Personal posts by public historian, Rose O'Keefe


Megastar Will Smith

Feb 04, 2022 by Rose O'Keefe

Megastar Will Smith’s WILL (2021) was an astounding read. Smith was amazingly honesty about having lived his adult life driven by goals set during his tough childhood. His decision to redefine himself as an adult man with mature and healthy goals was profound. No doubt co-author Mark Manson made it more readable, but Smith’s story was powerful. Very powerful.

As someone author and agent Regina Brooks described as an RU – relatively unknown – author, I appreciated Smith’s sharing how the public perceived musicians, TV stars, movie stars and mega-movie stars and what  it was like to be on the receiving end of overwhelming, boundary-breaking attention. His list of accomplishments and firsts made me think of Alexander the Great who, once he had conquered all the known worlds of his day, wondered what was left? The ending was outrageous fun!

I could pretend that I’m  not going to go nuts reading the Nonfiction Fest posts this month and order 10 gazillion books from the library. So far I made it through three days without placing anything on hold and then I lost it after our monthly RACWI meeting last night. I ordered a bunch of Little Critter and Jolly Postman books that I’ve never read. Then I added the highly-recommended The Leaf Detective. As it goes, we got socked in with snow, so the county library system was shut down today. Good enough. I get some breathing room before they arrive.

Had to wait to see if my neighborhood bookstore opened. It did. I planned to call Hipocampo books for that copy of Amanda Gorman’s The Hill We Climb that I’ve been meaning to get and for the ooshy-gooshy Valenslime, by Joy Keller, with over-the-top illustrations by Ashley Belote. The weather tomorrow is supposed to be the same. Hmm. I called and will go over next week.

At lunchtime it was 17, with a wind-chill of 1, and light snow. I’m not even going to the mail box. TG I have enough magazines and episodes of Celtic Culture. I made tasty waffles this morning. Maybe oatmeal-raisin cookies later? As for that other cabin-fever cure besides snacking, I walked up the stairs in our O-B-G 3-story home, 44 stairs, twice today.

My latest blog post.

#amreading; #RochesterNY; #RACWI; #SCBWI; #WillSmith; #MarkManson; #ReginaBrooks; #AmandaGorman; #JoyKeller; #AshelyBelote; #hipocampochildrensbooks; #CelticCulture;

Winter in WNY

Jan 31, 2022 by Rose O'Keefe

This is the time of year in Western New York when the landscape can be absolutely beautiful but it’s too cold to get out and enjoy it. The wind chill was below zero Saturday and I put some letters in the mailbox. That was it. I paced myself revising a play for submission on a deadline, tidied the kitchen, revised some more, prepared vegetables for roasting and watched two episodes of Celtic Culture.

After finishing You Should Really Write a Book, How to Write, Sell, and Market Your MEMOIR, by Regina Brooks and Brenda Lane Richardson (2012) I felt so excited I could have jogged around the block. Brooks and Lane Richardson’s history of memoirs was specific and well done; the categories of coming-of-age, addiction and compulsion, transformation, travel and food, religion and spirituality were also specific and well done.

Much to my surprise, the chapter on outlier subgenres hit the spot! It was one of those chapters in which I wanted to read every book they mentioned. I’d never heard of the category biblio for book lovers and that was my favorite. Canine, comedic, family saga, gardening, grief, incarceration, information-based, parenting, romance and venture were good too. This chapter 100% softened the blow of another rejection for my NF history manuscript.

From reading their book, I got it. If my writing is good, but the hook isn’t strong enough and my author platform is emerging, then I’m not a candidate for a big publisher. It’s taken me a dozen years to get comfortable with self-publishing. I’m okay with it now.

As for the excitement from deciding to self-publish several projects, not being a jogger, I decided it was another perfect night for reading in bed and started Will Smith’s WILL (2021). I thought it would be a mellow read. Ha! It was riveting. I was going to read one chapter and call it quits, and had to stop myself at chapter four.

Congratulations to me for uploading my book and eBook Animal ABCs to the SCBWI site; submitting my play and finishing the first part of my tax returns.
blog post.

#amreading; #RochesterNY; #WNY; #ReginaBrooks; #BrendaLaneRichardrson; #WillSmith; #RACWI; #SCBWI.

