Kirby Larson's Blog, page 2

March 2, 2015

Congrats to Heather, Joann and Michelle who entered my GoodReads giveaway and each won a signed copy of Dash! And thanks, too, to the nearly 500 folks who entered. I wish I could send each of you a copy.

When I win the lottery, I will. Promise!
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Published on March 02, 2015 11:09 • 27 views

February 27, 2015

I had the pleasure of reading Stacey Lee's Under the Painted Sky in ARC form and was so taken with it that I asked if she would be willing to visit with us here, for Friend Friday. I was thrilled when she said yes! 
Stacey Lee

Staring at the Wall
Most of us writers spend our time in comfy clothes, feet kicked up, staring at the wall. To the untrained eye, it may look like we are doing nothing.  But in reality, we are the flesh and blood vessels in which ideas incubate, ideas that will one day grow into stories.  The wall is a blank space for the mind to wander.  For me, it is even more than that.

My wall measures 8x14 ft.  Above the wainscoting lies a field of 'pressed powder' pink, coated with Idea Paint, a dry-erase whiteboard paint gloss.  One thing I do early in the writing process is create a calendar of my story on my wall.  This helps me organize the time frame in which all the events in my story occur.  I'm constantly shuffling events around, and it's extremely helpful to have a visual understanding of where things go, especially with longer books and complex story lines.
The other thing I do on my wall is stick notecards, recalling the main point/event of each chapter, in chronological order. This usually happens after the first draft, when I'm honing story and character arcs.  I add emotional beats for each character using a different color for each character, again, so I can see how their story is taking shape.  I'm often asked how I keep track of all the things happening in my story.  My wall is the answer.
Actually, there is one more way my wall helps me.  My family likes to leave notes there, including words of encouragement, and pictures. And there's nothing like, say, a monkey with a party hat, to let my imagination take flight.

Stacey Lee is a fourth generation Chinese-American whose people came to California during the heydays of the cowboys.  She believes she still has a bit of cowboy dust in her soul.  A native of southern California, she graduated from UCLA then got her law degree at UC Davis King Hall. After practicing law in the Silicon Valley for several years, she finally took up the pen because she wanted the perks of being able to nap during the day, and it was easier thanmoving to Spain.  She plays classical piano, wrangles children, and writes YA fiction. Her historical YA, UNDER A PAINTED SKY, debuts March 17 from G.P. Putnam's Sons. Follow her on twitter@staceyleeauthor.
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Published on February 27, 2015 05:30 • 23 views

February 26, 2015

In 1927, each school child in Japan contributed one sen (about half a cent) toward the creation of 58 exquisite dolls. These Ambassadors of Friendship -- soon called Friendship Dolls -- were thank you gifts for the several thousand blue-eyed baby dolls sent to the children of Japan by American school children the prior year. The doll exchange was the brainchild of Dr. Sidney Gulick, a missionary to Japan, who longed more than anything for the two countries he so loved to be friends. He thought that such a friendship could best be built by starting with the hearts of children.

Sadly, his plan did not bring about the positive relationships he dreamed of. At least, not right away. Over the years, some of the dolls have been lost or destroyed. But the spirit of friendship exemplified by these dolls has caught the hearts of many (including me, which is why I ended up writing about them in The Friendship Doll) who have spent time and resources trying to find the dozen or so still-missing dolls.

Miss Miyazaki
I was so tickled when an intrepid librarian in Minnesota finished reading my book and realized that the library in her town had been given a Friendship Doll way back when. She poked around in the basement of the old library and soon found a trunk containing Miss Miyazaki. Sadly, she had not been stored properly and her gofun face -- made of ground oyster shells -- was severely damaged. Repairs are quite costly, partly because of the materials and partly because they must be undertaken in Japan.

Masuru Aoki
This is Masuru Aoki who works for the Yoshitoku Doll Company in Tokyo; he is the individual who oversees the restoration of the Friendship Dolls. My friend Alan Scott Pate (this country's leading expert on the Friendship Dolls) recently visited Aoki-san and kindly presented him with a copy of my book. In the background, you can see there are other hina-ningyo, ceremonial dolls, in preparation for Girls Day.

