We don't do stars...
We don't do thumbs...
We read children's books and grade them in 10 categories:
literary quality
descriptive ability
humor (if attempted)
illustrations (if present)
believability of characters
believability of situations
overall reading enjoyment

There is no grading curve. There are no points for classroom participation. There is no extra credit.
If you disagree, come speak to us after class.

The Grading System

A+.....this means (guess what) we think it's great. So great it surprised even us.
A.....this means it's pretty darn good. A book we'd recommend to just about everyone we know.
B.....better than most. Not exactly Shakespeare for kids, though, if you get our drift.
C.....mediocre. Like the color beige, it didn't stand out.
D.....we didn't like it. There were more bad aspects than good ones.
F.....it reeked of badness. We read it over and over when we are in dire need of hysterical laughter.
F-.....We're pretty sure Dante had a circle of hell for the people who wrote these...and a lower circle for those who published them.

Friday, June 26, 2009

Author Interview: Kathryn Fitzmaurice

Today we are happy to welcome Kathryn Fitzmaurice, author of The Year the Swallows Came Early.

Eleanor (called Groovy) Robinson dreams of becoming a chef… But her dream and her family both begin to fall apart at the same time when her father is arrested. What follows this unique beginning is a deeply emotional and beautifully-written story of Groovy’s path to set things right, follow her dreams, and find a way to forgive.
(Read our original review at: http://thechildrensbookreporter.blogspot.com/2009/06/reporters-review-year-swallows-came.html)

CBR: Did you ever dream of becoming a chef, as Groovy does?

KF: I have never dreamed of becoming a chef and in fact, do not enjoy cooking at all. During the week , I go through the same seven or eight dinners I usually make because I have two teenage boys and they eat a LOT, but on the weekends, my husband (who has always wanted to be a chef) does all the cooking. He has every known kitchen utensil and spends most of his free time coming up with fabulous new recipes. He’ll say things like, “Tonight I’m making a traditional winter dinner.”

CBR: Groovy tries to find the perfect dish for every occasion… What do you think the perfect dish would be to eat while enjoying her story?

KF: In the beginning of the book it might be Luis’ secret recipe tacos, but closer to the end it would definitely be chocolate covered strawberries because they symbolize Groovy overcoming the obstacles that were set in her way.

CBR: Just like Groovy associates certain foods with certain times, is there a food you associate with writing this book?

KF: Probably scrambled eggs, for two reasons. First because they’re so easy to make, and Groovy makes them after her crisis is over because they match her uncomplicated mood, and second because I remember (this was near the end of me writing the book) my oldest son one night telling me “not scrambled eggs again, mom”, when I had forgotten to take something out of the freezer for dinner.

CBR: How long did it take you to write The Year the Swallows Came Early? What were the most difficult and the most enjoyable parts of the process?

KF: It took me three years to write the book. The most difficult part was leading Groovy to forgive her father because in the first draft, she did not forgive him. I had to give her enough time to come around to it without pushing her.
The most enjoyable parts were working with my agent, Jennifer Rofe, and my then editor, Brenda Bowen. I had a lot of fun going through their comments and the copy edits. I kept thinking how fortunate I was to work with such great people and how they helped me to make it the best story it could be.

CBR: Following your dreams is a significant theme in your book… Have you dreamed of becoming an author for a long time? What is your advice to those with a similar dream?

KF: The summer I turned 13, my mother sent me to New York City to visit my grandmother, who was a science fiction author. This was in the 70’s, when science fiction was becoming very popular. My grandmother led a very eclectic lifestyle. I remember we never did anything until late afternoon, and then we stayed up until 2 or 3am. Sometimes, we went to dinner as late as 11pm. Then when we returned, she’d sit down to write until very early in the morning. She told me she did this because the middle of the night was when people said and did things they normally wouldn’t. She had a collection of porcelain owls, because they were creatures of the night. She studied paranormal events. She discussed things like inner motivations and secret desires. She helped me to write my very first story that summer, and stayed up all night typing it so I could have a real story like she had. It was my first real writing lesson.

She worked very hard that summer revising a novel entitled Chrysalis of Death. And one day, we met her agent for lunch, and after listening to them discuss how my grandmother could make her characters into whomever she wanted, I decided that someday, I’d like to be a writer, too. So after I announced my decision, my grandmother proceeded to send me books about writing techniques, books by classic authors, and literary essays for every birthday and Christmas holiday after. One of my favorite books she sent me when I was deep into a teenage poetry stage was a volume of poetry written by Emily Dickinson. Inside the front cover, she wrote: “Emily Dickinson is a revered poet. Perhaps the same can be said of K.H. someday. Love, Grandma Eleanor."

When she passed away, she left me a big box with all of her unfinished manuscripts in it. The box of manuscripts has been a huge inspiration to me. And because of all of the encouragement she gave me and to honor her, I decided that when I sat down to write my own novel many years later, that I would name my main character after her and give her a grandmother very much like my own. I gave the grandmother in my story the same characteristics and even had her give a box of manuscripts to her granddaughter. In fact, because I remember her revising Chrysalis of Death the summer I visited, I decided to include it in The Year the Swallows Came Early. So on page 148, my main character and her best friend find this manuscript and talk about it, along with a few of her others stories. I included her book, Chrysalis of Death inside my book.

She never got to read even the first draft of my novel. But I did send it to her agent three years ago, who is still alive and working in NYC. After reading my book, my grandmother’s agent made the comment that she liked how I included my grandmother’s books in my own books, and she thought my grandmother would have been very proud.

When I started working on my novel, I knew just two things. I knew I wanted to write about my grandmother, and how she left me a box of manuscripts which later shaped my life. But also, I wanted to write about the swallows and their annual migration back to the mission every year. Their return reminds me of a promise which can never be broken. It’s so hopeful to me. I am there every year, waiting for them, amazed that they somehow know the way home.

I would tell new writers to go to as many writing conferences they can attend, and to join a critique group. Both have been invaluable to me.

CBR: Finally, our signature question: is there any question you’ve always wanted to be asked and never had a chance to answer before?

KF: My question would be: What is your favorite thing to write? My answer would be: I hope someday to write a book of poems. I adore poetry. I love the economy of text that makes up its structure. I love the emotion of poetry. I love how one can set up the lines just as they want to highlight certain words or phrases. I have a couple of my favorite poems framed and hanging in my home office.

CBR: Many, many thanks, Kathryn, for answering these questions and for writing such a beautiful story! I am certain we’ll be hearing more wonderful things of you in the future!
To learn more about Kathryn Fitzmaurice, you can visit her website at: http://www.kathrynfitzmaurice.com/

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