Needing to believe, and believing to be needed

Growing up, my favorite Narnia book was easily The Silver Chair. I loved when Prince Rilian came out of his enchantment, slew the giant serpent, and destroyed the silver chair. I loved dear old Puddleglum. I loved the trenches that spelled out words.

But mostly, I loved Jill Pole.

Jill wasn’t a Pevensie. There weren’t prophecies about her. She was just a girl struggling through school the best she could.

But when Eustace told her about this magical place he had visited, a beautiful place far beyond the reach of bullies and gray English skies, she believed. She believed so much that she had to go there.

And when she got there, she found that she was needed. She alone heard the signs from Aslan. She was given the quest to rescue Prince Rilian with Eustace. She kept their little trio going with her fire and determination.

And she made mistakes. Oooh, she made mistakes. But she worked doubly hard to fix them and still saved the day in the end. And as a girl who was constantly making stupid mistakes, that gave me a lot of hope for myself.

I used to think that if I hoped and believed hard enough, I could get to the Wood Between the Worlds and travel to all the lands I had ever read about or imagined, as well as the ones I had never in my wildest dreams encountered. And in a way, I did. I believed in stories the way August Rush believed in music. I believed, like Uncle Hub, that good will always triumph over evil, that true love never dies.

And I believed, like Jill Pole, that there was a magical land out there that needed me.

And now I’m building my own Wood Between the Worlds, an already-enormous collection of places and people and powers, some of which will never be read by eyes other than my own, some of which are out there already. And I’m no Shannon Hale, but even with my small-but-growing readership, I’ve had kids tell me how this or that or the other part really meant something to them. And it makes me want to cry a little every time.

Because it means that I’ve reached my magical land, and I have found that I’m needed.

And I think that’s what life is. It’s believing in something–stories, music, business, people, math, whatever–and believing in it so hard that it (whatever it is) really needs you, even if it doesn’t know it yet. Charles Wallace didn’t know how much he needed Meg. Mount Eskel didn’t know how much they needed Miri. And Narnia didn’t know how much it needed Jill Pole. But all of these ladies believed in their it, and nothing was ever the same again.

So whatever it is you believe in, be it writing stories or teaching high school math, know that you are needed. Go forth and change the world.

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Waiting waiting waiting

The launch party was a great success on Saturday! It was so fun to talk books and writing with so many readers.

And now Stone Alliance is out in the world, and I’m waiting for this baby to come out into the world too. Between being roughly the size of a rhinoceros and coming down with a ridiculous cold, it’s been increasingly hard to do anything remotely productive, so I’ve been catching up on some reading. Here’s what’s in my stack this week:

Beastly Bones by William Ritter
Charlie Bone and the Time Twister by Jenny Nimmo
President of the Whole Sixth Grade by Sherri Winston
Nightmares! by Jason Segel
Amulet series by Kazu Kibuishi
Bird by Bird by Anne Lamott (although I’m struggling to get anywhere with this one, short as it is)

What are you reading this week?

Why I love three-star reviews

The first days after releasing a book, it’s hard not to compulsively check Amazon and Goodreads every ten minutes to see whether there’s a new review. As a writer, I LOVE four- and five-star reviews. Let’s be honest. I like being told that I’m a brilliant writer.

But as time has passed, I’ve found that, while five-star reviews are the most encouraging and exciting, the most useful reviews, both as a reader and a writer, are the three-star reviews.

I know some people who get upset at three-star reviews, as if it’s a negative rating. It’s not. On Goodreads, three stars is described as “I liked it.” And you know, I’m okay with people liking my books.

And the thing about three-star reviews is, the reviewer is often much more fair about presenting the strengths and weaknesses of a book. It’s not nearly as fun to hear about my writing weaknesses as it is to hear about everything I did well, but it’s so necessary. If I don’t know what problems readers have with my writing, I don’t know how to polish it up, make my words smoother and more powerful.

I also appreciate the frank honesty of three-star reviews. Higher ratings tend toward effusive praise and lower ratings tend toward vague, snippy generalizations; but three-star reviews are (generally speaking) more thoughtful and complete examinations of a book’s merits.

How do you feel about three stars? Do you tend to rate books high, middling, or low?

The danger of reviews

I recently reread a trilogy that, aside from an abundance of teenage romance, I thoroughly enjoyed. It had a complex and engaging plot, varied and developed characters, and a villain who gave me nightmares. Granted, it wasn’t a literary master piece or anything, but it was fun YA sci-fi.

When I posted my rating on Goodreads, I happened to glance at the other reviews on the page. I was surprised to see a number of fairly negative reviews, in spite of a decent overall rating on the book. Glancing through them, I found that I really didn’t agree with most of the reviews, and the bits that I did sort of agree with weren’t a big enough deal to me to lower my four-star rating.

This is the down side of my up-down relationship with Goodreads. I love seeing what my friends are reading and their reviews–but I hate seeing reviews from total strangers, because I can’t put it in context of their personality.

Book bloggers are a step up, because I feel like I do get some sense of their personality and their perspective after a bit. I can tell where our tastes meet and where they diverge. Usually. If it’s a good blogger.

