Trapped in Paris and a Little Bit More…

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One of the bonuses when writers attend conferences and book events is to meet other writers. There is a genuine and quick sense of recognition among people who write for children. And of course there is always the one who goes the extra mile.

Like Christina Benjamin. When our paths crossed at a book festival this winter, I was impressed by the quality of her books and her gorgeous promotional material. We spoke about our books and projects and she spontaneously offered to showcase my YA novel Trapped in Paris on Pages Burners, one of her websites.

You can read her review here and listen to the short interview and watch the video clip here.

My daughter #3 was on her spring break when I asked her to play the interviewer role. She immediatley agreed. My youngest daughter is the one who encouraged me to write when I started jotting down words and sentences in my notebook and didn’t believe that I would ever write in English. As any typical first-generation born-American child she is often my teacher. She calls me Mom and Maman. Our conversations are always a blend of the two languages that cement our home. Here, though, we kept it in English. With a little bit of French touch. Of course.

I want to thank Christina and my daughter for their support and kindness.

And You, for following my writing adventures and other things of my life on this blog.

 

My Essay on the Children’s Writer’s Guild

 

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I’m pleased that the Children’s Writer’s Guild published my essay Written Words Don’t Have an Accent this week.

This essay about language is right in sync with my current A to Z series about these little identical French and American words that have a different meaning, whether they are used in France or in the USA.

I’m also humbled to find myself on the Children’s Writers Guild in the company of authors and illustrators who bring their talent and passion to children’s literature.

Whether you’re a parent, a grandparent, or have children in your life I encourage you to visit their website and particularly their section Review, filled with great feedback about Picture Books, Middle Grade and Young Adult novels.

 

See you tomorrow for the letter G on my series All These Little French and American Words…

 

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What if You Went to a Book Festival?

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Most writers I know would rather stay home or in the corner of their favorite library or café to write. But once in a while we all need to get our introvert selves out there. Me included.

Last Saturday, I joined more than one hundred authors who participated to the annual Amelia Island Book Festival in Fernandina Beach, Florida.

It was my first time and I was filled with anxiety. What if I got lost on my way to an unknown place? What if I didn’t find a parking spot close enough to the venue? What if I had to make several trips to unload my books and my material? What if nobody stopped by my booth? What if I spent the next eight hours alone?

“What if” is a good question to unstuck our brains and unleash our imaginations but totally worthless on the road.

This is what really happened on Saturday.

I almost got lost. There was unexpected fog and roadwork. But I made it way ahead of time to the Fernandina Beach Middle School where high school students unloaded my trunk and carried my books, my material, and even my lunch to the table I would share with another children’s book author. Meanwhile I parked under an oak tree laced with Spanish moss.

Inside the school I met volunteers who welcomed me with warm smiles and led me to the multipurpose room, already buzzing with activity. Authors were unpacking and organizing their table. Most had great promotional displays. Mine were modest in comparison, and yet everyone congratulated everyone’s books. My right and left side neighbors were super friendly and shared their chocolate and mint candies with me.

Starting around ten o’clock, visitors, many with kids of all ages, swarmed the place. Most stopped by my table and many bought my books. I spoke with all of them and was so grateful for their interest, curiosity, and warmth.

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We live in a world that focuses too much on what goes wrong. Many things go wrong and we need to address them. But many things go right, too. Lots of people are hungry for stories, for them, for their children, their grandchildren, and any child in their lives and beyond their lives. Stories remain a universal human link that ties all of us.

Saturday was the proof (if I ever needed one) that books are alive and well alive.

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An awesome addition to this kind of event is also the chance to meet other writers. Although we love the safety of our caves, we also know that we can be ourselves with people who share the same passion for stories and won’t judge our awkwardness.

The camaraderie between authors who write for children and teens is a well-known fact. The generosity when it comes to sharing our struggles, successes, and dreams is genuine.

