Journal 2006

December 12, 2006
Award-Winning Books for the Holidays

Books make great holiday presents, and I'm not the only one who thinks so—according to Publishers Weekly, last year's holiday sales at the three major bookstore chains (Barnes & Noble, Borders Group, and Books-A-Million) reached $2.27 billion dollars. If you'd like to give books this year but need help choosing them, any good bookseller can point out the top sellers for various age groups and also recommend a selection of personal favorites. When it comes to books for children and teens, at least some of those titles are likely to sport awards seals on their covers.

We can all agree awards are subjective—the book that I like best might not be the one that you (or the awards committee) would choose. In addition, an odd momentum develops around books that get recognized early; they have a tendency to keep popping up in a way that could lead a reasonable person to wonder whether every awards committee is truly starting from scratch, or whether there might be some cribbing off each other's short lists. Even so, when I see a book winning one of the big awards, or showing up on more than one awards list, I definitely take notice. So in the interest of helping with holiday shopping, I've compiled links to some of the major national awards sites for children's and teen books below.

For elementary, middle school, or junior high readers, it's hard to go wrong with a book that has won the Newbery Medal. Awarded by the American Library Association in a tradition stretching back to 1922, the Newbery Medal is given annually to "the most distinguished American children's book." Runners-up are designated Newbery Honor Books.

To recognize books written specifically for teens, the American Library Association established the Michael L. Printz Award in 2000. This medal is awarded each year to "a book that exemplifies literary excellence in young adult literature." Honor books are also named.

If you have very young readers on your gift list, the ALA has an award for picture books too. The Caldecott Medal is given annually to "the artist of the most distinguished American picture book for children." Notice that this one says artist, not author, as if the winner would have been just as successful illustrating blank paper. Not that I'm bitter. Because I'm not a picture book author.

In addition to the Newbery, the Printz, and the Caldecott, the American Library Association oversees many other important awards for children's and teen/young adult books. Other organizations give out major awards as well, a few of which are listed here and described below.

The National Book Award has a single category for children's books: Young People's Literature. In addition to the recognition for his or her book, the winning author receives a prize of $10,000. If you don't think that's a lot of money, I'm guessing you're not a fiction writer.

The Quills hit the scene more recently, jazzing things up with a televised awards ceremony. According to their Web site, The Quills are a " 'consumers choice' awards program for books, honoring the current titles readers deem most entertaining and enlightening." Quills award categories include picture books, middle grade books, and teen books.

Golden Kite Awards are given annually in several categories by the Society of Children's Book Writers and Illustrators. Awarded by a peer group of authors and illustrators, the Golden Kites are like the SAG Awards of the children's book world (except that the voting is done by committee instead of the entire membership). If you are a picture book author, this is your chance to win an award for picture book text.

Finally, each year the New York Public Library recognizes a diverse list of young adult titles by designating them Books for the Teen Age. I would mention this list even if Ghost of a Chance and The Queen of Second Place had not been selected for inclusion (although I will admit that makes bringing it up more fun).

These links encompass many of the best known children's book awards, but they are not comprehensive. I haven't even touched on regional awards, such as these, or awards in other countries. And even if I could figure out how to mention every single award there is, all of the winners on all of those lists would still represent only a small fraction of the many great books out there. Awards lists are fun, and make excellent browsing, but in the end all that really matters is pairing the right book with the right reader. (Or the fact that you tried, because books are totally returnable.)

Happy hunting!
And happy holidays!

Laura


November 23, 2006
Two Things I Know For Sure

  1. Thanksgiving is a dog's favorite holiday.
  2. What they say about tryptophan is true.

Thanks for visiting!
See you soon!

Laura


November 22, 2006
Don't Forget the Banana Bread

You think you know a person . . . and then you spend Thanksgiving together. The first time I cooked a Thanksgiving dinner for my husband (which was, not coincidentally, the first time I ever cooked one), we talked about our menu beforehand. That's how yams and cranberry sauce, two items I definitely wouldn't have included, got invited to the table.

