Post-Snow Days Catch Up

Yaupon Holly in Snow

Hello there! It’s been awhile. What with the snow storm and my determination to focus most of my energies on my (book) writing, I haven’t had much time to be here, and I’ve missed it.

How about you? How did you survive the weather, those of you who had it? It was the biggest snowstorm I’ve ever seen in the South, and I’ve lived here most of my life. We were without power for a few hours, not too bad, and got in a good bit of sledding. I have to admit I’m glad to be back to a normal schedule, though. Except for the fact that my nine-year-old is being buried with homework and projects in an attempt to make up for lost time. Bless her dear little heart.

In other news, the local chapter of the Women’s National Book Association, along with the Charlotte Writer’s Club, had a great panel Tuesday night on writers and authors using social media. Very informative, with very knowledgeable guests. If you live in the area, you should check out these two groups.

Meanwhile, I finished Malcolm Gladwell’s latest (David and Goliath). Very Gladwell, very thought-provoking and entertaining. And now I’m diving into My Berlin Kitchen, given to me by a friend (thanks, Christina!). I looooove it! It’s written by a cooking blogger who grew up bouncing between Berlin and the U.S. I haven’t gotten too far, so I don’t know the story yet, but her style is so warm, so genuine and earthy. You throw that in with cooking and international living, and I’m so there. I’d recommend it to anyone but especially to my German-connection friends. It’s almost like sitting down to kaffe und kuchen with you. Almost.

Also, because I had to do something when I couldn’t use my sewing machine, I’ve unraveled a sweater to re-use its very worthy yarn. Don’t cry for it, Argentina. It was a very heavy, stiff sweater, out of style, that my husband hardly wore (and never since I’ve known him). I’m thinking of reincarnating it into some throw pillow covers. What do you think? The yarn is actually pretty soft, just soooo heavy for a sweater. It’s almost like soft rug yarn.

Unraveled sweater

If you’re insane like me and are interested in unraveling sweaters, there are tons of tutorials out there about it. I wouldn’t recommend it unless you have a sweater with very chunky yarn. This one worked like a charm, I think because it must’ve been hand-knit, but sometimes unraveling can be more work than it’s worth. The tutorials can point you down the right path.

Lastly, I made this little piece with one of my photographs:

Sea bathing

Recognize the quote, anyone? This is where I go when I need the Calgon to take me away.

Okay, back to work. Cheers!

Kids’ Books for Gifting

Kids' Books

I’m a little late with this list, but there’s still some time to shop for Christmas, if not Thanksgivvukah.

Our family reads a lot. I tried to come up with a list of kids’ books we love that you might not have heard of. These have all been extensively road-tested.

The first two are novels for elementary-age kids. In this age of Harry Potter, my daughter is not a big fantasy fan. Not sure why, but realistic fiction is her bag. Maybe that’s because it’s what her mom writes. Haha!

First up is The Year of the Dog, the first in a series of three (I think, unless there’s a new one?) about a Chinese-American girl and her friends and family. I love these, and was so happy my daughter did, too. In fact, she re-reads them often. I’d say they’re for ages 7 and up, most likely. They’re written by Newbery honor winner Grace Lin. (BTW, Ms. Lin used to work in Harvard Square with my good friend Jamie. So there! I’m tangentially famous).

Summer of the Wolves is the first in a series written by my friend Lisa Williams Kline. The books follow two newly-minted stepsisters in their adventures together, and my daughter doesn’t know it yet, but she’s getting two more of them for Christmas. She has read and re-read the ones she already owns. If you live here in Charlotte, you can get   Lisa’s books (usually signed ones) at Park Road Books.

Me…Jane by Patrick McDonnell is a picture book biography of Jane Goodall. I love a good picture book bio, and this one has all the ingredients of a winner: great illustrations, engaging text (but brief enough for small kids) and real-life snippets that kids can really relate to. My six-year-old has often asked for this one over the last year.

If I Built a Car by Chris Van Dusen is the first book my son tried to memorize, he loved it so much. It’s full of zany flights of fancy and imaginary gadgetry, which is perfect for someone who likes machinery, as my boy does.

Tumble Me Tumbily is excellent for toddlers, and I can honestly say it holds up after nightly readings for a looong period of time. This was my son’s first favorite book, from the time he was one.

