Really, my last Blogger post here!

I've already switched to WordPress, but in case you are a Blogger user and want to know the solution of my problem of how to post PDFs and such to Blogger, try one of these two links:



Good luck! I should caution you that these directions tell you to use Google Docs. As of the last few months, this is called Google Drive.

Here's an example of a story I published a couple years ago that I'm posting here using these directions! Click the link to read it!

It's All In His Head, from Aim! magazine


Big news!

I'm switching my author blog to Word Press. The biggest advantage will be that I can publish PDFs that show samples of my work. You'll be able to find me at http://rebeccaklempner.wordpress.com/ from now on. See you there!

Bitter with a touch of sweet

It's the Three Weeks. For those in the know, this period (from the 17 of Tammuz through the 9th of Av) are historically the three saddest, most unlucky, dreadful weeks for the Jewish people. Both Temples destroyed. Declaration of the First Crusade. The Jews expelled from England. The beginning of the Spanish Inquisition. The deportation of the Jews of the Warsaw Ghetto to Treblinka. Bad, bad stuff.

My bad stuff does not compete. But of course, this had to be the week when I received a rejection letter from the first publisher I sent my novel to. In the end, it might not be bad news (maybe it's sub-par, maybe the next publisher I send it to would be a better match...), but it feels like it right now. I'm not really down in the dumps--probably because of the 5 month delay--but it's still a disappointment.

On the other hand, it's tempered by some great news. I IY"H expect to have a short story in Binah BeTween this week, with a few other pieces placed for publication soon. As soon as they reach newstands, I'll let everyone know.


Three books, three lessons

I haven't been posting to this blog very much recently because I've been very, very busy. Among other things, I've been writing (I'll post about that IY"H soon) and reading--reading to my kids, parallel to my kids, and on my own. Notably, I've recently read several books that are "message books"--books with a sincere moral message that the author wants readers to absorb. While many such books come across as heavy-handed, these do not.

HIGH SCHOOL AND ABOVE Orson Scott Card (as a practicing Mormon, he often introduces ethical dilemmas and messages into his books) is most famous for his first novel, Ender's Game. I recently read the first sequel Speaker for the Dead, and was sucked in right away by the introduction by the author. (In it, Card says that one of his motivations for writing the book was because he wanted to show a central character who is NOT an adolescent, or a drifter, or any other aloof, single man on the fringe of society who usually stars in sci-fi novels. Rather, he portrays a man ready to create a family, who really wants to build bridges between the members of communities.)

Speaker for the Dead follows the hero of Ender's Game to the age of 35--although 3000 years have passed, he hasn't aged because he has spent so much time travelling, teaching people insights into the behavior of the dead, allowing people to walk in the shoes of people before judging them (as it says in Pirkei Avot/The Ethics of the Fathers). This is his personal tikkun (rectification of error) following his (SPOILER ALERT) near-destruction of the species of Buggers at the climax of the last novel. Now, Ender's sister and companion, Valentine, is expecting her first child. Her travels are over, and he realizes he wants his to end, too. But he has one last mission--to find out why members of another alien race have started killing the scientists (actually xenologists--like anthropologists, but studying aliens instead of humans) who have befriended them and studied them.

This novel provides a nuanced discussion about a new kind moral relativism--not that right and wrong are relative, but that our ability to judge them is. The story is a little focused on one side of the argument, and I was able to guess the mysterious cause of the aliens' behavior right off--but that might be because I 1) am a writer myself and 2) hold a master's degree in Anthropology. However, I really enjoyed the book and it would be an excellent stepping off point for discussion in a classroom, book club, or around the dinner table.

MIDDLE GRADE Vivian Vande Velde's middle-grade novel, Three Good Deeds, tells the story of Howard, a rowdy boy who spends several months as a goose. Howard's transformation is at the hands of the local witch, who feels he is a selfish child more interested in his own entertainment than the needs or wants of others. The only way out of the curse is for Howard to complete three genuinely good deeds.

