How a Book Smells

I love how a book smells. I love that slightly dusty, dry papery smell mingled with the chemical odor of ink. Unfortunately that smell can often fade, but it’s in my memory.

Writers are encouraged to use smells in their books because when our brains read the description of the smells, our sensory areas light up just like we’re actually smelling the smells. Our brains can’t tell the difference between smelling with our noses, or reading about a smell that we know.

I do try to weave scents and smells into my stories, but only when they are appropriate. Recently I read a YA (young adult) book that I think was a tad heavy handed about incorporating smell data into the story.

 

Book Smells in A Cure for Dreaming

A Cure for Dreaming is a mix of humor and horror set in early 1900s Portland. A young girl is hypnotized in an attempt to remove her egalitarian views. There is some romance, parental tension, references to Dracula and a slight education on women’s equality and suffrage. I wanted to love the story, but I basically just enjoyed it.

What stuck out to me was that in every chapter, the author inserted an odor, scent or smell somewhat early. It was part of setting the scene but it also felt a little like checking a box. Maybe that’s not really a problem. I’m probably more picky than the average reader for this book. It really stood out to me as a task, not a story element.

Several smells appeared in the first sentences of the chapter.

Cigarette smoke and warring perfumes. How long until most readers are unfamiliar with cigarette smoke odor? Neither of these smells are very appealing.

book smells cigarette

“cigarette smoke…warring perfumes..smelled overcooked”

Food smells trigger not only our scent memories, but our appetites, too. Does your mouth water when you read this?

“smelling of chicken”

The smell of black coffee is unmistakeable and quite enjoyable in my smell collection.

book smells food

“poached eggs, black coffee and a touch of rosemary”

 

In later chapters, the smells appear after a few pages. Here we have that tingling dental office smell that often triggers fear in people. Did you get tense reading this?

book smells fear

“A sweet, antiseptic, and metallic potpourri”

And the smell of peppermint makes me think of Christmas. This book is set at Halloween. Maybe she should have referenced cinnamon.

book smells holiday

“peppermint-scented candies”

These three scents aren’t really familiar to modern day readers. The purpose here is to reference a society from a different time.

book smells historic

“Cologne and pomade and the scent of wool suits”

 

Reading How a Book Smells

So not only does the physical book smell, but the book has smells. As you read your next book, take note of the book smells that are mentioned and think about how they help set the scene, the time period, the mood. Or, just read the book.

Wild About Reading Books

We love reading books in this house. We also love reading books outside, on the bus, while we’re walking, and even in the parked minivan in the garage.

reading books

Van Reading

Graphic Novels

The book that has captured the attention of this van reader is a graphic novel in the Amulet series. He got book 4 in his Scholastic order, and the older brother got book 5. They’ve both read both books in one day!! That’s the problem and the benefit with graphic novels, I guess. Easy to read, and too easy to read.

The kids are devouring these books, so if you’re looking for something that interests graders 4-6, get your hands on Amulet soon.

Graphic novels are such a good transition from picture book to the meatier picture-free novel. But novels still work in read-aloud format, like picture books. I think that’s one big problem with graphic novels, they can’t be read aloud. Or, they can’t be read aloud and enjoyed like other books.

And though my kids are all gaining very secure footholds in the reading world, picture books are still a source of enjoyment. Recently, I cleaned out two shelves of picture books with my youngest and we had a chance to notice and comment on our favorites.

Picture Books

I think Wild About Books might be my favorite picture book. The kids love it, but it’s so well-written I think adults love reading it, too. Well, bibliophilic adults do. And my favorite part of the book is the insect zoo haiku part is my favorite part of favorites.

The witty puns, the clever word choice, the clever insect choice! It all comes together so effortlessly that I am willing to bet she spent days working on this part.

I feel a sort of familiar pain when the scorpion delivers the harsh, and sometimes true, critiques of the insect haikus. But to be a writer, one needs a thick skin…or chitin.

I love reading this story aloud.

 

 

Books to Read on a Visit to the Southwest

At the end of 2016, we took a family vacation to Arizona. Like all good vacations, I prepared a little reading list for the trip.

