I’m always so impressed when a writer can take a classic story and make it meaningful for today’s teens. A lot of great old stories have been recycled in the past several years, but not always well. Elizabeth Eulberg‘s Prom and Prejudice, however, is a fun, page-turning take on the beloved Pride and Prejudice. The best part about it is that a girl could read Eulberg’s novel without having read the original and still enjoy a wonderful story. (She’d probably love it so much she’d want to read Austen’s immediately afterward.) But for Austen fans, it’s fun to see how Eulberg reworks the original to make it new and relevant to a modern teen audience. I seriously couldn’t put it down and had the dark circles under my eyes to prove it! Teachers, it’s safe for your reading list–nothing objectionable for parents to fret over. Lots of fun, with good chemistry between the protagonist and the love interest. Eulberg’s newest, Revenge of the Girl with the Great Personality, comes out this March. (Props for the irresistible title!)
A good storyteller makes you care about characters who, in real life, might not interest you or cause you to feel connected to them. A good storyteller makes you care about these characters’ problems whether or not they’re the sort of problems you would normally care about.
Enter Kieran Scott. I first heard about her novel I Was a Non-Blonde Cheerleader several years ago, but it was only recently that I had a chance to pick it up. I had immediately loved the title (I’m terrible at creating titles, so I admire a catchy one) but didn’t think I’d be too into the book…cheerleading was never exactly in the cards for me. When I was about twelve, my own dad ironically nicknamed me “Grace,” based on my unerring ability to routinely hurl myself into stationary objects for no good reason. (But how cool that my dad taught me the valuable skill of being able to laugh at myself. That one has come in handy more times than the ability to do a back flip, I’m sure!) Growing up, I didn’t think cheerleaders had “real” problems; I would have scoffed at the suggestion that they ever worried about fitting in like the rest of us did. So, I was all set to be immune to the charms of Kieran’s main character, Annisa, who is a short-haired brunette trying to fit in with the blonde Britney lookalikes at her new school.
But you know what? I’ve got to hand it to Kieran…it wasn’t long before I actually really, really hoped the squad would accept Annisa and that they’d ace their competition and all end up great friends. Go figure! I can chalk my reaction up only to Kieran’s skill as a storyteller. She made me care, and I enjoyed the book. Fellow writers, read and learn. Give your readers a reason to relate to your protagonist, and we’ll follow him/her anywhere. Even to cheerleading competition!
What do YOU think about Kieran Scott’s novels? Has anyone checked out the He’s So/She’s So trilogy? On my list….
For some time now, traditional princess stories have been under fire: they teach girls to be helpless and wait until their prince comes to rescue them, they give girls unrealistic ideas about love, etc. Yeah, I get that. But here’s what I also get: an awful lot of girls like princess stories. I mean really, really like them. Maybe it’s the pretty dresses; who knows? But something about princesses resonates with many girl readers. Lindsey Leavitt, in her Princess for Hire series, pretty much gives us the best of both worlds: her protagonist, a substitute princess, gets to enjoy the fun of being royal, but she also addresses the pitfalls. It’s win/win.
What I like about Lindsey is that she’s not afraid to be fun, fizzy, and light. A lot of agents and editors push authors to be edgy and gritty, but a good story is still a good story. My own daughters absolutely loved the Princess series, and my middle school students were big fans of Sean Griswold’s Head.
And on a personal note, like Irene Latham, Lindsey is a friend to other writers. She’s smart, encouraging, and upbeat…a lot like her work.
So, if you’re looking for a nice series for that daughter/niece/etc. for Christmas, consider Lindsey’s Princess books. Perfect for elementary and middle grade girls. The covers are so gorgeous, you’re sure to get a squeal or two when they unwrap your gift.
So, I’m just sitting at my computer the other day when what should I find in my email but…a wonderful surprise from English teacher Gaylon Tuggle.
One of Mr. Tuggle’s Guntersville High School students wrote a song about Brand-New Emily!
Maddie Arnold, aka THE BOMB (OK, actually, I just made that name up for her two seconds ago, but believe me, it fits), wrote and performed “Gonna Be Brand New” for her class project. It’s so good I can hardly control my giddiness! I love the music and the lyrics, and can this girl sing or what?! Maddie, thank you so much sharing your talent!
Here is the link to the YouTube video. Enjoy!
There’s so much to like about Irene Latham, and not just as a writer. But since this is supposed to be a series about what writers do particularly well, I won’t tell you how poised, lovely, kind, and smart Irene is as a person. Instead, I’ll tell you why I’ve dubbed her the Queen of Texture.
