I recently enjoyed The Prairie Girl’s Guide to Life by Jennifer Worick (2007).
In this book, Worick described information about 1800s prairie life, such as curing meat or making button lamps. She also gave instructions for 50 prairie-type projects that us modern folk can try. The projects range from quilting and embroidery to panning for gold and saddling a horse.
In the past, people did lots of these activities because they had to, we can do them because we find great satisfaction in DIY and making-do.
I loved the reminders of how satisfying it is to do handcrafts.
“I continually meet women (and men) who are embroidering and canning and putting their own twists on old-school crafts and skills. Forget about granny chic; this is prairie chic, and it’s spreading like wildfire.”
I’ve done various handcrafts since I was a young child, partly because sometimes I needed to make-do.
For instance, I didn’t have a Barbie house. So, I spent hours making my own house. I used boxes, wallpaper samples, and household trash to make rooms and furniture. I believe I had more fun making the house than playing with it later!
One of my favorite hobbies has been crocheting. However, in the last few years, I’ve put most of my creative time and energy into writing. I miss crocheting.
In fact, I have a nearly-completed afghan that I began for one of my sons when he was about nine years old. He’s 17 now. I should get it done while he still lives at home, don’t you think?
I also want to learn to knit, spin yarn, and decorate a dollhouse.
What old-school hobbies or activities do you do? What would you like to learn how to do?
This month’s book for My Scott O’Dell Award Challenge is the 1996 winner, The Bomb, by Theodore Taylor.
The Scott O’Dell Award for Historical Fiction is awarded each year to a children’s book by an American author, usually set in the Western Hemisphere.
In The Bomb, a teen boy named Sorry is one of the 167 people living on the Bikini Atoll in the Pacific Ocean who are moved to make way for testing the new atomic weapons in Operation Crossroads immediately following World War II.
This young adult novel begins with Sorry and his family and neighbors living under Japanese occupation. Eventually, the Americans take control of the atoll as they advance toward the Japanese mainland. Uncle Abram listens to radio reports and keeps their neighbors informed of the progress of the war, including the dropping of the atomic bombs on Hiroshima and Nagasaki.
However, soon after the war, the U.S. military pressures and manipulates Bikini residents into leaving their home because the U.S. has decided their atoll is the best place to test atomic bombs.
Sorry determines to stop the test.
Bikini Atoll and Operation Crossroads–My knowledge of this was rudimentary, at best. I appreciated learning about the residents of Bikini.
The U.S. dropped two bombs in the first round of testing. One detonated in the air and one in the water. There were many further tests during the next decade.
Although Taylor wrote in his author’s note that his novel was loosely based on the people moved from Bikini, he had personal experience with Operation Crossroads. He was a sailor on the USS Sumner, the ship which headquartered much of the operation’s early implementation. In Taylor’s epilogue and author’s note, he also wrote about what happened later to Bikini’s “nuclear nomads.”
Two Stories in One–Taylor used a interesting structure to tell two stories at the same time. The text of the novel is Sorry’s story. However, Taylor also interspersed between chapters a short nonfiction narrative of the history of atomic research, weapons, and Operation Crossroads.
In nonfiction books or magazines, this is called a sidebar. I’ve seen these in picture books, but I think this is the first time I’ve seen a sidebar like this used in a novel. This was an effective way of giving the reader historical context without bogging down the story.
Join me Feb. 28 as I talk about the history and writing lessons I learn from the 2002 award winner, The Land by Mildred D. Taylor.
For more info:
What do you know about Bikini’s nuclear nomads? Have you seen nonfiction sidebars used in other novels?
My Scott O’Dell Award Challenge book for this month is the 2001 award winner, The Art of Keeping Cool by Janet Taylor Lisle.
This middle grade novel is set during 1942 on the coast of Rhode Island and begins with cousins Robert and Elliot watching the military transport huge guns (think cannon-type) through their town to the fort on the coast. The boys soon get to know a German-immigrant artist who becomes suspected of being a Nazi spy.
