Tuesday, November 28, 2006

Review: Team Moon by Catherine Thimmesh

Team Moon purports to tell the story of "How 400,000 People Landed Apollo 11 on the Moon." It does that, but I never truly felt drawn into the story--and I recall the landing vividly.

Text is reversed out--white text on black pages. I find that difficult to read, especially when the author uses italics to indicate conversations. Judicious use of space around the quotes would have been more effective--and easier to read. The images are beautiful. I was more inclined to look at the photos and read the captions than to read the text.

The backmatter is extensive, but put together is a somewhat unorthodox order. The inclusion of a glossary will be helpful to a younger reader, or to anyone who might not be up to date on their space lingo.

Review: Writing Magic by Gail Carson Levine

I'm planning to use this book myself! Some of the exercises are directed toward younger writers, but hey, I can live with that.

I wish I had had this book when I was a teen. I wanted to write, but there really wasn't anyone around for guidance. This book breaks down the writing process into doable sections, with a call for Writing Time and an exercise at the end of the chapters. The suggestions require some reflection, not just routine situations. One of my particular favorites asks the budding author to construct the conversation of a brother and sister plopped down on an unfamiliar street corner.

Teens--and others--who are interested in writing should enjoy this book.

Review: One Kingdom: Our Lives with Animals by Noyes

I love animals, so I looked forward to reading this book. The cover says the book is about the human-animal bond in myth, history, science, and story, and it does do that. The text is interesting, but I wasn't really captivated. In a few places, I felt as though she was being somewhat judgmental.

I liked the sidebars and wish more books aimed at this market used them. However, the font used in them is very light, and I found it difficult to read. Perhaps younger eyes wouldn't have the same problem.

The book includes a bibliography and an index, something I am glad to see.

Monday, November 27, 2006

Review: Freedom Walkers by Russell Freedman

First, in the interest of full disclosure, I read this book with some prejudice. This is my area of major interest, and I was extremely interested in how he would handle the subject. He did fine.

Of course Rosa Parks and Martin Luther King Jr. are included, but so are those who came before Rosa Parks and individuals, such as E.D. Nixon, who played major roles but who are not known by many outside the South.

The story is told in a manner that keeps the reader interested. Though factual, it's not dry. The photographs enhance the text, though the reader could be excused if she thought all of the photos were of Montgomery. Of course reading the caption would clarify that, but many skip over the captions.

A very good book for learning about this aspect of the civil rights movement.

Review: Kids Make History

Study after study indicates that today's students are sorely lacking in knowledge about history. This book is a nice introduction.

I like the format of the book--the images act almost like footnotes. The stories selected for the events are interesting and told well. The images are very colorful and attractive. The notes provide further information about these real-life individuals.

There are places where the text almost seems crowded on the page. Reducing type size would have been an unattractive alternative, so this is probably the best option, and it's really not that objectionable.

Overall, I think this is a good book for those kids interested in history.

Review: The Buffalo and the Indians by Patent

I don't find much to dislike about this book. The text is engaging and provides interesting information about the role and the importance of the bison in Native American culture. It can be difficult to get boys to read, and I think this book would interest them as well.

The photographs are simply beautiful; they made me want to hug a buffalo. The interspersing of paintings with the photos provide an interesting and attractive contrast.

Review: Robert Cormier Daring to Disturb the Universe

I really enjoyed this book. I thought it was an interesting examination of Cormier's work. I love getting insights. It reads almost like someone's dissertation, but is a lot more interesting and engaging. The notes at the end of chapters will aid readers looking for additional information. I also liked the book's design.

Having said that, I don't know if teens will be inclined to read this type of book unless it is assigned. Actually, I don't think assigning it as a supplemental reading for an English lit or even a writing class is a bad idea.

The First Review: Something Out of Nothing

I am on the nominating committee for the Cybils middle-grade and young-adult nonfiction category. I will be posting my reviews here, and this is the first: Something Out of Nothing: Marie Curie and Radium by Carla Killough McClafferty.

When I was young, I remember reading a book about Marie Curie. That book captivated me; I wanted to learn more about Curie.

Unfortunately, I didn't have the same reaction to this book. Though well written technically, I didn't think it had a hook--that thing necessary to engaging the reader. Being the author of books such as this, I understand the constraints put on what can be included and what cannot. However, I'd find myself reading about something and want to know why? For example, why was the French Academy of Sciences so important. I wanted to know more about her life after Pierre's death.

