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I'm a writer and library worker who wears many hats. I believe a good book and a good piece of chocolate are the keys to a happy life.

Tuesday, September 30, 2008

Fall Fun and Challenges

I’m counting down to a self-imposed (or family-imposed depending on how you look at it) writing restriction. Soon the time available to get lost in my own little world will be very small. So, in honor of this restriction I will be throwing myself into my writing with a passion for the next month.

During the month of October I will be participating in my friend Tristi’s Book in a Month challenge. Yep, one whole book in a month. Well, okay maybe I’m going a little easier on myself since the book I have in mind is YA not adult, but it’s still going to be interesting. My goal is 50,000 words by midnight October 31st.

Wanna join me? I promise it’s a lot of fun. It’s also a pretty good excuse to consume massive amounts of chocolate and put off housework! (More on the housework thing later in October.)

My BIAM tracker will be posted toward the top of my side bar so you can watch my progress. Don’t let me slack off! After my recent WIP break-up I’ve found a wicked-cool idea that needs to get out of my brain. Strange part is, it wasn’t even a part of the back burner projects I was looking at, just an after thought on how I would treat a certain subject. I love it when that happens!

Hmmm, what kind of hint should I drop?

Let’s just say I’m going to be learning a lot about the gods and goddesses of ancient Egypt. Trust me, it will be cool. ;)

The only weird thing is I usually know what my working title is pretty quickly when I choose an idea- it becomes my “theme” so to speak about how I want people to look at the story. This time I haven’t been able to come up with anything as cool as the subject matter yet. So, some place along the line we’ll have to have a WIP-working-title unveiling party.

Here we go everybody—

Happy Fall and happy writing!

Monday, September 29, 2008

All Rain, No Mud by Sharon Larsen

Watching with baited breath as friends of mine struggled this past month with the forces of nature, made me think of a sweet little book on my shelf that has become one of my favorites. All Rain, No Mud: Simple Secrets for Happiness . . . Even on Rainy Days by Sharon Larsen is a classic.

Ok, I know you thought I was going to talk about an emergency preparedness title, didn’t you? J Nope, I’m happy to report that most members of the church whom I have heard from (or about) after the hurricanes had one thing in common. They were prepared. They took the prophet’s advice and heeded the dangers and warnings about the areas they lived in and could feel some measure of peace and security in the midst of a very big life storm.

Today, I’d like to talk about a different kind of emergency preparedness. See, in my opinion there are just times when life is one big, fat, emergency and somebody forgot to hand you one of those blaze orange life vests when you got on this crazy ride. Not all of us will face the same type of rain that my friends did in the hurricane, but there is still plenty of rain. Sometimes it’s just different and we don’t have much warning when it’s going to hit. To weather these kinds of storms requires just as much heed to the prophet. We all could do with a little more spiritual shoring up.

To me, Sharon Larsen is an expert on shoring up for life’s hazards and All Rain, No Mud is a wonderful book of heart-to-heart council and ponderings for many of us. It’s not thick; it’s not elaborate or scholarly. It’s sweet and simple, but it’s also poignant.

All Rain, No Mud gently points out that yes, rain will occur but it can lead to wonderful things. Each chapter takes just a few minutes of time to read, but it can take hours to ponder what the message means to you. Here are a few of the chapter titles and a few of my favorite thoughts from the text.

  • Doing in Love What I Love to Do
  • Reflections on Style and Substance
  • Second Best and Still Okay
  • Slow Growing

“Patience and perspective are inextricably connected. The amount of patience I need depends on whose tower I am viewing life from. . . There are times when I have been consumed with my own broken dreams and ready to quite or retaliate. I have felt unappreciated, hurt, and despitefully used. Then the Spirit whispers to me from yet another tower: ‘How many times have you taken from the Lord and never recognized His gifts? How many times has he carried your sorrows and pain and you have not understood? His love is extended all the day long. He may have to withhold blessings, but never, never His love.’”

And my personal favorite:

“I was visiting a dear friend whose common sense and insight I respect. I [told her how busy I was] and she listened patiently. Then she said, ‘It takes some kind of arrogance to think you can accomplish all those tasks with any kind of effectiveness.’

