Monday, February 8, 2016

Dispatch #47: Don't Slam the Door!

by Lupe Fernandez

Last month, I assisted my father-in-law install a new track for folding doors enclosing the laundry room. After grunting, sweating, hammering and hefting large white doors, we successfully aligned the doors in the new track. Open then gently and they work find.

I told my daughters, “Be gentle with the doors. Don’t bang them open.”

A thought slapped me like wet laundry. I sound like a parent. I regressed to my childhood, running out the back door, letting the screen door slam.

“Don’t slam the door!” my father would yelled. Sometimes, he’d order me back inside and leave again. This time gently closing the door.

Can there ever be a reason to slam a door?
“Where’s that Starbucks receipt? I’m mean who writes phone numbers on paper. He could’ve just sent me a text or, oh I don’t know call? Maybe he doesn’t want me to call him. Oh God, what if this some elaborate prank and he’s laughing to all his Mover & Shaker friends. He said he was sure I was an actress. I just rolled out of bed and was wearing my Kipper Kitty Slippers and was dying for a mocha latte with 2% milk cause I pulled an all-night for the friggin’ English paper about John Muir love affair with trees. I pick up my order and there he is and I act all normal even though I’m in dirty jeans, a Save the Library shirt and a pink robe full of cat hair. When I get home, I put my jeans in the wash and pace the room rehearsing what I’m going to say to him and I can’t find the stupid receipt with his number on it in my robe and what if he’s waiting right now for me to call and if I don’t his ex-girlfriend will call and they’ll get back to together and make cute babies. The washing machine goes slush, slush and damn, damn, damn and I tear open the laundry doors, they fall off the rail and almost kill me. I wish they had ‘cause I pull on the washer door; it’s locked and my whole life is in the rinse cycle.”

Or this reason?

“Angel,” Five year old Nadia drags a large black shoe into her eleven year old brother’s room, “There’s a monster in the laundry.”

Angel puts a magnifying glass to her Nadia’s face. “That’s scientifically impossible. There’s no such thing as monsters.”

Nadia holds up the torn shoe. “It ate the fix-it man.”

Angel inspects the bite marks on the shoe belonging to the Alpaca Appliance Repair Man. Nadia follows her brother to the laundry room. The doors are closed. Angel knocks. “Excuse me, Senor. Are you missing a shoe?”

Something stinking like dirty feet skitters behind the door.
"I’m hungry,” Nadia says.

Angel opens the door. He makes a strangled squeak. The boy bangs the door shut, shoving his back against it.

From the living room, Papa yells, “Don’t slam the door.”

Angel, eyes bulging, tells Nadia, “I know where the other shoe went.” 

To slam or not to slam,
That is the question.

Monday, February 1, 2016

3 Wonderful Diverse Books Published in 2015

by Susan J Berger

I took an hour and went to the Hollywood Branch library. I wanted to find a first line post.
It's Black History Month and there are lots of diverse books displayed on the top shelves.
Langston Hughes, Walter Dean Myers, Brian Pinkney, Kevin Henkes, Faith Ringold, and Maya Angelou are well represented with two or more books each. But where were the new ones? There were none from this year's ALSC Awards.
I wanted an author I hadn't hear of. Preferably one published in 2015. I asked the librarian for help. I found three. Just three.

First find. Another wordless picture book.
The Only Child by guojing. A remarkable series of pictures telling the story a a child brought up at the time of the One Child Rule In China. This is a very long picture book. There were no page numbers, but I would estimate fifty pages.
Published in 2015, it's a New York Times Best Illustrated Book.

Next find:

Mama's Nightingale by Edwidge Danticat, illustrated by Leslie Staub
When Mama first goes away, what I miss most is the sound of her voice. At night, while Papa's asleep, I sneak out of bed to listen to Mama's greeting on our answering machine.
"Taipei kite bon ti nouvel pou nou!" Please leave us good news!

Saya's mother is in jail because she doesn't have the right immigration papers. Beautifully written. I loved the flow of words and ideas. I would buy this I a heartbeat if I had the money. Mama's Nightingale is a  Kirkus best book of 2015

Full Cicada Moon by Marilyn Hilton. Written in verse the book tells the story of a half black, half Japanese girl who moved with her family to Vermont to be the new girl halfway through seventh grade. It's 1969 and she dreams of being an astronaut.
I read the first two pages:

I wish we had flown to Vermont
instead of riding
on a bus, train, train, bus
all the way from Berkley.
Ten hours would have soared, compared to six days.
But two plane tickets--
one for me and one for Mama--
would have cost a lot of money,
and Papa already spent so much
when he flew home at Thanksgiving.

Mama is sewing buttons on my new slacks
and helping me fill out the forms
for my new school in Hillsborough, our new town.
This might be a new year
but seventh grade is halfway done,
and I'll be the new girl.

