Saturday, May 11, 2019

A Wonderful School Visit in Braga, Portugal

Time has been flying, while I've been focused on writing a draft of my next mystery, based in Braga, Portugal. But I finally got time to download pictures and my first Braga post is about a wonderful school visit I had.



The school is Escola básica e secundária vale d'este, Viatodos. The students, ages 13, are learning English. Their English teacher, Alice Faria, is the friend who invited me. (Some of these pictures were taken by her and/or the other teachers who were present.)

 First, a sharp young man introduced me. He had memorized all my bio and author information, and I think he only had consult his notes once. I was really impressed. Then, I had to be wired up with a microphone,  since I have a very soft voice that doesn't carry well in large gatherings. (Each of two classes had about 60 students!)
The young man who introduced me.
Wired for action.
Reading from one of the books








                                            After reading excerpts from Carnival of the Animals and Imogene and the Case of the Missing Pearls, I took questions, circulating among the students. I always like to circulate among students at a reading. It brings you so much closer to them, and in my case, I hear the questions more clearly and can repeat them over the mike for the other students, who often can't hear them, either.



Their teacher, Senhora Alice Faria,
(in the front of the room) was so
helpful at every turn. 
Some of their questions really made
me think: Example: "What is the most
unethical practice in publishing, in your
opinion?" I finally came up with "Piracy."



I must say, would that I were as fluent in either Spanish or Portuguese as they already are in English! They asked some pretty cool questions, too!
This young man wrote a story with
a surprise twist at the end that made
me laugh out loud. (Rajan, too!) 





  The students were wonderful. At the very end, Senhora Faria gave me stories they had written and printed up in the form of scrolls (which you can see below). The stories were really good.



Stories on scrolls. I read every one of them and
have them in a special place in my writing area.


Other teachers came in to listen, one an art teacher, another a French teacher, both warm and welcoming. The school also presented me with a beautiful bouquet of flowers. Believe it or not, that bouquet made it all the way back to Monforte, Galicia in our car the next day and has become a beautiful "vase bouquet" in our apartment.

Rajan, me, Alice Faria, art teacher, French teacher.
The bouquet in a vase after a 2&1/2 hour drive
the next day.



















To the school, and to  the teachers  especially Alice Faria, many thanks for the wonderful opportunity to visit your school, and read to your students. They were just terrific. I enjoyed the morning so much. 





How about you? For those of you who write, do you make school visits? If so, what do you enjoy most about them? What is your favorite age group to read to? 

Sunday, April 28, 2019

A Concert by Singer, Armando Prada



Thanks to our friend, Mila Garcia, we heard this remarkable singer in concert last night at the Escalapios (where a lot of concerts take place in Monforte.) He sets to music poetry by Galician poets and then sings and plays the accompaniment.

You can go to YouTube (link here) for a sample of his singing but click to midway, as at first he starts off quoting the poetry and giving some background to it — all in Galegan or Castiliano — so unless you are fluent in either, you won't understand. (Although, his speaking voice is mesmerizing and is a true storyteller's voice. It can pull you in, anyway.) 

But do click to halfway through to hear his singing. 

This particular song — from a poem by Rosalia de Castro, a 19th century Galician poetess — is one he sang last night. 

He also sang two beautiful songs taken from poems by Federico García Lorca. One that especially moved me translates as "Nocturne for a Dead Youth".

We bought a CD for him to autograph, which we did very graciously.

The whole CD is of poems by Rosalia de Castro, and the songs are very haunting. She was born (and died) in Santiago de Compostela, so is definitely the poet for the area, although she is famous in Spain and worldwide.

I would love to post a picture of her, but am nervous about copyright in the US, so I will direct you to two sites that have pictures of her, one of which also has samples of her beautiful poetry.

The poetry site:

Wikipedia (which has a really good picture)

Do you like music from other countries? Do you prefer singing or instrumental? Who is one of your favorite artists?

Tuesday, April 16, 2019

Springtime in Galicia — Sort of . . ..

