Category Archives: classics

Pete the Katniss or One Book, One School

Hi there!   J Monkeys coming to you from a Monday morning.  Woot!   For any who don’t know,  I’m a parent who studied literature in college and writes children’s books.  I’m excited to put those experiences together as a member of the One Book One School selection committee for my children’s school.

One Book One School is a program where a school selects one book and assigns it to every student with projects and activities that cover a variety of disciplines.   Now depending on the age range of students at the school, selecting a title can be tough.  Is there a book that is appropriate to both a kindergartener and a sixth grader?   Even in my children’s primary school (kindergarten to 2nd grade) it’s wicked hard. 

Kindergartners are only just learning to read.  They are memorizing sight words and beginning to understand phonetic pronunciation.  By the end of second grade, most students can read pretty well.  Finding a book that is challenging, interesting and appropriate for these disparate needs is tough.  

pete the catTrust me.  I’ve read a dozen books over the past week looking for something to recommend.  I’m calling it my quest for Pete the Katniss. 

Pete the Cat is a series of picture books that follow the antics of a cat named Pete.  His stories are simple, repetitive and often set to music.  

Katniss (in case you live under a rock) is katnissthe oft-violent heroine of The Hunger Games, a young adult distopian political thriller type romance.

For my school’s One Book One School program, I need to find a title that is as interesting as The Hunger Games, but has material that is age appropriate for five year old kids.   And, of course, it’s top secret.  I can’t disclose the titles I’ve been reading.

“But J, there are thousands of books to choose from,  how hard can it be to pick one?” you ask.   Surprisingly difficult.  After the committee’s first meeting, I stopped at the library to get the five books we had selected.  I read them, all children’s books that I had read decades ago, assuming that they would be good choices.  WRONG!

I read those five, and seven more, looking for books to recommend.  It turns out that books published before 1955, as three of them were, are often sexist, racist, xenophobic, use outdated language that can be considered inappropriate now, and/or often have a heavy handed sentence structure that would be completely over the heads of my kindergartners. 

One was too anti-school.  A couple of others were too short – the committee is looking for a chapter book in the neighborhood of 200 pages long.  Obviously, it’s an assignment for the parents as well as the students. 

Another betrayed the truth about a certain holiday gift-giver in such a way that I’m concerned the parents would set the building on fire.   There was a trio of books that are intended for a slightly older audience (really all of these are for an audience older than our students) and might just be a bit over the heads of these 5-8 years olds. 

I did find two that I wholeheartedly recommend, although one of them is a pretty popular series and might be disqualified for that reason.  The committee is looking for something that would be new to most everybody. 

I’m left with one; one book to recommend out of a dozen Middle Grade books read. 

What would you recommend?  I’m looking for something that would appeal to both boys and girls, is a chapter book, and is not likely to offend the parents with subject matter that they would deem inappropriate for a young child.  Bring ‘em on.  I’ve got a follow up meeting this week.   I’ll let you know how it goes.

 

Who wants a mean Santa? by J Monkeys

Good Morning Scriblers!  J Monkeys here.   I’m so sorry that I’ve missed the last two weeks!  Would you believe that I’ve been so busy, I forgot it was Saturday?  YIKES.

Today, in honor of the upcoming holiday, I wanted to take a moment to talk about a film that used to be a favorite of mine, but which I now loathe.  Yes, I’m talking about the clay-mation classic: Rudolph the Red-nosed Reindeer.

Rudolph the red nosed reindeerHave you watched this movie as an adult?  If you are responsible for the care of children, then you will be even more horrified.  First, Rudolph’s own father basically calls him a freak for having an unusual nose and makes him hide it.  Then Santa, that paragon of kindness and joy, sees it and tells Donner that his son’s not good enough to schlep a ton of toys through the sky.  Then of course the flying coach, their pal, gets all the other children to join him in mocking one of the little yearlings. That’s some really awful bullying.  Only when Rudolph’s nose becomes useful to Santa is he finally accepted onto the team. 

It’s no better for the elves.  Setting aside the terrible treatment of Herbie, watch what happens when the elves perform for Santa.  They sing their little hearts out, only to have the head elf (Santa) grunt at them and dash away.  What a jerk!

Even Yukon Cornelius gets in on the nasty action.  Once he defeats the Bumble, he taunts him, forcibly removes his teeth, then puts that wild beast on a leash and drives him around the north pole. 

I find that whenever my kids watch this movie, I have to stand there commenting how “We would never behave this way, would we!”   It takes something away from the viewing experience, I think.