What my husband didn't tell me was that there was one more dish he was assuming would be on our table, a dish that, like the turkey, was so central to the holiday it didn't even occur to him to mention it.

We had just finished filling our plates when he looked up, glanced around, and asked me, "Where's the banana bread?" This was not a veiled complaint, as in, "Why didn't you make any banana bread?" but a completely innocent request for clarification, as in, "Please pass the banana bread because obviously we have some somewhere, as is the custom in every American household on Thanksgiving."

What can I say? His family puts cherries in Christmas fudge, too.

If you're cooking for Thanksgiving this year and there's any chance you've invited a banana bread eater, here's my favorite recipe:

Banana Nut Bread

Ingredients:
¾ cup Crisco or similar shortening
1½ cups sugar
3 eggs
3 cups all-purpose flour
¾ tsp. baking soda
¾ tsp. baking powder
¾ tsp. salt
3 very ripe bananas
¼ cup sour milk
½ cup chopped walnuts

Instructions:
Preheat oven to 350 degrees. With an electric mixer, mix together shortening and sugar. Add eggs and beat well. Add dry ingredients (the next four) and mix just until stirred in. Add bananas and sour milk and mix until the bananas are thoroughly mashed up and incorporated. (If you don’t have sour milk, make it by putting a tablespoon of lemon juice in a measuring cup and then adding milk to the ¼ cup line). Put in the nuts last and mix just until distributed.

Scrape batter into a large (9¼ x 5¼ x 2¾), lightly greased and floured loaf pan and bake approximately 90 minutes, until the top of the bread rises up and turns a very deep golden brown, usually with a crack across it. Cooking time will vary depending on your oven and the pan wall thickness. If desired, the batter may be divided between smaller pans and the cooking time reduced. Fully cooked bread won’t jiggle when the pan is shaken slightly—a toothpick may not come out clean, but anything sticking to it should look more like crumbs than like liquid. If desired, a loose piece of foil may be tented over the loaf during the last 10 to 15 minutes of cooking, to shield it from additional browning.

If you've read Clearwater Crossing, you'll recognize this recipe as the one Jenna passed along in The Diaries. Before that, my mother baked it in her junior high home ec class. I love to share it because you can never have too many good banana bread recipes—especially at Thanksgiving!

Happy Turkey Day!

Laura


November 14, 2006
November Is National Novel Writing Month

I'm not sure how these guys dreamed this up, but if you're interested in writing a novel, check out the Web site for Nanowrimo.

The idea behind Nanowrimo is to write a 50,000 word novel from start to finish within the 30 days of November. This is not as crazy as it sounds. Dividing 50,000 words by 30 days yields 1,667 words per day. Depending on your formatting, that works out to about eight typed pages every day. However, if you can produce 10 pages on the days you write, you'll make up enough time to take six days off over the course of the month.

And what will you have when you finish? Plenty of published novels, especially ones written for teens, are in the neighborhood of 50,000 words. If you spend time planning your story before you start writing, and then give yourself an additional month (or six) to rewrite and polish your pages, you could end up with something great.

If you're just finding out about Nanowrimo and didn't get started on November 1, you can always sign up next year. But why wait? Every month is Novel Writing Month—start whenever you like. The National angle is inspiring, but ultimately only you can keep your rear end in that chair, your fingers pounding those keys, and your mind from running a continuous loop wondering what in the world you were thinking. (You don't actually have to succeed at that last part—that's pretty much extra credit.)

You might love writing a novel, or you might add it to your list of supposedly fun things you'll never do again. Your finished manuscript could end up gathering dust under your bed, or it could be published and (this is a excellent place to cross your fingers if you don't have a trust fund) made into a movie. You may be a novelist for one month, or for the rest of your life.

Don't you want to find out?

Thanks for visiting!
See you soon!

Laura


October 31, 2006
Five Reasons I Love Halloween:

  1. All the important stuff happens at night—no getting up at the crack of dawn required.
  2. It's the only day of the year we take candy from strangers.
  3. All of my holiday shopping can be done at the grocery store and everyone likes my present (because it's candy).
  4. You get to wear a disguise, so even if someone insists on taking your picture, no one can tell it's you.
  5. Did I mention the candy?