The Books

While we were traveling, I read Land of Little Rain  by Mary Austin and Turtle Dream by Gerald Hausman. There were little pearls of word wonder in both books. Both books were also collections of short writings, one non-fiction and one fiction. Perfect for vacation reading where you don’t always have large gaps of time. When we vacation, we are usually always on the go, there isn’t a lot of sitting around.

Earlier this year, I also read Waterless Mountain, a Newbery Award book, that was “transportational” in its writing. I felt I was in the Navajo land when I read this book. Code Talkers was also about Navajos, but the geography was the South Pacific, not the Southwest.

Death Comes for the Archbishop  by Willa Cather is a book I read on a twenty-state road trip twenty years ago. I highly recommend this book if you ever head there, but I did not read it on this trip.

I also selected Cuentos: Tales from the Hispanic Southwest: Based on Stories Originally Collected by Juan B. Rael (English and Spanish Edition) to read, but I didn’t have the time. It’s still on my bedside table, ready for me to pick up when I’m searching for stories.

You can find some of these books on my Goodreads account.

Do you put together a vacation reading list based on where you’re going? 

 

A Little Free Library – Finally!!

We finally have a Little Free Library in Tyler Park! About a year ago, I was in Minneapolis, MN, for a volunteer conference. While I was there, roaming around the very flat city, I walked by my very first Little Free Library. I had heard of these delightful book boxes, but never seen one.

As you can guess, I was incredibly inspired by the idea of sharing books with the community. I promised myself then and there I’d get one in our park. And it happened. Sure, it took over a year, but I never said I’d do it fast.

The Dream

First, I mentioned the idea to my neighbor on the board of our neighborhood association. Then I emailed the info to the board. After they approved the idea, they got approval from the township to install it in the park. Then I selected the design and ordered the LFL. It arrived in early June…and sat on my back deck for several months. I was sad about that, but there wasn’t much I could do. I’m not skilled with digging holes and pouring cement and I did not want this to be installed poorly.

I dreamed of the day the LFL would be ready. My husband and I visited the park often and debated where the best place would be to put it. We settled on a spot near the playground and the driveway. I often looked across the park and pictured it. But every time I tried to line up installation, scheduling or weather got in the way.

So at the bus stop one morning, I mentioned my dilemma to some other families, and a dad volunteered to help me out. And that Friday, we met at the park and dug in!

Installation

We had a little helper who loved to measure.

lfl6

While the LFL shipped with basic installation instructions, the steps were a lot more involved than I could implement at the park. We didn’t have electricity for sawing wood. So I purchased the installation materials based on a useful blog post I discovered at Hugs and Kisses and Snot. Their idea was genius in my opinion. All we needed was two mail box posts, cement and screws. I did a very good job holding the mailbox posts in place.

lfl5

It was so great learning tips and tricks from my very skilled neighbor. After we leveled the posts, I assumed we’d have to mix the cement in the bucket, but he pointed out it was just as easy to mix it right in the ground. That smoke is like magic!!

lfl2

We let the cement set for a day. Bright and early Saturday morning my neighbor secured the LFL onto to the posts with a kind of construction glue and screws. Then the kids, my husband and I hustled over there with our big box of books and loaded it up.

lfl4

Little Free Library Opening Day

We didn’t have a huge Opening Day celebration. But the Little Free Library worked like a charm. My kids saw books that looked interested, grabbed them out of the LFL, and cracked them open. Perfect!lfl3It was very hard and very easy to make this dream come true. The Little Free Library is open in Tyler Park. I’ve checked on it every day since it opened. (Yes, I’m over eager) It’s exciting to see that people have taken books and left new ones! We even got a thank you note! It’s pretty thrilling.

Little Free Library

It’s funny, when I saw that Little Free Library in Minneapolis, I didn’t even open it. I remember I gazed at it longingly, but didn’t open the door or take out a book. I could have, of course, because the books in Little Free Libraries are available for anyone. But I realize now I thought those books were only for Minnesotans. So I declare now, if you visit  Tyler Park from you are allowed to take books from our Little Free Library!

Why Did This Book Win a Newbery Medal?

I’m working my way through the Newbery Award winners, and while I’ve read some books I really loved, there are some serious duds in the list. So far I have to say Gay-Neck: The Story of a Pigeon and Ginger Pye are real disappointments compared to some of these books.