 

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At some point, I felt a little lightheaded. No wonder: It was one o’clock and I ate breakfast around six. I took a lunch break (Volunteers could man authors’ tables during breaks. How cool is that?)

I stepped outside, blinded by the light. I sat on a stone bench near a grouping of trees. My shoulders relaxed under the warmth of the sun. It was a crisp day for Floridians, I heard. Perfect for me. Despite the beautiful day, I ate my sandwich faster than I had planned.

What if I missed any of the fun?

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Take your iPad to Paris and Normandy For Free Until Labor Day

To introduce my Young Adult and Middle Grade novels to the readers who cannot travel without their iPad, I’m offering Trapped in Paris and Chronicles From Château Moines for Free on iBooks until Labor Day.

Enjoy! Spread the news! Leave reviews!

Happy Reading to All of You From my Favorite Summer Writing Spot in Maine!

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Publishers Weekly

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I am pleased to share with you what Publishers Weekly wrote about my Middle Grade novel Chronicles From Château Moines.

Through my blog posts, my stories, and novels I share snippets of my life, a delicate balance between two languages and two cultures, and my affection for the USA and France, my two homes on earth.

My writing illustrates my journey as a non-native speaker.

I am a work-in-progress and practice is what I get to make it better.

Practice and readers’ support, and once a while a professional review that sustains my goal.

Thank you for reading me.

 

Readers Are Writers’ Gifts

Sometimes I find it hard to return every day to my notebook and computer to go on with the story I’m currently writing. Even though I’m disciplined enough to write on a daily basis, I’m also lazy and easily distracted. There are so many books to read! So many movies to watch! So many desserts to bake! So many walks to take!

It’s also fair to say that writing is a solitary task that doesn’t bring immediate results. And when the result – the book – is there, I always feel a little lonely. Now what?

This is why any acknowledging nudge is a gift to me. Thank you for your reviews, your invitations on your blog, and your links to mine. Thank you.

But when the kind nudge comes from a young reader, my audience, then I have no excuse to feel sorry for my lack of courage.

This is what I received yesterday morning, sent by an English teacher who liked my novel Chronicles From Château Moines well enough to have it read and discussed in her seventh grade class.

I don’t know the student who wrote this. I won’t probably ever meet her. And yet she is the reason why I dragged my lazy little me to my table this morning and wrote another page. A gift, really.

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MLK

En l’honneur de l’anniversaire de Martin Luther King Junior (né le 15 janvier 1929), les écoles, les services postaux, les banques, et bureaux du gouvernement fédéral sont fermés aujourd’hui lundi aux Etats Unis. Ce jour devint une fête fédérale par une loi signée en 1983 par le président Ronald Reagan, mais ce n’est que depuis 2000 que les cinquante états des USA le célèbrent unanimement.

Un certain nombre de business privés sont également fermés. Le cœur d’une entreprise américaine balance entre deux jours fériés : Martin Luther King’s Day ou Presidents’ Day, le 16 février cette année.

On dit que les républicains préfèrent Presidents’ Day et que les démocrates penchent pour Martin Luther King’s Day. Dans le doute je suis les écoles et fête les deux.

Presidents’ Day, comme son nom l’indique, célèbre les présidents américains dans leur ensemble, même si techniquement ce sont Lincoln et Washington, qui sont fêtés, nés respectivement le 12 et le 22 février.

Quant à Martin Luther King Jr., lorsque je suis passée à Memphis en 2012, j’ai eu la possibilité de voir le lieu exact où il a été assassiné le 4 avril 1968.

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Mon blog était peu lu à cette époque. En fait, il est possible que personne n’ait lu ces billets écrit en français ici et in English .

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Mes nombreuses années en Californie m’ont davantage familiarisée avec le mouvement des droits civils des noirs américains, dont Martin Luther King Jr. était le leader, qu’avec la ségrégation raciale du sud des Etats Unis. Les deux sont cependant indissociables.

