Elizabeth Caulfield Felt's Blog
April 2, 2015
Me reading to my boys (who no longer fit on my lap)
When my boys were little, we did a lot of reading aloud, including Angie Sage’s Septimus Heap books, a 7-book, middle-grade fantasy series about the seventh son of a seventh son. We read books 1-3, then got book 4 when it came out. By the time book 5 came out, we were reading them on our own, and I had forgotten so much about the earlier books, that I didn’t know what was going on all the time. I decided I’d wait for books 6 and 7 to come out and then start at the beginning again.
And then the years went by and I forgot….
Until I found book 7 in a store two weeks ago and re-started the series. Wow! It is even better than I remembered. Angie Sage’s world building is fabulous. She has many, many characters and they are well developed and interesting. The plot moves like an out-of-control roller coaster. The writing is clever and funny.
But the best thing. The most notable thing about this series: The number of female characters. The number of female characters either matches or is greater than the number of male characters. The female characters have important roles too.
The first in the series
This kingdom is a matriarchy, with power passing from Queen to Princess. Ten-year-old Princess Jenna is a main character, as ���main��� as the title character of Septimus. There are male and female wizards, but the top wizard, the Extra-Ordinary Wizard, is a woman. There is a coven of witches (all female) and a female boat builder. A series about a boy named Septimus Heap, who is the seventh son of a seventh son, is going to have a lot of boys in it. And it does. But not more boys than girls.
It is so rare to find as many female characters as male characters in a story that this book seems female-heavy. Yet, when you sit down and count, the numbers of male and female characters are even. Just like real life.
Is this important? I think so.
Harry Potter has Hermione and Professor McGonagall and Bellatrix, but each of them stands in the shadow of a more important male character: Harry, Dumbledore, Voldemort. All the key characters are male.
I don’t blame JK Rowling. Would her books have gotten the same attention if Harry had been Henrietta, the girl who lived?
Looking at my own novels, I see an imbalance of male characters to female characters. We are products of our culture, and this emphasis on the importance of men is so ingrained, it is invisible.
Angie Sage’s Septimus Heap series (I must have loaned out book 2)
So, please, on this International Children’s Book Day, buy (or borrow) the Septimus Heap series (Magyk, Flyte, Physik, Queste, Syren, Darke, and Fyre) and read them to your favorite children.
You will be struck by the number of female characters. But guess what? Your children won’t.
March 14, 2015
To celebrate Pi Day, I’ve written a poem about pie, using pi. I’m not much of a poet, as you will see, but it is fun to do something a little different. Each line of my poem has the number of words for the first nine digits of pi:
There they lie.
blueberry and chocolate hazelnut
baked for an adult gathering
a dinner party to which I was not invited
not for me but eaten by me
and well worth the punishment
March 6, 2015
For the past several years, my ladies book club has decide to spend the months of December and January reading children’s novels that have a chance at the Newbery Medal. We do a bit of research, come up with about 15 to 20 titles, then share the books. We meet in January and talk about our favorites. The Newbery Medal is�� announced at the end of January.
This year, the book I liked most was Rain Reign by Ann M. Martin. The story is about an autistic girl and her dog. It is a beautiful, beautiful book.�� I was extremely disappointed when the Newbery Medal was awarded to Kwame Alexander’s Crossover, a book I hadn’t even heard of.
Well, I just finished reading Crossover, and I am delighted that it won the award. It is a wonderful novel-in-verse about two African American brothers who love basketball.�� I’m not male, I’m not African American, and I don’t much like basketball.�� It doesn’t matter! The story is brilliant and the writing inspired. Alexander’s poetry jumps off the page and sings in your head.�� Some poetry you have to read aloud to hear it as poetry, but I could hear the cadence and the rhymes in my head even in silent reading.
Crossover is not only a book for people who love to read, it is a book that will appeal to those who hardly ever read.�� So, hats off to Kwame Alexander and the Newbery Award committee. Great book. Great choice.
February 27, 2015
A Facebook friend of mine is doing a reading challenge, and I agreed to do it with her. I’m not sure where she found the list, but I printed it (when I decided to do the challenge) and through a google search (just now) found an online copy on the blog of children’s author Julie Stroebel Barichello.
