Allison's Book Bag

Posts Tagged ‘reviews of books for young people

Miriam Franklin is the author of Extraordinary, a novel about friendship. Besides reading children’s literature and writing, she loves to teach. Franklin currently teaches language art classes to students in home schools, in public schools, and community groups. She lives in North Carolina with her husband, two daughters, and two cats. To find out more, check out my interview. 🙂

Here’s one important lesson I’ve learned: If you quit when you feel discouraged, you’ll never find out what you could have done if you’d stuck with it instead. Or, even better: The ONLY way to fail is to quit!

ALLISON: Do you view the jar as half empty or half full? Why or why not?

MIRIAM: When I’m writing, I try to create main characters who view the jar as half full. I think it’s important for readers to see characters who overcome difficult challenges or learn to accept changes in their life with a hopeful and positive attitude.  I hope this shows readers that while dealing with unexpected changes isn’t easy, it can make you a stronger person in the end.

ALLISON: Both of your novels are set in middle school. How does middle school differ from when you attended? How is the same?

MIRIAM: My elementary school was from kindergarten up to sixth grade, and junior high was seventh through ninth, so I was the oldest in sixth grade instead of the youngest. In junior high, when the bell rang the halls filled with seventh through ninth graders which was intimidating for a tiny twelve-year-old, especially when kids were retained more back then and it wasn’t uncommon to see a big sixteen-year-old in ninth grade!

One thing the same is that at this age, kids care a lot about what everyone else thinks. Your social status is determined by who you sit with at lunch, so the same problem about how you choose your friends and how you accept others still exists.

ALLISON: Your main character, Pansy, wants to become extraordinary. What were some of your goals in middle school? What were some of your failures?

MIRIAM: I’d had the same group of friends since kindergarten, and we moved from New Jersey to North Carolina in middle school, same as Sunny, the character in CALL ME SUNFLOWER. I spent most of junior high trying to find a place I fit in. It seemed like all of the kids at my junior high knew each other from elementary and as an introvert who’d always taken friends for granted, it wasn’t easy.

I didn’t worry too much about grades, but I should have since daydreaming during math class brought a D in algebra that I managed to hide from my parents. Each subject was written on a separate slip of paper and I just didn’t show them the last quarter grade! (Haha, I don’t think they ever found out about it, either)

I was determined to find something I was passionate about, but I discovered there weren’t many offerings for beginning dancers or gymnasts at age 12. Finally I enrolled in ice skating classes at the end of eighth grade after spending 6 weeks with a broken ankle…and not only did I find something I wanted to do every day, I found my first real friends since I’d moved to NC, and I found a place I fit in.

ALLISON: You and your husband once ran a toy and gift store with her husband. What were the highs and lows of that experience?

MIRIAM: The best part was getting to go to the Toy Fair in New York where we spent a couple of days looking at the latest toys and gadgets. It was so much fun poring through catalogs and choosing things that we thought would make our store unique. We rented an old house and my mom painted murals on the walls. It was like a dream come true watching the place come together and filling it with hand-picked toys and gifts. The low point is when we realized we couldn’t make a living from our small shop that most people didn’t know about and after a year, Creative Earth Toys and Gifts had to close its doors.

ALLISON: You have two cats. Do you think you’ll ever write a book about pets? Why or why not?

MIRIAM: CALL ME SUNFLOWER actually features Stellaluna, my black cat! There’s another cat in the story as well, a stray Sunny adopts when she moves in with her grandmother. I’ve also included dogs in another book I’m working on. I’m a big animal-lover so I’m guessing they will find their way into my stories!

ALLISON: Pansy’s best friend gets sick and becomes disabled. Is her story drawn on experience? Tell us about your inspiration.

MIRIAM: My niece, Anna, was actually the inspiration behind EXTRAORDINARY. She suffered a brain injury similar to the character in the book, although she was only around two when it happened.

ALLISON: Extraordinary is your seventh or eighth book, but your first published. What happened to those other books? How did you persevere?

MIRIAM: Some of those books were early attempts that were part of learning and improving my writing craft. Others I’ve continued to rewrite over the years and one of them turned into CALL ME SUNFLOWER, which will be published in May. While I received many rejections over the years, I’ve also received encouragement and I could tell my writing was improving so I kept at it even though at times it was rough! I knew I had stories I needed to tell so I tried to focus more on the joy of writing and less on the publishing process.

ALLISON: You home school language arts to students. What advice would you give to aspiring writers?

