Monday, April 14, 2014

Instead of Matzah Ball Soup Tonight,
I Wrote This Post


by Hilde Garcia


Normal people are in bed. I am not normal. I can only hear our thoughts at this hour. I need total quiet, which only occurs when everyone is sleeping, including the dog and my dishes are done.

Passover starts tonight. My family and I decided to celebrate our Seder on Sunday evening, which had me shopping at 10pm on a Saturday night. I went to three Ralph’s and Whole Foods in search of Cherry Flavored Manishewitz. It seems that Concord Grape is the favorite flavor choice for the year, but I still tried.

And I met some interesting people along the way. Everyone wishing me Chag Sameach- which means joyous holiday. I felt like I belonged to the tribe. Well, I do, but I recall when I was in school and how little I felt like I belonged.

So I am at the second Ralphs and I am in the Passover section. When this gentleman overhears me asking for the Manishewitz- which is really sweet Kosher for Passover wine- he takes it upon himself to show me where it is. We then begin a 30-minute conversation about religion, choices, following your heart and saving the world.

He tells me of a Muslim girl his temple was trying to save from being hanged for killing the man that tried to rape her- she was defending herself, but the man died as a result. She was 15 and now she’s 22 and facing death.

And I thought, why on Earth am I talking to this complete stranger in the wine aisle at a Ralphs about some poor soul whose fate is being decided by a very unjust process-well, according to me that is. And in that moment, I no longer had to run home to cook, nor to finish my shopping. I didn’t even feel tired anymore. I simply listened while holding a 5-pack of matzah and a bottle of Passover wine.

Then I come home and clean the fridge- really well. I clean when I am mad. And I was. At all the hurt and injustice on the planet. At the fact that so many souls never get the chance to be creative because insanity still prevails.

The man’s name was Isaac and he was truly a kindred spirit. He asked me, “Why you become Jewish?” Funny, the answer was so easy. “Because I followed my heart and this is where I belong.”

I think about the literature we expose young people to and I wonder if we are sending powerful enough messages about the world around them? And are we sending it from the point of view of the child or young person. Not Westernizing it but painting a portrait of how they see the world. Truly, in today’s world, we are so much more diverse and for that, I am so thankful, but it seems we can do more.

In my last post, I talked about some great novels that featured strong heroines in very unique stories. In particular, Wanting Mor by Rukhsana Khan and Sold by Patricia McCormick. These novels brought forth stories of the lives of girls in countries where their freedoms are not what we are used to here in the U. S.

Today, I’d like to share another amazing story that not only moved me, but my entire class of 4th and 5th graders when I read it aloud to them. A Long Walk To Water by Linda Sue Park. It is based on the true story of Salva, one of some 3,800 Sudanese "Lost Boys" airlifted to the United States beginning in the mid 1990s.

Before leaving Africa, Salva's life is one of harrowing tragedy. Separated from his family by war and forced to travel on foot through hundreds of miles of hostile territory, he survives starvation, animal attacks, and disease, and ultimately leads a group of about 150 boys to safety in Kenya. Relocated to upstate New York, Salva resourcefully learns English and continues on to college. Eventually he returns to his home region in southern Sudan to establish a foundation that installs deep-water wells in remote villages in dire need of clean water. This poignant story of Salva's life is told side-by-side with the story of Nya, a young girl who lives today in one of those villages.

This powerful story not only showed my kids how precious their world is, it opened their eyes to how other kids live. I think as writers we must always search out these stories and share them with young readers so they can grow up and perhaps change the world.

Especially in today’s world of immediate gratification and over stimulation, we need to teach kids how to listen and follow their hearts.

The following historical fiction titles (with live links) are some of my favorite choices that transport kids into stories of strife, hardship, and hope. Jane Yolen’s book speaks the most to me during this Passover Season.

May your holiday, Passover or Easter, be joyous and surrounded by love.

