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  • BN Editors 3:00 pm on 2020/01/22 Permalink
    Tags: , scott simon, sunnyside plaza   

    The Books We Read as Youngsters Stay with Us: A Guest Post by Scott Simon, Author of Sunnyside Plaza 

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    Photo credit: Marcos Galvany

    “Believe me,” I’ve always told my daughters, Elise and Paulina. “The Old Man and the Sea. The Diary of Anne Frank. Those books still bounce in my head. New novels I read last week? I’m already a little sketchy. When we’re young, we pack our minds and hearts for the long trip.”

    A while ago, I mused for the umpteenth occasion over family dinner about the time I’d spent as a young man, working in a home in Chicago for adults with developmental disabilities.

    “First day I walked in,” I’d often told our daughters, “you see people at a folding table, finger-painting. If they were kids, you’d say things I’ve always said about your art. ‘Hey, lookee here, another Picasso! Jackson Pollack!’ But when it’s a fifty-year-old man or woman doing the finger-painting you think, ‘Oh, how sad.’ By the third or fourth day, you’re over your pity. You see them as people. You get to know their humor, talents, the courage it takes to get through the day. I never learned more in my life. Someday, I want to write a novel set in a place like that.”

    “You should make it for kids our age,” our oldest daughter, Elise, finally said one night. “So we’ll remember it, like you always say kids do.”

    Our daughters threw my writer’s hat over the wall. I had to follow.

    I had never written a novel for young readers. But I had loved novels by Jerry Spinelli, Laurie Halse Anderson, Jarrett J. Krosoczka, R.J. Palacio, Jenny Han, Stacy McAnulty, and many others along with our daughters. I had seen how Elise and Paulina immersed themselves into those great books. I wanted a story set in the kind of home in which I’d worked, among people inspired by the ones I had known and hoped it might sink into young readers today.

    I asked Elise, who was then fifteen, and her friend, Adelaide, to be my first readers. Their reactions were crucial. I knew as I began to write Sunnyside Plaza that I would break one of the first “rules” of literature for young readers. The narrator of the story is a nineteen-year-old woman, not a child. Sally Miyake, or Sal Gal, lives in a home for adults with developmental disabilities.

    I knew from our own family how young readers could empathize with someone who had altogether different lives from their own. Our daughters had loved characters like Curzon of Laurie Halse Anderson’s Forge, of a different race and time, and Jerry Spinelli’s Crash, of a different place and personality. But wise editors advised that the central characters in stories for young readers usually, kind of, always had to be a young person, too.

    Yet it was important to me to at least try to ask young readers to connect with Sal Gal through her own heart and mind. I didn’t want to concoct some “adolescent savior” character to guide and learn from Sal Gal. I wanted Sal and her friends in Sunnyside Plaza to entertain and enthrall readers with their own ingenuity.

    I wrote about three-quarters of a first draft. Elise and Adelaide said they liked it. They got a lot of the jokes made by Sal and her friends. They noticed errors in continuity—the shirt that’s blue in chapter three that’s green in chapter six, and that I had given two characters the same name. They suggested a contemporary adolescent profanity to replace the one I had used. They guessed about who might prove to be culprits in the story and told me, “Try not to make your book any longer than The Old Man and the Sea.”

    This is sound advice for any novelist.

    And most of all, Elise and Adelaide registered no surprise or disappointment that Sal Gal wasn’t their age.

    “She’s really interesting,” they told me. “You wonder what she’ll do.”

    I finished my first draft of Sunnyside Plaza and sent it to my young critics. But I included something to read in comparison; three chapters of an “alternative” Sunnyside, in which I made the narrator a fourteen-year old girl who meets Sal Gal.

    I asked Elise and Adelaide which storytelling voice they found most engaging. Within two days they delivered their judgment, writing me from school between classes: “Sal’s point of view is more intriguing. Her point of view is very unique.”

    Who says “unique” shouldn’t be modified? I think their use of the phrase is very uniquely brilliant.

    Our daughters and their friend encouraged me to have Sally Miyake tell her own story in Sunnyside Plaza. Elise, Paulina, and Adelaide helped me have faith that Sal Gal’s unique voice could work its way into the hearts of young readers.

    The post The Books We Read as Youngsters Stay with Us: A Guest Post by Scott Simon, Author of <i>Sunnyside Plaza</i> appeared first on Barnes & Noble Reads.

