Archive for Current Events

Today’s Word: Portemanteau

This is a portemanteau:

 

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That is, a large suitcase or trunk that usually opens into two separate parts.

However, the word “mansplaining” is also a portemanteau:

Ironic businessman boss. Business concept professional at work retro style pop art

According the Merriam-Webster, 1: a large suitcase; 2: a word or morpheme whose form and meaning are derived from a blending of two or more distinct forms. 

Our language has many portemanteaus, including: brunch, dramedy, carjack, Reaganomics, motel, snowmageddon, threepeat, gaydar, Brexit, sharknado, etc.

FUN FACT: “Chortle” is a portemanteau invented by Lewis Carroll, combining “chuckle” and “snort.

Carry on!

Donald Trump and “The Courage Test”

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I owe a debt of thanks to Donald Trump. His campaign rhetoric helped inspire parts of my new middle-grade novel, The Courage Test (Macmillan).

No book is written in isolation. There is always a personal and historic context, and it’s only natural for outside influences to leak into any manuscript. For this book, Donald Trump — as the emergent Republican frontrunner for the presidency of the United States — became the inescapable buzz and background to my thoughts.

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Back in early 2015, I set out to write the story of William Meriwether Miller, a 12-year-old boy who travels with his father along parts of the Lewis & Clark Trail. They drive, hike, backpack, and paddle through some of the most beautiful parts of America. Along their trip, they experience new places, new people, and (we hope!) gain new insights into themselves and each other.

Young Will’s experience parallels that of the original quest of Lewis & Clark and the “Corps of Discovery,” explorers who sought the Northwest Passage, the hoped-for water passageway from the Missouri River to the Pacific Ocean. The more I learned about that expedition, the more fascinated I became. I’d accidentally hit upon a rich pathway into the American soul. The scope of the book shifted under my feet. The Trail was no longer merely convenient metaphor; it became essential fact, a way into the messy heartland. So the book also became an expression of my awe at the exploration made by Lewis & Clark from 1804-06. Theirs was a military journey into uncharted territory — the old maps employed that great phrase, “Parts Unknown,” to label vast areas — the first epic and fateful push west that came to define the American pioneering impulse, for better and for worse. It was a story of discovery and nation-making, of personal bravery and perseverance, of ignorance and arrogance. Most profoundly, their exploration inevitably precipitated the cruel clash of cultures between the American government and the indigenous people who had lived on that land for centuries.

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And so I set a father and son wandering along that same path to discover parts unknown. They learn something of themselves, but also this: that we are forever remaking our nation in a thousand different ways. How we respect the land, how we treat each other. Each day, we define ourselves anew. The idea of America is not fixed in time. It is a fluid, ever-changing thing.

Lewis & Clark are guiding spirits that haunt Will’s journey. The other specter that haunted my writing journey, if you will, was Donald Trump. I was hearing his words on a daily basis. And it struck me that what he represented seemed to strike against the spirit of this nation’s core. He boasts about building a great wall, he stokes fear and distrust of immigrants, he promises deportations. On the day of his campaign announcement, June 15, 2015, Trump said:

“When Mexico sends its people, they’re not sending their best. They’re sending people that have lots of problems. They’re bringing drugs. They’re bringing crime. They’re rapists.”

And Trump promised:

“I will build a great wall — and nobody builds walls better than me, believe me —and I’ll build them very inexpensively. I will build a great, great wall on our southern border, and I will make Mexico pay for that wall. Mark my words.”

He hasn’t stopped denigrating people since. Just yesterday calling the Somali immigrants of Minnesota a “disaster” for the state. It is one thing to lead a thoughtful discussion about immigration standards and practices; it is something altogether different, and more hateful and fear-mongering, to broadly disparage a culture and a community of immigrants living in our country. It’s also counter-productive.

In The Courage Test, I weave in details throughout the book that echo and mirror the explorers’ original experiences (an incident with a bear, adventures in the rapids, encounters with the Nez Perce tribe, etc). To cite one example: protagonists in both time periods meet up with a vulnerable, pregnant 15-year-old girl. For Lewis & Clark, her name was Sacagawea. She grew up with the Shoshones and was kidnapped by the Hidatsa tribe at roughly age ten. A few years later she was sold to a fur trapper named Toussaint Charbonneau, who made her his wife. Sacagawea famously joined Lewis & Clark on their journey to the sea. Correspondingly, in the main narrative, Will and his father meet Maria Rosa, also 15 and pregnant. It is strongly intimated that Maria came into the United States illegally from Mexico, a runaway seeking a new life.