So Be It

Jan 28, 2022 by Rose O'Keefe

Going to see Dr. Henry Louis Gates Jr. at RIT yessterday was a reality check in more than one way. The wind was harsh and the parking lots huge. Maybe I misread the time of the event, but it was underway when I got there, with a riveting performance by Mombo drumming and dance from Ghana. It was impressive that they did a drummed greeting for him that is reserved for highest dignitaries.

It was his first appearance since March 2020 and he was worried about being out in public. What an honor for him to do that at RIT! His talk about the history of Reconstruction after the Civil War was a painful topic. His message yesterday was to have the courage to tell the truth. So be it. Not sure about the size of the large audience, but from where I sat it looked like a PBS group of elders, three quarters white. Since that would include me, I congratulate all the avid life-long learners who braved the cold to hear Dr. Gates speak.

It was a case of my eyes being too big for my stomach – I kept making a vow to finish the books by my reading chair before getting any more. True confession: Abe Books printed the book covers for all of the Newbery Award winners since 1923 and of course, I had to look. The first award winner was The Voyages of Doctor Doolittle by Hugh Lofting; next in 1924 was Dark Frigate by Charles Boardman Hawes; and in 1925, Tales from Silver Lands by Charles Finger.

Like a cheater on a diet, I hoped they wouldn’t get here before I finished Regina Brooks and Brenda Lane Richardson’ excellent, You Should Really Write a Book: How to Write, Sell, and Market Your MEMOIR, (2012). Reading that was harder than the list of all the Newbery winners. There were lists, descriptions and critiques of memoirs of so many different kinds, and while I didn’t want to read every single one, I wanted to read many of them. Their book helped me understand my place as a lesser-known author and gave me confidence to self-publish.

Thank you to AARP magazine for the upbeat article in the BetweenUs section, A Little Peace, Love and Understanding by Robert Love, in Dec21/Jan22 issue. It was about a man who played Santa to two faraway girls who’d sent a letter to Santa in a balloon. The article on Michael Fox was thought-provoking as well. So many hopeful possibilities.

My latest blog post.

#amreading; #RochesterNY; #Abebooks; #RIT; #DrGatesJr; #civilwar; #HughLofting; #CharlesBHawes; #CharlesFinger; #ReginaBrooks; #BrendaLaneRichardrson; #AARP;

Over the moon

Jan 14, 2022 by Rose O'Keefe

Books 4 (1.14.2022)

I was over-the-moon after registering to see Dr. Henry Louis Gates Jr. at RIT on Jan. 27 -- can’t  wait! Also, another can’t wait – I registered for the Society of Children’s Book Writers and Illustrators (SCBWI) online winter conference in February.

Like a cautious cat, I started tiptoeing through The 1619 Project: A New Origin Story by Nikole Hannah-Jones (2021). The writing was so intense that I had to take it in small doses. My brain kept popping up with questions about the strongest statements and I felt myself take a breath of relief on p.49 when she mentioned how early workers brought to the colonies were vagrants, criminals and prisoners of debtors prisons of many different cultures. Yes, this country’s beginnings were messy and complicated.   

Walking to the library is usually a good way to get fresh air, but in the last week, icy sidewalks kept me home. My latest returns included: Tracey Hecht’s The Weeping Wombat (2020) a surprising way to learn about dealing with sadness. It was aimed at 2nd and 3rd graders and used a group of animal friends who helped the forlorn critter.

Our librarian had recommended The  Color Monster Goes to School (2020) and The Color Monster, a story about emotions (2018) both by Anna Lennas. It took me a while to accept the odd green monster as an every-child, the universal child within. Good stuff.

I have to take out more in the Grumpy Monkey series. Jim Panzee is a hoot. As for Joanne Levy’s Crushing It (2017) she’s got the formula down and her theme of honesty always is best, worked.

One of our cats, who is mostly an indoor girl, was going nuts with boredom, attacking rugs and who knows what overnight. Those thumps in the dark were Miss Cat keeping herself entertained.  With winter walking limits in full swing, I’ve felt squirrely too, and  ordered a few classes from Great Courses: one on the Celtic World and the other on daily life in ancient times. They were on sale – those magic words.

Here’s my latest blog post.

