Posted in Award Winners, MG Novels, So Many Good Books

The Last Cuentista

Marvelous Middle Grade Monday

The Last Cuentista (Levine Querido, 2021) by Donna Barba Higuera is a scary and compelling story of survival in the future and the power of storytelling.

Twelve-year-old Petra Peña and her family are leaving earth before it is destroyed. But first she has to say good-bye to her abuelita (grandmother), who tells her cuentos (tall tales), and isn’t going on the trip to a new planet. Petra expects to sleep in a stasis pod for 380 years, but something has gone wrong. She’s not sleeping. And then when Petra does awake, it’s to a nightmare of changed people, The Collective, who have renamed her Zeta-1 and expect that she’ll serve them, or be purged.

This book won the 2022 Newbery award and the 2022 Pura Belpré Medal. I think it’s great that this sci-fi story has so much recognition.

Read about Donna here and check out her other books here.

Posted in Writing Life

Watercress

Perfect Picture Book Friday

Watercress (Holiday House/Neal Porter Books, 2021) by Andrea Wang and illustrated by Jason Chin is such an emotional story.

In Ohio, a little girl’s family stops on their drive and the parents make the girl and her brother help harvest watercress growing in the ditch. She’s embarrassed and doesn’t want anyone to see her. At dinner that night her parents press her to eat it. It’s fresh and free. But she thinks free is bad. “Free is hand-me-down clothes and roadside trash-heap furniture…” When her mom talks about the great famine in China, the girls is ashamed of being ashamed of her family. She tries the watercress and together they make a new memory.

This book is for everyone who hasn’t had enough, and for everyone else who needs to understand what that’s like. The award-winning book received a Caldecott Medal (for illustrations), a Newbery Honor, the Asian/Pacific American Award for Literature, a New England Book Award, and a Boston Globe-Horn Book Honor.

Read about the author here and see Andrea’s other books here.

The spread about the great famine in China made me tear up. So much shown in the illustrations.

Jason is not only the illustrator, but he’s an author too. On this page you can read about him and see his titles scroll by on the bottom.

Posted in Craft, The Nitty Gritty of Children's Writing, Tools, You Are Not Alone

Critiquing Via Zoom

The Covid pandemic forced us to look at other ways of communicating. Now we commonly use Zoom for webinars, meetings, family get-togethers, and, yes, critique groups. (Kinda wish I’d owned Zoom stock before Covid…)

My critique group started Zooming in March of 2020. And we are still meeting that way–partially as
several of us are not within close driving distance.

Here’s what we learned along the way:

First, sending manuscripts ahead of time saves time.

In face-to-face meetings we brought manuscripts to the meeting and read aloud. Critiquers physically wrote on the paper. Now each manuscript is sent via email two-three days ahead of our Zoom meeting. Each person reads the manuscripts at their leisure and uses a combination of commenting,
and track changes on their copy. We often type in global comments at the beginning as well. E.g. “Loved this chapter. Could add more sensory details.” The file is saved with a new name identifying who critiqued it, e.g. Beauty Chap 8 – Sue.

Second, not everyone can share a manuscript every week.

There are seven of us in our group and we want to have time to discuss each manuscript in depth. We’ve found three to be a good number for everyone to have time to comment. That means we schedule who
“presents” each week so everyone usually gets to share several times a month. We meet from 9 am to 12 pm.* Sometimes we end early. Often, we take a bit of time to talk about our lives or share ups and downs in the publishing world.

Third, someone moderates each meeting.

We rotate who moderates and that person keeps everyone on track. E.g. “We’ll start with C’s manuscript, and we’ll go in this order of commenting: S, G, J, B, K, and myself.” The moderator also reminds the one
being critiqued not to explain or tell what’s going to happen next. The writing needs to stand alone. Having a moderator has reduced frustrations.

Fourth, verbal comments at our Zoom meeting, may prompt other thoughts.

We add these to our own electronic copy of the manuscript. E.g. “E had a great suggestion
on…” or “This didn’t bother me.” or “What if you did…here?”

Fifth, don’t verbally repeat what someone else has already said, nor go over every typo.

The writer gets all the manuscripts with comments returned and can see punctuation suggestions and where critiquers agreed about an issue.

Sixth, after everyone has commented, there’s a short time for questions or additional comments.

This is where the writer can ask for clarification. Or a critiquer can add a last minute thought.

The finished manuscript copies are emailed back to the writer.

I like that we don’t spend time stuck in traffic going to and from meetings. But I love how much regular time I get to spend with my critique group, even if it isn’t in person.

 

*Several of us have paid Zoom accounts so can host meetings of any length.