Tag Archive for Harry Potter

Summer Reading List

Over at the Semicolon blog, Sherry offers up a diverse and deep list for Summer Reading. In her words, “52 Picks for the Hols.”

As Sherry explains:

I used to love to read the British slang in books by C.S. Lewis, E. Nesbit, P.G. Wodehouse, and others. It took me a long time to figure out that those kids weren’t carrying actual torches in their pockets (how?), but rather normal old flashlights. And “hols” were holidays, any break from school.

Typical, Standard Englishman.

As for the point above, I believe that English charm was an aspect — just a small part overall, of course — of the appeal of Harry Potter to American readers. The unfamiliar words and expressions helped give the books an otherness that fit seamlessly with the content. I recall that when it came time for Scholastic to publish the American edition, there was some brief conversation about those nettlesome English words and phrases, concern that they might slow down (and thus, turn off) American children. The decision, correctly, was to keep the manuscript as it was on the page. I may have that wrong, and it could well be that Ms. Rowling would have insisted upon it, but there was a least a passing thought about Americanizing the manuscript, which often happens when books are taken across the pond.

It is hard to recall today, but there was a brief flickering moment when Harry Potter and the Sorcerer’s Stone was simply a good book, not a publishing sensation. I remember Barbara Marcus confessing to me, “We originally hoped we could sell 20,000 in the library market.”

Anyway, Sherry selects books from these categories: Picture Books, Younger Readers, Middle Grade Readers, Young Adult, Young Adult, and Adult Fiction and Nonfiction.

I was glad to see Six Innings make the list, along with these books in the Middle Grade Readers category:

The Penderwicks: A Summer Tale of Four Sisters, Two Rabbits, and A Very Interesting Boy by Jeanne Birdsall

Six Innings by James Preller

Leepike Ridge by N.D. Wilson

The Girl Who Threw Butterflies by Mich Cochrane

The Voyage of the Dawn Treader by C.S. Lewis

Henry Reed, Inc. by Keith Robertson

Umbrella Summer by Lisa Graff

Spiderweb for Two: A Melendy Maze by Elizabeth Enright

Galveston’s Summer of the Storm by Julie Lake

It is always a happy surprise and a great tribute to be included in these recommended lists, along with such respected company. I’ll have to go wash up, put on something nice. Maybe a sweater vest or something. Thank you, Sherry, whoever you are!

Bring Change 2 Mind: “Words Have Power Over Us.”

I was impressed and pleased to find this full-page advertisement, featuring actress Glenn Close, that addressed the stigma of mental illness:

Here’s the body copy of the advertisement:

Glenn Close’s sister Jessie and Jessie’s son Calen have a disease. And even though their story is their own, it’s far from unusual. The fact is, one in six adults has a mental illness. The harder reality is that the ignorance that fuels the stigma associated with mental illness can often be the most painful part of managing the disease.

Glenn and her family chose to be national voices for the first campaign dedicated to fighting the stigma that accompanies mental illness. Because having a disease is difficult enough. Being blamed, or ostracized for having it, well that’s just crazy.

Readers of Bystander may suspect that I have some personal experience with schizophrenia. And it’s true: my brother John suffered from schizophrenia. I touched upon  John’s experiences in a fictionalized way in that book, and also blogged about it more directly here.

Clicking around cyberspace, I found this insightful, deeply-felt piece written by Glenn Close for O, The Oprah Magazine, titled “Glenn Close’s Aha Moment.” It begins:

As an actress, I have always loved words. I believe in their power. But certain words have power over us — until we destigmatize them and learn to speak them out loud, without fear or shame.

By the way, since I was mildly critical of J.K. Rowling last week, let’s recognize how brilliant and accurate she was to make the characters in the Harry Potter books fear the word “Voldemort.” They were afraid to say it out loud. And to that extent, he held dominion over them, for he had stolen a piece of their language. Ms. Close continues:

My aha moment hit me several years ago, when I realized that three deeply frightening words had power over me: schizophrenia, depression, and bipolar. There is mental illness in my family. And I knew that if I really wanted to help, I would have to learn to say those words fearlessly, out loud. That’s the beginning . . .


