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Archive for October, 2018

First it was his sister. Then his mother. Then his father. Now his beloved horse, Sarah, is gone. Sold by the no good, drunken, Mr. Grissom who was to take care of John Johnson. More like take advantage of the boy. By selling Sarah, to the conniving Mr. Bishop no less, the man’s gone to far. John is going to find his Indian pony. He sets out on a long journey across 1890’s Washington territory with some money and his father’s pistol and a stone from his father’s grave. It’s a long walk and he better hurry before the horse dealer sells his horse to someone else.

 

This is fast paced adventure story with grizzlies, outlaws, and Indians intermingled with the hard ache of the time, losing one’s loved ones from illness and accidents. John Johnson, despite his grief, tells a story of his search while not letting down his parents who’d instilled in him to be honest and to help others and it’s because of that he gets as far as he does. While there’s sadness, there’s also the heartwarming moments. And funny ones.

The story is sometimes predictable, but there are curveballs thrown at you that I totally didn’t expect. It was nice there was a good mix of both. I appreciated it.

Perhaps my favorite character was Ah-Kee, the Chinese boy John meets along the way. I don’t feel he got his due in the book. I find it hard to imagine he didn’t learn a word of English from John or John a word of Chinese. One always picks up a word here and there. I would have liked to have read more about Ah-Kee.

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I’ve always been a fan of autobiographies and biographies. I remember going through the shelves at the library and pulling out this and that. I read about Jacques Cousteau and how he invented scuba diving (I was positively stoked when I met his grandson, Phillipe.) I read how Werner Van Braun transferred his rocket research from the war to space (it turned out my aunt’s father worked with him. What a small world this is). I read about the forerunners of detectives in a book about Vidoq. The books I read went into so much detail about their lives and had me fascinated.

It was a bit of disappointment when I went through the library at the high school and found most of the biographies were focused on facts and the things students need to write a report. Which, really, is what  students want for them to do. Grab a book, write the report, and that’s it. Now, with the Internet, they get a snapshot of the person’s life, the facts. Birth. Accomplishments. Blah. Blah.

How can you get to know a person that way? Cousteau’s autobiography drew me right in, giving me insights on the sea, making me appreciate the ocean wildlife within. Vidoq’s biography let me know he was kind of a jerk. The other types of books, the kinds my students went for, didn’t allow for that.

A pity.

When I purchased books for the library I tried to balance the collection. I got the fact based kind of nonfiction of major current popular and important people, but I also the ‘story’ kind of sports figures or from authors who I knew would draw the kids in. Walter Dean Myers wrote a few. Russell Freedman is fantastic. And he includes plenty of photographs, always a plus.

Every now and then I get one I think the kids might enjoy, of someone not famous, but will catch their attention. I had a book about a teacher that was popular. The girls liked the drama going on it.

Who knew, maybe I got one of them to read other biographies just for fun.

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Ian Ian Sheepface limped. He had foot rot and a huge crack ran across his hoof. It was a life and death situation. The damp of the grass blades didn’t help. ‘Me leg is going to fall off,” he bleated.

That was the beginning of my most exciting sheep story. A story should be exciting and have a hook. How was I supposed to know Angus and his sheep friends like boring books. I had to revise it. A lot.

Ian Ian Sheepface frolicked across the pasture. His hooves sparkled and shone. It was a fun day. The grass tasted good and he partook of it as he skipped to work. ‘Me legs feel bouncy,’ he bleated.

That was my second attempt. Angus didn’t like the name of my main character. He said mini-sheep do not ‘frolic’ on their way to work. Work is serious business and no sheep has ever said their legs felt bouncy.

Ian trudged from his croft to his workplace . His hooves had been gone over with care the night before. It was foggy, but the day would get clear soon. Since he had breakfast in his croft, he didn’t sample the grass. ‘Baa,’ he bleated.

“How’s that?” I asked.

“Horrible. Which Ian do you write about?” Angus.

“It’s a make believe Ian.” Me.

“I know several Ians. Sheep and non-sheep. The farmer’s dog’s pup is Ian. I don’t like him. He chased me across the pasture.” Angus.

I made a note to change the name of the sheep. “Liam? Billy? Buddy?” It occurs to me I don’t know a lot of Scottish names. “Rory?”

“What are ye blithering on about? It’s a bad story. Leave it to others.”

I wasn’t going to stop so easy. I happen to think I write real well.

“Rory walked to work. He walked through the pasture and the lush, green, tasty grass. Baa.”

“Which Rory did you write about? I have an Uncle Rory. If you write about grass you need more details. Taste, sensory details. Texture. Type of grass. Better not write of it at all.”

So I didn’t and this is my final take.

The mini-sheep went to work.

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It’s off to Washington, DC for Wyatt Palmer and his classmates. It doesn’t start well. His best friend, who Wyatt calls an idiot, thinks the people behind them are terrorists. It gets worse from there.

The main thing Wyatt wanted to do on the trip was try to talk to Suzana, to let her know he was a cool guy and when, if, she dumps her current boyfriend, J.P., he’s there to take his place.

Instead, he’s almost arrested and sent home. He’s in a whole world of trouble.

 

I’ve always liked Dave Barry, who writes humor books and articles (he’s a Pulitzer Prize winner). I didn’t know he wrote children’s books. Sure glad I picked this up. This is a nice take on what could go wrong on a class trip and written with typical boy humor (it includes farts). There’s plenty of action as Wyatt and his friends try to stop what they believe is an attack on the White House.

It’s a quick read, written in an easy relaxed style that drew me in. I liked that it was in first person and didn’t mind when Wyatt talked to the reader (i.e. ‘did I mention my Mom’s Cuban?’). Usually that bugs me, it didn’t at all this time. In fact it added to the humor.

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‘Just end the thing’

I found that note scribbled on the last page of a story I wrote. I couldn’t let go of the characters. I wanted to keep writing about them, seven kids, but the tale was over. It was time to move on. It was hard. When I edit, I’ll have to rewrite the ending, wrap it up in a neat bow.

It’s hard ending a story. I don’t think it’s only me. Sometimes when I read a story, I find one that drags on a bit and usually I don’t mind. Or I’ll find one that ends too early for me. I do mind that. My mind can further the story, but I’d rather read more.

In some of my instances, my writing, I find that I’m not really going anywhere and am just writing it for me. When that happens I have to agonize on what exactly to write to make the ending sound satisfying not only for me, but for readers. Sometimes this means going back a few paragraphs, sometimes it’s a bit further. If I’m lucky, I’ll find I do have an ending somewhere. It just needs some polish. Other times it’s me rewriting the end, tying the loose ends, hoping I have them all.

Endings, they’re not always easy.

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