#amreading; #RochesterNY; #16119project; #nikolehannahjones; #TraceyHecht; #AnnaLennas; #SuzanneLang;#JoanneLevy; #greatcourses; #celticculture; #HenryLGates; #RITdiversity; #SCBWI;

When I Grow Up

Jan 11, 2022 by Rose O'Keefe

On my way to something else, I found this from a year ago.

Family Facts: One boy, one girl; one grandson, one granddaughter; three sisters and three brothers. My husband and I have had four dogs and about 10 cats. I have had a compost pile for 45 years.

My heroes growing up were Joan of Arc patron saint of France, Martin de Porres, a Peruvian lay brother, and a fictional Pacific Islander girl and her dog.

I used to read comic books like Archie and Veronica, Superman and others, but between 1957 and 1961, I read French Catholic comic books of the lives of the saints. That’s how Jeanne D’Arc, a shepherd girl, became my shero. For my 10th birthday I received a copy of The Island of the Blue Dolphins by Scott O’Dell and wept every time I read about Karana and her dog Rontu.

I read Little Women by Louisa May Alcott several summers in a row, never knowing what Alcott's life was like. And what about Anne of Green Gables, by L.M. Montgomery? Neither Alcott’s Jo nor Montgomery’s Anne were well-behaved white girls.

In 7th grade when our school librarian encouraged us to keep a list of the books we read, I stopped at 50. Nancy Drew, Cherry Ames and Hardy Boys were fast reads. I never realized how much a biography of Martin de Porres touched me. He lived in 16th-century Lima, is the patron saint of interracial justice and a life-long hero.

Growing up, we had a few of the Beatrix Potter Peter Rabbit books, and I gave a few every year to my daughter for Easter. When our kids were little, I liked Amelia Bedelia and Encyclopedia Brown more than they did.

Books I’ve swapped with my sisters included the No. 1 Ladies Detective Agency series by Alexander McCall Smith, and the All Creatures Great and Small books by James Herriot. I’ve devoured Gary Paulsen, and Richard Peck’s truthful fiction. The pla

Happy Day!

Jan 04, 2022 by Rose O'Keefe

O happy day! Just because I finally could, I ordered 10 copies of Animal ABCs through B&N on New Year’s Day. What a great way to start the year.

Does it matter where I found a list of suggested Christmas reading and or gift books? Not really. I enjoyed most of Pearl Buck’s, Once upon a Christmas, A Collection (1972). There were 14 very different stories but a few reminded me too much of myself – long-winded and serious. The best were heart-warming remembrances of simple Christmases from her life in the United States and early years in China.

Most likely Pete Seeger’s Storysong Abiyoyo (2021, came from a KidLit411 list. I was sure I’d heard him sing it years ago – the cover said, Reading Rainbow Book, but the illustrations were so vivid it brought it even more to life. Mimic Makers: Biomimicry Inventors: Inspired by Nature by Kristen Nordstrom (2021) This was the kind of book that made me shout with joy about new information uncovered recently. What a great read, as was Family Reunion by Chad and Dad Richardson (2021) which tackled not wanting to go see relatives. Well done!

How I ended up with a trio of rom-coms is a puzzle being as it was not my usual choice forty years ago – I’m guessing Lisa Plumley’s target audience. What I did learn in skimming through Mistletoe and Holly in Once Upon a Christmas (2005) was she had it together about pacing, plotting and a satisfying answer to the main conflict. Some of her characters were predictable and others not at all. I didn’t read Christmas Honeymoon or A Baby for Christmas.

To be honest, I had to renew Bill Bryson’s cd set Shakespeare: The World as Stage (2007) because both listeners in our house fell asleep, one of us more soundly than the other on cds 1, 2 and 3. We gave up on cd 4, out of 5. I mentioned this at a New Year’s Eve dinner with good friends and one of them had read it and loved it. I’m guessing, it would be a good one to read, since the author’s voice and the amount of information contained were too hard to keep up with.

Here’s my latest blog post.

#amreading; #RochesterNY; #Ingramspark; #AnimalABCs; #johnbender; #PearlBuck; #PeteSeeger; #KristenNordstrom; #ChadandDadRichardson; #LisaPlumley; #BillBryson; #KidLit411;

On Uniting

Dec 23, 2021 by Rose O'Keefe

Dare I admit to being distractable? Yes, at times shamefully so. In particular, I kept the Weekend Interview about Robert L. Woodson Sr., 84, (WSJ, Oct. 16-17-2021) on my save pile for weeks. Why? Because I wanted to send a letter to the editor about what a wonderful reflection it shared on race and poverty. Writer Jason Willick touched on their mutual loss of a father, teen suicides, and Willick’s access to social services as compared to Woodson’s.