Two months into the year and I’ve read eighteen books. Here’s how they fit into some of the challenge categories:
A book with more than 500 pages: One Summer by Bill Bryson
A book published this year: The Eterna Files by Leanna Renee Hieber
A book with a number in the title: Ramona Quimby, Age 8 by Beverly Cleary
A book with nonhuman characters: The Mouse with the Question Mark Tail by Richard Peck
A book by a female author: Absolutely Almost by Lisa Graff
A book with a one-word title: Firegirl by Tony Abbott
A book set in a different country: The Dark is Rising by Susan Cooper
A book by an author you love that you have not read yet: The Madman of Piney Woods by Christopher Paul Curtis
A book a friend recommended: Just One Damned Thing After Another by Jodi Taylor
A book more than 100 years old: Treasure Island by Robert Louis Stevenson
A book from your childhood: Island of the Blue Dolphins by Scott O’Dell
A book set in the future: The Ear, the Eye and the Arm by Nancy Farmer
A book that made you cry: Feathers by Jacqueline Woodson
A book with magic: First Frost by Sarah Addison Allen
A book by an author you’ve never read before: As Love Blooms by Lorna Seilstad
As the year progresses, I’ll match more books with more categories and post updates here. It isn’t too late to join the challenge!
January 27, 2015
I’m back for another semester of Children’s Literature. This is what my students will be reading:
Treasure Island, by Robert Louis Stevenson. I teach this every semester. It is a great book.
Choice books. My students will read one from each genre:
Island of the Blue Dolphins by Scott O’Dell: In the early 1800s a Native American girl and her brother struggle to survive when left behind on an island off the coast of California.
Sarah Plain and Tall by Patricia MacLachlan: Two children living on the prairie in nineteenth century America anticipate a new mother when their father begins corresponding with a woman from Maine.
Out of the Dust by Karen Hesse: A collection of free-verse poems describe a young girl during the Great Depression struggling with poverty, dust, guilt and loss.
Contemporary Realistic Fiction
Hatchet by Gary Paulsen: A boy, the lone survivor of a plane crash, struggles to survive in the Canadian wilderness.
My Side of the Mountain by Jean Craighead George: A boy leaves his over-crowded New York apartment to spend a winter, alone, in the Catskill Mountains.
Ramona Quimby, Age 8 by Beverly Cleary: With creativity and humor, Ramona deals with a babysitter, a bully, and a dad who is going back to school.
Feathers by Jacqueline Woodson: After reading a poem and thinking about hope, a sixth-grade girl examines anew the world around her: her brother’s deafness, her mother’s fears, her friends’ faith, as well as a school bully and his victim.
The Thief by Megan Whalen Turner: In an imaginary medieval land, a thief is released from prison on the condition that he find, for the king, a legendary jewel hidden in a maze beneath a river.
The Ear, the Eye, the Arm by Nancy Farmer: In 2213 Mozambique, three siblings leave their protected home, are kidnapped, and have a series of dangerous adventures.
The Dark is Rising by Susan Cooper: On his eleventh birthday, Will learns he is an immortal Old One, and the only one who can find the six signs that will turn back the rising of the dark forces in the world.
Charlotte’s Web by E.B. White: The classic story of friendship between a pig and a spider.
Holes by Louis Sachar: In the past, a man is cursed and a teacher becomes an outlaw. In the present, a boy struggles to survive a juvenile detention center in the desert.
Kneeknock Rise by Natalie Babbitt: In a medieval-like land, a boy visits his relatives in a town that is famous for the monster than lives on its mountain.
Because of Winn-Dixie by Kate DiCamillo: A girl, whose mother left her and her father, moves and makes friends with the help of a dog.
They’ll read two other choice books, based on an author and a theme. It is my first time using some of the books listed above. I’m excited for discussions, activities, and to see what my students think of the different books. We’re off to another great semester!
January 20, 2015
David reading to his grandson.
Today is my older brother’s birthday. David would have been 51. He died on January 10, 2015. From his obituary:
David Richard Caulfield, 50, of Bloomington, died Saturday while out for a run. He was an avid runner and tri-athlete, an Indiana University alumnus and sports fan, and an aficionado of Marvel comics. A history enthusiast, David was following his long-time dream of earning a PhD. He was a graduate student and had an assistantship with Indiana University’s School of Education. David always made sure the people closest to him felt loved. He will be sorely missed by many. In lieu of flowers, the family requests that donations be made to the Caulfield Funeral / Education Fund at http://www.gofundme.com/k123l8
David and I did not agree on very many things and we didn’t always get along, but his death has left a hole in my life and sadness in my heart. His life ended much too early. I hope he is finding peace and happiness in his new adventure.
