Literary Candyland

Phew! It’s been a busy month! So far I’ve visited four school groups, with one more to come later this week: one public, one private, and two homeschool co-ops. We’ve done fun activities like making up fantasy names, exploring our 5 senses, and drawing fantasy maps. These students, ranging in age from 8 to 15, consistently amaze me with their insight, creativity, and perseverance. One group was made up of mostly students with dyslexia who use software like Dragon, Siri, or Kindle text-to-speech to overcome their difficulties with print media. Some of them are writing books (or even sequels to books) of their own. It’s always an honor and a joy to meet these fearless young writers. (For details on how to schedule a visit for the 2015-2016 school year, check out my Speaking page.)

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With the school year winding down, it’s now time to mark your calendar for the first bookish event of this summer. I’m SO excited for this one. On June 6-7, downtown Berkeley will be closed to cars and open to readers! The Bay Area Book Festival is the first free, public literary event of its kind in the East Bay. The event is family-friendly and even has a whole area dedicated to children and another for teens. It will be like literary Candyland for two whole days! Here are some reasons to get excited:

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-Appearances by big-time authors like Daniel Handler (a.k.a. Lemony Snicket) and Judy Blume

A sculpture built of 50,000 books that readers can take home with them!

-Fun activities like book-themed sidewalk chalk painting, a dance performance by the Ballet Folklorico Mexicano, a giant gecko, a farmer’s market, a chance to play with typewriters, and a petting zoo with a baby kangaroo

-An art installation of flying, talking books

-A visit with illustrator Amalia Hillmann and me! We’ll be at a table in the Children’s Area by City Hall, along with lots of other authors, bookstores, and book-related activity booths, including a stage where performances will be going on all weekend. At our table we’ll have coloring pages and face painting from The Voyages of the Legend, lots of different art prints and some cool new art products, and of course, copies of both The Illuminator’s Gift and The Illuminator’s Test. We’ll even be unveiling a reprinted edition of The Illuminator’s Gift at the event, complete with a map and some new illustrations!

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I can’t wait for the Bay Area Book Festival! All the details are on the event website. It will be a weekend of nonstop book fun! I hope to see you there!

Independent Bookstores: Village House of Books

Today we continue our Independent Bookstores blog series at Village House of Books in Los Gatos, CA. I had the pleasure of interviewing owners Steve and Cheryl Hare, the warmest and most down-to-earth bookworms you could imagine.

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This new bookstore just opened its doors on August 17, 2013, but it already has a romantic history–Steve and Cheryl signed the building lease just 8 days before their wedding and ordered books on their honeymoon. Together these book lovers have created an inviting space in artsy, community-oriented Los Gatos.

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Located in a building that’s previously been a hair salon, a yarn store, a guitar hospital, and a yoga wear shop, Village House of Books has a cozy, relaxing feel. Yellow walls, vintage furniture, and thoughtful accents like curtains and chandeliers make it feel like home. And that’s not even mentioning the books.

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Steve and Cheryl say they’ve chosen a lot of the books for their colorful covers as well as their content. They take customer suggestions for which books to stock and special-order books if they don’t have the title in the store. Many of the books are creatively displayed face-out, so it’s easy to meet new books without looking very hard. The staff works closely with local authors in every genre, hosting readings, book clubs, and signings nearly every week.

I even recognized one of the local author books! Lit Knits by my talented friend Audry Nicklin looked quite at home in the nonfiction section.

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Cheryl says her favorite section is the children’s nook, and I have to agree. A wall painting of the Cat in the Hat, a vintage bed window seat, and a fuzzy array of stuffed animals made me want to move in.

So…I did.

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To my delight, The Illuminator’s Gift is now at home in this very section! You can drop by for a copy anytime. But for some extra fun, stop in on Saturday, May 3rd…it’s California Bookstore Day!

On May 3rd, independent bookstores across the state will be flinging their doors open for book lovers to unite! To celebrate, Village House of Books will be hosting about a dozen local authors of all genres…

…and yours truly will be representing the kids’ section!

Come between 10 and 12 in the morning to visit cover illustrator Amalia Hillmann and me! There will be a book signing, a chance to check out TIG’s original cover artwork, and balloons and storytime for the kids. It will be a great day to meet a variety of local authors and book lovers as well as support a beautiful independent bookstore.

I hope to see you at Village House of Books on May 3rd! 

 

Why We Need Dystopian Literature

It’s funny that I, who can’t handle graphic descriptions in books and rarely watch movies rated higher than PG-13, consider dystopian literature one of my favorite genres.

What is dystopian literature? If you’re a fan of The Hunger Games or Divergent (which will soon be making its movie debut), you’re already familiar with it. Word history makes a little more sense of the genre’s odd name, though.

A utopia is a perfect world (deriving partly from the Greek word ευτοπiα, meaning “good land”). Flip that on its head and you get a dystopia (δυστοπια), a “bad land.” The setting is often a futuristic or fantastical version of our own world–but something is very, very wrong with it. 

The exact type of wrongness varies. It can be a nationally televised event in which teenagers fight to the death. It can be an association of “firefighters” who work to burn books rather than save them. It can be a community that has rejected the burden of memory.

All disturbing scenarios, without question. But it is that very ability to unsettle that makes dystopian literature so powerful. It makes us understand consequencesFahrenheit 451 portrays the book-burning “firefighters” as a consequence of culture-wide entertainment addiction. The cold extermination of humans in The Giver is a consequence of a society that chose painlessness and order over compassion and mercy.

The consequences are extreme, even grotesque, in these fantastical novels. But they raise questions for real life in the subtle and palatable way that only fiction can:

What are the problems with our own society? What will the consequences be? And what can we do to change things? 

And that’s why I love dystopian novels–not because I’m a freak who loves to read about twisted worlds. I love these stories because I’m a person who wants to see the sickness of the world I live in and help prevent it from worsening past cure. I like these novels because they make me think, but more because they make me care. Maybe that’s why the genre has picked up so much popularity, especially in the turmoil of recent years.

So: pick up a dystopian novel and let it raise questions for you. If you need a place to get started, here’s a list of my top 5 dystopian novels:

1. The Hunger Games by Suzanne Collins

“In the ruins of a place once known as North America lies the nation of Panem, a shining Capitol surrounded by twelve outlying districts. The Capitol is harsh and cruel and keeps the districts in line by forcing them all to send one boy and one girl between the ages of twelve and eighteen to participate in the annual Hunger Games, a fight to the death on live TV.” -Amazon.com

2. Fahrenheit 451 by Ray Bradbury

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“Guy Montag is a fireman. In his world, where television rules and literature is on the brink of extinction, firemen start fires rather than put them out. His job is to destroy the most illegal of commodities, the printed book, along with the houses in which they are hidden.” -Amazon.com

3. The Giver by Lois Lowry

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“The story centers on twelve-year-old Jonas, who lives in a seemingly ideal world. Not until he is given his life assignment as the Receiver does he begin to understand the dark secrets behind his fragile community.” -Amazon.com

4. 1984 by George Orwell

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“Written in 1948, 1984 was George Orwell’s chilling prophecy about the future. And while 1984 has come and gone, Orwell’s narrative is timelier than ever. 1984 presents a startling and haunting vision of the world, so powerful that it is completely convincing from start to finish. No one can deny the power of this novel, its hold on the imaginations of multiple generations of readers, or the resiliency of its admonitions—a legacy that seems only to grow with the passage of time.” -Amazon.com

5. The Island of Dr. Moreau by H.G. Wells

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Although this is sometimes classified as a science fiction novel (and it does contain science fiction elements), its placement on an isolated island in our world, paired with its disturbing social commentary, make it a good example of dystopian literature as well. A power-crazed scientist makes humans out of animals, positioning himself as their god–but when the animals begin to regress, we must ask where the boundary between man and beast lies.

Have you read any of these books? Or do you have another favorite you’d add to the list?