I love thinking that dolls that were lovingly created so long ago are still cared for today. And I love visualizing Aoki-san's hands as representations of the hands of those craftsmen who, 90 years ago, first made those dolls who were sent on such a hopeful mission.
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Published on February 26, 2015 05:30 • 28 views

February 25, 2015

Fantasy is hardly an escape from reality. 
It's a way of understanding it.

Lloyd Alexander
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Published on February 25, 2015 05:30 • 25 views

February 24, 2015

Here's what I love about this fun quiz -- that teachers are sending it on to their friends and colleagues! Today's guest Lara D. Francisco, was sent the quiz by Laura Cooper. Don't be shy! You can forward these questions to your comrades in education, too!
Lara, you know the drill. The first question asks you to fill in the blank. You should never read and blank at the same time.
You should never read and ride in a car at the same time - I get car sick easily
If you were invited to be on Oprah, what book would you bring for her to read?
Anything by Tony Horwitz
What is the funniest book you’ve read?
Bossypants by Tina Fey
What is the saddest?
Most of the "Oprah List" books I've read. But more recently the last book in the Divergent series - Allegiant.
Favorite reading snack/beverage?
Coffee and cookies
What’s next on your TBR list?

Egg and Spoon, by Gregory McGuire.
Teachers, librarians, reading coaches, principals, custodians, lunch ladies, anyone with school connections: Please play along! Email me here and I'll get you the questions so you, too, can be featured on Teacher Tuesday. 
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Published on February 24, 2015 05:30 • 28 views

February 20, 2015

Stephanie Lile and I met through the Northwest Institute of Literary Arts, a really wonderful MFA program sponsored by a writing community rather than a university. She has a wicked sense of humor and shares my passion for history so I am thrilled to host her today as she talks about her first novel, The Tail Gunner.
Stephanie Lile
There was a box, not in an attic as is often the case, but in the hayloft of a horse barn. The box was filled with dusty, curling photographs; a sea of unknown faces amidst mouse-chewed letters and a tattered red diary. I knew there was a story there. I knew with one look that the secret stash had been my father’s.  But he’d died before we even found the stash, and although we knew he’d served as a tail gunner in World War II, we didn’t know much else.
Seven years later, I’m honored to have this opportunity to share the story of The Tail Gunner, a new cross-genre work of young adult fiction. In simple terms, it’s the story of a girl, a ghost, and his final mission. In more complex terms, it’s a grand experiment based on a collection of World War II ephemera and photographs spawned in the strange catacombs of a museum geek’s mind.

Having worked in the museum education field for over two decades, one of the most complex challenges I face is getting our visitors, many of them K-12 kids, to relate the present to the past in a way that makes the past tangible, attainable, and intriguing. Ultimately, what tools can I use to get people of the present to care about the past?
Stories are a key piece to unlocking that riddle. Ask 90 percent of the exhibit designers and interpreters in the field, and they’ll say that “telling stories” is what they do. But my goal has always been to go beyond “telling” stories to imparting skills children need to find the stories, and eventually discern their own truths in the barrage of information that bombards us everyday.
In the writing-for-children field, “show, don’t tell,” is the rule of thumb. So when my sister and I found Dad’s secret stash, I thought long and hard about how, as a historian and writer, to pull teens from one world to the next with this amazing collection. Not interested in writing a Catch 22 for the modern age, I wanted to expose the holes in the veil of the past and show how various images, diary entries, and ephemera connect us to other situations and conventions unique to different times. The Tailer Gunner does that using a framework of magical realism that allows Sylvie, the main character, to tap the young tail gunner’s memories associated with particular objects and images. 
In the two months since The Tail Gunner has released, I’ve found myself telling people that, “it's not what you expect.” Friends and family have purchased the book for their dads and brothers, perhaps thinking it will launch them into the heat of battle against the “Krauts.” The book is really about another type of battle—the internal battle that caring, conscientious humans face when we can’t forgive ourselves for what we’ve done in the turmoil of a moment—in the terror of war—and the judgments and glorifications people from the present place on those actions.
People have asked why I didn’t write straight historical fiction or even a work of creative nonfiction. It was tempting, but the truth is that I felt it important to take a risk in my writing just as my Dad did serving 59 missions perched like angler bait in the tail of a B-25. I also believe in the power that objects have to take us to other times. Why do you think museums place “don’t touch signs” in their galleries? Is it to protect the object or the visitor?
Stephanie (S.T.) Lile has worked in the museum field for more than 20 years and is known for her skills as an object detective. When not creating museum exhibits or publications, she writes stories for young readers and teaches museum studies at University of Washington Tacoma. THE TAIL GUNNER is her debut novel published by Bering Street Books. ISBN: 978-0-9896505-0-2