Happy Birthday, David.
January 1, 2015
In 2014, I read 119 books. Some were children’s books which is part of the reason that number is so high. Also, my house isn’t very clean.
Many of the books were good, but not many were great. Putting this list together was difficult. If I named only the great books, my list would be too short. If I named all of the good books, the list would be too long. I decided to go for diversity of genre, subject and audience. The books are grouped by intended audience, in the order I read them.
Zebra Forest by Adina Rishe Gewirtz
I love the way the author uses the classic novel Treasure Island in this story of a brother and sister who live with their lying, oft-depressed grandmother for reasons they don’t quite understand–at least not at first.
Number the Stars by Lois Lowry
The deportation of the Jews from Denmark during WWII, as narrated by 10-year-old Annemarie, whose best friend is Jewish. The innocence of her voice and the simple yet suspenseful plot has made this story a classic.
Ella Enchanted by Gail Carson Levine
Ella (Cinderella) is cursed by a fairy with the gift of obedience, making Ella a slave to the whims of others. Ella is a great character and her quest for self-determination makes this a perfect book for young people.
Holes by Louis Sachar
Multiple story lines that blend together to perfection. Well-crafted characters, exciting action, and a strong message. Funny too.
Rain Reign by Ann M. Martin
Rose, obsessed with homonyms and rules, is misunderstood by her classmates and her father, but not by her dog, Rain/Reign. When Rain goes missing in a storm, Rose has the skills needed to find him, but what she finds will surprise you. Beautiful, beautiful book. My vote for this year’s Newbery Award (not that I have a vote. . . )
Young Adult Books:
The Scorpio Races by Maggie Steifvater
���Riders attempt to keep hold of their water horses long enough to make it to the finish line. Some riders live. Others die.��� I read this so long ago, I had to take this blurb from the author’s website. I remember loving the characters, the horses, the slow-build romance, and the intense suspense.
Cress by Marissa Meyer
Third book in the Lunar Chronicles series, using Rapunzel as its fairy-tale base. Cress is a prisoner, not in a tall tower, but in a satellite. I love the character of Cress, possibly because she reminds me of me. I laughed a lot. Cannot wait for the last in the series, Winter, out in fall 2015. The prequel, Fairest is out in Feb 2015. (The order of this makes me crazy, but that is for another blog.)
Egg and Spoon by Gregory Maguire
Set in the last years of the Russian monarchy, Egg and Spoon is a fanciful mix of history, folklore, philosophy, childhood fantasy, silliness, and very clever writing.
Marcelo in the Real World by Francisco X. Stork
In order to attend the school he wants in the fall, mildly autistic Marcelo must work in the mail room of his father’s law firm. His father, impatient and unsympathetic to his son’s issues, wants Marcelo to experience ���the real world.��� Marcelo learns a great deal about life, his family, and what he, himself, is capable of.
Silverblind by Tina Connolly
This world is alive with fantastical creatures, fey magic, and disturbing technologies. The main character, half-fey Dorie, is delightful and complex, and the romance flows easily within the greater plot (saving the fey world) which is well paced and suspenseful. Themes such as the environment and women’s rights are integral but not didactic.
The Orphan Master’s Son by Adam Johnson
Exciting and suspenseful story of one fictional man’s life growing up in North Korea. What I liked most about this was the main character and the way he sees the world. A different mindset than I’m used to.
Redshirts by John Scalzi
Funny. Very, very funny. If you don’t know, ���redshirts��� are characters in Star Trek who don’t live to the end of the episode. Scalzi introduces us to characters in a Star Trek-like world realize this is happening and what they do to avoid being ���redshirt��� ed.
The Invention of Wings by Sue Monk Kidd
The fictionalized story of real-life suffragist/abolitionist sisters Sarah and Angelina Gremke and their wholly fictional slave, Handful. Why had I never heard of these women? Their story is fascinating, painful, and inspiring.
The Language of Flowers by Vanessa Diffenbaugh
Raised in the foster care system, Victoria won’t allow anyone close to her. She uses her knowledge of the language of flowers to help others, until she meets a man who also knows that language. Victoria’s character is absorbing and the mystery of her past intriguing.
Me Before You by Jojo Moyes
A psychologically scarred young woman cares for a physically scarred, wheelchair-bound man. The two fall in love. Will her love be enough to stop him from his desire to commit suicide? Moyes handles difficult issues deftly. A great book for book clubs because of the discussion it promotes.