Arrogance! That word sent me home thinking. What was I doing with my life, and was I simply stroking my ego by taking on all the things I was trying to do? . . . Was my calendar being filled with my ego and insecurities or with honest priorities?”

Ok, maybe it’s just me but I’m terribly guilty of that last one. What my heart says and what my mind decides to do are often two very different things. If I’m honest with myself there are many days I fill my time up with things that are visible to others but don’t really matter toward developing myself into who I really want to be as a daughter of God. Considering the arrogance factor has been a great help to me when I’m feeling overwhelmed. Am I trying to be “somebody”, or am I trying to be me?

Is it raining at your house? It’s been raining a lot at my house lately, too. If you could use a dear friend to teach you about walking in the rain, pick up All Rain, No Mud. It will do your muddy heart some good.

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Friday, September 26, 2008

LDS Books for Those with Special Needs Children

Maybe having information on these precious children constantly on my radar seems a little strange to some. For the most part this occurs because I have a special needs child and because of my background as a nurse. So, strange or not, here we go again. Indulge me while I explore a set of fiction titles by LDS authors, based on the trials and joys involved with those whom Heavenly Father gives special gifts and special needs all in one innocent little bundle.

Faraway Child by Amy Maida Wadsworth- This was the first LDS book I ever read that addressed autism. I liked it. I really liked it. Yes, the mother was a little whinny to me, but during the time Faraway Child was written, there was very little understanding in the general public about what this experience was like for the parents. Aside from adoring the child, for the sheer sake that I see my own child in her, my favorite character has to be the crusty old Primary teacher they call to work one-on-one with the child. She is a woman after my own heart. Yes, I too have responded to a bishop with, “Haven’t I ever told you I really don’t like kids?” (That’s and entirely different story.)

Keeping Keller by Tracy Winegar- I loved this story about a little autistic boy in an age when autism was simply seen as mental retardation and “imperfect” children were most often removed from public view. I really related to this powerful story. As the back of the book implies: “Keller is a force to be reckoned with” in more ways than one. Keeping Keller is also not specific to the LDS culture, it is a powerful tale for anyone who faces these challenges or needs to understand them better. Kudos to the author, who has two ASD children herself.

Accepting Joy by Todd F. Cope- Eh, it was okay. This is a short book about learning to accept a down syndrome diagnosis. Perhaps because it was written by a man, the husband seems to be the main focus. I never felt like I got to know the mother beyond her fears about her baby (which instantly seemed to resolve themselves), there seemed to be very little else to her personality. While I know that these types of worries are all consuming, I would have connected better with her if I’d found other things to relate to before the stress began. The financial back story also bothered me. I could get little hints on what this was about and how the author tried to use it as an example of ways to cope with horrid amounts of stress and trial; but, it was actually distracting to know there was some sort of story I was coming in on after the fact. There might have been better ways to accomplish having experiences from others to draw on than this. Accepting Joy’s over-riding message: life’s all about choices— what we choose to accept and find joy in and what we do not. The story is also appropriate for both members of the LDS church and the general population.

Sammy’s Song by Alma J. Yates- I have to put this title at the bottom of my list, but it is purely because of opinion. The writing and story line in this book about a young girl learning to accept her mentally handicapped cousin, is pretty good. But for whatever reason I found the main character and the plot development abrasive to me personally. Maybe I was just having an “off” day when I read it, but it just didn’t speak to me the way some of the other titles have.

You Always Call Me Princess by David Ted Eyre- This is a story that explores down syndrome from a broader perspective than the initial diagnosis. You get to see what kind of person that tiny child can become and it’s a beautiful thing. I haven’t personally been able to read this title. I found out about it when a friend of mine, Shirley Bahlmann reviewed it on her blog. You can read her thoughts on You Always Call Me Princess, here.

Of course, as always, I’m just one reader sharing her opinions. I’d love to hear how any one else felt about these titles, or about any LDS books on the subject that I’ve overlooked. Let me know what you think.

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Monday, September 22, 2008

Don’t You Marry the Mormon Boys by Janet Kay Jensen

What was the first thing to attract me to Don’t You Marry the Mormon Boys by Janet Kay Jensen? The title, of course.

Take a moment to view the book trailer for Don’t You Marry the Mormon Boys, and get a feel for what’s it’s about.