Run, don't walk to your nearest independent bookstore and buy these books.
- The Management

Monday, April 7, 2014

Dispatch #20: Wealth of Words


by Lupe Fernandez

When I drive, the front axle of my 2000 Mitsubishi Eclipse makes a grinding noise. The mechanic says the transmission is failing. A repair will require money that I don't have to spend. I could get a job. Wait...I already have a job, only I pay them. I'm a writer.

If words were wishes, then I'd buy a new car. What are words worth? Remember back in ye ole days when writers were paid by the word? I don't. I never sold anything. Based on that economical model, my 50,000 word manuscript would net me 50K and I'd add more words to up the paycheck.

But only in my dreams.

Best Selling books earn more money than Mid-List books. Does that make best sellers more valuable? What about the authors? Is their worth depending on profit? If it was me with the best seller, I sure as hell would agree. But it isn't, so I don't.

What are words worth? 

Are articles cheaper than propositions? Are verbs more expensive than nouns? What about the much maligned adverbs with their dangling LYs? Are there discount prices for adjectives?

Can I get more bang for my buck with a independent clause than a propositional phrase?

Here's a speculative breakdown:
"a" = 1 cent.
"the" = 5 cents.

"house" = 10 cents.
"The White House" = $10 dollars.

Verbs (pricing various with tense)
"running" = 90 cents.
"run" = $1 dollar.
"ran" = $2 dollars.

How about syllables?
"moose" = $1.50 dollars.
"astronaut" = $3.25 dollars.
"Pnuemonoultramicroscopicsilicovolcanoconiosis*" = $5000.00 for 19 syllables.

What about fonts? 

Are Times New Roman and Courier the English and Spanish of popular languages?

Is Adobe Garamond Pro Bold more valuable than Shruti?

I prefer Times New Roman for prose writing. Courier is too plain. Much more suited for screenwriting. Just call me a font snob.

So who decides?

We should take a vote. There are many parties.

The Noun and The Verb are the two main parties. There are splinter groups like Gerund, Elliptical Clauses and Infinite Relative Pronoun, and extremists like Stream of Consciousness.

Don't get me started on commas.

Volcanic Ash
So vote.

*"Pnuemonou..." is a respiratory diseased caused by the inhalation volcanic silicates particles.

Monday, March 31, 2014

First lines from the 2014 Cybil Award Books

by Susan J Berger

I wanted to do a first line post. First, my gratitude to the internet which permits me to do the research and to Amazon's Look Inside feature which allows me to copy the first lines into my post without leaving home. The title links are to Amazon so that you, too, may read further and decide if you want to buy or borrow the book from the library.

Next my gratitude to The Los Angeles Public Library whose on-line service enables me to place holds on books I want and/or order books electronically.

These first lines are from The 2014 Cybil winners.

Picture Books

Mr. Tiger Goes Wild written and illustrated by Peter Brown

Everyone was perfectly fine with the way things were. Everyone but Mr. Tiger.

I love this.

Easy Reader

It was a busy day at City Hospital. Doctor Glenda was writing something important on the wall chart. Nurse Percy was helping someone in a red coat who was crying because she couldn’t find her grandma.

Not so much.  Three. Count them. Three was ­__ing in the first paragraph? Not a great example for an easy reader.

Easy Chapter Books

Horror (scary tales) by James Preller

“Wake up, Liam. We’re here,” Mr. Finn whispered from the driver’s seat. “Our new home.”

            The eight year old boy rubbed his eyes, groggy from the long drive. He looked out the car window, blinking into the dark. “What time is it?”

            Around midnight,” his father said. “you three have been crashed out for hours. Home Sweet

Since this is admittedly a horror story, I would read on to find the horror

Speculative Fiction

Of the first few hauntings I investigated with Lockwood & Co. I intend to say little, in part to protect the identity of the victim, in part because of the gruesome nature of the incidents, but mainly because, in a variety of ingenious ways, we succeeded in messing them all up.