Both the Year Without a Santa Claus and Santa Claus is Coming to Town are better, although the later has that whole disturbing song about how if you sit on a strange man’s lap and pay the price of a kiss, you’ll get gift. 

But no matter how you like your holiday movies, I wish you a Merry Christmas, Happy Kwanza, Happy Boxing Day, Festive Solstice and Safe New Year.

~ J

 

 

The Most Wonderful Time of the Year

Hey folks, Suze here. Happy December! Hope you’re celebrating with friends and family in whatever way is meaningful to you.

We haven’t revealed a secret in a while, so here’s one about me: I’m a big ole baby when it comes to Christmas specials. I always cry at the end. Always. Of course, I have been known to cry at Cialis commercials too–Oh, that poor, poor man! And his wife! *sob* But now they’re happy again! *sobbing more vigorously*.

Here are some of my favorite Christmas specials, in no particular order of loved-ness:

We still love you, Uncle Billy!
We still love you, Uncle Billy!

It’s a Wonderful Life. This one goes without saying. Jimmy Stewart is goofy, charming, and way over the top with his performance of the beleaguered George Bailey. Favorite character? I’m going to go with Clarence Oddbody. And seriously. How long has this movie been around? Sixty-seven years and Uncle Billy still loses the sack of money at the bank every time. And I blat like a baby at the end. Flaming R-r-r-um Punch for everyone!

I'll have some of that eggnog in a Wallyworld cup, please. And a dickie for my sweater!
I’ll have some of that eggnog in a Wallyworld cup, please. And a dickie for my sweater!

Christmas Vacation. I just can’t get enough of the Griswolds. Will Clark get his Christmas bonus? It’s always a nailbiter. Not that I’d really want to have him over for dinner or anything, but wouldn’t it be nice to have someone like Eddie to stand up for you and fight for what’s right by kidnapping your cheap and clueless, jelly-of-the-month club-giving boss? My tears during this movie are tears of laughter. Jell-O mold for everyone!

Sing, it kids (and dog!)
Sing, it kids (and dog!)

Charlie Brown Christmas. No list of holiday specials would be complete without the Peanuts gang, dancing and ignoring poor Charlie Brown while he’s trying to direct the Christmas play. Rock on, Snoopy. You’ve got the best display of lights in town. Here, I cry when the pathetic little Christmas tree is transformed by love. Tens and twenties and real estate for everyone!

You're too much!
You’re too much!

Anything by Rankin and Bass. Except The Little Drummer Boy. I’ve always hated that one. But all the ones with Santa are good. Remember when Kris gives the Burgermeister Meisterburger a toy? And when he common-law marries Jessica (shocking, really! No officiant? Are Kris and Jessica living in sin?). Both scenes make me cry. Favorite character has got to be the Heat Miser and all his little Mini-Misers. Ba-dum-ba-dum, ba-a-a-ah-dum! Oh, fine. Here’s a link to the song. Remember you asked for it when you can’t get it out of your head for the next few weeks.

Get in the holiday spirit, man. Seriously.
Get in the holiday spirit, man. Seriously.

How the Grinch Stole Christmas. My all-time, never-to-be-supplanted favorite. I’m talking about the animated version, not the Jim Carrey movie. Don’t get me started on that one. But when the Grinch saves that sleigh full of tartoofas and stuff–even when it’s clearly impossible for him to do so, the sleigh having slipped way too far off Mount Crumpet–I bawl at his transformation, every time. Rare roast beast and Who Hash for everyone!

How about you? What’s your favorite Christmas show or movie? Feel free to leave quotes or to sing the songs!

 

Killer First Lines

PJ Sharon here, chatting today about “Killer First Lines”. So what constitutes a great first line? Is it action-packed? Does it evoke emotion or imply conflict? Maybe it sets the scene or reveals the tone of your story. Or does an awesome first line combine all of these elements and more in order to grab the reader and compel them to read on? Consider these first lines:

1)      It is a truth universally acknowledged, that a single man in possession of a good fortune, must be in want of a wife. —Jane Austen, Pride and Prejudice (1813)

2)      It was a bright cold day in April, and the clocks were striking thirteen. —George Orwell, 1984 (1949)

3)      I am an invisible man. —Ralph Ellison, Invisible Man (1952)

4)      You don’t know about me without you have read a book by the name of The Adventures of Tom Sawyer; but that ain’t no matter. —Mark Twain, Adventures of Huckleberry Finn (1885)

