Wednesday, December 31, 1997

Out of the Dust: The Importance of Research

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Karen Hesse's Out of the Dust (Scholastic Press, 1997)is my most recent read in my quest to conquer all the Newbery-award-winning books. At the onset, I was pretty certain I wasn't going to enjoy it. The book is written in verse and I'm not big on reading poetry. However, I quickly became engrossed in the story. It helped that there wasn't a rhyming, sing-songy pattern to the writing and I was able to read it mostly as prose.

The story is set in the Dust Bowl during the depression. As is often true of a good story, this one worked for me because it did such an excellent job transporting me to a particular time and place. I still have to point out that in the well-established Newbery tradition, this book focuses on an orphaned coming-of-age girl. At least this book makes the loss of Billie Jo's mother a part of the story.

For my own writing, the lesson I take away is the importance of research. Hesse wasn't even alive during the depression or the Dust Bowl era. For this book to work, though, she clearly had to do a phenomenal amount of research so that it felt authentic.

With my latest project, Abigail's Atlantis, research becomes pivotal on two fronts. 12-year-old Abigail learns all about sea turtles while visiting her grandparents at Topsail Island for the summer. That brings about its own amount of research, but on top of that I am learning about Atlantis because of the parallel Atlantis-set storyline which will mirror Abigail's.

When researched properly a story - like Out of the Dust - becomes intriguing because the setting feels completely natural and real in the context of its story. In fact, while an author should have the basic story in mind from the onset, the writer should welcome whatever twists and turns the research may add to the story. It will make the journey more authentic.

Emily Brontë's Wuthering Heights was published 150 years ago this month

First posted 6/16/2020; updated 7/5/2020.

Wuthering Heights

Emily Brontë

First Publication: December 1847

Category: gothic novel/tragedy

Sales: 1 million


About the Book:

Emily Brontë’s only novel is “a masterpiece of imaginative fiction” AZ which is “one of literature’s most disturbing explorations into the dark side of romantic passion.” BN “Considered lurid and shocking by mid-19th-century standards,…[it] was initially thought to be such a publishing risk that…Brontë…was asked to pay some of the publication costs.” AZ

“The book proved to be one of the most enduring classics of English literature.” AZ It “remains as poignant and compelling today as it was when first published” AZ and “is widely regarded as the most original tale of thwarted desire and heartbreak in the English language.” BN

It is “an unpolished and devastating epic of childhood playmates who grow into soul mates,” BN “set amid the wild and stormy Yorkshire moors.” BN “The turbulent and tempestuous love story of Cathy and Heathcliff.” AZ They “believe they’re destined to love each other forever, but when cruelty and snobbery separate them, their untamed emotions…consume them.” BN

The story “spans two generations – from the time Heathcliff, a strange, coarse young boy, is brought to live on the Earnshaws’ windswept estate, through Cathy’s marriage to Edgar Linton and Heathcliff’s plans for revenge, to Cathy's death years later and the eventual union of the surviving Earnshaw and Linton heirs.” AZ

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Thursday, June 26, 1997

First Harry Potter book published

Last updated 7/5/2020.

Harry Potter and the Philosopher’s Stone (aka Harry Potter and the Sorcerer’s Stone)

J.K. Rowling

First Publication: June 26, 1997

Category: youth fantasy novel

Sales: 120 million

Accolades (click on badges to see full lists):

About the Book:

With “the first in a series of tales about a young wizard in training, an international craze was born. Not since C. S. Lewis’ The Chronicles of Narnia has a children’s tale of magic and mystery so enthralled the reading public. And it’s easy to see why. Eleven-year-old Harry Potter, the plucky yet nerdy hero of this series, is the embodiment of every uncool kid’s fantasy. Unpopular in school, picked on by bullies, and persecuted by his adoptive family,” BN he’d “never even heard of Hogwarts.” AZ But all that is about to change when a mysterious letter arrives by owl messenger: a letter with an invitation to a wonderful place he never dreamed existed.” BN It turns out “Harry Potter is a wizard, and he has a place at Hogwarts School of Witchcraft and Wizardry. An incredible adventure is about to begin!” AZ

“He receives training in some magic basics, masters riding a broomstick, and discovers his incredible talent for a game called Quidditch, which is played in the air on flying brooms…But all is not rosy when Harry discovers his true destiny and finds he must…face the evil one who killed his parents. His survival will depend upon the help of his newfound friends, as well as his own wit and powers.” BN

“It's easy to see why Harry Potter has caught the reading public’s fancy. Not only are his adventures an entertaining mix of fright, fantasy, and fun, his triumphs over everyday adversities offer a heartening lesson to kids everywhere.” BN

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In July 2018, I became the organizer of the Classic Novels Book Club. Check out the Book Club tab here or Meetup for more information. This is our January 2020 book.