Wow. Try saying that all in one breath. I believe the author thought the editor was sure to read the first sentence and wanted to make it count.

Middle Grade Fiction

Ultra by David Carroll

Mile O

QUINN: I still don’t get why it was such a big deal. All the kids like to run. Go to any schoolyard. You’ll see kids playing tag, soccer, capture-the-flag . . .All those games involve running.

SYDNEY WATSON WALTERS: The difference is, most kids run for 10 or 15 minutes. Not for 24 hours straight like you.  

This turns out to be a kind of preface. I read on to find out why someone would run for 24 hours. Sounds like a book I might like.

Young Adult Speculative Fiction

The SummerPrince by Alaya Dawn Johnson

 When I was eight, my papai took me to the park to watch a king die.

I love this opening. What a great first sentence. Naturally I read on to find out what happened. If you like the sentence, click the link and read on yourself.

YA Fiction

“Yaqui Delgado wants to kick your ass.”

            A kid named Vanessa tells me this in the morning before school. She springs out with no warning and blocks my way, her textbook held at her chest like a shield. She’s tall like me and caramel. I’ve seen her in the lunchroom, I think. Or maybe in the halls. It’s hard to remember.

I have to read this one. She had me at the name.

This is a bit short so I’ll add three from NY Times Best Seller List from the week of March 25th

 The One and Only Ivan by Katherine Applegate


I am Ivan. I am a gorilla.

It’s not as easy as it looks.

I've been told by several friends this is a wonderful book. It's definitely one I want to read.

A Long Walk toWater by Linda Sue Park

Southern Sudan 2008

Going was easy.

            Going, the big Plastic Container held only air. Tall for her eleven years, Nya could switch the handle form on hand to the other, swing the container by her side, or cradle it in both arms. She could even drag it behind her, bumping it against the ground and raising a tiny cloud of dust with each step.

I've met Linda Sue Park at the SCBWI Summer conference. I am so delighted to see her on the best seller list.

One last Book.
Journey by Aaron Becker

This book had no words It’s a story in pictures. It’s 4 on the picture book Best Seller List and a 2014 Caldecott Honor book. I love picture books with no words. So I wanted to call it to your attention.

Happy reading and writing.

Monday, March 24, 2014

Women's History Month via Supercuts

By Hilde Garcia

A chair. I sit. After a multitude of minutes that have turned into years due to the breakneck pace my life has been since my wonderful twins were born, I sit. At Super Cuts. Because my regular stylist is sick with the flu, but I need my hair done and I need it done now.

I’ve been trying to be the most amazing mom, wife, teacher, aunt, person, so I do for everyone, everyone except me. I’ve buried parts of me that so deep that my kids have no idea who I was before they arrived. I used to act. I use to produce. I still write. But lately, my writing's been buried in a deluge of baseball games, cheer practices and girl scout events.  Smothered by a heavy dose of lesson plans, grading papers, homework and the endless pile of laundry. It’s a miracle that I pee on a daily basis. 

My writing partner, Sue, say she’s in awe of me. I’m not sure why. I don’t write often. Lately, it seems like never. I post when prompted by my group and mostly at gunpoint. In fact, why should I post? I’m no one famous- just a pre-published lady with a story to tell. Who will want to read anything I write?

AND there is always something in my way. I am not sure why I am destined for this. I have learned the word no, but it’s like Murphy knows I want to write, so he throws stuff to cause my pencil to break.

This week’s obstacle of choice? Planning a party for my niece, 3 vet visits and a dying hamster that I couldn’t save. And that was all by Wednesday night.

Who knows? Maybe I’m my own biggest obstacle. I promised this post by Tuesday to make up for missing my deadline last week and here it is, Friday night, and I am banging it out at Super Cuts. The lady doing my hair is talking to me, but I seem able to write in one language and talk to her in another. Who knew?

