Heroic Girls of Literature: The Cardinals & The Bluejays

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Swish! Written by Bill Martin, Jr. & Michael Sampson is a phenomenally fun read aloud! (Bill Martin, Jr. also wrote Brown Bear, Brown Bear, What Do You See? and Chicka, Chicka, Boom, Boom)

Action, words and pictures combine to deliver an exciting story.

The narrative builds as the game gets more tense — like a sports announcer but better because it’s contained within the portable pages of a (picture!) book and can be touched and re-read at will.

I wish there were more books like this about girls’ athletics.

It includes lessons about diversity and teamwork without preaching.

We read this one over and over in our family.

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Bill Martin, Jr

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Michael Sampson

Illustrated by Michael Chesworth

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Girltastic Author Interview # 1: Alda Dobbs

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The first in a series of interviews with (particularly women) writers about where they experienced creative inspiration as children and rockin’ talk about books and writing.

Alda and I are writing partners. We complement each other well, and I’m so thankful for her sharp brain and insights as well as our shared enthusiasm for books and words.

First trained as an engineer, Alda has been actively writing fiction for six years while raising two small children. Currently she’s putting the final touches on an historical novel for middle grade readers and waiting for an upcoming story to be published in Highlights magazine.

We had a wonderful time talking about our experiences as girls growing up craving stories, the positive influences in our lives and a shared love of libraries.

Pivotal writing moment / moment you knew you wanted to be a writer?

There was a time in school when Alda was inspired to make up a story on the spot when a teacher asked the class what they’d done during the Christmas break. Alda hadn’t done much of anything but sitting there listening to others’ answers it occurred to her that a couple of them were not being completely truthful. So when her turn came she made up a story about a trip to New York City. It was entertaining and detailed enough that her listeners hung on every word, so she kept, “feeding it and acting out things.” And in the process discovered the thrill and satisfaction of sharing stories with an audience.

Were there books when you were a girl that showed you a different way of life for women? That you think might have impacted you as a female?

Stories that Alda heard from her mom provided enough material for a book. Thanks to her mother, she has the beginnings of the novel she’s now working on.

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What encouragement did you receive growing up? Creatively or otherwise?

In fourth or fifth grade, Alda remembers loving book fairs. It was her favorite time of year. She’d pore over the order forms, circle books she wanted, and daydream about getting them. When the shipment of books arrived she’d browse the shelves, cracking open the fresh, new books and smelling the new smell, loving the thrill of a new story there waiting in the pages. She never bought any books though, because the money wasn’t there.

Before that time Alda remembers liking the pictures in the books when her class would visit the school library. At that time she was still learning English. She grew up speaking Spanish until third or fourth grade.

Your favorite book when you were 10 years old or thereabouts?

Alda liked the Tales From the Darkside books because they were packed with suspense. She liked “feeling in the moment” and the transporting effect of the stories.

What advice do you have for young girls who love to read, love words, might be future (or present) writers? (Or work in other creative professions.)

Follow, pursue your dreams and work hard at them, no matter what people say. Listen to advice — but ultimately it’s your life; and you decide what’s best for you.”

In high school Alda entered a short story writing contest in her area district and won. But her win was seen as a fluke, and she was told it was, “tough [enough] for Americans” [in literary fields]. “I was told by teachers I was good in math, and to pursue that.”

What kinds of things do you know of, to encourage and teach young writers?

1) Find writing contests online; check your local newspaper for opportunities; ask schools or teachers who might know of resources.

2)  “Keep your muscles developing.”

3) Keep a journal and of course, read.

She also says, “Let your imagination just flow. Don’t be afraid of that. If you have a dream, follow up on that.”

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Do you have a favorite quote?

Watch your thoughts, for they become words. Watch your words, for they become actions. Watch your actions, for they become habits. Watch your habits, for they become character. Watch your character, for it becomes your destiny. ~ Lao Tzu

Who is your favorite girl character in literature and why?

India Opal in Because of Winn-Dixie and Katniss in The Hunger Games (both read as an adult) were favorites because, “They have a strength but at the same time a compassion – they’re brave enough to show that compassion. Not afraid of mixing them both.”

Talk about libraries.

