Book of the Week #30

Emeralds Included: A Jana Bibi Adventure by Betsy Woodman (Henry Holt and Company, 2014)
Feathers fly and cultures clash as the Jolly Grant House prepares to welcome a special delivery from Scotland.
In the third installment of the Jana Bibi series, Betsy Woodman takes us back to the Jolly Grant house for the arrival of Jana’s son, Jack, from Scotland, and his Hungarian bride-to-be, Katarina Esterhazy. The whole gang is excited to welcome their international visitors—and Jana is determined to repair the house to Jack’s high standards and those of her grandfather, from whom she inherited the eccentric building. But this puts a strain on Jana, both emotionally and financially, and she risks her most prized and valuable possession—the (surprisingly real!) emeralds she got from the Treasure Emporium—to help her through it.
New Hampshire resident Betsy Woodman takes us to India in the mid-twentieth century in this charming series which began with Jana Bibi's Excellent Fortunes.

Woodman has readings coming up at Gibson's (Thursday, 7/24/2014) and Toadstool, Keene (Saturday, 7/26/2014).


Ladybug Nominee Profile

 How to Train a Train by Jason Carter Eaton; illustrated by John Rocco (published by Candlewick Press, 2013 )
"Finding advice on caring for a dog, a cat, a fish, even a dinosaur is easy. But what if somebody’s taste in pets runs to the more mechanical kind? What about those who like cogs and gears more than feathers and fur? People who prefer the call of a train whistle to the squeal of a guinea pig? Or maybe dream of a smudge of soot on their cheek, not slobber? In this spectacularly illustrated picture book, kids who love locomotives (and what kid doesn’t?) will discover where trains live, what they like to eat, and the best train tricks around—everything it takes to lay the tracks for a long and happy friendship. All aboard! Loco for locomotives? Get your ticket ready -- here is everything you need to know about finding, keeping, and training your very own pet train." --Publisher's blurb
Obviously the thing to talk about with this book is trains!
  • Trains can be sorted in several distinct categories, separated by the way their locomotives are powered, their use, and by the design of their tracks.  There are pictures of several different kinds at trainhistory.net
  • Did you know that camels used to pull trains? There is a picture of one in the Australian Rail Transport Timeline.
  • According to TrainsNH.com New Hampshire has more tourist railroads than any other geographical location in the United States.
  • There are 459 miles of active railroad in New Hampshire. The state is the largest railroad owner with over 200 miles of active line, and there are nine freight railroads operating here according to the NH Department of Transportation.
  • There are more fun facts about trains at Easy Science for Kids.
  • Pintrest has lots of train crafts for kids.

This is one of the ten titles nominated for the 2014 Ladybug Picture Book Award. John Rocco's book Blackout was nominated in 2012. This is Jason Carter Eaton's first Ladybug nomination.


Q&A: Toby Ball

Toby Ball (photo by Juliet Grant)
There are a lot of wonderful writers living in our state, some full-time, some part-time.  As the Director of the NH Center for the Book I get the opportunity to talk to many of them. This interview series of Q&As with New Hampshire authors here on Book Notes lets me share that experience a bit with my blog readers.   

If someone hasn't read your work yet, where should they start?
The books all stand alone, but there’s no reason not to start with the first one, The Vaults. My hope is that it is interesting and rewarding to watch the changes in the main characters and the city in which the books are set, as the years (and books) go by.
When did you first think of yourself as a writer?
That’s an interesting question, because I think the way I have defined the idea of “writer” and how it pertains to me has changed. To a certain extent, I think that you become a writer when you are working on your fourth draft of something, or when you edit out a passage of writing you really like because it doesn’t serve the work as a whole. In other words, I think being a writer means showing a commitment to doing the difficult, not-so-fun work on projects and a willingness to make sacrifices to produce a better work.
Another important aspect for me thinking of myself as a writer was being paid for my writing. It’s not that the money itself was so important (though it never hurts), but the recognition that my writing was, in some people’s opinions, at least, compelling enough that people would be interested in reading it.
How did you end up living in NH?
I got my master’s in education at U. of New Hampshire and really loved the Seacoast area. My interest in UNH stemmed in large part from having spent summers on Bear Island in Lake Winnipesaukee when I was growing up. My great-grandparents bought a cottage there in the 1930s and I have been up there every summer of my life. Why wouldn’t I want to live close by?
Where do you like to write?
I’m honestly not very picky. I probably do most of my writing in the guest room or living room at my house, but I enjoy working at Bear Island (preferably on the dock) or sitting at a coffee shop in downtown Portsmouth or pretty much anywhere with an empty chair and relative quiet, or at least not too much distraction.
How important is place in your writing?
My three books all take place in a fictional city, called the City. The City is in many ways a character in the books. It is vast, crumbling, multi-ethnic, riven with tension between rich and poor, and systemically corrupt. The plots generally revolve around changes in the City and how the people live there react or adapt to these changes.