(I just love these new book trailers, don’t you?) :)

This story, the over-riding premise of drawing the distinction between the LDS (or Mormon) culture and other cultures that still practice polygamy, was very much needed. But, given the subject matter I assume that persuading a publisher to take a chance on Ms. Jensen’s book was a difficult task. I have to commend Janet, and her publisher, for the sheer fact that this book exists. Despite the small stumbles I experienced, I have to say I really was hooked on it.

The beginning of Don’t You Marry the Mormon Boys felt a little rough, there are a lot of flashbacks that can add or take away from the story. For me, their frequency tended toward distracting. It also really seemed to me that I was reading two, well if you count the flashbacks, three different stories. They were very, very good stories, but they definitely could have held their own separately. They all felt kind of mashed together to me.

I thought I was done when the main characters finally resolved their relationship issues and was almost a little surprised to see that the text continued. It was fun to see things play out for a while after that first resolution, but I was slightly bored and wondered how many loose ends the author was going to tie up so neatly for us.

Thankfully, that didn’t last long either. Just like the slightly slow beginning of the book, the middle soon turned to more pressing issues; in fact, these issues were much more pressing than the first ones. I was soon caught up in a whirlwind of literary emotions once again. I have decided that getting several books mashed into one means that I don’t have to wait for the next book in the series to find out what happens to the characters I’ve come to love. :)

Janet does a great job of showing the reader that there is good and bad in any family situation and that there are very few assumptions we can make about our fellow human beings. In fact, I’d say the only safe one is child of God; the rest is up to us individually.

One message that stood out for me may not have been one Ms. Jensen intended. As I observed Joshua Martin struggle with the decisions and obstacles in his path it came to mind that there is a good reason for the commandment not to judge.

Decisions that have to do with your beliefs, your family, and their eternal welfare are probably the most difficult any of us will ever have to make. The things you love the most can hold the most uncertainty when you have to put it all on the line. What is right for one is not necessarily right for another, nor do we ever fully realize what has gone into the decisions and paths another may take.

Do not judge. Raising your own family is difficult enough without comparing or condemning those around you for their own tough choices. The things that go on in any family, polygamist or not, are the same: there are families where love, concern, and support abound and there are families full of pain.

If you know of someone who might not fully understand the LDS religion, or how to separate it from everything in the media, this is a good, non-threatening way to help them understand what the differences are and how they affect our lives. This book is definitely making an impact. People are noticing it on an international level. Among the honors Don’t You Marry the Mormon Boys can claim are:

First Runner-Up, Best New Writing: The Eric Hoffer Award for Independent books (commercial fiction)

Finalist, USA Best Books 2007, (Religious Fiction)

Bronze Award, Foreword Magazine’s Book of the Year Award (Religious Fiction)

Semi-Finalist, Reader Views Literary Awards 2007 (Fiction-Religion/Spirituality)

Whitney Award Nominee for LDS authors

Well, done Janet. I hope others learn from Ms. Jensen’s example and aren’t afraid to address tough issues in the future. We can not learn from each other, or from past mistakes, if no one is willing to talk about them in a comfortable environment. For many that comfortable environment is a work of fiction. Fiction, yes, but still a very powerful tool in educating and changing lives— starting with your own.

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Friday, September 19, 2008

Her Good Name by Josi S. Kilpack

Today, I’m officially a little freaked out. I’ve talked before about Josi Kilpack’s tendency to fearlessly tackle some of life’s toughest “issues” in her writing. Now, she’s done it again. This time it’s about identity theft and I must admit that Her Good Name has done more to get my attention about the whole issue than all the other news articles and information sheets have.

If you have now begun rolling your eyes and saying, “Yeah, yeah, identity theft. I’ve heard it all.” I’d recommend giving the fictional approach of Her Good Name by Josi S. Kilpack a try. You might find it refreshing. It might become a little more meaningful to spend a little time vicariously living the life of someone who is experiencing the stress and pain of a very realistic scenario.

Here’s what I was pleased to find: aside from subtly teaching me the ins and outs of protecting myself financially, it was a really good story! Her Good Name kept me turning pages even when I shouldn’t be reading at all, and definitely kept me absorbed way longer than any other information about identity theft that I’ve tried to wrap my head around. Yes, I wanted to kick Chrissy, the main character, for being so stubborn toward the end and getting herself into even more trouble. But hey, that’s what becoming involved in a story is supposed to do to you.

