Thursday, December 13, 2012

A Little Bit About Gary D. Schmidt

When I heard that Gary D. Schmidt was coming to our local university for a lecture, I was thrilled! I'd just received a copy of his latest book, What Came From the Stars, and have really enjoyed his books in recent years (my reviews of Okay for Now [National Book Finalist 2011], The Wednesday Wars [Newbery Honor], What Came From the Stars, Trouble, and Lizzie Bright and the Buckminster Boy [Newbery AND Printz Honor]). As I waited patiently--oh, so patiently--at the end of the long line of autograph seekers, I decided to brazenly ask him for an interview via email.

And, you guessed it, he graciously agreed! Here are his answers to our interview questions. (For a terrific write-up of the lecture, see my friend Brandy's brilliant summary.) For those who may be unfamiliar with his name (shame on you!), in addition to the books mentioned above, Gary has written a Pilgrim's Progress rewrite, authored at least one other fantasy book, authored a book of Bible stories, is a professor of English at Calvin College, and, most recently, chaired the 2012 National Book Award for Young People's Literature Committee.

Getting to Know You  (short and sweet)

1. What is an early book you remember reading in your childhood?
My favorite book--or rather, set of books--from childhood is My Bookhouse, a collection of six volumes that came out in the 1920s edited by Olive Beaupre Miller.  It was a collection of great poems and stories--many legends and myths--that I loved.

2. Is there a favorite poem or literary passage you have memorized, perhaps from your childhood?
I think my first memorized poem was an Ogden Nash one about a caterpillar--then "Ozymandias" by Shelly in sixth grade, a bit of a leap.

3. Who are three of your favorite authors? What is your favorite hot beverage?
Favorite authors:  Charles Dickens, Patrick O'Brian, Katherine Paterson, M.T. Anderson, Lois Lowry. Favorite hot beverage:  Hot tea--Earl Grey.

4. What do you enjoy doing with your children and your family?
We enjoy traveling to New England, gardening, playing golf when we can....

5. Do you have other hobbies than reading/writing?
No real hobbies--maybe book collecting.  I collect first editions of the great Concord writers of the nineteenth century.

6. If you could recommend a book to our audience that you haven't written yourself, what would it be? (fiction/nonfiction/poetry; children's or adult)
The Little World of Don Camillo by Giovanni Guareschi.

Your Writing and Work

7. Can you tell us anything about an early story or poem that you wrote--perhaps one you blush to recall but your mother or your wife kept it anyway?
I didn't really write at all as a kiddo.  I did have a first novel that is awful--the only writing I've ever had that was rejected outright by Jean Karl.  I still have that, hidden in a folder deep in the bowels of the desk.  I'll burn it before I die, I suppose.

8. How many times did you have to send off a manuscript before you first published a work? Do you work through an agent? Do you write specifically for a secular audience or have you sought publication through more "Christian" venues as well?
I sent the second book to Virginia Buckley, then at Lodestar, and she accepted it.  I have been with her ever since, so I never have had to do the multiple submission thing.  I do realize that this is very unusual.  I do not use an agent.  I tend to think more about editors than I do about sacred/ secular categories.  I write to work with the people I want to work with, given the project--and these are almost always friends.

9. What is your favorite of your own books? You mentioned at the UT/CCYAL talk that you identify with both Holling and Doug in certain ways. Would The Wednesday Wars or Okay for Now be your favorite? Another? 
My own favorite book:  Okay for Now.

A Bit More Philosophical Now
10. How would you define Truth and Story in literature? (see our definitions on our blog if you'd like) How does your understanding of these inform or influence your writing? Does this relate to your interest in the turning point in a young person's life when he or she turns to face adulthood? (You mentioned that in your discussion at UT and that you seek to portray that in your works--something that really sets your work apart from the general work for children these days for the better!)

A good story is always a true story.  And truth is almost always conveyed best through story.  It seems to me that they are very, very close.  If I want to tell a lie, the story I surround it with may glitter quite a bit, but will be hollow and false at the center.  If I want to speak of true things, then it seems to me that story is one way to do that that can get a reader's attention.  This does not mean that all stories are good stories; you can descend into didactic claptrap, or even propaganda--good or bad.  But a strong story will always have a center that speaks to us because of a fundamental human truth which is being vividly realized before our eyes--say, a la O'Connor.

