Tuesday, February 19, 2019

I'm Writing.

I'll be posting again soon. But this week I have to finish a 2 projects. Everyone have a great week and week-end.

Tuesday, February 12, 2019

The Joy of Old Books

This Saturday, Rajan and I decided to visit one of our favorite rainy day spots, an "alley" on 57th Street known by some as "Antique Alley", and by others, "57th Street Antique Row". Two rows of facing shops display a wealth of memory lane wares. Some are true antiques stores, others offer secondhand/nostalgia merchandise, and a fairly modern shop shows nature-inspired crafts, another modern furniture and some contemporary furniture and books. There is also a cafe that offers catering services — Evan's Kitchen, which gets many good reviews. But we go for the shops.

Browsing the shops used to be our favorite rainy day activity before time got away, filled with travel and other activities (photography, book signings, etc.). We realized it had been almost two years — yes, two years! — since our last visit. I am a true "bookaholic" and pictured above are three wonderful finds I came home with. In this photo they are on an old quilt of ours. (See? We love old things.)

We first went to the Picket Fence, where we once found an old painting that hangs in our living room.

You can see more of Picket Fence's wares HERE . 

The painting is so beautifully done, it's clear the artist had real mastery. We couldn't find a name, though. And we've both been afraid to take the frame apart to see if it is hidden out of sight, for fear of damaging it. But looking at it is one of our great pleasures in life.

We didn't find anything at Picket Fence this time, but we had a great browse. Then we browsed shops on the same side of the alley and discovered a shop called Design Alchemy HERE .  

Design Alchemy is where we found the wonderful Cast Iron Skillet Cookbook shown here on the left. Both Rajan and I like to cook, and we especially like our cast iron skillets (we have two in different sizes.) There is just something about food cooked on cast iron that has special flavor. And the recipes in this book are wonderful. I already cooked an oven baked ratatouille Sunday that I want to tweak a little the next time around. But it was delicious. The author, Ellen Brown, provides lovely photos of the dishes, and her step-by-step recipes are easy to follow. I'm eager to try the carrot and zucchini pancakes next. (We are vegetarian).

Next, it was onward across the alley to the main shop we like so much. It's like touring a museum. Dozens of alcoves inside, each a different shop. And if you like anything from vintage clothing, old books, Depression glassware, model cars, lamps, vintage toys, art deco shades, accent furniture pieces, well, 57th Street Mall is for you. It was  HERE — do go have a look — I found two other book treasures shown below:
These are two small books, both purse or pocket size. I showed them above next to the cookbook to give a sense of their size, as shown here they could be any size, you can't really tell.

What's special about these two books is that I can easily take them on the plane when we go to Spain. (We are traveling these days with carry-ons only, no checked baggage.) I've been studying Spanish for what seems like forever. But the little book on the left, Cuentos Faciles, is a jewel.

The lessons are little stories in front, a page or two at most (small pages at that) with exercises in the back and a glossary, so that you can check out new vocabulary. I've done two of them already — there are 30 altogether.

The book on the right, The Casebook of Sherlock Holmes, feeds my Sherlock addiction. This is the last of Sir Arthur Conan Doyle's story collections about the great detective, and one I have not yet read. I'm especially interested, because I wrote an MG mystery starting Holmes and have another one on the back burner. I can never get enough of Sherlock Holmes's world.

Both these books are in pristine condition. Not a mark of any kind on either. Our Saturday sojourn into Antique Alley was not expensive at all, but I have to say it was soul-satisfying. I am probably going to wear these books out.

How about you? Do you like cookbooks? Have you tried to learn a second language? Are you a Sherlock fan? Do you like old books? If so, what kind? Do you like to hang around antique stores and secondhand shops? What is one of your most satisfying purchases?

Tuesday, January 29, 2019

Book Review: Bubba and Squirt's Big Dig to China

Bubba and Squirt have a great fall. And what a fall it is! 

This is another good read for young people that allows travel back into ancient history in the form of an adventure that connects to curriculum in the classroom without being pedantic or dull. I found the title engaging, since, as a child, I always heard that phrase, ". . . dig a hole to China."