I am of two minds, however, on one point: I can’t decide if I liked knowing what the thief was actually doing under Chrissy’s name or not. The story follows each of the characters, good and bad, chronologically. You know that Chrissy’s identity has been stolen long before she does, but you also know exactly how it’s being used the entire time you’re following Chrissy’s traumatic adventure. Part of me liked being able to get into the other person’s head, but part of me would have liked to stay in the dark about what was happening to her money until Chrissy began to figure it out. Hmmm. That one you’ll have to judge for yourself.

I do have to say that giving us an in-depth look into the bad guy’s life is part of Josi’s M.O. She does the same thing with the 2007 Whitney Award winner Sheep’s Clothing, her book on internet safety and child abduction. I think that she has a very good reason for it. One of the biggest purposes Josi has with her books really does have to do with helping her readers understand real-life situations and dangers. You can’t always do that if you have no idea how the guy trying to steal your child, or your identity, thinks. Though many, many people really liked Sheep’s Clothing, I had trouble getting through it. (See, I really am peculiar) Because Josi did want us to understand the personalities and thoughts of these people so we could understand their tactics in real life, the characters felt awkward to me— almost too cliché. I can overlook my own weird response however, because the scenario itself does ring true. It is still a powerful story for what it can teach any parent or child about internet predators.

I’m happy to say that I didn’t have the same weird problem with Her Good Name. I love Chrissy’s personality and definition. She is vibrant and full of life, someone I’d really like to know, not just observe in the pages of a book. All the characters felt more real to me personally. I think Josi’s awesome talent truly shines with Her Good Name. I would not be surprised at all to see Her Good Name become a 2008 Whitney Award finalist, so watch for it to see if I’m right.

Because it is so important to Josi that her readers walk away from her books with more than just entertainment, you’ll also find a few pages of information and suggestions at the end of Her Good Name on how to get started protecting yourself a little better.

I certainly wouldn’t like to see anyone go through this, but it is very eye opening to walk in Chrissy’s heels for a while. Read the book, then go change your passwords!

You can get a closer look at Her Good Name on Josi's website as well.

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Wednesday, September 17, 2008

Breaking Up with My WIP

Yes, I’m afraid if something doesn’t drastically change, I’m going to have to break up with my WIP. We took a nice long break while I got ahead on some other deadlines and wrote the Sharing Through Song manuscript. I really was excited to get back to it, but then reality started to set in yesterday.

It’s still a really good story, it’s still a story I’d love to tell, but I began to realize that I don’t think it’s the story I’m supposed to be telling right now. Either that or I’m not telling it right.

Something is off. I’m forcing the plot to conform to the story line and that’s compromising the believability. It would definitely work in another time or place, but not where I “need” it to.

So, at just under 11,000 words I think I’m going to break the ties that bind me to my current WIP. I don’t think it’s gone forever, maybe somewhere down the line I’ll be able to fix the story and create what I’d originally hoped to express. In the mean time, I think I’m going to have to start dating projects that have been on the backburner for a while. Some of them have been there so long that I’m sure trying to court them will feel more like a blind date than a friendly re-acquaintance. Still, a girl’s got to try. Somewhere out there is a manuscript that needs me desperately. I simply can’t live on nonfiction alone. :)

Monday, September 15, 2008

Skipping All the Way to the Presses

Happy Printing Day everybody! There is a minor celebration going on in my head today because Sharing Through Song: My Eternal Family goes to press today. Hooray!

This year was pretty tough with some very tight deadlines and unexpected challenges, but my editors and I have been working our tails off to make sure we gave you awesome content. Here's hoping that it all worked.

Now back to my regularly scheduled writing projects. :)

Sunday, September 14, 2008

The Santa Letters by Stacy Gooch-Anderson

Talk about receiving a wonderful early Christmas gift, I just got one. I’ve been privileged to review The Santa Letters by Stacy Gooch-Anderson, and it really was a treat to do so. Here is a set of messages we all need to reflect on during the Christmas seasons, presented in a sweet and endearing way.

Take a moment to view this beautiful book trailer that portrays the heart of this book’s premise and message.

