Child sitting on a bed reading a copy of The Lord of the Rings.
Book Reviews

Favorite Books from My Childhood

The stories you read in childhood can stay with you for a lifetime.

Child sitting on a bed reading a copy of The Fellowship of the Ring.
Photo by Annie Spratt on Unsplash

Today I wanted to share some books that shaped me both as a person and a writer. I was always an awkward child (as I’m sure some of you might be able to relate), but it’s something I’ve grown to love about myself (and you should, too. 🙂 ). And though I read pretty much all over the place in my childhood, three genres enticed me the most: fantasy, mystery, and horror. (I blame the horror bit on the fact that my birthday’s so close to Halloween.)

Now, decades later, I continue to find myself circling these genres again and again, with a little science fiction thrown in for flavor. Here’s a list of some of my absolute favorite middle grade books from childhood. I hope you enjoy them as much as I did!


If you buy something through these links, I get paid. I never recommend anything that I don’t believe is an interesting and high-quality product. See my Disclosure Page for more information.

1. At the Back of the North Wind

2. The Chronicles of Narnia

3. The Dragonriders of Pern

4. Encyclopedia Brown

5. Nancy Drew

6. Sherlock Holmes

7. Poems and Tales of Edgar Allen Poe

8. Scary Stories to Tell in the Dark

9. Goosebumps

PS: Don’t forget to share this post!

A Sci-Fi Read That is More Than it Seems
Book Reviews

A Sci-Fi Read That Is More Than it Seems

This Sci-Fi novel had me on the verge of tears.

A Sci-Fi Read That is More Than it Seems

Photo by Jaclyn Moy on Unsplash

This post contains affiliate links. That means I earn a commission from clicks or purchases made through these links at no cost to you. See my Disclosure Page for more information.

Not many books will make me cry. Maybe that’s because I subconsciously avoid depressing books. At any rate, this week’s sci-fi novel tore at my core like Edward Scissorhands in a fistfight.

And it was 100% worth it.

A Sci-Fi Read That is More Than it Seems

A Sci-Fi Read That is More Than it Seems

Sabrina Sabriya knows a few things. She’s an orphan, most of humanity died in a nuclear fallout, and religion is evil. And her best friend, Lindsey Mehdina, is her opposite in every way. Whereas Sabrina prefers practicality and usability, Lindsey is a colorful and visionary artist. Literally. And Lindsey’s visions can see into the past, present, and future.

This is a book of dualities. Religion versus science, flamboyancy versus minimalism, humanity versus machines, man versus woman.


City on a Hill, by Ted Neill, is a post-apocalyptic dystopian novel that delves into the human condition. And holy crow does it ever dig deep!

Since Sabrina was raised by the head of the city, a man she calls “uncle,” she has certain views of the world. Because of that, she enlists in law enforcement. And in the process of furthering her career, she slams up against several difficult truths. While she struggles with these difficult new truths, she is forced to make an impossible choice.

Rating: 4.8 out of 5

Paperback: 402 pages

 

PS: Want more dystopian fiction? Read this review.

 

 

 

Silhouette of a boy reading a book outside by a tree during sunset.
Informative Articles

The Mystery Man Who Helped to Improve American Literacy

This little-known WWII veteran and highly accomplished educator contributed to the literacy of generations of Americans. So why don’t we hear more about him?

Silhouette of a boy reading a book outside by a tree during sunset.
Photo by Aaron Burden on Unsplash

A remarkable man was born on February 5, 1924, in Independence, Kentucky. In 1943 he became a fighter pilot with the U.S. Army Air Corps and flew sorties into Iwo Jima, Japan. After the war, he remained stationed in the Pacific as an Information-Education Officer. When he left the Air Force in 1946, he made a choice that would impact the rest of his life.

If you buy something through these links, I get a commission. I never recommend anything that I don’t believe is an interesting and high-quality product. See my Disclosure Page for more information.

William K. Durr earned a B.A. Degree in Elementary Education and promptly began teaching third grade. (Along the way, he met and married his wife. Together, they had and raised three sons.) He completed an M.A. Degree in Elementary School Education by 1951. And in 1955, he received a doctorate in education and started teaching at Michigan State University.

Durr was a proponent of the basal reading approach. This approach encourages children to learn literacy through books, workbooks, and other educational materials that build on skills they’ve already mastered. Basal reading is slightly different from the phonetic reading approach made popular in the 80s and 90s (if any of you are old enough to remember “Hooked on Phonics) and the whole language approach being used today. Instead, basal reading had more of a “See Spot run. Run, Spot, run.” quality to it.

You may not be surprised to discover Durr became the senior author of the Houghton Mifflin (now Houghton Mifflin Harcourt) Reading Program. In fact, this is how I first came across his work. But more on that later.

Dr. Durr went on to become president of the Michigan Reading Association, the International Reading Association, and the Reading Hall of Fame. And that last one is no insignificant feat.