(And by the way, my hair is looking great, because taking passport photos in the morning with bad hair, isn’t going to work. I’m going to have to look at that photo for ten years. I am going to ensure I look like someone who is NOT frazzled.)
Sigh…. Does it ever end? 

But in honor of Women’s History Month this March, I’d like to highlight some amazing children’s novels that I love for two reasons. One, these fictional young heroines shape their worlds with their courage and love. I’d like to think they are representative of so many other amazing women who have done the same in the real world. And two, I have met most of them or heard them speak and they are as amazing as their heroines. They are diverse and smart and courageous and give me strength to keep making strides.

So I believe these characters exist in us and their choices/our choices can change the world. Each of these heroines comes from a different walk of life and time period, just like the authors who crafted them, and yet they all face their troubles and obstacles with grace and courage. So I’ll keep making my own strides, to face my obstacles in the same fashion, even it if is at gunpoint, and when I am published, I can join the ranks of these one-of-a-kind women.

If you haven’t read some of their outstanding novels, do so. You won’t be disappointed.

Esperanza Rising by Pam Muñoz Ryan

Esperanza thought she'd always live with her family on their ranch in Mexico but a sudden tragedy forces Esperanza and Mama to flee to California during the Great Depression, and to settle in a camp for Mexican farm workers. Esperanza isn't ready for the hard labor, financial struggles, or lack of acceptance she now faces. When their new life is threatened, Esperanza must find a way to rise above her difficult circumstances.

The movement of the train rocked me like a lullaby. I closed my eyes to the dusty countryside and imagined the sign I’d seen only in Gideon’s stories: Manifest—A Town with a rich past and a bright future.

A powerful story of loss and redemption.

Hattie Big Sky by Kirby Larson

Alone in the world, teen-aged Hattie is driven to prove up on her uncle's homesteading claim.
She courageously leaves Iowa to prove up on her late uncle's homestead claim near Vida, Montana.  With a stubborn stick-to-itiveness, Hattie faces frost, drought and blizzards. Despite many hardships, Hattie forges ahead, sharing her adventures with her friends.

Her backbreaking quest for a home is lightened by her neighbors, the Muellers.  But she feels threatened by pressure to be a "Loyal" American, forbidding friendships with folks of German descent.  Despite everything, Hattie's determined to stay until a tragedy causes her to discover the true meaning of home.

Gentle’s Holler by Kerry Madden

The sixties may have come to other parts of North Carolina, but with Mama pregnant again, Daddy struggling to find work, and nine siblings underfoot, nobody in the holler has much time for modern-day notions. Especially not twelve-year-old Livy Two, aspiring songwriter and self-appointed guardian of little sister Gentle, whose eyes “don’t work so good yet.” Even after a doctor confirms her fears, Livy Two is determined to make the best of Gentle’s situation and sets out to transform the family’s scrappy dachshund into a genuine Seeing Eye dog. But when tragedy strikes, can Livy Two continue to be strong?

Fly Girl by Sherri L. Smith
Ida Mae Jones dreams of flight. Her daddy was a pilot and being black didn’t stop him from fulfilling his dreams. But her daddy’s gone now, and being a woman, and being black, are two strikes against her. When America enters the war with Germany and Japan, the Army creates the WASP, the Women Airforce Service Pilots—and Ida suddenly sees a way to fly. But WASP won’t accept her as a black woman, forcing Ida Mae to make a difficult choice of “passing,” of pretending to be white to be accepted into the program. Hiding one’s racial heritage, denying one’s family, denying one’s self is a heavy burden. And while Ida Mae chases her dream, she must also decide who it is she really wants to be. 

Sold by Patricia McCormick

A current account of sexual slavery in Nepal. Written in spare and evocative vignettes, this powerful novel renders a world that is as unimaginable as it is real, and a girl who not only survives but triumphs.