Fourth grader Bubba decides he can dig a hole to China. His older sister, Squirt, gives him a bad time. But Bubba is confident. The shovel Grandpa Joe bought at a garage sale is supposed to be magic. And it is. 

            When the ground inside  the hole Bubba’s digging cracks and crumbles, both Bubba and Squirt (yanked in while trying to pull him out) find themselves tumbling through time and space, coming out in ancient China of the first Emperor Qin Shi Huang. In fact, they are in the emperor’s grave, where 8,000 or so terra cotta soldiers stand vigil to protect his tomb. Once over their shock, the siblings look for the hole they fell through. It’s gone! Worse, they encounter Qin’s ghost, a very upset ghost, not happy about their invasion of his tomb. Qin cannot rest, because someone stole his special pendant, or “pi” that protects his soul until it gets to heaven. And Bubba and Squirt can’t go home unless they find his pendant.

            After Qin's ghost disappears, a uniformed guard above the pit spies them, and the siblings make a hasty escape up a ramp, out some doors, into a busy marketplace, where more adventures unfold. New friends, Tou Wan (about Bubba’s age) and her grandmother, Nai Nai, listen to the siblings’ tale and have a few tales of their own, all connected to the pendant. 

            This book offers so much to young people to enjoy: For 6thgraders, this is great supplementary reading for the unit on ancient China. For students with a Chinese background, it’s an opportunity to see China’s history and culture portrayed in meaningful ways they can connect to. It’s a good introduction for children of any culture, and young people in general will enjoy the time travel, the ghosts, and the magic. It also offers maps, a glossary, and a tasty recipe for Chinese dumplings. 

You can connect with Sherry Ellis at her website here. 
You can find and purchase her book HERE.  

How about you? Did you ever dig a hole in your back yard thinking it could get you to China? Is China one of the places you would like to visit one day? Do you enjoy Chinese food, and do you have recipes to share? 

Sunday, January 20, 2019

An Interview with Children's Author, Rachna Chhabria


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But first,  a bit of back-ground:

I first met Rachna online when I had just begun blogging and was looking for online writing friends. I especially was pleased to meet her, because my husband is from India, and Rachna lives in Bangalore, where one of our nephews lives with his family and another niece and her husband live. I was new to technology, and from the beginning, Rachna was helpful and guided me through the ins and outs not only of blogging, but of using Facebook and Twitter. After about a year of interacting online, on a trip with my husband to visit his relatives in Chennai, Rachna and I mailed each other our books of the time. A couple of years later, while visiting the nephew in Bangalore, she and I met in person, and she was as gracious as ever.    

And now, the interview:

Q: You’ve been a journalist for a newspaper, a writing teacher at university level. And you’ve written stories for children. Which of these aspects of writing do you enjoy the most?
A: Though I love all three aspects of my writing, I enjoy writing for children the most. Children’s writing gives me a lot of satisfaction, it gives free rein to my imagination, encourages the child in me to explore the world again. Infact, I would say it keeps the eternal child in me alive.
Q: Can you tell us a little about your writing journey? Have you always been interested in writing? What are other books you’ve written? How did you find your agent and publisher? How did you come to write this book? 
A: I have always been interested in writing and reading. My English teacher in school praised my essays and urged me to write more. My interest in writing led me to pursue Literature and Journalism in college. During my college days I wrote for the college magazine. My Journalism teacher encouraged me to write for newspapers which I did. I wrote lots of articles and stories in newspapers at the start of my writing career. I still write for newspapers. My short stories have appeared in many anthologies. My other books are Lazy Worm Goes on a Journey (Scholastic), this is an early science for young readers, it’s a picture book with snippets of science about the human body. The Lion Who Wanted to Sing and Bunny in Search of a Name (Unisun Publishers) are illustrated collections of jungle stories. The editor of HarperCollins Children’s Books emailed me in the second week of July 2018 as they were looking to commission an author to write festival stories. I worked on two sample chapters which were approved immediately and the entire deal fell in place.
Q: Fiction and Non-fiction combination is a wonderful idea, how did this come about?
A: When my editor at Harper pitched the festival idea to me, in the course of our conversation I told her a non-fiction book on festivals may become boring, I thought that children will enjoy festivals through the eyes of protagonists. My editor liked the idea and asked me to create a bunch of characters. Nikhil and Natasha my two eleven-year-old protagonists were born from that idea. The book is about Nikhil and Natasha and how they celebrate a year of festivals in their unique way. I have explained the festival bits, that is the non-fiction part, through Natasha’s journal and Nikhil’s blog.
Q: How did you research for this book? And what were some of the difficulties?
A: Most of my research happened online. I saw videos on YouTube, waded through scores of pictures on Pinterest, read newspaper articles about festivals and their celebrations. I also spoke to many people. Though it was fun researching for this book, it was also difficult, as there were so many dissimilarities in what came up in my research. To corroborate this, my editor at Harper Collins – Tina Narang, got 2 copy-editors on board who verified all the non-fiction bits. And this was a huge relief for me. I was assured that whatever I had written was verified by the two editors and whatever I had missed was pointed out to me. Tina was a God send. She ensured that everything went smoothly and per schedule.
Q: Will there be a sequel? If so, will the twins be learning about other festivals through the year, or will they learn of other Indian traditions?
A: As of now no plans for a sequel. But one never knows. I’m sure I would like to feature the twins in other books, perhaps they can learn more about other Indian traditions.
Q: Have you thought of writing a version of the Bhagavad Gita for children or some of the other Hindu stories from scriptures?
A: Yes, this has been on my mind from quite some time. A couple of Indian editors have asked me for retelling of some epics and stories from the scriptures. As of now we haven’t zeroed in on any theme.
Q: What are you working on now?
A:Right now I’m focusing on a chapter book. I’m developing one of my short stories for children into a chapter book.
Q: What is your writing process like?
A: I like to have a basic plot structure in mind and on paper. After I roughly plot the story, I start writing. I do a lot of pantsing between two plot points. My first drafts are super fast, but I like to take my time with the revisions, its during multiple rounds of revisions that the actual story starts taking shape. I have an amazing critique partner who gives me wonderful feedback. After his thorough feedback I do another round of revisions.

Author Bio 
Rachna Chhabria has a fascination for words. She is at her happiest when she is writing her stories and creating fantasy worlds for her books. Animal stories are her favourite. She is the author of Lazy Worm Goes on a Journey published by Scholastic, The Lion Who Wanted to Sing and Bunny in Search of a Name both published by Unisun PublicationsHer short story Ganesha’s Blanket of Stars won the Special Prize in the Unisun- Reliance Time Out Writing competition 2010- 2011. Her stories have been published in several anthologies and her articles have been featured in course books for schools. She is a regular contributor for many papers and a columnist with Deccan Chronicle and The Asian Age. Her children’s stories appear regularly in Young World. She taught creative writing in a college in Bangalore for many years. 
You can learn more about Rachna and connect with her at the following links:
Rachna’s Scriptorium - http://rachnachhabria.blogspot.com/
Facebook - https://www.facebook.com/pages/category/Author/Rachna-Chhabria-367609189996800/
Twitter - https://twitter.com/RachnaChhabria1
To purchase her book go to Festival Stories Through The Year on Amazon.in - https://www.amazon.in/Festival-Stories-Through-Rachna-Chhabria/dp/9353023521/ref=sr_1_1?s=books&ie=UTF8&qid=1538238353&sr=1-1       - or - 
Festival Stories Through The Year on Amazon.com - https://www.amazon.com/gp/product/9353023521/ref=dbs_a_def_rwt_bibl_vppi_i0

How about you? How would you describe your writing process? Have you met any of your online author friends in person? Does your own writing call for research? If so, how do you approach research? 

Tuesday, January 8, 2019

Book Review - Festival Stories: Through the Year

Festival Stories: Through the Year is a wonderful introduction to religious festivals of India for children of all ages – including adults. My husband is from India, and while I know of some of the festivals, (Pongol and Divali — or Diwali, as it is sometimes spelled), I learned so much more in this book. I’m a retired teacher, and I wish I had had this book in my 6th grade classroom as supplemental reading when we studied India. 