While I gave both of those books three stars on Goodreads, you should know I give almost every book I read three stars, unless it’s truly terrible or offensive. I guess I don’t feel the need to give a book one or two stars because I tend to find merit in at least one chapter, paragraph or sentence. But neither of these earned four or five stars. Neither one excited me. Passages may have entertained me and I certainly learned something to use in my writing, but honestly, neither of these books would stand a chance with my kids. So I wonder what earned them the award?

Gay-Neck is a gentle but somewhat confusing story of a boy raising a pigeon. I don’t know anything about the boy who is the narrator. I learned some things about pigeons, but after reading reviews on Goodreads, I’m not sure what I learned was true. I learned about an Indian hunter experiencing the trauma of World War I. Yet each chapter felt like a separate anecdotal entry, not a story. The writing wasn’t bad and much of it was poetic and painted a beautiful mental image, but the characters didn’t captivate me at all.

I started reading Ginger Pye to my middle son a few months ago and he was bored by the first chapter. I forced myself to push further into the book. I learned a lot about the life of white people in a New England town and their attitudes towards girls and transients. I also felt disappointed that the title character, Ginger the puppy, was missing for most of the book.

Ginger Pye was published in 1951, Gay-Neck in 1927. Were librarians more interested in boring books those years? Were no other good books for children published?

Let’s look.

There were two Honor books the year Gay-Neck won. I haven’t read either, or even heard of them, but I had never heard of Gay-Neck either.

gay neck newbery

The summary of Downright Dencey looks interesting, and overall Goodreads readers give it 3.76 stars compared to Gay-Neck’s 3.23. I’m actually eager to pick this up and give it a try. Still, was Gay-Neck the best we got in 1927? This was the year of Sherlock Holmes, Death Comes for the Archbishop and To the Lighthouse (all books I’ve read). There had to be better children’s books out there. Luckily, Goodreads lists indicate Now We are Four and Emily’s Quest are proving to be a lot more popular.  Yay for L.M. Montgomery!

Now Ginger Pye came out in the 50’s. Lots more competition. And more Honor books.

ginger pye newbery

Unfortunately I haven’t read or heard of any of those books, either. But thanks to Goodreads I know it’s the year we got The Catcher in the Rye, Alan Watt’s The Wisdom of Insecurity, two Narnia books and Ellen Tebbits by Beverly Cleary.

Now, it shouldn’t always be a popularity contest, but we also know that the best book doesn’t always win. So the Newbery Award isn’t always going to the best book. I knew that already, thanks to my local librarian. At least I’m branching out and finding books I haven’t heard of before and learning a lot about different ways of writing and telling stories.

Here’s a good article from the ALA that lists other books that should have won the Newbery but didn’t. I know my oldest son loved Frindle, because he also tried to invent new words. I plan to read several of the books listed there.

What award winners do you think really lived up to the hype and what didn’t?

Read All the Newbery Medal Books, March 2016 Update

We’re into March of 2016 and I feel like I’m finally starting to tackle my “read all the Newbery Medal Books” project. I was stalled at the beginning of the year because I wanted to finish Ulysses. While that book is an excellent but very long read. Then in the process of researching the biology of the Sargasso Sea, as well as the migration of eels and monarchs, I stumbled across an amazing book of Rachel Caron’s writing called Lost Woods.

If you’re interested at all in nature, science writing, or the power of the written word to influence public policy, I highly recommend this book. There are passages in there that are still relevant today, even though they were written half a century ago.

But then I finally started those Newbery Medal books I’ve been collecting! So far this month I read King of the Wind, The Witch of Blackbird Pond, and I’m almost finished with Julie of the Wolves.

I enjoyed King of the Wind for its sensory details and historical and cultural information. I started with this book because I am working on an animal story myself and because I’ve read Henry’s Misty of Chincoteague and have fond memories of that book.

I knew I’d love Julie of the Wolves because I loved Jean Craighead George’s My Side of the Mountain. I recently re-read that book last year and still love the idea of leaving civilization for the wilderness and living off the land and in tune with the natural world. I don’t think it’s quite the lifestyle for me, but I love the escapism offered by these books. Julie of the Wolves offers even more as she lives in the tundra. It’s a world so foreign made so real by Craighead George.

