Author Archives: Wendy Martin

How young is too young? Pushed into chapter books.

photo by David Castillo DominiciI’ve noticed a trend in the last decade or so to push kids into reading at younger and younger ages.

When I went to school, an independent reader was expected to be late 2nd to early 3rd grade. I don’t remember whether learning to read came easily or was difficult for me. My brother, nearly two years my junior, had an awful time of it when he was learning. I remember him and my mother screaming at each other while she pushed him to figure it out. He just didn’t get it. Then one day a light clicked. After that, his teacher sent notes home because he was showing off in class when students still struggling with the concept were slow to pronounce a word during reading time.

My daughter (now a senior in HS) was expected to be reading by the end of 1st grade. She was, and is a voracious reader. Reading came naturally to her, and by the middle of second grade she’d read Charlotte’s Web, by herself, seven times. By the time she was in 6th grade she was reading at a college level and I was having a hard time finding age appropriate books.

Now, I see kids expected to be independent readers in kindergarten. And not the tail end of it either! One child I am acquainted with was shunted into remedial reading classes as soon as she entered kindergarten. Are children who don’t attend nursery school now at a disadvantage because they can’t spell their names and replicate the alphabet on lined sheets?

As a picture book illustrator for the 5-8 crowd, I wonder if this is a good thing for the kids. I remember being disturbed by reading a book “with no pictures” as an independent reader. As a child, I would read everything I could get my hands on. I loved reading. Even still, I didn’t want to move to “grown-up” books without pictures until I was at least 12 or 13 years old. Emotionally, I just wasn’t in the right place.

When I asked my writerly friends their opinions on this topic, a variety of answers came back.

Some folks thought kids should be encouraged to read as soon as possible because they were happier not having to have things other than books read to them. Another person has a number of children, some were reading at age 4, but one wasn’t ready to read until nearly 8 years old. She says that children should be allowed to learn to read when they are developmentally ready. That makes sense to me.

Children don’t develop all at the same rate. Some kids are ready to read very young. They want to, can’t wait to, are chaffing at the bit to figure it out. Others are just not the least bit interested.

Still another commenter pointed out kids are expected to score high on standardized tests, which necessitates a certain level of visual language fluency. So, kids are being taught, and assumed to be reading at younger and younger ages so test scores will rise. Don’t even get me started on what I think of standardized testing and scores. It’s not pretty. You don’t want to go there. Trust me.

One person commented she wished there was more of a focus on socialization and relationship building in kindergarten instead of reading skills. I agree. It seems to me that kids are being short changed on how to interact with peers and adults. Does anyone else find it odd that there are commercials on TV for web sites telling kids how to play outdoor activities? When I grew up, we moved seamlessly from one activity to the next. It was rainy day indoor activities our parents worried about keeping us occupied.

What do you think? Are kids being pushed into independent reading too quickly?

Wendy Martin spends her days drawing fantastical worlds. In the evenings she writes about them, then she visits them at night during her dreams. Visit her universe at her web site

It’s a matter of myth conception

I discovered mythology as a seventh grader.

My Jr. High school was a mile from home, and I walked in all but the very worst weather. Often I would find a brief refuge in the public library which was on the way home.

I remember one illustrated book about the Greek and Roman gods. The artwork was amazing and in my mind’s eye (probably enhanced by memory) as detailed and amazing as Michelangelo’s triptychs.

The 12-year old me was launched on a love affair with all things mythological. The librarians in the children’s section were happy to provide me with age appropriate versions of the Iliad and Homer’s Odyssey. I devoured the tales of King Arthur and Camelot. I hunted out every version of the tales of Greek and Roman gods that I could find. Eventually, I became a bit of an expert.

When I became an adult, I discovered a new genre. These books took the well known myths and rewrote them from a new perspective. I loved them as much as the original stories, and even in some cases, better.

Current day authors, the most well known – Rick Riordan – portrayed a retelling of Greek gods in present day incarnations in his Percy Jackson Heroes of Olympus series. He went on to take a look at Egyptian mythology in his next series, the Kane Chronicles.

But hold on there, he’s not the only author writing these amazing tales. Here are some other books to try if you are mythological tale hound like me.

Tracy Barrett has several tales drawn from antiquity. But says she is only following a long tradition:

I’ve always been confused by the notion that the stories we know from Greek and Roman mythology are the “real” version, and that when I write a book based on one of them, I’m retelling a story from an authoritative text. The fact is that the myths, the hero legends, the incidents of the Trojan War (if such a war ever took place), the voyages of Odysseus—all these tales were told orally for centuries before someone wrote them down. Whoever that writer was, he (almost certainly a “he”) picked and chose which details of the traditional tale to include, invented others, and put on his own stylistic stamp. A poet a generation later who told the same story would have a different spin on it.