Though informative, the writing isn't pedantic, because the author has used an engaging story frame: Eleven-year-old twins, Natasha and her brother Nikhil, are staying with their paternal grandparents, Dadu and Dadi, in Bangaluru (the local name for Bangalore). Their parents are still in the U. S., winding down jobs and arranging for transfers in a year, while sending the twins ahead, feeling it’s time for them to learn more about their culture first hand. Homesick but intrigued, Natasha begins a journal. Nikhil starts a blog.

Their first festival is Lohri, a Punjabi folk festival and one of the few Indian festivals falling on the same date every year (January 13 on the Gregorian calendar). The book ends with Christmas and a big surprise for the twins. In between are 30 more festivals the author has lovingly researched and described through the eyes of Natasha and Nikhil. They learn about the customs, clothing, and food associated with each festival as they participate. (The sweets and snacks served had my mouth watering each time.)

Each chapter begins with a little anecdote, often humorous, followed by one of Natasha’s journal entries or Nikhil blog’s posts. Their new world unfolds for the reader as they make friends with other kids, study for exams, play Indian games, go shopping, or stuff themselves with delicious snacks at each festival. The majority of the population in India practices Hinduism, but Islam, Christianity, Sikhism, Buddhism, and Jainism also have their devotees, and the twins get invited to their festivals and learn the traditional stories associated with each. 

Chhabria has researched her subject well. She includes the varied names for some of the festivals and the gods and goddesses who figure in them. She makes references to the Gregorian calendar months to keep a reader from the west grounded in the time frame when these festivals occur. Many holidays are shared alike (with different names) by Buddhists, Jains, and Hindus. Some are regional, and the twins attend them because they or their grandparents have made friends with characters from these regions who practice their faiths. 

The author paints unforgettable characters with deft brushstrokes that don’t belabor descriptions but capture personality. Natasha and Nikhil are endearing eleven-year-olds, and Dadu and Dadi are the grandfather and grandmother everyone would want. The scenes are set so vividly, a reader is plunged into the colors and tastes and excitement of India. This was a lovely book, and I was really sorry to reach the end. 

You can learn more about Festival Stories: Through the Year HERE. While you are there, click around to her author page and learn about her other books for children. Visit her fine blog, Rachna's Scriptorium, HERE or her Facebook page HERE.

In my next post I will be interviewing Rachna about her writing, so please come back to learn even more about her. 

How about you? Do you enjoy learning about other cultures and other faiths? Have you been to some religious festivals? What are some of your favorite holiday snacks? 

Sunday, November 25, 2018

Autumn in Sacramento

Years and years ago, Jo Stafford, whose voice was like velvet, sang a song called "Autumn in New York." It was a beautiful, plaintive song with a haunting melody. A love song, of course. But I think there should be a song called, "Autumn in Sacramento," one with a deeply stirring melody to capture the lushness of color and the pleasure of walking around Midtown with leaves crunching under one's feet and beauty stunning one's eyes.

For starters, there is the brilliance of Ginko trees, their leaves a bright golden yellow that simply dazzles me:

       Autumn has become my favorite season. In spring, I love the colorful flowers, but I've come to realize the power of autumn is the range of colors in the trees themselves. In early spring, you get the flowering fruit and nut trees for a short time. Then the green mist of unfurling leaves, and finally the green of summer. But in fall, a season that unfolds in various stages, you get a range of rich colors in the trees themselves. Some leaves still cling to their green; others are in various moments of turning: the liquid ambers, the Japanese maples, the elms, the plane trees, and several whose names I don't know:


There have been various names for Sacramento: Often it is called the "River City." Sometimes "City of Trees." There has been a tentative stab at "The Big Tomato," I suppose due to the past history with the canneries, and maybe with a nod to calling NYC "The Big Apple", but the tomato moniker didn't stick. I'll go with "City of Trees." The trees really make Midtown, and in summer even make Midtown about 5-6 degrees cooler than the suburbs.

Here are more brilliant colors. Every street in Midtown is like this.