Finally, The Buffalo are Back by the great Jean Craighead George (she of Julie of the Wolves and My Side of the Mountain fame) is the true story of buffalo in America. It gets very sad, but there’s a hopeful ending. It totally made me want to go out west to see buffalo in the wild. The illustrations are lovely.

For more recommendations, you can check out some kids’ craft books we love in this post.

If you value bookstores and want them to stick around, please consider buying from your local shop, or ordering them from an independent retailer.

And by the way, my own books are available at Park Road Books in Charlotte, as well as online! Have a great weekend.

Favorite Craft Books for Kids, Old and New

Craft Books for Kids

I love looking at craft books almost as much (okay, sometimes more) than crafting. In my house growing up, my mom and I always called these “make it/ do it” books, after two of our favorites, her own McCall’s Giant Make It Book (1953) and my Great Big Golden Make It & Do It Book (1980).

Many happy hours were spent poring over those pages. Most of the projects I never made or did, but just knowing that I could, imagining them, and looking over the pictures and instructions was (is) very satisfying.

Kids' Craft Books

I still love make it/ do it books, and in the stack are a few more recent favorites.

Made to Play  by blogger Joel Henriques. This book, given to us by a good friend, inspired our cardboard factory last summer. The author’s blog is madebyjoel.

Sticks & Stones & Ice Cream Cones by Phyllis Fioratta is another childhood favorite.

Oodles to Do with Loo-Loo and Boo by Denis Roche, a Vermont College friend of mine. This one has great illustrations and fun characters who guide you throughout as you make arts and crafts with easy-to-find and recyclable items.

Things to Do Book by Jennie Maizels. I love, love this concept for a book. Each illustrated spread has a theme (“in the car,” “in the garden”) picturing various activities in a particular setting. There are little flaps to lift that are like secret treasures. In concept, it’s a little like a Richard Scarry book with activities to do instead of labels. Perfect for those “I don’t have anything to do!” moments.

I also remember loving A Boat, A Bat, and A Beanie: Things to Make from Newspaper from the library back in the day. It shows you how to make great stuff (sandals! a wig!) out of, yes, newspaper. I think I need to order a copy of it. I love getting copies of old library books I used to check out over and over.

Below: It was so well-loved, we had to re-cover mom’s copy of the McCall’s Giant Make It Book:

Recovered Book

Here are a few of the inside pages:

Vintage Craft Book

Vintage Children's Craft Book

Vintage Children's Craft Book

Ach! There’s just something about these glowing 50s illustrations that just gets me every time. Everything looks so fun! The clothes so quaint! I just want to jump into the pictures, like Mary Poppins’ chalk drawings.

There’s a little video about the McCall’s book here.

What about you? Do you have any favorite craft books of your own, or do your kids? I think craft books make great gifts.

For more kid craft posts, click here.

Hope you have a great weekend. I’m off to the Carolinas conference of the Society of Children’s Book Writers and Illustrators (SCBWI). Lucky for me, it’s right here in town.

Bookwomen

Bookwomen

I thought you might like to see the T-shirts I designed for the Friends of the Library 5K I ran last Saturday. Here I am faux-modeling them with my friend Carin Siegfried, an independent editor here in Charlotte.

Carin and I were 5K teammates for the local Women’s National Book Association chapter. If you’re in the area and are a booklover, it’s a great place to meet people and network. We have book industry professionals as well as folks who just love books, and actually, you don’t need to be female.

Just this week I got lots of encouragement and excellent ideas for my nonfiction project from another of my WNBA friends (yes, that’s the acronym–no, we don’t play basketball). WNBA meets monthly for all manner of book-related events. In October we host our annual Bibliofeast event, which is a fantastic dinner with a full slate of authors. Details on that event and everything else here.

If you don’t live in Charlotte but are interested, there are Women’s National Book Associations in Boston, New York, Detroit, Nashville, San Francisco, Seattle, and D.C.

I’ve been neck-deep in my nonfiction research this week. Feels great! It finally seems to be moving forward. Hope you have a great weekend.

