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Archive for the ‘Emotional’ Category

Here are a few more facts about me: I am short. And loud. I hate to cook and love to eat. I am single and childless, but I have lots of friends and I am an aunt to three lovely children (Luke, Roxanne, and Max) and one not so lovely dog (Henry). I think of myself as an enormously lucky person: I get to tell stories for a living.

–Kate DiCamillo, About Kate DiCamillo

Two-time Newbery award-winner, Kate DiCamillo likes to think of herself as a storyteller. Writing for both children and for adults, her novels often confront themes of death, separation, and loss. She won a Newbery Medal in 2014 for Flora & Ulysses: The Illuminated Adventures and earlier in 2004 for The Tale of Despereaux: Being the Story of a Mouse, a Princess, Some Soup, and a Spool of Thread, a book I’ll review tomorrow. Save the date: May 22!


DiCamillo was a sickly as a kid, and suffered from chronic pneumonia, which is why the family moved to the warm southern climate of Florida when she was five.  Actually, according to Britannica, her mother and older brother to move with her to Florida when she was five. Her father, an orthodontist, was scheduled to follow the family in due course but he never did.

People apparently talked more slowly in Florida than her birth home of Pennsylvania and said words DiCamillio wasn’t familiar with such as: “ain’t” and “y’all” and “ma’am.” Everybody also knew everybody else. It was all so different from what she had known before. DiCamillo tells Scholastic that she loved it.

DiCamillo also shares with Scholastic that she considers being ill contributed to her development as a writer. She learned early on to entertain herself with books. Reading everything she could, DiCamillo learned to rely on stories as a way of understanding the world.

She also grew up with a black standard poodle named Nanette whom she loved and might have inspired Winn-Dixie. DiCamillo spent a lot of time dressing Nanette up in a green ballet tutu and then later like a disco dancer. To Scholastic, DiCamillo praises Nanette as a “wonderful, very accommodating dog”.

After majoring in English at the University of Florida, DiCamillo took on various short-term jobs. Britannica reports that in 1994, she moved to Minnesota, where she worked in a book warehouse and became drawn to children’s fiction. Her first novel, Because of Winn-Dixie, was published after a young editor spotted it in the “slush pile”. In ten years, DiCamillo has come a long away as an author. 2014, DiCamillo was named to a two-year term as the national ambassador for young people’s literature by the Library of Congress.


Writing her own stories had always been one of her dreams, but DiCamillo didn’t start until she was 29. DiCamillo’s warehouse job not only made her fall for children’s literature but, notes Scholastic, also taught her how much time and work goes into creating stories. In college, teachers had often complimented her on her writing, but DiCamillo believes talent isn’t everything. Discipline is important too. So five days a week, DiCamillo made herself get up to write. She required herself to write two pages a day. Dicamillo never wants to write, but is always glad that she has done it. It takes her about a year to finish a book.

According to Scholastic, DiCamillo wrote Because of Winn-Dixie because she was homesick for Florida and because she wanted a dog but lived in an apartment building that didn’t permit them. The story allowed DiCamillo to go home and to spend time with a dog of the highest order. As for the other characters, she doesn’t know where they came from. “I just feel happy and lucky when they choose me to tell their stories. India Opal Buloni seems so real to me, I don’t think I could have made her up. Rather, I feel like I discovered her.”

Scholastic quotes DiCamillo as saying that the most rewarding part of being a writer is when people say that her stories have meant something to them. Also, she’s gotten letters from kids who say they didn’t like to read until they read Because of Winn-Dixie, and now they like books. It makes her feel like the stories she tells matter.

A young boy with Aspergers. A mystery. An English author. These descriptors all might seem as I’m talking about The Curious Incident of the Dog in the Night-Time by Mark Haddon. Instead I’ve just finished reading The London Eye Mystery, a book that Siobhan Dowd delayed publishing due to Haddon’s book bursting on the scene. Her book is as well-written and thought-provoking as the rest of her titles, as well as simply being a fun romp.

Main character, Ted, isn’t your typical kid. I’m not just saying that because he has Aspergers and so has a brain that “runs on its own unique operating system”. In the fiction that I’ve read so far which has featured a young person who falls on the autism spectrum, the common traits run along these lines: struggles in social situations, lacks empathy, becomes easily overwhelmed to the point of aggression, prefers the logical and literal, misunderstands anything figurative, and excels in math and/or language skills. Ted is different.

