I had one halibut of a time at the Oklahoma City Zoo on Tuesday last week. My book, Rope 'Em, was chosen as the Read Across Oklahoma Book 2011. The event is sponsored by Target, the Oklahoma City Zoo, OETA, and bunch of other really nice folks. They bought 1500 copies of my book and handed it out to kindergartnes in at risk schools across the city. Then, on Tuesday, we put on a shin dig for them at the Zoo. Spaghetti Eddie was there to sing. There was a roper, The Oklahoma Kid. And there was me, reading my book.
The weather played along, yippee! It was 70 and sunny. Perfect.
And the kids were amazing. They sang. They danced. They counted. We really had a really neat time.
Thanks Target, OETA and the Oklahoma City Zoo for picking Rope 'Em. I had such a blast. I wish I had a picture book a year coming out so I could go back next year. It's that much fun!!!
Check it out next year if you get a chance. There is a performance open to the general public, and they even had a few extra books left to give away.
Every once in a while I run across one of those stories with a main character so beyond the bounds of my everyday existence I marvel at how anyone could create her/him and do so in such a believable way.
Erskine has done so with her character, Caitlin. A fifth-grader, Caitlin has Asperger's Syndrome. She's really smart but has a really tough time understanding and expressing emotion. Maneuvering through life means learning an exhausting list of facial expressions that decode what what people are thinking and/or what they really mean. Add to that that the the person who helped her maneuver the world, her older brother, has been killed in a school shooting.
Erskine bites off a huge chunk of storytelling with her character and the external event of a school shooting. She maneuvers both phenomenally. Caitlin is one of the best characters I've read lately. I had no idea what it's like inside the mind of a child with Asperger's. Erskine gives her readers a glance. It's a glance that doesn't pity. It doesn't minimize. It is. As such, I came to both empathize and understand Caitlin. It's a phenomenal bit of writing. Add to it weaving Caitlin's story seamlessly together with the affects of a school shooting on a community and exploring how to find "closure" and this work moves from phenomenal to unforgettable.
The one aspect of this novel that I was less impressed with was that it, like When You Reach Me, relies on an outside piece of art, in this instance To Kill a Mockingbird, to carry part of the story. One day I may do this myself and kick myself for not understanding or for finding fault with this particular writer's tool at present, but when a writer can weave as well as Erskine, story doesn't need outside art to support it, or deepen the emotional resonance. It's already there. And there in spades. For me, bringing in the outside world in this way detracts from the story being told. It pulls me outside Caitlin's story. It also expects a lot from that external art and the reader. I'd hazard a guess that not many children today have seen, To Kill a Mockingbird. Thus, what effect will the film really have on the reader? Wouldn't a fictional film do the job even better by staying within story by being a created part of it?
If you're looking for a deep story about school shootings, how they affect a community, what it must be like to "feel" and perceive the world as a person with Asperger's all wrapped into a story that pulls you toward it in a gentle but insistent way, read Mockingbird. There is so much here. Much to discuss. Critique. Enjoy. Ponder. And grow from.
Side effects. There are good ones and bad ones. Second hand smoke, not so good. Oxygen, good. Did you know that writers emit their own side effects? And I don't just mean books.
You might be a writer if...your family suffers from symbolismus. Analogisia. Or, the worst ever, metaphorimia.
Serious, serious ailments, believe you me.
I've been a writer for a few years now, but it wasn't until recently that one of my daughters finally erupted with a bad case analogisia.
We'd just come back from Spring Break. My daughters and I had visited their godparents in Charlottesville, VA. My husband and I had lived there for five years around the time our first was born. I would still love to move back. I love the outdoors there.
While we were there, we had a great time. We went hiking at lots of different parks. Went up to DC and got our very own DC Cupcakes. Saw the Air and Space Museum. Did the Mount Vernon and Ash Lawn thing. We were everywhere. Did tons. The girls loved it.
They loved it so much that when we came home my youngest crawled onto my lap one day after school, and started crying. Uh-oh.
"What's wrong, sweetie. Do you miss Charlottesville?" We all missed C-ville. Our friends. The works.
"Mama," she sniffled. "Charlottesville is like Dragon Wishes and home is like Rope 'Em."
I should have seen the signs right away. The word "like". The commonality of books vs. places. It was analogisia for sure.
But I'm just a writer not a critic. I nodded and came up with my surefire mom response when I had no clue, "Uh-huh."
Not exactly Shakespeare, I know.
"Gees Mom," she said with an exasperated tone. "You know, Dragon Wishes is a middle grade novel."
[my middle grade novel]
"And its gots lots of stuff in it. Rope 'Em is a picture book."
[um, yeah, my picture book]
"It's shorter. Not as many pages of things happening. That's what home is like. Do you get it now?"
Um, yeah. Got it.
I wrote it down, too. Because, as you know, good writers borrow. Great writers steal. But that's a different post.
So now I watch for the telltale signs of secondhand writing. She's already exhibited a few others. Making up her own words. Geroninball. Yeah. Gotta love that one. Editing my work. Don't love that one so much. She's tough!
So beware writers out there. Your family members may have already come down with any or all of these pesky ailments. The only thing you can do is be prepared. Keep paper and pen handy at all times. And family members, be forewarned.
The effects of writing are serious. They get under your skin. Change the way you think. The way you talk. Make you...dare I say, into a writer!
I review books that surprise me, jar me, make me think. They are books I've bought, borrowed from the library, or been given as a gift. I do accept ARCs, but will only review a book if it moves me. It's about the writing. If I'm moved, I pass it on in a review.