They’re my sanctuary. Libraries are always first on my list to go to when I visit a new town. Every time I’m on my way to discover a new one, I feel as excited as if I were going to Disneyland. (Alda was in the military as was her husband, and they’ve moved often.)

The inspiration that music offers…

Alda listened to operas when she was in middle school. She didn’t understand the words, but she “felt the story” within the music.

The connection between music, story and creating is strong for her.

She spoke about the thrill of solving E=mc2 in a physics class in college. The professor set the problem without telling them that it was the classic equation. The thrill of creatively exploring and discovering her way to the mathematical answer compares to the high Alda feels when experiencing certain music.

In her own (written) words:

Ideas are everywhere! When I was a kid and even now I get ideas from listening to music (from Spanish, to classical, to Beatles) and from nature walks. There’s always a story behind every music note, every sunset, and every star. When you do get a good idea, run with it and work as hard as you can to turn it into a good story. Writing is not easy. It is hard, hard work. But when you do finally write a great sentence or paragraph, you get a certain “high” — your brain feels numb and you get this tingling feeling in your body knowing you’re getting closer to something great.

 

Heroic Girls of Literature (Picture Book Double Feature): Interstellar Cinderella & Wave

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Interstellar Cinderella is ready. She travels with a special mechanic’s tool, just in case she might need it. She’s talented and accomplished, after learning and studying to become a whiz at fixing things.

Although she likes the new, specially decorated spacesuit from her fairy godrobot, to wear for the space parade, she mostly can’t think of anything but machines.

When she and the Prince meet, they … TALK. Imagine that. They get to know each other. Then comes the somewhat surprising and satisfying ending.

There are fun and imaginative additions/modifications to the original story in this book, so that it’s something of its own.

A fun and entertaining, rhyming read with an active, girl main character.

Plus, I like the psychedelic, metallic, oil slick lettering (of the print book).

Written By:

Deborah Underwood

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Illustrated By:

Meg Hunt

 

An excited, curious little girl interacts with the sea for the first time.

It’s fun to watch her responses to the waves, just as it would be at the real beach watching a little child in her own world of wonder. She’s tentative at first, then enthralled, then roaring back at it – then a surprise.

Dare I make a The Snowy Day comparison?

She’s just a little girl, a little kid living life and exploring the natural world — and therefore heroic.

She represents all of us — going outside, learning and observing, and making new friends.

This is a lovely-shaped book and the simple coloring of it is also beautiful.

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Written & Illustrated By:

Suzy Lee

‘Weird Little Kids’ Become Writers

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Yes, I do qualify as a “weird little kid.”

As evidence may I present this letter written to the Tooth Fairy after I received money for my lost tooth. I put the miniature missive back under my pillow. I figured that was the fairy return mail system.

I even decorated the front of the little homemade envelope (that must have been sent home from school with my tooth in it). Check out that realistic kleenex with blood on it!

Another favorite story regarding my ‘weirdness’ takes place as an adult. I was sitting around a kitchen table visiting with some other women at a friend’s house. Our hostess’ 4 year-old daughter was playing with a doll nearby. At some point I chimed in with her play without thinking and as I recall threw out something about magical fairy dust. The little girl came to a full stop, turned her whole body towards me, paused while looking me up and down, then asked with complete assurance, “Do you want to come to my room?”

She meant, “This whole imaginative thing you have going on? I want to take advantage of it. Let’s go. Let’s go play right this minute.” Her mom laughed and said something about the adults talking right now. But truly? I was so ready. I would’ve gone with her in a split second.

I’m like that at other gatherings and parties, too. I’d often rather be playing make-believe with the kids.

Writer Katherine Paterson (Bridge to Terabithia, The Great Gilly Hopkins) says in her collection of essays, Gates of Excellence: On Reading & Writing Books for Children:

“When people ask me what qualifies me to be a writer for children, I say I was once a child. But I was not only a child, I was, better still, a weird little kid,  and though I would never choose to give my own children this particular preparation for life (she talks about being nine years old, recently off a boat from China to North Carolina, wearing missionary barrel clothes and being called “Jap”), there are few things, apparently, more helpful to a writer than having once been a weird little kid.” (Gates of Excellence was re-printed with The Spying Heart as A Sense of Wonder.)

