Children’s Literature, Fall 2014

Well, a new semester is right around the corner and that means I’ve been looking through the Scholastic catalogue picking the best books at the best prices for my students.  This is what we will be reading this semester:

I always start with fairy tales. They’ll read “Cinderella” by Charles Perrault and “Aschenputtel” by the Grimm brothers and pick two more fairy tales to read.

Next is Treasure Island by Robert Louis Stevenson. A great story!

Then we get to the part of the semester where they get some choices.  They must read one book in each genre:


Charlotte’s Web by E.B. White

Ella Enchanted by Gail Carson Levine

Historical Fiction

Sing Down the Moon by Scott O’Dell

The Mostly True Adventures of Homer P. Figg by Rodman Philbrick

Contemporary Realistic Fiction

Rules by Cynthia Lord

From the Mixed-Up Files of Mrs. Basil E. Frankweiler by E.L. Konigsburg


Love that Dog by Sharon Creech

Out of the Dust by Karen Hesse

Mixed Genre

Holes by Louis Sachar

Because of Winn-Dixie by Kate DiCamillo

My students will choose two other books to read as well, based on an author and a theme.

Do you recognize some of these books and authors from when you were a child?  They are worth a re-read or a read aloud to your child or grandchild.

See some titles you don’t know?  Check them out! 

These are wonderful books. It’s going to be a great semester!

Little Free Library: Update

Last month, I wrote about my family’s Little Free Library. I wanted to let you know that my neighborhood is using it!  We average probably a visitor every day or so.  We’ve had many donations, and I’ve been able to tell which books are the most popular (Diary of a Wimpy Kid, Babysitters Club) and which books have been borrowed and kept (Divergent, Sushi for Beginners). That’s OK because that is the what the library is all about. Moving books from people to people. We’ve received many, many donations and I spend time once a week re-arranging and re-organizing the titles.  This little library is a delight in my life.

But wait! What if you live in my neighborhood, and it is night, and you need a book, and you don’t have a flashlight? Our Little Free Library is open and lit:

night libraryMy husband and younger son took apart one of those solar lights you can put in the ground to light a sidewalk (an example is in the ground in the photo).  They then attached the solar part of the light to the roof of the library, drilled a hole in the back of the library under the roof, set the light inside the library, and voila: our Free Little Library has a solar-powered light for all your night-time book-borrowing needs.

night library closeI’m guessing that we may have one of the only solar-powered lights for a Little Free Library.  My husband and son are so clever!

Southwest Wisconsin Book Festival: Sat, Nov 24

For months, I have thought that the Southwest Wisconsin Book Festival was on the Sunday after Thanksgiving.  I’ve told people that date, publicized that date…. and I was wrong!!! It is

Saturday, November 24, 2012

My husband needed some details about the Festival this morning and went to the website and discovered that the festival is

Saturday, November 24, 2012.

I can’t even begin to imagine what it would have been like to drive the three hours to Mineral Point only to discover that the book festival was the day before, and we missed it.  I feel sick thinking about it.

Southwest Wisconsin Book Festival

Saturday, November 24, 2012

Book signings from 1:00 – 5:00 at the Quality Inn in Mineral Point

There are workshops in the morning at the public library and a keynote address in the evening at the Opera House.  For more information visit the Southwest Wisconsin Book Festival webpage.

Got a Cinderella For Me?

Because I’m writing a new version of the Cinderella tale, I’m also reading Cinderella-remake novels.  In the past couple of weeks, I’ve read Ella Enchanted, by Gail Carson Levine and Just Ella, by Margaret Peterson Haddix.  Cinder, by Marissa Meyer is on my to-read list.

I’ve searched Google, and the number of novels re-telling the Cinderella story is large — much larger than my time available for reading.  Do you have a favorite to recommend?  If so, please let me know in the comments below.

(PS My favorite movie version is Ever After with Drew Barrymore. What’s yours?)

Interview with Kim Rendfeld

Today I’m welcoming Kim Rendfeld to my series of author interviews. Kim is the author of The Cross and the Dragon, a historical novel of the Middle Ages.

Elizabeth: Kim, how would you describe your book to someone who hasn’t read it?

Kim: The Cross and the Dragon is a tale of love amid the wars and blood feuds of Charlemagne’s reign. Here is the blurb.

Francia, 778: Alda has never forgotten Ganelon’s vow of vengeance when she married his rival, Hruodland. Yet the jilted suitor’s malice is nothing compared to Alda’s premonition of disaster for her beloved, battle-scarred husband.