Did you catch the spirit of the messages this book contains? They really are beautiful and timely. No, the basic gospel themes aren’t really all that new and original. In fact, I can guarantee you have heard them before in many different Sunday School and Relief Society lessons, but I think you’ll “listen” a little more attentively this time. There is nothing here but a sense of love and a desire for everyone to know the peace of gospel truths at Christmas, or any time of the year.

The Santa Letters are all about healing and remembering the many blessings we each enjoy, whether they readily occur to us or not. Each “Santa” letter comes with a bit of inspiration, a bit of advice on how to understand the joys of life better, a bit of the gospel, and a lot of Christ-like love. They all work together to form an uplifting experience for anyone who might be feeling a little overwhelmed. I’d put it on the must read list for most of us, if only for the letters themselves. If your children are a little bit older, The Santa Letters might also be a great read-aloud kick off for your own family’s Christmas season.

There are times when the characters feel less than real to me, and times that the writing lacks the smooth, poetic flow that I appreciate with the type of poignant message The Santa Letters contains, but all-in-all it’s a very sweet book for a first time novelist. You can find Stacey’s own account of the inspiration behind this book and sample the first chapter on her website www.thesantaletters.org. (Word to the wise, however, mute your sound while browsing. The background musical flourish was a nice touch when I opened the site but not so much after it kept repeating every few seconds!)

As many of us start to look toward finding the Christmas spirit, I pray we can take a little of The Santa Letters into our own hearts and lives. We all need more McKennas and Santas in our lives. Who can you be for someone else this year?

My suggestion: buy a bunch of copies and you’ve got an instant Christmas present appropriate for almost anyone on your list. Need to do a little more than just a book? Go through and find the topic of each letter, wrap a small gift for each topic to include with the books and instructions to read the book together, opening their own gifts after reading that specific letter. Plus, the story, “A Strange Visit” that the book mentioned being given to the family is included in the back of the book for you, as well as a few ideas for simple goodie bags. Need more help? Then visit the Santa Letter Shop on Stacy’s site. You’ll find downloadable Santa letters to start you on your way.

There. Christmas is all done. You can thank me by sending massive amounts of chocolate. Errr, maybe you should send Stacy Gooch-Anderson the chocolate instead. After all, they are her words and thoughts that can touch just about any heart.

Stacy is on virtual book tour this month, promoting The Santa Letters. You can check in on her progress and say “hi” from here.

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Friday, September 12, 2008

My Dear Sisters: Inspiration for Women from Gordon B. Hinckley

I have recently decided that I need a whole lot of clear wall space to hang pictures on. No, I haven’t suddenly gotten motivated to go through my boxes of family photos. I’ve simply gotten out one of my favorite books again. My Dear Sisters by Gordon B. Hinckley is a little different from most of the books I talk about here. It’s what I would refer to as a coffee table book, and a book of inspirational thoughts. It’s simple, straight forward and very short. Perfect for those of us who are easily distracted or interrupted.

You can read the entire book straight through in the amount of time it would take to eat a peanut butter and jelly sandwich; but, it will take you months, even years to fully absorb its messages. Working to absorb the messages has been my quest of late. My Dear Sisters is a beautiful book, both in message and appearance. I like to pull it out when my spirit needs a simple lift. You can open to just about any page and find something your heart needs to hear coupled with an elegant illustration that speaks volumes of its own. I love these few quiet moments when I leaf through its pages, but I’ve decided I need something more.

Here’s my plan. I’d like to have multiple copies of My Dear Sisters that I can cut apart. Don’t panic, I know that sounds like sacrilege to some of you, but hear me out. I’d like to take all of those pages and couple them in matted frames for two pictures. I’d like to take those beautiful illustrations and their accompanying devotionals and hang them on my wall. I’d like to walk down a hall or around a room and find myself surrounded by President Hinckley, and my Father in Heaven’s love for me. I can think of no better way to create a sacred space for myself. I want a place that speaks to my heart and the nature of who I am and want to be. This book does that for me, but it’s a little hard to keep it propped open somewhere to just the right page for the day or week.