Wednesday, June 25, 1997

Anne Frank's The Diary of a Young Girl published 50 years ago today

First posted 6/24/2020.

The Diary of a Young Girl (aka “The Diary of Anne Frank”)

Anne Frank

First Publication: June 25, 1947

Category: non-fiction/war-time diary

Sales: 35 million

Accolades (click on badges to see full lists):

About the Book:

“In 1942, with the Nazis occupying Holland, a thirteen-year-old Jewish girl and her family fled their home in Amsterdam and went into hiding” WK with another family “in the ‘Secret Annexe’ of an old office building.” WK “Cut off from the outside world, they faced hunger, boredom, the constant cruelties of living in confined quarters, and the ever-present threat of discovery and death.” AZ “The family was apprehended in 1944, and Anne Frank died of typhus in the Bergen-Belsen concentration camp in 1945.” WK

The diary was “discovered in the attic in which she spent the last years of her life” AZ and given to “Anne’s father, Otto Frank, the family’s only known survivor, just after the war was over.” WK It “has become a world classic – a powerful reminder of the horrors of war and an eloquent testament to the human spirit.” AZ She “recorded vivid impressions of her experiences…By turns thoughtful, moving, and surprisingly humorous, her account offers a fascinating commentary on human courage and frailty and a compelling self-portrait of a sensitive and spirited young woman whose promise was tragically cut short.” AZ

The Philadelphia Inquirer called it “one of the most moving personal documents to come out of World War II.” AZ The Chicago Tribune said it was “a testament to an indestructible nobility of spirit in the face of pure evil.” AZ The New York Times Book Review praised it as “the single most compelling personal account of the Holocaust…remains astonishing and excruciating.” AZ Newsday said Frank “brilliantly…captures the self-conscious alienation and naïve self-absorption of adolescence.” AZ It has been published in over 60 languages WK and been adapted into a play (1955) and a movie (1959). WK

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Wednesday, January 1, 1997

Charlotte Brontë's Jane Eyre published 150 years ago

Last updated 7/5/2020.

Jane Eyre

Charlotte Brontë

First Publication: 1847

Category: novel/themes on classism, sexuality, and religion

Sales: 1 million

Accolades (click on badges to see full lists):

About the Book:

“Immediately recognized as a masterpiece when it was first published in 1847, Charlotte Brontë’s Jane Eyre is an extraordinary coming-of-age story featuring one of the most independent and strong-willed female protagonists in all of literature.” BN The book has been “criticized as being melodramatic and contrived,” AZ but “its success owes much to its exceptional emotional power.” LN It “is a startlingly modern blend of passion, romance, mystery, and suspense” BN “and is often the book that introduces students to serious literature.” AZ

“Cruelty, hypocrisy, dashed hopes: Jane Eyre faces them all, yet her individuality triumphs.” TG “Poor and plain, Jane Eyre begins life as a lonely orphan in the household of her hateful aunt. Despite the oppression she endures at home, and the later torture of boarding school, Jane manages to emerge with her spirit and integrity unbroken. She becomes a governess at Thornfield Hall, where she finds herself falling in love with her employer – the dark, impassioned Mr. Rochester.” BN

“Her integrity and independence are tested to the limit as their love for each other grows, and the secrets of Mr. Rochester's past are revealed.” LN A ”shocking revelation on her wedding day” AZ “tears apart their relationship, forcing Jane to face poverty and isolation once again.” BN “The happy ending finally arrives, though, and Jane and Rochester are united forever.” AZ “Her relationship with Rochester has such emotional power that it's hard to believe these characters never lived.” TG

Resources and Related Links:

In July 2018, I became the organizer of the Classic Novels Book Club. Check out the Book Club tab here or Meetup for more information. This is our February 2020 book.