Another semester is about to begin. We will meet in person and hopefully everyone will be safe. Here is the list of books my students get to choose from for their literature circles. One fantasy novel, one historical fiction novel, one contemporary realistic fiction novel, and either a novel-in-verse or a graphic novel. Which have you read?
Happy First Day of School!
I know some of you have been back to school for a while, and some of you don’t go to school anymore…. so, Happy Tuesday to you!
This fall, my children’s literature students have a great list of books to choose from for their literature circles. It’s a good mix of some old favorites and some new stars. Here they are:
The Girl Who Drank the Moon by Kelly Barnhill
The One and Only Ivan by Katherine Applegate
Bud, Not Buddy by Christopher Paul Curtis
Call It Courage by Armstrong Sperry
Roll of Thunder, Hear My Cry by Mildred Taylor
A Year Down Yonder by Richard Peck
Contemporary Realistic Fiction
From the Mixed-Up Files of Mrs. Basil E. Frankweiler by E.L. Konigsburg
Shiloh by Phyllis Reynolds
The Westing Game by Ellen Raskin
Hello, Universe by Erin Entrada Kelly
Holes by Louis Sachar
It’s going to be a great semester! Enjoy the new season!
I usually post what my students will be reading, and I’m late getting this up. Here are the books they can choose from this semester:
The One and Only Ivan by Katherine Applegate
The Girl Who Drank the Moon by Kelly Barnhill
The BFG by Roald Dahl
Roll of Thunder, Hear by Cry by Mildred Taylor
Sarah, Plain and Tall by Patricia MacLachlan
Call It Courage by Armstrong Sperry
I Survived: The Battle of Gettysburg by Lauren Tarshis
Contemporary Realistic Fiction:
Dear Mr. Henshaw by Beverly Cleary
Ghost by Jason Reynolds
The Goldfish Boy by Lisa Thompson
“Mixed Genre” novels:
The Whipping Boy by Sid Fleischman
Holes by Louis Sachar
Out of the Dust by Karen Hesse
Everyone is currently reading The Wizard of Oz, and each student will choose two other books, based on an author and on a theme.
It’s going to be a great semester of reading!