She also says, “…the reading of fiction has helped me not only to come to terms with the weird little kid I was and am but also to realize that almost everyone I meet has a weird little kid tucked away inside.”

 

Heroic Girls of Literature: Pippi Longstocking

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Pippi. Her combination of supreme silliness and breezy bravery is irresistible.

And the names this author uses for characters and places! Villa Villekulla? Longstocking? So good and funny.

Pippi’s a mess. Her clothes don’t match. She lives by herself. She does whatever she wants, however she wants. This is satisfying especially for kids I think. She’s a lot of fun and her own person, with a good heart who “enjoys talking to people.”

She does exactly all the kinds of wild things that kids think of doing. Cooking pancakes and flinging them across the kitchen onto plates? Extreme, not holding back kinds of actions — these can be what fiction is for!

And her strength!

“Why, she could lift a whole horse if she wanted to! And she wanted to.”

(And she has a horse!)

Her attitude! “Don’t you worry about me. I’ll always come out on top.”

Life next door to Pippi and as her friend, is definitely not boring — her neighbors, the other children Annika & Tommy and their tidy, orderly life are perfect foils for Pippi’s outrageousness. And vice versa. Pippi’s father is an absent (but romantic) Cannibal King, while the other two children’s parents are present, ordinary and typically adult.

Some of the cultural references in this story could be misunderstood nowadays as being politically incorrect or insensitive — but instead I think one should keep in mind it’s all supposed to be ridiculous — and the fact that other cultures or ethnicities are even mentioned actually ups the diversity score for this book.

Imaginative, goofy things are not supposed to make sense in one way; even as there must be a core element of truth in all good stories. Pippi saying things like, “people in Egypt talk nonsense all day long” (so I should be able to occasionally) need to be taken as tongue-in-cheek, (and enjoyed). She also completely knows she’s lying/making stuff up and says so. Probably while stomping down the street backwards, one foot in the gutter and one on the sidewalk.

Such gleeful nonsense. It’s awesome.

I’ll leave you with the observation that Pippi’s methods for cleaning appeal to something deep within all of us. Strapping cleaning brushes to your feet and flooding the house with water and suds? “Excellent!” We all say, “That would be a splendid/dope method for washing your kitchen floors! ”

 

(c) 1945 by Astrid Lindgren

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A Few of My Favorite Things

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I’ve always loved the song.

Raindrops on roses and whiskers on kittens
Bright copper kettles and warm woollen mittens
Brown paper packages tied up with string
These are a few of my favorite things

Cream colored ponies and crisp apple strudel
Doorbells and sleigh bells and schnitzel with noodles
Wild geese that fly with the moon on their wings
These are a few of my favorite things.

Girls in white dresses with blue satin sashes
Snowflakes that stay on my nose and eyelashes
Silver white winters that melt into spring
These are a few of my favorite things

When the dog bites, when the bee stings
When I’m feeling sad
I simply remember my favorite things
And then I don’t feel so bad

Read more:  The Sound Of Music – My Favorite Things (maria) Lyrics | MetroLyrics 

I never noticed before how it seems to go from Fall around to Summer again!

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Several of my own favorites below also have an Autumn tinge to them…

I’m not going to include pictures on purpose so that you can see them as you wish in your own mind’s eye.

  • fleece or flannel-lined jeans
  • 3M scrub pads
  • pure maple syrup (sweetness from deep inside a tree…why *wouldn’t* this be good?!!)
  • pansies on an overcast day
  • addictively popping bubblewrap
  • popping those canisters of instant dough
  • wheat bread with nuts
  • chocolate croissants, tomatoes (not together)
  • piles of puppies
  • sweeping, diaphanous skirts
  • the still eyes of a deer
  • heaps of golden yellow leaves against green grass
  • a handwritten note with a meaningful stamp

Would anyone like to make a song out of these? Anyone??

What are your favorite things?!?

Steal Like An Artist, by Austin Kleon

Heroic Girls of Literature: Rosie (Rosie Revere, Engineer)

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“Your brilliant first flop was a raging success!

Come on, let’s get busy and on to the next!”

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There are scientific studies on the value of failure. But ROSIE REVERE, ENGINEER sums up the concept perfectly — and you get brilliant illustrations and humor along the way.