There are some messages that repeat themselves, with a slightly different angle, and I sometimes think they might have put the book together in an order where the “themes” all appear in the same place. Then again, there are just as many times when I’m glad they don’t appear quite so sequentially. I like the randomness of just wandering through its pages “talking” with the prophet and his dear wife about whatever strikes our fancy and interest. My Dear Sisters is that kind of experience. I think the cover depicts its quality and potential perfectly. It reminds me of quiet moments when I’ve been able to wander in a favorite garden. It carries a peace and aroma of love that permeate your every cell and fiber. Then sometimes, every once in a while, you stop to take a closer look at a particular blossom, petal or pattern. You feel the textures under your fingers and pick out that one particular scent from all the rest, then straighten back up filled with joy for just being alive and realizing how many beautiful gifts Heavenly Father has given each us. Reading My Dear Sisters is walking through a garden of blessing that Heavenly Father reserves just for His daughters. Each time you walk through its pages, you’ll likely stop to appreciate a different blossom of inspiration, but it will always be the message Heavenly Father most needs you to hear at that time.

So, I’ve decided I want to literally walk through the pages. I want them to catch my eye as I move about my home. I want them to become so second nature that they become part of my thoughts as I wake and part of my dreams as I sleep. Do you think there is a wall big enough in my home to hang all these pictures on? Would it work if I just kept one frame by my desk and changed out the picture and message as I needed? Well, maybe not, but my walls might thank me for it.

Does My Dear Sisters come in screen saver form?

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Monday, September 8, 2008

Tuesdays With Morrie by Mitch Albom

I just made a new friend. Well, okay, I’ve never really met him, nor will I be able to anytime soon. I value his friendship just the same. Morrie is the kind of best friend everyone should have. Yep. I finally got around to spending my Tuesdays with Morrie.

Tuesdays with Morrie: An Old Man, a Young Man, and Life's Greatest Lesson by Mitch Albom was a national best-seller several years ago, but like most things popular in the national market, I eyed it with suspicion and stuck to my already lengthy list of books to read. I’m sure if I would have paid closer attention to what the “critics” were saying about Tuesdays with Morrie, I might have actually read it then; but, I’ve tried a few of those so called inspiring titles and found many of their messages significantly lacking in inspiration or even good writing in some cases.

What changed? Well, let’s call it audio book deprivation. See, my addiction to books is both rampant and well defined. I simply must have books available to me no matter where I am or what I’m doing. This means driving, exercising, doing (ugggh) house work, relaxing, you name it. Some of these times are very dangerous to bring an actual book into; in fact it may actually be illegal in some states. So, I use audio books. Now, some people don’t like audio books and I will admit that there have been a few that I simply haven’t been able to stand the voice of the narrator or their interpretation of the story. However, on the whole I can add a few more books a week by being able to listen when my hands and eyes are otherwise occupied.

I discovered audio books when my first two children became old enough to argue over who got to choose the radio station in the car. Viola! No more arguments. Well, maybe a few times when they didn’t want to get back out of the car before the chapter was over but that’s another issue. I found listening kept my mind occupied enough to keep it off of other unpleasantries as well. It’s been good for me and I love it.

Now back to my Morrie story.

I was suffering audio book withdrawal, and needed to make a trip to the library. Enter the problem. The library I had to visit that particular day makes no distinction in what reading group an audio book is most appropriate for. You have to go through title by title to find things or know exactly what you want to pick it out immediately. I had a whole afternoon, so I browsed. Enter Morrie. I shrugged and put him in my library bag figuring it couldn’t hurt. I had no idea how uplifting it could be.

No, the messages aren’t that unique, but their presentation is very effective. This is an account of actual events passing between a dying man and his one-time student. It’s very interesting to hear the perspectives of life given by a man who knows his days are limited. It is not death he fears, but rather passing on without helping others understand that if you’ve lived a good life there’s really nothing to fear.

What matters in life? Like many of us suspect, it has very little to do with what the world tells us matters. In Morrie’s opinion it all boils down to love. I’ll let him explain it more, but Morrie and Mitch discuss every aspect of life: health, love, children, dying, work, money, you name it. His insights are the gentle whisperings are familiar, but they feel like they’re coming from a beloved friend or wise grandparent sitting across from us, patting our hand and saying, “It’s all right. You can stretch beyond the world’s opinions and be who you really want to be.”