Ever since I became old enough to trick-or-treat, Halloween has fascinated me. I used to start sketching pumpkins and costumes sometime around July, to make sure I'd be ready. In recent years I've decided that my fixation on this particular holiday has to do with the fact that (in addition to the excellent reasons given above) Halloween is the holiday that truly celebrates creativity. The hand-carved jack-o-lanterns, the homemade decorations, and especially the costumes—the best of which are never store-bought—all offer unique opportunities for imagination and self-expression. On other holidays, we look to tradition; Halloween is about transformation, reinventing ourselves and our surroundings as something new every year.

If you're carving a jack-o-lantern this year, here's a tip: try using an ice cream scoop to remove the guts. Scraping a thin layer off the pumpkin's inside walls is the fastest way to get the goo out, and of the many tools I've used for this—including my bare hands, a wide assortment of spoons, and even other ice cream scoops—nothing works better than one of these:

Once I get the pumpkin seeds out, I like to roast them (for later, when someone needs a break from all that sugar). Here's how:

  1. Separate the seeds from the pulp and rinse them clean in a colander. Blot the seeds dry with paper towels.
  2. Toss the dried seeds in just enough cooking oil to coat. Spread the oiled seeds on a foil-lined cookie sheet, aiming for a single layer. Sprinkle the seeds with salt to taste.
  3. Roast the seeds in a preheated 350° oven for ten minutes. Remove the cookie sheet, stir and turn the seeds with a spatula, and return them to the oven; repeat this step about every five minutes until they are golden brown. Total cooking time will depend on your oven, cookie sheet, and seeds, but will probably be about 20 to 30 minutes.
  4. Blot off any excess oil with a paper towel and allow to cool.

Be sure to watch the oven closely—once the seeds start browning, they'll burn fast. After they cool, you can eat them whole, shell and all.

Happy Halloween!
May all your tricks be treats.

Laura


October 24 , 2006
Puzzled?

I just found a free software program for making crossword puzzles. If you've read The Queen of Second Place and Queen B and want to try solving a puzzle based on those two books, take a look at this.

Or, if you'd like to make your own crossword puzzles, you can download the software from EclipseCrossword.com. Once you've created a puzzle, you have the option of solving it on the screen or printing it to solve on paper. It seems like this could come in handy for some sort of school assignment . . . .

I feel like I should mention that anytime you download something from the Internet, you run the risk of acquiring a computer virus or having some other problem. I'm not affiliated with Eclipse Crossword and can't vouch for their site. I can say that their program is a lot of fun and my computer is still running fine.

Thanks for visiting!
See you soon!

Laura


October 12, 2006
Sew Talented

We have a winner in the paperback contest! Melissa knew that Trevor's super-secret talent is sewing. As Cassie explains in Queen B:

My little brother sews like a genius, but this isn’t something he’s proud of—at least, not publicly. In fact, he’s sworn me to silence on the subject, so don’t tell him I brought it up.

It all started last semester in home economics, a class Trev and his friends only took to meet girls. Or so Trevor claimed. That story holds less water all the time, especially since he can barely stop fiddling with the sewing machine Mom gave him for Christmas.

Thanks for playing!
See you soon!

Laura


October 10, 2006
The Paperback Has Landed!

The Queen of Second Place is now available in paperback and is sporting a brand new cover. The hardcover edition is shown on the left, the paperback on the right:

The Queen of Second Place, hardcover edition The Queen of Second Place, paperback edition

The new paperback cover matches the companion book, Queen B, which is out in hardcover now and will be available in paperback next October:

Queen B, hardcover editionQueen B, paperback edition

To celebrate today's paperback release, let's have a contest: The first person to e-mail me the correct answer to the following question will win an autographed copy of the new paperback.

Contest Question: What is Cassie's brother's super-secret talent?

My e-mail address is . Be sure to include a snail mail address with your answer, so that I can mail you your prize if you win. (And don't worry—that's all I'll use your address for.)

Thanks for visiting!
See you soon!

