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Archive for the ‘Green Oompa Loompas’ Category

Children’s Book Week, Day 2–meet Anne Ursu here at StorySnoops!

Monday, May 7th, 2012

In celebration of Children’s Book Week, StorySnoops is once again hosting interviews with some of our friends in the literary world. Children’s Book Week is the national celebration of books and reading for youth. We hope you enjoy our special posts this week.

Anne Ursu is the award-winning author of Breadcrumbs, a contemporary retelling of  The Snow Queen, and the three books in The Cronus Chronicles series—The Shadow Thieves, The Siren Song, and The Immortal Fire. She has also written two books for adult readers. Anne teaches at Hamline University’s MFA in Writing for Children, and lives in Minneapolis with her young son.

Hi Anne, and thanks for joining us today.

We have heard a critic call your Breadcrumbs “hypnotizing”, and we can’t think of a better adjective to describe it. Did growing up in Minnesota help you paint such a dream-like and magical snowy world?

Thank you! I certainly did call on my childhood memories writing this book. I remember the feeling of waiting for the school bus standing in snow that rose above your boots. There’s so much character to winter in Minnesota—sometimes you have big fairy flakes, sometimes it’s ice pellets that assault your skin. I vividly remember walking around with my family after an ice storm and it was like the entire world had been encased in ice—perfectly frozen, perfectly still, like it was always going to be that way. So the whole book really is filled with the texture of those memories.

Of all the fairy tales written, what was it about The Snow Queen that made you want to write an updated version of it?

As soon as I read The Snow Queen I was struck by the story of the friendship that was torn apart overnight. It seemed to me to be about how growing up changes and ends friendships, and I immediately wanted to write about that, using contemporary kids but keeping the skeleton and flavor of the fairy tale.

Many characters in this story are attempting to avoid pain by escaping reality –  but they can’t feel happiness either. What inspired/prompted you to write about this theme?

That’s a very interesting question. At first, the story was about Hazel and her escapes—in her games with Jack, in her books. She’s struggling with reality and retreats into fantasy. And as she got into the woods, I found the people she encountered were all doing something similar—they choose escape, but suffer greatly as a result. I think it was important for Hazel to see that, to learn how to live in the world she has—and also for her to understand she can make a choice: numbness or reality and the joy and pain that comes with it. She figures out the real world is better—then it becomes her job to convince Jack.

Sometimes, you figure out what a book is about by writing it. I didn’t really set out to write about this theme; it just kept happening, and eventually I figured out how important it was to the story. So these ideas were ones I tried to bring out in revision.

This is a coming of age story about the inevitable pains that accompany growing up. What message do you want to convey about growing up?

I think as adults we have a tendency to want to protect our kids from any pain, to keep hard things from them, to pretend everything is always going to work out. Except growing up is tough, and part of growing up is becoming aware of the world and how hard it can be. And if we are so busy protecting our kids that we forget to keep them company in the pain and the hardship, we’re leaving them to go through it alone. And I think for Hazel, the book is about realizing how hard growing up can be, but also realizing that she’s up to it, and that these pains bring joys with them as well.

What do you have in the works? What can we look forward to reading from you next?

I have a short story coming out in the next Guys Read collection—Guys Read: The Sports Pages—and I’m just working on beginning a new book now. I’ve found that, after writing a book, it takes me a long time to get over it—I have the world and story and characters so much in my head I can’t even conceive of writing something else.

And from the girls of StorySnoops’ resident book club, the Green Oompa Loompas:

Hi Ms. Ursu! We thought your book was fantastic! It was suspenseful. We’re sure a lot of boys AND girls can relate to this book. We loved how you wrote realistic fiction at the beginning, and then put a whole bunch of fantasy the rest of the way. You described everything really well. We could seriously imagine everything you wrote about. This book is a work of art and we hope to read a lot more of your writing! Thank you for this story!

Thank you! I’m so happy you guys liked it.

We are exactly Hazel’s age and can relate to the changing and growing apart of friends, especially between boys and girls. Do you remember this happening to you when you were our age?