Woodson’s take on youth suicides and youth murders was that they were flip sides of the same coin of self-hatred. He had experienced different versions of racism in Philadelphia where he grew up, and in the South when he went in the military. In college he was drawn to help juveniles in jail. He learned to envision partnerships between say a restaurant owner who needed 100 customers, and 100 neighbors who needed work. In 1981 he founded the Woodson Center which collaborated to send 600 public-housing students to college over a dozen years.

Another big success was promoting a truce between rival gangs after the murder of a 12-year-old, leading to a drop in gang violence. The Center’s 1776 Unites, was Woodson’s response to the New York Times’s 1619 Project. He compared those who viewed black history as either a crucifixion of suffering or a resurrection of resilience as being limited in their POV. His goal was for America to get race off the table so that the moral and spiritual issues that all people face are addressed – to stop letting race distract us from doing what needs to be done.

Out of all the news in print that day, Willick’s article was outstanding. I wish such articles were front page every day. That issue had no letters signed by women on the editorial page; the daily cartoon was so-so and Peggy Noonan’s column addressed Dave Chappelle and wokeness.

Our household has subscribed to the Journal for several years, and once I started counting, I’ve  been dismayed that women are signers maybe 1 out of 10 times for letters to the editor. In keeping with the spirit of the season, I extend forgiveness to the editorial page for their oversight. Again, I offer peace and joy to all.

Here’s my latest blog post.

#amreading; #RochesterNY; #WSJ; #RobertLWoodsonSr; #JasonWillick; #1619project; #1776Unites; #PeggyNoonan; #DaveChappelle; #wokeness;

Favorite Books

Dec 17, 2021 by Rose O'Keefe

Today marks not only the anniversary of my oldest sister’s death, but the birthday of my late father in law. After her death I made a decision to use or lose the stories and essays I’ve saved in paper and online files. So, here’s a list I wrote in 1999 of favorite books:

Russell Baker’s memoir, Growing Up (1982) for its honesty; Robert Crichton’s novels The Secret of Santa Vittoria (1966) which had one of the best first lines I’d ever read, and The Camerons (1972); Scott O’Dell’s Island of the Blue Dolphin (1960) which I got for my 10th birthday and reread over the years; Alice Walker’s The Color Purple (1982) which made me want to be a better more honest writer; The Story of Marie Antoinette (1968) by Victoria Holt which went into her life in details I had known little about.

Conversations with God, (1995) by Neale Donald Walsch and his others showed it was okay and even good to talk with God; Napoleon Hill’s Think and Grow Rich (1937) introduced me to the five fears that plague people: illness, death, poverty, old age and criticism; James Redfield’s Celestine Prophecy (1993) and The Tenth Insight (1996) – one of them had a list that I studied and led me to research history.

My mother had sent me a copy of Embraced by the Light (1992) by Betty Eadie, and I called her to tell her about reading it, the day before she died! Talk about memorable. And Ladies of the Club (1982) by Helen Hooven Santmyer showed me women learning to deal with finances; and the herbal guide, Back to Eden (1939) by Jethro Kloss always fascinated me with details about a thousand and one healing plants.

Three summers ago I decided to read a chapter a day of Pearl S. Buck’s All Men Are Brothers (1930). It had 70+ chapters that got more and more gruesome and fantastical as it went along. In it, 105 men and 3 women in Imperial China had become outcasts for not complying with local corruption. It was not the kind of story I usually read, but some of her descriptions of people and places took my breath away. While their lives were different from mine, I could still relate to its humiliated and betrayed heroes, who with bowed heads exclaimed, “Ah, bitterness.”

Technically, I didn’t read Ntozake Shange's play For Colored Girls Who’ve Considered Suicide When the Rainbow Is Enuf (1975). I saw it while visiting in San Francisco in 1978. It was life-changing!

As for choosing only 10 favorite books from this year – I’ll have to think about it. Books filled such a big place for me and I’ve read many more than usual. As we near the end of 2021, I offer peace and joy to all.

Here’s my latest blog post.