MIRIAM: Read, read, read! The best writers are also avid readers, and they pay attention to what works and what doesn’t work in a story. What makes you keep reading? What makes you connect to the main character and care about what happens to him/her? Keep a journal about books you read, making note of strengths and weaknesses. My oldest daughter started doing this in middle school, and she has an overstuffed notebook she calls the “All-Book Binder” where she rates her favorite books/series. (HARRY POTTER has remained number one!)

Also, write, write, write! Expressing your personal thoughts through a journal or diary is one place to start, and a way to discover your own unique writer’s voice. You can keep a notebook that you carry with you so you can jot down story ideas, characters, and settings when they pop in your head. Pay attention to people around you, the way they talk and their mannerisms. Take note of interesting expressions when you hear them, and collect newspaper articles as well that might inspire you to write a story.

Four years ago, I joined Saturday Snapshot. The meme invites bloggers to share photos. One of my new year’s resolutions was to create a memory scrapbook from my childhood. I intend for the project to be a work-in-progress, where I mostly post in order of scanned photos. So far, I have posted about my parents and grandparents, the family dog, and personal interests. Next up are photos that include my aunts and uncles or my mom’s siblings (Gertrude, Kathy, Melvin, Monte) and my dad’s siblings (Ruth).

The first photo is at my grandparents’ place and is of them, my parents, some of my aunts and uncles, and me. Everything about the interior has long since changed. The second photo seems to have been taken before my parents flew to Ontario to visit relatives on my dad’s side. A favorite photo of mine is the third which shows just my uncles with me.

Naturally, my relatives have changed a lot since my cradle day photos. Most of have married, had children, and even retired. As such, they sport gray hair and struggle with some health issues. Except for my relatives who moved away from Newfoundland, I get to visit everyone on my mom’s side once a year. Aunt Gertrude and Uncle Calvin will invite Andy and I over for a home-cooked meal. Uncle Melvin and Aunt Linda share my love of travel and pets. With Uncle Monte and Verna, I enjoy long conversations about anything and everything.

On my dad’s side, there’s just Aunt Ruth and Uncle John. The first photo is of them with me and the second is of me with their dog. Andy and I have gone four times since my move to Nebraska to visit them. The first was for a cousin’s wedding; two were just to connect; and the fourth was for my nan’s funeral. Andy and I enjoyed their house in the woods and by a lake. We appreciated that they took time to show off places about their community, hike with us, and treated us to homemade and restaurant meals.

The Distance Between Us is a young reader’s edition of an adult memoir by Reyna Grande. Her memoir weaves the universal story of a family’s resolve to reach their goal against all odds. By the same token, her memoir raises the question of how much should one be willing to sacrifice to obtain the impossible dream? The Distance Between Us also makes clear how arduous the road to a better life can be, while at times also offering hope and inspiration.

Reyna grew up in a poverty-stricken area of Mexico and her family’s goal was to have their own home. Unfortunately, her Papi couldn’t find a job in the weak Mexican economy. For that reason, he’d left two years ago for the United States. All that Reyna had as a child to remember him by was a glass-framed photo. Now her Mami is also readying herself to flee across the border so that she too might help earn money and the family could more quickly build a house in Mexico. Being left behind was hard enough for Reyna and her siblings, but little could anyone have imagined exactly how much more painful their lives would become. Reyna’s grandparents took care of her and her siblings, but only from a sense of duty, and so the children regularly starved, outgrew their clothes, and lived in squalor. That was only the start of the misery. When their mother eventually returned, she brought with her the news that their father wasn’t going to return: they had divorced. Never again was life the same, for their mother now acted as if burdened by her children, instead of sheltering them with love. When their father eventually smuggled them into the United States with him, he controlled their every move. He feared deportation, but also believed that his children owed it to him to invest their entire being into toiling for success. For a time, life was as miserable or more than it had been in Mexico.

After Reyna graduated college, married, and became an author, she couldn’t help but wonder if the sacrifices had been worth it. Sure, from the moment, she’d settled into the United States, Reyna lived in an apartment instead of shack with one room. There were glass windows, solid walls, carpeted floors, and a bathroom with a shower and a toilet. Surrounding her were paved streets instead of dirt roads, and lawns with lush green grass and flowers of all kinds. In contrast to the stores in Mexico, Kmart was the biggest store she’d ever shopped at. For the first time, she got to see the ocean. If the family got sick with even a simple toothache, they could see a doctor and get treated. Despite the embarrassment over her struggles to fit into an English-speaking environment, there were so many more opportunities. Such as a good education. And a well-paying job. Yet the cost to getting these had been very high. Not only had her parents divorced, but her father had become abusive and her mother had kept the youngest sibling with her, and the children had become rebellious. Each family member would have to answer for themselves the question of whether the price had been worth it, just as we all need to decide how much we’re willing to lose for what we most wish for.

