Love That Dog, by Sharon Creech: A Review

For Popsugar’s 2019 Reading Challenge, prompt #29 – a book with “love” in the title – I chose to read Love That Dog, by Sharon Creech. I wanted to use books from my overflowing bookshelves, but sadly, have no books whose titles contain the word “love.” I found this book by Sharon Creech when I went searching for books that qualified.

I was intrigued by the description, so I borrowed a copy from my local library. Goodreads describes the book this way:

Jack hates poetry. Only girls write it and every time he tries to, his brain feels empty. But his teacher, Ms. Stretchberry, won’t stop giving her class poetry assignments – and Jack can’t avoid them. But then something amazing happens. The more he writes, the more he learns he does have something to say.

This book is labeled a “novel,” but is written in the format of a poem, or series of poems. It is the story of Jack, a middle-grader, who learns a thing or two about poetry. It’s a story about a boy and his dog. It’s about a boy finding his voice.

This book moves fast. I read it in a single sitting. I think I would like to read it again sometime, a little slower, perhaps.

I enjoyed it so much, I immediately handed it off to my 9 year old son. I did finally get him to read it. My son learned a few things about poetry. For one, it doesn’t necessarily have to rhyme. Two, poems shaped like the object they are about are a little weird (his words). When I asked him if he would recommend the book to someone else, he said maybe. He rated it a four out of five, and asked me to get the next book, Hate That Cat. That sounds like a recommendation to me.

NaNoWriMo Week Five: Books, Basketball and the End of All Things

This week was our final in-person writing event for this November, and I was determined to finally get my word count caught up to par. And I did it! Thanks to the huge slog on Black Friday plus three days of writing 3,000+ words, I finally managed to catch up to where I needed to be to win.

I have been hugely distracted the past week and a half or so with the 2019 Popsugar Reading Challenge. The new list of reading prompts was recently released, and I have been unable to resist working on my reading plan for next year. I am looking forward to getting back some of my reading time since NaNo is over. Especially the precious reading time I get to have with my kiddos. Oakland and I can’t resist a good story.

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Speaking of the kiddos, all three of my sons are playing basketball this winter, and their first practice came this week. They are on two different teams, but fortunately, both teams have practice on the same night at the same location. After the soccer/football season we just had, this is a huge blessing! Oakland and I were hoping to get in a few words, but alas, there was simply too much chaos for writing.

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I made it to 50k! It was a rough go for most of the month, but now it’s finally over. I have 50,000 words of a novel I didn’t have just 30 days ago. It is the End of All Things!

Okay, so reaching the end of the first draft isn’t really THE END. It is, in fact, only the beginning. Now, I will move on to the next stage in this process and begin turning this hot mess of a novel draft into something more palatable. Rewriting, revising, editing. Rinse and repeat. I may, however, take a bit of a break in December to catch my breath, reintroduce myself to my husband and children, catch up on my reading, and celebrate Christmas.

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I went into this NaNoWriMo November with an attempted plan for the novel I intended to write. The planning didn’t go as planned, but I think the novel still came out stronger in the end for all the pre-NaNo pondering. I have a lot of work still to do, but I’m now more excited than ever about this series of stories I’m writing.

For me NaNoWriMo is a place where anything can happen, and often anything does. Now that it’s finished for another year, I plan to move forward with this series in a less mad-dash sort of way until it’s finished.

NaNoWriMo Week Three: Monkey Bars, Guilt Monkeys and Other Fantastic Beasts

Welcome to week three of NaNoWriMo. If you’re writing along, I hope your month is going splendidly! I am still struggling with the word count, but ever the optimist, Oakland is still sticking with me. I refuse to give up, but I am starting to feel a little be stressed about my low daily word count. I need a big day to really make up for the difference.

This week started off with a holiday – Veteran’s Day. A day off with the kiddos, so Oakland and I had a play day. We hung out with the boys reading books, putting together a 1,000 piece puzzle and took a trip to the playground. While it was loads of fun, we didn’t get a lot of writing work done.

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On Thursday nights in November, I host an online writing event I call “Thursday Throw Down.” In this game with other local Wrimos, each participant declares themselves for one side or the other. This week, the battle was Plot Bunnies vs. Guilt Monkeys. I declared myself for the Guilt Monkeys, because, well, the family, the job, all the other responsibilities… Oakland and I gathered up some of our favorites snacks and started writing. Guilt Monkeys pulled it off in the end, beating the Bunnies by all of 33 words. So far this month, these Thursday events have been the most productive for me, and I wrote around 2,500 words.