In My Award Challenge posts, I don’t do an actual book review. I don’t say whether or not I like the book. I usually stick to the things I’ve learned from the book, both historical and writing.
However, this time I want to point out how relevant this historical fiction novel is to the present. The year this novel–which deals so much with the human nature of fear after an attack–won the Scott O’Dell Award was the same year the United States reeled from the 9-11 attacks. Since then, we’ve been attacked often enough that discerning between healthy fear and unhealthy fear is an ongoing struggle.
WWII Defenses on East Coast–I knew there were Nazi U-boat attacks on the East Coast during the war, but it was a bigger problem than I knew, especially in 1942 as the United States was mobilizing and heading to the European Theater. I knew coastal residents watched for enemy aircraft and covered their windows at night, but I hadn’t given any thought to secret and camouflaged coastal fortifications.
In her author’s note, Lisle wrote that she based the opening scene from the novel on a historical event. Big artillery guns were transported through her town in 1942. Although she didn’t witness the gun transport, she did remember, as a kid, seeing the ruins of a WWII fort and defenses.
Memoir-style–There is a major difference between a kids’ book with a child protagonist and an adult book with a child protagonist. In kids’ books, the protagonists live the story or adventure as the readers read the story, even if the story is written in past tense. This means the kid protagonists don’t know how their stories end.
In adult books that have kid protagonists, adult narrators are telling about their childhood experience, but also elaborating on that and telling what those experiences meant. This is memoir-esque.
Most kids’ books do not use this memoir writing style because kid readers like to experience the story with the protagonists. Generally, kids don’t look back over their lives. They focus on the now and the future.
Kid readers want to experience the story with the protagonist. They want to learn things on their own. They don’t want adults telling them what the adults learned through the experience.
Lisle does use the memoir style for this novel. Yet it still works for a kids’ book. Why?
First, because she uses the memoir-style sparingly through most of the book, either to set the scene, to show the passage of time, or to show Robert realizing Elliot sees life differently than he does. But then, Lisle seamlessly moves into a scene where readers see the story unfold.
Second, although Lisle ends the story with a grown-up Robert, he is a young man. He is still more relatable to the readers than if Robert were looking backward as an elderly man. Kid readers can more easily picture themselves as young adults versus elderly adults. Also, with Robert looking back as a young adult, he has matured some, but he doesn’t know it all. He’s still a work in progress.
Lisle does a good job of letting adult Robert give some extra insight into the situation without telling us what lesson he learned.
For more information:
Join me Tuesday, July 26, to talk about the lessons I learned from the 1984 O’Dell Award winner, The Sign of the Beaver by Elizabeth George Speare.
What other kids books are set on the East Coast during WWII? Do you know of other kids books that are written in a memoir-style? How did the author make it work?
At my first summer camp, when I was eight, my roommate and I heard a rumor that some boys had put itching or sneezing powder on the beds in the girls’ dorm. We were so convinced we had a counselor search our beds.
I wasn’t entirely satisfied, but I didn’t know how the boys would’ve gotten in unseen, nor did I know what itching/sneezing powder is. I still don’t. Pepper, maybe?
However, I loved going to my church’s annual summer kids’ camp. In fact, since much of my summer camp perceptions were built around the movie The Parent Trap (starring Hayley Mills), I was a little envious my own camp lasted only five days instead of multiple weeks like the movie camp.
Camps are still a huge thing for kids. And there are so many options to choose from: church camps, sports camps, art camps, music camps, scouting camps, 4-H camps, etc. They often involve making crafts, swimming, boating, horseback riding, and singing around a campfire.
