Storytelling Down South

I recently returned from a great day of storytelling in Lucedale, Mississippi. I had a great time with the kids as we cooked up some Gator Tooth Gumbo. Later in the day I spoke with some aspiring young (and not so young) authors and shared my own writing journey with them.

It was a great pleasure to spend some time there. Thanks so much to Becky Wheeler and her staff at the Lucedale branch of the Jackson-George Regional Library system for having me. Your hospitality reminded my why I love living in the south.

Special shout-outs go to Aunt Susie and Uncle ID for  hosting me while I was there. I LOVE the chickens!

The Emperor’s Army by Virginia Walton Pilegard

Today I’m posting my first publisher requested review. I was excited to have the opportunity to review a few books from New Orleans publisher, Pelican Publishing Company.  A regional publisher, Pelican specializes in “travel guides, art and architecture books, Christmas books, local and international cookbooks, motivational and inspirational works, and children’s books, as well as a growing number of social commentary, history, and fiction titles”. (Pelican website)

The Emperor’s Army: a mathematical adventure by Virginia Walton Pilegard. Illustrated by Adrian Tans. Pelican Publishing, January 2010.

Genres: Picturebook, Historical fiction

When scholarship falls out of favor because the evil prime minister gains influence with China’s first emperor, Qin Shi Huang, a scholar and his son escape persecution by hiding in the mountains. They discover a huge project that artists arrested by the emperor are completing: a clay army to serve as guardians in the emperor’s afterlife. After the emperor dies, the peasants rob the buried army of statues, with the aid of the scholar’s son, and stage a revolt. The scholar and his son are rewarded and allowed to live in comfort, continuing to study.

This book would make a nice addition to an elementary school library and could be used as a teaching supplement in multiple subject areas. The rich language will probably require dictionary use by independent readers but provides a great opportunity to expand vocabulary.

Things to like about this book: First, Adrian Tans’ beautiful illustrations place the reader in the moment. Combined with the third person narration, the illustrations make it easy to settle in as though you are at the feet of a feudal elder in a long ago Chinese kingdom. The author introduces math concepts of volume and estimation, which allow for cross curricular usage. There is a brief historical note (which could have been expanded) concerning the first Huang emperor and an art activity for making clay sculptures.

Audience: Lower to middle elementary school. Read aloud in social studies or history class studying ancient China. Supplement to math or art class.

Reviewed from: F&G provided by publisher

Heart of a Shepherd by Rosanne Parry

Today I’m presenting a midgrade contemporary fiction novel by my fellow 2k9 classmate, Rosanne Parry. Heart of a Shepherd tells the story of Brother and his ranching family. Set in rural Oregon, this book transmits a deep spirituality that is not often found in chidren’s novels today. Brother is raised in the Catholic tradition and spends a great deal of the story trying to keep a promise he made to his father before his father leaves to serve in the war in Iraq. Brother and his grandparents hold down the family ranch and life continues with its small triumphs and disappointments. When tragedy does visit the family, it is the strength of family relationships that holds everyone together and allows each of the characters to continue with hope for the future.

Things to like about this story:  beautiful prose,  strong male characters, complex supporting characters, positive role models, real relationships between grandparents, parents and children and a satisfying (if not entirely happy) ending.

Audience recommendations: independent reading for any middle schooler, classroom reading for fourth through eighth grade in literature or religion classes, adult reading.

Rosanne has created an enduring story that will provide satisfaction for many years. This novel has become one of my favorites to give to boys in the 11 to 14 age bracket.

Taking the Plunge

As a young child, I looked forward to the last day of my swimming lessons each year with a mixture of dread and fascination. Our community pool had a high-diving board, approximately 10 meters. Today it is rare to find a board so high at the local swimming pool, but liability issues weren’t such a consideration back then. The final day of lessons brought the opportunity for each child to jump from the high dive. I relished the prospect, in spite of my fears. On the last day of the session, I would carefully climb the ladder and inch toward the end of the board. Looking down 30 feet into the crystal water usually sent my heart into palpitations – but the lifeguards had a rule – if you decided to climb the ladder, the only way down was by jumping. I didn’t understand how patient the instructors were, treading water in the deep end and coaxing me to jump, until I became a lifeguard as a teenager and joined the annual ritual from their perspective.

And so, I’ve been taking my author lessons for awhile now, writing, selling manuscripts, and watching my first novel become a real, live book out there in the world.  But blogging has been my high dive. I’ve inched closer and closer by guest blogging with my author groups, commenting here and there on other blogs, and generally coaxing myself toward the precipice. I’ve been standing here for awhile, toes curled around the edge of the board, and it’s about time I close my eyes and jump.

Here I go – wheee!