Wednesday, February 3, 2016

Echo A Novel

Echo, A Novel by Pam Munoz Ryan (sorry I don't know how to add a tilde to her middle name,) is one of the best books I've ever read, and I've read thousands.

It's a long book - nearly 600 pages - but I finished it in one day because it was too good to put down.

It's actually four books that are all part of one story.

Starting in the 1800s a boy named Otto encounters three strange women in the woods and gets a magical harmonica. That instrument is an important factor in the lives of other kids: Mike in 1935, Ivy in 1942, and Friedrich in 1951. The story and harmonica begin in Germany, then move to Pennsylvania, California, and New York.

Each story has it's own plot, is well written, and they all tie together satisfactorily at the end. The book is part fairy tale, part historical fiction, and all exciting stories with characters we care about.

Pam Ryan has got to be one of the best writers on this planet and I can't wait to read other books she's written.

Saturday, January 30, 2016

Reading and READING

I love to read.

When I was a kid parents were told not to try to teach their children to read because they'd do it "wrong" and the kids would gave to unlearn before they could really learn. I didn't go to Kindergarten, and reading wasn't taught then anyway. But at the end of First Grade I was reading at Fifth Grade level and I've been a bookaholic ever since.

As a teacher I noticed that there's a big difference between being able to sound out words on a page and really reading.

Children (and adults) just learning to read are focused on the individual words and need to step back a bit mentally to get the sense of each sentence. They're constantly aware of the fact that they are reading.

But skilled readers don't even think about the specific words and sentences except at a semi-conscious level. Instead, they're immersed in the story or concepts they're reading about.

People with developmental delays or learning disabilities may be unable to become skilled readers, but, for most people, the best way to reach that level of reading is to read a lot.

When parents read to kids and the children can see the words on each page, that helps show them that reading can carry them away into imaginary worlds. And teachers can do the same thing to young kids with big (not thick) books that allow the words to be seen from a distance.

Reading to kids all the time helps motivate them to learn to read by themselves.

Once a child reaches the basic level of being able to sound out words and recognize familiar ones, the best way for them to become proficient readers is to read as much as possible.

And even adults who can read adequately, but don't especially enjoy doing it, can move from reading to real READING simply by reading a lot.

Wednesday, January 27, 2016

Mrs. Cow Knits A Sweater

When I first saw the title of Sharon Patterson Stanley's book, Mrs. Cow Knits A Sweater, I wondered how a cow with hooves instead of fingers could knit anything. But, of course, in real life no animals could do any of the things ascribed to them in this kind of fiction.

In this book the flock of sheep give Mrs. Cow all their fleece and she knits a sweater for herself to wear when Winter comes.

Then all the other farm animals beg her to make sweaters for them, and she does even though she doesn't have time to do anything else.

She can't even finish a cup of tea without someone begging her to make a sweater for them.

By the time Winter arrives all the farm animals have nice, warm sweaters - except for the sheep, who gave all their fleece to Mrs. Cow.

And she has used up all the wool.

What do you suppose she does then?

This is a cute book for little kids and the colorful illustrations by Robert Beers capture the feeling of the story perfectly.

Maybe as a result of reading Mrs. Cow Knits A Sweater some kids will be inspired to learn to knit themselves in the future.

Saturday, January 23, 2016


I enjoyed reading Woof, by Spencer Quinn. It's a mystery for kids, but it's different from most of those.

It takes place in a village on the Louisiana Swamp, which is an uncommon setting.

But the most unusual thing about the book is that it's told from the point of view of a dog, Bowser. And he certainly experiences things differently than humans do.

The plot is exciting and some scary things happen to the kids, but Bowser's descriptions of what's going on is funny.

Spencer Quinn is obviously an extremely creative person, and this book will appeal to kids who enjoy mysteries and excitement, those who love dogs, and those who like humor.

Woof was published in 2015 and, with that many potential readers, Woof should become a best seller.

Wednesday, January 20, 2016

Another Crazy Idea

Okay, my writerly imagination is working overtime again.

Imagine what would happen if all synthetics were to suddenly disappear.

That would include plastics, polyester, and many other substances.

Lots of people walking down the streets would suddenly become naked.

Cars and trucks would stop running and most of their seats and dashboards would be gone.

Without some of  the insulation on wires, fires would start and, depending on what the pipes were made of, gas lines and even water mains would leak.

Some furniture would collapse, panels and paint would disappear from houses, and some buildings would collapse.

Of course most technological devices would disappear, too.

We tend to take so much modern stuff for granted, but it would be interesting to see how we'd adapt to doing without it. Going back to the good old days wouldn't be easy now that so much of our planet is covered by cities.

How do you think people would react?

Saturday, January 16, 2016

More On Tech Stuff

My mother used to tell me I had too much imagination. But my imagination has come in handy for writing. Here's an imaginary event that could be interesting, to say the least.

What if something happened, such as waves of something-or-other from outer space, that instantly and completely removed all electrical power from our planet?

Most of us have experienced power outages.

While most are fixed in a matter of hours or, at worst, a few days, some caused by disasters have even lasted for days or weeks. But they are limited to certain areas, not the entire globe.

And, while our power is out we can rely on batteries and/or generators to help us get by.

But what if those didn't work, and the power was out permanently?

A hundred and fifty years ago people lived without electricity all the time, but the world was a lot different back then.

 Cars, trains, and other forms of transportation wouldn't work and neither would most ways we communicate with other people.  Even snail-mail wouldn't work without machinery to sort it and vehicles to deliver it. 

If all electric power vanished today would water still get pumped to our homes, even from wells? Would gas continue to flow through pipelines?
And, how would people react to the disaster?

Hmmm. If you're a writer like me perhaps this possibility will give you some plot ideas. Feel free to use it.

Wednesday, January 13, 2016

Tech Stuff

I consider myself a techno-idiot, but I do things with technology I couldn't have imagined doing a few decades ago. Technology has become part of our daily lives and it's everywhere from computers, tablets and cellphones to alarm clocks and heating systems.

And today's kids are absolutely addicted to their technological devices.

That's not necessarily bad, but it has some important disadvantages.

Decades ago I read a library book that had been published in the 1940s or 50s. I can't remember the author or title, but some of the content has stayed with me.

The book said back in Victorian times when ladies protected their skin from the sun upper class girls often didn't reach puberty until about 15 years old. The author referred to the song, Sweet Sixteen and Never Been Kissed, as an example. But, he said, lower class girls who often worked out in the fields reached puberty at around 12 or 13. But he said because kids at the time the book was written spent so much time watching television, and the light in the rays coming from TV screens was the same frequency as sun rays, kids would be reaching puberty earlier.

I don't know how valid his idea was, but today's kids are spending hours every day with their faces close to devices that emit the same kind of light rays. And it's not unheard of now for girls to reach puberty when they're eight years old.

Of course we've all heard of the problems getting kids to pay attention to other things when they're busy texting, and they often communicate that way with people standing near them.

Technology has given us wonderful advantages, but it also has some disadvantages.