Monday, June 16, 2014

MMGM: The Actual & Truthful Adventures of Becky Thatcher

Ask me to list my top five authors, and any day of the week the names will generally change. Except for one. Mark Twain.

Probably the most influential book I ever read as a kid was The Adventures of Huckleberry Finn, followed by The Adventures of Tom Sawyer, and then (because I believe in reading thoroughly, doggone it) Tom Sawyer Abroad and Tom Sawyer, Detective.

So when I heard that there was going to be a book from the yet-untold-perspective of Becky Thatcher, I hopped on that like a frog from Calaveras County. (See what I did there?) I immediately voiced how much I wanted an ARC on the Twittersphere. And Jessica Lawson, author of the coveted tome, responded and we exchanged ARCs.

Before I read it, however, Jessica felt the need to make me aware that this book was not a retelling of the Tom Sawyer tale from Becky's perspective. Nor was it a "story-behind-the-story" sort of non-fiction documentary book. It is, instead, something very, very different. And she didn't want me to be disappointed

She didn't need to worry.

The Actual & Truthful Adventures of Becky Thatcher is a story Mark Twain himself would be proud to write. Imagine visiting St. Petersburg, MO (Tom Sawyer's hometown) in a parallel universe to the Tom & Huck world. In a universe where Tom Sawyer isn't the scalawag we all know and love, but is instead a sniveling, whiny kid who tattles on everyone. Imagine a universe where Mark Twain isn't the absent narrator, giving voice to the characters born from his memory, but is instead Samuel Clemens, sitting on a porch, watching the adventures play out in front of his eyes.

And imagine a world where Becky isn't the straight-laced, proper, object of Tom's affection, but is instead the seed-spitting, marble playing, midnight-cemetery-raiding hero of her own adventure, an adventure that puts her and her new best friend in a world of danger. The kind of danger you only find in St. Petersburg.

Yeah, that's the world Jessica has created. And that's the world readers get to visit in this fantastic book that is a great read for kids and for grown-kids. Plus S&S is releasing a box set of Tom Sawyer, Huckleberry Finn, and Becky Thatcher, which is just the perfect thing to do with a book like this.

It's coming out on July 1. You should go preorder the mess out of this book. Trust me.

Tuesday, June 10, 2014

Middle Grade Book Suggestions for #TheSixtiesCNN

Well, isn't this a fine kettle of fish?

Here I am, three weeks late on posting about the amazing series that's hit CNN, simply titled, "The Sixties." Way to drop the ball, Isaiah!

Anyway, I know a lot of people are excited about this series, as am I. And, with the raised interest in the decade that changed the world (I know it's true cause it's right up there under CNN's title, so that proves it), I thought it'd be cool to highlight some books, written for the Middle Grade audience, that are PERFECT for those interested in the sixties:

REVOLUTION by Deborah Wiles
This is the second in Deborah's Sixties trilogy (the first was the incredible COUNTDOWN, pubbed in 2010) and it kicks the intensity and the beauty of the first book up to a whole different level. It takes place during the summer of 1964, Freedom Summer, in a small Mississippi town, when the southern ideals Sunny grew up with are challenged at every turn. Everything hits the fan when she and her brother sneak into the city pool, and I'm going to leave it at that.

It's the sequel to Rita's ONE CRAZY SUMMER (Which was a Newbery Honor book and a NYTimes Bestseller), and it's a fantastic novel in its own right. It deals with the societal change that took place in the late sixties, with Vietnam and returning, war-torn soldiers, and with, well, being eleven in a world that expects you to be a lot older. It's heart-warming, touching, and if you don't shed a tear by the end, you aren't human.

Set in the early sixties, this Newbery winner tells the story of a young boy (it's semi-autobiographical except for the parts that are complete lies) who has to get in touch with the past in order to make sense of the present and prepare for the highly uncertain (especially in the sixties) future. It all starts when Jack shoots a gun, a relic from WW2. And then it's all obituaries and Eleanor Roosevelt from there. Which may not SOUND very interesting, but trust me, it's fantastic.

THE WATSONS GO TO BIRMINGHAM - 1963 by Christopher Paul Curtis
This is the oldest book on this list (pubbed in 1995) but you simply can't have a list like this without Christopher Paul Curtis' game-changing, award winning tale of a family that chooses probably the worst possible time to send their son to stay with grandma, right when the 16th Street Baptist Church bombing happened. Which just so happened to be grandma's church. I really don't need to say anything more than that. Read this book!

