Tuesday, August 30, 2011

First Day of Middle School

Today is my middle child's first day of middle school. Is he concerned? Nah, not really. Probably not nearly as much as he should be. I took a look at his teachers' websites, and he'll already have plenty of homework tonight. I'm glad he's not stressing, though, since I made my own experience transitioning from elementary to middle way worse than it should have been.

The night before I started middle school (which we called jr. high school back in the olden days), I couldn't sleep I was so nervous. Plagued by haunting, supposedly true stories of seventh graders being dumped head first into trash cans and nasty pranks involving ink bombs, I was terrified. And then there were those scary eighth graders. If fifth grade had been a breeze, I wouldn't have had any concerns about these kids who were a mere year older than us, but it wasn't.

Probably due to an unfortunate short haircut coupled with typical female pubescent weight gain, I wasn't the best looking child as a ten year old. Really, if I'd been a boy, there wouldn't have been a problem, since adults kept referring to me as "this nice young man," etc., at the time. Anyway, there was a group of about ten sixth grade boys who teased me relentlessly that year. Sixth grade was a huge relief, since they'd all graduated to Oak Crest, our local jr. high. But when it was my turn to go to Oak Crest, I knew they were all there, waiting to make fun of me again.

Luckily, I grew my hair out in sixth grade. And I started watching how much food I stuffed into my mouth. At 5'2" and 105 pounds, a size 5 going into seventh grade, I now realize I shouldn't have been so paranoid about what others would think of my size. And guess what? At the bus stop, where many of those horrible, teasing boys shared my same stop, they didn't say a word to me. But then, it was probably my hair that threw them--I've always been a bit of a hair chameleon, looking like a completely different person whenever I change it.

So I made it through the bus ride, the first major jr. high hurdle. But what if I couldn't remember my locker combinations? What if someone still threw me into a trash can? What if a pack of gang girls jumped me in the bathroom? What if I was late to all my classes because I couldn't find them?

All that stress, when what I really should have been thinking about was to remember to bring a pencil. Sure, I had notebooks, but nothing to write in them with. And who better to point this out than my scary first period Honors Pre-Algebra teacher, a booming hulk of a guy who had an affinity for calling his students "boob" when he thought we were acting stupid. I think the first thing he said to us that morning was something like, "All right. Which of you boobs forgot to bring a pencil?" And then I had to raise my hand. At least four other kids raised their hands, which made me feel better, since we were supposed to be the "smart" kids and all.

The rest of the day, I dealt with one little horrorshow at a time. That funky, 1950s era school smell (asbestos?). The boy who couldn't stop saying, "Poop in a basket!" then giggling like Beavis and Butt-Head. Having to make a song I kept chanting in my head all day to remember both my locker combinations, so much so that when my friends said hi to me, I almost blurted out, "24-40-34!" or "34-36-2!"

So, yeah. I got through it, and I know my son will, too. I just hope the principal (and the assistant principal, and his learning center teacher) don't wind up calling me today. Already.

Sunday, August 28, 2011

Book Club Discussion: SPEAK by Laurie Halse Anderson

Okay, the fonts might be goofed up, since I copied and pasted from the Word document I just created and, as you know, I'm kind of techtarded, but I'm leading a (grown-up) book club discussion on Speak by Laurie Halse Anderson this afternoon. Nothing like getting stuff together at the last minute, but I've had way too much coffee, so here's a list of what I'm pulling together for our discussion packet:

First off...

1. Did you enjoying reading Speak? If so, were you surprised that you enjoyed it, since it’s a novel for teens?

2. With its cliques and various social strata, did Melinda’s high school remind you of your high school? Do you think it’s similar to your kids’ high school?

3. Based on your own experiences or the experiences of people you knew in high school, did you find Melinda’s story believable?

4. Do you think her story could have happened at your kids’ high school today? If so, considering the pervasiveness of social media in today’s youth culture, do you think Melinda’s experiences would have been different, for better or worse?

5. Based on the author’s foreshadowing did you guess what had happened to Melinda at the party before it was finally revealed?

6.  What did you think of the way the various teachers treated Melinda (e.g., Mr. Neck vs. her art teacher)?

7. What did you think about Melinda’s parents? Should they have reacted differently to the various warning signs of clinical depression and post-traumatic stress she displayed throughout the story, or were they justified in being clueless, since Melinda was intentionally trying to keep them in the dark about her situation?

