It’s interesting to see how church and school weren’t separate. There are many passages like the following:

Therefore be not anxious for the good things of this life, but seek the kingdom of heaven and its righteousness, and all things shall be added to you.

The fables are meant to teach children lessons—to obey their elders, to not be greedy and so forth. This is one of my favorites:


WHEN men suffer their imaginations to amuse them with the prospect of distant and uncertain improvement of their condition, they frequently suffer real losses by their inattention to those affairs in which they are immediately concerned.

A country maid was walking very deliberately with a pail of milk upon her head, when she fell into the following train of reflections; The money for which I shall sell this milk, will enable me to increase my flock of eggs to three hundred. These eggs, allowing for what may prove addle, and what may be destroyed by vermin will produce at least two hundred and fifty chickens. The chickens will be fit to carry to market about Christmas, when poultry always bears a good price; so that by May-day I cannot fail of having money enough to purchase a new gown. Green–let me consider–yes, green become my complexion best, and green it shall be. In this dress I will go to the fair, where all the young fellows will strive to have me for a partner; but I shall perhaps refuse every one of them, and with an air of disdain toss from them. Transported with this triumphant thought, she could not forbear acting with her head what passed in her imagination, when down came the pail of milk, and with it all her imaginary happiness.

It’s a book that definitely gives you a sense of the time period and how people thought.  If you’re looking to get a sense of the language and how it was used in the 19th century this is definitely a good book to read.  I recommend reading it for anyone writing a historical piece set in the 1800s.

Contest: The Trouble with May Amelia

March 23, 2012

When I asked Jenni Holm if she could send us a copy of The Trouble with May Amelia to give away, she said she had just gotten the audio CDs and asked if we would like to host a contest to win those.  I said absolutely, so let the contest begin!  To win a chance to hear one of my favorite fictional voices, please leave a comment on the following topic:

When have you been the only girl in a group of boys, or the only boy in a group of girls?  What was good, bad, ugly, and/or hilarious about the situation?  Would you do it the same way if you could do it over, or would you recruit another member of your own gender for moral support?

The winner will be announced next Friday, March 30!

Interview: Jennifer L. Holm

March 21, 2012

We’ve had some talented, accomplished, and well-known authors on Damsels in Regress in the past three years, but today’s interview is definitely a sparkly jewel in our crown.  Please welcome three-time Newbery Honor winner, and author of Monday’s reviewed book, The Trouble with May Amelia, Jennifer L. Holm!

1.  Our Only May Amelia was a great story whose characters definitely left room for more stories, but the book as a whole seemed to stand on its own.  Did you always intend to write a sequel, or did The Trouble with May Amelia come to you later?

I hadn’t initially planned to write a sequel. And then a few years after it was published, I came around and decided I would write a companion novel from the point of view of her best brother, Wilbert. But when I got down to writing it, I couldn’t get May Amelia’s voice out of my head (she’s bossy that way.) So I just gave in.

2.  May Amelia has such a distinct voice and the writing style is unusual (the dialogue not being in quotations, the use of randomly capitalized words for emphasis).  Was it hard to get back into that voice after writing several other books, or did it feel comfortable from the beginning?

It was strangely comfortable, which isn’t always the case. Also, in a weird way, I missed her. My mom gave me this t-shirt that says “Writer’s block is when your imaginary friends won’t talk back to you.” I think this is perfectly true. I like it when I can hold a conversation with my characters. (Now that sounded a little strange … but, hey, writers are a strange bunch.)

3.  You’ve said that these books were based on family history.  How much is factual and what is from your imagination?

If the book was a cake recipe, I would say the batter was my imagination, the frosting was the historical details, and the icing roses were the facts. There was no May Amelia in real life, of course. Although her name sort of lives on in my daughter (we named her Millie May).

4.  What sort of research did you do for both of May Amelia’s stories?  What was one interesting piece of information that you weren’t able to fit in?

My research involved a lot of oral family histories, as well as general research about the area and the Finnish immigrant experience. If anything, it brought me a little closer to my Finnish heritage, especially the cooking. I can cook a mean laxloda now (a creamy salmon and potato casserole).

Also, I’m a sucker for local historical societies—I adore them. I love crawling through dusty collections and hanging out with archivists and historians. When I went to college (Dickinson College in Carlisle, PA), I worked in the Archive in the library and it ruined me for life.

So many bits didn’t fit in, and that’s always disappointing. But ultimately, the history has to push the story forward.

5.  How is the research for May Amelia’s stories easier, harder, or just different than the research you’ve done for your other historical novels?

It may have been a little easier because my father helped me a lot, as did my aunts (so I had first-hand stories). They had long memories for nickel knowledge. “Nickel knowledge” was what my dad called little historical details, like how it felt on a cold night when his father would lay his coat on top of him in bed to keep him warm when he was a child.

6.  May Amelia’s claim to fame is that she’s the only girl in her family and one of the only ones in her whole region.  She’s not your only character to be the only girl in a family full of boys, either.  Does this come from your own family experiences or is it just a situation you enjoy exploring?

Well, I guess you could say I have plenty of experience. I’m one of five children (and the only girl.)