Ok, my agent and editor would probably skin me alive if I didn't include my book on this list. It's set in 1961 Alabama, against the backdrop of the Bay of Pigs Invasion. In it, a comic-book-obsessed twelve-year-old has to dodge the CIA, face the Klan, and escape from Cuba to prove his pa didn't sabotage the Bay of Pigs Invasion. In the early days of the sixties, there is the faint rumblings of the changes to come, and in this story, you get a real idea of what life was like before the changes, why those changes needed to happen, and just how difficult the change of the sixties was destined to be.

Did I miss any books? Leave them in the comments and (maybe) I'll add them to the list!

Saturday, May 10, 2014

Mothers' Day.

Take a moment or maybe even two and think about your mother.

That moment (or those moments. Dang it, why did I make multiple moments an option? I should have stuck with one moment for consistency. Oh well, too late now) probably means something different for each one of us. Because the archetypal mother doesn't exist. Because the Hollywood mother doesn't exist. Because the only mothers who exist are our mothers, and they defy categorization or generalization.
For some of us, our mothers cooked for us and cleaned up after us and kissed our boo-boos and made us feel warm at night. Which, for some, meant you grew up secure and happy. For others meant you grew up smothered and repressed.

For others of us, our mother worked and sweat and fought in a marketplace not designed for women and yet she went out every day for her job or jobs and brought home enough money to pay for food and maybe our clothes and school and probably the sitter who had to sit with us while she worked and wished she was home. And to some, she's a hero. To others, she's the absent parent we wished would have chosen a different path.

For others of us, our mothers are a faint memory, distant and gone, snatched away from us either by the cold grip of death or by the menacing temptation of a life without a family or kids or responsibility. And neither death nor neglect is a better option. A mother who is gone is a mother who is gone, whether we can remember her fondly or not. And yet some of us try to dwell on those memories. Others of us try to forget.

For many of us, our mothers were our guardians, our angels, the gatekeeper who kept us away from the glares because we are different from the norm, or the influence of those anxious to corrupt the young before their time, or the criticism of our imperfections from a society so intolerant of anything other than the Christian/white/male/straight lifestyle they feel safe around. For others, our mothers were the sources of those very glares and corruption and criticism that scars us and will scar us to our grave.

And yet, for all of us, our mothers share one common trait: It was from their wombs we were made. And, for better or worse, no matter how wonderful or terrible they were, to our mothers we owe a debt of life. A debt of gratitude.

And, if you are lucky enough to have a mother who gave you more than just life, gratitude should be the easiest thing to offer.

Here's to all of you mothers, and all of our mothers, and all of those mothers. 

Happy Mothers' Day.

(PS. And to my mom, who tucked me in and read to me, who worked many jobs to help feed me, who to this day watches over me with her loving eye and voice of concern, and who I don't get to see nearly often enough, I say: "I love you Mom! You are the reason I am who I am. Thank you for that. Happy Mother's Day.")

Wednesday, April 16, 2014

Punctuation According to Johnny Cannon

I reckon probably the biggest difference between writing and talking is along the matter of punctuation. ‘Cause when you’re talking, you don’t really give no nevermind to whether or not you done put a comma where it’s supposed to go or whether it’s YOUR or YOU’RE. But brother, if you get a punctuation mark wrong when you’re writing, you can bet your sweet bippy that Mrs. Buttke is going to make her red pen pee all over your paper.

So, here’s what I’ve done. I made myself a list of punctuation marks and what they do. I’ll give you the list here, and then I’ll get into each one with a little more spit and polish later.

Commas Separate
Apostrophes Replace
Colons Introduce
Semicolons Link
Periods End
Exclamation Marks Shout
Question Marks Ask
Quotation Marks Say
Parenthesis Whisper
Dashes Interrupt
Hyphens Glue

So, there you go. Hopefully that’ll hold you over until I can start looking at each one. If not, well dadgummit, go look it up or something. For crying out loud.

Wednesday, April 9, 2014

Spelling Rules According to Johnny Cannon

Making Vowels Make Sense

I reckon the first thing you got to learn how to do when you’re writing English is learn how to spell words, cause a rose by any other name might smell as sweet, but if you spell it like you spell manure, ain't nobody going to sniff it. 