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Everyone needs a break during NaNo, and my local group of Wrimos likes to plan some activities outside of writing just for this purpose. One thing we do each year is to choose a bookish movie that’s been released in November. This week, we went to see Fantastic Beasts and Where to Find Them: The Crimes of Grindelwald. And yes, Oakland went with me. The movie is fantastic!

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Once again, the week ended with a three-hour writing session with my local writing group. There was a new member this week, and that is always fun! All in all, not a bad week. Possibly the best I’ve had so far this NaNo. I’ll finish the week around 17,000 words. Next week is a big holiday week, and I’m grateful I get to spend it with my family and friends. I’m looking forward to a little dedicated writing time and getting caught up on my word count!

NaNoWriMo Week Two: Underdogs, Distractions and Writing a Sequel

My NaNoWriMo progress has been less than stellar this week. For one reason or another, I am finding it difficult to focus the way I need to on writing my novel. My writing buddy, Oakland, has been with me for the duration, sticking by me despite my lack of success.

This year I’m writing book two of a planned series of five, and I can’t help but wonder if this is part of what is making NaNo difficult for me. There’s a reason, after all, the powers that be at NaNoWriMo HQ recommend writing a brand new novel. It’s hard to have the same level of creative abandonment for a project you’re already invested in.

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I’m fortunate to be part of a vibrant community full of creative people. We have an active group of NaNoWriMo participants and a pair of dedicated MLs (Municipal Liaisons) who make November more fun. This week we had our local NaNoWriMo Kick-Off party where close to fifty people came together to write. If you participate in NaNoWriMo, but have never sought out a local write-in, I would encourage you to do so. The energy of a room full of other writers pursuing the same crazy goal is amazing. At our local write-ins there is also always goodies like coffee, tea and leftover Halloween candy!

If you follow football at all, you’re probably aware of the Raiders’ record so far this season. Ever the optimist, Oakland doesn’t seem to be bothered by this. He’s also not bothered by my dismal word count. And, as our fortune cookie from lunch one day this week reminds us, we should root for the underdog. (That would be me.)

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Our busy week included a trip to the elementary school for Literacy Night where the Kinder, 1st and 2nd grade teachers shared information about reading and writing goals for their students. They also offered up tools and tips for helping these young students at home as well. Literacy is important to me, and as two of my boys fall within this age group, I was there to learn more about what they’re doing in school. Plus, we got to bring home a new book to read!

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And speaking of reading, One of the biggest reasons I’ve struggled to stay motivated to write is because of the book(s) I’ve been reading. I’m working my way through the 2018 Popsugar Reading Challenge, and I started Gone With the Wind just before November. I had hoped to finish before NaNo started, but it’s a very large book. But a very enjoyable one, as you can see Oakland enjoying it now. Also, if you follow the Popsugar reading challenge, you’re aware the new 2019 challenge list went live this week, providing yet one more distraction I don’t need right now!

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Our week ended with a writing session with my local writers’ group. Three of us showed up, plugged in our laptops, put on our headsets and got to work. Very little talking other than to greet one another, and we just wrote and wrote and wrote. I needed this badly, as I’m suffering from a Reading Challenge induced word-count deficit. We’ll finish the week at around 7,500 words, a far cry from the nearly 17,000 we should have by now. But I won’t think of that now, tomorrow is another day!

NaNoWriMo Week One: Mascots, Spills and Birthday Parties

I don’t typically write with a mascot – totem, buddy, muse, whatever you might choose to call it – but this year for my birthday I was given this adorable pup whom I have dubbed Oakland. When November 1st rolled around, I decided he would make the perfect writing friend. Therefore I have chosen to take Oakland along with me on all my NaNo-ing adventures this month.

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Since November begins on a Thursday this year, week one is a short adventure. But it hasn’t been a boring one.

Our adventure began early as I opted to begin NaNoWriMo at midnight. My hope was to log in a good chunk of words before the day even began, but alas, I was simply too tired, and only managed a half hour of writing after midnight. Oakland was a real trooper and stayed awake with me the entire time.

Later, Oakland went to work with me, tucked into my purse along side my notebook and current paperback. He’s large enough that he doesn’t fit discretely into a pocket, so yes, I’m carrying around a stuffed dog for all the world to see. I decided I didn’t care. I’m writing a novel, and I can be a little eccentric about it if I like.

We tackled our lunch time writing session from a local burger place. These sessions are always end way too soon, and often right when I’m finding my writing stride. So far, Oakland and I are struggling with where to take this story. But I’m confident we’ll be able to pull this off. We just need to find our groove.