Although the army invading Hispania is the largest ever and King Charles has never lost a war, Alda cannot shake her anxiety. Determined to keep Hruodland from harm, even if it exposes her to danger, Alda gives him a charmed dragon amulet.

Is its magic enough to keep Alda’s worst fears from coming true—and protect her from Ganelon?

Elizabeth: The Cross and the Dragon derives some of its characters and much of its storyline from the French legend The Song of Roland. Can you tell us what drew you to that story and how you decided to make it your own?

Odilon Redon’s Roland at Roncesvalles, c.1869

Kim: A German legend about Roland (Hruodland in The Cross and the Dragon) drew me to The Song of Roland as I tried to figure out who Roland was.

The epic French poem says a lot about courage in the face of overwhelming odds, but it should be appreciated for its artistic merit rather than historical value. Any resemblance between the events in the poem and what actually happened at the Pass of Roncevaux is purely coincidental.

I used some of the characters from The Song of Roland. My hero’s name is a variant of the namesake of the poem. I used the German variant of Oliver, Alfihar, as Hruodland’s best friend, and Alda, Alfihar’s sister, as Hruodland’s love interest. The villain in the poem, Ganelon, has the same name. Interestingly, the poet who wrote The Song of Roland might have named his villain after Guenelon (also spelled Vénilon), a ninth-century bishop of Sens accused of betraying one of Charles’s grandsons.

When I sat down to write the novel, I wanted my interpretation of the disastrous ambush at Roncevaux in 778 to be truer to the history and to still use the German legend.

Elizabeth: Tell us more about what really happened with the ambush and the German legend.

Kim: What I’m about to say is a spoiler, so readers who would like to avoid it should go on to the next question.


The ambush was a true disaster for Frankish King Charles, today known as Charlemagne. It was so traumatic that it was not written down while he was alive. Charles’s invasion of Spain did not go according to plan, but he was able to save face when Muslim Saracens gave him gold to leave. As the Franks retreated through the steep mountain passes of the Pyrenees, Christian Basques (also known as Gascons) ambushed the rear guard and baggage train, killing everyone. Einhard, Charles’s biographer, lists Roland among the dead.

The German legend, however, has Roland surviving the attack and returning to a castle on the Rhine that he had built for his bride. But she was not there. When she’d heard he had died, she took a vow of chastity and joined the convent on the nearby Rhine island of Nonnenwerth. Roland spent the rest of his days at a window in the castle, hoping to catch a glimpse of her as she walked to and from prayers. This legend is not true.

** Spoiler Over **

Elizabeth: How much historical fact is woven into your novels?

Kim: I try to stay as true to the history and the culture as possible. All those wars in my book are real. I didn’t make up King Charles’s complicated personal life—at the start of my story, he’s going to war with his ex-father-in-law, who is threatening Rome. And I would never have a medieval woman refuse to marry a guy because she is apathetic toward him. Marriages were arranged, and for aristocrats, the primary reasons were wealth and alliances.

However, the key word in historical fiction is fiction. If I stuck only with what is known about the historic Hruodland, I would not have a story. The only factual mention of him is part of a sentence in Einhard’s biography of Charlemagne. Any interpretation of Roland is going to be fictitious.

Besides, I am a novelist, not a scholar. I make stuff up and make it sound real. But I also believe in including historical notes so that I can confess where I lied.

Elizabeth: What are you working on now?

Kim: My next project is The Ashes of Heaven’s Pillar, which is about a peasant Continental Saxon woman who has only her children left after losing her husband, her home, her faith, and even her freedom. It’s a story of familial love, betrayal, vengeance, forgiveness, and recovering from devastation. Many of the historical events in The Cross and the Dragon take place here, but they are from a markedly different perspective.

Elizabeth: Enough about your books, tell us about yourself.

Kim: If it weren’t for feminism, I would be one of those junior high English teachers scaring the bejesus out of her students, correcting grammar to the point of obnoxiousness. Instead, I earned my English and journalism degree at Indiana University and pursued a career as a journalist at daily newspapers in the Hoosier State. My career changed in 2007, when I joined the public relations team at Ball State University in Muncie, Indiana. I’m paid to agonize over commas and hyphens, along with suggesting ways to improve writing, and thoroughly enjoy it.

Yet, I’ve never outgrown my fascination with folk tales and legends, which led me to write novels.

Elizabeth: How do you think being a journalist has helped and/or hindered your career as a creative writer?

Kim: As you’ve indicated in your question, journalism is both a help and a hindrance. The time and space constraints of journalism taught me to get to the point. Maturing as a writer made me care more about the readers understanding the story than showing off my cleverness.