Hello Again

Sidewalk Crack Flower

Hey folks! It’s me again. Sorry to have been MIA for awhile. We had some nice relaxing days at the beach with my folks before school started. The photo above is from a favorite spot at the beach—it’s a sidewalk crack garden, world’s best!

My least one is off to kindergarten, as of this week. So far, so good. He’s happy, so I’m happy. I’m suddenly faced with plenty of nice, quiet time to think. Wow, it works wonders. Shortly I’ll be digging back into my novel writing (and other writing), but these first few days have been all about catching up on chores: organizing, gardening, errand-running.

Currently reading Ruth Ozeki’s A Tale for the Time Being. Also listening to Fresh Air podcasts while folding laundry. Loved the ones with the author of Orange is the New Black and with the showrunner for the TV series of the same name. No, haven’t seen the show, but it sounds fascinating. Another interesting podcast is with Penelope Lewis, the author of The Secret World of Sleep.

And oh, loved the one with Demien Bichir, star of the Fx series The Bridge. By the way, The Bridge, a grisly murder mystery set on the border between Texas and Mexico, is fantastic. It’s not for the faint of heart, but the writing and the acting are excellent, really riveting.

Coming up, some sewing projects and gluten-free baking we’ve done recently. Hope you have a great weekend and a relaxing Labor Day.

What’s On the Nightstand: Summer Edition

Stack of Books

What have you been reading lately? I’ve stocked up for the summer and am making my way through these.

First up is David Sedaris’s Let’s Explore Diabetes with Owls. Purchased through Park Road Books at his reading in Charlotte. As usual, so funny! I especially liked the chapter about language learning—-awesome bits about German.

The Expats is pretty pulpy, but intriguing. I’m reading it right now. A former CIA operative, now an expat housewife (whose husband doesn’t know the truth about her career) is unraveling a mystery in Luxembourg. The spy stuff is mixed with domestic/ marriage stuff, which is an interesting combo. This one was recommended by Sally Brewster at Park Road Books.

Inside Out and Back Again is a recent Newbery winner, about a young girl in the 1970s who flees war-town Vietnam and ends up in Alabama. Sadly, I only got a little ways into it before I had to return it to the library because someone had it on hold. Rats! I’ll have to try again. It’s very lyrical, written in poems. (P, if you’re reading, I picked this up because of you).

Next up is Where’d You Go, Bernadette? which is probably my favorite read in the last six months. My daughter asked me please to not read it while driving (no, I don’t really do that, but she thought I might). Laugh-out-loud funny, razor sharp, and so smart. The reclusive genius (former) architect Bernadette has gone missing, and her teenage daughter is determined to find her by gathering all the clues she can. It takes place in Seattle, which Bernadette hates with a hysterically fiery passion. (Sorry, Seattle, I’ve always imagined you to be really cool). Two weekends ago I drove my road trip friends crazy because I would NOT. SHUT. UP. about Bernadette. I’m going all fangirl on the author, Maria Semple. Must read her other title.

And lastly, I’ve got A Tale for the Time Being by Ruth Ozeki. This one, along with Bernadette, was also recommended by Sally Brewster of Park Road Books (and I purchased them there). I haven’t started it yet, but Sally said it was beautiful, a book to savor, and also about someone who’s moved to a new place (Japan) and is struggling to adjust.

And that seems to be the theme here: fish-out-of-water stories. In fact the novel I’m working on is also a fish-out-of-water story. It’s a theme on the brain this year, my first one back in the U.S. after two and a half years in Germany. Sometimes I’m still just flipping around, missing my water, wondering how to breathe this air.

What about you? What are you reading this summer? Your kids? I’d love some family audiobook recommendations.

What’s On the Nightstand

Stack of Books

Here’s what I’ve been reading lately:

Is Everyone Hanging Out Without Me? (And Other Concerns) by Mindy Kaling of The Office and The Mindy Project fame

Um, love her. A fun, quick read.

Snow Flower and the Secret Fan by Lisa See

This one is going slowly for me (and the foot-binding accounts are hard to stomach) but it’s a vivid window onto a fascinating world: 19th-century China. I’m also intrigued by the idea of a novel about a friendship.

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

This is an old favorite I’m reading to the kids. What could be more exciting than running away to live in the Metropolitan Museum?