And my aha moment is beginning to have repercussions. A group of us, along with Fountain House, are launching a campaign called Bring Change 2 Mind. In June we went to Washington and presented our idea to the major mental health organizations. With their enthusiastic blessing and support, we shot our first public service announcement— in Grand Central Station — directed by Ron Howard. Jessie and I and our children are in it. And John Mayer gave us use of his exquisite song “Say.” Bringchange2mind.org has links to all the major mental health groups. It will connect people to whatever they need: help, community, education, or a chance to join one of the organizations.

It is just the beginning, but I hope it will give people the courage to talk about mental illness, to lose their fear of the words, to conquer shame and stigma. Jessie and I felt a huge sense of relief when we decided to speak out. There is nothing to hide. Schizophrenia. Bipolar disorder. Depression. I have no fear. We are all connected, and none of us should ever feel marginalized, stigmatized, and alone. — As told to Johanna Schneller

I congratulate Ms. Close on the courage of her convictions, and the bright shining power of her insight. This is good work; I believe she’s right. We need to talk about this stuff, not hide from it, because there is a power in words — a power to do harm, and a power to make positive change.

“Change a mind about mental illness, and you can change a life.”

Here’s the PSA as directed by Ron Howard:

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Deleted Scenes: Six Innings

During the revision process for Six Innings, I cut more than 10,000 words. It was a very difficult time for me, filled with doubt and uncertainty. But I trusted my wise & experienced editors, Liz Szabla and Jean Feiwel, and understood their concerns. We all wanted the same thing — for this book to be as good as it could be. So I semi-sadly started hacking away.

My original concept for the book was to use a single game as the structural skeleton, on which I’d hang riffs and character studies, the stories that would add flesh to the book. Well in the first draft, that technique got a little confusing at times, and the through-line of the game itself got muddled, so in revision we cut out a bunch of off-the-field moments to achieve, we hoped, better balance. Some sections I simply lopped away like Van Gogh’s ear, some made it through unscathed, while still others survived in severely truncated form. That was the case with the selection below, which was reduced to a couple of brief paragraphs on pp. 53-54. I always liked it; hey, we all did. This was a classic case of removing something that was, in isolation, good (or so I thought), but that in our view did not do enough to serve the narrative arc. This happens with movies all the time. To preserve the narrative flow, the forward march of things, some decent material winds up on the cutting room floor. (And, I guess, eventually winds up on a blog somewhere.)

Here’s a 38-second example of a deleted scene that never made it into the final cut of a popular movie:

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Back to Six Innings. This is how one section appeared in an early unedited draft, before I stopped by with a machete:

* * * * *


“Ty-Ty Smash”

Naked except for a drooping diaper, two-and-a-half year-old Tyler Weinberg swaggered around in his backyard. As usual, he held a large stick in his hand. Tyler spied a squirrel and moved toward it, mischief blazing in his eyes.

“Ty-Ty smash,” he announced to the birds in the bush.
Whap! He smacked the stick on the lawn. Hee-hee. The sound made him laugh. Whap, whap!

“Ty-Ty smash,” he repeated happily.

Whoosh, thwack. He whipped the stick against the hammock, still damp from last night’s rain. The squirrel watched transfixed, alarmed, yet curious. Its tail flicked nervously. The creature sized up the approaching pink-bellied menace and decided: Trouble. A final twitch of the tail and the gray creature scurried a few feet up the trunk of an oak tree, just beyond, it thought, harm’s reach.

Tyler Weinberg pushed against the tree with both hands. He tried knocking it down. Again he swung the stick, leaping to reach the squirrel. Thud, thwap, crack; thud, thwap, crack. Again and again.

The squirrel complained bitterly: Tcccccckkkkkssss.

Thud, thwap, oomphff.

A glorious peel of laughter erupted in the backyard. A whoop of triumph.

Whap, whap, whappp!

The back door flew open, banged closed. “WHAT’S GOING ON OUT HERE?” Tyler’s mother, Amy Weinberg, screamed. “TYLER! TYLER, GET AWAY FROM THAT SQUIRREL! PUT DOWN THAT STICK THIS INSTANT!” Her voice was rising, shrilly climbing toward hysteria. She barreled forward incautiously and twisted an ankle on a battered toy truck.

Tyler turned to his mother and grinned, triumphant.

“Ty-Ty smash,” he explained proudly.

He was holding a dead squirrel by the tail.

And so a slugger was born.