Back at home, Oakland and I are writing around the family. Life among three rowdy boys can be tough for a cute canine like Oakland. After dinner, the middle son snatched up Oakland and dashed off with him for a bit before I could reclaim him. Then, the oldest son tossed a jack-o-lantern pillow across the room, knocking Oakland to the floor along with the contents of a glass of soda. So Oakland ended the first day of his very first NaNoWriMo with a bath. And only 500 words.

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Finally, Oakland and I finished off our first week of November with a birthday party. Life doesn’t stop moving forward even for NaNoWriMo, and some things, like birthdays, just can’t be put off. So we celebrated. And wrote very little. This could be my worst NaNo start ever, finishing the week at only 1,100 words.

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Oakland and I are looking forward to a new week filled with great accomplishments. And it begins tomorrow with our first regional NaNo write-in at the local library.

Dewey’s 24 Hour Read-a-Thon, October 2018: The End Results

I participated in my second Dewey’s 24 Hour Read-a-Thon this weekend. I did my best to read for as much of those 24 hours as I could, read as many pages as possible and have fun along the way! I followed along with the hourly blogs and tried to keep up on Goodreads. It was a lot of fun.

One thing I didn’t do was try to post my progress along the way. So, I’ll share my responses to the three surveys here. I also have my final stats for the event ready to share.

The highlight of the event for me was all the time I got to spend reading with my boys. My youngest read aloud to me a collection of Mo Willems Elephant and Piggie books – 300 pages of delightfully funny dialogue between unlikely friends. My eldest read Tornado Slim and the Magic Cowboy Hat, by Bryan Langdo, to both myself and his youngest brother. Later, I allowed him to stay up late and read with me until he fell asleep.

Aren’t they adorable?

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Opening Survey:
1. What fine part of the world are you reading from today?
I did my reading from the beautiful state of Oregon on the West Coast of the United States. The morning dawned cold and foggy, but it warmed up nicely by mid-morning football/soccer games. My primary reading spot was the couch in my living room with my snugly blanket and surrounded by all my books.

2. Which book in your stack are you most looking forward to?
I’m probably most excited about Assassin’s Quest, by Robin Hobb. I’ve been reading this series along with another group on Goodreads, but I’ve fallen behind because of other reading commitments (I’m looking at you, Popsugar!). I’m hoping to spend a little time with this book during the read-a-thon.

3. Which snack are you most looking forward to?
Coffee!

4. Tell us a little something about yourself!
I might have a book problem. Despite shelves overflowing with unread books, I can’t stay away from the library book sales, the half-off book sales, or any other place where books are sold.

5. If you participated in the last read-a-thon, what’s one thing you’ll do different today?
This is my second read-a-thon, and the only thing I’m really doing different is that I have fewer books on my TBR. I didn’t choose books exclusively for the read-a-thon, but rather I’m just continuing with the books I’m already reading.

Mid-Event Survey:
1. What are you reading right now?
After brief forays into Dune (audio) and Zenith (ebook) and reading with two of my sons, I am about to return to my primary reading goal of the day, Gone With the Wind.

2. How many books have you read so far?
I have read parts of three books so far (Gone With the Wind, Dune and Zenith) and my children read aloud to me six books: Today I Will Fly!, Watch Me Throw the Ball!, Can I Play Too?, Let’s Go For a Drive, I Really Like Slop! (by Mo Willems, read to me by my 6yr old) and Tornado Slim and the Magic Cowboy Hat (by Bryan Langdo, read to me by my 8yr old.

3. What book are you most looking forward to for the second half of the Read-a-thon?
I’m still looking forward to Assassin’s Quest, by Robin Hobb. Maybe I will hold that in reserve for a few more hours and see if I can get further on Gone With the Wind before I switch it up.

4. Have you had many interruptions? How did you deal with those?
There are always interruptions in the life of a mom. Two of my sons had games today – one is playing flag football (his team lost) and the other is playing soccer (his team also lost). This outing took up four hours of read-a-thon time, and I just had to let it go. The kiddos will always be more important than the books. (Sorry, books!)

Once I returned home from the sports activities, I got to single parent two of the children while their father squired the third off to a classmate’s birthday party. I used this time to read with my boys (see the above answers!). Literacy is important to me, and I’m so proud of the progress my kids are making into their own reading success!

5. What surprises you most about the Read-a-thon, so far?
I can’t say that anything has surprised me thus far. Well, maybe this delightful quote I found on page 116 of Gone With the Wind:

The dim room with towering walls completely filled with dark books depressed her. Large numbers of books always depressed her, as did people who liked to read large numbers of books.