Picking up The Witch of Blackbird Pond was an emotional moment for me. This book represents some tough coming of age experiences for me. Like a lot of kids, I struggled in my sixth grade year. I went to a small school and unfortunately my sixth grade teacher was the mom of a girl in my class with whom I didn’t quite get along with at the time. We had been friends in second grade, but by sixth we weren’t. Anyway, for some reason or another I was put in the lowest reading group that year. Me! I wasn’t good at a lot of things in middle school, but I was really, really good at reading. I have no memory of what book my group read, but I know the highest reading group read The Witch of Blackbird Pond. I was very bitter about this unfair grouping. I held a grudge against this teacher and this book. Now that I’m 40, I decided it was time to read this book and move on with my life!! I did enjoy it and now I want to visit the town of Wethersfield in Connecticut.

newbery books

I miss the Book It program! (But books are their own reward.)

More Newbery Award books to come!

Reading Newbery Award Books

So I’m going to try and read as many Newbery Award books as possible this year! What is the Newbery? It is an award given to children’s literature by the American Library Association. Here’s the blurb from the website:

“The Newbery Medal was named for eighteenth-century British bookseller John Newbery. It is awarded annually by the Association for Library Service to Children, a division of the American Library Association, to the author of the most distinguished contribution to American literature for children.”

The website also has a list of books that have won, but it’s a pdf and not very handy for online use and checking things off.

After a bit of searching, I found a Buzzfeed quiz (of course) that allows you to see how many winners you’ve read. I’ve read a paltry 16 out of 93. That makes me feel so unread. On the plus side, though, I’ve read a fair share of Honors books, so that’s a good point in my favor.

17% of Newbery Award Books

Only 17% of Newbery Award Books

It looks like I’ll turn to Goodreads to ‘collect them all.’ There’s a good list there that shares both winners and honor books, dates of publication, and records for me when I’ve read something so I don’t have to worry about duplication.

On a side note, I’ll be working hard to only get these books from only the library and not buying them. If I must, I’ll try and buy them from used book dealers if I can’t get them from the library. If I’m going to read a lot of books then I might as well do it on a budget.

Right now, my favorite Newbery Award Book might be When You Reach Me (Yearling Newbery). It’s based on Madeleine L’Engle’s A Wrinkle in Time (Time Quintet). Who knows what new favorite I will discover as I read through this huge list?

How many Newbery Award books have you read?

Books That Made Me Laugh

Recently I posted about books that made me cry. Frankly, I don’t mind crying during a book, I feel like it’s a good thing when a writer can make me care so much that I cry. But I also love when a book makes me laugh. Not just say “heh” in my head but actually open my mouth and laugh, no matter where I am reading.

As I work on my own projects, I strive to make my readers laugh. In fact at a recent critique group, someone suggestions I insert brackets and put the words “pause for laughter” right in the text. It was a joke! And a good one.

I’m good at writing funny. I’m not being immodest, I’m just confident that I can do funny and I’ve had external sources confirm this. Doing sad is hard. I do have one story that has made my kids cry. That’s pretty impressive. Kids want to laugh, they don’t want to cry.

One day, maybe I’ll be able to create something that makes readers laugh and cry in the same book. What an achievement.

Here are some books that made me laugh – what you would you add to this list?

One reviewer on Goodreads found The Martian silly and criticized the playful tone. I heartily disagree. I laughed and loved this book.

In addition to being a totally cool trip down memory lane, Ready Player One made me smile frequently and laugh out loud, although nobody said LOL back in the 80s.

I am a sucker for all things Tina Fey. Her book Bossypants had me laughing out loud, but I don’t think my husband found it as enjoyable as I did. He loved it, but not crazy love like I did.

Anastasia Krupnick was a recommedation from a friend. It was written by same lady who wrote The Giver, but a lot more lighthearted. Pretty much any book is more light-hearted than The Giver. I read one reviewer who said as a child, she took this book so seriously. I’m glad I read it as an adult because I definitely chuckled while reading.

Here’s why I reveal my nerditity, like loving The Martian and Ready Player One didn’t already do that. Two Miserable Presidents is about Civil War history and includes lots of facts and dates and it made me laugh! Yes! Caution: it may only appeal to other history nerds.