For more great questions/answers, check out his publisher's Gary Schmidt website. Want to see the man himself? Amazon has two video interviews with Gary; a short 3-minute interview shows Gary near his farmhouse (and working on his TYPEWRITER) while discussing Okay for Now; the other is a longer, 20-minute interview with Gary.

Many Thanks to Dr. Gary D. Schmidt!

Wednesday, December 12, 2012

What Came From the Stars

What Came From the Stars
Gary D. Schmidt

I'm a huge fan of the books of Gary Schmidt's I've read to date (Lizzie Bright and the Buckminster Boy, Okay for Now, and The Wednesday Wars). So I was thrilled to win a goodreads "first reads" giveaway. I got an ARC for this book in the mail the week the hardcover hit bookstore shelves in September. I must confess that the first chapter really threw me--I knew this was a fantasy (a deviation from Schmidt's award-winning historical fiction novels), but it still threw me.

Tuesday, December 11, 2012

Lizzie Bright and the Buckminster Boy

Lizzie  Bright and the Buckminster Boy
Gary D. Schmidt
Newbery Honor; Printz Honor

This is an excellent book! As you might surmise from those award stickers on the cover, I'm not the only one who thinks so. Historical fiction is Schmidt's strong suit; this particular book takes place in Maine in 1912 and centers on the white Buckminster Boy (Turner) and the black Lizzie Bright. Turner and Lizzie also represent town and country (island in this case), establishment and fringe, the way-it's-always-been and the way-it-should-and-could-be. All of this potential conflict set in a small town that's slowly dying as it faces the end of the industry that's kept it alive.

Turner grows up in this book. He makes hard decisions, stands up for what he believes is right, and watches those "right" decisions still not end happily all the time. A pitch perfect book for the 12-14 crowd, this is a book that raises great questions. Schmidt's biblical allusions are an added treat for those steeped in biblical literacy; his characterization is especially well done in this novel.

Things to Note/Discuss
  • When is it okay to stand up to a parent?
  • Are there decisions that Turner made that you feel are particularly noteworthy? Were there any you disagreed with or thought foolish?
  • What do you think Turner's father should have done in regards to the island (Malaga) and its people?
  • Any thoughts on looking a whale in its eye?
Book from my local library; cover image from goodread; drinking Private Selection peppermint tea

Monday, December 10, 2012

Trouble by Gary Schmidt: a Teabag Review

It's no secret that Megan and I enjoy a good cup of tea. So, in honor of our tea appreciation, I'm introducing a new review style: a teabag-sized review. You might consider our normal reviews to be a cup of tea to savor; a teabag is the short and sweet alternative, similar in length to a title's discussion in a weekly round-up but which appears all by its lonesome. Sometimes, we just want to let you know a book is out there! So, without further ado, here's a teabag-sized review of Trouble by Gary Schmidt.

Gary D. Schmidt
Clarion, 2008

Trouble takes place near Trouble (a location) and involves heaps of trouble in the lives of young Henry, his family, and a Cambodian named Chay. Schmidt's gift for description, intricate plotting, and terrific characterization come into play, as does his frequent treatment of a young person turning his/her face to adulthood--with all the drama and coming-of-age that implies. This is a book for an older audience than Schmidt's Okay for Now and The Wednesday Wars; I'd even say it's for an older audience than Lizzie Bright and the Buckminster Boy. Issues that crop up include racism, guilt/innocence, family relations, friendship. A touch long, in my opinion, and therefore a touch slow, this book is still a good read and one to provoke much thought.

Sunday, December 9, 2012

It's Gary D. Schmidt Week!

This week, we're highlighting the work of a terrific contemporary author: Gary D. Schmidt.

Book reviews
Author interview!

Stay tuned for some great reads, some possible additions to your Christmas list, and for "a little bit about" Gary D. Schmidt.

Saturday, December 8, 2012

A Little Bit about Megan

As Betsy has begun the interview series, I'll explain that we decided to use a simple format of the same series of questions, asked of each interviewee. So you've learned A Little Bit About Betsy, here's A Little Bit About Megan, and we'll go from there. One thing I'll add is how Betsy and I started this blog.

We are so thankful for the handful of readers who have been kind enough to keep company with us! Thank you!

1. What is an early book you remember reading in your childhood?
I always loved fairy tales (my mother feared I was wasting my time and would never read anything else), but the book that stands out most in my memory is Magic Elizabeth about a girl who was visiting her Aunt Sally and trying to discover what had happened to a missing doll. I also loved the All-of-a-Kind-Family books by Sydney Taylor, Nancy Drew and Trixie Belden.