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Published on February 20, 2015 05:30 • 31 views

February 19, 2015

Today is a Day of Remembrance, recalling the date that President Roosevelt signed Executive Order 9066, a slippery slope of an act that led to the incarceration of some 120,000 people of Japanese descent, most of them American citizens. None of those incarcerated were ever convicted of treason or espionage; some, like the extraordinarily brave Gordon Hirabayshi, were jailed for breaking curfew, and otherwise trying to fight the unjust measures taken by our government. By us.

Today, I'd especially like to remember two people. 
Reverend Emery Andrews
The first is Reverend Emery Andrews whose courage and good-heartedness inspires me to do a little bit better in my life, though I could never stand up against the tide of public opinion in the way he did. Reverend Andrews was the inspiration for the father in my book, The Fences Between Us; you can read more of his story here or in my Author's Note.
Mitsi Shiraishi
The second person is Mitsi Shiraishi, the inspiration for my latest book, Dash. When Mitsi learned it would be against the rules to take her precious dog, Chubby, with her to Tule Lake, she wrote General DeWitt to ask him to reconsider that rule. He refused. Mitsi was one of the lucky ones and was able to find a home for her pet, with a neighbor, Mrs. Charles Bovee. Mrs. Bovee kept a diary of Chubby's first few weeks in her household -- writing it in Chubby's voice! -- and sent it to Mitsi while she was still in the camp.

At the end of her life, Mitsi's family found that diary in her nightstand. When I think of all of the really rotten things that happened to Mitsi and when I think of the fact that what she held onto was a sign of compassion, rather than bitterness, I am in awe. That is true courage. That is a life well-lived.

Who do you remember on this Day of Remembrance?

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Published on February 19, 2015 05:30 • 21 views

February 18, 2015

I am extraordinarily patient, provided I get my own way in the end.
Margaret Thatcher
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Published on February 18, 2015 05:30 • 22 views

February 17, 2015

Today's quiz participant is Leigh Anne Eck, a 6h grade ELA teacher at Clark Middle School in Vincennes, Indiana. Leigh Anne became a teacher at the age of 43 and says, "It was one of the best decisions I have ever made."  Follow her on Twitter here @Teachr4 or read her blog, A Day in the Life.
Okay, here goes, Leigh Anne. You should never read and blank.
I read every night before I go to bed and know first hand that you should never read and take Tylenol PM.  I have done this before, and the next morning I could not remember a thing I read.
If you were invited to be on Oprah, what book would you bring for her to read?  
I would bring her the 2015 Newbery Medal and Honor Winners, Crossover, El Deafo, and Brown Girl Dreaming, because I think she would be a champion for all of the characters in the books and the difficulties they had to overcome.  Plus she needs to be aware of all of the great children’s literature that is available today.
What is the funniest book you’ve read?  
I do not read a lot of humorous books, but two that come to mind are The Fantastic Secret of Owen Jester by Barbara O’Connor and Ungifted by Gordon Korman.  Both books have characters who remind me of former students who always made me laugh.
What is the saddest?  
I love what I call heart fiction, those books that make me cry.  So, picking the saddest book would be hard because I have read so many. The Bridge to Terabithia by Katherine Patterson is one that I have read many times with my students.  Each time I read it, I still feel the raw, gut-wrenching emotion of Jesse losing someone he dearly loves, and yes, I still cry…every single time.
Favorite reading snack/beverage?  
My favorite reading snack goes back to my childhood.  My mother and I would go to the public library together on Saturday afternoon after the housecleaning was done.  That night, we would fix big bowls of popcorn and read together.  This is one of my favorite reading memories and still my favorite reading snack today.
What’s next on your TBR list? 
I just received a package yesterday with Fish in a Tree by Lynda Mullaly Hunt, All the Answers by Kate Messner and The War that saved Me by Kimberly Brubaker.  Those will be the next three I read.
Teachers, librarians, reading coaches, principals, custodians, lunch ladies, anyone with school connections: Please play along! Email me here and I'll get you the questions so you, too, can be featured on Teacher Tuesday. 
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Published on February 17, 2015 05:30 • 15 views