Just William is an older book that most American kids wouldn’t read. Even though I enjoyed it, the print copy I purchased wasn’t that readable for my kids. However, they were delighted by the videos I checked out from the library that brought the stories to life.

What Books Made You Cry?

What books made you cry when you read them? For my oldest son, I think the first book that made him cry was the story of Ivan, a gorilla kept in a cage at a mall. In this book, it was the death – and treatment after death – of Ivan’s one friend that brought my son to tears.

My oldest often has a little trouble expressing his emotions, especially when he’s upset. But when characters he loves die, he really feels this deeply. I remember when he was watching the old school Transformers and he got to the part when Optimus Prime died. My husband and I were outside doing yard work when we heard him screaming and crying. He rushed outside, tears streaming down his face, telling us Optimus was dead. It was a horrible, beautiful moment. When I was his age, I specifically remembering crying my eyeballs out thanks to two books about the death of animals, specifically dogs.

The first is Sasha, My Friend. This book is so old it’s no longer being printed so you’ll have to get your hands on a used copy. But it’s a wonderful book and I cried for good reasons.

The second book I can specifically remember crying while reading was A Dog Called Kitty. Both this story and Sasha, My Friend involve the main character building a friendship and then losing the friend. I know that’s kind of a spoiler, but I already told you these books made me cry, so you can’t be too surprised.

Right now I’m reading a biography of Barack Obama to my youngest who is in Kindergarten. It’s his choice of book, I didn’t tell him what to read. His older brothers devour chapter books so he wants to read them to and he picked this one. We just finished the part where Barack visits his father’s grave in Kenya and cries. I noticed my son wiping his eyes and looking away. He felt so deeply for Barack he couldn’t help himself from crying. I think this is quite possibly the first time my youngest cried during a book.

As you know, I’m writing books for children (and adults who like to read children’s books). Some of the best advice I received about telling a good story is to work hard to make readers burst into laughter as well as to tears.

Most of the adult books I read today explore the horrible things happening in the world, but I really believe the books that made you cry as a child explored the simplest emotions of love, friendship, loneliness and loss. I can’t think of a book for adults I’ve read that’s made me cry as hard as Sasha and Kitty tore my heart apart. But I do remember losing it during the movies District 9 and Hero. I’m not sure Hero counts though, because I was pregnant at the time and full of hormones.

I have a book planned out in which the main character, someone I hope readers will not like very much at the beginning then grow to love, dies. This sounds horrible, but I hope some readers will cry when as they read my (future) book. It’s not being mean, it’s a hope that I can someday write a character so real, so meaningful, so worth caring for and loving, that I touch readers in their heart.

What books made you cry, as a child or adult reader?

Reading Goals for 2015

books reading

Books in Waiting

In 2015 I plan to read 100 books. While that total number of books may seem high for some people, but the goal itself seems straightforward, right?

Wrong.

Debate 1: Does it count as having read a book if you listened to an audio book?

It turns out people don’t actually agree on what counts as reading a book. No one is debating between ebooks and print books, rather the debate is between audio and print books. In the past month, I’ve been involved in at least three debates about whether listening to an audio book counts as reading a book. I say yes. Lots of people say no. I don’t often listen to audio books, but I did listen to one huge book (Dad Is Fat) on a long drive. So the audio book debate doesn’t impact my book total but it does explore the definition of ‘reading’ a book. Is it only using one’s eyes? What do you say?

Debate 2: Reading to Kids

The other debate I’ve been in about my book goal is whether I can count the books I’ve read to my children at night. Depending on which child I’m reading to, I might read a few chapters or up to five picture books. Can I count those? My husband said reading picture books to kids should not count toward my total. But I disagree because I feel that somehow implies picture books aren’t ‘real’ books. So I’ve decided to only count the books I’m reading to my children at night only if I’ve never previously read the book. Sound fair?

I’m already 10 books into my goal and feeling good that I will reach 100 before the end of the year. I’m also absolutely adoring the books I’ve read so far! The full list is on my Goodreads account, but here are a few of the books I’ve really enjoyed:

Paperboy
Brown Girl Dreaming
From the Mixed-up Files of Mrs. Basil E. Frankweiler
Coraline
The Age of Innocence (Dover Thrift Editions)
She Touched the World: Laura Bridgman, Deaf-Blind Pioneer

Do you have a reading goal for 2015?