Archive for A Wrinkle in Time

It’s Almost Here! Book 3 of Guts and Glory!

Posted in book signings, Books, Family, Writing with tags , , , , , , , , , , , , , on April 13, 2014 by Jessica Crichton

You’ve been waiting patiently.

You’ve been wondering when it would be OUT already.

You’ve looked for SOME sign on this website  that it is actually coming.

Well, here it is!

August, 2014…

At Spocon, Glamirita, and Here on this Website…

The Official Release 0f…

“RISE OF THE NEFARIOUS NUMBOTS”

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The third and FINAL volume of “Guts and Glory, Freedom Fighters of Nil” is almost here!

Check back here soon for exact dates, and spread the word!

My Top Seventeen Middle Grade Books of all Time!

Posted in Books, Reading, Uncategorized, Writing with tags , , , , , , , , , , , , , on May 8, 2013 by Jessica Crichton

If you follow my blog regularly, you know that I have just begun my final Master’s thesis on middle grade children’s literature. I’ve been asked by more than a few people exactly what kidlit titles a graduate student would possibly want to study, and why. So I decided to post the bibliography portion of my final document proposal here, with a short note on each entry as to the “whys”.

Submitted for your approval: the top fifteen middle grade books of all time, according to Jessica Rising. (Your mileage my vary; in fact, I hope it does! Please add your own entries in the comments below so we can build this list high!)

1) Carroll, Lewis. Alice’s Adventures in Wonderland. Columbus: Weekly Reader Books. Print.

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If you’re breathing, chances are you know who Alice is (though maybe not her last name — it’s Liddell, incidentally), that the Mad Hatter isn’t angry but he is totally nutso, and / or have had some kind of argument over weather Lewis Carroll’s classic work of children’s fantasy is about math, drugs, both or neither. As an undeniable staple of classic kidlit, leaving Alice’s Adventures in Wonderland out of a study on children’s books would be like leaving Shakespeare out of a study on classic adult literature. I, for one, am not about to make that kind of literary foible, you can be sure!

2) Cooper, Susan. The Dark is Rising. New York: Scholastic, Inc Publishers. Print.

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Written by the daughter of James Fenimore Cooper, The Dark is Rising by celebrated novelist Susan Cooper is a Newberry Honor book, and as been the favorite of many generations of children. It’s classic fantasy with a real-world twist of history and ancient Celtic culture, and a deep resonance of the human condition that few other children’s books have ever emulated.

3) Dahl, Roald. Danny the Champion of the World . New York: Alfered A. Knopf (1975). Print.

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Having published a myriad of well-known and beloved books for kids, Roald Dahl is arguably one of the great pillars of modern kidlit, so leaving him out of the study would be a gross oversight. Still, which of his wonderful, witty kids’ books should be included to represent the whole? That was my dilemma. In the end, I opted to forgo fantastical whimsy in preference for a life-lessons story every kid can relate to. After all, there are enough fantasy stories in my list already, and the whole point of my study is to prove that kidlit emulates the human condition just as deeply and profoundly as its adult counterpart. For anyone who has read Danny, its inclusion for this reason should be a no-brainer. It certainly was for me!

4) Ende, Michael. The Neverending Story. New York: Penguin Books (1996). Print.

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Most know of The Neverending Story from the popular 1984 film adaptation. However, Michael Ende’s powerful fantasy book about the importance of imagination and hope in a sometimes fearful world is as relevant to today’s children as it was when it first appeared in Germany under the title of Die Unendliche Geschicte back in 1979. As both a classic kid’s book and a well-known fantasy epic through the last  three generations, including The Neverending Story in my study just makes sense.

5) Gaiman, Neil. The Graveyard Book. New York: Scholastic (2003). Print.

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It’s current. It’s popular. It’s a Newberry Award Winner. And, perhaps most importantly, it resonates deeply with modern children. Neil Gaiman’s The Graveyard Book is such a perfect modern counterpart to Alice’s Adventures in Wonderland that not including it as at least a comparison between classic and current kidlit would be a terrible oversight. But even beyond that, Graveyard is a great story in its own right, which is a must for inclusion on my list. Plus, keeping up with the times is very important for any serious writer, and while I adore the classic titles I grew up with, there is wonderful kidlit from every era to explore — including our own.

6) Collins, Suzanne. Gregor the Overlander. New York: Scholastic (2003). Print. 

