For Teachers

Girl Power! The Historical Fiction Version

 

Girl Power, huh? You may be thinking, girls didn’t have much, if any, “power” over their lives many decades and centuries ago. Weren’t girls back in the Middle Ages, The Renaissance period, even the 1700 and 1800s oppressed, without choice, without the right to vote, even? Marriages were arranged, ownership of land and businesses not allowed by law. Women couldn’t and didn’t work outside the home (unless you were a maid or a governess, and then mostly for room and board and a pittance salary).

I still remember when the marvelous novel, Catherine, Called Birdy was published. Of course, it won the Newbery Medal and the Golden Kite Award for 1995, and it is a gorgeously written, emotional and heartfelt book about a girl’s life in Middle Ages England – a time period not written about much until Karen Cushman came along who had spent years researching this era. Catherine (or Birdy as she is nicknamed because she keeps birds) is a teenage girl about to be married off to a curmudgeonly old man – and ends up rebelling because she does not *want* to be married to a curmudgeonly old man with nose hair. She makes those wishes known in various ways, using her wit and manipulation to get out of the marriage her father is trying to arrange throughout the entire novel.

BUT. I also remember that there was quite a bit of discussion when the book was published about Catherine’s rebellious and outspoken personality by those who said it wasn’t realistic as it could be because girls of that era were – 99.9% of the time – not given any options or choices in their lives, no matter the aspect. Catherine should have–or would have–rolled over and married the slug.

I remember thinking that same thing about the novel “way back when” myself (I think I was easily influenced by others!), but my opinion has been changing due to more books, movies, and information that continues to come out about exceptional women in our world’s history . . . and maybe that is due to the fact that times have changed because we are talking more about women and their importance! Which is a good thing!

It’s true that back in the Middle Ages up until the 20th century women couldn’t vote, could not own land/property/business, inherited practically nothing from their fathers, couldn’t work other than some sort of housekeeping, and had little say in their lives. At the same time, history is also FULL of examples of women and girls who did remarkable things with their lives. Women who broke away from the norm. Women who were daring and adventurous and traveled and had careers in the arts, in exploration, in science, etc.

Just a very few examples of women who had great influence over their lives and/or their countries, even the world:

Marie Cure
Nellie Bly
Joan of Arc
Clara Barton
Florence Nightingale
Amelia Earhart
Helen Keller and Annie Sullivan
Wives of U.S. Presidents
Mother Theresa
The Queens of Great Britain, Europe, and Egypt!

Countless pioneer and pilgrim women who sailed and traveled and worked the land and fought hardships of every kind over the last few hundred years.

Missionary women throughout history who traveled and lived in every part of the world rendering aid, humanitarian efforts as well as education.

Famous Women in History

Top 100 Most Famous Women in History, Compiled by a Girl Scout!

The problem is that most women were never recognized, respected or lauded for their accomplishments.

And we’ve all heard the saying: “Behind every good man, there’s a good woman!” (Examples in this link in a USA Today article about upcoming movies where they focused on the wife as much as the successful man) 

Most men accomplished much of what they succeeded at because of their invisible wife/woman who supported, encouraged, and usually took risks right along beside them.

Today, more than ever there are dozens, nay, even hundreds of novels as well as non-fiction books published about the lives of girls and teens who influenced the world in some way, or made a better life for themselves and their families.

Carolyn Meyer is probably the most prolific historical fiction writer of our time. She has published well over 50 books about girls who made an impact on the world. Go to the link to see some of her books about girls/teens. And she continues to publish 1-2 novels per year so keep an eye on her!

Then go to your library or bookstore and look/ask for more titles.

 

 

 

 

 

Don’t  forget to check out new non-fiction, too, with updated information never told before, like the amazing Amelia Lost: The Life and Disappearance of Amelia Earhart by Candace Fleming.

I haven’t even begun to touch the surface of this amazing category with inspiring and true life stories of real women who actually lived and did change the world.

Have fun taking a research and shopping trip of your own – for yourself, or the girls and boys in your life.

 

Brand new Non-fiction published this week: STRIKE! Mother Jones and the Colorado Coal Field War (circa 1913) by Lois Ruby.

In the comments, please share your favorite girl/woman in history and a book title about them. If there isn’t one written about them, then go write it yourself! What are you waiting for?

 

 

 

Kimberley Griffiths Little‘s third middle-grade novel,When the Butterflies Came, will be published April, 2013. She will make her Young Adult debut with Harpercollins Fall of 2013. Meanwhile, she’s busy writing the next book for Scholastic and trying not to eat too many chocolate chip cookies!

 
 

Who’s the Boss of Your Writing?

 

When I’m not writing or doing menial household labor (poorly), I am playing tennis. Strangely enough, what I learn on the court many times translates to my writing. One such lesson I learned the other day was this:

The ball is the boss.

