Wednesday, April 30, 2008

It was the Scholastic Book Fair at Budza’s school today. He was eager to get an Alex Rider spy novel, having read the graphic novel version of Stormbreaker down in Virginia, visiting his Gammie. It was buy one book, get a second book free, and his choice for his free book was a Scholastic book about dragons.

I have to say, I judged it by its formulaic cover, and figured he’d be much more excited about the Alex Rider book. But he wanted to show his dad this one first, and it was what he wanted to read aloud at bed time. It turned out to be a pretty good survery of world dragon legends. When we got to the description of Krak’s Dragon, and a statue that spat real fire, I called out to my husband in our home office down the hall to Google Krakow and dragon and lo and behold, a very cool statue breathing fire, right in front of Wawel Castle (Wawel Castle, King Krak, a hero named Skuba, a princess named Wilma, a dragon that drinks half of the river Vistula…the whole thing might have sprung up from the mind of John Cleese or Eric Idle). You do have to wonder, if Skuba was clever enough to kill the dragon, why Krakow isn’t called Skubow.

It turns out that the Poles do love their dragons, and Smok Wawelski or Smok the Dragon shows up in many aspects of Polish life, including school plays. I had an early turn on the stage at Madison Elementary as the swagman in Waltzing Matilda (the start of a long acting career in which I never, ever, ever got the ingĂ©nue part, but played swagmen, Fern’s mother in Charlotte’s Web, the Badger in Wind in the Willows, and an old lady in a Helen Hayes part). How much more fun to be a dragon.

Little did I realize when Hatching Magic came out in Polish that it fit into such a storied line of Polish dragon legends.

Monday, April 21, 2008

2008 Design-a-Dragon Contest Rules Posted

The rules and entry form for the 2008 Design-a-Dragon contest for dragon designers ages 12 and under have now been posted at Enter now--the lucky winner will have their dragon incorporated into the plot of Hatching Magic 3 and the runners up will be featured on the website. Stay tuned to this blog for contest updates.

Sunday, April 20, 2008

A Skirmish on the Green

Yesterday the Budza and my husband went to the Minuteman National Historic Site in Concord, Mass, to watch a reenactment of the Revolutionary War battle of Lexington and Concord on April 19, 1775. Budza remarked on how young the drummer-boys were. Because the reenactment was being held in a National Park, no one could fall down dead. Apparently there is a law against playing dead in national parks. Why do I think this might have something to do with anti-war protesters and the Vietnam War? Hmmmm.

It also happened to be the 100th birthday of the Paul Revere House Museum in Boston, and the Boston Globe had a spectacular picture of their show-stopping cake, a towering architectural likeness of the house in genoise and buttercream and what look like a solid chocolate horse and rider out front. If I can find a version to post here, I will.

Funny story about the Paul Revere House. It used to be an additional stop on Boston’s Freedom Trail; admission wasn't included on the Freedom Trail tour, so if you wanted to go in, it was an extra dollar or dollar-fifty. A good friend of mine used to say that she never actually went in to the museum, because she always spent her remaining $1.50 on a cannoli from an Italian bakery in Boston’s North End.

All this mustering got me thinking about books. Of course the classic Johnny Tremain comes to mind, the 1944 Newbury medal winner by Esther Forbes. Nice bio of Forbes here…she was a Worcester, MA, native.

Then there is Robert Lawson’s Ben and Me: An Astonishing Life of Ben Frankling by His Good Mouse Amos (Little Brown, 1939). Lawson also wrote Mr. Revere and I: Being an Account of Certain Episodes in the Career of Paul Revere, Esq. As Recently Revealed by His Horse.

Huge list of both picture books and chapter books on life in Colonial America and the Revolutionary War here on the website of the Grand Rapids Public Library.

Pictures of the 2008 reenactment of the battle of Lexington and Concord used with the kind permission of “Budza” Hazell.