What I love about this book is that it’s NOT about one single person. The little Rosie character is helped by her caring, older Great Aunt. This is wonderful. None of us makes it on our own.

The inspiration-to-completion trajectory of the story is great. The gadgets created are fun. There is enjoyable silliness throughout.

We need to do way more celebrating of failure. And it’s related imaginative exploration.

Throw a “failure party” and read this book aloud!

I also love that Rosie makes a big, giant, colorful mess when she’s making things.

Written by:

Andrea Beaty

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Illustrated by:

David Roberts

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#WeNeedDiverseBooks

(c) 2013 Abrams Books for Young Readers

Heroic Girls of Literature: Irene (Brave Irene)

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“She pushed out her lip and hurried on.”

Irene is a determined person. She’s stubborn at times when fighting for what she believes, and she’s a loving girl.

In this super book, she battles through adversity while having irritation at the presumption of the forces opposing her. Which is both kind of hilarious and admirable  — and of course, universal — who hasn’t felt insulted and mad about something keeping us from moving forward? (:

This story is a wonderfully illustrated adventure, with a warm, caring ending and lots of humor mixed in.

Go, Irene!

(And Go, too, Irene’s awesome mom!)

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Thanks to my friend Laura for giving this book to our family as a gift several years ago!

Thanks, William Steig, for the character, illustrations and story ~

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My Playlist

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It was awhile before I heard about writers having playlists for certain books. Interesting concept. Some writers have certain customized soundtracks that they listen to while working on a particular story.

I myself wanted silence most of the time while composing the first draft of my WIP (work in progress). I would drive alone with the radio off and think — or go to the small apartment gym where we lived and look vaguely into the distance while my brain spun as I exercised. I didn’t want noise. Or, I wanted only the background of the jazz station that was piped into the exercise room by the apartment management.

But then it happened a few times that when I needed to work out (or my knees don’t operate properly) people were watching TVs in the small space so loudly so they could hear above the treadmill. So that meant I needed something to be able to create my own little bubble and concentrate in public. Thanks to our son, I figured out how to order songs off iTunes and put them on my phone.

These songs have now influenced and worked their way into my manuscript.

Or maybe it was the other way around – there are certain elements in the text (and in me, or that I see in life) that are also reflected in these songs.

While doing the elliptical, then floor exercises, then the treadmill — I listened to the songs below. They’re broken up into ones that I listen to in that order of activities. But I do sometimes mix it up. ‘Cause that’s the joy of modern technology.

Uptown Funk by Mark Ronson – the greatest song ever, to begin a workout with. Especially when getting started on that torture machine (the elliptical). It’s so upbeat and I appreciate the humor, i.e:

“I’m smoother than a fresh jar ‘o Skippy.” (:

“I’m too hot — hot da** — make a dragon wanna retire man.”

“Gotta kiss myself I’m so pretty — smoooch.”

Here are my favorite videos of dancing to Uptown Funk:

This 60 year-old dance teacher and her students have such energy in the first one! (: (: They’re at a competition and it’s amazing – you’ll be inspired. The second one is their appearance on Ellen.

Shake It Off – by Taylor Swift – just genius, and also a great beat for gettin’ ya goin’

Rich Girl – by Gwen Stefani & Missy Elliot — such a cool pairing and a cool song

Gangnam Style – by PSY – Love his philosophy of “Dress Classy, Dance Cheesy.” Plus any song that has actions a preschooler can enjoy, I will probably also like:

Kids know it’s just fun to jump around.

I Will Survive – by Gloria Gaynor – I love that the words can be applied to anything bad in our lives that we need to leave behind.

U Can’t Touch This – by MC Hammer – uh, again the humor … & also just the attitude

Waka Waka (This Time for Africa) – by Shakira & Freshlyground – goosebump inducing:

“You’re a good soldier — choosing your battles…”

“Pick yourself up and dust yourself off, and back in the saddle”

“When you fall – get up, oh oh — and if you fall – get up, eh eh”

[and then some stuff in another language – which I love]

Good stuff.

<– This one also gets listened to on repeat.

