A Poem for Runners

Today in the Boston area it’s Marathon Monday, my favorite day of the year. I’ve talked a little before about how I love cheering for all the runners and what the marathon means to me, so today I’ll just share a poem by Irving Feldman called “The Runners.” I especially like these last lines:

“…your hidden heart rejoicing that the quick heel
won’t soon, won’t ever, be overtaken,
although you, as you have longed to, suddenly
disburden yourself and follow follow.”

Click through to read the whole poem, and have a safe and happy Marathon Monday!

A Poem for Tax Day

Sometimes you realize that you need to get something mailed immediately. Sometimes you end up at the post office without realizing that it’s Tax Day. Sometimes you make mistakes.

Okay, it didn’t end up being all that bad. (The post office had four people at the front desk, which is three times the usual number.) But it did get me thinking about my favorite poet/financial worker, T.S. Eliot, and his poem “The Waste Land.” A poem that begins with the line: “April is the cruellest month” totally gets what it’s like to be in the post office on Tax Day. Also, these lines:

“A crowd flowed over London Bridge, so many,
I had not thought death had undone so many.
Sighs, short and infrequent, were exhaled,
And each man fixed his eyes before his feet.”

So “The Waste Land” isn’t exactly about standing in line at the post office, but that’s one of the great things about poetry–even when you’re feeling annoyed at bureaucracy and your own inability to remember the date, you can connect it with something much more literary and thoughtful. Poems aren’t just for pouring over in English class–they’re part of our everyday lives, if only to keep us amused while we’re standing in line with a few dozen other unlucky people.

Feel free to share your favorite lines/poems for random life events in the comments!

Links Galore

Sorry for the blog silence over the last couple weeks! Here are lots of good links I’ve been hoarding:

April is the Coolest Month

I’m thrilled it’s April and not just because it brings us in Boston one step closer to warm weather. April is also National Poetry Month, which is a great excuse to share favorite poems and celebrate all things poetry-related.

When I was a teen, we’d get to the poetry section in English class, and my teachers would talk about how special poetry is and how we were going to examine all the words and lines and phrases so carefully. As a fiction writer, I’d get all defensive and want to argue that stories take a lot of care with word choice, too, and what was so special about poetry, anyway? Since then, I’ve had the opportunity to read and write more poetry, and now I fully embrace National Poetry Month. Poems are cool, guys!

Know what else is cool? Bill Murray. Apparently he’s all about the poetry. He’s a video of Murray reading a couple of Wallace Stevens’ poems (including one of my favorites, “A Rabbit as King of the Ghosts”) as part of Poets House’s 17th Annual Poetry Walk Across the Brooklyn Bridge:

Click through for more of Murray’s poetry reading skills, and feel free to share your plans for National Poetry Month in the comments!

Friday Fifteen

Friday, I am so happy to see you. Onto the book reviews in fifteen words or fewer!

1. The Lorax by Dr. Seuss
Seuss’s take on environmentalism. Can we classify it as picture book dystopian?

2. The Witchcraft Sourcebook by Brian P. Levack
Another text from my college history of witchcraft class. Lots of cases from across Europe.

3. Changes for Felicity (American Girls: Felicity #6) by Valerie Tripp
If you’re kind to old drunk horse-beaters, they may do you a favor later on.

4. Book of a Thousand Days by Shannon Hale
Usual lesser-known-fairy-tale-adaptation Hale awesomeness. Also dug the epistolary style.

5. The Standard Book of British and American Verse ed. by Nella Braddy, preface Chistopher Morley
A friend gave me a beautiful copy as a wedding present. Bookshelf gold!

Ten Reasons Why You Should Read…Caminar by Skila Brown

When I heard the premise of Caminar–a novel-in-verse about a boy living during Guatemala’s civil war–I knew I was in for something special. Add this to the fact that Skila Brown is a fellow Candlewick author, and I was psyched to see this one show up in my mailbox. Reading Caminar was an emotionally rich experience, and I’m so excited for other readers to discover it. Here are a few of my reasons to read Caminar:

1. Poetry in Motion
Although I enjoy poetry, I’d never read a novel in verse so I didn’t know what to expect. Holy cow, was I impressed. Brown’s writing is powerful, and the verse feels like the perfect vehicle to convey all the hope and fear and sadness and confusion in Carlos’s story. There are so many beautiful and heartbreaking lines I want to share, but I’m holding back because getting to experience them firsthand is way better.

2. Chopán
Although Chopán is not a real place, Brown makes it come alive on the page and uses this village as a way to share the very real experiences of Guatemalan villagers during this tumultuous time. I loved getting to see a little of Carlos’s life, his friends, his family, and how their lives all intersected.

3. Guatemala
I didn’t know much about Guatemala outside of the fact that it’s a Central American country. Learning about the political turmoil was fascinating, and getting to see its side effects on people like Carlos was heartbreaking. A necessary book for anyone interested in international struggles, no matter what your age.

4. Carlos
What a phenomenal narrator. Again, not having read a novel in verse, I wasn’t sure how I’d connect with the protagonist, but Carlos comes alive on the page and it’s so easy to see his development through the book. He’s a thoughtful, dynamic character whom younger readers will easily relate to. Partway through the book, I realized that the poetic narration was so much a part of Carlos’s character–it felt like such a natural way to convey his thoughts in terms of image and rhythm and format. It was another cool way to discover an engaging protagonist.