Don't worry, though. Spelling ain’t so hard, really. Except for all them consonants and vowels. In fact, if you didn't have to deal with no letters or nothing, spelling would be a piece of cake.

Actually, consonants ain’t really too hard. Oh, sure, you got your Cs that sometimes sound like a K and sometimes sound like a S. And you got the Gs that can either be its own blamed self or it can be a J in disguise. And every once in a while the S sounds like a Z, and the T sounds like a SH when it’s got a IO after it.

OK, consonants are hard. But they ain’t nearly as dadgum hard as vowels. Vowels are like squishy, mushy putty that moves and changes every which way and never how you want it to. Still, there’s a few tricks to remembering how to get the vowels right in the words you’re writing:

The Sometimes Y
Now, I ain’t just talking about the fact that sometimes the letter Y is a vowel and sometimes, like in Y’all, it’s a consonant. Instead, I’m talking about the fact that Y is only SOMETIMES a Y, but if it starts feeling crowded and such, it lets off a stink like a skunk and turns into an I. Like if you’re adding the letters ES to the end of PARTY, the Y turns into an I and you get PARTIES. Or adding it to TRY, you get TRIES. The only time you ain’t going to see the Y turn yellow and change its shape is if you’re sliding an I along side it, like if you’re adding ING to TRY, you’ll get TRYING. Dadgum Y.

The Shy E
There’s a certain kind of E that is a whole mess of a lot like me, and that’s what’s known as the Silent E, but I like to call it the Shy E. See, the Shy E don’t say nothing, but he shows up in a word at the tail to help the other vowels stand up straight and shout their own names. Like in the word LIKE, that Shy E shows up and makes the I yell “Aye!” Or in HOPE, Mr. Shy E comes along and the O  hollers, “Oh!” But if you start trying to force the Shy E to make other vowel friends, he’s probably going to duck out of the room something fierce. So, if you add ING to HOPE, you’ll get HOPING and Shy E will be HIDING off in his room. The only time that won’t happen is if you make Shy E hang out with a consonant. Then he’ll probably stay around, like if you turn LIKE into LIKENESS, or ENTIRE into ENTIRELY.

The Wrestling Vowels
Shy E has a twin, and that’s the Wrestling E. And Wrestling E hangs out with Wrestling I, and the two of them is always fighting to see who’ll get to be in front. Usually I wins, and so I gets to be in front of E, like in words like BELIEVE or CHIEF. But, sometimes E wins, like if the letter C helps him out in words like RECEIVE. Also, if the word wants to say the A sound, it’ll make I hop in the back, like in NEIGHBOR or WEIGHT. But, every once in a while, I get’s his dander up and hops in the front even when he ain’t supposed to, like in ANCIENT or EFFICIENT. And sometimes the E puts the I in a headlock and jumps over, like in WEIRD or NEITHER. So, you see, them two like to mess around with your head as they punch each other in the face.

So there you go. Vowels is tricky. That’s why I like to make a big ol' sign for all them vowels to help me remember. Then I go and put it up on the shed in the back yard and shoot it with my gun. To help me forget.

Wednesday, April 2, 2014

Oh, HIMYM. Your Finale...

Oh HIMYM. You poor, misunderstood show.

As has been noted here before, I am a big-time TV buff. I love to watch every episode of my favorite series and dissect it for story arcs, character development, and the ebb and flow of writing. I also just enjoy committing long term to characters. And one of my favorite television shows of the last ten years has been How I Met Your Mother. So it should come as no surprise that I have a pretty strong opinion about the series finale.

I loved it.

And that apparently puts me in the minority of HIMYM fans. But I’ve got to say, I feel like the majority is (how do I put this nicely) smoking some wacky weed and treating HIMYM like it’s a Disney Channel show or something. It’s not. A television series has the potential to be a long-form art piece, and HIMYM came as close as any TV series to accomplishing that.