Si vous voulez que vos enfants découvrent les racines de ce mouvement sans passer par un livre d’histoire, je vous recommande One Crazy Summer, un roman à la fois drôle, honnête et très sensible, écrit par Rita Williams-Garcia et publié en 2010.

A travers Delphine et ses petites sœurs, dont elle s’occupe du haut de ses onze ans comme une vraie maman, maintenant que la leur a décidé de quitter Brooklyn pour Oakland de façon à vivre à fond le style de vie californien des années 60, l’auteure nous fait découvrir les évènements les plus marquants et transformateurs de l’histoire récente des USA. Excès et espoir se poussent constamment du coude à travers une série de personnages extrêmement bien campés. Delphine et ses soeurs vivent la montée des droits civils au plein coeur d’Oakland, des moments extraordinaires mais aussi banals qui font l’enfance, et aussi un rapprochement inattendu avec leur maman.

Un thème sérieux avec une sérieuse dose d’humour, des personnages et situations réalistes et émouvants. Franchement excellent.

Le site web de Rita Williams-Garcia est aussi une bonne source d’information sur son parcours de femme noire écrivaine aux USA.

Malgré le succès de ce livre aux USA, je n’ai pas trouvé de traduction française. Si quelqu’un la connaît, faites-le moi savoir.

Si vous voulez remonter quelques années plus haut dans l’histoire, lisez le grand classique de Christopher Paul Curtis The Watsons Go to Birmingham – 1963, publié en 1995 et étudié très souvent dans les écoles américaines (c’est ainsi que je l’ai découvert au début des années 2000). Le roman est traduit en français sous le titre Voyage à Birmingham.

La famille extravagante de Kenny (10 ans) quitte Flint, Michigan pour visiter sa grand-mère à Birmingham, Alabama. Ce voyage du nord au sud du pays sera comme un aucun autre et transformera non seulement Kenny et sa famille mais encore les Etats Unis.

Un livre incontournable dans lequel on apprend tant de choses, non seulement sur l’un des évènements les plus sombres de l’histoire des Etats Unis et sur la discrimination raciale, mais aussi ce que tous les humains ont tendance à faire : assumer sans savoir. Les états américains, les villes, le climat, les accents, tout est l’occasion de décaper les stéréotypes.

Tout comme One Crazy Summer, The Watsons Go to Birmingham – 1963 est un roman plein d’humour, très drôle malgré son sérieux, avec une palette de personnages inoubliables, sur un sujet difficile qui divise encore trop souvent les américains.

La mémoire de Martin Luther King est présente aux Etats Unis à travers les avenues, les boulevards, les rues, les parcs, les squares, et bien sûr les écoles qui portent son nom.

Souvent seulement ces/ses initiales: MLK.

A Galette des Rois and a Kings’ Cake

Traditionally a religious celebration commemorating the visit of the Three Wise Men to baby Jesus, Epiphany Day is thoroughly enjoyed in France beyond the official January 6th and beyond religious meaning, too.
All over the country, bakeries sell the galette des rois (Kings’ Cake) in different versions depending on the French regions.
Americans are more familiar with another Kings’ Cake, a Louisiana specialty.

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Unlike the French who celebrate the end of the Christmas season with the Epiphany, the people of Louisiana celebrate the beginning of Lent with the famous New Orleans Carnival mid February. Mardi Gras or Fat Tuesday is celebrated the day before Ash Wednesday, the first day of Lent. During the Carnival, thousands of locals and out of state visitors savor the Kings’ Cake.

The galette des rois I know best, however, is made of puff pastry filled with almond paste.

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Despite the diversity of the cakes, the tradition of hiding a small plastic or porcelain trinket inside the dough is the same. In France, family and friends gather pour tirer les rois or to draw the kings.