Saturday, April 12, 2008

Announcing 2008 Design-a-Dragon contest

Winner to receive naming rights to a dragon in the third installment of Hatching Magic. Full details soon here, and entry forms and rules posted soon to

Thursday, April 10, 2008

Resources for Young Writers on the Web

I did a creative writing workshop today with some third and fourth grade kids in Winchester, MA. We had fun writing our own Martian postcards, a la Craig Raine's poem, "A Martian Sends a Postcard Home," and writing in the voice of a 13th century wizard seeing 21st century Boston for the first time. I was amazed that these kids were already well along in projects of their own, filling notebooks, living with plots and characters in their heads. They're on their way. It was fun and inspiring to see what they came up with in the hour we spent together.

I promised to post some links here to online resources about creative writing for kids. There is Annie Buckley's 2004 book, Once Upon a Time: Creative Writing Fun for Kids. And at the other extreme, there is the idea of writing a collaborative story with kids around the globe, using Twitter, like the kids at Many Voices did.

How 21st century is THAT?!?! I have to confess while I've visited the Twitter site, I don't quite get it, but any technology that makes a global collaboration among kids on different continents possible has to be a good thing.

Between books and twittories (Twitter stories) there are a lot of other resources, formats, and publishing venues for the aspiring or practicing creative writer under the age of 12:

Ideas for creative writing in the classroom from Pizzaz. Great stuff here: writing captions for wordless cartoons, limericks, on up to more ambitious stories.

KidPub allows young authors to post work online and sponsors writing contests.

Calling on the Muse offers some excellent loosening up creative writing exercises that would work well for groups at Education World.

Stone Soup online offers lots of advice for aspiring authors, a place to publish, and you can even listen to young authors reading their work online. They also have a long list of print publications that publish young authors.

For girls (y chicas) New Moon/Luna Vida

And for the young writer who is having a birthday, a bad day, got a great report card, or has a great idea and needs a great place to write it down, check out these truly swoon-worthy blank books.

Wild Things Tamed and Free

I love a very particular genre of book, true accounts of a foundling or injured animal that becomes, for a time, a pet in the house. There are, of course, the Gerald Durrell books (My Family and Other Animals, and many others) but I can't really recommend then because for some reason, as animal-crazy as I was growing up (and am, now) I never got into those. But I adored William Service's Owl: The Size of a Beer Can, The Personality of a Bank President which is hysterical and sweet by turns. I particularly remember Owl doing a little dance of frustration around a glass jar with a garter snake in it, and the author's wife opening a cupboard to get something out and discovering Owl among the coffee mugs.

And Gavin Maxwell's Ring of Bright Water about life with an otter Maxwell brought back from Iraq and raised in Scotland. My obsession with the wild-creature-as-temporary-houseguest got to the point where I could not pass up any I found in used bookstores, so we have one from the 1920s about The Sprite, who was a pet fox. It wil require a trip to the attic to refresh my memory about the rest. I know they're more, and they're in the category of books that will fit into the slightly rickety painted bookcase I plan to have in the summer house by a lake I am always happily furnishing in my imagination (and where it will likely stay).

This book is a special sub-genre of the Wild Thing as Pet motif, where the wild animal insinuates itself into the life of an illustrator and his family, and allows us a glimpse of the artist at work. The author of Martha is one of my favorite artists, ex-patriate Russian Gennady Spirin. The book is the story of how his wife and young son find a wounded crow and nurse it to health. The illustrations are wonderful...this seems to be Moscow in the 1970s, The scenes where they take the crow to the vet are wonderful, and the contrast between the drab winter streets and the wonderful interior of the Spirins' cozy, art-filled apartment, with all the rich colors of a jeweled icon, makes you think Moscow circa 1975 couldn't have been so bad... I love the images of Spirin at his drawing table, and the description of how the crow, Martha, recovers enough to explore the studio.

I also love Bill Peet's older book, Capyboppy, about the pet capybara brought home by their son. I couldn't, alas, find online the wonderful self-portrait of Peet at work with Capyboppy snoozing on the couch.

If anyone knows of other artist-adopting-pet books, I'd love to know about them.