There are lots of kids’ books about summer camp. Here are more than 25 (most of which are new to me):
Picture Books and Early Chapter Books:
- The Berenstain Bears Go to Camp by Stan and Jan Berenstain
- Cam Jansen and the Summer Camp Mysteries by David A. Adler
- A Couple of Boys Have the Best Week Ever by Marla Frazee
- Cowboy Camp by Tammi Sauer, illus. by Mike Reed
- The Fabulous Bouncing Chowder by Peter Brown
- Froggy Goes to Camp by Jonathan London
- Agnes Parker…Happy Camper? by Kathleen O’Dell
- Camp Confidential series by Melissa J. Morgan (more than 20 books)
- The Baby-Sitters Club Super Special Edition #2: Baby-sitters Summer Vacation by Ann M. Martin
- The Great Summer Camp Catastrophe by Jean Van Leeuwen
- Holes by Louis Sachar
- How Tia Lola Saved the Summer by Julia Alvarez
- I Want to Go Home by Gordon Korman
- Letters From Camp by Kate Klise, illus. by M. Sarah Klise
- Like Bug Juice on a Burger by Julie Sternberg, illus. by Matthew Cordell
- Middle School: How I Survived Bullies, Broccoli, and Snake Hill by James Patterson, Chris Tebbetts, and Laura Park
- Nerd Camp by Elissa Brent Weissman
- Percy Jackson and the Olympians series by Rick Riordan
- Roller Girl by Victoria Jamieson
- Runaway Ralph by Beverly Cleary
- Spy Camp by Stuart Gibbs
- Summer Camp, Ready or Not! by Sandra Belton
- Hidden by Helen Frost (older MG/younger YA)
- Jersey Tomatoes are the Best by Maria Padian
- Lumberjanes series by Noelle Stevenson, Grace Ellis, Shannon Watters, and Brooke Allen
- There’s a Bat in Bunk Five by Paula Danziger (older MG/younger YA)
Did you go to camp as a kid? As a counselor? What are some of your favorite camp memories? What are your favorite camp books? What books should I add to the list? Do you know what itching/sneezing powder is?
I read a lot in the summer.
That’s been true since I was a kid. Summers meant long, unscheduled days and lots of reading time. The best part was that I didn’t have to do any reading for school, so I could follow my own interests.
That meant reading and rereading animal stories, the Nancy Drew series, and books by Louisa May Alcott and Laura Ingalls Wilder. As an adult I still like to reread favorites once in a while, but that is not an exclusively summer thing for me.
Now my summer reading habits aren’t much different from the rest of the year, except when I travel or go to the pool. Then I want books that don’t take too much concentration and aren’t too dark or sad.
My one summer reading habit is that I love to read Caroline Lawrence’s Roman Mysteries books while I’m at our local wave pool. I’ve read so many while soaking up the sun and listening to lapping water that those things are linked for me.
I recently heard someone say that each summer he reads about America’s Founding Fathers. I hadn’t thought before about focusing an entire summer on one topic or one author. That could be a rewarding experience.
Do you adjust your reading habits for summer (types of books, locations, etc.)? Do you make a summer reading list, read best-sellers, old favorites, one series? What constitutes a summer read for you?
The Scott O’Dell Award for Historical Fiction is an annual honor given to an outstanding kids’ historical fiction set in the Western Hemisphere. Each month I read one of the award winners and point out things I learned or things of which the book is an excellent example.
This month’s book for My Scott O’Dell Award Challenge is the 2000 award winner, Two Suns in the Sky by Miriam Bat-Ami.
This young adult historical fiction novel is set in Italy and Oswego, New York, during the last couple years of World War II. It features two protagonists: Chris, an Irish Catholic girl from Oswego who wants to break free of her life and join the war effort, and Adam, a Yugoslavian Jewish boy who is a refugee from the Holocaust.
Adam and part of his family are brought to the Emergency Refuge Shelter at Ft. Ontario (just outside Oswego), the only U.S. refugee camp during the war. The two teens fall in love, but neither one of their families approve.
This novel contains some mild sexual content.
Multiple point-of-view protagonists–Most kids’ historical fiction I’ve read have only one protagonist. In fact, the only kids’ historical fiction I can think of off-hand with multiple protagonists are verse novels–and next month’s challenge book.
