Books for March

I’ve been reading a lot of really fun picture books lately.

I’ve been reading a lot of really fun picture books lately. It’s a great way to get ideas on technique for my own writing and art.

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I thought I’d share a few of my favorites with you!

Oh, No! by Candace Fleming and illustrated by Eric Rohmann

The art in this book is amazing. The end. Gorgeous colors, lively lines, and it’s a reduction linocut, which is pretty unusual when it comes to children’s book illustrations. Too fun.

It’s a pretty cool story, too, told in typical folktale style. Animal after animal falls into a pit … and a hungry tiger is watching it all.

Steam Train, Dream Train by Sherry Duskey Rinker and illustrated by Tom Lichtenheld

A great example of a rhyming book that deserves to be a rhyming book. No word is extraneous; it’s a rollicking ride the whole way through.

The art in this book is gorgeous, and kids will love all the fun details of cute animals loading up the train.

Swan: The Life and Dance of Anna PavlovaSwan: The Life and Dance of Anna Pavlova by Laurel Snyder and illustrated by Julie Morstad

The illustrations in this book are so lovely, I just want to look at them over and over. This book tells the story of ballerina Anna Pavlova, from her childhood through her untimely death, in a lyrical and gentle way.

It’s a great example of how nonfiction can be crafted using all the techniques of the best fiction stories.

I think I’m strangely drawn to stories with grumpy characters, because the next three books have pretty rude protagonists.

What can I say. I think they’re funny.

Please, Mr. Panda written and illustrated by Steve Antony

I heard Steve Antony speak at a recent children’s literature conference. He actually read the entire book to us at the conference and it was hilarious. This book is told entirely in dialogue–a device I’m liking a lot.

Mr. Panda has some donuts to give away. But before he’ll let them go, he expects a little politeness in return.

Leave Me Alone! written and illustrated by Vera Brosgol

A Caldecott Honor winner this year! A grandmother just wants some alone time to get some knitting done for her passel of grandchildren. In fact, she’ll go pretty far to make it happen.

 

 

 

I Want My Hat Back written and illustrated by Jon Klassen

Like Please, Mr. Panda, this book is told entirely in dialogue. The art picks up the slack to fill in the holes in the text–in a pretty funny way.

The bear is looking for his hat. But when he finally finds it, he almost doesn’t realize it.

Okay, that’s it for now! More books later.

 

 

Brown Girl Dreaming: A Review

On my way home from a wedding this weekend, I finished reading Jacqueline Woodson’s Brown Girl Dreaming, one of the most unusual children’s books I’ve ever read.

On my way home from a wedding this weekend, I finished reading Jacqueline Woodson’s Brown Girl Dreaming, one of the most unusual children’s books I’ve ever read. I’m adding it to my list of books that have opened my eyes a little more to the realities of segregation and prejudice in the south, extending into Jacqueline’s childhood in the 60s and 70s. (Others I’ve enjoyed on this topic, although I would not recommend them for younger children, are To Kill a Mockingbird, The Help, and I Know Why the Caged Bird Sings.) She shares her experiences with grace, telling of sitting in the back of the bus, not being allowed in the drugstore, and having to leave town late at night in order to avoid questioning.

The book is unusual because it is written in free verse, and what it lacks in dynamic plot it makes up for in lyrical language. The poetry is written in a way that children can easily understand and appreciate. It is a thoughtful, slow-moving piece, chronicling Jacqueline’s childhood in Ohio, Greenville, South Carolina, and New York City, from her birth until her early elementary years. It deals gently and tastefully with tough subjects including divorce, death, prejudice, going to jail, and Jacqueline’s brother’s lead-poisoning. My favorite themes were Jacqueline’s relationship with her grandfather, Gunnar, her torn feelings as she moves from state to state, never quite knowing where home is, and her emerging identity as a writer.

I recommend this book both to introduce young readers to the beauties of poetry and to grow empathy for any who may be marginalized in society.