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Gregor the Overlander is a modern middle grade story. It’s also very popular, which speaks for the mindset of today’s children, and the societal impact of fiction on child culture and vice-versa as a whole. Suzanne Collins herself is a highly gifted and beloved children’s writer of our modern age, though her most famous series, “The Hunger Games”, is YA rather than MG, the age-group focus of this particular study.

7) Lee, Harper. To Kill a Mockingbird. New York: Harper Collins (1993). Print.

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Back to classics! Whether you wanted to or not, chances are you read To Kill a Mockingbird in school. For me, it was ninth grade English and I fell in love with it instantly.  There is a reason this book has been studied by schoolkids all over for generations — it is the epitome of the human condition, the very thing that makes literature worth reading, writing and studying. Some would argue that this is more of a YA title than MG. However, I have set up certain conditions (clearly outlined in my full thesis), as to what is considered MG for this study. One of those conditions is the age of the protagonists being between 7 and 12 years. To Kill a Mockingbird fully meets this requirement, and I would feel very remiss to leave it out.

8) L’Engle, Madeline. A Wrinkle in Time. New York: Laurel Leaf Imprint, Random House Publishers (2005). Print.

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Best described as a modern classic, Madeline L’Engle’s A Wrinkle in Time is quickly taking its deserved place among the ranks of the timeless. Though it is usually classified as a fantasy book, Wrinkle actually mixes fantasy with science fiction to form a deeply relevant story that has touched the hearts and minds of children for so many years now. It is also a Newberry Award winner, which I must admit I have been a little biased towards for this study. After all, there is a reason certain titles earn that prestigious award!

9) Lewis, C. S. The Lion, the Witch and the Wardrobe. New York: Harper Trophy (1994). Print.

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Like Alice in Wonderland, C.S. Lewis’ The Lion, the Witch and the Wardrobe is an undeniable staple of classic kidlit. That alone gives it an instant place in my study; its timeless ability to fascinate the hearts and minds of children from so many different generations makes it a perfect example of how children’s literature directly effects and mirrors society. Its metaphor, too, is a perfect example of life-reflected-in-literature, which can’t be ignored.

10) Palacio, R.J. Wonder by R.J. Palacio. New York: Knopf Books for Young Readers (2012). Print.

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I initially chose Wonder because it is a very modern (published in 2012), award-winning middle grade book that is right now making the rounds of literary fame through book clubs, raving reviews and bookstore center isles. When I chose it, I hadn’t yet read it, and was ready to take it off the list if I felt it didn’t make the cut. Of course, as you can see here that didn’t happen. What did happen was I found yet another wonderful example of the human condition reflected in a children’s book. The lesson in Wonder of not judging each-other is deeply woven into the storyline and narrative style, both with the main character being so unique himself, and the narration switching points-of-view between him and many others in is life whom he has touched. In this way, the story shows that not only does everyone have feelings they aren’t always proud of, but everyone has a story to tell that directly effects how they see others and the world around them.

11) Riordan, Rick. The Lightning Thief . New York: Hyperion Books (2005). Print.

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The Lightning Thief is included in this study as a modern popular title, with Rick Riordan being a huge success both in middle grade and young adult circles. When studying how literature impacts a society, one must include the literature that society most craves, as it is a direct mirror to the psyche. Also, as a modern adaptati0n of  classic mythology — the precursor to most original fairy tales — Lightning can be studied in relation to the evolution of children’s literature over eons of time. This alone, as I am sure you can understand, is invaluable to my study.

12) Rowling, J.K. Harry Potter and the Sorcerer’s Stone. New York: Arthur A. Levine Books, 1997. Print.

HarryPotter1

It would be a very difficult thing indeed, to study middle grade literature and its place in society without including “Harry Potter”. The impact that JK. Rowling’s boy wizard has had on modern children and modern society as a whole is almost deafening, and that impact is only continuing to grow. My study would literally be incomplete without it, and its absence would certainly remove a large chunk of relevance that I am not willing to lose. Though the later books can be classified more as young adult titles, the earlier ones are clearly middle grade, and The Sorcerers Stone is the very earliest. That, and the fact that it began the whole phenomenon is why I chose this particular title in the series.

13) Spinelli, Jerry. Maniac Magee. New York: Scholastic, Inc Publishers. Print.