I'm stuck at the ethnicity part.
Check only one, it says.
The choices are:
Puerto Rican

I am
half Mama,
half Papa,
and all me.
Isn't that all anyone needs to know?
But the form says All items must be completed,
so I ask,  "Other?"
Mama pushes her brows together,
making what papa calls her Toshirô-Mifune face.
"Check all that apply," she says.
"But it says just one."
"Do you listen to your mother or a piece of paper?"

I borrowed it.
I do not usually read verse novels. This one captivated me. I raced through it, loving every sentence.
The what was not said was as important as what was said. Highly recommend.
What is your favorite book from last year? If you have a diversity one, all the better.

Monday, January 25, 2016

Book vs Movie- A Couple of Reviews

New Reads for 2016
by Hilde Garcia
Enjoying some ice cream before picking up the book on my lap!

Lately, I haven't had the luxury of sitting back and reading a book. I encourage my students to do daily reading in both languages I teach, but find all my spare time is spent on grading their book summaries and exams.  However, during the December break, I kicked back, opened a box of cookies, and read two great novels, completely opposite of each other in their message and style, but both very inspiring.

Amazing movie!
The Fault in Our Stars
by John Green

I am a huge fan of Mr. Green's work. I heard him speak at an SCBWI conference a few years ago and was so moved that I ran out and bought Looking for Alaska. Now there's a novel that packs a punch. You don't see the curves coming and they hit you like a truck.  I teach 6th grade students and they were all urging me to read The Fault in Our Stars. Some of them had even read it in Spanish and all said I would love it. They were impressed with the fact that I had met Mr. Green. I was impressed that they were recommending books to me.

So I read it. OH. MY. GOD.  I shed more tears than there are stars. Why couldn't Gus and Hazel be together forever? Why did their stars fail to align? I was captivated by Green's language and setting and my heart ached for the lovers whose stars didn't cross.

But what I really loved was the movie version. Finally, a movie that did the book justice. There was attention to detail and the casting was impeccable, and the producers took care with Green's language, keeping it in tact and authentic.  The movie ended and I found myself crying as much as if I had read the book all over again.

My students agreed, it was a beautiful novel, deeply moving, and forever impactful.  I highly recommend both the book and the movie version!

I am Malala
by Malala Yousafzai

There are days where I barely have time to eat, let alone read, so watching the news is pretty impossible. I live in the world of my students and children and somedays it's all I can do to keep up with them.  But everyone was moved by Malala and her quest for education and the tragic events that came as a result of her desire to learn. Even I, the news hermit, couldn't ignore the impact of Malala's attempt to go to school.

I happened to be out on quiet Saturday night during my winter break with my children and our favorite past time is to hit a book store- usually an independent one, but on that night, we hit the Barnes & Noble near our house.

And there it was, her memoir. My kids were off perusing the shelves, making pleas of extra effort on chores if I could only by them another book.  (That's a hard one to say no to when the world if full of kids who plug in and mine are screaming for books that don't require batteries.)

As I said, "No" half a dozen times, I sat down and started reading Malala's memoir. I couldn't put it down. I ended up buying it. I read it when I got home and the kids went to their own rooms to read the books they had bought- yep, we never leave empty handed from a book store and I caved.

Are you kidding? Wouldn't you kill to have a couple of kiddos whose idea of fun is to buy books and then go home and read them?

Malala's own words flowed off of the page and into the air, so eloquent, so sophisticated, so simple. This beautiful and vibrant girl so full of energy living in a place where her light was trying to be extinguished.  I couldn't stop learning about her world, her culture, her life. I wanted every detail to stay with me forever. I was drawn to her book with a force that surprised me.

Doctors helped her get back to about 80%.
Sure enough, I am at the library the next day- with none other than my twins, who now claim that they had to check out books because they had already read the ones from the night before and they needed the next installment of whichever series they were both reading at that moment- and I see under Upcoming Events: He Named Me Malala.

What? There's a documentary? I went home, found it on Netflix and watched it as soon as I had finished the book.


Again I was impressed with the attention to her story, the authenticity of the documentary, how much I was able to learn that went further into her life, beyond the scope of her memoir, and it was indeed captivating.  I came back to school and raved about it to my students and now they are all fighting to read the one copy. Note to self- get more copies!

In recent years, so many "hot" books were turned into movies, but the movies were so poorly done.  My children are avid fans of Percy Jackson. I think, to date, they have each read the series in its entirety 15 times. And they were so disappointed with the movie. The chose not to watch the rest of it or any others produced. They felt the same way about The Spiderwick Chronicles. One of their favorite book series and the movie didn't live up to the novel.

And while I enjoyed The Hunger Games, I am not sure I feel the movie did the trilogy justice. It was visually accurate and riveting to watch the story unfold, but there was so much that wasn't addressed that I think I will always be "a book first and maybe movie after" kind of girl.

In my family, we all agree that Harry Potter was done well, but the books are so epic that to capture every detail, we would have needed 3 movies for books 4 through 7, not only for Book 7.  However, the attention to details was excellent.  When an author stays involved and doesn't give up creative rights, I feel, we get a better movie version of the book.

It was great to have had the chance two incredible stories whose movie/documentary held up to the book.