Five Faves for September

This is my first time trying this, so I’m gonna stretch the rules a little bit.

This is my first time trying this, so I’m gonna stretch the rules a little bit. The idea is that I share five things for the month that I’ve discovered, loved, and that made my life happy! Obviously, I’m a bit late for September! Still, here goes.

1. Connie Willis (To Say Nothing of the Dog, Bellwether)

141003To Say Nothing of the Dog

This is my top favorite for a reason. I can’t say I’ve enjoyed an author so much since I first discovered Rick Riordan. (You can read about that awesomeness here.) Connie Willis writes science fiction, but both of the books I’ve read so far aren’t at all like what I think of when I think science fiction (absolutely no aliens involved). My intro to Willis (hat tip to my friend Kim for that) was To Say Nothing of the Dog, a romance/mystery/sci-fi/just-plain-fun book that I had a hard time putting down. Most of the book takes place in Victorian England as two time-travelers (Ned and Verity) try to solve the mystery of the disappearance of the bishop’s bird stump, a hideous vase of sorts. I just finished Bellwether–the story of a trends researcher who is utterly un-faddish–and liked it nearly as well. I think what appeals to me the most about Willis is the way she fills her books with the most delicious details–history, literature, science–all in the minds of characters who are enthralled by knowing and connecting ideas. I am perfectly certain that if I met Willis’ characters in real life, we would get along.

2. Noosa yogurt

141003 Noosa yogurt.jpgMmm … passion fruit.

This stuff is amazing. I’ve been an Activia fan for a while (I eat it almost every day), but this yogurt may just convert me. It is like dessert. Seriously. So far, I’ve had the pumpkin, the tart cherry, and the raspberry (all amazing), and I fully intend to try every flavor I can get my hands on. I’m looking at the website right now, and THEY HAVE PASSION FRUIT. These people clearly know me. (Thanks to Shoshanna for sharing your snacks, else I might never have known what I was missing!)

3. “Overwhelmed” by Big Daddy Weave

I love Big Daddy Weave! This song makes me so happy. It’s been around for a year or so, apparently, but I heard it for the first time on the radio this month.

Here’s the chorus:

I delight myself in You,
Captivated by Your beauty;
I’m overwhelmed, I’m overwhelmed by You.
God, I run into your arms,
Unashamed because of mercy;
I’m overwhelmed, I’m overwhelmed by You.

Listen to the full song here:

4. Breathe Christian Writer’s Conference

This doesn’t really count, because I haven’t actually gone yet. But I am all signed up to attend Breathe Writer’s Conference one week from today! I have wanted to attend a writer’s conference for a while now, so I am excited to attend (and thankful to my friend Alexis for letting me know about it). I hope to share some of the highlights of it with you soon.

5. The Crow

1441003 yoga-crow-pose.jpgZe crow.

The crow is a yoga pose that looks like this lady on the right:
I’ve been working on it for a while (read: two years) and I can finally do it! Yeah! It feels really good to say that. (Please don’t tell me how you were able to do the crow the first time you tried. Please. Do. Not.)

Glorifying God by Being Myself

If you’re like me, you’ve probably struggled at some point (or still struggle) with what it means to be the person you are, with reconciling yourself to unwanted character traits, and with discerning which bits are good and beautiful and to be celebrated and which bits were better suppressed.

If you’re like me, you’ve probably struggled at some point (or still struggle) with what it means to be the person you are, with reconciling yourself to unwanted character traits, and with discerning which bits are good and beautiful and to be celebrated and which bits were better suppressed. I’m encouraged in this by remembering that God is a God who delighted to create a diversity in everything he made–from the insects to the stars–and that I can glorify Him most by living my life beautifully back to Him as the person He made me to be. That doesn’t mean I can justify my sin by saying “That’s just who I am.” It does relieve me from the pressure of trying to fit a mold I was never created to fit. It frees me to spend my time enjoying doing things not many others are doing and enjoying (like reading and writing poetry–ha!) and pursue whatever godly passions I have. It also frees me to embrace people who are very different from myself, thanking God for their very different sort of beauty.

