Book Reviews and More

Hi! This blog is for my classes at Texas Woman's University.

Wednesday, July 30, 2014

Why Libraries Matter

I'm going to venture away from the topic of writing this week to share about another issue close to my heart. As many of you know, I'm currently in Graduate School earning my Masters Degree in Library and Information Science. When I share with people that I'm in library school, many times I get the reaction, "Will there even be a need for libraries in the future?"

I am at the library right now as I write this, and the place is full of people at 7:30 pm on a Wednesday night in the summer. There are 11 branches in our county library system, and we have visited many this summer to take advantage of their great free children's programming and the Summer Reading Program. So I know that here in the suburbs of Texas, the libraries are getting a lot of use.

But what about other places in the country? Are libraries needed there? I think the first thing people need to realize is that libraries offer so much more than books. Books are important, of course, and are what initially led me to pursue my dream of being a librarian. However, they are only a portion of the resources and opportunities that libraries provide.

I recently saw this video which I really think emphasizes the importance of libraries, perhaps more than ever in this day and age. I found the link under #librariesmatter on twitter. I'm not actually on twitter myself, but you can still read twitter even if you don't have an account.

Here is a video produced by Julie Dressner and Jesse Hicks about the services offered through the New York Library System. The link is from The Atlantic and takes about 10 minutes to watch (and does have one of those annoying commercials beforehand), but I believe it is well worth your time. It should help you respond if someone ever mentions that libraries aren't relevant in today's society. I think it shows that couldn't be farther from the truth. Enjoy!

If you can't see the video below on your browser, here's the link:

Monday, July 28, 2014

Summer Challenge Check-in #9

Hi everyone!

I hope y'all have had a great week. I'm so glad that a lot of people enjoyed my post last week with some of my favorite things. It was a fun post to put together.

My writing week has mostly been focused on a term paper that is due for my Library Management class. It's about Bookmobiles - so it has been fun to research! Hope y'all's writing week is going well.

  Take care, McCourt

Wednesday, July 23, 2014

McCourt's Favorite Book Things

Hi everyone! I’m really excited about today’s post. It’s my version of Oprah’s Favorite Things. The main differences will be that they all have to do with books, reading, or writing, and they will all be relatively affordable. J

So if you have a book lover in your life, or want to treat yourself to a little something, here’s the list of “McCourt’s Favorite Book Things”.

1) Out of Print 

Goodnight Moon from Out of Print 

If you’ve seen me lately, chances are I’ve been wearing one of these t-shirts or carrying one of the Out of Print tote bags.  They have adult and kids' t-shirts, tote bags, phone cases, jewelry and more based on a great selection of book covers for adults and children.  For each product sold one book is donated to Books for Africa. So you can feel good and look good at the same time!

One note, sizes run small, especially the women’s - so you will most likely want to order at least one size larger than you usually wear and maybe two sizes if you have a tendency (like me) to shrink things in the wash.

2) Book Scarves 
Anne of Green Gables scarf from storiarts

Every since my trip to Paris, I have been smitten with scarves. I wore them all the time this year, or at least until the heat index soared to over 100 degrees. I’m looking forward to Fall so I can pull them out again.

There are lots of variations out there, but I’m eyeing this one from storiarts on Etsy. It quotes Anne of Green Gables, one of my favorite series as a kid.  There are lots of others to choose from including Pride and Prejudice, Jane Eyre, Little Women, The Raven, and more. Just search for book scarves in Etsy and you’ll see a selection.

3) iPad or E-Reader Covers

Dr. Seuss's ABC cover from retrograndma

Do you read on an e-reader, but still miss the look of a book? There are some clever ways to cover your iPad or e-reader. My favorite is this Dr. Seuss cover from retrograndma on Etsy (she actually has lots of cute bookish things on her site!). There are lots of other book cover designed covers for electronics out there as well. 

4) Book Purse

To Kill A Mockingbird purse from Novel Creations

I’ve been eyeing these book purses for years. They are starting to pop up on homemade sites all over, but I’ve always admired the ones from Novel Creations on (you guessed it!) Etsy. They have a large selection, including both classics and modern.

 5) Bookmarks

I admit it; I usually can’t keep up with my bookmarks. I know I should use them rather than dog-ear (or puppy-tail, as my son used to say) my pages. So I’m always on the hunt for a good bookmark that I won’t lose quite so easily.  My current favorite style is by Bookjigs. They are lovely to look at, but even more importantly they ingeniously clip onto the front cover or spine of the book. Then you use the string to mark your page. I never have to take them off the book while I’m reading it - so less chance of losing it!

My runner-up bookmark choice is the magnetic bookmark that clips over the top of the page. There are all kinds of them out there, but I really love these custom ones from craftedvan on Etsy. They feature  popular characters from books, television, and movies, such as the Lego Movie, Disney Princesses, Harry Potter, and more.  I think these would make great stocking stuffers!
Sherlock from craftedvan

The Fault in Our Stars from crafted van

Alice in Wonderland from craftedvan

6) Floating Bookshelves

If I thought I could get away with it, I’d have these all over my house. I love them! My husband found these Umbra Conceal floating bookshelves for me, most likely in an effort to help control the stacks of books we have throughout the house. They were such a hit, he already bought me more for Mother’s Day. I would love a wall of them!