But my top source of book recommendations is still my circle of bookish friends. We know each other well enough that we can say, “I liked this book but don’t think it would appeal to you” or, conversely, “I didn’t like this book, but it’s right up your alley.” Not only that, if I read a book on a friend’s recommendation, I already know that I have someone to talk to about it when I’m done. Because, seriously, what’s worse than loving a book and having NOBODY to talk to about it? I’m still trying to find someone to squeal about A Corner of White with, by the way, if any of you have read it. The last book in the trilogy is coming out next month and I’m dying here!

So how do you feel about online reviews? Do you check out Goodreads before you pick a book? Any favorite book bloggers?

Reading books five times a day

I have a two-year-old who LOVES reading. Our “library” room is constantly layered with books because she’ll pull them one by one off the shelves, flip through them, and grab another one. She’ll grab an armful and dump them on my lap–then say, “I’ll get fwee more, Mom.” “Fwee” (three) usually ends up being four or five or six.

She goes through phases of which books she likes best, but there are a few that she will consistently pick above all others. Here are some of the favorites in our house:

 

paper bag princess

The Paper Bag Princess by Robert Munsch, illustr. Michael Martchenko. She loves the dragon, and I love Princess Elizabeth, who is clever, determined, and confident.

 

 

naamah

Naamah and the Ark at Night by Susan Campbell Bartoletti, illustr. Holly Meade. We picked this up by happy chance at the library. The illustrations are beautiful, and I love the simple story of Noah’s wife.

 

sheep in a jeep

Sheep in a Jeep by Nancy Shaw, illustr. Margot Apple. Simple, catchy rhymes, clever illustrations. This one’s just fun.

 

moose a muffin

If You Give a Moose a Muffin by Laura Joffe Numeroff, illustr. Felicia Bond. Honestly, I love all the “If you give a . . .” books, but this moose. It’s adorable.

 

harvey potter

Harvey Potter’s Balloon Farm by Jerdine Nolen, illustr. Mark Buehner. I remember getting this from a book order back in elementary school, and it was one of my favorites as a kid. Now Scout has latched onto it. She calls it “Harry Potter” (that might be confusing later on), and she is in balloon heaven every time we read it.

***

What picture books do you remember from your childhood? Or what books do you read to your kids? We’re always looking for new recommendations!

 

Top reads of 2015

I shared my complete Goodreads list from this year’s reading in my last post, but I wanted to take a minute to highlight some of my favorites. Because, you know, everyone needs a few more books on their to-read list. 🙂

This was apparently a big year for reading/finishing series, so we’ll start with those.

Zita the Spacegirl by Ben Hatke (series, graphic novel): I picked this series up when I was exploring the world of graphic novels and loved it. Great story for young readers.

Jinx by Sage Blackwood (series, MG fantasy): The final book in the series, Jinx’s Fire, came out this year, and I loved it every bit as much as the first two.

Anne of Green Gables by LM Montgomery (series, classics): I had never ventured beyond the first book before this year, but I devoured the other seven in just a couple of months once I got started. Some are better than others, but all are worth the read.

The Casson Family by Hilary McKay (series, YA contemporary): This is one I’m kind of hesitant to recommend to everyone, because I’m not sure everyone would appreciate the family dynamics. But I picked up Indigo’s Star by chance at the library and had to read the rest after that. I’m a sucker for properly quirky characters, and the Casson family fits the bill.

The Penderwicks by Jeanne Birdsall (series, MG family): Another series that wrapped up this year with the publication of The Penderwicks in Spring. I adore the Penderwicks, and while I struggled at first with the leap forward in time between the third and fourth books, I still loved the final installment.

Okay, a couple of standalone books:

As You Wish by Cary Elwes (memoir): I’ve always loved the movie The Princess Bride and finally read the book last year. So when I saw that dear Westley had written a memoir of the making of the movie, I had to check it out. It was a super fun read, filled with goofy stories and little snippets from other cast and crew members.

Flygirl by Sherri L. Smith (YA historical fiction, WWII): This book is SO good for covering difficult questions that don’t have answers. A beautiful story of a black woman fighting for the chance to prove her worth.

There you have it! What were some of your favorite reads from 2015?

Another year of books

“Perhaps there is some secret sort of homing instinct in books that brings them to their perfect readers. How delightful if that were true.” (The Guernsey Literary and Potato Peel Pie Society)

Another year of fabulous reading is almost at an end! I was wretchedly ill on Christmas, but still managed to enjoy the day reading (and rereading and rereading) Scout’s horde of new books (more just kept appearing under the tree, I don’t know how it happened). Once she went down for her nap, I pored over the absolutely stunning illustrations of my very own Illustrated Harry Potter, thanks to my wonderful husband who tolerates and indulges in my deeply rooted obsession.

I love that Goodreads gives me a visual at the end of each year showing which books I’ve read. If you’re interested, you can see my Year in Books here–not counting, of course, the scads of pictures books I’ve read aloud all year. Let me tell you, folks, I’m getting pretty darn good at Fox in Socks.

Here’s to all the books that will change our lives in 2016!