Thanks to songwriter Audrey Assad for pointing me to this poem by one of my favorite authors, Gerard Manley Hopkins, who beautifully expresses this idea.

As Kingfishers Catch Fire

By Gerard Manley Hopkins

As kingfishers catch fire, dragonflies draw flame;
As tumbled over rim in roundy wells
Stones ring; like each tucked string tells, each hung bell’s
Bow swung finds tongue to fling out broad its name;
Each mortal thing does one thing and the same:
Deals out that being indoors each one dwells;
Selves — goes itself; myself it speaks and spells,
Crying Whát I dó is me: for that I came.

I say móre: the just man justices;
Keeps grace: thát keeps all his goings graces;
Acts in God’s eye what in God’s eye he is —
Chríst — for Christ plays in ten thousand places,
Lovely in limbs, and lovely in eyes not his
To the Father through the features of men’s faces.

Here’s the song “For Love of You” where Audrey talks about how this poem impacted her in a spoken intro:

My New Heroes

So the title of this post probably made you think it was about something serious. Um, no.

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So the title of this post probably made you think it was about something serious. Um, no. I’m not in a serious mood right now. I’m in a “write about my secret guilty pleasure (henceforth no longer secret)” mood. Ahem.

I sometimes get asked the question: “So, how many years were you in college, exactly?” To which I respond glibly: “mumble mumble.” “I’m sorry, what was that?” “Er, I said ‘fourteen.'” “Fourteen?!!” Yes. You heard right. I am utterly insane. It was either school or the mental institution.

While I was doing my fourteen years of time, I was made to read all manner of books. I read books which discussed chiaroscuro and Caravaggio and Ionic columns. I read books designed to explain French conditionals and Greek declensions and Hebrew roots. I read books elucidating hamartiology and gnosticism and amillennialism. I read books about linguistics (with titles like ‘Ergativity’ and ‘The Syntax-Semantics Interface’) that made my eyes cross. I read scholarly articles coming out my ears. And then I wrote a book full of jargon that only about three people in the world can understand. And finally I got kind of tired of books that featured words like antipassive and antinomianism and antidisestablishmentarianism. (Okay, so I don’t know if I ever actually read any books with that word in it.)

When the last word was written and my professors’ John Hancocks were safely on the dissertation paperwork, I packed my scholarly tomes in cardboard boxes galore and lugged the forty or fifty library books littering my living room back to the library. I moved halfway across the country and promptly got a library card.

I can’t be certain, but I think the first thing I checked out was “Harry Potter and the Chamber of Secrets.” It was November, and I blew through the rest of the series by Christmas. A host of other fun books followed, none of whose authors even toyed with the idea of using the word ontological.

So now you know my guilty little secret. I am a children’s fiction addict.

Although I don’t limit myself to one genre, I especially like fantasy fiction. So I was very excited to run across an author that, in my opinion, is one of the cleverest, cleanest, and all-around most enjoyable to read that I’ve found in years. This guy makes me actually tempted to write him fan mail, which is saying something.

The author I’m talking about is Rick Riordan. (Some of you have heard me rave.) His first children’s series is called Percy Jackson and the Olympians, and includes five books, each better than the last. The basic premise is that the Greek gods (you know, Ares, Zeus, Aphrodite) are still populating the world with demi-god hero children. The gods themselves turn out to be rather deadbeat parents, but their kids are full of vim and vigor, taking on monsters and quests with admirable pluck.

Having finished his first five, Riordan apparently thought the Roman gods deserved a fair shake. I’ve just completed The Lost Hero, the first in a new series of books that introduces fresh characters and brings in old ones as well, some the children of Greek gods, others children of Roman gods. Basic plot summary: Jason, Piper, and Leo team up to rescue the goddess Hera/Juno, who’s been kidnapped by a mysterious sleep-walking woman. The catch? They have only a few days to find her—oh, and simultaneously rescue Piper’s (human) father, who’s being held captive by giants.