2. Is there a favorite poem or literary passage you have memorized, perhaps from your childhood?Sometime when I was in highschool I memorized "The Highwayman" by Alfred Noyes, in honor of Anne of Green Gables. I learned the poem from an old edition of Childcraft that had beautiful, haunting illustrations, and recited it (melo)dramatically at any opportunity that I could.

3. Who are three of your favorite authors? What is your favorite hot beverage?
Always hard to narrow it down! C.S. Lewis is one of the greatest ever, I think, not only for the Chronicles of Narnia, but also for Till We Have Faces, which is absolutely beautiful, poignant, and brilliant. I love the writing of Elizabeth Prentiss, especially Stepping Heavenward. Lois Lenski would have to be the third. I loved her regional fiction as a child and studied her historical fiction for my children’s literature thesis.

My favorite hot beverage is difficult to determine. I love hot tea (Teavana's Almondina Biscotti blend is my favorite), but we drink plenty of homemade lattes at our house. And of course, our signature homemade Saben Chai is hard to refuse…

4. What do you enjoy doing with your children and your family?
I asked my almost six-year-old this question and he answered "snuggling." He couldn't think of anything else. I am thankful to be homeschooling them so that our days are mutually engaging, the good along with the bad. We enjoy reading, taking nature walks and being creative...

5. Do you have other hobbies than reading/writing?
I have made a number of quilts over the last ten years: one for each of my three boys, one for a girl (if we ever have one!), one for the master bed, and a lap quilt for aforementioned snuggling. Now I’m more into knitting. I also love to make bread and wish I had more opportunities for ballroom or contra dancing!

7. Can you tell us anything about an early story or poem that you wrote--perhaps one you blush to recall but your mother or your wife kept it anyway?
My husband’s favorite of my early writing is a poem my mother kept about a goat who lived in a boat, and had a beak (hey, it rhymed with week and speak!). That’s all I’m going to say about that.

One more item...
8. How did Literaritea come to be?
Betsy and I attended Covenant College together and took a class on Children's Literature in which we were first introduced to the concept of T/truth and S/story. After graduation, I persuaded her to join me at Hollins University for a few summers to pursue a master's degree in Children's Literature (which was WAY too much fun!).

Some years later, after we were both married and had kids, I wanted to have a literary blog but couldn't keep up with it on my own. One day, while in the shower, the blending of "literature" and "tea" came to mind and I could hardly wait to see if anyone else had discovered this beautiful word: LiterariTea. Delightful--it ought to be in existence! Why not explore the pleasures of books AND tea?

Thankfully, Betsy agreed.

Thursday, December 6, 2012

A Little Bit About Betsy

We have some FANTASTIC interviews coming up, but we thought we'd take some time to interview ourselves first. So, here are my answers to the interview questions we're sending out.

Getting to Know You  (the short and sweet section)

1. What is an early book you remember reading in your childhood?
Frog and Toad! I also devoured Nancy Drew/Hardy Boy books, the "Anne" books, and the Ramona books. And I remember my mother reading the Little Bear books, the Narnia Chronicles, and George and Martha books to us. (All of which I thoroughly enjoyed!)

2. Is there a favorite poem or literary passage you have memorized, perhaps from your childhood?
"Sick" by Shel Silverstein was an early favorite of mine--and one I still know. I also memorized lots of Scripture which I still know.

3. Who are three of your favorite authors? What is your favorite hot beverage?
So hard to narrow down the authors! Edith Schaeffer (nonfiction), Jerry Bridges (nonfiction), and George MacDonald (fantasy works in particular) come to mind. So do Madeleine L'Engle, Annie Dillard, Lee Smith, C. S. Lewis, Jane Austen, N. D. Wilson, Gary D. Schmidt, Arnold Lobel, Beverly Cleary, Lloyd Alexander, Edith Nesbit, Jeanne Birdsall, Katherine Paterson, Megan Whalen Turner, .... I could go on and on, particularly when it comes to children's literature--but that's why I do this blog with Megan!
Hot beverage: Easy--tea! Especially a good, strong black tea.

4. What do you enjoy doing with your children and your family?
Reading (of course), hiking/spending time outside, drinking tea, singing hymns (my husband is an amazing pianist, so that adds to our family hymn sings!), cooking/baking, and travel.