           Sadly, I have to include a tree I love but doesn't love me: the beautiful plane trees of Sacramento. During the spring they grow pastel patches of bark and by summer the trunks and branches have shades of sandy yellow, pale green, a pinky tan, pale taupe, and ivory. As  fall comes, the colors start peeling, exposing the underbark, and by winter's end, trunk and branches are a smooth ivory/bone. Then in spring, it all begins again. Well, I just love this tree! Unfortunately, it has three pollen seasons, and I'm allergic to every one of them. So, as I walk down the street, eyes appreciative of their beauty, I am sneezing and coughing during those periods. But I can't help loving their beauty.

Plane tree in distance, already
shedding its patches

Finally, I couldn't resist these two pictures below on my "nature walk" today: a cute little bungalow whose owners have already decorated for Christmas. The two trees out in front just blew me away. They were so beautiful, they made me wish I had a leafless tree in front of our house to hang Xmas balls on.

How about you? What is your favorite season? I hope you had a great Thanksgiving. Are you starting to decorate now for Xmas?

Monday, November 12, 2018

Back Home and Signing Books!

We are home now, and getting settled back into life in Sacramento. We arrived exactly two weeks ago tonight and hit the ground running. Whew! We got our flu shot the very next day (and that wiped us out!) Then there was Halloween.  Then dashing to the printers to make up postcards and bookmarks. There was the election last Tuesday and several days of madly reading the propositions on our ballot ahead of time. I had already set up a book signing at Time Tested Books last Thursday, and books had been delivered, so there was just the matter of firming up details and sending reminder invitations.

And then the day itself arrived, November 8th, and I have to say, it was so much fun. I had a good turn-out of neighbors, teaching friends, art friends, poetry friends, and friends from my critique groups. It was like a reunion. Here are a few pictures to capture the spirit.

When I first walked in
the door, before the book
signing, this lovely lady was
purchasing my book! My
first signing! 
On the far side, Kristina Halvorsen and her
husband, Patrick. She taught at my beloved
former school, Elder Creek Elementary.

Kristina's husband, middle. On the
right, Don Brown, former team teacher
at Elder Creek. On the left, Don's
beautiful wife, Ruby Alcartado. (Later,
I read early drafts of Carnival of the
Animals to Don's class for feedback.
They gave great suggestions)
Several writer friends from critique
groups here and another colleague,
 from Elder Creek, Shari Beck,
smiling at the camera

My current critique group who made
this a better book: Jen Hansen, Skeeter
Britton, Nancy Herman, Rosi Hollinbeck.
We were only missing Randall Buechner.
On the far left, Shirley, whom I've met
at SCBWI events.  

The group again — "Storytellers",
all excellent writers. 😍😍

Next to Nancy, Marsha Sylvester
from my other critique group, "Story
Catchers". Another good writer.

Oh what memories. Tom Fante
close right, from a years ago group,
"ASH" (Alumni of Sands Hall.)
What a great group that was before
before people moved away, went back
to school or got involved in other
projects. Other members of the group:
Naomi Williams, David Hagerty,
Nancy Herman, Skeeter Britton,
Randall Buechner.
Part of the crowd

Veronica and Norma, two
lovely ladies from the poetry
group I attend at Hart
Senior Center. The pretty
lady with the golden scarf
is our former neighbor,
Alice Welborn
And this was a thrill and surprise:
Former students from my after school
Art Club at Natomas Community
Center and their mother. The second
sister who was a student isn't in this
picture, but they both were such good
artists. (The younger one here was
too young for the class then.)

Wrapping up with Skeeter and Jen.

This week I'll be visiting students at Matsuyama Elementary School, and I'm really looking forward to that. I love school visits, and I've visited Matsuyama before for earlier books (Imogene and the Case of the Missing Pearls, Dragonella). Both times it was a wonderful experience.

About Time Tested Books. Theoretically t's a "used book store" but they order and stock contemporary books as well. They are a wonderful bookstore and one of my favorite hang-outs in Midtown whenever I have time to amble and browse. I do stock some ebooks, but I love the feel of print books and the atmosphere of book stores. Books that I re-read tend to be print books.

How about you? Do you have a favorite book store where you like to hang out? Do you attend book signings? Do you prefer ebooks or print books?