Tuesday, November 22, 2011

FLYAWAY by Lucy Christopher

While browsing in my local Barnes & Noble, I was struck by all of the "cookie cutter" books on the shelves. I made it my mission to find a middle grade book with no fantastical elements. The one caveat was that it had to be a book I hadn't already read. I found exactly one book that fit my criteria: FLYAWAY by Lucy Christopher.

The back of the book says, "Quiet but compelling. Sensitive." -- Booklist, starred review. There is was again...the dreaded "Quiet" word. I paid for FLYAWAY and took it home with me. I settled down in my favorite reading chair to discover what makes this book "quiet."

Isla is an animal lover, especially swans. Very early on, we learn that her dad is having some health problems. When Isla goes birdwatching with him, Dad collapses, and it's up to Isla to get help for him.

The rest of the book is about Isla's emotional journey. Her first crush, her school project, her relationship with her prickly grandfather, but underlying all of the normal activities is a young girl struggling to grow up. Isla must face that life is fragile, and sometimes we lose the people we love most.

In my opinion, this book is deemed "quiet" because it doesn't have a "high action" plot. No buildings were blown up, bad guys didn't chase the protagonist, a wicked witch didn't die in a puff of smoke. Still I think many middle school girls will see a bit of themselves in Isla.

I enjoyed FLYAWAY, and if you are, or ever were, a girl on the cusp of growing up, you probably will too.

Wednesday, November 2, 2011

SECOND SIGHT by Cheryl Klein

Reasons to read SECOND SIGHT:

1. It will improve your work-in-progress. On page 17 Ms. Klein writes, "I am extremely wary of the word "feel" in a manuscript, as in 'Cheryl felt extremely wary.'" I had a lightbulb moment! If I have to tell the reader how my character feels then I haven't done an adequate job showing how the character feels. I'm scanning all of my manuscripts for the F word. There are many other specific tips just like this one in the book.

2. It will make you a better critiquer. Recently, I was reviewing a manuscript for a talented writer in my critique group. Her first page just wasn't working for me. I discovered the reason why on page 39. "If you're using a description beginning, be careful that the description is relevant and intriguing, and that it doesn't go on too long before it gets to some action." I quoted Cheryl Klein in my critique and it provided a dose of objectivity.

3. It will make you a better reviser. There's an entire chapter titled " Twenty-Five Revision Techniques." My personal favorite is #11, which is basically outlining the action of the book chapter by chapter/scene by scene.

4. It will help you write a better query letter. Ms. Klein uses a query letter she received from Olugbemisola Rhuday-Perkovich and goes into all of the reasons why this letter works.

5. It will make you laugh! Ms. Klein was brave enough to print her 5th grade picture and to include some other funny photos in her chapter on how to write a picture book.

I marked up SECOND SIGHT with an orange highlighter so that I can refer back to it with ease. Now my plan of action is to delete all the F words and cut the scene where my protagonist is looking in the mirror. Ms. Klein calls that trick a cliche!

Have you read SECOND SIGHT? If so, what tips did you take away from it?