Three Good Deeds uses fantasy, a charming although obnoxious anti-hero, and plenty of droll humor to draw the audience (ages 8 and up) into the story. Despite the light treatment, the message--that a person should be a giver and not a taker--is beautifully interwoven into the text. Warning: The end is a bit of a tear-jerker for softies (it mentions chessed shel emes).

PICTURE BOOK Paul Budnitz's The Hole in the Middle takes a fantastic approach, as well, to teach its lesson. Morgan quite literally has a hole in his middle. He tries to fill it up with superficial and self-centered pursuits. However, it only shrinks when he does chessed (kindness) for his friend Yumi.

The fanciful, metaphorical style of this book ALMOST overpowers the moral. My 3 year old and not-quite 5 year old children laughed at the story, but when I asked the older of the two about the message, she had indeed absorbed it. I'm wondering if the wackiness of the set-up might make the book so memorable, that even if a younger child doesn't quite understand the message at the time she reads it, she'll draw on its memory to guide her after she reaches a stage where it's no longer over her head.

I'm highlighting these books because they definitely represent one of the directions I want to go with my writing--using speculative fiction to explore subjects that might not appeal to children or teens if approached more directly.


What will your children be reading this summer?

I just read an interesting opinion piece in the New York Times by Claire Needell Hollander, a middle school teacher. Her article explains that while young, inexperienced readers should go ahead and read whatever they want during the summer, so long as they read, maturing readers of 10 years old and up will benefit more from selective reading. Ms. Hollander's preferred books build "verbal knowledge (an increase in word recognition) and world knowledge (an increase in understanding about the world around them)."

Ms. Hollander believes that middle- and high-schoolers should not self-select their summer reading. She believes that some students do well with the traditional recommended reading list (heavy on literary novels recognized as "classics"), but she prefers to narrow the students' selection by genre to ensure they are getting the literary diet that will enhance their academic health. Her top picks? High-quality but developmentally appropriate non-fiction. Most revolve on serious moral issues--child soldiers, the bombing of Hiroshima, and the like.

I believe Ms. Hollander when she says that studies have shown that students who read "high quality" material over the summer do better than those who completely self-select. My problem is that this is too short-sighted a goal. We don't just want successful students, we want to make life-long learners who will turn to books for information as well as pleasure. 

So, yeah, a kid who (her comparison) reads The Hunger Games might in the short term learn less words and information that the kid who reads The Red Badge of Courage. But if the kid who read The Hunger Games enjoyed it and develops a real pleasure in reading, they'll might read more as a 30 or 40 year old than the kid who read The Red Badge of Courage and gritted his teeth through the whole thing (not because it's a bad book, but because it was not to his taste). There was a wonderful post on the Nerdy Book Club recently by Sasha Reinhardt about how her low-brow love of The Babysitters' Club series helped develop her lifelong devotion to books. 

And while studies have supported (as mentioned in previous blog posts) that non-fiction appeals to many children who normally don't identify themselves as book-lovers, the serious tone of the books Ms Hollander lists will turn-off many children. The graphic novels Kampung Boy and American-Born Chinese may not appeal to her, but they certainly introduce serious subjects, geographic detail, and lots of new vocabulary in a format that might appeal to reluctant readers more than Francesco D’Adamo and Ann Leonori's Iqbal  or John Hersey's Hiroshima.


Need help with research, but can't reach primary resources?

My husband showed me a marvelous website today, both for teachers and for writers--the updated Library of Congress website. The benefits of this site are the following:

1) Large amounts of the LOC's collections are now digitized. That means, without actually visiting its site in DC, you can view rare materials like maps created by George Washington, newpapers from the time of the Civil War, and political cartoons from the Great Depression.
2) The award-winning interactive site offers the opportunity to virtually "visit" the current exhibitions at the LOC, play "Knowledge Quest," and make your own personal collection of favorite items.

As writers, we can benefit enormously from this resource. Setting a story in the past? We can find letters, diaries and journals of historical figures and be able to quote them in our work. Wondering what should be in the bedroom or office of your main character? You can see the books they read, find out from their diaries what their favorite foods were, places they visited, who they knew, see photos (from 1860s on) of how people dressed in those days, or paintings or woodcuts of where they lived. Need the characters to sound real? You can find out how people felt about historical events while they were still happening through personal correspondence, letters to the editor of newspapers, and political cartoons.