  • Kathryn Williams 10:13 am on 2015/04/04 Permalink
    Tags: alysia burton steele, , , mariel hemingway, , , scott simon   

    Inspiring Women’s Life Stories 

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    In the spring we celebrate rebirth and rejuvenation, a changing of seasons, and hardy resilience married to fragile beauty—as do these six new titles chronicling the exceptional lives of amazing women. These stories promise love, laughter, and light after a winter that has held on for too long. If you pre-order now, perhaps you’ll be reading them by the time the snow has melted.

    Out Came the Sun, by Mariel Hemingway
    Many families in the blinding spotlight of celebrity have claimed to be “cursed,” but when you’re a Hemingway (yes, that Hemingway), it must be impossible not to believe you were born under a bad sign. Depression, alcoholism, mental illness, eating disorders—self-destruction runs through this family tree like sap. Award-winning actress Mariel—sister of Margaux, who famously died of a drug overdose at age 42, and granddaughter of Ernest, who even more famously shot himself just months before Mariel’s birth—has spent her life evading that seemingly predestined unhappily-ever-after. This latest memoir is her moving account of how she came out of the shadow of dysfunction and into the sunlight.

    Hope, by Amanda Berry and Gina DeJesus
    As we chortle along with Netflix’s new hit The Unbreakable Kimmy Schmidt, it’s easy to forget that there are real-life survivors out there: women kidnapped and held against their will under horrifying circumstances. Amanda Berry  and Gina DeJesus are two of them. With the help of two prize-winning journalists and the diaries the women kept while chained in the basement of a house in the Cleveland suburbs, Berry and DeJesus tell the story of a decade of captivity and abuse, and their eventual escape. While the shocking never-before-revealed details grab your attention, it’s the story of their true unbreakability that deserves it.

    Unforgettable, by Scott Simon
    Author and journalist Scott Simon is the popular host of NPR’s Weekend Edition Saturday, but in this book, he takes a back seat to his mother, Patricia Lyons Simon Newman Gelbin. The book was born out of tweets Simon wrote in the hospital as he watched Geblin, “an old showgirl,” die with wit, wisdom, and grace. Chapters bookended with 140-character dispatches from the hospital tell the story of his mother’s last days, studded with memories of his childhood and sparkling reminiscences from her life.

    The Book of Joan, by Melissa Rivers
    If ever there was a mother who knew no boundaries (or simply chose not to respect them), it was Joan Rivers. With the comedienne and force of nature’s unexpected passing last year, Hollywood lost one of its supernovas. The inveterate workaholic was never one to keep a secret or hoard a joke (she published her twelfth book just months before she died), but still, one can’t help but feel much of Joan’s behind-the-scenes life was left unshared. Luckily, those private quips and outrageous stories of Hollywood hijinx were not buried with her: Rivers’s daughter, co-star, and best friend Melissa has given us all a gift with this collection of remembrances. Melissa said she just wanted to write a book that would have made her mother laugh, and the apple does not fall far from the tree.

    Delta Jewels, by Alysia Burton Steele
    Alysia Burton Steele, now a professor of photojournalism at Ole Miss, never got to photograph or record an interview with her grandmother, Althenia A. Burton, who died in 1994. If she had, Steele hopes it might have looked something like her latest project, in which she pairs text and images to tell the life histories of 50 Mississippi Delta “church mothers,” a term of endearment and respect for female elders in the African-American Baptist community. Subtitled “In Search of My Grandmother’s Wisdom,” Steele’s book draws from her subjects’ personal stories of marriage, birth, death, racism, and unshakeable faith in the face of oppression. These are women who saw Jim Crow and Civil Rights, and this book is living history captured.

    Born With Teeth, by Kate Mulgrew
    On Orange is the New Black, Kate Mulgrew is Red, a tough-as-nails, henna redhead with ties to the Russian mafia. Previously, she famously portrayed Captain Kathryn Janeway on Star Trek: Voyager. But before taking either role, Mulgrew played doting daughter and loving sister to a large Irish-Catholic family in a small Midwestern town. New York beckoned, and Mulgrew moved there at 18. Fame came easily, but personal travail followed, including a child given up for adoption, a rape that would haunt her, and her beloved mother’s diagnosis with Alzheimer’s. However, Mulgrew lives by the advice acclaimed acting teacher Stella Adler once gave her: “Use it.” In this memoir, she does.

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