State of Wonder by Ann Patchett
A female scientist is sent by her pharmaceutical company to a lab in the Amazon rainforest, after the death of her colleague there, to bring a renegade scientist and her discoveries back to civilization. What amazed me most was how Patchett was able to manipulate and alter my perspectives of the people and events as the story progressed. The ending is perfection.
The Cuckoo’s Calling / The Silkwork by Robert Galbraith
What holds these detective stories above the pack is the depth of the characterization. The stories are complicated, suspenseful and, in places, funny. Galbraith is really JK Rowling, so the level of writing should be no surprise.
The Slow Regard of Silent Things by Patrick Rothfuss
This isn’t the long-awaited final book in Rothfuss’s trilogy, but it does come from the same world. Auri, a minor character in his other books, is the only character in this novel. Although light on plot, Auri is such a compelling character that the book works. Rothfuss’s prose is so beautiful, you might weep.
If you decide to read any of these books because I recommended them, let me know what you think. Happy New Year!
December 22, 2014
December blew in like a hurricane! I feel like this is my first opportunity to sit down and breathe. Every year this month is difficult, what with the end of the semester grading, students complaining about grades, holiday parties and concerts, shopping (I hate shopping. True story: This year at Kohl’s, after about 30 minutes of shopping, someone took our cart, which had many items in it. We hunted and hunted, to no avail. Furious, I started trying to re-find all the things I’d already found, when Andy, thank goodness, located the cart in a part of the store we had not visited. Did I mention I hate shopping??!?). This year seems crazier than in the past. Maybe I’m just getting old.
So, how did NaNo go?�� It went well. My goal was to finish the third draft of my Cinderella story. I was unable to do so in November, but I finished on December 11. (Maybe this is the reason for the added craziness.) Of course, lying in bed on the evening of December 11, I thought of several things that needed to be changed, added and altered. So although I’m “finished” I am still working on it.�� All you writers out there understand that! Still, it is good to have an ending. If I’m run over by a bus today, someone can read the whole story.
Although I am breathing again, I still have lots to do. It will be nice to cross off “NaNo update on blog” from my list.
Here’s wishing you all a happy holiday season!
November 30, 2014
Today I’m welcoming Susan Manzke to my series of author interviews. Susan is the author of the recently released middle-grade novel Chicken Charlie’s Year. Susan has been writing a weekly column for Wisconsin State Farmer since 1980. Her two adult romances, Never Bring Her Roses and When the Spotlight Fades were published by Doubleday.
Elizabeth: Can you tell us about your new book, Chicken Charlie’s Year?
Susan: Here���s my blurb about the book:
Ten-year-old Charlie Petkus isn���t surprised to get scratchy wool underwear from Aunt Mutzi for Christmas 1932, but he is surprised that her gift package includes a diary. To his dismay, his Lithuanian-immigrant mother thinks a diary is the perfect present. ���You man of family, Casimir,��� she says. ���You learn to write the English like good American.��� Charlie wants more than anything to make Mama proud. But he���s not sure education is the way to manhood, especially since he doesn���t like school. With the Great Depression on, Charlie thinks it would be much manlier to quit the 4th grade and go to work like his friend Ray.
From Christmas 1932 to Christmas 1933, Charlie finds plenty of fun and adventure in his ethnic neighborhood. He discovers that sledding on a car hood results in embarrassment and a very snowy bottom. He finds that a ���dead��� pheasant that isn���t quite as dead as he thought can make a big mess in a Ford Model B. He learns that if you take a job harvesting onions before school, you get your feet filthy on just the day they make you take your shoes off to be weighed and measured���but you also earn a whole dime for your work. By night, Charlie writes in his diary to make Mama proud. But by day, he watches Ray, who now dresses like a man, smokes like a man, and earns a man���s wage. Charlie wonders why his mama and sisters should live on cabbage soup and the occasional package of broken cookies while ���the man of the family��� sits in school writing a poem called ���Spring is Here.��� The decision Charlie makes next will determine the course of his life and his understanding of what it really means to be a man.
This story is filled with fun adventures and family moments. At times when I was writing it felt like I was channeling my father���s family.
Elizabeth: How long did it take from story idea until the book was published?
Susan: I think I���ve been working on this story most of my life. My father told funny stories about his childhood to put my sister and me to sleep. I always loved those stories and creating this novel was my way of using some of them.
I can���t exactly remember when I started writing this actual book. It has been a long time. My critique group has read bits and pieces of it for years.