In creative writing classes, they teach you to “write what you know.” Irene doesn’t do that. Well, not necessarily. Unless she knows what it’s like to be the partially blind daughter of an Alabama sharecropper in the 1930s or what it’s like to be a boy who lives (yes, literally LIVES) at the zoo. And yet, Irene makes it work. I can only imagine the amount of research that must go into her books. When reading (and teaching–I highly recommend Leaving Gee’s Bend for seventh grade English courses) her first novel, I never once felt that Ludelphia Bennett was anything less than 100% authentic. Similarly, when I read Don’t Feed the Boy, I felt perfectly safe with Whit, who knows everything about the zoo animals. Fun fact: which zoo animal would be most likely to kill you? Think about it and I’ll tell you the answer at the end of this post. Also, did you know that boa constrictors don’t crush their prey? Nope. They squeeze them enough to cut off their air supply. It’s Irene’s attention to details like these and how she seamlessly works them into the plot that adds such texture to her stories. Her novels feel so authentic.
Of course, it’s also fun to read Irene’s prose because in addition to her work as a novelist, she’s an accomplished poet. Her poet’s ear for language and her skill at description and metaphor come into play every so often, much to a careful reader’s delight. For instance, in Boy, she describes Stella as looking “like she’d be good in a commercial for whole-grain cereal” and Ferdinand the peacock as “stride[ing] along on sunny days, as if he was the lone sheriff of some dusty goldrush town.”
I’d highly recommend Don’t Feed the Boy for fifth or sixth grade English classes. There are plenty of parallels between human and animal behavior that would give teachers an opportunity to ease students into critical analysis of literature; plus, it’s a story that teaches kids about friendship and has plenty of age-appropriate peril to keep them interested. (Neither of Irene’s novels will get you any phone calls from outraged parents–and I know from experience how real of a concern that can be for teachers!)
So that’s what I like about you, Irene Latham. I’d love to know what other readers have to add to the discussion.
Oh, and the zoo animal most likely to kill you?
It’s the elephant.
As part of the Vegas Valley Book Festival, I had the opportunity to visit Escobedo Middle School and spend the day with several English classes. Props to their teachers–these kids correctly answered all my questions about plot structure! And because I’m a professional (kids: don’t try this at home!), I made up stories on the spot about several kids in each of the classes. It was fun! Best of all, I taught the students a valuable life skill: how and when to say, “Roll Tide!” (The answer to when? Anytime! Anytime is Roll Tide time!) Thanks to Mrs. Baca for introducing me to these incredible students!
For some time now, I’ve been thinking that writers deserve more love. It’s way too easy for any mean-spirited person to write an anonymous, scathing review of a book on a website, leaving the author to wonder, “Exactly when did I shoot your dog?” As agent-turned-author Nathan Bransford (my favorite blogger on the subject of writing) has pointed out on several occasions, published authors are doing something right. They may not be doing EVERYTHING right…there may be things about their work that you don’t enjoy…they may not be forging in the smithy of their soul the uncreated conscience of their race…but the fact is, it’s not easy to get a book published, so authors who do reach that goal are doing at least one or two things well. I say we celebrate that. I say, instead of tearing other writers down, we instead accentuate the positive. I say, “If anything is excellent or praiseworthy, think about such things.” Who’s with me?
To that end…I announce a new series on this little blog o’ mine: ”What I Like about You.” Taking its title from an infectious 80′s pop song, this series of posts will spotlight a different author each time, and I’ll comment on a particular aspect of his/her writing that particularly impresses me. And I hope that you’ll be inclined to comment on these posts and help spread the love. No negativity. All positive, all the time. If you can’t say something nice, don’t say anything at all. (I think you get my drift.) We’ll start next week with author Irene Latham because I can’t think of an author more deserving of nice comments. Irene is not only an outstanding novelist and poet, she’s also a friend to others in the writing community. She’s exceptionally generous and encouraging to both published and aspiring authors. What can I say? Irene’s a peach. And next week, I will tell you what I love about her two novels, Leaving Gee’s Bend and Don’t Feed the Boy. So check back next week and please chime in!
English teacher Gaylon Tuggle of Guntersville High School was kind enough to share with me these photos from their local newspaper. His tenth-grade students created projects based on my novels JUMP and BRAND-NEW EMILY. How cool! A mini Wright Middle School! And I love the concept for the visual of JUMP–one person made up of several different people. Way to capture the idea in one picture! Mr. Tuggle also had a student who did a project so awesome that you have to see the video to appreciate it…but we haven’t yet succeeded in shrinking the video file enough to fit it on my site. Soon, I hope! In the meantime, thank you, Guntersville students, for sharing your creativity and artistic ability with me!
Check out pages 76 and 77 in the October/November 2012 issue of Girls’ Life for my quiz, “Are You a Trendsetter or a Style Stealer?” Writing quizzes is so much fun!