Monday, March 17, 2014

Dispatch #19: I Saw It on Amaryllis Street


by Lupe Fernandez

Another in the a series of "Where Do Ideas Come From?"
On a cold, crisp Wednesday morning, I step out to the curb and watch a waste management truck pick up a green plastic bin of residential garbage. All along the street, the green and black bins - black for recycling - wait to be emptied. The waste truck uses an mechanical prong to pick up the bin and dump its contents into the hulking truck. There's a loud grinding sound of gears and hydraulics at work.

I'm fascinated and my mind starts to wonder and I imagine this scene...
I step up to the curb. The clouds clear and the sunset is a beautiful orange fire.

This girl in a grimy green tunic shivers next to me. "I like when it rains," she says, rubbing an gray lesion on her cheek.

"Yeah?" I say, watching the vapor pour from my mouth. She's standing too close to me. I hope she doesn't notice I smell like rotten fruit. "Everything's all wet." I tug the sleeves of my black tunic over my scabby hands.

"It makes everything clean." She hops in place; her left leg is shorter than her right. "The air smells new. I don't know. Makes me hopeful. Know what I mean?"

"I never noticed," I say. I look down the street. "They always come around now."

The girl pulls up her tunic pant leg to keep it from staining. She stumbles and grabs my shoulder to keep from falling. A warmth floods from her hand into my arm and spreads across my chest. I take a deep breath and suddenly feel hopeful. Her teeth chattered.

"They should come in the afternoon when it's warmer," I say, "I mean who decided this. This is so stupid. They should like built a shelter or a have heaters or something." There's a blanket in the shed. I turn to walk off the curb and back onto the sidewalk, when my body goes rigid. A gurgling hiss comes out of my mouth. I leap back to the curb.

"You shouldn't do that," she says.

"I'm okay," I say. The signal shock makes the stabbing chest pain come back. I don't scream this time. I'm good at hiding  defects. "Did they put you out last night.

"Can you believe that?" She laughs. "Last night. They couldn't do it this morning. I mean why green? I don't look good in green."

Geese honk and fly by overhead in a V formation.

"Lazy parents," I say. I'm burning inside.

The girl points to another set of pick-ups across the street to distract. "Look, it's 2216 and 2218." She laughs again. How can she laugh about this stuff? "They've been out there for a week and no pick-up."
"A bunch of losers," I say.

Others line up on the curb and mumble; their breaths puff vapor with every quick exhale. 2216 in the black tunic coughs and then everyone starts coughing all along the street. Fat grey clouds return and smother the sun. The sky spits rain.

There's complaining from both sides of the street.

"Yay!" the girl tilts her head up and smiles. Fat drops plink on her face.

Then we all hear the beeping of the truck. Everybody shuts up. "I wonder which one it is?" I don't look.

"It's always the green one," she says. Her nose and cheeks flush red.

"You should tell them to put you out in the morning."

"They don't listen to me." She rubs her red filmy eye.

The green squat truck grumbles around the corner; the carrier pod spouts vapor from its exhaust. It stops by 2211. From the side of the pod, a yellow prong folds and slips under 2211 shoulders and flings her into open carrier hatch. The prong folds back into the pod and the truck moves to the next pick up, and so on down the street.

"They're stupid," I say.

The girl looks at my black tunic. "Black looks good on you." She traces the white symbol on the chest of my tunic. I hold her trembling hand. "I've never talked to a Return before. What's it like?"

The beeping truck pulls in front of us.

"It's a mistake!" I yell at the truck. "She should be in black." The cab has no windows, so nobody's listening.

"It was nice talking to you."  Her hands slips away from mine.

The truck prongs spring out, catch her under the shoulders and she's gone.

My fingers dig into my palms. When the black truck comes and takes me to the station, I'm not coming back. I'm not come back until I find her.
...and scene. The next time your stand on the curb and hear a garbage truck coming down your street, you should...well, I'd be careful.