However, lots of young adult (and adult) romances also have multiple protagonists. Although Two Suns in the Sky is not a true romance–it’s more like the Romeo and Juliet kind of romance–the story is told from both Chris and Adam’s first-person point-of-views.
This works well in a suspense or mystery when the author wants the reader to know more than the characters do. But it also works well in showing differing viewpoints of the shared events.
Previously, authors may have had multiple protagonists, but they told the story from an all-knowing narrator’s point-of-view. Now, more often, each protagonist narrates his or her own story (sometimes in first-person, sometimes in a very close third person), with each getting his or her own scenes or chapters. This allows readers to experience the story with the protagonists.
However, each protagonist must have his or her own story arc and undergo some type of change or growth by the end of story. In a nutshell, the author is giving the reader two intertwining and interdependent stories.
Two Suns in the Sky opened my eyes to a situation I knew nothing about–the Emergency Refugee Center at Ft. Ontario, outside Oswego, New York, at the end of World War II. Much of the U.S. population did not know the extent of the horrors of the Holocaust until late in the war. Many who did know that the Jews in Europe were being persecuted wanted the U.S. to help Jewish refugees. Finally in 1945, President Roosevelt ordered the opening of one refugee camp, Ft. Ontario, to about 900 refugees (mostly Jewish) from Europe.
The refugees were told this was a temporary situation; they would be returned to Europe when the war was over. But, apparently, no one had made clear to the refugees they would be kept in a camp and not just “let loose.” When they arrived in the U.S., put on trains, and taken to a fenced-in military fort, many had visions of the Nazi concentration camps and understandably panicked at first.
However, the children were allowed to attend the local Oswego schools, and some Oswego locals supplied food, clothing, and friendship to the refugees. In fact, some of the locals testified to and lobbied the government to allow the refugees to stay and become citizens. The government did allow the refugees to immigrate to the U.S. without having to go back to Europe.
For more information about the Emergency Refugee Center:
Join me Tuesday, May 31, to talk about the 1994 winner of the Scott O’Dell Award, Bull Run by Paul Fleischman.
Do you prefer stories with one or multiple protagonists? Have you heard of the WWII Emergency Refuge Shelter in New York? Do you know of other books about the refugees who lived at the shelter?
Children’s author Beverly Cleary will turn 100 years old April 12!
She wrote many books, but The Mouse and the Motorcycle, the Ramona books, and the Henry Huggins books, are among her most famous.
I was introduced to her when I was in either kindergarten or first grade. My teacher read a story to us about a girl with boing-boing curls. However, I didn’t know the name of the book or remember the characters’ names.
I went on to become a voracious reader, mostly books by Laura Ingalls Wilder and Louisea May Alcott, the Nancy Drew series, and books about dogs or horses.
Somehow I managed to grow up without coming across the story of the boing-boing curls again.
When I became interested in writing for children, I became a regular patron of our local town’s children’s library and often browsed the shelves.
That’s how I found the Beverly Cleary books. I remembered The Mouse and the Motorcycle from my childhood, but I hadn’t read any of the Ramona books. I had a vague idea this series of books was famous, so I started reading my way through them.
Lo and behold, those boing-boing curls are in Ramona the Pest!
I really like Ramona! She reminds me what it’s like to be a child, and how a child thinks–understanding more than adults realize, but often getting things mixed up.
During the past few weeks, in honor of Cleary’s birthday, I’ve been revisiting the Ramona series. Except this time I’m listening to the audio version, narrated by Stockard Channing. The stories often make me smile!
Have you read any of Cleary’s books? How did her stories affect you?
It’s that time of year in South Dakota when we’re seeing signs of the end of winter, but spring and its flowers are still a ways off. I’ve heard birds chirping again. I think I’ve seen robins. I hunger for colors other than white (snow) or brown (dirty snow or dormant grass).
It’s that time of the year when I want to buy spring flowers, especially the sunny, bright daffodils.