7.  May Amelia calls Wilbert her “best brother.”  Which of May Amelia’s seven brothers was your favorite?

Matti (the eldest brother) was my favorite in the first book. But in Trouble, it was Kaarlo— which surprised me as much as anybody else. It’s easy to be the Golden Child (like big brother Matti) and go away and impress people. It’s much harder to be the Good Child who stays behind and takes care of a family when it falls apart.

8.  Are there any plans to explore other aspects of your family history or other time periods in future books?  Or are there any time periods you’ve already written in that you want to revisit?

I’m starting to feel the tug to go back to Key West and revisit Turtle and the Diaper Gang, so who knows? (Besides, who wouldn’t want an excuse to go back to Key West?)

Thanks again, Jenni!

No, thank you!

Book Review: The Trouble with May Amelia

March 19, 2012

The Trouble with May Amelia
Jennifer L. Holm
Ages 8+
224 pages

I read Jennifer L. Holm’s Newbery Honor winner, Our Only May Amelia, a few years back.  I was taken in immediately by May Amelia’s hilarious rants about living in a household with seven older brothers.  The writing style departs from the norm–no quotation marks (all dialogue comes across as May Amelia, the first-person narrator, saying that someone said something), and capitalization awarded to various emphasized words.  The result was that I read it within twenty-four hours, laughing and crying all the way.

Imagine my delight, then, when I heard of last year’s sequel, The Trouble with May Amelia.  I had no trouble at all falling as much in love with this book as I had with the first.  Both are set in southern Washington state in 1899-1900, where farming, logging, and navigating the Columbia River to the nearest city, Astoria, Oregon, are the struggles of the day.  Most of the people in May Amelia’s tight-knit community are Finnish, and English is not widely spoken except in school.  May Amelia’s fair grasp of English gives her a way to serve her father, who is often annoyed with her inability to be either a proper young lady or a boy.  She translates a deal for him when a businessman comes to town, promising the end of their hardships with the land for investment in a new community.

But before that can come to pass, May Amelia and her pascal of brothers have their fair share of adventures–out-smarting a harsh new teacher, out-running a vicious bull, and nursing one of their own back to health after a logging accident, to name a few.  May Amelia doesn’t spare us any of the harsh realities of her life, but she doesn’t skimp on the victories or the sweet moments, either.  In the end, she’s a few steps closer to knowing that it’s okay to be herself, even if there’s no one else quite like her.

Please stay tuned for an interview with author Jenni Holm on Wednesday, and a chance to win a copy of the brand-new The Trouble with May Amelia audio CDs starting Friday.

General Maxims for Health

March 16, 2012

America Frugal Housewife

General Maxims for Health

Wash very often, and rub the skin thoroughly with a hard brush.

…presented to you from The American Frugal Housewife – Dedicated to those who are not ashamed of economy, by Mrs. Child…

One of my Lenten goals…

March 9, 2012

If you ever take note of the sidebar you probably see that Emilie and Tricia’s tracker are usually moving right along as they work on their writing. And then there was mine that sat there at “zero” words. The past year I didn’t write anything. I was busy, yes. I was working about 60 hours a week between three jobs and trying to start up my soap business (this was on top of three jobs). At the end of the day I just didn’t seem to have any energy to write.

Also, I was stuck between two stories. I needed to rewrite The Schoolhouse Disappearance. I’d finished a rough draft of it and gotten feedback on its problem spots. I had a new outline and was ready to get to work on it. Every time I tried to start I’d put it aside and do something else. As much as I wanted to revise this novel so I could start sending it out to publishers, my heart wasn’t in it. I love the 1830s, but my brain was sick of all things historical. So, I made excuses and just kept putting it off.

Part of the problem was I had another story on my mind—Avrina (currently untitled), an adult semi-dystopian science fiction novel. Avrina was the second novel I ever wrote. The novel was awful (almost as bad as my first), but the idea had so much potential. About the time I finished The Schoolhouse Disappearance (TSD) I started to world build and plot Avrina’s story. I ditched the original story keeping just the concept of the world I’d created and the characters. I even started to write it before I got overwhelmed with work. From there it went downhill. I felt like I should work on revising TSD but I wanted to write Avrina. The result I just didn’t write. The longer I didn’t write, the harder it was to get back into it. Until a year had gone by and the only writing I’d done had been for work or this blog.

The New Year rolled around, and I promised myself I’d get back into writing. I even pulled out my “World Building Bible” (the best thing I’ve ever created. I think I should try it for my historical novels too…in fact that might have to be a near future post!). I didn’t write. Then before I knew it Ash Wednesday was upon us and I made this Lenten goal: To take at least half an hour every day to write. The first couple days were torture. Somehow I ran out of time during the day and the only time I had to write was at night. Instead of that hour of TV it became an hour of writing. But now a third of the way in to Lent and I’m suddenly a quarter of the way through my novel. And if I keep at this pace should make it to the halfway point by Easter.

It’s amazing to rediscover writing after practically a year off. I love getting caught up in my story. I love the little (and sometimes big) twists and turns that have appeared, I love the new characters that have made appearances, and I love the fact that my main character has become someone I never imagined. She just kind of took over and said “this is how I’m going to be,” and what could I do but listen? My little word tracker was dormant for way too long. It’s time to keep it moving. To keep writing. Even when I don’t always feel like it. It might have taken Lent to get my back into writing, but hopefully now my love of writing will keep me going.