The Resilient Gardener and Lana Del Rey

Title: The Resilient Gardener
Author: Carol Deppe
Year Published: 2010
Rating: 3 1/2 stars
Ages: Adult Non-Fiction Gardening Book
Format: read eBook on Kindle for Droid

The Resilient Gardener is a in-depth how to guide on growing enough food to survive on during difficult conditions.  Since Carol Deppe lives in Oregon, near Portland, her focus is on growing food in that area.  Though I live on the east coast and am a total beginner gardener, The Resilient Gardener was a good big-picture look into what's possible in gardening during hard times.  Deppe chooses five main crops that she can survive off of: squash, beans, potatoes, corn, and ducks.  She has a gluten-sensitivity so that's part of why she chooses these crops, but she goes through the other reasons too.  The crops make up a balanced diet, are fairly easy to grow, grow well in her area, etc.  Her book gives an overview of basic gardening tips, how to garden if you don't own land, how to save seeds, how to breed hardier plants, how to prevent devastating die offs in your garden, how to harvest and store the food, and even how to cook each of these crops.  It's a good in-depth explanation of everything gardening has to offer.

Lana Del Rey, Born to Die [2012] (4 stars)
Apparently there's a bit of a dust up on the Internet over Lana Del Rey.  I haven't been interested enough in it to read why and know almost nothing about Lana Del Rey.  I do like her album though. It's full of lush, sultry verses about lost women and girls who seem to survive by being the girlfriends of difficult men.  There's an old-fashioned feel to her songs, mixed with a modern rhythm, and a lovely dream-like quality.

The women in Del Rey's songs remind me of the many women who seemed to be trapped in emotionally abusive relationships during the 50s and 60s, when women weren't allowed to make a living for themselves.  I have no idea if this is Lana Del Rey's intent or not, but in a time where Republicans are trying to force women back to this indentured state, it's interesting to listen to songs about the hard life of women who are dependent on men.  The songs aren't so much about these women as they are song by the woman.  She is treated as a person in her own right with her own logical feelings, but the sadness of her circumstances still comes through in the haunting dream-like verses.

Reaching Out to Relunctant Readers and The Three Levels of Middle Grade Novels

Lately I've been researching middle grade book blogs.  Here are two links that seemed especially useful.

Reaching Out to Reluctant and Struggling Readers

This excellent post by Paul Greci from the blog, Project Mayhem, gives 13 tips for teachers on how turn reluctant students into avid readers.

His main points are:
1. Read aloud to them
2. Have a lot of books around
3. Talk up the books
4. Give the student/child time and space specifically made for reading
5. Don't micromanage what they read
6. Make reading time pleasurable instead of making it homework.

 Check out the wonderful whole list here.

The Three Levels of Middle Grade Novels

What does the term, "Middle Grade Novel", mean?  Good question! Middle grade novel is an awfully vague and confusing term.

  In this video  book agent, Kristen Nelson, talks about the three levels of middle grade novels: early reader chapter books, middle grade novels or chapter books for 9-year-olds and up, and upper-level middle grade novels. 

She explains what ages or grades each level is aimed at and gives an example for each level as well.  It's helpful information not only for writers but also for teachers and parents too.

Check out her video and post here
Or check out the just the video on You Tube here.

The Book Thief and Whose Side Are You On?

Title: The Book Thief
Author: Markus Zusak
Year Published: 2006
Rating: 4 stars
Ages: 14 and up
Format: Listened to audiobook on mp3 player from

A twelve-year-old girl in World War II Germany starts her life as a book thief when she arrives at the home of her new foster parents in a suburb of Munich. This is a lovely tale about regular life and how it exists even during war.  I had heard a lot of enthusiastic reviews about how this book would blow my mind.  I think it's easy for a story to get overpraised once it's been out for a while. While the story didn't blow my mind — like it seemed to do for some of my friends and family — I still enjoyed this sweet story a lot.

Ani Di Franco, Which Side Are You On? (4 stars) [2012] – Ani Di Franco's new album combines of all things I liked about her previous albums with an added maturity and wisdom.  The title song, "Which Side Are You On?" is a rousing battle cry to inspire the regular people trying to defend ourselves in the class war and culture war the right has been waging on the 99% for the past 30 years.  Her quieter songs like, "Promiscuity", are full of sage advice about why sex and relationships are good and what they have to teach you. Like her previous albums, this one comforted me, entertained me, and inspired me.

Rowena Eureka Goes To New York

Life – I went to the Society of Children's Book Writers and Illustrators (SCBWI) Conference in New York City a couple weeks ago. Since the conference I've struggled with a flood of writing assignments, plus I got some wicked cold virus that came with its own fever, chills, and sweats.  I've finally finished my writing assignments and am starting to feel healthier too.  Yay! (PS- I'm taking an excellent online writing course right now.)

 The SCBWI Official Conference Blog has good summaries of the entire conference so I'm going to link to it (and a couple other sources) to list my favorite parts:

* Cheryl Klein, an executive editor at Scholastic, gave an excellent hour-long crash course on how to revise your novel.  Her blog and plot checklist will give you a good start on revising.  Now I want to read her book on revision because the hour went too fast for me.

* Katherine Erskine's speech on how to focus on writing was full of concrete ways to nurture creativity and make sure that turns into actual writing. 

* Jennifer Laughran was my favorite agent to speak at the conference.  Not only does she know the book world inside and out, she's funny too, and sharp, and she has her own blog.

*I got to meet and talk to my regional advisers –Edie Hemingway and Lois Szymanski– and was struck by not only how truly kind both of them are, but also how much writing and publishing experience they each have.  

*I went to the extra evening LGBTQ session as a spur of the moment decision and was glad I went.  It was a refreshingly fun and honest session, full of:  good writing information, friendly people, and a list of new books I now want to read.

* I was surprised how much I liked Cassandra Clare's speech about forbidden love and how to create satisfying love triangles.  It was partly because she used shows like: Buffy, The Vampire Diaries, and Felicity as examples, but I also liked her speech because she made a lot of good points. 

Clare explained that to have a real love triangle, as opposed to a love "V", all three parties have to have a relationship and connection with each other. She used the TV show, Felicity, as an example of a love "V" because the two guys Felicity likes– Ben and Noel– have no real relationship or connection to each other.  Her example of a true love triangle was from the TV show, The Vampire Diaries.  The fact that Damon and Stefan are brothers makes their love triangle with Elena all the more interesting because the audience cares about their relationship as much as they care about Elena and Stefan or Elena and Damon.

After Clare's speech, the SCBWI Co-President Lin Oliver pointed out that if you are writing Middle Grade fiction, you can use Clare's points on love triangles by exchanging the word love or romance for friendship.

The Underneath

Title: The Underneath
Author: Kathi Appelt
Year Published: 2008
Rating: 4 stars
For Ages: 9 years and up

An abandoned calico cat teams up with an abused dog to raise her kittens in rural Louisiana.  This lyrical story also features an abused man who has become a monster, the largest alligator in the bayou, and a mythical snakelike creature.  The story is about hardship, survival, and love.  It's one of those challenging stories with beautiful language and strong themes that lifts a child's understanding of literature to another level, but usually only if they have an adult supporting them through the story.  So, The Underneath would be a good choice for a classroom read aloud or family read with lots of discussion. The audiobook version is excellent. [I listened to the audiobook version through Audible books on my music player.]