I would highly recommend spending a few days with Morrie yourself. Yes, you’ll have to censor his language on approximately three occasions, but it is very forgivable. In fact, I recommend getting your hands on the audio if you can. Even if you’re not an audio book person, there is an extra treat at the end. After listening to Morrie’s story read by Mitch Albom, you get to hear portions of the actual recorded conversations between the two men. Hearing those sweet words of wisdom from Morrie’s own lips was my favorite part of the book. In this case, the hype was well deserved in my humble opinion. Tuesdays with Morrie by Mitch Albom is definitely worth the read, or if you can, the listen.

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Friday, September 5, 2008

Chickens in the Headlights by Matthew Buckley

To be fair, since I spent some time talking about favorite books from the national market (I could go on for days about that), today I’ll touch on one set of LDS books for young readers.

Chickens in the Headlights by Matthew Buckley is quite possibly one of the funniest LDS books for children that I’ve read. I love it even more for the fact that good LDS literature for children is a rarity. It seems it’s rather hard to compete with the national market for a child’s reading attention and the parent’s spending dollars. The smaller LDS publishers just can’t offer books as cheaply as the national books can be offered. I’m sure there are plenty of us that hunger for more titles like this, but in reality would you rather pay $5 for a book from their school book club paper or $15 from the local LDS bookstore? Many of us would like to say the gospel messages and content we didn’t have to worry about would be worth the extra $10, but in actuality how many times is your wallet truly able to make that choice? Because it is not an easy thing to do, I applaud Matthew for getting Covenant to take a chance on his “fun in an LDS setting” book for children (and their parents, too).

I bought Chickens in the Headlights shortly after it came out as a result of a marathon book signing weekend of my own. After spending two days staring at that cover and hearing different store employees repeat over and over again how hard they laughed, I just had to get my grubby hands on it. Home it went in my extra piece of luggage I always bring along for the sheer purpose of filling it with LDS books. J

It was one of the first titles from the trip that I read. (See the above about falling in love with the cover.) I read it in one night. My husband began to wonder what was wrong with me— I’d alternately burst out in laughter, cry, and turn purple from trying not to laugh some more. I finally took the book downstairs so he could actually sleep. I also let my neighbor, who is not LDS, read this one. She was laughing so hard she ended up having to read it out loud for her own husband and child.

I waited a while longer to get Bullies in the Headlights. Oh, I was excited to get that one in my hands, too. But, I also have this thing about having at least one book by each of my friends on my shelf that is actually signed by the author. I figure when I die, my posterity can look through my book collection and say, “Wow, look at all the famous people grandma knew!” That’s another story all together. Needless to say, I brought Bullies home in my “book” bag from the next LDStorymakers conference, complete with author signature.

I’ve read both Chickens in the Headlights and Bullies in the Headlights by Matthew Buckley aloud to my boys (7 and 9) and it was a treat to do so. I must admit however that of the two, we much preferred Chickens to Bullies. I can’t answer for my children, but for me the main difference seemed to be in the boldness of the “message” or moral of the story. See, in Chickens in the Headlights you learn a lot of valuable lessons about finding joy in life and the blessings of family, but most of the time you don’t really know you’re learning them. It’s clear, but subtly woven in with antics that will leave you in stitches. Bullies in the Headlights isn’t quite so subtle. Oh, yes, there are still very funny parts and the storyline is still very true to what young boys would be thinking and doing, but this time the main character is actively looking for the “moral of the story”. The character version of the author is nagged by a sneaking suspicion that bullying bullies isn’t exactly Christ-like and goes looking for ways to both answer his questions and justify his own answers. ( BTW— One of the places he turns is a Primary teacher that I would absolutely love to hug for his atypical, but loving, characteristics.) It is a really great message, but my boys wanted to spend less time pontificating the realities of “should I or shouldn’t I”. They just wanted to hear more about chicken armpits.

Okay, are you ready for the really fun part? Mr. Buckley recently got permission to provide a free audio version of Chickens in the Headlights! Yippeee! So, if you’re not able to get your hands on a printed copy right away, go to Matthew’s website, http://chickenarmpits.com and listen. It will brighten you’re whole day.

