Book review of Temple Grandin

 

 

 

 

Book Review #1

Title: Temple Grandin

How The Girl Who Loved Cows Embraced Autism And Changed The World

Publisher: Houghton Mifflin Harcourt, 2012

Author: Sy Montgomery

Word count: 23907

Grades 4-8

 

 

Sy Montgomery is a natural first and foremost. She’s an author of adult and children non-fiction that teaches and entertains.  She has written about the octopus, the great apes, and the dolphin among other animals. The only book she has written about a human is the biography of autistic Temple Grandin. Probably Montgomery was compelled to write this book because Temple loves cows. I’m sure Montgomery loves cows too.

I had watched an award-winning documentary about Temple Grandin. It spiked an interest in her extraordinary story. Now that I’m writing biographies (picture books and middle grade), I need a mentor text and this book is the perfect one.

 

There are many B/W and color personal photos of her childhood, contraptions Grandin designed to calm herself, and her chute systems to calm the cattle. Her detailed blueprints of cattle pens are reproduced in the book.

 

Sy Montgomery captures what is in Grandin’s autistic mind as she is bullied in school as a child and teenager.  Her heightened senses of sounds and details bring her information that she cannot process. She fears she would go mad.

What rescues her is a visit to her aunt’s Arizona ranch. She loves riding the horses and watching the cattle. She observes that the calves are calmer in the cattle chute that is closed as it squeezes their bodies snuggly for vaccination. Later, she designs a squeeze machine to calm herself.

 

After Grandin graduates from college, she goes on to graduate school to study animal science. She becomes a premier designer of buildings and equipment that handle livestock in a humane way. She is a professor of Animal Sciences at Colorado State University. She and her students work to improve the lives of animals raised for food.

 

Grandin wrote her autobiography, which I haven’t read yet. This book takes us into Grandin’s extraordinary mind of an autistic person. The way Montgomery writes about this mind, I can hear the voice of Grandin, how she can’t relate a person’s expression to feelings. Or how she speaks bluntly and hurts people’s feeling.

 

There are other middle grade books about Grandin. A more recent one is by Annette Wood, published in 2017.

 

I highly recommend this one by Montgomery. The print is large and it’s an easy read. It’s well researched and written. I only hope I can do as well with the biographies I will be writing.

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Critique groups

I belong to a writing critique group at the local library. I’m the only children’s writer. It’s helpful for my middle grade writing, but not for picture books. Now I’m concentrating on the craft of writing picture books. I’m very happy that through the 12×12 picture books writing forum (write 12 books drafts in 12 months), I have found a picture book critique group. My group consists of non-published writers. The writing is still not at a publishable level. But we’re learning from each other. I have paid for professional critiques. Their comments were helpful, but they are expensive and I can’t afford to get nine paid critiques. Getting nine critiques from my group of ten bring out nuances that even professional editors have missed. Of course, I have to decide which comments can help and which don’t. By commenting on the others’ manuscripts is also a learning experience for me. I’m looking for a year of hard work. It takes five years to get a picture book published.  Learning, writing, getting an agent, getting a publisher, time for the illustrator and production. 5 years! I started writing late in life. It’s a incentive to stay healthy and live a long life!

 

Beautiful writing

Since I read an advice to write down a beautiful turn of phrase of sentence in books I read, I’ve been doing that since. Sometimes, I don’t have pen and paper with me, then I have to look them later on. A pain. I’ve accumulated pages of such sentences or phrases. Sometimes, I don’t like the book’s story so much, but I keep reading because of the writing.

When I revise a long piece, for example chapters in  novel, I’d look through the pages and see if i can insert  or replace with better, more beautiful words.

Here are some samples:

Her heart was dancing double time.

There was a whirlwind in her chest.

Loitering on the outskirts of life.

Seemed smaller, like a pricked balloon.

Wear and tear of anxiety.

Shashi Kapoor

A recent obituary of the Indian actor Shashi Kapoor brought back memories of my first exposure to two plays in the late 1950s.  A traveling repertory company from India  performed two plays in my school, Sacred hear School in Hong Kong. It was founded by English expatriates in India. Now I know that the founder was the father of the English actress Felicity Kendal. If I remember correctly, one play was a Shakespeare play and the other was by Oscar Wilde. I can’t remember which. I was enthralled by the performances.  I already enjoyed Cantonese operas. It was at those performances that my love for the performance arts took a firmer hold.

A movie, Shakespeare Wallah from Merchant Ivory Productions told the story of a repertory company like the one that came to Hong Kong. It starred Shahi Kapoor and Felicity Kendall. I saw it in the U.S. in the 1960s and enjoyed it very much.

Nowadays, I go to musicals more than plays. I’ve been trying to instill a love of the performing arts, dance, musicals, concerts(not rock) to my now 15 year-old twins grandchildren.

It’s too bad that in general, tickets are astronomically expensive.  Live performances are not available to most children.

Broadway.com

I was happy to receive a Broadway.com gift for a Broadway show. When I ordered two tickets from a representative, I was charged $37.40 service charge for each ticket. The same charge for an online order. I told the representative that I would go to the box office to save the charges. He told me that the gift cannot be redeemed at a box office. That’s the policy! I advice that if you want to give someone a gift for a show, give cash instead.  If you buy four tickets with a gift certificate, the charge will be almost $150!

Actually, when I bought tickets at a box office three months ago, I was charged for service also. It was about $6 per ticket. I understand someone not living in the metropolitan area cannot get to the box office easily.

Sam Shepard

Recently, I heard Patti Smith interviewed on NPR about Sam Shepard, her good friend who passed away in July of ALS. That’s when I learned that he wrote either in longhand or by typing on a typewriter. He didn’t use a computer. That’s mind boggling. This playwright, writer and actor wrote without a computer in this day and age.  I also learned that he seldom did extensive revisions. I think that’s why his method worked for him.  It is so difficult to revise without word processing. You have to retype whole passages or pages. You can’t change the sequence of scenes easily.

In his final days, Sam Shepard dictated Spy of the First Person into a tape recorder and his daughters typed the manuscript. A writer to the end of his life!

Novel Revision Workshop

The four days recently spent at the Highlights Foundation at Honesdale, PA was my second workshop there. My first one was a biography workshop in 2013. The bucolic setting hasn’t changed. The food was mostly exceptional. One gains weight not by eating fatty food, but by taking too big portions.

I suppose all the attendees want to be published. I met one who said she was not interested in being published. She was writing for herself and her friends. That was refreshing!

We learned a lot from the presentations Q and A sessions.If anything, it was overwhelming to have so many recommended books, websites and links. It was inspirational to be with peoples who are on the same page, to learn to be better writers. Interestingly, there was only one male attendee out of fourteen. There are many male writers for children out there.

The two one-to one sessions with a faculty member were productive for my first novel, “The Wrong Face” that I’m revising. I was encouraged that its premise was excellent. Now if I can pull off the revision which involves a plot change, it will be a strong book.

An illustrator was a guest at one Q and A session. She was an attendee once and now she is a published illustrator. Now that was encouraging.

 

 

 

 

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