5)      If you really want to hear about it, the first thing you’ll probably want to know is where I was born, and what my lousy childhood was like, and how my parents were occupied and all before they had me, and all that David Copperfield kind of crap, but I don’t feel like going into it, if you want to know the truth. —J. D. Salinger, The Catcher in the Rye (1951)

6)      Whether I shall turn out to be the hero of my own life, or whether that station will be held by anybody else, these pages must show. —Charles Dickens, David Copperfield (1850)

These classic first lines might seem antiquated in terms of today’s genre fiction standards and rules, but they remain powerful examples of compelling prose. They say something about the author, expressing their unique voice, and setting the tone for what’s to come. They inherently ask a story question and open the eyes of the reader to a new world in which the author’s imagination comes to life on the page.

I spend a good deal of time contemplating first lines. I want my first line to pose a question to the reader—a question that compels them to read on and keep turning pages until that question is ultimately answered at the end of the story. In my current WIP, PIECES OF LOVE, the first line is, I’ve heard it said that it takes twenty-one days to make or break a habit. Hopefully that makes you wonder what habit our teen character must break. Maybe you’re asking what good habit she would like to adopt, and why she would be concerned about making or breaking a habit in the first place.

Here are a few more first lines. These are from more recent books and by authors some of you will recognize. Analyze each of them, not for what they say, but for what they tell you about the author and the story.

1)      The day Honor Grace Holland turned thirty-five, she did what she always did on her birthday. She got a pap smear. Kristan Higgins, The Perfect Match, 2013

2)      My fingers drum into the desktop, beating out the rhythm of my hammering thoughts. TL Costa, Playing Tyler, 2013

3)      The Garretts were forbidden from the start. Huntley Fitzpatrick, My Life Next Door, 2012.

4)     He lifted the limp body out of the trunk, wrapped the girl in a woolen blanket, and tossed her like a rag doll over his shoulder. PJ Sharon, Savage Cinderella, 2012

5)      I’m a liar. I know it. I hate it. And I can’t seem to help myself. PJ Sharon, On Thin Ice, 2011.

Yes, I realize those last two are mine, but they are, nonetheless, decent examples of first lines that hopefully compel readers to read on. Notice the tone in each of the above first lines. With Kristan Higgins books, you know you’re in for some laughs and you can bet that every reader who read that first line had an instant smile plastered on their face. TL Costa’s book, PLAYING TYLER, puts you squarely into the mind of a teenage boy with ADHD. You can hear the noise in his head as he struggles to find focus. And in Huntley Fitzpatrick’s contemporary YA romance, you can feel that you are in for heartache and conflict based on this enticing first line that immediately makes you want to know the Garretts.

Savage Cinderella FINAL 200x300

The opening line of SAVAGE CINDERELLA gives you a chilling look into the calculated actions of a serial killer and makes you instantly care for that little girl and wonder what happens to her next.

And in ON THIN ICE, teen readers are faced with a mirror into their own lives. What teenager can’t relate to the ever-tempting desire to lie?

on thin ice front cover jpg

Look at books you love. Analyze them for how that first line makes you feel. Does it propel the story forward? Does it grab you and pose a question that you have to know the answer to? In my opinion, as long as the first line makes the reader a) think, b) care about the story/character, and c) read on, the author has done their job.

Have you written any fabulous first lines you’d like to share? Can you think of any books you’ve read that had a killer first line?

So Bad It’s Good

Hi, all. Suze here. It’s great to have you with us!

Over the weekend I watched a movie. Big deal, Suze, you’re probably thinking. Everybody watches movies on the weekends. (Well, they might not if they’re in full writer mode, but you know what I mean)

MV5BOTE2OTk4MTQzNV5BMl5BanBnXkFtZTcwODUxOTM3OQ@@._V1_SY317_CR6,0,214,317_[1]But what if I say the word … Sharknado (Sharknado, Sharknado, Sharknado, echoing off into the distance)

Yes, Sharknado. The SyFy channel original movie that was so well received on its first showing that it’s now been aired several times since, and even got a mention on The Today Show. But its popularity isn’t due to its poignant dialogue, fast-paced action, all-star cast, gorgeous cinematography, or compelling message.

It’s popular because it’s so darned stupid.

But Suze, you admonish. It’s not nice to call people–or movies–stupid. But I mean stupid in the most complimentary way. ‘Cuz this movie is brilliant in its suckiness. A tornado rips across the ocean, sucking up Great Whites, hammerheads, and other shark species, then releases the chomping creatures where they eat their way (airborne, on land, on a boat, and back in the sea) through a large–and bloody–cast of actors. There are homemade bombs, a possibly tragic love story (no spoilers here!), conveniently placed chainsaws, and the destined-to-be-classic line: We’re going to need a bigger chopper. On August 2, you can actually watch Sharknado in the movie theater (check here for a location near you). Or you can stay home on Saturday night and watch it on SyFy.