Mennonite in a Little Black Dress by Rhoda Janzen

Laughed a lot reading this memoir.

The Little Bookstore of Big Stone Gap by Wendy Welch

Nonfiction. A little gem about the at-times hilarious ups and downs of opening a used bookstore in a small town. Felt like I was having tea with a friend.

Outliers: The Story of Success by Malcolm Gladwell

I’d been meaning to read this nonfiction for a long time (I read The Tipping Point  in the last year or so). Fascinating look into our assumptions about what leads to success.

Artisanal Gluten-Free Cooking by Kelli and Peter Bronski

I confess I haven’t cooked anything from this one yet, but it’s a lovely book, and I’m intrigued to try, especially recipes involving their special flour blend.

In other news, I’ve been watching Game of Thrones (love that Tyrion!!) and have to try this Top of the Lake I’m hearing about. Also, recently learned that Fashion Star features someone from my hometown, so, I’ve got to catch up on that. What about you? Read anything great lately? Watching anything that shouldn’t be missed?

Book Signing at Park Road Books in Charlotte: Saturday, January 26

Cover-SlowpokeRevised-3

Please join me at Park Road Books for a book signing

on Saturday, January 26 at 11 a.m.

4139 Park Road
Park Road Shopping Center
Charlotte, NC 28209

Bring the kids! We’ll have snacks!

“This entertaining early reader features Fiona, a girl who really, really likes to stop and smell the roses…The text is interspersed with black-and-white illustrations that do a stellar job of conveying both leisure and frenzy. A clever early reader with challenging vocabulary and some food for thought to boot.” —Kirkus Reviews

“Pearce’s succinct text will amuse emerging readers with her only slightly exaggerated references to the hectic pace of modern life. Ritchie’s fluid, cartoon-style illustrations are equally adept at conveying the story’s speedy absurdities (Mom consuming an entire plate of meatloaf in one gulp) and its more relaxing moments (Fiona smelling the flowers). Best of all, everyone gains an appreciation of the other’s sense of timing—including where and when each is appropriate.” –Booklist

Common Core and the World of Children’s Books

And now a break from regular programming to bring you an interview about the changing school library market.

I met Jessica Robison at the recent Carolinas SCBWI conference and was fascinated to hear what she had to say about Common Core Curriciulum. I hope you’ll be fascinated, too.

Jessica is a National Board Certified Teacher who teaches eleventh grade English and AP English Language. She’s also a member of the Common Core Curriculum Implementation Team in Richland School District One in South Carolina. “My passions,” she says, “are people, reading, and writing, so English teaching suits me.”

Jessica, we’ve been hearing “Common Core” a lot. What does it mean?

The Common Core standards have been adopted by 45 states in the US, and provide educators, students, and parents with clear, specific goals for every grade level in the areas of Math and Language Arts. Visit this website for more information: http://www.corestandards.org/

What’s the origin of Common Core, and what’s the goal?

For as long as I can remember, college professors and employers have complained that students are not prepared for college or the workforce. Their writing is not up to par, for example, or they are unable to comprehend college-level texts. As educators, our main job is to prepare students for their future, so we’ve known for quite awhile that something had to change in our schools to give our students the skills they need.

     The Common Core standards are based on the actual needs of our students instead of what teachers and state stakeholders think they need.  Our past state standards started with the writers asking what kids should be able to do in kindergarten, and planned forward. Without the focus on the end goal, there was less urgency at the early and middle grades. The Common Core’s use of backwards design makes it more rigorous in its expectations on students from elementary to high school, and I believe it is more in tune with what students will be expected to do after high school.
     The Common Core starts with the end in mind. Here’s what I mean: the creators of the CCSS (Common Core State Standards) asked this question: “What do students need to know and do when they graduate from high school?” They compiled answers from the community, colleges, and other stakeholders. Then, they worked backwards. “Ok,” they said, “then these reading and writing standards should be the standards for twelfth grade.  And what do students need to be able to do by the tenth grade?” Then they planned tenth grade, and so on. After comprehensive study and backwards planning, the team put together the CCSS.
What will change in the reading requirements for different grade levels?
From what I understand, educators will be putting more emphasis on re-reading and checking for deeper understanding. There will be less focus on reading a text, doing a worksheet with questions, and moving on.  Also, the ELA (English Language Arts) classroom will be flooded with nonfiction, and teachers will be encouraging students to read books appropriate for their reading level.
What do you think teachers and librarians will be looking for in the years to come?
Personally, I am on a quest for interesting nonfiction, as our focus shifts in that direction. I’ve recently gotten several good recommendations, but in the words of the famous meme, “I WANT MOAR!”
What are teachers around you saying about Common Core and the way it will affect how they teach reading/ writing/ literature?
Since I work with an amazing group of motivated educators, we are excited. Bring it on!  Once Common Core is implemented, we’ll see more student-driven discussions, with higher level thinking.  I think students will be reading harder books. I think they will get more frustrated, but will learn how to work through their frustration, which is another skill they will need in the real world.
 