In order to become a member of the Reading Hall of Fame, you need to have been actively involved in literacy work for at least twenty-five years! In addition to that, only members of the Reading Hall of Fame can nominate people to apply for membership, and they stress the importance of being well-respected in the professional community. And William Durr certainly met all of those requirements. In addition to the large body of educational materials he produced through Houghton Mifflin for classrooms across the country, he also wrote two professional books and spoke to educators in every state— and on four other continents. He passed away in 2009.

A Life-Changing Moment

Remember earlier when I mentioned the first time I came across Dr. Durr’s work? Imagine a shy and short six-year-old girl living in West Germany during the last days of the Cold War. She loves school and enjoys learning even though it’s difficult to concentrate sometimes. This is partially because she has borderline-aphantasia. Oh, did I mention this girl was me?

Learning to read was incredibly difficult. And I wasn’t a slow learner in most things. (In hindsight, a phonetic approach would have been more effective for my type of cognition.) This was the first time I had ever attempted something with seemingly no success. (Okay, yeah. I was tiny. And impatient.) My mother sat with me day after day with my reading book in her lap, trying to help me through it.

It’s funny. I remember the unsuccessful attempts and the ensuing frustration. And I remember being able to read with ease. Whichever switch got flipped in my brain got totally erased, as did most of my memory of every single story in that book. But one part of that book always stood out to me. The cover, with its enticing title. It soothed and comforted me. And now, by the power of the internet, I have found my dear friend once again.

Moonbeams

by the late Dr. William Kirstely Durr

Gone, but never forgotten.

PS: Did you learn something new? Great! Here’s my tip jar. 😉

Your Imagination is Probably Better Than Mine: Here's Why
Informative Articles

Your Imagination is Probably Better Than Mine: Here’s Why

You have such a big imagination! And you probably don’t even realize how powerful that gift is, yet. Read more to uncover how astounding your ability really is, and learn my deep, dark secret.

Your Imagination is Probably Better Than Mine: Here's Why
Photo by Matthew Henry on Unsplash

Merriam-Webster defines imagination as: “the act or power of forming a mental image of something not present to the senses or never before wholly perceived in reality.”

And if you’re like the average person, this isn’t a groundbreaking concept. You form mental images all the time. If I veer off subject and start talking about rhinos spinning plates on sticks while dancing the mambo, you’ll probably have an entertaining vision of what I mentioned. And you probably create more mental images throughout the day than you even realize. How many times do you daydream or visualize a new concept?

Can you survive an entire hour without imagining anything at all? How about a full day? Most people would find this pretty difficult if not impossible.

Your Imagination is Probably Better Than Mine: Here's Why

Photo by Thought Catalog on Unsplash

But imagination isn’t solely used to think. It’s important when reading and writing, too. You could probably pick up a novel right now and create a mental image of the characters, setting, and perhaps even details like weapons and clothing. My brother, for example, automatically casts characters as different actors when he reads. How many times have you seen a movie adaptation of your favorite book and thought, “That’s not what they looked like in my head at all!”

And I’ve heard stories of writers who’ve seen their characters’ doppelgangers (complete strangers, mind you) months or years after writing their books.

But I, as an author, have a terrible confession to make:

Your Imagination is Probably Better Than Mine: Here's Why

 

I have no idea what anything in my stories looks like. Because I have next to no imagination. Don’t get me wrong, I’m more creative than a tornado wearing a cowboy hat to a clown’s funeral. But in the visualization department, I’m running on empty. In fact, sometimes I create character description lists when I write so the visual details won’t vary from one chapter to another. And I know I’m not the only author in this boat.

Because…

Imagination exists on a spectrum.

Human imagination ranges across two extremes: hyper-visualization and aphantasia. Most people fall somewhere in the middle. People, probably like you.

Hyper-visualizers can create intricately detailed mental images. When they were envisioning that tornado at the funeral, they could probably tell you what kind of rubble was blowing around, how many people attended the ceremony and how many rings they were wearing, and about the grey metal folding chair in the back with the chips of rust on the right-forward seat corner.

Aphantasia is a complete lack of visual imagery. If you’re having a difficult time wrapping your head around that, this short video does a fabulous job explaining it in about 5 minutes.

Most people with aphantasia think in words, concepts, or some of the other senses.

Personally, I’m not a true aphantasiac. My cognition is largely mechanical/kinetic/emotional/auditory, but I can visualize for split seconds at a time. I simply cannot hold onto those images long enough to do anything useful with them. And I can listen to my characters chat all day (which is probably why I enjoy writing dialogue). But I know that I’ll never “see” them the way most people do.

There’s an even deeper form of aphantasia where people don’t use any of the five senses to think. This is called total aphantasia. People with this think in facts, concepts, and other sub-sensory ways.

If you’d like to know where on the imagination spectrum you are, there’s a quick test here.

PS: Since your imagination is probably way better than mine, I’d LOVE to hear how you see my characters or anything else in Fillius Glint.