What do you do when you aren't writing?
I have two kids (8 and 17) who I spend a lot of time with – playing games, doing projects, things like that. I play basketball and indoor soccer and summers at Bear Island include a wide range of water sports. I’m also a big Washington Wizards and Syracuse Orange basketball fan.
I also have a full-time job as the Program Manager at the Crimes against Children Research Center and Family Research Lab at the University of New Hampshire.
What’s the best piece of advice (writing or otherwise) you were ever given?
Write another draft.
It’s so easy to convince yourself that you have completed a novel because you are fatigued or impatient. But it is crucial that everything be as strong and polished as you can possibly make it before submission to an agent or editor. You have one chance to impress; don’t squander it by not putting in the necessary work. I typically have written four to six drafts (real drafts, not just fixing errors) before I even send it to my agent. There are usually a couple more drafts (at least) before sending to an editor, and another two or three drafts at that point.

What books do you love and what about them speaks to you?
I love many types of books and for different reasons. I really like books that show me a different way of looking at the world or that tackle an issue from an angle I hadn’t thought of before. But I also like books that plunge me into a life completely different from the one that I lead – preferably one that is suspenseful and dangerous. My favorite books, such as The Smiley trilogy by John LeCarre and the Thomas Cromwell books by Hilary Mantel, manage to do both of these things.
What are you working on now?
I’m working on a novel outside of the City series. While it possesses the same basic sensibility, it is set in the here and now and would probably be less likely to wind up in the mystery section of your library or bookstore.

        What do you want to share that I neglected to ask about?
I think the most important things for a writer trying to get published are persistence and a thick skin. You are going to accumulate rejections - that's just the way it is - but you can't be discouraged by them. Everyone gets them. It's a subjective business. That doesn't mean that persistence alone will lead to success - the first novel I wrote was never picked up and I finally realized that it simply wasn't good enough - but it is a rare person who finds publishing success quickly.

Learn more about Toby's work, and check the calendar to see when he will be at a bookstore near you at http://tobyball.com


Book of the Week #29

What is Visible by Kimberly Elkins (NY: Twelve, 2014)

"A vividly original literary novel based on the astounding true-life story of Laura Bridgman, the first deaf and blind person who learned language and blazed a trail for Helen Keller. At age two, Laura Bridgman lost four of her five senses to scarlet fever. At age seven, she was taken to Perkins Institute in Boston to determine if a child so terribly afflicted could be taught. At age twelve, Charles Dickens declared her his prime interest for visiting America. And by age twenty, she was considered the nineteenth century's second most famous woman, having mastered language and charmed the world with her brilliance. Not since The Diving Bell and the Butterfly has a book proven so profoundly moving in illuminating the challenges of living in a completely unique inner world. With Laura-by turns mischievous, temperamental, and witty-as the book's primary narrator, the fascinating kaleidoscope of characters includes the founder of Perkins Institute, Samuel Gridley Howe, with whom she was in love; his wife, the glamorous Julia Ward Howe, a renowned writer, abolitionist, and suffragist; Laura's beloved teacher, who married a missionary and died insane from syphilis; an Irish orphan with whom Laura had a tumultuous affair; Annie Sullivan; and even the young Helen Keller. Deeply enthralling and rich with lyricism, WHAT IS VISIBLE chronicles the breathtaking experiment that Laura Bridgman embodied and its links to the great social, philosophical, theological, and educational changes rocking Victorian America. Given Laura's worldwide fame in the nineteenth century, it is astonishing that she has been virtually erased from history. WHAT IS VISIBLE will set the record straight." --Publisher's blurb

According to the Washington Post  review, "Laura Bridgman, one of the most celebrated women of her time, has been mostly lost to ours. Now, Kimberly Elkins’s wonderful novel salvages her story from the sunken wreckage of history and tells it anew in riveting, poignant detail."

Laura Bridgman was born in Etna, NH.  Etna is a community within Hanover which is why many sources list Hanover as Bridgman's birthplace. Child of the Silent Night by Edith Hunter is a book for young people about Bridgman's life.


Ladybug Nominee Profile

Ben Rides On by Matt Davies is the story of a boy, his bike, and a bully. It is also a symbolic tale of the author overcoming adversity.
"Illustration comes naturally to Davies—his editorial cartoons won him a Pulitzer Prize in 2004—and this satisfying tale of a boy, his beloved bicycle, and the bully who steals it is a fine debut. When the marvelously lunkheaded Adrian Underbite takes Ben’s bicycle for a joyride and hurtles off a cliff, Ben leans over the edge and sees Adrian clinging to a tiny branch. “How extraordinarily terrible,” Ben thinks, though his toothy grin conveys quite another emotion. But Ben’s conscience smites him, and he goes back to rescue Adrian with results that blend decency and humor. Davies’s figures have string-bean bodies and bobbly heads, and they dash headlong through the spreads. A crow sidekick provides extra mirth: “Hauling the big galoot proved to be a challenge,” Davies writes about the cliff rescue, “but Ben pulled Adrian to safety (with some help from a friend).” The crow appears next to Ben, pulling for all it’s worth; after its magnificent exertion, it topples over, exhausted. A story about doing the right thing that pumps up the laughs and evades smarminess. Ages 4–7." --Publisher's Weekly

Talking about bullying and conscience are obvious followups to this book. You might also consider topics like momentum (consider an experiment using marbles or a demo with skateboards) and bike safety. If you want a craft project consider bicycle decorations.

This is one of the ten titles nominated for the 2014 Ladybug Picture Book Award.