Saturday, August 29, 2015

Writing a Book Review

Back in the "good old days" there was a weekly spelling assignment I dreaded. From our list of twenty or so assigned spelling words, we had to craft a story using at least half of them. Every week. And one year, the teacher required every word on the list to be in the story. Every word!

Spelling text books back then grouped words by phonetics not by word definitions or themes, so connecting the words required a great deal of creativity. Pity the poor teachers who read our stilted stories week after week, and we're talking upwards of thirty-five students per class.

When I became a teacher I vowed I would never give that assignment.

But I did, not often, but still, I did.

And I learned a lot about the students and their abilities to adapt and stretch their imaginations and work within structures.

Yesterday I caught myself going through this same process. Oh. My. Goodness. This is how I write now...well, sometimes, especially when I want to set a tone. I write a list of words ahead of time, words that I want to include. I've done it that way for years, back in my high school essays and later in my college research papers. I would write the list in the margins next to the crossword puzzle or on a sticky note to post on the wall in front of me or on a napkin from McDonald's that I had on reserve in the console of my car. Words often came to me at the most inopportune time!

All this lead-up to say that yesterday I went through this process as I wrote a review of a book I just finished reading. It's an excellent (that word was on the list, but not used) newly released book by one of the gals in my SOUP critique group, Sandra Warren.
Fantastic (another great word to set a tone) nonfiction 
I had read bits and pieces of it that she submitted to our SOUP group as she went along, so I thought I had some idea of what it would be like. But WOW (another great tone setting word that I didn't use). Holding it in my hands, seeing the photographs that enhanced the story, reading it word for word, what a joy! And what a story. I couldn't put the book down. It's that good.

Reviews on Amazon mean as much to an author who checks in daily as to a reader who is depending on the review for honesty, so I knew I had my work cut out for me. I wanted to express my feelings and support for the book, emphasizing the extensive research that went into this project, all in a short paragraph.

I made a list of words, ended up using perhaps a third of them. If you read through what I've posted below, you can sort of figure out which words were on my list. Click on the title and go to Amazon and read the other reviews. While you are there, you can always purchase it...available on Kindle, too.
  • This extraordinary narrative, We Bought a WWII Bomber, isn’t just about a school accomplishing unbelievable heights in the government sponsored “Buy a Bomber” campaign. True, by the time I completed the book, I felt a little jealous that I didn’t attend this remarkable school. While author Sandra Warren gives the reader a glimpse into the reality of life during war times, her research takes us beyond the halls of Grand Rapids, Michigan’s South High into the bomber itself during its final hours and into the community it impacted. This is a not-to-be-missed story of determination and possibilities.
And I meant every word!

Catch of the day,


Saturday, August 22, 2015

Back to School Shopping, The "Not" List

I made the mistake of going shopping yesterday, the Friday before school opens for the 2015 academic year here in the county where I live. It was not quite Black-Friday-after-Thanksgiving shopping, but close enough that I should have known better than to darken Walmart's automatic sliding doors.

All I needed were name tags and ink pens, my assignment for tomorrow's annual homecoming at the church I attend. In the process of searching this megastore with the hordes, I happened down the same aisles as the back to school crowds doing some searching of their own...for ink pens...and note cards and lined paper and whatever else was on the list. Yes, they each had a list specific to his or her own classroom. Cool idea.

If only I could have given a list to my students back in my teaching years! I would, however, have given a "not" list. First on the list, please do not purchase paper in spiral (wire) bound notebooks. Years of picking up shreds of paper bits taught me that precaution, not to mention the straggly papers causing havoc in the stacks of my homework each night.

Please do not purchase high school ruled paper. Fourth graders' cursive writing is still developing and thinner spacing between lines makes for difficult days ahead. (It's the simple things.) Grade a math paper done by a fourth grader on high school ruled paper and you'll know exactly what I mean.

Don't waste money on 132 count fancy crayon boxes. I had plenty of long nubs left from accumulations in years past. Besides, by fourth grade, crayons are the least needed of instruments that were once so necessary.

Don't invest in ink pens. I did not accept work done in ink simply because of the strike overs that are so frequent in children still learning. They need the possibilities of correcting mistakes with old fashioned erasers in orderly fashion.