I also had to unlearn some habits. News writing is an objective report that allows both sides to tell their stories and lets the readers make their own conclusions. By nature, it’s distant. Fiction is intimate. You want the readers to feel your characters’ joys and sorrows. You want to manipulate sympathy and emotion.

Perhaps my experience as a journalist also compels me to include historical notes. I want readers to know the truth.

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?

Kim: Coffee in the morning, tea in the afternoon.

Elizabeth: Ocean or mountain?

Kim: A toughie, since we have neither in Indiana. Ocean, I guess.

Elizabeth: Hiking or shopping?

Kim: Hiking. Shopping is so frustrating for me.

Elizabeth: Violin or piano?

Kim: Piano, but I like violin, too.

Elizabeth: Mystery or fantasy?

Kim: Fantasy. But there are times when I’m in the mood for mystery.

Elizabeth: Darcy or Heathcliff?

Kim: An easy one. Definitely Darcy. He turns out to be a good man. Read all of Wuthering Heights, and you find out Heathcliff is a monster.

The Cross and the Dragon is available in print and e-book from Amazon, Barnes & Noble, Kobo, and other outlets.

For more about Kim and her fiction, visit her website or  read her blog. You can like her on Facebook, connect with her on Goodreads, follow her on Twitter at @kimrendfeld, and check out her Amazon page.

Thanks to Kim for joining me today.

Interview with Heather Webb

Today I’m welcoming historical fiction writer, freelance editor, and blogger Heather Webb.

Elizabeth: Hi, Heather. Can you tell us about your book?

Heather: I’ve just completed my first novel titled Becoming Josephine: The First Empress. I’m hoping to go on submission later this fall. My novel is about a young woman of Martinique who has her hopes for love dashed when her haughty Parisian husband abandons her during the tumult of the French Revolution. Narrowly escaping death in the blood-stained cells of Les Carmes prison, she emerges from the grisly Terreur to reinvent herself as the woman known as Josephine, a socialite of status and power. But Josephine’s youth is fading, and she must decide between a precarious independence and the unwelcome love of an awkward suitor who would become the most important man of the century- Napoleon Bonaparte.

Elizabeth: How did you become interested in Josephine?

Heather: I taught French history for almost a decade, and the French revolutionary period always fascinated me. But I really first became interested in Josephine because of a song by Tori Amos about her. Years later, I awoke one morning with Josephine’s voice in my head. Just like that! So I read my first biography of her and I was hooked. Besides, she wouldn’t stop babbling in my ear. The topic for my current work in progress happened in a similar way—my protagonist started talking to me. My husband thinks I’m insane. Hearing voices in your head must not be normal!

Elizabeth: I have the hearing voices problem too! So, tell me, how do you go about researching your novels?

Heather: I research quite a bit, almost compulsively at times–what I like to call researchitis. I read every primary and secondary source I can get my hands on, watch films, visit locations, take classes, etc. That being said, my character’s emotional arc and good story-telling are far more important to me than being strictly factual. My novels are works of fiction and my goal is to both entertain readers and inspire them to branch out to do their own research. I will, however, outline any facts I’ve altered that are important to mention in an author’s note.

Elizabeth: You are represented by Michelle Brower of Folio Literary Management. Can you tell us how you got Michelle as an agent?

Heather: I met Michelle at the Backspace conference held in New York City. (It runs every spring and fall.) It’s a fabulous conference with a unique small workshop setting. I highly recommend it to writers seeking representation or just feedback on their queries and pages.

Michelle requested pages after I finished reading my query aloud on the spot! From there, I sent a partial, then a full very quickly—within two weeks. When I received her email about wanting to have “the call”, I paced for two days! I can’t tell you how excited and nervous I was. But we had a great conversation and clicked immediately. I knew she was the one for me when her ideas for revisions gelled with my vision of the novel. It really goes the way everyone says: the agent you should sign with is the one who “gets” your work and LOVES it. I’d like to caution writers to not sign with just anyone. It’s a partnership that could potentially last decades. You don’t want to enter in this marriage of sorts with an agent that isn’t quite right. God forbid divorce! Oh, and when you know, you know!

I’m a firm believer in getting out there to conferences to pitch your work in person! It launches you right out of the slush pile and onto the agent’s desk. I hear this all the time—writers are too nervous to attend conferences so they hide at home in front of their laptops. GO OUTSIDE OF YOUR COMFORT ZONE to make your dreams happen! I love to cheer writers on, to help them feel confident with this process. This is how I ended up becoming an editor—I suppose it’s the teacher in me.