Want more? Matthew Buckley has another free audio book available, also very giggle worthy, but made for general youth audiences not just LDS kids. You can listen to Matthew read this fun story at http://thesupertrio.com. Happy listening!

Return to the Neighborhood

Monday, September 1, 2008

Teen Books That I Love

I am an avid children and YA reader when it comes to the national market. I will very rarely venture into the adult fiction section because I know that I can’t trust 95% of what’s over there not to cause my eyeballs to burn right out of their sockets. In contrast, I can trust about 50% of the stuff I pull from the kid and teen sections of the library. It used to be a lot higher than that but the teen stuff has really gone downhill in recent years.

For me, walking into the children’s and teen sections of a library or bookstore is a truly drool worthy exercise in euphoria. Some day I’m going to devise the ultimate scheme which will let me park myself in front of those shelves and never move again.

Ok, I could figure out a way to buy them or check them out, but then I’d have to lug them home. I’m running out of room for books as it is.

I could go on, but suffice it to say that this is one of my favorite places to be. It can only be trumped by my Utah and Arizona trips that find me walking through the door of an LDS bookstore. That’s only because it is a more decadent treat that I can’t get my hands on every day.

So, today I’d like to tell you about a set of thought provoking titles I love. While not LDS, these books manage to deal with serious issues in real world ways without being crude or offensive. Some of these are considered younger than YA, but I’m grouping all teen reads together here. (They’re not in any particular order, I’m just rambling) ;)

Rules by Cynthia Lord

This book deals with autism from the perspective of a teenage sibling rather than the parent. It’s fun, realistic, enlightening and uplifting.

Al Capone Does My Shirts by Gennifer Choldenko

Another autism title from the sibling’s perspective, this one occurs in an era when autism was not understood or even remotely socially acceptable.

The First Part Last by Angela Johnson

This has a little bit of language in it but it’s definitely controllable with your trusty marker. It tells the story of teen pregnancy and parenthood from the teenage father’s perspective. Aside from the obvious, it deals with very serious natural consequences. You get to see how the father mourns for the loss of his carefree life while still stepping up to the plate and sacrificing his desires to give his child the best he can. Yes, most boys never reach that marker of responsibility. This boy didn’t want to either, but he did.

Missing May by Cynthia Rylant

What a sweet look at the mourning process.

Drums, Girls and Dangerous Pie by Jordan Sonnenblick

A heartwarming look at the grief and challenges of leukemia from the older brother’s view point.

The Earth, My Butt, and Other Big Round Things by Carolyn Mackler

This one does carry a black marker alert (for occasional use only) but if you’ve ever needed to understand the self-esteem issues associated with being overweight this is a good place to start. There is another issue going on here that is pretty serious as well—the older brother is accused of date rape. Unfortunately, both are far more common than my heart wants to admit but this book handles each with more tact and maturity than most of the very worldly YA books on the subject.

Other YA titles with lighter, but still great messages

Deliver Us from Normal by Kate Klise

Ah, bunnies and trying to figure out how to fit in. Kids can be very hard on each other, even cruel. Don’t we all wish we could fix (or escape) that sometimes?

It’s a Mall World After All by Janette Rallison.

Though most would consider this a lighter title, I have to include it because of the main character. Ok, she’s a bit of a flake (most teenagers are) but her basic personality is one who truly loves people. She wants to help and serve them any way she can, even when it’s not popular with her classmates.

The View from Saturday by E. L. Konigsburg

Here are four children who honor their handicapped teacher by winning academic contest.

Donuthead by Sue Stauffacher

Donuthead is one extremely serious and seriously funny little kid who learns to open his heart to an outcast and misunderstood classmate.

Death by Eggplant by Susan Heyboer O'Keefe.

I fell in love with this 8th grade boy who has eccentric parents and wants to be a chef. But, he’s is afraid of the criticism and alienation that might cause among his classmates.

Surviving the Applewhites by Stephanie S. Tolan.

The epitome of eccentricities surround this unschooling family as they invite a wayward and “troubled” teen to join their family and find his way into belonging. Their daughter also learns that unique and different can be a good thing and that everybody has value and a place in a family.

So there you have it, a completely random list of books for older children that I’ve loved reading. I’ll do a list for younger children on down the line, I promise. Right now I think it might be time for another run to the library. . . .

Return to the Neighborhood