And while you’re waiting for the sequel (yes, it appears there will be one), you can always watch Ghost Shark on August 22. (Click here for details). You know you want to.

I love the crazy, the ridiculous, the stuff that makes you roll your eyes, groan, and spit out your wine you’re laughing so hard. The Jerry Springer Show. Pride and Prejudice and Zombies. The Bulwer-Lytton entries/awards. Bubba Ho-Tep. Here Comes Honey Boo-Boo. The Three Stooges. Weird Al. I watch/read/listen to this stuff and I instantly feel better about whatever’s going on in my life.

Low-brow? Sure. Slapstick? Yes. But laughter is the best medicine, baby.

What about you? Have you seen Sharknado? Want to see it? What are your favorite ridiculous-but-wonderful books, shows, movies, and music? The Scribes are a Judgment-Free Zone, so you can admit it here. Edited to add: Let’s have a party! Stop by the Scribes Facebook page at 9:00 on Saturday, August 3, for a Sharknado Watch Party. Edited to add: Let’s have a party! Stop by the Scribes Facebook page at 9:00 on Saturday, August 3, for a Sharknado Watch Party. Bring your snark. Or your snack. Whichever you prefer.  https://www.facebook.com/secretsof7scribes Invite your friends!

Of Parking Lots and Kings

Hey, all. Suze here (no, that’s not me in the picture!). Glad you could drop by today.

Richard%20III%20Reconstruction[1]Have you heard the news? Richard III, one of Britain’s most notorious kings, has been dug up under a parking lot. (Click here to read more about it) Physical evidence includes hideous wounds to the skeleton consistent with death in battle, as well as a pronounced curvature of the spine consistent with accounts of Richard being a hunchback. (That rumor was likely spread by his enemies–according to the scientists he probably wasn’t hunched, just lopsided). There’s been a facial reconstruction! And there’s a DNA match with a living descendant of Ricky’s sister. A DNA match!

I live for this stuff. Kings buried unceremoniously in unmarked graves. Hoards of ancient gold and jeweled objects found just under the surface of a nondescript field by an ordinary guy with a metal detector. Reclusive heiresses who die, leaving safety deposit boxes that haven’t been opened in decades.
I must have an Inner Indy who needs to be constantly fed new and fascinating discoveries. It belongs in a museum? Not hardly. It belongs in my head, as fodder for future stories.
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There’s a wonderful book by Elizabeth Peters (one of my all-time favorite authors) called The Murders of Richard III. If you’re a mystery fan, you’ll love this one about a librarian, Jacqueline Kirby, who finds herself tangled up in a modern-day plot that has strange connections to the Richard III legend. I’d love to know what Ms. Peters thinks about the discovery of the king’s final resting place.
How about you? Any news stories that have fascinated you recently?

Are you a Holiday Movie fanatic?

PJ Sharon here on this fine and busy Tuesday. I’ll keep it brief today since I’m doing double duty. In addition to my Scribes post, I’m hanging out with my WG2E Beach Book Blast buddies who have a slew of new Christmas stories for sale today and tomorrow, all for under $5. We’re calling it a BeachBookBlast e-Book Extravaganza!

HIFH Book front cover 2 jpgSince two of my YA romances culminate with a Christmas surprise and a heartwarmingly sweet ending, both Heaven Is For Heroes and On Thin Ice are part of this great sale. I hope you’ll stop by the site and check out the fantastic selection.on thin ice front cover jpg Rest assured, we have plenty of uplifting Christmas stories to keep you in the holiday spirit. Speaking of uplifting stories…

One of my favorite parts of December is watching all my favorite holiday movies. Miracle on 34th Street and It’s a Wonderful Life are two of my favorites, but I have to admit I’m glued to the Hallmark Channel’s 25 Days of Christmas. I know; the movies are sappy, unrealistic, sticky sweet, and totally romantic, and I love them. A cup of warm cocoa and a box of tissues are a must, however. So far this season, my top three Hallmark Channel movies have been, A Christmas With Molly, Come Dance With Me and A Princess for Christmas.

What about you? Are you a holiday movie freak? What’s your favorite classic? Have you seen any new ones this year that you’ve added to your favorite’s list?