I do. My two best friends for much of elementary school were from the neighborhood, and one was a boy. But by fifth grade, I’d grown apart from both of them. It wasn’t something that happened overnight, like in the book, but so slowly you don’t really even notice until it’s happened. From fifth grade all through middle school my friendships shifted a lot—some of them did end overnight. And some of them were really painful.

In addition to The Snow Queen, we counted many other stories that are referenced in this book such as A Wrinkle In Time, The Little Match Girl, Harry Potter, When You Reach Me, The Golden Compass and many more.  Was this meant as a special treat for those of us who love children’s books?

Yes, that was certainly part of it. I really wanted kids who’d read these books to have that fun moment of recognition when they ran across the references, and I also wanted them to have that moment of connection with Hazel. But it was also really important to me that Hazel was a reader, especially of fantasy—that that’s really how she’d connect to and understand the world. Fantasy means escape for her—until she finds herself in one, that is.

Did the wolves symbolize anything? They kept popping up. Were they watching over Hazel? (We are dying to know!!)

Oh, the wolves! In the first draft of the book, they were there as menacing creatures, threats to Hazel, just like in a fairy tale. But as I rewrote the book, they changed, and became a watchful, even protective presence. Hazel goes into the woods thinking she can trust woodsmen and has to fear wolves, and learns that it’s quite the opposite. So they really symbolized the wildness and lawlessness of the world Hazel found herself in, that you can’t take anything at face value or believe anything you’ve told. I like to think that the wolves try to protect the kids who find themselves in there—they keep Hazel from the woodsman, try to keep her out of the village, and guide her to the Little Match Girl.

Once a young reader told me she thought the wolves were sent by Adelaide and Uncle Martin to watch over Hazel. I loved that.

Thank you so much for your time Ms. Ursu!  If you’d like to keep up with Anne and her latest work, you can visit her on her website. Tomorrow, please join us at StorySnoops.com for an exposé with every literary-minded adult’s favorite challenge: The Reluctant Reader!

Book Club Update!

Thursday, February 16th, 2012

It’s time for another update on the Green Oompa Loompas! Those of you who follow our blog will know that this is the crazy name of the girls book club that I run for twelve year olds. Never mind the name – it may be changing soon anyway as these newly sophisticated girls cannot believe they picked such an immature name back when they were baby fourth graders…

Back to what they have been reading.  Since we last had a book chat with this group of girls, here is what they have been reading and discussing:

13 Gifts by Wendy Mass – Well, these girls adore Wendy Mass so it’s no surprise they give it two thumbs up. This is the third book in her “birthday series,”of which they are huge fans. They particularly enjoyed the elements of magic woven into this realistic fiction story, and how characters from her other books make appearances in this book.

The Frog Princess by E.D. Baker – The girls finished this book and liked it, but were lukewarm about it. I loved the book, personally, but some of the girls thought it was a little slow.

The Hunger Games by Suzanne Collins – Yes, my book club read this. They really wanted to, and all the parents gave their permission. I was worried because it is not only a book for a skilled and older reader, it is pretty darn violent. (But, this blog is not about my opinion today…)

They love love LOVED this book. A few of the girls found it hard to get into but once they got going, they really enjoyed it. The book discussion was passionate and lasted over two hours with girls interrupting each other like crazy. They all agree that Katniss is one awesome heroine. Most of them have plowed through the other books in the series and cannot wait for March, when the movie comes out.

Breadcrumbs by Anne Ursu – I wonder if any of you are tired of my singing the praises of this amazing book? Well, although I fell in love with this, I did kind of wonder if kids would like it. Surely, adults will appreciate all the great literary elements used in this read, but will children? Also, I had some lingering questions as the book does not tie up completely in the end. How would kids feel about this?

The answer? Two big thumbs up. Everyone enthusiastically liked it. I asked if them if they thought the beginning was slow because the action part of the book does not occur until halfway through the book. “Not at all,” they said. “Harry Potter is also like that.” Very well, then.

This is just the best book to discuss as there are so many metaphors, references to other works of literature, and symbolism. The girls got it. The look on their faces as they had their “aha” moments – “Jack getting a piece of glass in his eye … I think it’s actually an metaphor for growing up.” – priceless! Also, some of the girls were prompted to read Hans Christian Anderson’s “The Snow Queen” as “Breadcrumbs” is a modern day version of that story. Their one unanimous criticism of the book: “Please Ms. Ursu – write an epilogue!”

