Father’s Day around our house often means an outing to the bookstore– I rarely buy my husband books because only he knows exactly which ones he’s looking for, and everyone in our family enjoys a good trip to browse new books. So, time for another crop of reviews! Some of today’s choices include father figures, some are just fun. Let’s explore!
It’s tough to have a day job, be a mom AND write– don’t let anyone tell you it isn’t. It can be done, but there will always be times one of the balls in the air falls to the ground and you stumble around for a while until you get them back in the air again.
Since getting my picture book contract, I’ve been busy with a lot of writing-related tasks, but I’ve also been teaching full-time and balancing family tasks like parent-teacher conferences, choir practice, and getting estimates on our house renovation. You know, the usual.
But through it all, my mind is still filled with story ideas, snippets of poetry, insatiable curiosity about works I see on Twitter, etc. So, let’s get back at it and review some picture books, shall we?
This time the crop is inspired by a display in my local Barnes & Noble showing off 50 books your child should read before the age of 5. Many of them are books I read as a child, many more are books I’ve already reviewed (and loved), but were are a bunch I hadn’t read yet, so let’s go!
Happy Holidays!! No matter what you celebrate this time of year, or even if you celebrate nothing at all, the month of December is stressful. My upcoming picture book celebrates a wide variety of traditions, but personally, I’m Christian, so my house is getting ready for Christmas. The religious season is Advent so we have a wreath and an Advent calendar, but it’s hard to get away from the pervasiveness of 24 hour Christmas music, decorations, etc. And to be honest, I don’t mind (so long as they wait until after Thanskgiving). I love the joy and excitement of this time of year– it’s worth the stress that comes with it.
One of my favorite traditions is my town’s annual “Festival of Lights” parade. My older son has been marching in it for the past 7 years, first as a cub scout and now as a boy scout. My husband, younger son, and I find a spot on the route to watch, usually in front of town hall where we’re close to the cider and the bathrooms in the Congregational church next door. My love for this small town tradition led me to write this song, “Small Town Christmas.” I’ve written songs for years but outside of the church setting (many are hymns), I don’t share them much. Even though I have years of choral experience, I love to sing, and I don’t get nervous in front of people, I’m sometimes self-conscious about the sound of my voice as a soloist. And recordings are so hard to get right, there’s always going to be something in there that makes me cringe.
So, my gift to you readers this year is the permission to be vulnerable. Put yourself out there even if you know you are going to make some mistakes. Make a craft for someone even if every stitch isn’t even. Bring that homemade pie to the party even if the crust is a little too brown. Put a hand-written note in your Christmas card even if your handwriting is awful. Letting yourself be imperfect is not a sign of laziness, but of bravery.
As for me, I’m going to share this song with you — there are a few spots I wish I had the post-production talent to fix, but it’s from the heart, right? The poem itself is below, and the YouTube video is embedded below it.
We’re back to school, folks! That means my book review posts may be slightly less frequent as I focus time on my teaching and steal away a bit for writing and submitting. However, I carved out a bit of time this weekend to read some fabulous new books– most out within the past few months! There’s a thread of similarity running through them as they all have to do with relationships, emotions and fitting in– highly appropriate themes for back to school! Enjoy!
This weekend we held the memorial services for my Dad, Frank Manzer, who died last week after many years of ill health. I know this blog is usually about the craft of writing and language, but writing is also about memories and emotion. So I thought I would share the words I delivered at his service yesterday, because my Dad taught me a lot about the craft of writing, both explicitly, and by giving me a childhood filled with the kinds of experiences which have provided a lifetime of writing material:
When I was a little girl and we visited “Gramp Manzer,” my Dad’s dad, he was always sitting in a chair being gruff and quiet. I heard stories about how active he had been– he was a “good man, once,” people joked, but it was hard to believe of someone so frail. Meanwhile “MY DADDY” was a Paul Bunyan of a man (though much shorter), who could do anything. Years later, at the end of his life, I knew my own dad had become that same frail man to his grandchildren. So there are a few things I’d like you to remember about my Daddy– some things you might not know about him if you just knew him as a grumpy old man sitting in a chair watching Gunsmoke and the Red Sox. (Cause he certainly was that, too!)
Being both a language teacher and a writer, I’m thrilled about the momentum of the #WeNeedDiverseBooks and #ownvoices movements. Just as kids deserve to see themselves on the page, we all deserve to learn about new experiences, foods, and ways of interacting with the world! That’s why most of us grew to love reading in the first place.