My instructor noticed I seemed to be using the slice and the topspin groundstroke randomly, with no relation to how the ball was coming to me. This was true. Many times, I’d decide, before my opponent even returned the ball, that I was going to use a particular shot. If you’re a seasoned tennis player, however, you see the fault in this – you have to wait and see where and how the ball is coming to you to determine how you should hit it. So my instructor gave me this simple rule: if the ball is rising, hit a slice. If it is dropping, hit a topspin.
This translates to: The Ball is the Boss. Wait and see what the ball is doing and then react accordingly.
It also translates to Get Out of Your Own Head, Stupid!
In writing, this rule is: The Character is The Boss.
No matter how I want a certain thing to happen in my story or how well I plot out the story ahead of time, the character is the boss. If I stay in the character’s head (not in my own) I will write a truer story. My character will lead me to what would actually happen, not what I as the author think “should” happen.
It’s about being flexible, not getting ahead of things or forcing things, letting the plot or the shot work out organically.
It’s about shutting off your brain, trusting your instincts and letting go.

So here’s my question to all you writers: Who’s the boss of you?

Beverly Patt steps off the tennis court once in a while to serve up some middle grade and young adult fiction. 

How Do You Make Time to Read?

 

I have a confession to make: I’m a bad reader. Let’s be honest: I’m a lousy reader.

I’m the kind of reader that lets all kinds of interruptions stop me from finishing a book. There is my schedule, my kids’ schedule – my writing projects that always seem to take precedence over an evening curled up in bed with a great book. And there is my writer brain that doesn’t seem to turn off when I’m reading supposedly for pleasure. There is the unwillingness to suspend my disbelief like I did when I was young, a general impatience for the story to get where it should be, then exasperation when it does and I think I’ve seen it all before. Is this adulthood? Lack of sleep? Lack of time? Is this maturing writer syndrome? Whatever it is, I feel like I should be reading, and enjoying reading a lot more.

This summer I read six books. For me, six is a pretty good number. I read two on the plane, to and from ALA. The other four I read at my parents’ when I had no place to drive my kids, no major cooking or housework to complete – nothing to do really but kick up my legs for a few weeks.

But let’s compare this to the number of books my fourth-grader read. That would be 26.

6 and 26. Luckily, I’m not trying to be her. Otherwise, I would feel like a pile of doo-doo.

But I did study her reading habits over the summer, to find out how she read so much. She didn’t have a completely free summer. She had a morning camp that ran for 6 weeks, But her afternoons were open until the end of July, and then for the whole of August, nothing at all. She read the Percy Jackson series, the Sisters Grimm series, several standalones, and even a few ARCS that I brought back from ALA, or that she received through a fantastic children’s reading program at a bookstore in Boston. Some came from the bookstore, but most came home from the library. She was not a picky reader, but she read what interested her, and during the summer, she completed every book she started.

Then I looked at my own reading patterns, during the summer, and during the school year (because even if I’m not a student, my day-to-day life is determined by the academic and extra-curricular schedule of my kids).

This is what I came to realize about reading:

1. It’s important to have uninterrupted time. For my daughter, this time was vast – enough that she could keep reading until she finished a book, which was generally in about 2 days. It was harder for me to find this same kind of uninterrupted time. If I did, it was generally when my kids were asleep or out playing with friends, cousins, etc. The best time honestly, was at night, when everyone was asleep. For this I actually preferred my iPad, because I could read in the dark (which okay, might be horrible for my eyes), but which gave me the closest sensation that I was completely alone with my reading.

2. Even when you’re busy, you can still make time for reading. You need to carve out a time to read, and keep that time only for that. It might be at night before you go to sleep. It might be on your morning commute. Or maybe it is at your kid’s soccer game. Where ever it is, it should be consistent and guarded against other obligations.

3. Reading is a mental exercise. Just like your body can go out of shape, your reading muscles can atrophy over time, too. The best way to build up those reading muscles is to keep reading. It gets easier to read when you develop the habit of reading.

4. Sometimes liking a book means having to get to the end. While I don’t advocate finishing everything I read, I do also find that certain books require a greater amount of time to build trust. In a way, when you decide to read a book, you are trusting the author to take you somewhere you want to be. One of the books I read this summer became extremely satisfying by the time I got to the end – but it was an end I couldn’t have seen coming (or enjoyed) when I reached the halfway mark.

5. Reading a little more means writing a little less. I don’t know how to get around this fact, at least as it stands in my life. Because as a writer and mom and family member, there are only so many hours in a day to get things accomplished. Sometimes a fabulous book means giving up an evening dedicated to writing. Sometimes it means putting that fabulous book on hold while you finish your draft. It’s a delicate balance. For me, it does help to be between writing projects. So for the time being, reading is a great way to transition from one project to another, to refill the well, and allow myself to enter someone else’s imagined world for a change.

Now that school has started for my kids and me, I’m sure our reading habits will change. But at least I’ve got 6 books tucked inside my brain, and I feel so much better because of it.

So how about you? Where do you read? When do you read? How do you fit reading into your life?

 

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Sheela Chari is the author of VANISHED (Disney Hyperion), the latest Al Roker Book Pick. You can watch her live on the Today Show in October, or visit her online at www.sheelachari.com