Traditionally the youngest person in the room hides under the table and decides who gets which slice of the cake. Then whoever finds the trinket is crowned king or queen and can pick his queen or her king. The following year this is the turn of the king or queen to host the party.
In the old days a dry bean or fève in French was hidden inside the cake. One said that cheap people swallowed the bean so they wouldn’t have to host the event the following year. And this is how tiny porcelain trinkets replaced the traditional beans. Who knowns? In any case, the trinket is still called fève.
When I was growing up, the fève had some kind of Christian connotation: a manger, a lamb, a star, a baby Jesus, an angel, or still a shepherd.
Nowadays the selection is more eclectic which explains why a museum in Blain, on the French Atlantic coast, and another one in Ronel, in the Midi- Pyrénées region, display them.

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I love anything with almonds and almond paste, so I like the galette des rois very much. Yet more than the cake, this tradition reminds me that the French love the association of traditions, food, family, and friends.
I also enjoy sharing the traditions of my native country. One of my very first children’s stories happened to be about the galette des rois. Like Max, the protagonist, I was tempted more than once to cheat and steal the fève to be queen for a day.

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Pelican Publishing Company, based in Louisiana, has published several children’s books around the Kings’ Cake and the New Orleans Carnival.
I like their most recent picture book (2008) Timothy Hubble and the King Cake Party written by Anita Prieto and illustrated by Virginia Howard.
Timothy has just moved to New Orleans and worries about this strange Kings’ cake “with a baby baked inside” that his new friend describes to him. Of course, things will turn around in a good way for him.
However, his initial reaction reminds me of the first time I introduced the French tradition to a California teacher.

This teacher taught at my oldest daughter’s preschool and she wanted her students to learn about their classmates’ cultural heritage. Parents were invited to share traditions from their native country. The teacher didn’t know about Epiphany Day, so she was happy for my participation. Until I told her that I would hide a small trinket inside the galette des rois.
“No, no, no”, she said. “You can’t do that. Imagine if one of the children swallowed this small thing.”
“Oh, it won’t happen,” I said. “I ate many Kings’ Cakes and I never saw anyone who swallowed it.”
“No,” she insisted. “Besides, some kids could be allergic to almonds. Can you bake another cake?”
I thought that the teacher overreacted. Yet I could only obey. So I came to school with a homemade pear cake. It had nothing to do with the galette des rois and no trinket was hidden inside, but we were safe. I explained the tradition to the children.
“Where is the small thing?” asked a little girl, digging with her plastic fork through her slice of cake.
Patiently the teacher explained that an object inside the cake would be too dangerous for children. The little girl nodded and asked if she could have more cake.
Years later I purchased my first store-bought galette des rois.
When I opened the box I saw a note taped inside the cover. A warning about the trinket/fève tucked inside the cake and the fact that it was baked with almonds was printed in bold. A description of the tradition followed in regular print.
I wasn’t surprised to find such a note and in retrospect agreed that the teacher had two valid points.
You see, after years in the States, what once shocked me has lost its strangeness.
Speaking of cake, can I ask you why the Americans say: “You can’t eat your cake and have it, too?”

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Because I think that I have in fact the best of both worlds.

 

Looking for a Gift Made From Scratch and Created With Passion?

On the Golden Gate Bridge I saw a couple of cars decorated with reindeers’ antlers and red noses.

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Sorry I couldn’t take a good picture: too much rain that day.

Since I landed in California from my native France, I’ve made mine whatever surprised me back then.

Okay, I’m pretty sure that I will never get a pair of antlers and a red nose for my car, but Père Noël and Santa Claus are good friends in my home.

Both bring thoughtful gifts.

Yesterday I received an e-mail from one of my college daughters, asking the family to stay away from costly Christmas purchases and to focus instead on gifts Made From Scratch or gifts that have been created with passion.

E-mails like that make me feel so optimistic for our future. Our kids are great. Our kids are thoughtful.

In my Inbox there was also an update for a review on my Middle Grade Novel.

“This well-written book would make a great holiday gift for “tweens” and older,” wrote this reviewer.

Thank you.

And thank you if you read my book and wrote a review. It means the world to me. Really.

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Although Thanksgiving is the day to express our thanks and gratitude, I think that the holiday season is also a perfect time to be thankful for the people who surround us and make us happy in so many different ways.