Tyler — or “Red Bull,” as he came to be called by his coaches — was simply one of those boys suffused with an excess of energy. Super-charged. He could not sit still. In truth, he could barely sit at all. Knees popping up and down, toes tapping, fingers fidgeting, brain a blur, arms akimbo. Bouncing was better. Jumping, running, leaping, pouncing, flouncing, crawling, cavorting, gamboling — all good. But best of all, the single act that calmed Tyler, that focused his scattered energies and made his heart soar?

Smashing things.

The world was his piñata. And there he stood, dizzy and daffy and blindfolded, a big stick in his grip, eager to swing and swing again. To batter, bash, smash, and shatter. The boy liked to clobber things. He became a one-boy wrecking crew. And the bigger he grew, the harder they fell: Crash, bash, boom. Broken lamps, cracked windows, whatever was in his path. Especially, and most happily, baseballs.

Opening Sentences: Great Beginnings

There’s nothing quite like the first sentence in a book. After all, it’s the first. Numero Uno. Isn’t that what we all do, in bookstores and libraries? We scan the cover, read the flap, crack it open and read the first few lines, maybe a paragraph or two, and . . . DECIDE.

My all-time favorite opening sentence comes from E.B. White’s Charlotte’s Web, and I know it (almost) by heart:

“Where’s Papa going with that ax?” said Fern to her mother as they were setting the table for breakfast.

How do you NOT read the next sentence? An ax! Daddy? I’m alarmed, almost as much as Fern. Where IS he going with that ax?

Here’s some other first lines, taken almost at random. The list is not exhaustive or well-researched. I’d love to see more contributions in the comments section:

The day Shiloh come, we’re having us a big Sunday dinner. (Shiloh, Phyllis Reynolds Naylor)

Again, wow. Those words, “come” (not “came”) and “us” signaling a rural voice and setting, a voice we’ll grow to love, to root for, a voice that will pull us all the way through.

Brian Robeson stared out the window of the small plane at the endless green nothern wilderness below. (Hatchet, Gary Paulsen)

Nothing fancy here. But again: setting, character, and foreshadowing in one simple sentence. A grammatical aside: I love the lack of commas in that description of the endless green nothern wilderness.

Here’s some more I like. I’ll save my writerly observations for, I hope, a later discussion:

Under a chill, gray sky, two riders jogged across the turf. (The High King, Lloyd Alexander)

Miyax pushed back the hood of her sealskin parka and looked at the Arctic sun. (Julie of the Wolves, Jean Craighead George)

It was almost December, and Jonas was beginning to be frightened. (The Giver, Lois Lowry)

Bradley Chalkers sat at his desk in the back of the room — last seat, last row. (There’s a Boy in the Girls’ Bathroom, Louis Sacher)

On a warm October night in Chicago, three deliveries were made in the same neighborhood. (Chasing Vermeer, Blue Balliett)

My name is India Opal Buloni, and last summer my daddy, the preacher, sent me to the store for a box of macaroni-and-cheese, some white rice, and two tomatoes and I came back with a dog. (Because of Winn-Dixie, Kate DiCamillo)

A long time ago, when all the grandfathers and grandmothers of today were little boys and little girls or very small babies, or perhaps not even born, Pa and Ma and Mary and Laura and Baby Carrie left their little house in the Big Woods of Wisconsin. (Little House on the Prairie, Laura Ingalls Wilder)

Mr. and Mrs. Dursley, of number four, Privet Drive, were proud to say that they were perfectly normal, thank you very much. (Harry Potter and the Sorcerer’s Stone, J.K. Rowling — ever heard of it?)

Personally, I’ve never written a great first line — too hard, I guess — though I like the one that began Ghost Cat and Other Spooky Tales:

“Aaaaaaccck!” Mother screamed.

The book I’m revising now, Bystander (Feiwel & Friends, Fall, 2009), begins — as of now — this way:

The first time Eric Hayes ever saw him, David Hallenback was running, if you could call it that, running in a halting, choppy-stepped, stumpy-legged shamble, slowing down to look back over his shoulder, stumbling forward, pausing to catch his breath, then lurching forward again.

It is my hope that this post leads to some kind of discussion, responses, comments. So please — readers, teachers, students, librarians, dogs who can type — what’s your favorite opening sentence? Maybe we can grow this into something. Create a list. Vote. Any students out there?

What makes a great first sentence, anyway?