So, without further ado, I’d like to address the complaints presented against the finale (at least the ones I’ve heard) and give a rebuttal. (OBVIOUSLY, SPOILERS SPOILERS SPOILERS)

They crammed too much into one episode.
a.     This is probably not the most damning of complaints, but it is the best one to introduce what will be my most common rebuttal: The name of the show is “How I Met Your Mother.” Not “How I Lived My Life With Your Mother.” The show is framed as a story Ted is telling to his kids. His kids who, since we already know Ted likes to tell stories, have probably already heard about the life Ted and Tracy had after they met and fell in love. Plus they were there for a great deal of it all. It’s not really important, from that perspective, for Ted to give anything other than the bullet points.
      We’ve been anticipating the mother for nine years, and then they go and kill her off.
a.     Yeah, life sucks like that, doesn’t it? And yet, the outrage you feel is exactly the outrage that a person would feel in Ted’s situation. He’s been waiting his entire life to find “The One,” and then, after only ten-eleven years with her, he loses her. You are experiencing empathetic pain for a fictional character. If that’s not good art, I don’t know what is. (And, again, this story is “How I Met Your Mother.” Not “How We Lived Happily Ever After.”)
      But they didn’t even tell us what she died from!
a.     Because that would have made it better? Remember, the kids already know what their mom died from. And if they’d have put forth some disease or illness like cancer or something, it would have taken away some of the mysterious beauty and romance of her death.

     Yeah, but the kids were awful eager to have Ted run after their Aunt Robin. Shouldn’t they be sad/grieving/etc.?
a.     Well, no, it’s been six years. And these kids have been raised by two of the most romantic people in the history of the universe. They want their dad to find happiness again.

      But why would Ted even tell them this whole story if all he wanted was to go after Robin?
a.     That’s what you do when you’re a widow/widower and you have kids. You need to know that they’ll be ok with you moving on. And, for Ted, king of the yellow legal pad/over-thinking-life/etc., he probably needed to make sure HE was ok with moving on as well.

      But Robin? Really?
a.     Who else? The whole series has been about Ted and Robin and what it would take for them to finally be together. From the beginning they wanted different things. Through marrying other people, they got their different things (he got kids and a house in the suburbs, she got to travel the world as a reporter). Now that they’ve both gotten their dreams out of the way, they’re perfect for each other.

     Yeah, but he’d moved on from Robin. She even blew away like a balloon in the weirdest scene over.
a.     And well he needed to move on, or else Tracy would have merely been slappy-second and Ted wouldn’t have been truly happy with her.

     Ok, but it still feels like an out-of-nowhere slap in the face.
a.     It shouldn’t though. Ted’s favorite book is Love in the Time of Cholera, which ends with the death of a spouse and the reuniting with a former flame. His favorite President is Teddy Roosevelt, whose wife that he loved immensely died and then he married a long time friend and flame. Tracy herself had the exact same thing happen to her, the love of her life died and then she moved on to Ted. The clues have been there throughout.

      What about the Barney-Robin season long wedding that ended in divorce. What’s up with that?
a.     That’s life, man. People get married and have beautiful weddings and then eventually get divorced and it’s tragic and disappointing. Again, you’re feeling empathetic disappointment. Which means the art worked.

     Ok, but where the heck was Bob Saget? Why the heck was it his voice all the way until the end, then he became Josh Radnor?
a.     Yeah, ok, I’ll give you that one.

Any complaints I didn’t mention here? Any other insights into the nature of all thing HIMYM? Let me know in the comments!


Monday, March 31, 2014

English According to Johnny Cannon

The day Mrs. Buttke came into the classroom and told us we was going to start learning English, I almost dove through the window yelling, “Give me Liberty or give me Death.” After all, it was a long fought battle fellas like Patrick Henry and George Washington fought to get us free from all them English rules and regulations. And here Mrs. Buttke might as well have been wearing a red-coat, for all the grammar and spelling she was forcing us to get straight.

But, like most things, I eventually gave in to learning. Maybe because I realized that, in spite of the fact I’ve been speaking it practically my whole life, I still ain’t got everything down pat and could really stand to get my reading and writing skills a little bit better.

Ah, heck, I ain’t fooling nobody. It’s really ‘cause Martha Macker, the prettiest girl in Cullman County, gave a little cheer and asked if we was going to start conjugating verbs this year. And I ain’t exactly sure what conjugating is, but if Martha’s gonna do it, I at least want to be in the room.

Anyhow, I reckon it ain’t been so bad learning English. It’s helped me with my writing, which has helped me with my hunting quite a bit, cause I’ve gotten good enough at writing that I ain’t got no excuses any more to put off my homework except for going hunting. So I go hunting just about every day now.

Still, if I don’t want to forget none of the stuff I been learning, I probably ought to write it down and such. So I reckon I’ll start throwing some of my notes up here every once in a while and, hopefully, it’ll help you like it did me. We could really use more better hunters. The skunks are starting to breed.