 

How Reading Suspense Changes Your Brain
Productivity Tips

Something Special Happens to Your Brain When You Read Suspense Novels

I’d tell you what it is, but I’d rather keep you in suspense. 😉

How Reading Suspense Changes Your BrainPhoto by Steve Halama on Unsplash

Suspense novels carry an undeniable intrigue. Our hearts race and our minds whirr as we race to put all the pieces together. Will our hero escape the forces of evil? Or will they meet an untimely demise? And which characters can you actually trust?

Fiction, in general, is a fantastic way to explore the dangers that surround us every day. From gossip at the watercooler to the less likely but far more dangerous kidnapping in the middle of the night at knife-point, stories help us explore what works— and what doesn’t.

Stories allow us to experience life-threatening circumstances from the comfort of our home. They are THE original simulation game. Plus, they increase our empathy by putting us inside other characters’ heads. Personalities which we may not like suddenly take on a bit more nuance and humanity.

But suspense does all that and more. In fact…

How Reading Suspense Changes Your Brain

In a 2015 study published by the Public Library of Science (PLOS), researchers noticed something intriguing about brain activity surrounding suspenseful reading. Can you guess what it is? 🙂

The areas of the brain which were most active when participants read something they considered to be suspenseful are also tied to:

  • mentalizing (figuring out ourselves and others, finding motives, etc.)
  • predictive inference (Solve that mystery!)
  • and possibly cognitive control

And I was sorely tempted to title this article: Can Suspense Novels Make You Psychic? (I mean the research says predictive!) But that would be a gross oversimplification of what’s going on. None of these results should be particularly surprising to anyone who’s read mystery, thrillers, or suspense novels in the past. Any well-written book in this genre will make us ask the big questions.

Why is this character doing that?

Who is to blame?

Wait, I noticed a detail here. Will this be important in the future?

Hey, I think I know who the killer is!

Sound familiar?

So, while reading suspense novels won’t give you the ability to see forty years into the future, it does exercise those problem-solving muscles. And in a world with 99+ problems, those are some good muscles to have.

PS: Want to know more about reading and the brain? Check out this post.

 

The Science Behind Why You Might Prefer Print
Productivity Tips

The Science Behind Why You Might Prefer Print

Print books have an undeniable appeal for many book lovers. Here’s why.

The Science Behind Why You Might Prefer Print
Photo by Thought Catalog on Unsplash

This post contains affiliate links. That means I earn a commission from clicks or purchases made through these links at no cost to you. See my Disclosure Page for more information.

In these cold winter months, there’s nothing quite as relaxing as snuggling up in bed with a good book and a warm cup of cocoa/tea/coffee. But for many of us, that book is either or a hardcover or paperback. Despite the fact that ebooks are more convenient and take up less space, there’s something about the experience of holding a physical book that people find satisfying. Perhaps it’s the smell of fresh or older pages, the texture of the binding, cover, or book jacket.

Perhaps it’s something neurological.

The Science Behind Why You Might Prefer Print

When we read, our brains treat text like separate objects. We attach abstract meanings to words and weave them together into a mental picture. According to Scientific American, this is much like drawing a map.

How many times have you flipped through a book looking for a line that you knew was on the top right-hand side? Or perhaps the middle of the left page?

If you’re reading a printed book, you have a lot of spacial and tactile references for this internal story-map. There’s the thickness of the book; signposts like chapter numbers can be found easily by referencing how close they are to the back or front cover of the book. But with ebooks, everything shows up in the same-sized window, and spacial references are entirely theoretical.

And, of course, there’s the eyestrain. Screens glow at us (although there are some e-readers such as the Kindle Paperwhite that work to reduce this problem).

The Science Behind Why You Might Prefer Print

Photo by James Tarbotton on Unsplash

And many of us come to screens subconsciously primed to be distracted. We use screens for so many different tasks involving varied apps, emotions, and the need for immediate gratification. Sometimes our reading comprehension gets entangled with these other things and interrupts our concentration. Especially if you read ebooks on a phone like I do. (*Hangs head in semi-shame*)

Additionally, studies have shown that people who read printed text have stronger long-term memory of the material compared to people who learn via text on a screen.

And if you were born back when libraries still had card catalogs, like me, there may be another factor at play. (I will add here that this particular bit is my own opinion and not based on any studies, so do take it with a bit of skepticism. I adore thought experiments.) Many of us were raised on printed books and only started reading on screens later on in life. It will be interesting to see how younger generations, who’ve had access to screen-based reading their entire lives, will adapt. Perhaps in the future, human brains will change and be primed to read digital text over paper text. Maybe stories will be wired directly into our brains. Who knows?

But if you ever get the feeling that there’s something about reading a physical book over an e-reader remember: it’s all in your head. And you’re not alone.

Other sources:

New Republic

Huff Post

PS: Liked this article? Don’t forget to share!