8. Many English teachers include Speak in their curriculum. How do you feel about this—glad, nervous, or completely against it?

9. Have you ever reread the classics you were assigned as a high school student? If so, were they better or worse than you remember them?

10. Do you think high school English classes should study more books starring and intended for teens, or should these books for teens be left for recreational reading? Alternatively, do you think a teen would be more excited to complete assigned reading if more books like Speak were on their list instead of, say, Great Expectations, The Scarlett Letter, and Anna Karenina

Second in the packet, this Wall Street Journal article by Meghan Cox Gurdon. Love it or hate it, it's a definite discussion sparker. Even though it made the rounds in the YA writing community ad nauseam, believe it or not, most of the reading public across America is blissfully unaware of its presence.

Third in the packet, Sherman Alexie's WSJ blog response to Ms. C-G's above-mentioned ire-inducing article. Anyone who's seen Alexie speak knows she was poking a sleeping bear at her own risk by mentioning him in her piece. (Cue The Simpsons' Nelson's voice: HA-HA!)

Fourth and finally in the packet, I'm including a YA reading list including other selected titles by LHA (Twisted, Wintergirls, Prom), as well as the following:

Sold by Patricia McCormick
Uglies by Scott Westerfeld
The Absolutely True Diary of a Part-Time Indian by Sherman Alexie
The Hunger Games by Suzanne Collins
The Book Thief by Markus Zusak
Tangled by Carolyn Mackler
How I Live Now by Meg Rosoff
Paper Towns by John Green
Story of a Girl by Sara Zarr
Thirteen Reasons Why by Jay Asher

I'm probably forgetting to mention a bunch of awesome books, but if they read these, they'll be onto a wealth of literary treasure in the YA marketplace. Anyway, hope this guide is helpful to the folks out there in cyberspace searching for Speak book club discussion questions, since all I could come up with were a bunch of lesson plans written by teachers for their teenage students, and Speak merits attention by a crossover audience.

Saturday, August 13, 2011

Shoulda, Woulda, Coulda

All right. I'm back from the SCBWI summer conference in Los Angeles. As usual, I had a blast catching up with friends and meeting new ones. This time, thanks to the Monday intensive format, I also got to meet a couple editors, which was fabulous. I took lots of notes during the sessions I attended, but during the sessions in which I didn't learn as much as I would have liked, I found myself wishing I'd opted for craft workshops instead of business-focused topics. Anyway, guess I'll have to go fishing on Google for someone else's notes.

Speaking of notes, there's a good chance I'll do a piece for my friends who run the Adventures in Children's Publishing blog. Not sure which session I'll cover, but probably either Libba Bray's characterization workshop or Laurie Halse Anderson's session on reclaiming lost time. Both were amazing. However, guess which session was hands down, the most scintillating session I attended this year's conference? Since only about twenty people showed up besides me, I'll just go ahead an tell you--CONTRACT BASICS, by attorney Jan Constantine.

Before you start thinking I missed my calling, and that yeah, I should have gone to law school after all, let me just say that contracts can be way more interesting than you'd think! Especially if they're going to tie you up with options clauses, rid you of your copyrights, and seize opportunities in international markets. I won't go into details (since I don't want to get the legalese wrong), but basically, just know that there are a few carefully worded phrases you might want to look out for, especially if you're completely giddy at being offered a contract to publish your work. Jan's advice: join the Authors Guild. If you've been offered a contract, you're eligible for membership. At $90 per year, it's a bargain--especially since membership includes having your contract reviewed by their counsel (something that would cost you hundreds, if not thousands, of dollars to do if you went out on your own to hire a literary attorney).

So that's it! Next year, I'll probably go to more sessions on craft. Also, although I adored the folks at my afternoon roundtable, I might try to go to two editor/author-led intensive workshops, since I enjoyed Nancy Conescu's morning session so much (which, I might add, she collectively read over 500 pages of attendees' work preparing for, so a big round of applause goes to Nancy!). I just hope next year's theme for the Saturday night gala is as good as this year's pajama party. Hard to beat being encouraged to go out in public in your PJs!