Single Ladies – by Beyonce – she’s awesome, so is this song

Footloose – by Kenny Loggins

Let’s Make a Better World – by Judith Hill & Tata Vega – 20 Feet from Stardom (Music from the Motion Picture) Believe me, you’re going to want this version of this song. You’ll need to buy the whole album, and it is SO worth it. These women’s voices…!!!

Lean On Me – by Darlene Love (feat. Lisa Fischer, Jo Lawry & Judith Hill) — see above — the soul in their amazing voices

Flashdance – by Irene Cara

Power – by Jeremy Loops

Fight Song – by Rachel Platten – I LOVE this song. I’ve listened to this one 15 times in a row before, when I especially needed a boost to continue writing work.

(Also by this time I was back up in our apartment and could do the last few exercises I do up there. One involves standing on one leg and throwing a beachball against the wall – so I could sing out loud and just dance around. :0)

Apparently this one was overplayed on the radio at one point, according to my husband. Too bad, because it’s awesome.

Brave by Sara Bareilles – I know she wrote this song for her friend. But like all good art, it has a universality to it that transcends even what the artist meant when creating. I think that also, the love that goes into something makes it more vibrant in the end.

Celebration – by Kool & The Gang

Unwritten – by Natasha Bedingfield – If this isn’t an anthem for writers, I don’t know what is. But it’s actually great for everybody ~

Staring at the blank page before you; open up the dirty window; let the sun illuminate the words that you could not find…

There’s that universality again.

Old Time Rock and Roll – by Bob Seger & The Silver Bullet Band

Alternates:

Sk8er Boi – by Avril Lavigne

The Best of Both Worlds – by Hannah Montana – kind of makes me poignant listening to these words now, considering Miley’s life trajectory since then

Independence Day – by Martina McBride  – pulls at the heartstrings, but has hope somehow

To Daddy – she’s such a maestro, Dolly (Parton) is – what a storyteller

Let It Go – by Idina Menzel

I Love Rock ‘N Roll – sometimes I just wanna hear Joan Jett (& The Blackhearts) scream ARHWWWWUH!!!!!! That’s really the reason I listen to this song.

The Climb – by Miley Cyrus – great lyrics:

“I can almost see it, That dream I’m dreamin’,  I gotta keep tryin’,

Sometimes I’m gonna have to lose, Ain’t about how fast I get there, Ain’t about what’s waitin’ on the other side,

It’s the climb, Just gotta keep goin'”

— stuff like that

Emma Opening Titles (from Emma 1996 film) – for when someone’s blaring the TV & I want to read on the exercise bike

Thanks to all the writers, artists, musicians who brought this music to the world!

What songs are your favs for working out (or writing)? I’d love suggestions for others. Many people are much more ‘musical’ than I.

Mind Blown by Elizabeth Barrett Browning.

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Unpacking books after our move, I was putting all the old, leather-bound ones up onto one shelf. We’ve inherited a few of these from basements (ah, to be back in the land of basements) on both sides of the family.

I came across two volumes written by the said Elizabeth.

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Flipping open a small green and gold one rocked my world, when I came across this:

“And you,

An artist, judge so ?”

“I, an artist — yes :

Because, precisely, I’m an artist, sir,

And woman, if another sat in sight,

I’d whisper, — Soft, my sister ! not a word !

By speaking we prove only we can speak,

Which he, the man here, never doubted. What

He doubts is, whether we can do the thing

With decent grace we’ve not yet done at all.

Now, do it; bring your statue, — you have room !

He’ll see it even by the starlight here;

And if ’tis e’er so little like a god

Who looks out from the marble silently

Along the track of his own shining dart

Through the dusk of ages, there’s no need to speak;

The universe shall henceforth speak for you,

And witness, ‘She who did this thing was born

To do it — claims her license in her work.’

(from Aurora Leigh, Eighth Book)

 

Holy Crap!!!!

Was that ever powerful — made me cry and have goosebumps at the same time.

How she describes the  effects of a humbly but courageously made piece of art. How the creation has a life of its own. The proof that the artist is meant to do that, because of what she has made. Oh my goodness. And the inherent encouragement, person to person.

The book’s dedication to her father is also A-MAZING. Again, tears and goosebumps. We can sustain and comfort one another:

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Finally, another wondrous and shining example of the wordsmith’s work in this description of “the church” ~

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That none may take the measure of the place…