Thanks so much for sharing, Jessica! I’ve been reading a bit of back and forth about Common Core. Here’s a recent editorial in the Washington Post, and here’s a post from a blog by a group of nonfiction lovers.
Personally, I think it will be really interesting to see where Common Core takes children, educators, and writers. I hope fiction won’t be lost in the shuffle, but there are lots of wonderful nonfiction texts that I hope will get new mileage in the classroom.
What do you think?

What’s on the Nightstand

Hey! Just thought I’d share a little of what I’ve been reading/ plan to read.

From the top, Writers I’ve Met and Liked is a blank journal given to me by my friend Bettina. It makes me happy just to look at it. But at the same time sad to think how far away she is now (in Germany).

I picked up A Single Shard by Newbery winner Linda Sue Park when I was in Montpelier for the Vermont College alumni mini-residency (which was great, BTW). Ms. Park was the keynote speaker, and let me tell you, this is the woman I want to be when I grow up. She is a serious writer. Such a wordcrafter. She’s also a gifted teacher, a  downright cool person, and has a big, kind heart. I was totally inspired. This copy is signed by LSP herself, as is The Kite Fighters.

Up next is Little House in the Big Woods by Laura Ingalls Wilder, lent to me by my eight-year-old. I decided to re-read (or in some cases read for the first time) the whole series after enjoying Little House On the Prairie so much with the family. Seriously, the woman has got some mad skilz. There’s a reason these books have survived. I’m loving the full-color illustrations in this edition—-go ahead and sue me, purists!

Yes, I realize Jonah Lehrer’s Imagine, about the nature of creativity, has since been recalled, but I’m finishing it anyway since I was already halfway through when I found out. More on that another time. Purchased at lovely Bayswater Books in Center Harbor, New Hampshire.

Also from Bayswater Books is Wonder Show by Hannah Barnaby, an old friend from Vermont College.  Oh, the cover is so delicious. Can’t wait to read it.

Then Nueva Salsa from the library. Sadly, I didn’t have a chance to try any of them out, but I’m going to check it out again. Some very interesting combos.

Then Vintage Craft Workshop, a gift from my friend Jamie. I especially loved reading the histories of Aleene’s Tacky Glue and Mod Podge.

Slipcovers—I flirted briefly with the idea of trying to silpcover an old chair, then decided it was just too big a project and swapped the chair instead. Again from the library. It’s a little dated, but the technical info and photos are solid. Appears to be out of print.

Handmade Home, also from the library. Can you tell how much I’m enjoying having access to a full-fledged English-language library? This is a beautiful, beautiful book, and during those awful days when our stuff arrived and the house was a fruitbasket turnover, I’d look at these pages and dream of such cozy, inviting spaces. Oh the handmade wool blankets! The European cottages! The made-from-scratch furniture!

Also enjoyed living vicariously through the pages of Design * Sponge at Home, not pictured.

And lastly, also from the library, Reinvention by blogger Maya Donenfeld of mayamade. A book after my own heart, about making new things out of thrifted/ recycled fibers. I’ll never look at a wool blanket or suit the same way again.

Speaking of fibers, I’m currently making a throw blanket out of some inherited silk. Yeah, gettin’ fancy.

Also, watching some great new shows: Julia Louis-Dreyfus in Veep and Aaron Sorkin’s The Newsroom.

Have you read anything good lately? Watched anything that’s worth seeing? Do share.