Interview with Sharon Creech, author of Walk Two Moons and more

Sharon Creech

Sharon Creech

Last summer, I read two wonderful books.  The Castle Corona  and Walk Two Moons got me hooked on Sharon Creech’s works, which are whimsical, adventurous, and have a touch of magic.  Walk Two Moons was actually my favorite book of 2014.  So you can understand why it delighted me so much when Mrs. Creech agreed to an email interview.  Here it is!

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Most of your books are based off people, places, or events from your own life.  In The Great Unexpected there are many ties to Ireland and Irish legends.  Why did you choose to include those connections?  Do you have ties to Ireland yourself? 

The Great Unexpected

The Great Unexpected

When I began this book, I thought the ‘across the ocean’ part of the story would be set in England, which is where I lived for nearly 20 years, and where I first saw a place called Rooks Orchard.  But somehow, once I started writing, England morphed into Ireland.  I’ve been to Ireland and have always loved Irish tales and there was something in that setting that fit the story better.

What was so memorable about Rook’s Orchard that caused it to make its way into your book?

The original Rook’s Orchard was an overgrown, eerie looking property with gnarly trees and vines growing over a dilapidated cottage.  I liked the name of the place, and the spookiness intrigued me.  Oddly, the Rook’s Orchard in The Great Unexpected became a much more enchanting place — although some of the eerieness remained.

In addition to your poetry books Love that Dog and Hate that Cat, you include poetry in your novels and on your website.  Do you decide before you put pen to paper if you’re going to write poetry or prose? 

It is very much an inspiration of the moment.  There is a voice and a rhythm in my head at the beginning of each story, and the way it first emerges on the page shapes all the rest.

When I write, I can never read my work without feeling embarrassed and thinking of a million things I would like to change.  How do you overcome that feeling so that you can share your work with the world?

Walk Two Moons

Walk Two Moons

Part of that impulse (wanting to change a million things, etc.) is the revision impulse — it’s natural and necessary, I think.  Some people give up if they can’t ‘get it right’ on the first few tries.  If you write enough, you learn that the ‘fixing’ is where the real writing happens. You take something raw and you sculpt it and shape it.  And sometimes, after all that ‘practice,’ a piece may come out smoothly and ‘nearly perfect’ the first time.  Sometimes.

What are some tips that you would like to share with aspiring authors?

You don’t have to know the story before you begin.  Words generate words and ideas generate ideas.  Just begin!  And let the story unspool before you.  If you read a lot and write a lot, you will automatically absorb and refine the techniques of story telling.

What is the main thing that you hope people grow to understand from reading your books?

I hope readers will slip into the stories and enjoy the journeys. You can go anywhere, be anything and do anything through story.

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I can’t say enough how thankful I am to Mrs. Creech for sharing her writing expertise with us!  And for those investigative readers who wish to learn more about her, take a peek at www.sharoncreech.com.

The True Meaning of Smekday ~ Adam Rex

Summarysmekday:  Gratuity, aka “Tip,” knew something was wrong when her mom got a glowing purple mole.  But things got even weirder when Earth was invaded by aliens.  The Boov, an alien race from across the galaxy, have discovered Earth, renamed it “Smekday,” captured Tip’s mom, and set up human reserves all across the world.  Now, everyone living in the United States is being shipped off to Florida.  Tip, for reasons unexplained, decides to drive herself to the reserve halfway across the country.  She takes her cat Pig and some supplies and sets off on the journey.  On the way, she picks up a stray Boov named J.Lo.  The two strike an unlikely alliance and set off to help Tip find her mom, and maybe even save the world.

Recommendation:  This book had me hooked for days.  The general frame is that Tip wrote the story as a submission for the “Time Capsule Contest,” where the winner would have their entry put in a time capsule and dug up generations later.  This allowed Rex to organize the book nonlinearly – Gratuity would start telling the reader part of the story, and then double back and give more detail on an earlier occurrence when the essay judges ask for clarification.  As a result, the 1st person sounds very natural, so the novel has a lot of voice.  This book will cause you to fall off your rump laughing.  J.Lo and his fellow Boovs enjoy eating things that wouldn’t be on your everyday menu; when J.Lo says he found some “delicious cakes” in the bathroom, they were really toilet cleaning soaps.  Since he can’t write, he instead draws comics that supplement the book.  They humorously explain the Boovs’ history, with lots of people/aliens dying of asphyxiation and did-you-know (“Wherefor You Knowing It?”) sections.  Overall, The True Meaning of Smekday is downright hilarious and made my list of favorites.