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Another Newberry Award Winner, Maniac Magee by Jerry Spinelli deserves its place on this list for its poignant yet simple vision of life as an outsider, and what it means to belong. One argument against children’s books being relevant to deep study is that they are shallow and only relate to the shallow minds of children. Now, ignoring the obvious fallibility of children’s minds being shallow in the first place, Maniac Magee blows that entire argument out of the water. It is simple to understand and entirely relatable for middle grade readers, yet so deeply conveys the human condition that I challenge any adult to read it and not see it as a masterpiece in its own right.

14) Patterson, Katherine. The Great Gilly Hopkins. New York: Harper Trophy (1978). Print.

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As another Newberry winner, The Great Gilly Hopkins by Katherine Patterson already deserves a spot on this list. Still, there have been many Newberry winners and honors over the years – including another title by Patterson herself — so why is Gilly so special? Like every book on my list, Gilly reflects society and the human condition, which are key elements in weather a piece of literature is considered worthy of inclusion into the canon of  scholarly study. The story is deep and meaningful, especially to children who feel like outsiders in their world. The themes therein of family, devotion, and the pain of loss are just as relevant to adults as they are to all the children who have read and loved this book.

15) Twain, Mark. The Adventures of Huckleberry Finn. New York: Dover Publications; abridged edition (1998). Print.

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The Adventures of Huckleberry Finn is already an undeniable classic. Its inclusion to my study is twofold. One, I simply love Mark Twain and can’t stand to do any study without him included — call me biased. And two, as an acknowledged classic that fits perfectly into my definition of middle grade children’s literature, Huck Finn will lead credence to the study of kidlit as a whole. Win-win!

16) White, E.B. Charlotte’s Web. New York: Harper & Row Publishers, 1952. Print.

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A classic Newberry Honor book, Charlotte’s Web is, like Alice in Wonderland, a staple of children’s literature. The mismatched friendship of Fern the girl, Charlotte the spider and Wilbur the pig is a perfect example of how children use their everyday surroundings to better understand themselves and others — a lesson that even adults often must continue to learn. The basics of respect and understanding emulated in Charlotte’s Web will continue to be relevant to mankind as we enter a future that is bright with promise, hope, and peace.

17) Snyder, Zilpha Keatley. The Witches of Worm. New York: Dell Yearling, 1972. Print.

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The Witches of Worm was given to me for Christmas last year. Before that, I hadn’t even considered including it in my study, as I didn’t know it existed. A Newberry Honor book, Witches is everything that award emulates — depth, spirit, a reflection of the fear and emotional pain that every human being goes through, no matter what their age. Another book of metaphor, Witches personifies that theme within the mind of its pre-teen protagonist as she struggles to come to grips with the loss of her childhood, and the realization of her mother’s own human failings via her discovery of a very strange stay cat. As a children’s mirror to societal psyche and the human condition, it’s difficult to find a better story than The Witches of Worm.

So, there you have it — the seventeen books I will be studying and critiquing in my master’s thesis on middle grade children’s literature, and why they have been included. Of course, these descriptions aren’t detailed, as this is a short explanation only. However, if you have any questions or relevant additions / arguments to add, please feel free to do so in the comments section. And thanks for reading!

The Greatest Heroines Don’t Have Boobs

Posted in Books, Family, Fiction, Kid Lit Reviews, Kids, Shiny Happy Musings, Uncategorized with tags , , , , , , , on May 21, 2012 by Jessica Crichton

I have been discussing the issue of the objectification of heroines in popular culture with a friend on my Facebook wall, in reply to an image I posted that states, “You don’t need bigger boobs; you just need to read better books”. It occurred to me over the course of the conversation that that my favorite literary heroines either don’t even have boobs, or else their ownership of breasts is simply implied by their age, and never mentioned at all.

So, in the spirit of supporting the idea that girls need to read better books in order to understand the meaning of the terms “self-esteem” and “self-worth”, I give you my top five literary heroines of all time, with a few runners-up for good measure. If you have any to add, please do so in the comments, so we can support strong, independent heroines everywhere!

#1: Alice (Liddell)

Book(s): Alice in Wonderland & Through the Looking Glass by Lewis Carroll

Age: Around 12

Heroic Traits: Curiosity, Courage, Intellect

Greatest Heroic Deed: Taught all of Wonderland what it means to think for themselves.