Daffodil is the common name for any flowers in the narcissus (Latin/scientific name) genus. Daffodils are sometimes called jonquils, but jonquils are one species of daffodil.
Daffodils come from regions around the Mediterranean Sea and Middle East. The Ancient Greeks and Romans loved the flowers. In fact, Romans brought daffodils with them to Britain. They thought the flowers had medicinal benefits. Turns out, they were right.
Now farmers in Wales are growing fields of daffodils for a specific plant extract, galantamine, that is used to slow the progression of dementia.
Daffodils also have a couple big connections to literature. The first is to the Greek myth of Narcissus, a man given good looks and immortality by the gods. The wood nymph named Echo fell in love with him, he rejected her, and she grieved until nothing was left but her voice. One of the goddesses, Nemesis, punished Narcissus by causing him to see his reflection in a pool of water. He fell in love with his appearance and would not look away from his reflection. Eventually, he disappeared and a flower was left.
The daffodil may or may not be the actual flower the Greeks associated with the myth. But the scientist Linneas picked a certain wild daffodil species he thought was “the one.” He named it Narcissus poeticus (Poet’s Daffodil).
The other major daffodil-literature connection is William Wordsworth’s famous poem, Daffodils (written in 1804 and inspired by a journal entry of his sister, Dorothy). The poem begins with the line, “I wandered lonely as a cloud,” and ends, “And then my heart with pleasure fills, And dances with the daffodils.”
In another serendipitous connection, in the video below, Gary Glazner is reciting the last two lines of Daffodils with a class of preschoolers. The really wonderful thing is he uses poetry (and started the Alzheimer’s Poetry Project) to interact with dementia sufferers.
Dementia has, and continues, to affect my family. So, I love it that my favorite spring flower helps, in more ways than one, those who suffer from dementia.
For more information:
What other literary-daffodil connections are there? Especially with stories for children? What is your experience reciting poetry with children? Elderly? Dementia patients?
We are joined today by Alison DeCamp, author of My Near-Death Adventures (99% True), a middle-grade historical fiction published in 2015 by Crown Books for Young Readers.
Welcome, Alison! Please tell me a little about your book.
My Near-Death Adventures (99% True) is the story of 11 y.o. Stan who is dying to become a manly man. I also mainly see it as a story about finding family in perhaps the most unlikely places and when you least expect it. Stan is clueless and impetuous and gullible, but he’s also surrounded by (mostly) lovely people who want what’s best for him. He also is cursed with a very ornery Granny and a bossy (and smarter) older female cousin who seem determined to make his life miserable.
How did Stan, Geri, Granny, and Stinky Pete come to you? Why did you choose 1895 for the setting?
I have a picture of my great-grandmother, Cora. She looks like the orneriest person I can imagine (and even more so when I was a kid looking at the picture). My mother loved her, but she also regaled us with stories of how Cora made my grandmother, Alice, get married at 15. Alice had my Uncle Stan when she was 16 and brought him to lumber camps with her because his father was out of the picture and they needed money. Cora didn’t talk to my mother’s dad (Alice’s second husband) or say a nice word about him for 8 years until my mother was born. She just seemed mean.
Geri is based on my mother’s cousin who was a spitfire. And Stinky Pete is based on my grandfather, Ray McLachlan.
But aside from names, most of this is made up. My family wasn’t in the lumber camps in 1895, but I think I chose that time period because historically lumbering was still prevalent in Michigan at this time, I wanted transportation to be more difficult so they were all basically trapped for the winter, and I wanted the river drive to be important—later on in lumbering it was easier to transport logs in the winter.
What is your research/writing process?
For this book I had the seed of an idea (a boy spending the winter with all these rough-and-tumble lumberjacks), but I had no idea what it would be like to actually live in 1895 let alone in a lumber camp. I actually liked researching pictures and history of the late 1800s when I was procrastinating or when I was stuck for an idea. Basically, the writing and researching began to run together.