Laura


September 30, 2006
DSLove

Well, I did it. I upgraded from dial-up to DSL. And yes, I am aware that cable might be faster. The virtues of DSL were 1) it was cheaper, 2) I didn't have to switch TV providers--and endure the related headaches--in order to get a good deal, and 3) I installed it myself, making it cheaper still. Besides, after years of using dial-up, even the slowest speed of DSL looks fast.

As with all good things, I now wish I'd done this months ago. Not only can I zoom through my usual sites, I no longer cringe at the sight of video icons or curse when faced with Flash. (I still have extremely harsh words for sites requiring cookies, but that's a pretty long rant. I'll just say 1984 and let you take it from there.) I celebrated my newfound video capabilities by watching this clip of Will Ferrell singing "Wind Beneath My Wings" to Megan Mullally. If you've read Queen B, you already know this song has a place of honor in Cassie's student talent show--and interpretations like Will's are exactly the reason I chose it. I almost snorted water out my nose when he did that gargle on e-e-ea-gull-l-l-l.

Anyway, now that I'm able to zip around the Internet in record time, I thought I'd share a few sites that fellow book lovers might enjoy:

MissSnark.com   If you have any interest in writing for publication, you need to check out this blog. Written by a New York agent, this witty adult site is a gold mine of information and links for writers who want to learn more about the business of publishing.

MegCabot.com   If you've read any of Meg's books, you know how hilarious she is, and the Diary portion of her Web site is just as entertaining. I'm constantly amazed by the number of appearances and book deadlines she juggles while also writing a blog.

TeenReads.com and TeensReadToo.com   Lots of great information about recently published teen books, including book reviews and author interviews.

Happy surfing!
See you soon!

Laura


September 10, 2006
Master of My Domain (Name)

"Webmasters, you are." Those were the Yoda-inspired words of my Dreamweaver instructor on a recent day when he sent my class out into the world after fifteen hours of instruction. The guy is a genius, and way more wired than any uncaffeinated individual has a right to be, so after fifteen hours with the program maybe he was a webmaster. In our case, though, his assessment might have been a little optimistic. Which is why I went back for another fifteen hours of instruction and will soon sign up for more. I'm still not a webmaster, but I am Master of My Domain (Name) now, and that's pretty cool.

Of course, being Master of My Domain (Name) is a lot of responsibility. For one thing, it means I'm going to have to upgrade from dial-up, which is something I've put off for years. There are several reasons for this, but the main one is I'm paranoid. On line all the time? Why not just invite hackers over for tea and cookies? (Don't get me started on cookies.) When you make your living on your computer, the idea of someone just digitally snagging your hard work makes dialing up and waiting (and waiting, and waiting) seem like a small price to pay. I do understand what a firewall is, but how many huge companies have you heard about being hacked? You think they don't have firewalls? Okay, so I'm paranoid. I've already admitted that.

Paranoia aside, the great part of being MoMD(N) is being able to connect with readers in a whole new way. I can tell you book-related things: for example, that the paperback edition of The Queen of Second Place will be out October 10. I can tell you personal things: such as, October 10 is also my goddaughter's birthday. And I can tell you things you just need to know: for example, that while you're waiting for the third season premiere of Veronica Mars on the new CW network, you should check out Life on Mars on the BBC network--two totally unrelated shows, both smart, and we'll ignore the easy joke we could get by combining their titles.

Do I have a Mars obsession, you may be wondering, or do I just watch a lot of TV? I watch way too much TV. I watch so much TV that I have to set timers on my DVR to avoid missing programs. Which reminds me--did you know that the same phone line your cable/satellite provider uses to send you all that program information also reports back to them with a complete list of everything you've been watching? That's not even paranoid--it's just true. How else would they get important statistics like the number of times people backed up their TV sets to see Janet Jackson's nipple shield? It's when you extrapolate from there to wondering which secret government agency is keeping a file on the fact that you personally backed up twice . . . that's the stuff paranoia is made of.

(And, in case you're with the government, I didn't even have a DVR then. It's an example, all right? So you can totally shred that file.)

Thanks for visiting!
See you soon!

Laura

 

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