In her forward, Reyna Grande expressed the desire that her book would bring more awareness to the controversial subject and would encourage readers to not let anything keep them from becoming the person they want to be. Although The Distance Between Us tells a story as much about poverty as it does immigration, it should serve as encouragement to press on when life gets tough.

With our household of critters having expanded to include three cats and a dog, I thought it fitting to join a meme related to pets. After searching around, I came across Awww….. Mondays. The one rule is: “Post a picture that makes you say Awww…. and that’s it.” Every photo seemed to feature a pet and so the meme is a perfect fit!

There’s a little bit of me in all my cats. Let’s start with Cinder! She’s an interesting mix of reclusive and social. Of all our cats, Cinder is the most difficult to find when she wants to be alone. I don’t know where she tucks herself, but we can look high and low and in all her favorite haunts, and that Cinder will be nowhere. Similarly, if I want to be alone, I can find the most obscure and least obvious places to hide. Even when she’s out-and-about, Cinder tends to keep more to herself than our other cats. A few times in the day, she’ll retreat to the basement. There I can hear her collar jangle as she roams, and eventually I hear her meow like a person singing in the shower. When upstairs, Cinder is most often in another room. If she does stay with us, it’s rarely where we are; instead she’s sits in a high spot and quietly watches our every move. Similarly, there are times at home when I like to retreat to the bathtub to read, think, and dream. At socials, I might be the one with a book or notepad. Being an observer can be more comfortable than being part of the picture. Moreover, if part of a group on an outing, I tend to fall behind or plow ahead, set in finding my own path.

At the same time, Cinder’s the only one of our cats who consistently greets me at the door when I return from an outing or my job. She’ll sniff my entire face over, as if living vicariously through me. Even when visitors come to the door, Cinder’s the first other than our dog to greet them. Although she’ll outright reject hugs and snuggles (and so we’ve dubbed her our autistic child), Cinder will let visitors stroke her and even reward them with purrs. Our pet sitters report that during their visits, Cinder enjoys their brushing her, playing with her, and otherwise pampering her. Perhaps when living at Hearts United for Animals, and meeting many prospective adopters, Cinder learned the importance of welcoming people, even if she’s at heart an introvert. In that way, I’d say we’re also similar. Over the years, I’ve read plenty of books about how to overcome shyness, and pushed myself often to meet new people. In time, I came to enjoy broadening my circle of friends, and hope that Cinder herself derives some pleasure from her extroverted moments.

Want to start your week off with a smile? Visit Comedy Plus or Burnt Food Dude and see what others are sharing today.

Four years ago, I joined Saturday Snapshot. The meme invites bloggers to share photos. One of my new year’s resolutions was to create a memory scrapbook from my childhood. I intend for the project to be a work-in-progress, where I mostly post in order of scanned photos. So far, I have posted about my parents, our family dog, and personal interests. Next up are photos of my grandparents.

These photos are particularly meaningful, because none of my grandparents are still alive. The first photo was taken near the time I had been christened, and is of my grandparents on my mom’s side. They both met Andy, but long before I moved to Nebraska to date and eventually marry him. I know they both would have been proud. The second photo seems to have been taken before my parents flew to Ontario to visit relatives on my dad’s side.

The third photo is of my grandparents on my dad’s side. Although she was a step-mom to my dad, I only knew my grandmother and so to me she was always my Nan. My Poppy Hunter never met Andy, but my Nanny Hunter did when Andy and I attended a wedding of a cousin. This photo seems to be around the time of my first birthday.

In my next Saturday Snapshot, I’ll post about my other relatives, all of whom I still get to visit. Enjoy the week!

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Spring Reviews

Almost a year after I announced that it was time to take a step back from this blog, Allison's Book Bag is still here. I'm slowly working back up to weekly reviews again. Each week, there will be one under any of these categories: Advanced Reader Copies, animal books, religious books, or diversity books. Some will come in the form of single reviews and others in the form of round-ups. Just ahead, there will be reviews of:

  • Freddy the Frogcaster and the Terrible Tornado by Janice Dean
  • The Distance Between Us by Reya Grande
  • Hearts of Fire from The Voice of Matyrs



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