7) Novel Wall Art

Harry Potter and the Sorcerer's Stone from Spineless Classics

Speaking of wall decoration, I think these are truly unique works of art. From Spineless Classics, they are whole novels printed on a poster. You probably will need glasses to read them, but I think it’s more about the overall effect than trying to read the book off of them! There are many clever designs with a nice selection of books. I think the Nutcracker or Christmas Carol would make a great decoration during the holidays. 

8) Book Letters

I’ve seen these popping up in eclectic and trendy shops and they are really neat. They are letters made from old books, usually old Reader’s Digest Condensed volumes. Even as un-crafty as I am, I was wondering if perhaps we (meaning Ben) could make them. So I have found these D-I-Y directions, but haven’t attempted it yet. If you want to just pick some up, try Anthropologie or Nordstroms.

9) Bookish Bedding

I’ve long been a fan of book-themed rooms and I came across these recently that are perfect for young (and old) fans of Roald Dahl and Quentin Blake. You can get them based on Charlie and the Chocolate Factory, The Enormous Crocodile, and Matilda. I’d even pay overseas shipping for these unique creations.

Charlie and the Chocolate Factory

The Enormous Crocodile

Closer to home, Pottery Barn Kids has precious The Very Hungry Caterpillar and Peter Rabbit nursery sets.

The Very Hungry Caterpillar

The Tale of Peter Rabbit

10) Library Kits

Until I'm an official librarian, I can pretend to be one at home thanks to these charming kits. 

Personal Library Kit by Knock Knock

For those future librarians and young book lovers out there, check out The Little Librarian kit. Hours of fun!

The Little Librarian

Okay, I’ll stop at 10 items, but must admit there are many more wonderful bookish things out there. Maybe I’ll have to do another one of these posts - perhaps as we get closer to the holidays. In fact, for any of my family members or close loved ones reading this - please consider this my birthday, Christmas, and Mother’s Day wish list for years to come! 

Happy shopping!

Monday, July 21, 2014

Summer Challenge Check-in #8

Greetings all!

 I hope that everyone has had a productive week. Thanks to the encouragement of the challenge group, I was able to push through some troubles that I've been having lately with my writing. It just goes to show that even thought writing is mostly a solitary activity, it's still so valuable to have a group of fellow writers to share the experience with you.

Keep up the good work!

Wednesday, July 16, 2014

Persevering through Doubt

There are some words that I particularly like to think about when it comes to writing. Perseverance is one of them. Fortitude is another. I like the way those words sound, and I like even more what they stand for.

It’s not always easy, this writing life. I wrote about rejection last week, but it’s more than that. I think one of the hardest aspects is doubt. 

I am filled with doubt and ask myself:

Will I ever finish this?

Is it worth it? The time away from family and friends, away from needed chores, exercise or work - all the other things we could be doing.

Will I ever find an agent who wants to represent my work?

If I do, will an editor want to publish it?

If that happens, will people actually want to buy it?

The circle of doubt can go on and on.

But for me, the biggest doubt is always - can I actually write?

I doubt my ability to tell a compelling story. I doubt my ability to string together mesmerizing sentences or humorous lines. I definitely doubt my skills in creating a compelling plot. I doubt that anything I have written so far even makes sense. I doubt my right to sit on shelves amongst other award-winning authors and their books.

All this doubt, it’s exhausting.

But then I go back and read a page, and while it’s not perfect, a few of the lines make me smile. A few pages later, my heart breaks a bit for a character in my story. Then, best of all, I read something my character says that makes me laugh out loud.

So there’s hope. As with many things in life, we simply move forward in hope. That leads us to  perseverance, and makes way for fortitude.

 With that powerful combination of hope, perseverance, and fortitude we continue on. Keep taking it one day at a time, one page at a time. We try and remember the days when writing is joyful, to help us through the days when it’s not. We allow those powerful words to shine light in the darkness, to overcome the doubt, and keep moving us in the direction of our dreams.

“Consider not your fears but your hopes and dreams. Think not about your frustrations but your unfulfilled potential. Concern yourself not with what you tried and failed in, but with what it is still possible for you to do.”
  - Saint John XXIII

Monday, July 14, 2014

Summer Challenge Check-in #7

Hi everyone!

  I hope the challenge is still moving along well. We're now entering the 'dog days' of summer around here and the thermometer proves it. I hope that I can use the heat as an excuse to get some extra writing done, or at least use it as an excuse to make a tall glass of lemonade and enjoy a good book.

  Keep up the good work everyone!

Wednesday, July 9, 2014

Rejection and Inspiration

I got a rejection letter in the mail last month. It was for a picture book manuscript that I had sent so long ago, I had actually forgotten I had submitted it. It was a generic rejection, with a note about how taste was subjective and just because this particular publishing house wasn’t interested, that didn’t mean someone else wouldn’t like it.