I thought the author did a good job describing Marie's life as a governess, her marriage, and her relationship to her daughters. But, overall, I found the book dry and not very appealing. We need books that will get young girls interested in science, but I'm not sure this is one of them.

Thursday, November 16, 2006

Holiday Time

Food was always important to our family while I was growing up. I guess it's logical to say, then, that Thanksgiving was always my favorite holiday. Oh, Christmas was always fun, but no gift could compare to the smell of roasting turkey and oyster dressing. Forget the pies--I wanted some of that bird.

We spent almost every Thanksgiving of my youth at my grandparents. They lived in a small, kind of rundown house (complete with outhouse) in the middle of nowhere. I'm not sure how this got started, but for some reason, my mother always made the turkey, dressing, an a pie to take to my grandparents'. I guess that's not unusual--my grandparents were quite elderly and didn't have much money--except that my aunt and uncle lived much closer. I don't recall, however, that they ever brought anything. Grandma would make a couple of side dishes and more pies, so we were never at a loss for food.

Since I left college, I think I've missed making Thanksgiving Dinner once. It didn't matter whether I was going to be alone (hey, it freezes) or with friends, I couldn't go a Turkey Day with the smells that were so familiar to me. So, I'd try to do everything my mom did so I'd have the same result. Okay, sometimes I'm a little slow about things. My mom used to get up in the wee hours of Thanksgiving morning to get the bird into the oven. So, I did the same thing. Note to self--it doesn't take nearly as long to cook a 10-pound turkey as it does one that weighs close to thirty. Imagine my surprise when my Thanksgiving turkey was ready mid-morning! Oh well, lesson learned, and learned quite well I might add.

Tomorrow is my last day at my full-time job. This is making the financial situation quite strapped, as I am sure many of you can imagine. At first, I thought about skipping Thanksgiving and the turkey this year. After all, it was just going to be me. But then I'd recall the smells--and the memories--of the Thanksgivings of my childhood. How could I go without those? After all--think of how many meals I can make from one turkey? And I really don't need all of the sides. Turkey and stuffing will do me, thank you very much. And besides, I do have things to be thankful for.

I'd like you to take a minute and reflect on what you have to be thankful for. Perhaps you, like me, are going through some financial difficulties. Perhaps there are health issues, relationship difficulties, or some other truly difficult times. But, if you can put together a Thanksgiving dinner, I'd like you to consider those who can't, and perhaps donate the cost of a meal to your local food bank, or to America's Second Harvest (you can click on the link at the bottom of this page to learn more about America's Second Harvest and to make a donation). You'll be helping someone else have something to be thankful for.

Have a blessed holiday.

Wednesday, November 08, 2006

What Do You Do . . .

when you're between projects?

I'm going to have some unwelcome down time, and I've been thinking about how to use that time most constructively. There are some magazine submission deadlines coming up. I could work on those since I do have some ideas for a couple of them.

But, I guess what I need to do most is marketing. I am terrible at it, but I know I really need to get my rear in gear and do some--more than just some. If I don't, those down times will come more often.

Does anyone have any hints to efficient marketing?

Friday, November 03, 2006

Raining and Pouring

I'm about to be laid off from my full-time position. When things pick up, I'm supposed to be hired back under better terms. Well, that news certainly didn't make my day. And, I'm still trying to decide if I want to be an employee or independent contractor.

With severance, I'll be all right for a couple of months, but it's scary. So, I let some other writers and editors know I was looking for freelance work. I also answered ads to the e-mail lists--ads that I probably never would have bothered with before. As a result, I've proofed two articles for a journal this week, gotten an editing assignment from a publishing company, and a substantive edit job with an author. An online author friend recommended me to one of the people she works for, and within just a few minutes of receiving her e-mail telling me she'd done that, I got an e-mail from the person to whom she'd suggested me. On Monday she's sending me a contract to write a middle-grade nonfiction book about the Boston Tea Party! Finally, I'll be writing about something I have knowledge of.

Then the strangest thing happened. I got an e-mail with an article attached from a professor in Hong Kong. He told me that he'd gotten my info from another professor, for whom I had edited an article. Frankly, I have only the vaguest idea who he's talking about. Oh well, I guess if you're just a little patient . . . .