The hardest part is deciding when the book was polished and ready to publish. I wanted it to be the best I could do, to honor my father and I didn���t want to mess up.
Elizabeth: You’ve been writing for Wisconsin State Farmer for many years. Can you tell us what sort of columns you write for that publication?
Susan: My column is my life. I write about things that happen to me and my family. I began writing this weekly column in 1980. Back then I had a new baby, a three-year-old, and a five-year-old. Subjects then were about raising a young family. Today I have grandchildren. They often end up in my column these days.
I like to write about the funny side of life. Sometimes something will happen on our farm, Sunnybook Farm, and it won���t seem funny until a day or two later. A stuck tractor isn���t funny when you are covered with mud and working hard to get it out, but a few days later it makes its way into my column and it is funny.
Elizabeth: You’ve written a middle-grade novel, personal essays, columns (which have been published in the Words in My Pocket collections), and adult romances. How do you approach these very different kinds of writing?
Susan: I have a weekly deadline for my column, which runs about 650+ words. I���m always thinking about column ideas, so usually when I sit down I can start writing and get something done in one afternoon.
When I work on a novel, I get a germ of an idea and mull it over before starting to write. It may take me years to write a novel. I don���t outline, but I usually know the beginning and the end. The fun part is figuring out how to get from Chapter One to the end. For me it���s the journey that keeps me interested.
Elizabeth: You write in many genres, do you read in many genres? Which are your favorite?
Susan: I love to read middle-grade novels. I like anything that keeps my attention. Often ���adult��� novels are too convoluted for me. I hate putting a book down, but my time is limited. Just tell me a good story. I have a form of dyslexia, so I���m a slow reader, but that hasn���t stopped me. I discovered my love for reading when I read Lassie Come Home in the seventh grade. Up until then reading was just a chore. I don���t want a book to be a chore to read.
Elizabeth: Tell us about yourself.
Susan: I live with my husband of 41 years, Bob, on Sunnybook Farm. We have 4 adult children, 6 grandchildren, 1 step grandson, and 1 step great granddaughter. We have 3 house cats and one dog. We also have 9 chickens and a bunch of barn cats. I love getting together with family. We laugh a lot and I never get enough of my grandchildren.
I went back to college in my 50s and graduated from the University of Wisconsin-Green Bay in 2009. It wasn���t easy going back to school after all those years, but every time I finished a class, I felt a great sense of accomplishment.
Elizabeth: Do you have any advice for young readers and writers?
Susan: I like to encourage writers who have dyslexia to charge ahead and write. I���m proof it can be done. Join a critique group to help improve your writing. Critiques may hurt at first, but I know I learned a lot from mine and I still do.
We���ve now reached the time in our interview for the let���s-get-to-know-the-author-better, nearly-pointless, sort-of-silly, rapid-fire questions:
Elizabeth: Pizza or salad?
Elizabeth: Ocean or mountain?
Elizabeth: Tree house or doll house?
Susan: Tree House, like the one in Swiss Family Robinson
Elizabeth: Violin or piano?
Elizabeth: Comic story or learn-something story?
Susan: Tough one���.I like to learn something in a story by accident, not on purpose. It has to be part of the story, even a comic story.
Elizabeth: Laura Ingalls Wilder or Hermione Granger?
Susan: Another tough one���.Hermione Granger
Thanks, Susan for joining me today.�� For more about Susan Manzke, visit her website: http://www.susanmanzke.net
Chicken Charlie���s Year is available here on amazon.com
Susan’s columns are available in the Words in my Pocket collections.��
October 21, 2014
Want to write a book? Want to do it fast? Want encouragement from famous people? Want to connect with other writers in your local area?
Then you need to join NaNoWriMo! I went to the National Novel Writing Month website and got myself signed up to write (finish) a novel in November. If you join NaNoWriMo, be sure to make me one of your writing buddies.
This year, my NaNo project is once again The Stepsisters. It feels as if I’ve been writing this book f – o – r – e – v – e – r .
I’m two-thirds finished with my third revision, and I think this is the one. My goal for November is to finish The Stepsisters. For those of you who haven’t already heard about this novel, The Stepsisters is a steampunk Cinderella, told in alternating first person by the two stepsisters. And not to brag or anything, but it is la-la fabulous. Or will be. When I finish it. In November.
OK, so go do the NaNo thing. You know you want to. Here’s the link again: National Novel Writing Month website.