Elizabeth: Teacher, writer, editor–and you blog too.  You have a lively blogging voice and write about several topics. How did you first get into blogging?

Heather: Thank you! I first started blogging about two years ago because I noticed that many many authors had one. I started with posts about pop culture, which is a love of mine, but quickly realized I wasn’t the soap box ranty type, at least not on a regular basis. I’m a teacher at heart, as I mentioned before, and I really wanted to reach out to other writers. As I learned and grew into my own writer skin, I began sharing little lessons and hosting contests and found I felt comfortable there. Now I interview authors as well to target readers.

Elizabeth: Enough of your writing—tell us about yourself.

Heather: I’m a former military brat so I’ve become a bit of a culture junkie as an adult. I love everything that goes with travel —food, language, customs, history, architecture and landscapes, most of all people. All of these elements go into crafting a believable world in a historical novel. I always loved writing, though it never occurred to me as a career, despite the stories I wrote as a kid. I also wrote a few essays that won awards and did copy editing for my high school and college newspapers and STILL never considered writing as a profession. I look back and think, what was I thinking? It wasn’t until I had children and resigned from my high school teaching job to be home with them that I began to pursue this passion I never realized I had. Now there’s no going back. I love writing in all its forms and I find the publishing business fascinating and challenging.

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?

Heather: Absolutely coffee—preferably café au lait.

Elizabeth: Ocean or mountain?

Heather: Ocean. I’m a total beach hound.

Elizabeth: Hiking or shopping?

Heather: Depends on my mood. Unfortunately for my wallet, I love to spend money, whether it be for myself or someone else. But I feel most alive outdoors and enjoy being in the woods.

Elizabeth: Violin or piano?

Heather: Piano! I wish I played.

Elizabeth: Mystery or fantasy?

Heather: Mystery. Puzzles are so much fun.

Elizabeth: Darcy or Heathcliff?

Heather: Ohhh, good question. They’re both full of pride, though it manifests itself differently within each of them. I LOVE Darcy, but I may have to say Heathcliff. I always like an underdog, and I can’t help but be attracted to his wild, passionate nature.

Elizabeth; Love scene or death scene?

Heather: To read–love scene. Always. To write–I enjoy both.

Follow Heather on her blog, Between the Sheets

and on Twitter:@msheatherwebb

Thanks to Heather for joining me today.


How do you expect food from another world to taste? Like something you’ve had before? Of course, it doesn’t.

I remember the first time I was offered a ya’anmi’il—I wasn’t even sure it was food. It’s about the size and shape of a walnut shell but a bright, winter-sky blue. Although it looks rubbery, it’s hard and smooth, like a river-washed stone. It has no smell at all, which is why it’s hard to tell it’s edible. The flavor, on your tongue, is like old peaches—except that makes it sound bad, and it’s delicious—sweet and earthy.

The consistency will surprise you. When you bite into a ya’anmi’il, it shatters like glass, but every tiny jagged shard is soft and warm in your mouth, a warmth that quickly spreads throughout your body. It isn’t like drinking alcohol; it’s more like the feeling you get when your very own baby grabs and holds onto your finger for the first time. A tingling warmth of love and awe. A ya’anmi’il doesn’t just feed your body, it feeds your soul.

Well, not exactly.

I’m not describing it well. I wish I had a ya’anmi’il right now, so I could give it to you. Then you’d know.

Unfortunately, it doesn’t grow on earth and doesn’t survive interstellar transport. If you want to taste one, you’ll have to travel.

This is from a writing exercise I did a few years ago and held on to.  I liked it and wasn’t sure what to do with it.  Thank goodness for blogs!

Cheap Appliances

I don’t write a lot of poetry, but sometimes something occurs to me that will only work in poetry form.  So, here’s my most recent poem.  I hope you like it.

Cheap Appliances

My husband is the kind of man who buys cheap appliances

and then tinkers and charms to keep them running.


When our car stereo started eating tapes,

he stuck a red and white plastic drinking straw

into its mouth

and it stopped eating


When our dishwasher wasn’t cleaning dishes,

he ran it with the door open,

studying its mechanics as

hot water sprayed clean the floor,

then he removed the filter, cut off a layer,

and twelve years later our dishes are sparkling clean


When our clothes dryer would not dry,

He took off the top,

rolled the large metal drum this way and that,

played with a giant rubber band,

ordered a part

and dry it does again.


I am only forty-six,

but my warranty period must have passed.

My body is failing me; things don’t work as they should:

my eyes

my bladder

my back

my teeth

my memory

but my heart is kept strong by a man I know will not give up on me.