Favorite Passage:  Here is one of J.Lo’s comics:

boov

Sugar ~ Jewell Parker Rhodes

sugarSummary:  Sugar, a young African-American girl, lives in the South where slavery was reluctantly let go of just recently.  However, she still breaks her back every day harvesting the prickly, sticky, mean sugar cane which she is named after, and hates.  Sugar craves adventure in her all-work, no-play life, leading her to befriend the (white) plantation owner’s son.  More change arrives as Chinese workers threaten Sugar and her friends’ jobs.  Many of her friends leave for the mysterious North.  As she is torn between an uncommon friendship and normality, adventure and safety, the unknown and the known, Sugar starts to become the bridge between different groups of people.

Recommendation:  Okay, I have to admit, this book’s reading level is a little low for middle schoolers.  But I still enjoyed every bit of it.  The way that Sugar brings different people together – regardless of race, age, or wealth – labels Sugar as a feel-good book.  It’s a very nice novel to read, even though one of the central parts of the plot rings highly unlikely.  It’s a little hard to believe that the wealthy white land owner, still used to the times of slavery, doesn’t at least fire Sugar or punish his son after the two become friends and wreck general havoc around the plantation.  I suppose it’s nice how the book explores the racial divide of that era in a warm and fuzzy way, but the way Rhodes describes some of the social interactions might leave a false impression on younger readers.  But don’t cast it away in shame; Sugar is still a worthwhile read.

Favorite Passage:  “What’s a pillow?” “A cushion for your head.  Don’t you know anything?”  “I know plenty.” I say, but I’m thinking, What do you need a head cushion for?

I Am Malala ~ Malala Yousafzai and Christina Lamb

i am malala

Summary:  This one-of-a-kind autobiography gives us a glimpse into the life of Malala Yousafzai, a young girl living in Swat (Pakistan) where the scenery is peaceful but the politics are anything but.  The people’s strong devotion to their religion restricts things such as women’s education, which brings about rebellion and dangerous times.  Malala was taught by her father that she could do anything a boy could.  Even as a violent religious group called the Taliban threatens her village, she continues to go to school as usual, speaking out in defiance about the injustice of women’s non-existing rights.  She calls attention to herself; people all around the world are talking about her!  But the Taliban also notices.  One day a member of the Taliban comes aboard her school bus and shoots Malala and two other girls.  The book not only tells her struggle to survive, but also informs the reader of the battle for women’s rights that Malala fought – and is still fighting – so bravely for.

Recommendation:  I am Malala made me realize how lucky I am to be able to go to school.  Sure, it can be boring and hard, but reading this novel made me re-think things like school that I took for granted.  Because of the Taliban that controlled every aspect of Malala’s life, freedoms such as expression, clothing, and education were whisked away.  Even though it sounds cheesy, I now value those freedoms more.  I definitely recommend this novel to you mostly for that reason – it gives the reader a new view of the world and of life.  Especially at the beginning of the book, Malala tells about her own life just as much as she explains the rebellion and the politics behind it.  She includes every detail (how does she remember it all!), from the seemingly unimportant conversations with her family to the trip she took with her school to the park.  These recollections get you to know her better as a person, so you are rooting for her even more as she attempts to recover from the attack.  Yousafzai narrates in a way like she’s writing fiction, but the fact that her story really happened makes this book truly exceptional.

Favorite Passage:  “No struggle can ever succeed without women participating side by side with men.  There are two powers in the world; one is the sword and the other is the pen.  There is a third power stronger than both, that of women.”

Jurassic Park ~ Michael Crichton

jurassic parkSummary:  Revolving around several characters, this book gives you a window into a mysterious island owned by an eccentric billionaire.  Rumor has it, the island is going to become a theme park featuring real, live dinosaurs, back from the dead.  A reluctant group comes to the island to take a tour of the facilities, and what was work or fun for them turns into a matter of life or death.  Things start to go wrong… people get lost… things get stolen… the power goes out… and the cages open.  Our protagonists are now at the mercy of the not very merciful kings of the prehistoric jungle.  The reader witnesses all this helplessly, immersed in fear and almost wetting their own pants as the human population goes down, one. by. one.