1. Describe the place where Dorothy lives (use three details).
2. What does Dorothy do when the house is being carried by the tornado?
1. Who does Dorothy’s house kill?
2. What surrounds the land of Oz and prevents Dorothy from easily returning to Kansas?
3. Why does the Witch of the North kiss Dorothy?
1. What does Dorothy do to get ready for her long journey to the Emerald City?
2. What is the favorite color of the people of Munchkinland?
3. What does the Scarecrow hope to get from the Wizard?
1. Is the Scarecrow able to scare crows?
2. Who tells the Scarecrow that he will only be as good as a real man if he has a brain?
1. What does the Tin Woodman hope to get from the Wizard?
2. Why is the Tin Woodman made of tin? Explain the whole story.
1. How does Dorothy protect Toto from the Lion?
2. What does the Lion hope to get from the Wizard?
1. How do they cross the two large ditches in the road? Who has these ideas?
2. What happens with the Kalidahs?
1. How does the raft get out of the current and to the other side of the river?
2. How is the Scarecrow rescued from the pole in the river?
3. Why are the poppy flowers dangerous?
1. Who does the Tin Woodman save by killing the wildcat?
2. How is the Lion saved from the field of Poppies?
1. What must everyone wear before entering the Emerald City gates?
2. What does the wizard look like to Dorothy, to the Scarecrow, to the Tin Woodman and to the Lion?
3. What does the wizard ask them to do before he will help them?
1. What happens when the Witch’s wolves try to kill Dorothy and her friends?
2. What happens when the Witch’s crows try to kill Dorothy and her friends?
3. What happens when the Witch’s bees try to kill Dorothy and her friends?
4. What happens when the Winkies try to capture Dorothy and her friends?
5. What happens when the Winged Monkeys attack Dorothy and her friends?
6. How does Dorothy kill the Wicked Witch?
1. How are the Tin Woodman and Scarecrow rescued?
2. What does Dorothy find in a cupboard and take with her when they leave?
1. How do the friends return to the Emerald City?
2. What trick did the Winged Monkeys do to Quelala?
3. What punishment did Queen Gayelette give the monkeys for their trick?
1. Who is the Great Oz really?
2. How did the he get to the land of Oz?
1. How does the wizard give the Scarecrow a brain?
2. How does the wizard give the Tin Woodman a heart?
3. How does the wizard give the Lion courage?
1. How does the wizard plan to take Dorothy back to Kansas?
2. What goes wrong?
3. Who will rule Emerald City after the wizard leaves?
1. Why can’t the Winged Monkeys fly Dorothy to Kansas?
2. Who might be able to help Dorothy?
3. Where does she live?
1. What stops the travelers from going through the trees?
2. How do they solve this problem?
1. What is on the other side of the wall?
2. Why won’t the china princess go with Dorothy to Kansas?
1. Why did the animals of the forest call a meeting?
2. How does the Lion kill the monster?
1. How do the armless Hammer-Heads keep people out of their country?
2. How do Dorothy and her friends get past the Hammer-Heads?
1. What will each of Dorothy’s friends (the Scarecrow, the Tin Woodman and the Lion) do after Dorothy leaves?
2. How does Dorothy get back to Kansas?
3. What happens to the Silver Shoes?
1. What does Aunt Em do when she sees Dorothy?
2. Is Dorothy happy to be home?
As the kids head back to school, so do I. I’ve been going through Scholastic catalogs and textbooks and web pages listing award-winning children’s books and I’ve put together the list of books students will be reading in my Children’s Lit class this semester. I thought I’d share.
Charles Perrault’s Cinderella and the Grimm Brother’s Aschenputel, followed by two choice fairy tales.
Treasure Island by Robert Louis Stevenson.
Choice books (one from each genre):
- The Watsons Go to Birmingham, 1963 by Christopher Paul Curtis
- Sarah, Plain and Tall by Patricia MacLachlan
- Esperanza Rising by Pam Munoz Ryan
- Charlotte’s Web by E.B. White
- The BFG by Roald Dahl
- Ella Enchanted by Gail Carson Levine
- Frindle by Andrew Clements
- Hatchet by Gary Paulsen
- From the Mixed Up Files of Mrs. Basil E. Frankweiler by E.L. Konigsburg
- Out of the Dust by Karen Hesse
- Love that Dog by Sharon Creech
They’ll read two other choice books: one by an author whose name they’ll pick from a hat, and one based on a theme their group selects.
A lot of great books and a lot of fun! Don’t you wish you were in my class this semester?
Today I’m welcoming Gale Borger to my series of author interviews. Gale writes humorous mysteries, including the Olive Branch series and the Miller Sisters Mystery series. Gale’s six Olive Branch short mysteries, formerly only available as ebooks, have just been released in a print collection that includes an all-new sixth mystery.
Elizabeth: Gale, thanks for visiting today.
Gale: Thank you for having me.
Elizabeth: Tell me a little about the Olive Branch kids and the mysteries they solve.
Gale: The Olive Branch mysteries were the product of a brainstorm by Karen Syed, owner and President of Echelon Press out of Orlando, Florida. A huge proponent of the literacy movement, Karen came up with the idea of having several authors each publish a series of six short e-stories (one per month over the summer) in YA format, which would read like episodes. At the end of the sixth “Electric Shorts” installment, the readers would have read an entire story, but not face the intimidation of struggling through a long chapter book. The shorts worked great for summer reading programs.
Elizabeth: How did this idea evolve into the Olive Branch Mysteries?
Gale: Because I’m a Master Gardener, Karen suggested I write about gardening, and I tutor and work with many young adults in their late teens and early twenties, so it was decided that I take the teenage readers and develop my series from that.
I thought writing gardening for teens would be like trying to talk a group of Ultimate Fighters into taking ballet lessons. What I came up with was to establish a garden center where teens in trouble with the law could work off court ordered community service while receiving counseling and schooling at the same time.
The mystery comes into play while walking back to the garden center after a day of planting flowers downtown. The five teens, Cash, Pone, Shroom, Spaz, and Bean, stumble across a dead prostitute in an alley. They are compelled to find out who murdered her. Thus was born the first installment, “Death of a Garden Hoe.”
Elizabeth: Now tell me about the Miller sisters.
I started out by sketching characters; taking personality traits, quirks, eccentricities (and just plain weirdness) from my siblings, my friends, my mother and her friends, and from people I’ve known over the years. I came up with four girls raised on a farm (Buzz, the eldest, is Wisconsin’s newest member of the AARP). Buzz is an ex-detective, and in each of the books, one of the sisters “help” solve a murder. The results are pretty funny. Mag is a high school biology teacher, Al is a librarian, and Freddie owns the local pet shop. Buzz’s love interest is a childhood friend and the local Sheriff, and they still make all major decisions by the tried and true Rock, Scissors, Paper method.
Elizabeth: But how can murder be made funny?