Summary: Though Alice (modeled after the real 12-year-old Alice Liddell), does not technically defeat the Queen of Hearts at the end of Alice in Wonderland, she does show the people of Wonderland that their silly, card-house-builder of a queen can be defeated. Alice leads by being a beacon of hope, logic, and sanity in a world that has lost all of those things. Like a true hero, she reminds the people of their own power, and then leaves the uprising for those whom it effects the most.

 

#2: Dorothy Gale

 

Book(s): The Wizard of Oz, and many subsequent titles by L. Frank Baum

Age: Somewhere between 5 and 7 (unspecified; guesses have been made by the original illustrations)

Heroic Traits: Curiosity, Kindness, Compassion, Selflessness

Greatest Heroic Deed: Helped her friends make their dreams come true.

Summary:  In Oz, everything is happy (mostly), and peaceful (except when the witches are around, of course). Other than defeating the witches (which, to be fair, her house took out the first one and she didn’t mean to take out the second), Dorothy doesn’t have a whole lot she needs to do in Oz, besides have wonderful adventures. Baum did this on purpose, having been quoted as saying he wanted to give children something that wasn’t scary, something to just be happy about (I can provide sources on this if need-be). That said, Dorothy did do something that I certainly call heroic, especially in this day and age: she led her friends in finding and securing their greatest dreams: the Cowardly Lion’s courage, the Tin Man’s heart, and the Scarecrow’s brain. She could have just left them there to rust and cower and be picked apart by crows, but she didn’t. Instead, she picked them up, dusted them off, took them with her on her quest, and told them they could do anything they wanted to. She believed in her friends and supported them. And sometimes, that’s all a heroine needs to do.

 

#3: Lucy Pevnsie

Book(s): The lion, The Witch and The Wardrobe, and subsequent titles by C.S. Lewis

Age: Around 8, at the beginning of the series

Heroic Traits: Valor, Courage, Trust, Compassion, Loyalty

Greatest Heroic Deed: Healing the wounded over the course of many battles

Summary: C.S. Lewis believed that girls should not do battle (a belief that I do not share with that esteemed author), and so Lucy and her sister Susan never did fight the bad guys. However, Lucy was always the first to rush in to help and heal those who had been hurt fighting the good fight, using the healing elixir given to her by Santa Claus, who saw her compassionate spirit. Also, unlike Susan, she never flinched from anything she was called to do, and kept her faith in Aslan and in goodness right up to the very end. Lucy was my first favorite heroine, and while her story is a bit more stringently pious than I like, still her character has many wonderful traits for girls to emulate.

 

#4: Matilda Wormwood

Book(s): Matilda, by Roald Dahl

Age: 5

Heroic Traits: Justice, Power, Wisdom, Compassion

Greatest Heroic Deed: Defeating bullies, both in and out of her home.

Summary: Matilda has always been one of my favorites. She is at once meek and mighty. She doesn’t talk back, she isn’t rude, and she respects her elders. That said, she only respects those elders who deserve it. The ultimate kickbutt heroine against parental and authority figure abuse, tiny little Matilda uses the powers she finds within herself to teach some hilarious lessons to the horrendous head mistress at her school and her abusive parents, while at the same time underlying SUCH an important fact: abuse is NOT okay. Period, To say Matilda is a heroine is almost an understatement; she is, in fact, a superhero.

 

#5: Meg Murry

Book(s): A Wrinkle in Time and subsequent titles by Madeline L’Engle

Age: 14 at the start of the series

Heroic Traits: Compassion, Drive, Courage, Tenacity, Uniqueness

Greatest Heroic Deed: Saving her brother and her father from annihilation just by being her unique self.

Summary: Meg is the only teenager on my list, but she has earned the spot! Dorky, clumsy, and the only one in her family without PhD-level grades, she is the ultimate anti-heroine at first. She is also highly relatable for that same reason. Like any teenage girl, she hates herself at first, but once she learns to embrace her uniqueness and love herself for who she is, then and only then, does she become a true heroine. And in the end, her previously hated differences are what saves her family — the whole world, even — from darkness.  In my opinion, if anyone was to be called the ultimate role model to teenage girls everywhere, it would be Meg Murry.

 

Runners-Up

In no particular order, I also would like to give a shout-out to the following kickbutt literary heroines:

Katniss Everdeen from the “Hunger Games” trilogy by Suzanne Collins.