5. Being a Boy, Being a Man
There’s a theme throughout about what it means to be a boy and what it means to be a man. Carlos is caught between the two as he tries to understand his place among his fellow villagers, the rebels, and the army. Even though most readers won’t be dealing with a situation that intense, I think a lot of young people will be able to relate to Carlos’s struggle with what it means to grow up, especially with so many expectations and pressures on their shoulders.

6. Old Stories and Ways
Although Caminar is set in the recent past, I loved getting a glimpse of how Carlos and his village were still connected to pre-colonial ways of life. Carlos learned about nahuales (a kind of spirit animal that appears when boys become men) from Santiago Luc, the oldest man in Chopán. I loved getting a glimpse at how kids like Carlos play soccer and hear about these old traditions. Similarly people from other villages speak languages other than Guatemela’s official language of Spanish, a nice reminder that the country’s history is so long and so varied.

7. Someone to Walk With
Miguel, Ana, Hector, and Paco are other children affected by the war and whom Carlos meets while journeying to his grandmother’s village.They added so many wonderful layers to the story–grief and anger of their own, but also hope and levity. I know that readers will grow just as attached to them as I was.

8. The Complications of War
Brown doesn’t shy away from the complex nature of the Guatemalan conflict. Soliders and rebels are all presented as real people, who can play soccer with the village boys and share a meal and also commit of horrifying war crimes. This is not a case of good vs. bad and wrong vs. right, and I love that readers get a glimpse of how complex and dangerous the situation was for Carlos and others just trying to survive.

9. On the Syllabus 
There are some books that make me wish I was a teacher just so I could share it with a class. Caminar would be the perfect book for a middle school classroom. In addition to being a great book for general classroom discussions, teachers could use it to talk about Central American history and geography, introduce students to reading and writing poetry, and even get some Spanish vocabulary in there. I expect this book to be on a ton of school and library reading lists very soon.

10. Skila Brown
Skila is a fellow Candlewick author and such a lovely person. She was one of the first OneFours to read The Chance You Won’t Return and send me such kind thoughts about it–it made me feel way better about my book going out into the world. I was so excited to read Skila’s book, and holy cow did I want to write her a glowing email about her work. She’s such a thoughtful, passionate, talented person, and I know that she’s going to make a huge mark on the world of children’s literature.

Caminar is out now, so get your copy today!

Friday Fifteen

Happy Friday, everyone! It’s the last Friday in March, and frankly, the weather still feels a little more “lion” than “lamb.” Here’s hoping by next Friday, it’ll be real spring. Onto the book reviews!

1.  Shopgirl by Steve Martin
Between his fiction and banjo-playing, Martin seems thoughtful about and good at whatever he tries.

2. Breaking Dawn by Stephanie Meyer
Sometimes it’s better not to see the happy ending, if that involves babies and werewolves.

3. A Light in the Attic by Shel Silverstein
Remember the illustrations most, but I bet the poems would be fun to revisit.

4. An Acceptable Time by Madeleine L’Engle
The third generation of time-traveling Murrys. Zachary continues to be the worst.

5. Two Bad Ants by Chris Van Allsburg
I was fascinated by this one in kindergarten. Didn’t stop me from squishing ants.

Friday Fifteen

Happy Friday, everyone! Let’s say farewell to the polar vortex with some micro-book reviews.

1. In the Hand of Goddess (Song of the Lioness #2) by Tamora Pierce
Alanna becomes a knight, fights evil, kisses swoony guys. Maybe my favorite of the series.

2. I. by Stephen Dixon
Don’t remember much, but the depiction of his wife’s condition was striking.

3. The Littlest Dinosaurs by Bernard Most
I loved the art in this one. Tiny dinosaurs!

4. Violet & Claire by Francesca Lia Block
Liked the contrasting screenplay/poetry formats, but not one I returned to like other Block novels.

5. Picnic, Lightning by Billy Collins
The title poem is a great take on a two-word aside from Lolita.

This Year’s Words

It’s not a poem about New Year’s, but T.S. Eliot’s “Little Gidding” is about chance and transformation and the old and new. These lines feel particularly appropriate for New Year’s Day:

(image: Powell’s)

The new year is a natural time to start thinking about change and possibility and transformation. With The Chance You Won’t Return coming out in April, 2014 is primed to be a year of big changes. So excited to share them all with you and my fellow ’14 debut authors!

And in case you need to see my enthusiasm for 2014 in gif form (of course you do), head over to OneFour KidLit.

Friday Fifteen

It’s the last Friday Fifteen of 2013! Let’s end the year right with some book reviews in fifteen words or fewer.

1. Write Source 2000: A Guide to Writing, Thinking and Learning by Great Source
Our eighth grade source for all things essay-related. It was fine.

2. The Animal Tale Treasury by Caroline Royds
Mostly I remember the “Just So” stories and the illustrations.

3. Glass Town by Lisa Russ Spaar
Don’t remember many particular poems, but sharp, elegant writing works well as a collection.

4. A Hand Full of Stars by Rafik Schami
Read randomly in middle school; ended up being a first introduction to Syria. Very touching.

5. The Sisterhood of the Traveling Pants by Ann Brashares
Didn’t expect much based on the pants conceit, but the girls’ friendships and personalities shine.