February 13, 2015

I have yet to actually meet the lovely Caroline Starr Rose, but I do feel as if I know her after reading her debut novel, May B. I am hoping to coax her back to this blog when her picture book, Over in the Wetlands, comes out later this year. Maybe if you all leave lots of comments, we'll convince her to stop in again!
Caroline Starr Rose

In 2008 I was teaching fifth-grade social studies. We’d gotten to those textbook paragraphs about England’s first colony in the Americas. Not Jamestown, the Virginia settlement started in 1607. Roanoke, the community established twenty years before. Reading about the Lost Colony of Roanoke along with my students, I remembered the fascination I’d felt the first time I’d encountered the story: 117 missing people. The word CROATOAN the only clue left behind.
While the inspiration for Blue Birds came from this moment of rediscovery, the story itself grew in part from my own childhood experiences moving back to the US from Saudi Arabia and meeting my first life-long friend.
In 1980 I returned from Saudi at the ripe old age of six. I didn’t understand America, this place with “deer crossing signs” (weren’t those pictures of goats?) and weird playground slang. While living on the other side of the world, what had once been familiar was now strange. That’s when I met Sergio, my boy-next-door, playmate, classmate, sometimes sworn enemy, and stand-in sibling. Our friendship gave us a place to be ourselves, to grow into our fuller selves. It was a safe place for me to navigate my new surroundings and learn about my new home.  Little Caroline and her friend Sergio

I’ve made my literary home as a verse novelist, but I have a little secret to share. Conventional wisdom encourages authors to read 100 books in their genre or format before beginning their own story in the same style. Guess how many verse novels I read before writing my first novel-in-verse, May B.? A grand total of two. Why? Because I never planned for May B. to be written as poetry. But as I wrote I found verse gave me access to May’s character and world in a way prose never could.
In writing Blue Birds, I chose verse deliberately this time. For a genre like historical fiction that is often viewed as distant or hard to understand, verse becomes a beautiful fit. It strips away the unnecessary and gives readers an intimate picture of a book’s central characters.
I believe in order to fully appreciate poetry it must be seen and heard. A poet communicates with language, yes, but she also speaks to the reader through line breaks, stanza breaks, and the placement of words on a page. My favorite passages in Blue Birds come from the poems Alis and Kimi share together. Here are two girls from two entirely different worlds and yet they become friends. It was essential the structure of these dual-voice poems “spoke” the story visually as well as told it through the words they contained.

I hope Blue Birds allows poetry to feel less mysterious and history more accessible. I hope you come to love these girls as I do.

Caroline Starr Rose was named a Publishers Weekly Flying Start Author for her debut novel, May B., which was an ALA-ALSC Notable Children’s Book and received two starred reviews. She spent her childhood in the deserts of Saudi Arabia and New Mexico, camping by the Red Sea in one and eating red chile in the other. She has taught social studies and English, and worked to instill in her students a passion for books, an enthusiasm for experimenting with words, and a curiosity about the past. She lives in New Mexico. Blue Birds is her second book. Visit her here
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Published on February 13, 2015 05:30 • 25 views