Don't buy flip flops for school shoes. Walking through crowded halls in flip flops is torture. So is gym class.

Don't spend money on scissors (provided) or rulers (provided) or calculators (yes, provided) or noisy electric pencil sharpeners (hand crank models provided).

I'm "Old School." I expected my students to come prepared to work with loose leaf paper, number two pencils, a belly full of breakfast (provided) and an open mind.

That worked well.

Catch of the day,


Saturday, August 15, 2015

Granny Camp and a Book Idea

Another session of what I laughingly call Granny Camp is now over. I've caught up on my rest, the cat is once again sleeping without watching over her back, and the house is clean...and way too quiet.

The highlight of this week's time together, for me at least, was our Wednesday road trip to Biltmore House in Asheville, NC. Along the way we stopped for a quick visit and photo op with the illustrator of my most recent book, Hoop Hike.

Artist Bobbie Gumbert with the real Reagan
Look behind Bobbie and you'll see more of her paintings on the wall. In fact, art fills the home she has made for her and her husband (my cousin) Gerald. I enjoyed being there and discovering her newest projects, one of which on this visit was a parasol that she gifted my grands.

Artist Bobbie and my other grand, Gracie
The butterflies and other art on the top of the parasol are not visible in this photo, but trust me, they made it come to life, which, coincidentally enough, is exactly what our next project will be about: an umbrella and a rainbow hike with the same characters, Sue and Lou and Reagan Roo. The grands threw out ideas on the way to Bobbie's house, some unbelievable that caused us to giggle, some too impossible to include, but most delightful and fun...And we arrived at Bobbie's...And she had the parasol...And met the main character, Reagan Roo. It was like the forces of the universe collided and poof. New book!

Birthing a book is a strange process. The idea often comes from nowhere, almost bonks you on the head. From moment of conception to book in hand is a labor of love filled with excitement and possibilities and yes, pain and frustration. But so worth it. 

Now to write down those ideas before I forget.

Catch of the day,


Saturday, August 8, 2015


'Tis the season!

Reunion season, that is. Between now and the end of September I have a family reunion (my husband's), a church reunion, and a class reunion (my husband's) to attend.

The concept is old school. Get together with friends and family. Catch up on the news of their lives. See how much the children have grown. Pack a picnic basket with a dish overflowing with food to share. Come hungry. Leave full of good food and good feelings.

The church reunion is actually termed a "homecoming." 

Church homecoming from the early fifties

We worship together. We set up a huge tent with tables and chairs from the Sunday School classrooms. The food tables are in the fellowship hall with the air safety. That's now. These photographs were taken well before air conditioning was even considered, back when it was a luxury that few congregants enjoyed.

Another church homecoming, this from the late fifties

After the last amen had been proclaimed, the wives and mothers hurried to their baskets and started the spread. And my what a spread I'm talking about. It was August, when fresh vegetables were plentiful. These were country housewives where recipes didn't count, only handed down knowledge. 

By the sixties, recipes with a jello base started creeping onto the table. And then green bean casseroles, squash casseroles, sweet potato casseroles. Then came more elaborated cakes and pies, well, sort of, because first came the cake mix cakes, then the dump cakes, followed by the bundt cakes with their odd shapes. The plain jane apple pies sat uncut. So did the southern favorite, pound cakes. 
Photograph by Brett Nelson, Lenoir News Topic
Family reunion time in the south
Different family, different times

Now we're in a new century and guess what, the food trend is coming full circle. We're back to basics with much prized home grown tomatoes, corn on and off the cob, pound cake, pecan pie. Not even a green bean casserole in sight. 

As for me, today at the Griffith family reunion, (not the one in the photograph above) I'm taking a salad with lettuce and tomatoes straight from our garden. But on the way down, we're stopping at Ted's Kickin Chicken in Wilkesboro and picking up a bucket of wings. I just can't compete with the family cooks.

Ted's Kickin Chicken, best chicken in western North Carolina
Photograph by Johnny Turner
I know about this restaurant because it's in my Wheels and Moonshine book, page 63. Author tasted and approved, which is why, today, the extended Griffith family is in store for a treat.

Happy reunions, everyone.

Catch of the day,