Gale: Murder is never funny, but how you get to the truth can be a riot.
Elizabeth: As a mystery writer, do you find you need to outline the plot before you begin writing?
Gale: I don’t outline, I develop characters. They write the stories.
Elizabeth: Is there a mystery writer you especially admire or one that you read to learn the craft from?
Gale: There are many writers I admire and read. The truth of the matter is I’ve spent over twenty years in law enforcement, so I know crime, and the people who commit crimes. Actually, some of my favorite people are bad guys. I grew up with humor, and hung out with creative and funny people. When it came to putting it all down on paper, it seemed natural to combine the two.
Elizabeth: Do you find that you need to work and plan to be humorous in your stories, or does the humor just flow?
Gale: Great question. The humor flows. Humor has to come naturally, or it looks forced–like punch lines stuck where they don’t belong. If you have funny characters, they will do things in a funny manner. Quick, witty dialog is so very important. That is why I stress character development. I never know what is around the corner, but my characters fling me around it like crack-the-whip.
Elizabeth: Anything else you’d like us to know about your books?
Gale: Well, now that you mention it, I’ve been asked if I thought it was rather silly and far-fetched to have grownups have nicknames and Three Stooges humor. The funny thing is, I really do have a sister with the nickname of Maggot, mine was Buzz, and I have a sister Sam, whose real name is not Samantha! The old ladies with police scanners are real (thanks to Mom and her friends), and we really do call my baby sister Jack the Tripper. Mark Twain once said, “Truth is stranger than fiction, but it is because fiction is obliged to stick to possibilities; truth isn’t.” I don’t know about strange, but the truth sure can be funny!
Elizabeth: Enough of your book—tell us about yourself.
Gale: I grew up in northeast Illinois on a horse farm in a household who watched Red Skelton, Jack Benny, Dick Van Dyke, and The Three Stooges. I loved Carol Burnett, Gilda Radner, Lily Tomlin and Lucille Ball–brilliant comediennes who didn’t have to take their clothes off to entertain their audiences. I love screwball comedy and I don’t apologize for pie-in-the-face jokes.
I’ve lived in southeastern Wisconsin for the past 20 years. I have a Bachelor’s degree in Criminal Justice and a Master’s degree in Education. I have been a Correctional Officer with the Walworth County Sheriff’s Office for the past seventeen years, and I already mentioned I was a Master Gardener, and I want to learn to train therapy dogs (in my spare time, of course).
My husband Bob and I have about 1,000 gallons of freshwater tropical fish, and Bob makes the best tropical fish food you can buy (captainbobsfishtales.com). Our daughter, Shannon is a double music major at UW Milwaukee, and plays a mean trombone.
Elizabeth: We’ve now reached the time in our interview for the let’s-get-to-know-the-author-better, nearly-pointless, sort-of-silly, rapid-fire questions:
Elizabeth: Coffee or tea?
Gale: A pot-o-coffee in the morning, tea in the late evenings, and Diet Pepsi any time of day.
Elizabeth: Ocean or mountain?
Gale: Mountains. I love the water, but I’ll take a lake over an ocean any day.
Elizabeth: Hiking or shopping?
Gale: Hiking-definitely. I abhor shopping!
Elizabeth: Violin or piano?
Gale: Piano if it’s Victor Borge
Elizabeth: Historical fiction or fantasy?
Gale: I prefer hysterical over historical fiction
Elizabeth: Darcy or Heathcliff?
Gale: Mr. Darcy, of course. How can one resist a 200 year old unattainable, yet endearingly awkward man, who loves you for who you are, who sees you as an intellectual equal, and he’s a rich, handsome guy to boot?
Elizabeth: Love scene or death scene?
Gale: Love scene (sans the milky white thighs), which turns into the death scene.
To learn more about Gale and order her books, visit her blog: http://galeborgerbooks.com
her Amazon.com Author page: http://tinyurl.com/9wz9ktm
and her Barnes and Nobel Author page: http://tinyurl.com/a8nbkmd
I’m re-reading The Hunger Games. I know, I know, I’ve read it half a dozen times, but I’m doing it this time as WORK. How can that be work? You ask.
Well, I’m a writer studying The Hunger Games because I think it is one of the most well-written books in recent history, and I’m trying to figure out how Suzanne Collins did it.
Of course, lots of books have fast-paced plots and/or well-developed main characters with fully developed side characters and/or extensive world building and/or thought-provoking themes and/or clever symbolism and/or brilliant style. But how many books are at the top of the craft in all of these areas? The Hunger Games is the only one that comes to my mind. In the comments below I’d love to hear what other books you see as being similarly successful.