#amreading; #RochesterNY; #RobertCrichton; #RussellBaker; #ScottOdell; #AliceWalker; #VictoriaHolt; #NealeDonaldWalsch; #NapoleanHill; #JamesRedfield; #BettyEadie; #HelenHooverSantmyer; #JethroKloss; #NtozakeShange; #PearlSBuck;

Ideas from Obits and Book Reviews

Dec 13, 2021 by Rose O'Keefe

Sometimes I wish I could read more slowly, but I started Goodby Chunky Rice by Craig Thompson, (1999) and pushed my way through his graphic retelling of a painful homelife and drive to escape it. Then, I couldn’t believe that I was halfway through his compelling Blankets (2003) and plowed through it in three easy sittings, but not easy processing. His honesty and artistry were refreshing and haunting.

Sometimes people ask,  where do you get ideas from? There are so many, I can’t keep up with them, but one place is obits. I have wished I could write about dozens of people like pioneer Helen Murray Free, 98, (WSJ May 2021). She studied chemistry in college and went on to invent color-coded strips to measure glucose levels. Powerful! The obit of bookseller T. Sarvotham Shanbhag, 84, (Economist May 2021) owner of Premier Book Shop in Bangalore, covered a wonderful man and the end of a classic book store.

Esther Bejarano, 96, (Economist July 2021) survived the Auschwitz Girls’ Orchestra, revived her father’s collection of Yiddish songs, and later  formed a band to revive songs from the Jewish resistance. An impressive woman. The quiet-living Yang “Baiwan” (Millions) Huading, 70, (Economist July 20210) was a front-runner in China’s government bonds. He remained humble -- surprising. Didier Camilleri, 64, (Economist August 2021) known as “Frenchy Cannoli” was a character and a half, who believed hashish was a gift.

Englishman Sir Graham Vick, 67 (Economist August 2021) set a standard for bringing opera to average audiences, even though he didn’t fully succeed. The amazing Jean “Binta” Breeze, 65, (Economist September 2021) became the first woman to put poetry to a reggae beat, called dub poetry. This Jamaican woman used her words to give voice to working women, who spoke to her in her head. As for A.Q. Khan, 85, (Economist October 2021) he was a metallurgist who persuaded Pakistan’s president to build its own nuclear devices. He sounded like a conniver and quite the contrast to Colin Powell, 84, (Economist October 2021). It was fascinating to start Powell’s obit, wondering if it would do justice to his integrity. It did.

Bernard Haitink, 92, (Economist November 2021) was one of the most humble orchestra conductors ever. Although he had become famous as a young man, he attributed his success to the fact that in Holland most of his Jewish classmates and musicians had perished. One of the best obits I’ve read was for Aaron Beck, 100, (Economist November 2021) who later became a psychiatrist after an illness as a boy triggered anxiety attacks that he taught himself to control.

A book review for “Everyone Knows Your Mother Is a  Witch” by Rivka Galchen, (WSJ June 2021), is set in Germany in 1619, at the start of the Thirty Years War. The fictional version of actual events described the story of astronomer Johannes Kepler’s mother, Katharina, who was denounced as a witch by a neighbor.  I don't know why I kept the review because I don’t think I’m ready to tackle that book.

Here’s my latest blog post.

#amreading; #RochesterNY; #CraigThompson; #GoodbyChunkyRice; #Blankets; #WSJ; #Economist; #obits; #bookreviews; #RivkaGalchen; #KatherinaKepler;

Big Day, Big Deal

Dec 02, 2021 by Rose O'Keefe

It’s definitely a big day and a big deal tomorrow at 11 a.m. with the unveiling of a large mural in honor of the renaming of Rochester’s airport for famed orator, Frederick Douglass. A thousand thanks go to Michelle Daniels for all that went into this event. That the Douglass family lived in Rochester for 20 years in the mid-1800s is not widely known, and I have the honor of being one of the locals who will commemorate the occasion.

Back to books. Listening to audio books is not usually on my list, but on a recent car trip I listened to a 5 CD set of My Stroke of Insight: A Brain Scientist’s Personal Journey, by Jill  Bolte Taylor, Ph.D. (2006). Who’d have guessed that her detailed descriptions of the morning that she had a stroke at age 37, would be so interesting? Her collapse, surgery and recovery are all recounted. With time-out between cds this was a compelling story.