Violet Baudelaire from the “Series of Unfortunate Events” series by Lemony Snickett

Coraline Jones from Coraline by Neil Gaiman

Mary Lennox from The Secret Garden by Francis Hogson Burnett

Anne Shirley from the “Anne of Green Gables” series by Lucy Maude Montgomery

Harriet M. Welsch from Harriet the Spy by Louise Fitzhugh

Karana from Island of the Blue Dolphins by Scott O’Dell

Miyax / Julie from Julie of the Wolves by Jean Craighead George

There are tons more; add your own!

Yes, our girls might be inundated by society to be sexy and stupid and weak and selfish, but there ARE good role-models out there. They just need to read better books! 🙂

It Was a Dark and Stormy Night…

Posted in Books, Family, Kids, Literature, Writing with tags , , , , , on July 31, 2011 by Jessica Crichton

… when Mrs. Who, Mrs. Which, and Mrs. Whatsit visited the Murrys so long ago. For me, that opening line will always be about Meg and Charles Wallace, even though I know it was coined by Edward Bulwer-Lytton and not Madeline L’Engle. Still, I never read the good Baron’s story and I couldn’t tell you for the life of me what follows his line, but I can tell you what follows in A Wrinkle in Time: the most magical, mystical adventure in childhood literary history.

OK, MAYBE it has some contenders. Maybe.

Still, A Wrinkle in Time is such a famous book that I have yet to find one person who hasn’t heard of it. (To be fair, I don’t travel much. But still…) Yet a startlingly low amount of people can name the author of such a famous book: Madeline L’Engle.

That is her legacy.

When I was in high school my mother allowed me to skip school one day so that I could go to the bookstore and meet Madeline L’Engle. I was so excited that I almost threw up. Seriously.

Yes, that is the kind of fangirl I still am today. Musicians? Meh. Actors? Whatev. Authors? DROOL!

Anyway, I knew there would be no time to actually talk to Mrs. L’Engle, so I wrote her a letter instead. I smiled at her, she smiled at me and signed my book (which was actually my hard-loved copy of A Wind in the Door; I hadn’t gotten A Wrinkle in Time and didn’t have the money to buy it that day either), and I handed her the letter and left. I waited until I was outside to open to the treasured page, and when I saw what she wrote, I felt like I had grown wings. To anyone who hasn’t read A Wind in the Door, this won’t mean anything… but to you who have, this is what she said:

“To Jessica: Be a Namer”.

I still have that book. It will be passed down to my children after I die.

That was the only time I ever saw Madeline L’Engle in person… she died eleven years later in 2007 while I was just beginning my family and I didn’t even know it until last year. But only a few weeks after that short yet memorable encounter, I received a letter in the mail…

…from Madeline L’Engle. To me.

ME!

The author of A Wrinkle in Time had written to ME! PERSONALLY!

To say I was elated would be a gross disservice to the true feelings that welled up inside me at that moment. Madeline L’Engle had answered my letter! I had never expected that in a million fantasies in a billion worlds. Never. I don’t know if she ever knew what that meant to me, but even now, at the age of thirty-four, it makes me teary just thinking about it.

In my letter to her I had asked the typical questions of a budding teenage author: How did you get published? How do I get published? Is it possible to make a living off writing? Of course, these were mixed in with plenty of gushes about how awesome she was and how much I loved her books, yadda yadda.

Thinking back now as an adult professional writer, I can only imagine the small, knowing smile she must have had while reading it.

But her reply said nothing of the trials and tribulations I would have to endure while building my career. Most likely, she knew I would find those out for myself soon enough. Instead, she told me that few writers make a lot of money writing, but that wasn’t the point anyway. She said that true writers are born that way, and that we write because we have to. “It burns inside us”, she said, “and no matter what other jobs we try in our lifetimes, we always go back to writing.”

She told me to just… write. And never stop. And I did.

She didn’t touch much on my gushing about her own work, but she did say one thing that stuck with me through my own long and winding struggle to publication: “It’s not about who I am, but about what my work has created in you. It’s never about the writer; it’s always about the reader.”

That, as I said, is her legacy.

Let us all take a lesson from Madeline L’Engle and remember: it’s not about our fortune and fame. In the end, it’s about the young minds we reach, and the young hearts that we touch.

John M. Cusick

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