So, that wraps up what our book club has been reading. Have you read any of these books? What do you think? What has YOUR child’s book club been reading?

-Shannon, StorySnoop

Green Oompa Loompa Check In

Wednesday, July 6th, 2011

It’s been a while since we’ve had an update on my 5th grade girls’ book club, The Green Oompa Loompas. Here is what they have been reading, and more importantly – what they have to say about it :-)

The Hundred Dresses: This Caldecott Award-winning book is a very short and easy read. It was written in 1947, and it holds up! The lessons about friendship, kindness, and judging a book by its cover stand the test of time.

What the girls thought: A unanimous thumbs up. Although the book was short (which appealed to many of the girls) it had real depth. They could relate to the morals of the story and apply them to their lives today; especially the messages about those ever-present mean girls.

Mandy: This is another oldie but goodie. Written in 1971 by the film and screen actress Julie Andrews, this is a sweet and wholesome story about a young orphan girl in England who finds her place in the world. It kind of reminded me of The Secret Garden, and I wasn’t sure if the girls were going to like it – or if they would find it too old-fashioned.

What the girls thought:They loved it! They all agreed it was a speed-read. Mysterious and suspenseful, they could not put it down. They also commented on how descriptive it was. They felt as if “they were right there in the cottage with Mandy”.

Dragon Rider: This is a wholesome read by Cornelia Funke, author of Inkheart. A fantasy book, its main characters include a brownie, a boy, and a dragon that set out on an adventure. Again, I wasn’t sure what the girls were going to think – it’s a 500-page book about a boy and a dragon.

What the girls thought: Mixed reviews on this one. I would say that the main deterrent was the length rather than the writing (which I found to be excellent). The other deterrent was the genre. Not everyone can do a 500-page fantasy book. It was about 50/50. The girls who hung in there and read the whole thing really liked it, and some are now reading Inkheart.

That is what we’ve been up to. What has your child’s book club been discussing lately?

-Shannon, StorySnoop

It’s Children’s Book Week–Meet Wendy Mass!

Wednesday, May 4th, 2011

In celebration of Children’s Book Week, StorySnoops is hosting a series of interviews with our friends in the literary world.Children’s Book Week is the national celebration of books and reading for youth. We hope you enjoy reading about some of our favorite authors.  We really enjoyed putting this series together!

Today’s post is a guest interview, conducted by StorySnoops’ favorite book club, the Green Oompa Loompas.

Hi! We’re a group of  fifth grade girls that are in a book club called the Green Oompa Loompas. Our names are: Holly, Hailey Anne, Julia, Avery, Hayley Kay, Gabby, Eva, and Maddy. We like to read books by different authors and all kinds of genres and talk about random things. This month, we read 11 Birthdays by Wendy Mass. We have also read another book of hers called The Candymakers. We love this author, so we decided to interview her to get to know her a little better.

Where did you come up with the idea for 11 Birthdays?

I wanted to write a lighthearted book about friendship and forgiveness and second chances. Somehow second chances turned into eleven chances! I was also really interested in writing a time travel book, but there seemed to be a bunch of those out, so instead I made them stuck in time. The same—but different. :o

What were you like when you were eleven, and if you could, what would you go back and say to the eleven year old you?

I was pretty fearless back then. I remember riding down a hill on my skateboard as though nothing was wrong with that idea. Of course I wound up bloody and bruised at the bottom! I think I worried a lot too, though. That year (5th grade) was hard because none of my friends were in my class and I had to make all new ones. If I could talk to 11 year old me, I’d tell myself to pay more attention in class, wear a helmet when skateboarding, and not to care when no one picked me to be on their team in gym class! :o

We know that your book Jeremy Fink and the Meaning of Life is being made into a movie. Do you have plans to make any of your other books into movies?

Jeremy Fink is supposed to be out this summer, which is very exciting. I can’t wait to see it! None of the other books are headed to the screen any time soon, but hopefully in the future. I’d love to see 11 Birthdays made into a film, or The Candymakers.

What inspires the characters you write about? Where do you come up with them?