While Ted’s strength is not communication, that lies with his sister, Ted does know how to read basic facial expressions. He also knows ways to adapt himself to social situations including laughing at jokes—even when he doesn’t understand them. Indeed, no matter which trait you look at, Ted seems to have figured out the proper way to act in the majority of situations. For example, when his brain gets overwhelmed by trying to figure out where his cousin has disappeared, he jumps up and down on his bed as if it were a trampoline or escapes into the family back garden to clear his mind. Never once does he have a tantrum or any other form of meltdown. In addition, instead of disliking figurative language, Ted ponders what each new phrase means and even shares favorites with readers. What most stood out to me about Ted is his atypical obsession, that of weather, which actually helps him solve the London Eye mystery.

Speaking of mysteries…. I like the one in this novel that is aimed at young people from ages 8-12. Granted, the mystery isn’t terribly complicated, even though Ted comes up with nine theories about the whereabouts of his cousin who never returned from his round-trip on the London Eye. Like me, you’ll probably figure out at least the first half of the mystery before or around the same time as Ted. The fun really isn’t in staying in the dark, but in seeing Ted and his sister bond as they track down the mysterious stranger who gave their cousin a free ticket to ride on the London Eye, and in watching Ted learn to overcome the challenges of his Aspergers when he needs to confront his parents, relatives, and even strangers while on the trail for clues. To her credit, Dowd also throws in a few twists and turns to the mystery that just might keep you guessing until the reveal.

As with many fine novels, it took time for me to like The London Eye Mystery. Once I did, however, I discovered there were several scenes to savor. One is when the Ted’s family learns that a body similar to that of his missing cousin has shown up. In the time it takes for the dad to drive to and from the morgue, Ted comes face-to-face with death in a moving moment. “I realized it was real. I would die one day. Kat would die one day. Mum would die. Dad would die…. Of course, I’d known about death before. But during those fifty-four minutes I really knew it.” Ted’s thoughts even lead to God. Unlike the main character of The Curious Incident of the Dog in the Night-Time who is an atheist, Ted stays open to the idea that God might exist. Ted also feels confused and scared, traits not always portrayed in characters who fall on the Autism spectrum.

Dowd had apparently planned The London Eye Mystery as the first in a series. Especially because of how she explored disability as a gift, it’s unfortunate that there will be not be any sequels. In 2007, three months after being named one of 25 ‘authors of the future,’ Dowd died of breast cancer. Prior to her death, Dowd published four novels for young people, all of which I highly recommend.

My rating? Bag it: Carry it with you. Make it a top priority to read.

How would you rate this book?

I recently found myself talking to the book I was reading. It was the award-winning The Curious Incident of the Dog in the Night-Time by Mark Haddon. Initially, I merely pondered inwardly whether the main character was an accurate depiction of autism. However, as startling developments started to unfold, I began to rant outwardly to the characters about their choices, their beliefs, their actions. It’s been awhile since a book got under my skin like The Curious Incident of the Dog in the Night-Time.

Having first read the book many years ago, I elected to reread The Curious Incident of the Dog in the Night-Time when I discovered it had won the Dolly Gray Award in 2004. This is an award given to recognize authors whose book for young people appropriately portrays individuals with developmental disabilities. In Curious Incident, Christopher is a fifteen-year-old with autism who discovers a murdered dog and, later, some letters from his dead mother. I liked that mysteries and relationships were at the forefront of a novel which also happened to feature a main character with developmental disabilities.

My research into Mark Haddon revealed that most critics bought into his depiction of autism, but some felt Haddon relied on stereotypes. In a sense he does: Christopher has a photographic memory and is a mathematical genius. Even though the first ability does explain how Christopher could find his way to London on his own, its under-use fails to justify the cliché. In contrast, mathematical ability seems an integral part of Christopher, in the same way that Rose’s obsession with homonyms felt natural in Rain Reign. Moreover, there also aren’t many novels where an excellence in math receives respect and so, even though I didn’t understand half of it, I found the math a refreshing change of pace.

In another sense, Haddon took traits which are true of many of who fall on the autism spectrum and reinvented them to fit Christopher and thereby created a complex character. For example, Christopher determines whether a day is good or bad by the number and color of cars he sees. In addition, Christopher makes a point of telling white lies, when it fits his needs. Case in point, Christopher constantly figures out ways to keep investigating the dead dog’s murder long after his father has expressing forbidden the search.

As for the startling developments that prompted my verbal exclamations, I can’t talk too much about them without spoiling the plot. What I can tell you is that at times Christopher annoyed me. If he sees the world in pictures, he feels that the rest of us are deprived because we don’t. This feels downright arrogant. The neighbor whose dog got killed also irritated me. At one moment, she’s giving comfort to the dad when Christopher’s mom disappears. The next moment, she’s telling Christopher not to come around. Why the 180 degree turn, lady? I also felt frustrated by Christopher’s dad, who kept too many secrets from Christopher. At times I felt real anger towards these characters. Christopher blatantly disregards the pain of others to insist on taking A-Level math exams, even though he could take them another year. As for the dad, despite being Christopher’s sole protector he ends up making Christopher terrified of him. Yet as much as I disliked these characters at times, they also felt like real human beings just trying to make sense of the mixed-up life handed to them. For that reason, I also had to love them.

