Wednesday, June 12, 2013

Calvert the Raven and the Battle of Baltimore -repost plus author interview

"When I was a kid they didn't call it dyslexia they called it, you know, you were slow, or you were retarded, or whatever. What you can never change is the effect that the word 'dumb' and 'stupid',  have on young people. I knew I wasn't stupid, and I knew I wasn't dumb.  My mother told me that.  If you read to me, I could tell you everything that you read. They didn't know what it was.  They knew I wasn't lazy, but what was it?"
                                           ~Whoopi Goldberg

Title: Calvert the Raven inThe Battle of Baltimore
Author and Illustrator:  J. Scott Fuqua

It is sad, but true, most modern day kids lack the desire to learn anything about historical events from the past. It's not always their fault as a lot of history taught is taught in an antiquated way. History is presented to them through lists of boring facts, dates and teachers who "pile it on" by referencing out-of-date and boring textbooks that are twenty or thirty years old. Who wouldn't want to go home and play video games, listen to your iPod or text on your cell?

Then along comes J. Scott Fuqua and sees the dilemma that we are in. He ingeniously invents a tuned-out, boy character named Daniel, who lives in Baltimore, a disgraced history paper that the teacher had scrawled, "Terrible" on, and a talking, wise-cracking raven, named Calvert to save the day. Calvert had been watching Daniel's antics; his lack of caring and lack of effort towards his history assignment and the raven decides it is time to fly in and change that indifferent attitude. He makes contact with the boy, shrinks him down to size to fit on his back, and time-warps him back right into the midst of 1814 and the Battle of Baltimore where the British Army and Navy are attacking Fort McHenry. Daniel becomes an eye witness to the battle and sees first hand the emotions of the men involved and the stark reality of war plus the possibility that perhaps the United States may not come out the winner. He observes the grimy, gritty lifestyle of the battle and understands better the fears and risks that the soldiers took to save their fragile young republic. The survival of the fort and its flag become a turning point in the war and was the inspiration of the United States national anthem, "The Star Spangled Banner." The seriousness of the situation is balanced beautifully with the humour and wit of Calvert. The illustrations are detailed and magnificent. The watercolours are dramatic and enrich the storyline greatly.

I personally love the idea of bringing history into the 21st century so our kids will be motivated and inspired to find out about the past. Fuqua is planning more rich tales as the Flying Through History Series.  

Author Interview:

Rapid Fire Questions:

1. What is your dream car? Hmmm… A Mini Countryman

2. Do you prefer a sit down meal or a picnic?
A sit down meal. When I am on a picnic I tend to graze as well as spill. Plus, my wife and daughter hate bugs and bees, so I’m always busy protecting them.

3. Do you like to give a gift or receive one?
I like both. I love giving gifts, especially when they’re a surprise but still what the receiver has been hoping for. Of course a really cool gift of the same sort is nice to get, too.

4. Are you life-handed or right-handed? (sorry I was a teacher and like that question)
I’m left handed. I do detailed work with my left hand, but thanks to coaches and kindergarten teachers in the 1970s, I throw with my right hand.

5. What is your favorite drink? I’m embarrassed to say, but Coke Zero

Serious Stuff:

  1. What was your favorite book to read as a child?  The Sword of Shannara and Catcher in the Rye.  Were you a "budding novelist" in primary school or discovered this talent later on in life?  I started writing, horribly I should add, in junior high school. But I hated reading and writing in elementary school due to an undiagnosed case of dyslexia.
2.  How did you choose the title of the book?
I wanted something dynamic, that would capture the action as well as the magical supporting character. I also wanted to get across that Daniel would be in the battle directly.

3.  Did you write yourself into any of the characters?  Which one could you identify with most?
Daniel… At his age I was decidedly anti-intellectual if the subject was presented in a dry way.

4.  What other authors do you like to read?
Sabatian Younger, Jon Krakauer, old John Irving, Annie Proulx, Michael Chabon, Susan Kasey, Eric Larson

5.   Do you have another book in the works or bubbling around inside your brain crying to get out?
I’ve got a book called The Mystery of the Greaser Hotel for next winter, which I love. It’s a YA novel. I’ve also got a graphic novel for high schoolers coming out this fall. It’s called Medusa’s Daughter.

6.  Anything else you would like to add about yourself to tell your readers?
That I really appreciate to hear from them, especially when they review the book on Amazon, even if they don’t like it. It’s nice to see the reasons why.

7. How did you choose the names of the characters in your book?
I wanted an all-American-boy sounding name and a historic, classy name for Calvert.
  1.  You had a struggle in school with a learning disability while growing up.  Would you like to tell us a bit about it so it may help some other person in the future who may be feeling discouraged right now? 

I simply couldn’t read or write at first and secretly thought I was stupid and hiding it from everyone. It was terrible and embarrassing. I was scared to write larger words and terrified to take spelling tests and anything that required me to expose myself as unable to spell… Then I just fell in love with stories. Stories are not about spelling, there about entertaining…  

Thank you so much for your time in completing this Scott.  Your books are amazing and I hope everyone checks them out.  Thank you for being honest about your reading/writing struggle because I am sure you inspired someone today with your life story. Look forward to reviewing many more of your books here on my blog.  

If you suspect that your child has a reading challenge get it diagnosed as soon as you can.  Kids go through a lot of labelling and pain trying to read and sometimes it is something much deeper than you can first identify.  There is lots of support and help out there so if you think your child needs to be evaluated please set things in motion to get that process in the works.  You will save your child from much worry and anguish in their reading journey if you are proactive in their diagnosis and supportive in their healing of this challenge.  

Read on and read always!  

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