What is one thing you discovered in your research that surprised you?
I was interested to learn that originally lumberjacks preferred to be called “shanty boys.” A “jack” (like a “crackerjack,” for example) was considered someone who wasn’t a professional and they considered themselves very professional.
I love Stan, especially his habit of thinking out-loud. How did you start with an actual historical person and relative and develop him into a well-rounded fictional character?
First of all, I’m glad you like that habit! I thought it might be funny, but it’s interesting how many people get confused by this personality quirk. I really didn’t know my Uncle Stan all that well (he was twenty years older than my mother), but I do have a 17 year-old son and taught middle school for eight years. I think boys are inherently funny and I think I just absorbed their personalities somehow.
Historical fiction tends to be set during times of major conflicts and tragedies, so the stories can often be very serious. However, you brought a wonderful mix of suffering, tenderness, and humor to Stan’s life. How did you balance those qualities?
Thank you so much for saying this! I think life is hard. I think it’s hard no matter what age you are or what life has handed you, and as a person who tends to worry, I find that any time I can find humor in a situation, it makes things so much better.
I hoped to show that in Stan’s situation as well—here he is, craving a father with a mother who loves him but is dealing with her own sadness, and he just keeps carrying on. He also ends up realizing, perhaps a little bit, that he might not have a “father,” but he certainly has people in his life who care about him very much, even when they technically don’t have to.
What’s next for you?
My Near-Death Adventures: I Almost Died. Again. comes out on July 5th. It’s a sequel, obviously, set in the small town of St. Ignace, Michigan (where I grew up) and picks up where the first book left off. There are some new characters (Cuddy Carlisle, III, a 7 y.o. version of Stan; as well as Mad Madge, Stan’s personal bully) and Stan’s father does make an appearance.
I also am part of an anthology called Funny Girl, a collected edited by Betsy Bird. It should be out in 2017 and is filled with comics and writings from some incredible women writers. And I have a third book which will be announced eventually.
How did your research/writing process differ for two books?
I was entrenched in the same time period but different places—obviously a lumber camp will differ from a town. I read a lot about what St. Ignace (and the world) was like in the late 19th century. Many of the places and people mentioned in book two were real. I also researched timber pirates, the most famous of whom (Roaring Dan Seavey) is the basis for Stan’s father.
Like Stan, Alison DeCamp grew up in the Upper Peninsula of Michigan. Her family history consists of stories of life in lumber camps and old scrapbooks. A graduate of Michigan State University, Alison is a former middle and high school language arts teacher. She now works at Between the Covers, a bookstore in Harbor Springs, Michigan, and spends the rest of her time with her husband and teenage children. You can find her online at alisondecamp.com.
Thank you, Alison!
Many of the ornaments on our family’s Christmas tree have special meaning to me. Here are seven of my favorites:
1. I made this one in elementary school. I had a teacher who taught some of us how to cross-stitch, a hobby I enjoyed for many years. She showed us how to make these ornaments by stitching yarn onto plastic canvas discs.
2. My great aunt made this ornament for my husband and me from photos she had taken at our wedding. This great aunt taught me how to sew and crochet when I was in second grade.
3. I try to find a Christmas ornament from places we travel. This was an ornament sculpture of one of our honeymoon hotels, Banff Springs Hotel, in Banff National Park, Alberta, Canada.
4. This one is from a family trip to Puerto Rico.
5. Some years ago, a group of friends and I got together regularly for tea. One Christmas I gave each of them, along with myself, a teacup or teapot ornament.
6. Years ago, friends gave this to us. One of their mothers had decorated this blown-out goose egg.
7. This one came from another couple. They had inserted a hand-tied fishing fly into the glass ornament.
Our children have also made us many ornaments. And we give each one of them an ornament every year. Someday when they have their own home, they’ll have a bunch of ornaments loaded with memories to begin their own collection.
Do you have favorite Christmas tree ornaments? What makes them special to you? What ornament traditions do you keep?