5. Do you have other hobbies than reading/writing?
Hmm... this question is really more for actual authors, but I since I definitely DO read as a hobby (and write--if this blog and similar pursuits count), I'll answer it. Cooking, gardening, hiking, sewing.

6. If you could recommend a book to our audience that you haven't written yourself, what would it be? (fiction/nonfiction/poetry; children's or adult)
I'll defer our lovely readers to the multiple books on our book lists and book reviews!

Your Work (medium answers)

7. Can you tell us anything about an early story or poem that you wrote--perhaps one you blush to recall but your mother or your spouse kept it anyway?
I don't know that I wrote anything, really, that my mom kept. I do remember passionately wanting to be a writer as I consumed Emily of New Moon and Anne of Green Gables. One time, I'd just listened to Pachelbel's Canon and then wrote a VERY flowery passage that I thought was absolutely brilliant. My mother was not as impressed as I was :-).

8. How many times did you have to send off a manuscript before you first published a work? Do you work through an agent? 

9. What is your favorite of your own books? 

A Bit More Philosophical Now
10. How would you define Truth and Story in literature? 

Again, I'll defer the reader to the definitions we've already written!

We have several interviews planned, some of which are only in the pipe dream stage, and some of which have actually been completed. Stay tuned for Megan's "interview," and then for our upcoming interview with Gary D. Schmidt!

Wednesday, December 5, 2012

Advent Round-Up

We haven't done a weekly round-up in a while (so much for weekly, eh?), but we definitely need a Advent-themed picture book round-up for Advent season! Christmas-themed picture books are a dime a dozen, my friends. Some are worth every penny of that dime; others are near priceless. Below are some Christmas-themed picture books we find particularly great. There are also some fun Advent-related links to explore below the books.

Mortimer's Christmas Manger
Karma Wilson, author
Jane Chapman, illustrator
Margaret K. McElderry, 2005

We've lauded the Wilson/Chapman duo before, but Mortimer's Christmas Manger is a real treat for the preschoolers in your home. A sweet (but not saccharine) story of young Mortimer who tries to find a place for himself in the nativity scene displayed near the Christmas tree. He discovers the real "reason for the season" in the process! Highly recommended. Worth owning!

The Third Gift
Linda Sue Park, author
Bagram Ibatoulline, illustrator
Clarion, 2011

An unusual break from mainstream Christmas picture book fare, this follows a young boy in a family who produces myrhh...and the rich men who want to buy some of this myrhh to take with them on a journey following a star. Illustrations look very in keeping with the time period and country! A nice extension of the story of the wise men.

B is for Bethlehem
Isabel Wilner, author
Elisa Kleven, illustrator
Dutton, 2004 (originally 1990)

I've mentioned this charming ABC book before, but I must mention it again. I love the bright collage-style art, the topics covered in the alphabet, and the final pages. Worth checking out from your library if you can get it--or even buying a copy to bring out year after year.

This Is the Star
Joyce Dunbar, author
Gary Blythe, illustrator
Scholastic, 1997

I love this beautiful cumulative, poetic approach to the Nativity and the extraordinary, photo-like oil paintings that accompany the text. Another one to look for in a library--or find secondhand.

Related Links of Interest
Fontanini Nativity Sets: high quality resin that can be handled by children without breaking--but these look SO much like precious figurines. My mom has collected a set for me slowly; you can often find the figures in department stores at this time of year.

Fisher-Price "Little People" Nativity Set: one of the better children's sets out there, this one plays "Away in a Manger." A definite toddler favorite

Good News of Great Joy free ebook of Advent readings from John Piper!

Names of Jesus Advent Chain: make a paper chain with the names of Jesus on each link for a different Advent activity this year!

Printable Advent Verses (Luke 2)

Simple Scripture Advent Calendar (cards printed and placed in mini envelopes--could use above linked printables for this!)

Sparking Spiritual Imagination: a guest poster at Redeemed Reader gives some great tips at working Christ-centered books into your Advent season

Five Christ-Centered Picture Books for Christmas: Same author as above link; I love that she includes The Three Trees

One Week of Kid-Friendly Christmas Crafts: I'm totally going to do these with my three!! Very fun ideas to spend time with your kids during this often hectic season. You might consider doing these activities with a cup of hot chai/chocolate/tea during a long winter afternoon!

50 Things to Do At Christmas And if you can sit down and make time to plan even a few of these traditions, maybe add a few more each year, it's a great way to make memories and traditions.