It is hard to put our work out there, with fingers crossed, prayers offered, and a kiss on the envelope for luck (am I the only one?) only to have it rejected. I think many of us know the discouragement when you recognize your own handwriting on a self-addressed envelope in the mail. That sinking feeling when you open the mailbox. And that’s if you even get a response, of course. Many times you don’t hear from the editor or agent at all. Even though I may not be happy with the news those self-addressed envelopes contain, I am always grateful to at least hear back from the editor or agent. Thank you to those who write back, and especially to those who jot a personal note. Those are treasured words.

But just when I’m feeling discouraged, when I’m wondering if it’s all worth it, something comes along that keeps me going. I just saw a news piece on Newbery author Kate DiCamillo, which said she was rejected more than 400 times. Could that be possible? The multi-award winning author who wrote The Miraculous Journey of Edward Tulane, one of my favorite books of all times? 

I also read her acceptance speech from the recent Newbery awards ceremony. It is lovely, utterly lovely, and it reminds me of my purpose. Like Ms. DiCamillo, I truly loved books as a kid. They were my friends, my companions, my security, especially when the world seemed busy and confusing. Just the thought that my words could offer that kind of joy and comfort to a child is one of the thoughts that keeps me going when the rejections continue to come in. It keeps me writing, learning, growing, and challenging myself. The thought that one day, one of my books could mean as much to a child as Ms. DiCamillo’s books have to my own children, is another reason to keep at this. And so, I continue to learn on this writer's journey - with a little hope and a lot of heart - and inspiration from those who already do it so well. 

If you want to read Ms. DiCamillo’s excellent Newbery speech for Flora and Ulysses: The Illuminated Adventures, here’s a link. Her interview on NBC news can be found here. Enjoy! 

Tuesday, July 8, 2014

July SCBWI Houston Book Reports

Hi all,

  I really got a lot of good information from our Houston SCBWI meeting on Monday night. Thank you Jessica Capelle for all of your wonderful information about world building! Lots to think about with my manuscript.

  Here's the books I talked about for this month's book report:

  Naked! by Michael Ian Black and Debbie Ridpath Ohi (PB)
  Simon & Schuster Books for Young Readers ISBN 9781442467385

  Gaston by Kelly DiPucchio and Christian Robinson (PB)
  Atheneum Books for Young Readers ISBN 978144245

  I Need To Unplug Journal by the Knock Knock company (Journal)

 Enjoy! McCourt

Monday, July 7, 2014

Summer Challenge Check-In #6

Hi to all! I can't believe we are already in July. Our summer is flying by. We've had some great trips already this summer, which has put a kink in my writing plans. Thank goodness for the challenge, otherwise I might not have even tried to squeeze it in. How's it going for you? Hopefully you're making some great progress this summer, if not, remember each day is a new day!

If you want to join the challenge, here's the information.

Take care, McCourt

Friday, July 4, 2014

Freedom to Write

Happy 4th of July! We have been traveling so I had to delay my usual Wednesday post to today. However, I am thinking that it turned out to be an appropriate postponement, since my musing today is about freeing ourselves from distractions to write.

What does that mean? Well, for me, I can write when the kids are running around the house, I can write in a crowded coffee shop or at the library, but what trips me up the most is technology distracting me.

To help with the issue of technological distractions, I decided to try a product called Mac Freedom. I had heard about this on other writing blogs and decided to give it a try. Basically, what it does is shut down your connection to the Internet (and all its distractions) on your computer for a set amount of time.

I usually set my timer for 45 minutes when I need to write, and I have been amazed by my progress when I use Mac Freedom. Even more than that, I have been amazed at just how distracting the Internet and emails are to my writing. While I’m writing, I find myself trying to check my email or look something up online within about 10 minutes of getting started. Even though I should remember that the Internet is turned off, I attempt to check it three or four times within my 45 minute time period. Sometimes I am trying to look up something writing-related, but many times it’s just a random thought that pops into my head or something I meant to look up online earlier.

It's been eye opening to me how distractible I am when on the computer, and how easy it is to rather frivolously waste my writing time.  I have been glad that I went ahead and gave Mac Freedom a chance, since it really does help me focus and get through my writing goals for the day much more easily.

It doesn’t have to be Mac Freedom though, there are other ways to free myself from distractions while I write. My husband suggested that I could just turn off the Wi-Fi on my computer and achieve the same goals, but somehow I hadn’t thought of that - and for me, it seems too easy just to turn it back on. While Mac Freedom works for me since I currently have a MacBook, I am sure there are similar programs available for PCs. Another option - paper and pencil. The old-fashioned approach often helps me stay focused on my writing. Although I have to admit - my hand gets tired quickly! We must use different muscles to type than to write by hand.

One other trick, when I do use Mac Freedom I have to make sure my iPhone is far away. Otherwise I might pick it up and hop online before I even think of it. It’s crazy how automatic technology has become.

We need freedom from distraction to write. So take a while to think about what distracts you the most from writing. Then, think of ways you can conquer those distractions and declare freedom to write!