 

Painting by Edgar Samuel Paxson.

Painting by Edgar Samuel Paxson.

 

To me, it became very important how Will and his father responded to this girl. Because it would not only reveal their character, but it would say something about America, at least a vision of America in which I still believe. In that sense the book became in part my response to Donald Trump. A story about morality, and compassion, and the courage to face the coming challenges with open, generous hearts.

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THE COURAGE TEST is a 2016 JUNIOR LIBRARY GUILD SELECTION.

“Preller traverses both domestic drama and adventure story with equally sure footing, delivering the thrills of a whitewater rafting accident and a mama bear encounter, and shifting effortlessly to the revelation of Mom’s illness and the now urgent rapprochement between Dad and Will. Whatever young explorers look for on their literary road trips, they’ll find it here.The Bulletin of the Center for Children’s Books.

Preller stirs doses of American history into a first-rate road trip that does traditional double-duty as plot device and coming-of-age metaphor. Will is initially baffled and furious at being abruptly forced to accompany his divorced father, a history professor, on a long journey retracing much of the trail of Lewis and Clark. The trip soon becomes an adventure, though, because as the wonders of the great outdoors work their old magic on Will’s disposition, his father and a Nez Perce friend (who turns out to be a Brooklyn banker) fill him in on the Corps of Discovery’s encounters with nature and native peoples. Also, along with helping a young runaway find a new home, Will survives a meeting with a bear and a spill into dangerous rapids — tests of courage that will help him weather the bad news that awaits him at home.”—Booklist, Starred Review

“A middle grade winner to hand to fans of history, adventure, and family drama..”School Library Journal.

Photographing My Good Side . . . at The Warwick Children’s Book Festival

Every time I meet a photographer, I give that person a detailed list of very specific instructions. In total, this:

1. Only photograph my good side.

So, of course, all the shots after my visit to the Warwick Children’s Book Festival were of the top of my head:

Signing my new book, THE COURAGE TEST.

Signing my new book, THE COURAGE TEST.

 

Reasons to be grateful: I still have hair, right? In truth, I had an inspiring day at the Warwick Children’s Book Festival this past Saturday, 10/8/16. It was a warm, cozy event in a great town filled with good people. I go every year. It’s a two-year-old tradition. Now we’re family.

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One of the pleasures for an author at Warwick is getting to briefly chat with friends in the business, “companions of the flame” as H.D. wrote. For example: the effervescent Hazel G Mitchell was my neighbor and it was the first time we had any extended time together; I tracked down my pal Hudson Talbott, whom I respect so much. His new book, FROM WOLF TO WOOF! is flawless, intelligent, extraordinary. I got to linger in the parking lot with Eric Velasquez and London Ladd; drink coffee with Paul Acampora and Lizzy Rockwell; wish good health to the great Wendell Minor; marvel at the wit and new-voice-freshness of Jessica Olien’s fabulous Blobfish book; and on and on. It makes a guy want to buy a book, read a book, write a book.
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Plus, best of all, gander this:
 
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I love the chance to meet readers face to face. I’m always especially charmed to meet the sweet, lovely girls who love scary stories.
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The readers are what make it. For thirty years, I’ve scrambled to keep this career alive. Here’s the payoff:
 
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 THANK YOU, WORLD!

Author Event, Today, June 11th, 3:00 @ Barnes & Noble, Colonie Center

COME SEE US!

Local Author Roundup Flyer

Barnes & Noble, 131 Colonie Center, Suite 355, Albany, NY 12205 – (518)-438-1728

Joseph Bruchac – Saratoga Springs, NY: Joseph Bruchac is an Abenaki writer and traditional storyteller. Author of over 130 books, his experiences include running a college program in a maximum security prison and teaching in West Africa.

Code Talker: Throughout World War II Navajo code talkers sent messages in an unbreakable code that used their native language. This is the tale of Ned Begay, a sixteen-year-old code talker. His grueling journey is eye-opening and inspiring.