We are in Galicia, Spain, now. We arrived two weeks ago today, and for the most part, this is what springtime in Galicia has looked like this year. Still, no matter how cloudy and rainy, it's always beautiful. We've had rain every single day, but also we've had sprinkles of sunshine every single day. It's always that way in Galicia, although this year in April there has been more rain than sunshine. It does give a different aspect to things. I find that stormy days suggests story.


 
Take this picture of the Parador, which is one of my favorite buildings in Monforte de Lemos,        where we now are renting an apartment while we have put our Trasulfe house up for sale.
             

Doesn't this suggest a somber novel to you?

Speaking of novels, one reason I haven't been posting is that I am hard at work on a new novel, a mystery novel, that requires a lot of research. I'm enjoying it a lot and feeling pangs of guilt for my lack of sociability on line. Nonetheless, my imaginary friends are calling, and I can't let them down. In a future post I will tell a little more about the Parador.


Meanwhile, spring really is coming to this beautiful area. Here is proof:
















How about you? Does your writing interfere with your social life? Or is it vice versa?

Monday, March 25, 2019

Why I Love Spring in Sacramento

                                     
I have been too busy to post about the beautiful blooming fruit trees and magnolias that burst into bloom earlier (because, like a good girl, I have been writing, writing, writing). But Midtown Sacramento is gorgeous in spring, even after the flowering trees fade, because so many people garden, including me.

A word about my gardening approach: I am not the world's greatest gardener. My approach when I am not writing is to pull the weeds (which can be very satisfying), and — when I am writing — to decide, "Well, Nature loves weeds . . ." In other words, my gardening style leans toward "benign neglect."

But Sacramento's climate is a forgiving climate, and even under benign neglect, the flowers bloom and spread and celebrate spring in ways that just make the world beautiful.







How about you? Do you like to garden? If so, are you an avid gardener? Or, like me, a "sometime" gardener? What is your favorite season?

Tuesday, March 5, 2019

Book Review: Music Boxes by Tonja Drecker



            For those who like the fine arts mixed with a little spookiness and magic, Tonja Drecker’s new MG fantasy is a page turner. Twelve-year-old Lindsey McKay and her younger sister, Bridget, dream of musical futures. Talented Lindsey loves ballet. Bridget is a prodigy with the violin. But Mom and Dad have moved them from Nebraska to New York because Bridget has been accepted into the prestigious Julliard school. They can’t afford Julliard for both girls, so Lindsey has to content herself with ballet lessons at a community center, and she tries hard not to resent this.

            Her life is changed when, on the way to her ballet class, she encounters Madame Destinée, who, after a short conversation, offers to teach Lindsey for free. But the lessons must be in secret. From the very first, Lindsey can appreciate Madame Destinée’s expertise, and she can see her own growth and improvement. But there are strange aspects to this school: Not only must the lessons secret, but they are late at night, so she has to sneak out of the house to attend. Performances are at midnight for a mysterious audience. From fragments of conversation, Lindsey’s new classmates seem to be from other places, even other countries. Yet here they are all at the same school. Madame Destinée also has a collection of music boxes, all of them with charming little figurines of ballet dancers inside. The music boxes are similar to the one Lindsey’s grandmother gave her, which was created by a toymaker with a mysterious legend about his disappearance. 
            
            And Madame Destinée’s collection is growing.  

            I liked this book for so many reasons. I like anything to do with ballet and the musical world, and this author really knows her ballet. Her descriptions of moves and positions and performance highlights were spot on. Her characters were believable and sympathetic. I found it easy to care about both sisters and some of the other dancers in this mysterious school. Setting details of the theater and school were nicely drawn. And the plot built with just the right amount of intensity to keep me engrossed at each point. No spoilers here, though. 

Here is a trailer to pique your interest:  Go Here    

    
You can connect with Tonja Drecker at her   blog here:                                                      Find her on Twitter:    and    Facebook:

         Click on these sides to find her book:
          Amazon: 
          Barnes & Noble: 
          Kobo:      






How about you? Do you like fiction that involves one or more of the fine arts? Do you like ballet? Do you like music boxes? And . . . do you like spooky magic?

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

   

Add caption

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?