There is also a young reader's version of I Am Malala which is sold everywhere and students can also get it through Scholastic Book Clubs. That's where I am planning to order some extra copies with the points I have accumulated!

I guess I can't wait until Spring Break to see which novel I will read. I currently began Fish in a Tree… but it might take me until then to finish it!
I'll let you know how I like this one!

Do you have any books you read that were made into a movie? Did you like it? Did it leave you needing more?

Please post your thoughts!

Happy Reading.

Monday, January 18, 2016

Dispatch: #46: The Fields of My Father

by Lupe Fernandez


In the fields of my father, they grow corn, alfalfa and lettuce,
a man chases crows away from newly planted seeds,
a tractor stirs of dust,
fallow burns.

In the fields of my father, they sprout power plants and warehouses,
a boy with a cell phone pedals by brick and cement houses,
a purple truck thump, thumps music from a stereo,
speed bumps grow like bruises.


In the fields of my father, they celebrate La Nuestra Senora de Guadalupe,
a wooden tower in front of the church spit red, green and white fire,
a devil, a drunkard, a dandy, a housewife dance with El Torito,
police dance with gangs.

In the fields of my father, they eat potato chips, hamburgers and hot dogs,
my father's half-brother - Tio Perico - counsels me to let go,
to let go of my father's cruelity,
and remember his frailty.

In the fields of my father, they do not mass at the northern border,
they cook chili relleno, mole, birria, agave tamales and beans,
they hold hands, kiss babies, go to church,
they go to work.

In the fields of my father, I smell dust, exhaust, ice cream, pollo, carnitas,
I eat fat tortas and drive on dark highways,
I stay in a hotel near Starbucks,
I dream of fields.

Monday, January 11, 2016

Beta Readers Anyone

By Susan J Berger

You’ve honed your manuscript. Been through the revision process more than once. You’ve possibly been through a critique group. (I personally love feedback from my critique group.) Now it’s time to look for a beta reader or three.

A Beta reader is a person who test drives your book. Unlike a critique group which gives feedback in small bites, a beta reader reads the whole thing.

The term beta is derived from the software industry where beta versions of a program are sent to users to test.

I am sure we’ve all been through beta versions of software. With the best will in the world the software industry has put out some real doozies in the first version. They didn’t put in bugs on purpose. They thought they had a saleable finished product.

 As writers, we too are capable of being blind to errors.
We know our work too well.
We describe events or a world in a way that is clear to us, but not clear to an outside reader.
We’ve lived with the characters so long, some of what is clear to us about our characters did not make it onto the printed page.
They are plot holes we fail to catch.

A beta reader reads a finished manuscript and tells the author about the bugs so the author can improve its readability, and saleability. Ideally, a beta reader finds your glitches. I think an author needs at least three readers because they may pick up on different things.


For Time and Forever, I had five, including my beloved fellow Pen and Inkers and one beta reader who gave me a line edit. That was above and beyond the call of duty. She improved my book immeasurably. 

Hey, maybe the manuscript doesn't have any bugs. I have not personally experienced this, but it can happen. An author I didn’t know posted a YA novel for "last looks” in one of my SCBWI yahoo groups. I adored it. I was fully caught up in her world and characters. I ended up sending her a fan letter. Wouldn’t it be nice to get that from a reader before it’s sent to an editor?


What do you want from your beta reader?

 Here is a great link to beta leader questionnaire:


Where to find your beta reader?

It goes without saying that we all want the crème de la crème of betas. I know it takes time and trials to find a good fit.

You want one who regularly reads in your genre.

It’s best if they are not related to you. I find my friends are perhaps kinder than they should be because they love me.

If you belong to SCBWI or an independent writing group, you can possibly arrange a beta swap. Check the listservs.

Sometimes you get lucky. I met a beta reader in an airport waiting for a delayed flight. We swapped manuscripts and I did another revision based on her amazingly helpful feedback. (I think I got the best of the deal, but I hope I was helpful.)

You can search the web – Key word beta reader.

Yahoo groups You could search Yahoo Groups or start a new topic within your group.

And a general Beta group where you post your genre.

Facebook: Search beta readers followed by your genre. I see some people looking to find beta readers. Perhaps a swap could be arranged.

Next I tried Twitter. Lots of hits with beta reader. Found this wonderful blog. written by a beta reader.
If you are lucky enough to know a teacher, you might persuade him/her to have the students read your book as a project. Problem: I did this with my mid grade novel. Tasha the Magnificent. The kids loved being part of an authors process and I didn't get much criticism. As a strategy this might work better for YA and high schools. WE aim at our readers, but we have to sell it to agents or editors.
 Good hunting!

PS.  need a beta or two myself. Unfortunately, not in the children’s genre. But hey, maybe someone who reads this post also writes romance.
Kate's Hero is a romantic comedy. Approximately 207 pages.
 One four leaf clover. Two stubborn People. A leprechaun with a mission. What could possibly go wrong?
Any takers?
Will be happy to swap. 

In any case. Good hunting.