Recommendation:   You’ve probably seen the movie, but watching Jurassic Park is nothing compared to reading the novel.  I made the mistake of reading it before bed and lay awake for hours thinking that a velociraptor was going to get me before I could drift off.  All week when I was reading it I barely slept a wink.  Other than the fear factor, this book is a must-read!  It’s a classic that’s filled with excitement and adventure.  Most of the characters are experts in technology and/or dinosaurs, so when you read this book you’re bound to pick up some lingo (like reverse engineering and chaos theory).  The way Chrichton uses scientific terms and methods makes the book seem life-like, as if it could actually happen.  Uh-oh.

Favorite Passage:  “‘Ick,’ Lex said, shifting her body. ‘What.’ ‘I was standing on somebody’s ear,’ she said.  Tim hadn’t seen a body when they came in.  He looked back and saw there was just an ear, lying on the ground.”

New Year – Favorites of 2014

Believe it or not, it’s 2015.  I spent New Year’s Eve on a plane, but that’s a story for another day.  Maybe I’ll write a poem about it.  For me, 2014 was a pretty awesome year.  I started Clara’s Book Reviews.  I read a lot.  I reviewed a lot.  I started 8th grade.  I read some more.  I finished applying to high schools.  I read even more.  I even met (through email, but still) one of my favorite authors ever!  To celebrate 2014 and the first year of CBR, I am going to recognize and reflect on my favorites of 2014.

Favorite Books

walk two moonsIn 2014, I consumed a bunch of books.  Tons of them.  Of the ones that I reviewed, I have to say my favorite one is Walk Two Moons.  Sharon Creech spun up a beautiful novel that had me thinking for weeks.  The language was elegant and the plot was stunning.  Creech used imagery to really immerse the reader in the story.  I remember especially loving the way I had to keep reading further into the book to piece the plot together.  I was so taken with Creech’s writing after reading this that I came home from the library the next day with a bag full of her books!  Hint hint, more of her books will be reviewed this year :).the martian chronicles

Coming in second is… The Martian Chronicles by Ray Bradbury!  I’m a huge sci-fi nerd, and this book was so eerily, hauntingly good that I couldn’t stop reading it.  Its underlying darkness, while kind of creeping you out, makes you question what will come in the future of humankind.  While knowing I wanted to have one of the top three be a sci-fi, I was torn between Bradbury’s and Asimov’s writing. They are both incredible, but I enjoy Bradbury’s writing even more because it pokes at a part of your braicounting by 7sn that sends chills up your spine.

And, in third place, Counting by Sevens by Holly Goldberg Sloan.  (Quick book reference… Sloan?! Think Mother Daughter Book Club 🙂 ).  While reading this book, I was basically a zombie, walking around, talking just in grunts, totally lifeless, with my arms outstretched in front of me, holding this book.  Counting by Sevens captured my heart.  Reading this book puts you on an emotional roller coaster.  It is so sweet, sad, and filled with hope.  The web that Sloan creates between the characters reminds the reader that no matter how different people may be, they can still come together and be a family.

Favorite Character

Again from Counting by Sevens, Willow Chance, the protagonist, is my favorite character; not from the book, or from my reviews, or from 2014, but from All of Time and Space.  While under the trance of this book, I was constantly quoting her.  She sounded just like me.  Take this, for example: “Ordinarily, I don’t even eat ice-cream cones. And if I do, I obsess in such a precise way as to prevent even a drop of disorder.”  YES!  YOU GOT IT, WILLOW!  I would keep quoting her, but then I would just have to read you the entire book.  Willow is a wise, funny, and strong character.  She is a genius and is often misunderstood because she is “weird.”  She has basically no friends, and spends her time tending her huge garden.  And then her parents die.  And she still stays strong, preserving her inner character.  Even though she is fictional, I really look up to her as a character, and wish I could meet her in real life.

candy gourlayFavorite Author

As I mentioned before, one of the high points of 2014 for me was interviewing Candy Gourlay, one of my favorite authors ever.  The reason I didn’t list Tall Story above is that I chose to commend Candy instead as my favorite author.  Before I talked to her, I just knew her as a wonderful writer – now, I know that she is also a wonderful person.  Candy was super helpful and friendly when I was interviewing her, and gave thoughtful answers to my questions.  I’m looking forward to reading her new book, Shine, when it comes to my library.  A future review, for sure!