That’s all I’m doing in King of Ithaka and Dark of the Moon. I love hearing stories told by a narrator who is a minor character in a familiar tale, so I chose Telemachos (Odysseus’s son) to relate his own coming-of-age story in the former, and Ariadne (sister of the Minotaur) to set the record straight about what was really going on with her monstrous brother in the latter.

Each poet in King of Ithaka says at the start of his song, “Hear this,” and finishes it by saying, “And now my tale is told.” The first words in King of Ithaka are “Hear this,” and the last are, “And now my tale is told.” I’m just one in a long line of people who have taken inspiration from the adventures of Odysseus and the story of the Minotaur.

A mysterious talisman transports a boy back to ancient Italy

No one ever listens to Hector. He wanted to hang out with his friends this summer, but instead he’s stuck in Italy at an archaeological dig with his mom. The ancient Etruscan artifacts are interesting, but no one has time for him.

Then he makes a discovery of his own-a strange, unsettling stone that looks like an eye. The stone brings nightmares about Arath, an Etruscan boy who died thousands of years ago but now begs for Hector’s help. Are these just dreams, or is Arath really in danger? As Hector unearths the truth, he realizes that he can make himself heard when it counts.

Ariadne is destined to become a goddess of the moon. She leads a lonely life, filled with hours of rigorous training by stern priestesses. Her former friends no longer dare to look at her, much less speak to her. All that she has left are her mother and her beloved, misshapen brother Asterion, who must be held captive below the palace for his own safety.

So when a ship arrives one spring day, bearing a tribute of slaves from Athens, Ariadne sneaks out to meet it. These newcomers don’t know the ways of Krete; perhaps they won’t be afraid of a girl who will someday be a powerful goddess. And indeed she meets Theseus, the son of the king of Athens. Ariadne finds herself drawn to the newcomer, and soon they form a friendship—one that could perhaps become something more. Yet Theseus is doomed to die as an offering to the Minotaur, that monster beneath the palace—unless he can kill the beast first. And that “monster” is Ariadne’s brother . . .

The King of Ithaca Telemachos has a comfortable life on his small island of Ithaka, where his mother Penelopeia keeps the peace even though the land has been without its king, his father Odysseus, since the Trojan War began many years ago.

But now the people are demanding a new king, unless Telemachos can find Odysseus and bring him home. With only a mysterious prophecy to guide him, Telemachos sets off over sea and desert in search of the father he has never known.

L.J. Smith pens an enjoyable series based on the characters from the Arthurian Tales.

The Night of the Solstice Four siblings join forces with a talking vixen to rescue the vixen’s mistress, the sorceress Morgana Shee, and stop the evil sorcerer Cadal Forge before he can pass through a gate to Earth during the winter solstice.

A year and a half after Alys, Charles, Janie, and Claudia complete their quest to the Wildworld, an earthquake hits California, potentially destabilizing the passage between the mortal world and the magical one. But with their parents overseas and the sorceress Morgana searching for the epicenter of the quake, the four children are on their own. Strange happenings in their town force them on a journey that will test their combined resources, for Thia Pendriel, Morgana’s archrival, has stolen a powerful gem—the Heart of Valor—and is waiting to spring her trap….
Here’s what she shared about magic and myth:
When I was ten, I was still searching for magic, real magic. One day my family went to the movies to see something called Camelot, which I was happy to watch until I saw a billboard that said it was an epic romance. Romance? Yuk! Cooties! But my dad dragged me in and I watched, and I cried, and I knew that I had glimpsed a kind of magic I had to have more of. I didn’t notice any of the film’s flaws—I was a kid. What I took away was the idea of a round table and “might for right” and, of course, the idea that we are all just drops of water in the great blue ocean. But some of the drops sparkle!As soon as I could I read the book, The Once and Future King by T.H. White. After that there was no stopping me. I was determined to be a sparkling drop (and find magic, rescue a prince, fight a great foe, and also, as I quoted to people’s understandable bewilderment, “Die a hero or not at all!”) I read everything I could about the Arthurian legend and somehow, slowly, my entire life started to develop around it. I became a militant idealist.When I was in high school I began The Night of the Solstice, meaning it to be the first book of a trilogy. It was about magic, of course, and by the time it came out I’d already written the sequel, Heart of Valor, introducing the idea of a female descendant of King Arthur. I meant to sum it all up in Mirror of Heaven, and I still mean to—someday. Perhaps when the once and future king comes back. The world is certainly ready for his return.

A nail biting series where the hero battles evil to save the world is the Erec Rex tales by Kaza Kingsley.

No list on mythology would be complete without a tale of beasts.

Though not strictly a middle-grade book, Jane Yolan’s newest graphic novel offering is too beautiful not to be included. The Last Dragon tells a tale how two hundred years after humans drove the dragons from the islands of May, the last wyrm rises anew to wreak havoc, with only a healer’s daughter and a kite-flying, reluctant hero standing in its way.