Through the gifts we choose for our family and friends, we really say I love you.

And so we want of course to offer the best to express this love.

People who know me well enough don’t search too much for me.

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I could share with you a long list of terrific books that I have enjoyed in 2014. All would make perfect gifts. Most have been written by excellent writers that I admire a lot but don’t really need my recommendations.

On the other hand I know of a few good writers who are less renowned and yet deserve some attention.

Like me they published in 2014.

I like the fact that they live in three different continents.

Oh and they also blog beautifully, generously, relentlessly.

 

FOR CHILDREN

Little Mike is adorable with his spiky red hair and his unlimited imagination. Mike the Spike by Stella Tarakson is a fun and smart picture book delightfully illustrated just made for the early reader on your list.

FOR YA

The second book in the fantasy Network Series trilogy by Katie Cross is as wicked good as number one. Witchery with a twist for the teen fantasy fan on your list.

FOR ADULTS

A second chance at love and life is offered to Katherine in Provence. Promises to Keep by Patricia Sands is a delightful read for any woman into anything French.

And because you deserve a treat, too, check Kimberly Sullivan’s blog for some of her published short stories about Italian women and expat women living in Italy.

 

Need more ideas? Stop by Andrea, Anthony, Jennifer, Marcia, Marilyn, Mike, Nicki, Teagan for stories, poems and novels. If I forgot someone, forgive me.

There are just so many books to read and unfortunately too little time.

Remember, books are Made From Scratch and created with passion.

 

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What Can Happen When We Feel Strange, Stupid, Different

While I am working on promoting my Middle Grade novel Chronicles From Château Moines, I re-read Wonder, which is in my opinion one of the best Middle Grade novels of the last two years.

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Wonder by R.J Palacio is the kind of book that has the power to turn any reader into a better person. I guarantee you.

The main character August Pullman, nicknamed Auggie, was born with a very rare genetic defect that affects his face. Although his parents have regular faces, they both carry a mutant gene that gave Auggie a bad number in the genetic lottery. Even after countless surgeries, ten-year-old Auggie has a face that turns heads and makes people gasp.

Few of us experience with such dramatic life challenges. However most of us have been, at least once, in a situation where we’ve felt out of place. The feeling is unsettling, and we’re relieved to return to our familiar.

In Chronicles From Château Moines Scott is the new kid in town. He’s American, wears different clothes, and speaks French with an accent, putting him under an involuntary spotlight.

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Sylvie, the French local girl, reacts to his arrival in the seventh grade class:

“Despite his smile, he looks confused, and I wonder how it feels to be the new kid in a school and to be a foreigner.”

This is how Scott, the freshly arrived American boy, feels:

“My brain feels like a big bag stuffed with names, words, and sentences, all in French. Thanks to Mom, I knew enough French to fool the kids, yet they watched me as if I were an alien that Neil Armstrong brought back from the moon. My clothes and roller skates gave me away before I opened my mouth.”

I always feel bad for anyone who is in a place where he or she feels strange, stupid, and just different.

Throughout Wonder, we follow Auggie as he goes through a quiet yet extraordinary transformation. By the end of the school year, the kids from his fifth grade class and his family will also have changed.

It is not unusual for the new kid, disliked or just misunderstood, to bring change.

In Chronicles From Château Moines this is Scott who decides to organize a peace walk to oppose the Vietnam War, ultimately changing the dynamics at school and in the small town of Château Moines.

Obstacles or challenges, even less dramatic than Auggie’s, can make us terribly anxious but can also trigger bold moves, leading to real change.

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Now your turn.

What’s your favorite Middle Grade novel based on the topic of change?

Have you ever found yourself in a situation where you felt different from the people around you?

Do you think that challenging situations can bring good things?

 

P.S. Just a friendly reminder that my novel is available on Amazon, Barnes and Noble, and can also be ordered from your favorite independent bookstore.

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