Nancy Castaldo – NY: Nancy Castaldo is the author of several nonfiction books for curious kids, the Regional Advisor for the Society of Children’s Book Writers and Illustrators, and a reviewer for the Historical Novel Society. See more at www.nancycastaldo.com.

The Story of Seeds: Something as small as a seed can have a worldwide impact. Castaldo chronicles where our food comes from, and more importantly, where it is going as she digs deeper into the importance of seeds in our world.

Eric Devine – Waterford, NY: Eric Devine’s Young Adult fiction has been listed by YALSA, Booklist, and the Junior Library Guild. He is also a veteran high school English teacher.
More at: ericdevine.org, facebook.com/ericdevineauthor, or Twitter: @eric_devine

Press Play: When Greg captures footage of brutal and bloody hazing by his town’s championship- winning lacrosse team, he knows he has evidence that could damage as much as it could save. Is revealing the truth worth the cost?

Laura Diamond – Albany, NY: Laura is a board certified psychiatrist and author of young adult fantasy, dystopian, & contemporary novels. When she’s not writing, she’s working at the hospital and catering to her feline furbaby overlords.

The Zodiac Collector: For Anne, the Renaissance Faire means another ruined birthday for her and her twin sister, Mary. This year, she conjures up a spell that will make their birthday party a whirlwind event. Little do they know that it’s a literal request.

James Preller – Delmar, NY: James Preller is an award-winning author. He has published a wide- variety of books for all ages, from picture books to young adult, including the popular “Jigsaw Jones” mystery series and BYSTANDER.

The Fall: In this heartbreaking and beautiful story about friendship and bullying, told through journal entries, Sam explores and ultimately accepts his role in Morgan’s death. “With its timely, important message . . . Sam’s journal ought to find a large readership.” — Kirkus.

 

 

RE-POST: The Hilarious Way One School Librarian Received 100% Book Returns (Almost)

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NOTE: I am reposting this because it’s that time of year for school librarians. Enjoy! 

Her name is Alanna Almstead. She’s a librarian at Ichabod Crane in Valatie, NY. And at the end of each school year, Alanna faces the same vexing problem: Unreturned library books.

Because kids tend to forget. And some others, let’s hope, just fall in love with that book and can’t stand the thought of letting it go.

Alanna realized that the problem might be solved if she could only provide the proper motivation. Some sort of incentive. A carrot, so to speak.

But what could it be?

Here, I’ll let my friend Alanna explain it in her own words:


“The idea actually came about last June as my amazing aide, Lori, and I were discussing the shameful number of missing books at the end of the year. Always eager to see me make a fool of myself, I think the words “duct tape” first came out of her mouth.

Fast forward to May of this year. There I sat rambling at the end of a particularly fun library class about how important it was to return their books (we also give funny trophies to the five classes that return all of their books the fastest) when I suddenly blurted out that if the whole school brings their books back I would get taped to the wall. Yikes! Once that sort of thing gets said there is no taking it back, but no worries… It will never happen, I thought to myself.

11403263_10203095973960421_4328485250474245790_nI approached my principal, Suzanne Guntlow, after the fact. Suzanne is a wonderful supporter of the library and gave me her blessing, just in case the kids came through.

And come through they did! Although we fell short of the goal of all books returned school wide I am very happy with the results. In the end we had only 12 books still checked out in a building serving over 560 students. When the last third grader brought her book back I knew that I would have to make good on my promise.

And so, on the eve of the last day of school, I found myself making the rounds to several local stores to buy armfuls of duct tape. Variety seemed important, for some reason. When you’re nearly 6 feet tall and are faced with getting stuck to a wall you want the tape to work (and look pretty, of course!).

All of the third grade classes gathered on the last day of school to witness their reward for being so responsible. Afterwards I did hear a few students saying that it was the “best way to end the year.” (What does that say about what they really think of me, I wonder?!?).”

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Final comment: I think it’s pretty obvious what they think of you, Alanna. Those kids think their school librarian is a hoot. Great job, great spirit. And a huge hat tip to that incredible aide, Lori, for hatching the idea. Note: Yes, there’s actually a brief video of the moment when they removed the foot stool from beneath Alanna’s feet and — what joy, what laughter — she stuck!