When asked about this book, Ms. Yolan replied:

“Dragons (as well as unicorns and selchies) have been great inspirations to me. But dragons–because they can be good, bad, and ugly, have fascinated me for as long as I’ve been a writer. This book began as a short story called “Dragonfield” (close to novella length) published in 1984 in a collection of mine also called DRAGONFIELD. The first publisher who saw the graphic novel version and wanted it was DC, but they have a contract that is not known to be “creator friendly.” In fact they wanted all rights to my story till the heat-death of the universe. Which may be just about okay if I’d been writing in one of their created worlds, but this story was all mine–characters, setting, etc. So my agent and I took it from them and sold it to this wonderful young editor at DarkHorse Rachel Eidden who was a fan of both Rebecca Guay’s artwork and my storytelling. (She has a blog over at the DarkHorse site which tells you about how she approached the book.) It took about half a year to write and revise at least eight times on my own, before I started doing revisions for the editor. The illustrations took Rebecca closer to two years. And aren’t they astonishingly beautiful! I own one of the original pieces.” Jane Yolen

While I love and am fascinated by what other authors come up with as a new spin on classic tales, my daughter thinks it’s oh so wrong. She complained bitterly about how the Percy Jackson gods were not themselves and totally out of character. She declared that Mr. Riordan must have not done his research very well and just made things up because he wanted to.

Which side of this equation do you fall on? Do you love seeing old tales with a new spin? Or are you like my kid and just wish authors would leave well enough alone?

Wendy Martin spends her days drawing fantastical worlds. In the evenings she writes about them, then she visits them at night during her dreams. Visit her universe at her web site

Parade of Planet Pampering Picks

Going green is a hot topic…and a hot science fair project. Author and scientist Elizabeth Snoke Harris knows what impresses, and she provides plenty of winning ideas, along with step-by-step guidance to insure that the end result is a success. Show how to harness energy with windmills, make a biogas generator, and create alternative fuels. Demonstrate green power with recycled paper, solar building, and compact fluorescent light bulbs. Test the ozone, be a “garbage detective,” and discuss how to reverse global warming.
The importance of what children learn will go even beyond the science fair: they’ll have the knowledge to understand what’s happening to Planet Earth…and the desire to do something eco-friendly every day.

In the greenconscious world we live in today, parents realize the importance of teaching the lessons of green living, early on. With this book, parents can encourage their children to be ecologically friendly with fun lessons such as:

* The three Rs: reducing waste, reusing materials, and recycling
* Why we should keep the air, oceans, and forests pollutionfree
* Why organic food is tastier?and better?for you
* How to protect plants and animals
* Earth Day celebrations

Complete with tips for every day of the year?and activities for home, school, and during playtime?this book reveals how easy it is to be an ecofriendly family?and prepare for a better future together. (Description from

Kids are eager to learn how to help protect the environment and preserve the Earth. This fun guide shows them how to reduce waste, recycle materials, protect plant and animals, and more. Filled with 30 eco-friendly activities and puzzles. Illustrations.

An eminently readable and well-organized offering that’s filled with information. Gibbons’s cartoons in primary shapes and colors graphically illustrate the contents of a landfill and how to recycle various products to cut down on the need for landfills–for which space is already in short supply. Discussing paper, plastic, glass, cans, and polystyrene, the author describes how to recycle, why it’s necessary, and its benefits. The top two-thirds of each page is devoted to illustrations that perfectly complement the brief text below. The book ends with a mention of the ozone layer and the limited potential for recycling polystyrene, followed by 14 facts about garbage. The plea is to make our planet a safer and healthier place to live with a habit that is fun and easy–recycling. An excellent, functional introduction. —Carole B. Kirkpatrick, Terminal Park Elementary School, Auburn, WA
Copyright 1992 Reed Business Information, Inc. From School Library Journal (This text refers to an out of print or unavailable edition of this title.)

One 11 year-old girl can make a difference-as budding ornithologist and artist Olivia Bouler has proven, single-handedly raising over $175,000 for the Gulf oil spill recovery. Devastated by the disaster and eager to do her part, Olivia wrote a letter to Audubon, “11 years old and willing to help” offering her own bird paintings to raise contributions for Gulf recovery efforts. The idea took flight, and Olivia proceeded to send out over 500 paintings, many of which are captured in this lavish picture book that recaps her valiant campaign to save birds affected by the spill.
Written in her own words, this unique introduction to backyard and endangered birds features Olivia’s hand-drawn illustrations, bird facts, and full-color photos celebrating Olivia’s campaign. Olivia’s Birds
supports Audubon’s conservation mission, including Gulf Coast cleanup efforts and is printed on FSC eco-friendly paper.

(All descriptions come from IndieBound unless otherwise noted.)

Wendy spends her days drawing fantastical worlds, in the evenings she writes about them and then visits them at night during her dreams. Visit her at