2014 was a great year, and I would love to feature more books, but to be frank I got a Kindle for Christmas and I’m spending every waking minute reading on it.  What were your favorite things of 2014?  I’d love to know – just email me! 🙂

The Divergent Trilogy ~ Veronica Roth

divergent seriesSummary:  In a futuristic Chicago, you are defined not by your personality, your family, or your background, but by the faction that you choose to join.  At the age of 16, you are tested to see if you belong in Abnegation, the selfless; Amity, the friendly; Candor, the truthful; Dauntless, the brave; or Erudite, the intelligent.  Beatrice knows that she has never fit in  Abnegation, in which she was born and raised.  When she takes her test, her results are abnormal, and her tester warns her never to tell anyone; she is “Divergent,” which could potentially get her killed.  Confused and convinced that she can’t stay in Abnegation, she chooses Dauntless, a faction of crazy daredevils.  Throughout the series, Tris (as she now calls herself) finds that the system is corrupt.  She and some of her friends face danger and bloodthirsty adversaries to bring freedom to her world.

Recommendation:  This series was really popular a couple of years ago, and I finally read it around a week ago.  Not that I didn’t want to read it, but a friend had spoiled the ending for me.  (Psst… if you do end up reading it, and spoil the ending for someone, I will disown you.  Fair warning.)  I finally picked up the first book, and got hooked!  The action, suspense, and drama *gasp* keep you up until the middle of the night reading.  I lost a lot of sleep.  I was impressed by how this series escalated.  I found the sequel better than the first one, an almost impossible feat.  The only other series that has managed to do this is Harry Potter, which, to me, has no equal. 🙂  Roth catapulted the action level up in Insurgent and strongly developed many background characters.  (I’ve said it before and I will say it again – don’t get attached.)  On the other hand, I was a little disappointed by how typical-teen-fiction this series was.  Very cliché dystopian.  Don’t think that I don’t recommend it, though!  It’s great for a fun, suspenseful read.  If you haven’t read it already, you should.

Favorite Passage:  “Got that gun?” Peter says to Tobias. “No,” says Tobias, “I figured I would shoot the bullets out of my nostrils, so I left it upstairs.”

The Martian Chronicles ~ Ray Bradbury

the martian chroniclesSummary:  I particularly enjoy books that are comprised of science fiction short stories.  Earlier, I reviewed a compilation of Isaac Asimov’s works and came away hoping to read more of this type of book.  Upon exploring my bookshelf, I found The Martian Chronicles, by Ray Bradbury.  Asimov and Bradbury are among the most widely read sci-fi authors, and for good reason.  They both had uniquely compelling voices.  As you can tell from the title, the focus of this book is Mars. The stories vary in plot and at the beginning seemed unrelated, but as I continued to read I noticed that they gave a rough “history” of Mars, from the landing of the first Earth Ship all the way to the very distant future.  As humans usually do, the human colonists bring dark times to Mars, and the Martian culture and society is suddenly endangered.

Recommendation:  Sci-fi classics are often prophetic, and this one is no exception.  Even though we are a long way from colonizing our solar system, while reading this book I can envision events like these occurring in the future.  I won’t include too many examples (spoilers are friend to no one, but I include one here – careful), but the way that the human race brings darkness and destruction to Mars, spoiling the ancient, pristine, advanced Martian way, is something that I can completely see us doing.  Another reason to enjoy sci-fi is that they reflect on the human race in a way that regular fiction cannot.  When I read this book, I could follow Bradbury’s thought process, almost seeing him criticizing humans and how they burn through Earth’s resources with no thought of what tomorrow will bring.  I’ll end on a lighter note; hey, according to this book, Martians can communicate telepathically!  When we reach Mars, we have that in store for us.

Favorite Passage:  “The mayor made a little sad speech, his face sometimes looking like the mayor, sometimes looking like something else.  Mother and Father Black were there, with Brother Edward, and they cried, their faces melting now from a familiar face into something else.  Grandpa and Grandma Lustig were there, weeping, their faces shifting like wax, shimmering as all things shimmer on a hot day.”

And, as promised, the answers from the last review: first aid, space invaders, and growing economy.  Did you solve them?