So, how does Suzanne Collins do it?
Point of View
First, I think her choice of first-person by Katniss Everdeen has many positive ramifications. We don’t see her world, Panem, as a passive outsider, we see it and feel it and understand it in the way Katniss does. We get her thoughts—what she understands to be normal, what she finds to be cruel, how she is able to survive.
Obviously, the first-person perspective allows for a thorough development of Katniss’s character. We understand her decisions and where she waivers. She is a character who has to make choices when there are no good options. She is always trying to do what is right, but is thwarted by her circumstances. She’s likable and admirable but by no means perfect.
One of the things I enjoyed most in this novel is the development of the minor characters, and part of this happens because of the first-person point of view. When we meet people for the first time, we get Katniss’s take on them, which is usually limited and often biased by her own prejudices.
For example, Haymitch Abernathy is first shown to the reader at the reaping where he is drunk, causes a scene and falls off the stage. Katniss explains what an embarrassment he is to their district. And we see him like she sees him. When he first acts as her mentor, we see him as cruel and uncaring because that’s how Katniss sees him. But over the course of the novels, Katniss learns more about Haymitch’s sad history. Hunger Games survivors have nightmares that never go away. And what is it like to mentor two children every year for 23 years and watch them die in the games? Is it pathetic that he drinks? Or is it human?
This minor character development happens all over The Hunger Games trilogy. There are no stereotypes or flat side characters. Every single character has a history—even if you never learn what it is, you can feel it in their aliveness. Cripes, even the cat has surprising depth.
Every time I re-read these stories I’m trying to figure out how Suzanne Collins manages to bring to life such a vast army of characters.
This is what has made the trilogy a bestseller; your average reader doesn’t notice the clever manipulation of the POV or the depth of the characterization, but they know whether or not the plot works. The Hunger Games‘ plot is fabulously constructed, page-turning, and jam-packed with action. How does she do it? Constant conflict. Suzanne Collins covers all types of conflict: person vs society, person vs person, person vs environment, person vs self. Some conflicts last the whole series, others are solved quickly but replaced by others. Poor Katniss. She must handle conflict after conflict after conflict. Her methods for solving problems are diverse, mostly successful, but she is human enough to sometimes solve small problems without realizing the ramifications and/or their long-term effects.
Plot is the main reason these books are so popular.
This is another aspect I’m studying, and I have to admit this is one area I struggle with. The Hunger Games takes place in a dystopian future, and Suzanne Collins creates this world in such depth and detail, that having read the series several times, I know Panem like I know my own world. Yet Collins never “info dumps.” Info dumping is when an author spends a whole lot of time describing the world without anything else happening. Frowned upon in the literary community. Boring to the average reader.
Suzanne Collins is able to have her action rolling along at a fast clip, while still thoroughly detailing the world of Panem (and deeply exploring every single character). How does she do it? The explanations of her world are subtle and thorough and wrapped up in the plot and characters, and I may have to read this series several more times before I can learn from her.
Collins takes on the theme of war and handles it with great adeptness and without any trace of didactism. Again, the first-person point of view helps here. Katniss does not have the answers, but asks good questions. At one point, Katniss ponders (and I’m paraphrasing here): Are there no rules for how badly a human can treat another? She doesn’t like the idea of killing innocent people, and yet she has been forced to do that very thing. And, like a real person, she waivers in what she thinks–especially in the heat of battle or when emotionally frayed.
Another theme Collins hits hard is the superficiality of popular culture and the harm that can come from it.
Wow! Symbolism is so much fun in this story. The most obvious is Fire. Katniss is The Girl on Fire, and that idea is played with throughout the whole series: by Katniss, by the Capitol, by the rebellion, by Suzanne Collins. But there are other symbols, both obvious and subtle: the mockingjay, the smell of roses, Buttercup, the pearl…. Can you think of others?
Collins’ writing is superb. My set of books nearly reeks with the cloying smell of roses. Could you feel the heaviness of the jungle air in the Quarter Quell? Did your heart stick in your throat when the second parachutes went off? Did you laugh when Johanna stepped out of her tree costume? or when Boggs said, “Sorry if we’re not impressed, but we just saw Finnick Odair in his underwear.” Your reactions are the result of superb writing.
And most amazing? These books are short. So much happens, so much is accomplished, with so few words. My head spins just thinking of it.
So, I should get back to work—the rebels are underground and the mutts are calling Katniss’s name.