To create characters, I sit down and interview them. I ask a list of 20 questions and then the person comes to life through their answers. Things like, “What do you look like, what is your family like, your personality, strengths, weaknesses, etc.” That way each character is unique because I’ll pick different answers up front for them. I try to create people that the reader will care about, whether or not they completely identify with them.

Which character in all of your books is most like you?

Hmm…well, maybe Mia from my first novel, A Mango-Shaped Space. I think I put more of myself and my own experiences in the earlier books. But in a sense, every character (even the boys) has a part of me in them. I think that’s how it is with every writer, even when we try to avoid it.

How long does it take you to write a book?

That depends on how much research is involved. With real fact-based ones like A Mango-Shaped Space, or Every Soul a Star, which is about astronomy, or even The Candymakers, it took about a year or two. With the ones like 11 Birthdays or Finally, which require much less time reading other books or teaching myself new subjects, it’s closer to 8 months.

J.K. Rowling’s book, Harry Potter and the Sorcerer’s Stone, was rejected by publishers eleven times before it was finally accepted. How many times was your first book rejected, if any?

Hey, J.K. Rowling and I have something in common! Eleven sounds about right. I had many more than that (50!!)  if you include other attempts both before and after the first novel came out. The whole process really taught me about the importance of perseverance, and about not giving up on something if it’s really important to you.

What book are you working on right now, and when is your next book coming out?

My next book, 13 Gifts, is coming out in September, followed by a fairy tale series called Twice Upon a Time that will be out the following spring/summer, followed by my first attempt at science fiction, which I’m really excited about. Then I get to rest for like, a week, and then it starts back up again. :o

Thank you for your time, Ms. Mass! We love you!

I love you guys, too!! Keep reading!!

-wm

For more information on Wendy and her books, visit her website. Check back tomorrow to hear from award-winning Australian author Richard Newsome. We’ve had a great time putting together these Children’s Book Week interviews and hope you’ll check out the entire series here, and let us know what you think!

Green Oompa Loompa Update, with tween girl book ideas…

Friday, December 3rd, 2010
Those of you who read this post know I that I love my Green Oompa Loompas.
They are, of course, the spirited group of ten year old girls that I meet with monthly for some book club chat, fun, food – and noise. I don’t think I mentioned the noise thing last time. Wow. Let’s just say these dramatic tweens are passionate about their book discussions. Passionate and LOUD.  Anyway, aside from the shrieking, they are a fun bunch.
The girls pick their own books each month, and I have to say, they do a fabulous job. Many are award-winners, and the others are equally quality reads.
I wanted to share with you what they have read since my last post, because these are kid-tested, mother-approved,  all-around great books. If you have a tween girl in your life, I highly recommend checking out some of these awesome books. The G.O.L. loved them, and shrieked appropriately!

The Green Oompa Loompas

Thursday, July 8th, 2010

I love my book club.

Oh, I’m not talking about my adult book club (but I’ll be writing about those fine ladies soon). I’m talking about my ten year old daughter’s book  club, The Green Oompa Loompas (GOL). I host this self-named posse of seven pre-teens once a month in my home for some food, fun, and book chat.

Really, I should just be a chaperone who helps facilitate discussion. It shouldn’t be so enjoyable that I now like to think of myself as the GOL’s eighth member.

I am completely impressed with how much book discussion I can get out of these girls. (After all, in my grown-up book club we tend to get sidetracked pretty easily!). But these girls come in, dish up, and start excitedly talking about the book. They never interrupt, and I find the combination of them raising their hands and then talking with their mouths full completely charming.  Their comments are very insightful, and they pick up on even the subtlest of themes, relating a character’s problem to some problem of their own. For example, after reading Thumbelina, the girls decided that their terrible mothers – who nixed their pleas for cell phones and pierced ears – probably did so out of love and with good reason.

I look forward to our book clubs, I’ll admit it. There are worse ways to spend a Friday night. It’s purely selfish, really. I relish getting my hands on these still-impressionable brains and shaping them into little literary minds that will know a thing or two about foreshadowing and metaphors.  I love it.  And, at least for now, I think they love it, too.

-Shannon, StorySnoop

P.S. Did I say that they choose the most fabulous books? Here is what the GOL’s have been reading recently: