Quotes and Kleenex

My daughter’s been home sick for the last two days, so she’s been reading up a storm. She’s come out with some pithy comments along the way, including:

About John Green’s The Fault in Our Stars: “Why would you write a romantic novel, and give your character a completely romantic name like Augustus, and then have people call him Gus? Gus is NOT romantic at all.”

About parents: “Writers have to be really creative to get rid of parents. Either they kill them, or they make the main characters sixteen or seventeen and super independent. In this book I’m reading [Since You’ve Been Gone, by Morgan Matson], the parents are screenwriters and they get really into new projects and then only leave the living room every forty-eight hours to see if their kids are alive.”

About embossed covers: “I love textured books. I wish they were a person, so I could marry them.”

And that’s the word from the sickbed. You’re welcome.

To Hope and back again

I spent the last week on a whirlwind tour of the Fraser Valley, thanks to the Fraser Valley Regional Library, Reading Link Challenge, and a lot of gracious and highly organized teachers and librarians. (If anyone at the United Nations is reading this, you should immediately hire Rachel Burke. She’ll get those humanitarian aid deliveries organized faster than you can say “Read, Learn, Play.”)

(Thank you to Maple Ridge librarian Sally Gwyn for the photo!)

With my books in tow, I went to Maple Ridge, Chilliwack, Langley, Yarrow, Hope, Mission, Port Coquitlam, and Delta. I presented to groups of 30 and groups of 150. I told strange scientist tales from DNA Detective and underwear-outside-clothes stories from 50 Underwear Questions.

I collected lots of favourite moments from along the way, like when one small boy stayed behind to say very shyly “you’re funny and I like books.” Or when kids at Coquihalla Elementary in Hope kept saying “Hi, Ms. Deb,” to the visiting librarian in their hallway, and it turned out she’s known them all since their days at toddler story hour. I think the happiest kids to see me were those from Maple Ridge Environmental School, who spend tons of their time outdoors. It was torrentially raining that day, and my presentation is 100 percent monsoon-free.

Thank you to all the libraries and schools that so kindly hosted me, and all the students who perfected their dramatic death scenes and their explosion sound effects. I had an amazing time!

What not to read before bed

I’ve been reading Why We Sleep by Matthew Walker and it’s fascinating. I now know all sorts of wacky things about sleep, such as: your muscles are paralyzed during R.E.M. sleep so you don’t act out your dreams; early sleep researchers spent months deep in a cave trying to learn how circadian rhythms work; and if doctors zap your head in the exact same rhythm as your brain’s natural electrical impulses, you’ll achieve deeper sleep.

This would be an excellent book to have read when I was sixteen. Back then, my dad liked to book me for a 6 a.m. waitressing shifts (his way of trying to get me home before midnight). I could have explained to him that adolescents don’t produce melatonin until later in the evening, and yet need more sleep than adults, and therefore sleeping in on Saturday mornings was basically required.

That would have been good.

What’s not so good: reading the book as a semi-wrinkly person. Now, instead of lying in bed at 4 a.m. wishing I could go back to sleep, I lie there knowing I’m increasing my chances of cancer and Alzheimer’s, reducing my next day resistance to viruses, increasing my chances of emotional meltdowns, making myself less attractive by the minute…

Sometimes it’s possible to know too much.

There must be an upcoming chapter on how to actually sleep better. Otherwise, I’m going to sign up for zapping.

“Best of” lists from Silence and Violence

Silence (13) sent me an impromptu list of her own top reads of 2017:

The Hate U Give by Angie Thomas
A World Without You by Beth Revis
Moxie by Jennifer Mathieu
Wonder by R.J. Palacio
Windfall by Jennifer E. Smith
Alex and Eliza by Melissa de la Cruz
Aristotle and Dante Discover the Secrets of the Universe by Benjamin Alire Sáenz
The Fault in Our Stars by John Green

Then I asked Violence (11) for his list. Here’s what he said:

Rick Riordan
Rick Riordan
Rick Riordan
Rick Riordan
and… anything by Rick Riordan

Now, if you’re an author and you happen to be thinking, “I published a book in 2017. I wish they’d chosen my book,” I’ll just remind you here that I, too, released books in 2017, and those books were not chosen by my children. But they’re good kids in other ways.

Happy reading!

Happy New Year!

I made it to 75 books read in 2017, in the nick of time. Thank goodness I was chaperoning a teen sleepover for New Year’s Eve or I wouldn’t have finished those final chapters.

Is it just me, or do middle grade novels encompass more wisdom than all other books put together? I read some wonderful ones last year, including Diary from the Edge of the World by Jodi Lynn Anderson and The War I Finally Won by Kimberly Brubraker Bradley. My friend Rachelle Delaney published The Bonaventure Adventures, which made me want to run away to the circus immediately. Another favourite in this category was The Thing About Jellyfish by Ali Benjamin, which squeezed my heart and tickled my science brain at the same time.

In the young adult realm, both Wildman by J.C. Geiger and Nina Berkhout’s The Mosaic had characters that hung around in my head long after I finished reading. (Plus those books have the best covers ever.) One of my last books of the year was one of my most fun reads: Moxie, by Jennifer Mathieu, which also earned my daughter’s adoration.

I read so many fantastic nonfiction books in 2017 it’s excruciating to choose. None of them are new… just new to me. The funniest, and least appropriate, was What I Was Doing While You Were Breeding by Kristin Newman. I also loved the memoirs Beyond the Pale by Emily Urquhart and This is Not My Life by Diane Schoemperien.

Now it’s onwards to 2018! I’ve already started Genuine Fraud by E. Lockhart, which has me holding my breath all the way through.

Happy reading everyone! Let me know what your favourites were last year, so I can put them on my new list…

Silence speaks

You know how I steal books from my children to feed my own reading habit? Well, the tables have turned. I scored a copy of Moxie by Jennifer Mathieu at last month’s ALAN workshop. My daughter Silence stole the book from my end table, read it in a single day, and then raved about it again and again until I finally told her to write a review. So, courtesy of my book-thieving child:

Sick and tired of the ongoing sexual harassment at her Texas high school, Vivian (Viv) Carter, who has, until now, always been a rule follower, decides she’s had enough. She’s done with the football players and their sexist comments and t-shirt slogans, and the authorities’ refusal to acknowledge these and the many other problems going on right under their noses.

Inspired by her mother, once a rebellious warrior for equality, Viv starts an anonymous zine called Moxie, encouraging girls to “fight back.” Many other girls soon join in, and the hallways quickly become a battlefield of warrior Moxie girls who aren’t going to put up with this lack of respect anymore. Backed up by best friend Claudia, spunky girl Lucy, and new guy Seth, Viv won’t stop until girls receive the justice they deserve.

I would definitely recommend this book to anyone 12+. An amazing story that gets you hooked by the first chapter, this is one of my favourite books ever. It almost makes me wish there was more sexism at my school so I could be a Moxie girl and go fight back! Just kidding. But really though, everyone, READ IT!!! It’s so good.



I’ve just finished Wildman, by j.c. geiger, and it’s excellent.

It’s about a teenage boy named Lance, who’s about to graduate as class valedictorian and head off to business school. Then his car breaks down in the middle of nowhere, and he finds himself wrapped up in a society of small-town teens, most of them lost in their own unique ways.

As the days pass, Lance gets increasingly urgent calls from his mom and his girlfriend, but finds himself unable to leave this new place, where he can be and do almost anything… pull a knife on someone, jump a train, sleep with an artist…

And while you can predict from the very first pages that Lance isn’t going back, the story takes all sorts of unexpected turns.

There are plenty of themes in Wildman — choosing your own path for the future, navigating family expectations, balancing art dreams with practical life demands — that overlap with the ideas in Prince of Pot. Which is all particularly convenient because J.C. Geiger and I are speaking on a panel together this month in St. Louis, as part of the ALAN Workshop for the NCTE (the National Council of Teachers of English).

Hopefully my plane doesn’t break down along the way, leaving me stranded in the backwoods. If it does, I’m totally jumping a train.

Running away to the circus

Why Rachelle Delaney is smarter than me:

First, she wrote books set in Moscow and Prague, and therefore had to travel Europe for research purposes. Then, she wrote a book about a circus school, and took trapeze and parkour lessons.

Why on earth am I setting my books deep in the forest in the middle of the Kootenays?

This is entirely bad planning on my part.

But back to Rachelle. Min, Silence, Violence, and I went to her Wednesday night book launch for The Bonaventure Adventures. The Book Warehouse on Main did a wonderful job of hosting. Rachelle was funny and smart as she told us all about her parkour-lesson bruises (at least I only get mosquito bites on my research trips), and the book is fabulous.

I hope L’École Nationale de Cirque has extra lesson spaces for those of us about to launch our own aerial acts…

Silence speaks

The following is a review contributed by my 12-year-old daughter, who chose her own pen name long ago, but is generally not at all silent. Enjoy!

Hi All!

Silence here. Just read Calvin by Martine Leavitt. Absolutely fantastic book about a seventeen-year-old boy named Calvin who was coincidentally born on the day that publishing of Calvin and Hobbes ceased. As a young child, he was given a stuffed toy named Hobbes, and now, at seventeen, diagnosed with schizophrenia, Calvin is seeing Hobbes again, and he is not happy about it.

Calvin lives on the Canadian side of Lake Erie, and Bill Watterson, the author of Calvin and Hobbes, lives on the American side. Accompanied by his friend Susie, and, of course, Hobbes, Calvin comes up with a plan to trek across Lake Erie, and see if Bill Watterson himself can make the hallucinatory Hobbes disappear.

Want to hear the ending? Read it!

A well-written, wonderful story that is a total must read, Calvin is great for older tweens and up.

My one complaint? A very misleading cover that was not to my taste at all. I’d heard of the book before, but the cover threw me off until my mom read it and told me I should read it too.

It’s 100 percent worth ignoring the cover and reading this book, though. It’s so good!!!

The edge of YA

A friend told me that Millennials are having less sex because their parents are too open about it, and it no longer seems rebellious. This weekend, I started to worry that my children won’t have any secret books stuffed under their mattresses because their mother doesn’t adequately censor their reading material.

We are on that very precarious edge of middle-grade/young-adult in my house. When Silence casts a book aside, it’s often because she’s deemed it “inappropriate” — a judgement she makes more harshly than I do. (I’ve promised her she can read my YA novel, Prince of Pot, when it comes out this fall, but I have a feeling she’s going to put me on her censored list.)

Last week, we went to Susin Nielsen’s launch for Optimists Die First. Silence is a HUGE Susin Nielsen fan and she was already reading while in the line-up for autographs. But once we were home and she was halfway through, she stalked into the living room, cast the book down on the couch between Min and me, and said, “This is inappropriate.”

I looked at what she was reading. There is a fairly gentle make-out-session/fade-to-black sex scene in the middle of the book.

So, fine. It’s good that Silence is making her own decisions about what she’s ready to read.

There’s only one problem…. We got a signed copy of the book for one of Silence’s friends.

So, do we NOT give her the book? Do we give it to her and tell her not to read it for a few years? If we give it to her, do I have to email her parents? And why aren’t there parenting guidelines on Facebook for this sort of situation?

The upside: I now get to read the book myself. And it is hilarious. And wise. And oh-so-perfectly appropriate for me.