So little time, so many books to write...

I've been busy recently with editing projects, creating a new website (for family campers), and dealing with the general craziness in the Klempner family. That means that I haven't been doing my own writing very much in the last month. I sat down today to revise something I worked on a couple of weeks ago in my writers' critique group, and it felt divine. Ahhhh...

Another thing that kept me busy for the past month was an author visit. I read A Dozen Daisies for Raizy just in time for Shavuot & we did a great art project with the students (here are a couple more Raizy tie-in project suggestions...1&2). As usual, the kids wanted to know if there were any more books written about Raizy. I had to explain (again) that in fact I've written two sequels, one of which has never been published, the other of which was revised with a different central character and longer format, then published as a short story in Mishpacha Jr. 

I miss Raizy. But rejection letters have demoralized me. I haven't even tried to write a sequel for quite a while. I'm planning to write another novel this summer, but I think I'll also try my hand (again) at a follow-up to Raizy. 

I've already started brainstorming and scribbling away in my little notebook.


Summer reading

Boy and girl reading.
image from ClipArt ETC

I'm not a Pinterest fan, but here's a wonderful post by a fellow blogger at the Nerdy Book Club that gives super projects to make summer reading fun in your family. 

Summertime is the perfect time to develop a love of reading in your kids. Kids can select their own reading material based on their own interests rather than what their teachers think they should be reading. They can also read at their own pace without meeting a deadline. If your family (or your child's camp bunk) goes on an interesting outing, they can select books that dovetail nicely with the subject matter.

Many libraries have summer book clubs that your kids can join. Just go see the children's librarian for details at your neighborhood branch.


When you write about a place without really capturing its essence

There's an interesting article by Janet Fitch in today's L.A. Times discussing the way local (L.A.) writers fail to portray Los Angeles in an authentic way. "L.A. writers still must navigate the entrenched notion that we're all out here lying by the pool with a margarita in one hand and a phone in the other," she writes. Failure accurately describe our city in print, Fitch argues, will not only misrepresent the city in the eyes of readers, but in those of its citizens. "To write about this city is in some essential way to create it...An image that is, in its way, as important as the concrete place where people live and sleep and look for places to park" she explains. 

People remember the movie "L.A. Story"--which really is an ingenious satire of life here in the Southland--but seem to have forgotten that satire is about inflation and exaggeration. They remember the bored weatherman prerecording his reports of "sunny, sunny, sunny" three-day forecasts and believe that's the reality. The reality is more complex--rainy winters, June gloom, droughts. Viewers remember "L.A. Story"'s superficial actress wannabes and vicious agents, when many Angelenos have no more experience in Hollywood than someone from Wichita. They recall the characters who would rather drive than walk even one block, without realizing that our city maintains a fantastic public transit system which is widely used and growing more popular all the time. Maybe people assume that the average resident of Southern California goes to the beach daily, surfs, and maintains a perfect tan year-round, but they don't get that the water in Santa Monica is freezing cold even in August, and that many of kids in the inner city never get to dip their toes in because their parents are too busy working two jobs a piece just to pay rent.

I think there are some authors who capture L.A. well. Ayelet Waldman's Nanny Track mysteries depict many familiar landmarks more or less accurately (although I've caught a few geographic inaccuracies). Rochelle Krich manages to depict many L.A. neighborhoods in ways that accurately reflect my personal L.A. experiences. However, I think that by and large, I have to concur with Ms. Fitch's comments.


Has your child received their free Hebrew-language picture books, yet?

The division of the PJ Library that sends Hebrew language books to the children and grandchildren of ex-patriot Israelis in the U.S.--Sifriyat Pijama B'America (SP-BA)--is now accepting new families to join the program. Children will receive monthly books in Hebrew, often tied to events on the Jewish calendar. The first year of the program was a success, and its leadership has launched a new website in English that includes many of the features in the Hebrew website. Follow this link to check out the improved site and sign up: http://www.sp-ba.org/.