Because The Curious Incident of the Dog in the Night-Time got under my skin, I knew my review wasn’t going to be a typical analysis of plot, character, and setting. Instead it’s just my visceral reaction to the characters. For example, I tired of how Christopher constantly needed to disprove the existence of God. Science has just as many unanswered questions as religion. (Yes, I admit that I am biased. Then again, so is the author.) At the same time, I empathized with Christopher’s need for structure. Although he could, with a great amount of effort, keep himself calm in the face of enormous stress, his mind could also actually start to fail him to the point that even everyday signs appeared as gibberish. My reactions would be less extreme, but I do greatly relate to how he feels.

Not a typical mystery or even realistic fiction, The Curious Incident of the Dog in the Night-Time is a book that will get you thinking and talking about a wide variety of topics. What is it like to be autistic? How does one deal with a pain that doesn’t go away? Should one rebuild trust in a broken relationship? Whatever your responses, I can guarantee The Curious Incident of the Dog in the Night-Time will not be soon forgotten.

My rating? Bag it: Carry it with you. Make it a top priority to read.

How would you rate this book?

Although Mark Haddon has received other writing recognition, his most notable claim is The Curious Incident of the Dog in the Night-Time. In 2003, he won the Book Trust Teenage Prize, Whitbread Book of the Year, and Art Seidenbaum Award for First Fiction for The Curious Incident of the Dog in the Night-Time. A year later, he won the Guardian Children’s Fiction Prize, Commonwealth Writers Prize for best first book, and Los Angeles Times book award for first fiction for The Curious Incident of the Dog in the Night-Time. The list goes on. Tomorrow I’ll review this highly-acclaimed novel. Save the date: April 3!


MarkHaddonBorn in England in 1962, Haddon wasn’t much of a reader as a child. He tells Guardian that the little he did read, he doesn’t really remember. He attended Uppingham School and Merton College, both in Oxford, where he studied English.

When talking about why he became a writer, Haddon declares to Guardian that he was born too late for steam trains and a lazy eye meant he would never be an astronaut. Instead he aspired to be a palaeoanthropologist, excavating Australopithecus bones in northern Kenya. Somehow this translated to him reading books about chemistry and how cars worked and life on the ocean floor.

When then did he decide to become a writer? According to Haddon, he never really did, but instead for him “Writing is like being gay. You finally admit that this is who you are, you come out and hope that no one runs away.” Yet Haddon also acknowledges to Guardian about reading R.S. Thomas at 14 (‘Iago Prytherch his name, though, be it allowed,/ Just an ordinary man of the bald Welsh hills,/ Who pens a few sheep in a gap of cloud’) and being astonished that someone could arrange these perfectly ordinary words in a way that did amazing things to the inside of his head. Since that time, Haddon has spent most of his life trying to understand that mystery and trying to give other people the experience he had.

After college, Haddon worked part-time in a theater box office and in a mail order business. He explored different occupations too. One included working with people with disabilities, specifically those with multiple sclerosis and autism. For creative venues, he created illustrations and cartoons for magazines, as well as wrote children’s television series. He even took up painting and selling abstract art.

Wikipedia notes that Haddon describes himself as a “hard-line atheist,” when asked if he’s like the main character in The Curious Incident of the Dog in the Night-Time, but he’s also apparently always asking himself the big questions: Where did we come from? Is there a meaning to all of this? While Haddon has read the Bible, he asserts that science and literature are what give him answers.

Haddon resides in Oxford with his wife. They have two young sons. When not writing, he likes to cook vegetarian.


Years before The Curious Incident of the Dog in the Night-time gave him bestseller status, Haddon wrote his first children’s book, Gilbert’s Gobstopper, in 1987. This was followed by many other children’s books, including his series of Agent Z books, which even inspired a 1996 Children’s BBC sitcom. Haddon admits to Guardian that he made this choice, partly because he thought writing children’s books would be an easy task. He soon learned the difference, but also recognizes that such a choice gave him a stern apprenticeship.