I couldn’t help laughing at this in light of large number of people reading a large number of books today! The only thing I find depressing about a large number of books is the lack of adequate time to read them all.

Closing Survey:
1. Which hour was most daunting for you?
I guess that would be hour 22 (2 a.m. my time). The words were swimming across the pages and my eyes no longer wanted to stay open.

2. Tell us ALLLLL the books you read!
I made progress on Gone With the Wind, by Margaret Mitchell, Assassin’s Quest, by Robin Hobb, Dune, by Frank Herbert and Zenith, by Sasha Alsberg and Lindsay Cummings. My 6yr old son read to me Today I Will Fly!, Watch Me Throw the Ball!, Can I Play Too?, Let’s Go For a Drive!, I Really Like Slop!, from an Elephant and Piggie Biggie combined book by Mo Willems. And my 8yr old son read aloud to me Tornado Slim and the Magic Cowboy Hat, by Bryan Langdo. When I put my kiddos to bed, I also got to read aloud bits from Eragon, by Christopher Paolini and The Tiger Rising, by Kate DiCamillo.

3. Which books would you recommend to other Read-a-thoners?
Whether it’s the books I’ve listed here or something else, what I’d recommend to any read-a-thoner with children is to just dedicate an hour or two, more if there’s interest, in reading with or listening to your children read to you. It was my favorite part of the read-a-thon!

4. What’s a really rad thing we could do during the next Read-a-thon that would make you happy?
I don’t know that I have any suggestions. There is a great mix of activities and conversations so everyone can participate the way they want to. I love how flexible the event is.

5. How likely are you to participate in the Read-a-thon again? Would you be interested in volunteering to help organize and prep?
There’s a very good chance I’ll participate again. I would still like to see more progress on my reading. But I need to just face it, I’m probably the slowest reader ever. As for volunteering, I love the energy that the hosts provide for this event, and to be honest, I don’t think I could offer that same level of enthusiasm. At least not at this time. But let me take this opportunity to give a HUGE thank you to all of those responsible for making this event so great!

Final Event Stats:

  • total time reading: 12 hrs
  • time spent on blog, Goodreads and Twitter: 2 hrs
  • real life interruptions: 5 hrs
  • sleeping: 5 hrs (started late, and quit early)
  • total pages: 184 (+ ebook and audio) + 6 pictures books
  • books read/listened to during readathon: 12

(Gone With the Wind, Assassin’s Quest, Dune, Zenith, Eragon, The Tiger Rising, Today I Will Fly!, Watch Me Throw the Ball!, Can I Play Too?, Let’s Go For a Drive!, I Really Like Slop!, by Mo Willems and Tornado Slim and the Magic Cowboy Hat, by Bryan Langdo)

If you participated in the Read-a-Thon, how did you do? Did you meet your goals/expectations? What was your favorite book?

Haunted Castle on Hallow’s Eve, by Mary Pope Osborn: A Review

Prompt #29 on the 2018 Reading Challenge list is a book about or set on Halloween. I had a hard time finding a book I wanted to read for this, especially considering my self-imposed requirement of women authors. I eventually remembered there was a book in the Magic Tree House series by Mary Pope Osborn set on Halloween. My son has become a fan of these books, and we’ve collected nearly the entire set. So I borrowed Haunted Castle on Hallow’s Eve from my son’s bookshelf.

This series of stories takes Jack and his younger sister, Annie, on a variety of exciting adventures around the world and throughout time. They travel via a magic tree house that comes to rest in the tallest oak in the small wood near their home in Frog Creek, Pennsylvania.

Typically, the pair are sent out on missions by the witch Morgan le Fay. This book, however, is one of the “Merlin Missions” and the two kids are sent out by the magician Merlin, one of only a few books in this series to take place in an imaginary world. Their assigned task is to restore order to a haunted castle in Camelot.

Jack is his usual hesitant but resourceful self, while Annie, true to form, is quick to run to adventure and trouble. The kids find plenty of both in this story. They also learn what it means to be brave. As well as compassionate.

The Magic Tree House series is great for young, emerging readers. I’ve enjoyed reading these books with my boys. They introduce elements of fantasy and time travel as well as historical and cultural facts from around the world.

I enjoyed this book, though it felt strange reading it for myself and not out loud with my boys. This series is recommended for readers ages 6-9 who are just beginning to read chapter books. They are fun to read and well researched. I definitely recommend this series for new readers looking for adventure around the world.