What’s so great about  Riordan’s books? A lot of things. For one, his characters are just super likable. Second, the plots are tightly woven sequences of events that characterize good writing at its finest. Nothing is wasted. Nothing is left hanging. Every subplot moves the story along toward the resolution of the overarching question. On top of this, the books are educational. (Groan.)  No, no—wait! In a fun way. I promise. Riordan, a former history teacher, retells the Greek and Roman myths in a manner sometimes frankly hilarious. Take the following passage, in which Jason and his friends encounter the legendary King Midas.

“So,” Jason said. “All this gold—”
The king’s eyes lit up. “Are you here for gold, my boy? Please, take a brochure!”
Jason looked at the brochures on the coffee table. The title said GOLD: Invest for Eternity. “Um, you sell gold?”
“No, no,” the king said. “I make it. In uncertain times like these, gold is the wisest investment, don’t you think? Governments fall. The dead rise. Giants attack Olympus. But gold retains its value!”
Leo frowned. “I’ve seen that commercial.”

Of course, most of us have heard of Midas. But since reading The Lost Hero, I can now tell you the Aeolus and Boreas were gods of the winds, Medea was the wife of Jason until he dumped her for someone else, and that when I order a venti latte at Starbucks, a particularly astute barista might think of storm spirits instead. For someone who likes trivia as much as I do, it’s a particularly satisfying combination.

Right now, I’m waiting with anticipation for the second book in the series (Son of Neptune) to come out. I’ve already got my hold in at the local library.

Longing

I’m currently re-reading a short collection of poems by Edna St. Vincent Millay that I’ve had for years.

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Edna St. Vincent Millay

I’m currently re-reading a short collection of poems by Edna St. Vincent Millay that I’ve had for years (Selected Poems). I love Millay’s style, even when I disagree with her philosophy on life. In my mind, she’s up there next to Frost in her ability to capture something of what C.S. Lewis described this way:

“the inconsolable secret in each one of you–the secret which hurts so much that you take your revenge on it by calling it names like Nostalgia and Romanticism and Adolescence; the secret also which pierces with such sweetness that when, in very intimate conversation, the mention of it becomes imminent, we grow awkward and affect to laugh at ourselves; the secret we cannot hide and cannot tell, though we desire to do both. We cannot tell it because it is a desire for something that has never actually appeared in our experience. We cannot hide it because our experience is constantly suggesting it, and we betray ourselves like lovers at the mention of a name. Our commonest expedient is to call it beauty and behave as if that settled the matter … But all this is a cheat … The books or the music in which we thought the beauty was located will betray us if we trust to them; it was not in them, it only came through them, and what came through them was longing. These things–the beauty, the memory of our own past–are good images of what we really desire; but if they are mistaken for the thing itself, they turn into dumb idols, breaking the hearts of their worshippers.” (The Weight of Glory)

Millay was not a Christian. But her work frequently expresses the longing Lewis described–a wordless aching for something we’ve never even seen; an aching ultimately filled only by seeing the perfections of Christ and becoming in reality what we (Christians) are currently positionally. As 1 John 3:2 says, “Beloved, we are God’s children now, and what we will be has not yet appeared; but we know that when he appears we shall be like him, because we shall see him as he is.”

Here’s a couple of my favorites from Millay:

Assault

I had forgotten how the frogs must sound
After a year of silence, else I think
I should not so have ventured forth alone
At dusk upon this unfrequented road.

I am waylaid by Beauty. Who will walk
Between me and the crying of the frogs?
Oh, savage Beauty, suffer me to pass,
That am a timid woman, on her way
From one house to another!

Wild Swans

I looked in my heart while the wild swans went over.
And what did I see I had not seen before?
Only a question less or a question more;
Nothing to match the flight of wild birds flying.
Tiresome heart, forever living and dying,
House without air, I leave you and lock your door.
Wild swans, come over the town, come over
The town again, trailing your legs and crying!

Edna St. Vincent Millay