Escape From Mr. Lemoncello’s Library ~ Chris Grabenstein

escape from mr lemoncellos librarySummary:  Kyle Keeley is completely obsessed with games.  Board games or video games, it doesn’t matter – because any game made by Mr. Luigi Lemoncello is sure to wow even the toughest critic.  When Kyle finds out that Lemoncello is behind the grand opening of a new public library, he knows that it will be filled with the most wonderful things in the universe.  And he’s right.  Lemoncello holds an essay contest, the prize being one night in the new library filled with top-notch, never before released games!  Kyle is selected as one of the lucky winners, and he enters the library doors wonderstruck by the marvelous insides of the library.  Then the doors close behind him.  And lock.  The fun night at the library now turns into a contest; who can escape first from the library?  Enemies are made and teams are formed as Kyle solves riddles and plays games to win the contest. The supposedly lighthearted gathering turns into the biggest game Kyle has ever played, and the one with the highest stakes.

Recommendation:  Escape from Mr. Lemoncello’s Library is a great light read.  When I was on my trip to NYC with my class (and yes, the trip was great!) I would read this book in my spare time.  Even though the hustle and bustle of the city kept me always busy, I found myself with my nose inside of this book.  It’s one of the types where you travel along with the main character, solving riddles and picking up clues along with them.  Personally, I just followed the plot and didn’t pay enough attention to solve the riddles.  I feel inclined to tell you about one of the puzzles you will encounter in this book – rebus puzzles.  They are basically picture puzzles; for example, “re” + a picture of a bus = “rebus.”  Get it?  I love those things.  (I included a couple of puzzles in the favorite passage section instead of my usual quote… see if you can solve them!)  Although not very challenging (sigh), this book had a great plot, fun characters, and an interactive, ongoing puzzle.  Do you think you can escape the library before Kyle and his friends do?

Favorite Passage:  Below are some rebus puzzles I think you will like!  The answers will be at the bottom of the next post.  If you just can’t wait for the answers to be revealed, you can email me.

first aid(from brainden.com)

 

 

 

 

va ders(from maximumkevin.blogspot.com)

 

 

 

economy(from radroadtrips.com)

Wildwood ~ Colin Meloy

wildwoodhrSummary:  Prue McKeel, an avid drawer and bird enthusiast, is out for a stroll with her baby brother when all of a sudden a flock (technically called a “murder”) of crows swoops down, snatches her brother, and flies away into the deep, dark woods.  And so begins the mystical tale of Wildwood, a fairy-tale-esque book set in modern times.  Prue has been raised on tales of the “Impassable Wilderness,” how men have gone wandering in it and never returned and the dangers that lurk inside.  Even though she is well aware of the dangers, Prue wastes no time journeying into the wild, tailed by a lonely boy named Curtis.  Once they enter the woods, they encounter a perilous world that neither of them could have expected, and suddenly find themselves separated and lost in the midst of a violent war.  Without knowing it, they end up on opposite sides, being fed lies and used as tools as they try to find each other and Prue’s brother.  For the two heroes, their task becomes more than just getting back home; they embark on a journey to bring the shattered woods back to peace and safety.

Recommendation:  Another reminder that you should never judge a book by its cover.  The illustrations (by Carson Ellis, who also worked on The Mysterious Benedict Society) might look childish, but the contents of this book can be dark and violent.  There are several scenes which are fairly bloody and tense (but nothing too bad).  I enjoyed Wildwood, but I think that a lot of fantasy books, including this one, can be unoriginal.  The plots are often predictable, the characters very basic.  They fit a typical mold – the villain turned evil by a tragic past, the lonely friend looking for an accepting home.  I felt like some characters weren’t developed enough in this book.  I can’t go too deep into this without spoiling something, but Prue’s parents didn’t seem like they cared, which leads me to another common theme: kids prevailing over adults.  Although it’s nice for kids to know through books that they can make a difference, I don’t like it how so many Young Reader and Young Adult books insist that kids are the only ones who can make a difference.  So many books portray parents and other adults as having unimaginative, limited minds.  Another theme that doesn’t make me feel all warm and fuzzy inside is the whole “chosen one” idea.  It worked for Harry Potter, but enough is enough.  Too many books focus on a couple of people who are the only ones who have the power to save everyone else.  More books need to focus on everyone making a difference, not just someone with a special “gift.”  I hope a good writer or publisher gets his or her eyes on this, because a lot of readers are looking for some variety!  Are you with me?

Favorite Passage:  “A warthog in a three-piece green corduroy suit was holding court from the middle landing of the staircase… a pair of black-tailed deer, the ties on their Oxford suits matching their tails, argued vehemently by the marble bust of an important-looking man…”