What is remarkable about The Curious Incident of the Dog in the Night-Time is it represents the first book that Haddon wrote intentionally for an adult audience. After having written more than a dozen books for children over the years, he wanted to write about more complex themes. Notable Biographies quotes Haddon as saying, the resulting novel “was definitely for adults, but maybe I should say more specifically: it was for myself. I’ve been writing for kids for a long time, and if you’re writing for kids you’re kind of writing for the kid you used to be at that age. I felt a great sense of freedom with this book because I felt like I was writing it for me.” In presenting the final manuscript to his agent, however, it was decided that it would be marketed to both an adult and a teenage audience. It was even published in two identical editions with different covers, one for adults and one for teenagers, and its success astonished everyone.

According to Notable Biographies, the idea for The Curious Incident of the Dog in the Night-Time came from an image in Haddon’s mind of a poodle that had been killed by a gardening implement. Haddon thought beginning a novel this way could be funny, but in order to make it work he would have to tell the incident from a unique viewpoint. “The dog came first, then the voice. Only after a few pages did I really start to ask, ‘Who does the voice belong to?’ So Christopher came along, in fact, after the book had already got underway.”

Notable Biographies writes that what interested many reviewers is that even though Christopher has autism, Haddon in no way makes this the theme of The Curious Incident of the Dog in the Night-Time. Indeed, the word “autism” is never even used. As noted above, Haddon has worked with autistic people. Beyond that, he admits to doing very little formal research when creating the character of Christopher.

Another question Haddon shares with Guardian is that he has been regularly asked over the past year is what models he had in mind when writing Curious Incident. The answer is Pride and Prejudice. He notes that “Jane Austen was writing about boring people with desperately limited lives. Her heroines were bound by iron rules about what they could do, where they could go and what they could say…. Yet Jane Austen writes about these humdrum lives with such empathy that they seem endlessly fascinating. And her first act of empathy is to write about them in the kind of book these woman would themselves read.” This is apparently what Haddon’s what tried to do with The Curious Incident of the Dog in the Night-Time.

Say What You Will by Cammie McGovern is a slow-blooming flower. The initial events feel a little contrived. In addition, the relationship between Amy and Matthew takes almost too much time to develop. Yet the further into the story I got, the deeper affection I began to feel for the characters. I also appreciate that McGovern puts front and center characters with disabilities.

Friendships don’t happen simply because one is introduced to someone, sits next to someone in class, or even shares a table at lunch. Matthew remembers Amy from elementary school, but otherwise the two don’t really know one other. For that reason, Matthew certainly doesn’t intend to tell Amy what he thinks of the essay she shared in class, one in which she puts on a cheerful façade. After he does, however, Amy realizes that she needs someone like Matthew around to tell her the truth. She even develops a way for them to have regular contact. While this initial setup seems forced, subsequent encounters between Matthew and Amy feel more natural. I adored for example how they supported each other in the awkward task of making sales calls for the yearbook.

Matthew’s one moment of being honest with Amy leads to other shared revelations. He reveals that he struggles with obsessions. She confides that her plan for making friends during her high school haven’t been going too well. As their friendship develops, they discover they meet needs the other has. Matthew tries to help Amy deal with a helicopter mother, who has so involved herself in Amy’s life that she provides prospective friends with a list of all of Amy’s favorite things. Amy in turn pushes Matthew to confront his fears, meet with a therapist, and perhaps even consider medication for his disorder. It’s a sweet friendship that stumbles into a romance.

Actually, the romance doesn’t happen until about the midpoint of the novel, where Matthew takes Amy to the prom. By this point, I’d started to feel frustrated with Say What You Will. Although the signs for romance kept popping up, they weren’t ever being acted upon due to both characters. I began to feel as if watching a television show where season after season the two main stars clearly like one another, but are still kept annoying apart for the sake of show longevity. I felt relieved when McGovern finally allowed Matthew and Amy to acknowledge their feelings. From that point on, tension less on whether the two would get together and more on other issues such as jobs, parental interference, fake friends, and tenuous college plans. The relationship finally begins to feel complex, real, and dramatic.

Up until now everything in my review has focused on the love story behind Say What You Will. I’ve one last thing to say on that note. Despite the style sounding well-suited to middle school, McGovern’s novel is definitely for young adults due to their being a couple of sex scenes.

I’m not normally a fan of romances, but the uniqueness of Amy and Matthew make me a fan of Say What You Will. Amy has cerebral palsy. There are various levels of this disability and hers is severe enough that she needs support of a para, a walker, and a talking computer. As for Matthew, he has obsessive compulsive disorder, and its extreme enough to cause him to avoid social situations, gain attention of peers, and cause panic attacks. Together, the two learn to work around the limitations these disorders might cause, as well as find ways to overcome the challenges of life. Say What You Will is an honest portrayal of the universal experience of learning how to tell your date everything … including what matters most.

My rating? Read it: Borrow from your library or a friend. It’s worth your time.

How would you rate this book?

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