The tricky bit is writing about a culture in a way that makes those within that culture feel validated without alienating others. How? Read on…
‘If you want your children to be intelligent, read them fairy tales. If you want them to be more intelligent, read them more fairy tales.’ – Albert Einstein
I’m taking a slight departure from picture book reviews today to talk about fairy tales. As a German teacher, and former college professor, I’ve spent a lot of time with fairy tales — teaching the history of the Grimm brothers and their collection of the folk tales handed down in oral tradition as well as the literary fairy tales of the Romantic movement with their intricate tales of madness. Then of course, there are the Disney adaptations with all the blood and violence stripped out, and the marvelous modern re-tellings which turn expected norms on their ears and put familiar characters in diverse new settings.
I read aloud to my kids every night and we’ve done Harry Potter, Narnia, Percy Jackson and many other series, but I thought I’d take a break and pull my “Complete Grimm’s Fairy Tales” off the shelf. The boys appreciate hearing a story from start to finish in one night (another perk of picture books!) and I’m ashamed to admit I never read the boys many fairy tales when they were little. We’re avoiding the old standby tales like Snow White and Cinderella (even though the original Grimm versions are much more exciting and bloody) in favor for a few of the obscure ones I discovered in graduate school and often use in my teaching.
So come with me and explore a few stories which deserve way more attention than they’ve been given by “mainstream media:”
My son is turning 9 today, March 12th! He knows his mom is a writer and I’ve dragged him through the children’s section of enough libraries and bookstores for him to develop a bit of an appreciation for picture books. He was excited when I told him I was featuring HIS choices in my picture book reviews today. So, we are taking a departure from my normal rule of keeping the book reviews current and I present for you five of my son’s very favorites! (like me, he has WAY more than five favorites, but some of them I’ve already reviewed, so we settled on these). Instead of MY favorite part, I will include my SON’s favorite part of the book.
Life has been busy at the Schreibenfreude house: I’m a coach for my school’s Speech & Debate team which has recently wrapped up a very successful season, winning awards at States and qualifying two students for Nationals, my kids (and the ones I teach) have been busy with school projects, and if that weren’t enough, we’re currently looking to get a dog– which has taken up a good bit of research time that’s normally spent researching my writing! On the bright side, this is school vacation week here in Maine, and that means more time for writing and reading picture books! Let’s go!
There’s a movement on Facebook and Twitter right now for women to come forward using the hashtag #metoo if they have been sexually harassed or assaulted and the volume of posts is staggering– from all ages and walks of life. It’s heartbreaking. I stand in solidarity with all women and men who are harassed for their gender, sexual orientation, race, etc. I am lucky enough to come from that tiny bit of the population who actually has never been sexually harassed or assaulted. Never. At least not in any way I can remember. So, while I am really not trying to make this “about me” it’s inevitable for me to think about that. We all relate movements to our own lives and experiences. So here are some thoughts:
It’s not about me, but…every man that degrades women by valuing them for their looks also degrades those whom he does NOT explicitly speak to by implying they are not worthy of being paid attention to. How many jobs did I not even get an interview for because I didn’t look pretty enough? How many times did I feel dejected for not getting “special attention,” naively unaware the costs of that attention for those on the receiving end?
It’s not about me, but…when I see the hundreds of “me too”s, I have survivor’s guilt– no one deserves to be treated that way, and I am certainly no better a person for escaping it. This is just another way that I am privileged.
It’s not about me, but…would my experience be different if I weren’t overweight and a somewhat shabby dresser? I think that a lot. I’m not the kind of person people generally flirt with, let alone harass. I didn’t have my first real kiss until my senior year in college. And yet, I also know sexual predators frequently take advantage of young girls (and boys) with low self-esteem– people who are so happy to have attention they convince themselves negative attention is the only kind they are worthy of.
It’s not about me, but…could it have been? Could I have been harassed and not even noticed because I assumed they weren’t talking to me? Has our body-shaming and looks-based society come to the point that women practically harass themselves?
If you are one of the many “me too”s, I’m sorry. I promise to raise my two sons to respect all individuals and to avoid making judgements based on looks or sexuality. I will call out harassment and abuse when I see it.
And if you need a shoulder to cry on, I’m here.
Now, back to your regularly scheduled blog about words and writing. Because creating beauty is what makes the pain worth it.