I didn’t complain about being stuck for an hour in 20 mph traffic over the holiday, because I was listening to the ever-so mellow soundtrack to The Straight Story. It’s been years since I saw the movie, but that music soothes me every time.

Next on the listening list was Tina Fey’s Bossy Pants cd set. The first two cds were mostly funny, but I have yet to laugh at the sexualization of girls and teens which she tackled head on. The third cd had more oomph than the second. On to the fourth.

Home again, with my favorite reading chair and reading lamp, I was surprised by Hanna Astrup Larsen’s biography, Selma Lagerlof (1936/reprint 1975). Talk about dropping into another era! I’d read about Lagerlof as the first woman and Swede to win the Nobel Prize for Literature in 1909. The Story of Gosta Berling was famous around the world. The Wonderful Adventures of Nils, (1907) was also a worldwide success. Nosey me, I would like to know why.

In the meantime, I finished The Sun Will Come Out, a MG story by Joanne Levy (2021). After waiting almost half the book for the other shoe to drop, it finally did. The summer-camp woes of a highly-nervous teenager Bea, shifted as she befriended another teen, Harry, who had a fatal disease. The book offered a wonderful take on friendship. Well done.

Thank you, Jesse Thistle!

Nov 19, 2021 by Rose O'Keefe

I tiptoed my way into From the Ashes, by Jesse Thistle (2019) not sure how I would handle the topics of racism, addiction and homelessness. Once I saw how refreshing his honesty was, how his poetry was so tender and his family’s sense of humor so much fun, I ended up devouring the rest of the book in one sitting. If anyone has ever been baffled by the life of someone who struggles with multiple addictions, his guided descent into hell and back is breathtaking. Thank you, thank you, thank you Jesse Thistle. It made me think of the refreshing and brutal honesty of  biographies about and memoirs by Danny Trejo, Johnny Cash, and Brian Wilson.

Lately as I’ve read my way through some health setbacks, I’ve thought about what it means to be statistically insignificant. Since most vaccination are considered safe for the majority of the public, those who have adverse reactions to them are considered an acceptable statistical risk. Ouch!

#amreading; #RACWI; #RochesterNY; #jessethistle; #dannytrejo; #johnnycash; #brianwilson; #nonfiction; #memoir;

Dog Tales

Nov 14, 2021 by Rose O'Keefe

On my way to reading one of Rick Bragg’s favorite dog books, the library got me, Three Dog Tales: Old Yeller by Fred Gipson (1956), Sounder by William H. Armstrong (1969) and Savage Sam by Fred Gipson (1962). I can see why Old Yeller won the Newbery Honor Award in 1957. The first-person POV is authentic, the setting in 1860s Texas is harsh, brutal, beautiful and vivid. The pace moved at a clip that left me breathless. It demystified any glamor about the Old West, and accurately showed the world view of that era from the life of a hard-scrabble white youth. I cringed at the view of Comanches and Apaches as enemies and cringed even more at the feral boars brought in by early Spanish soldiers, knowing how they have become an enormous environmental issue. Very much in sync with the stories by one of my favorite authors, the late great Gary Paulsen.

It’s hard to put into words what I felt after reading Sounder. It is such a painful story of racism and cruelty and yet, it shared the redeeming power of kindness, books and learning. Painfully unforgettable.

It was easy to see why Bragg recommended Savage Sam. What a whirlwind of a story with the gripping and harsh realities of frontier life in Texas. It had dramatic encounters with the land and weather extremes, adding to a desperate search for three children kidnapped by Apaches. The racism of certain characters was cringe-worthy, the level headedness of the lead tracker about why natives would feel desperate after the loss of their lands and livelihood was a relief, and the intensity of a ferocious hail storm in the middle of the search was gripping. Colloquialisms, like describing the magnificent mutt as a Genuine Amalgamated Pot-Hound, were delightful. This trio of stories, is a keeper.

Here’s my latest blog post.

#amreading; #RACWI; #RochesterNY; #rickbragg; #Old Yeller;  #Sounder; #SavageSam; #FredGipson;  #WilliamHArmstrong; #feralboars; #garypaulsen;

Finished One, Not Another

Nov 08, 2021 by Rose O'Keefe

Finishing In the Words of E. B. White, Quotations from America’s Most Companiable of Writers, (2020) was one of those soft letdowns. I could have read more. The entry from 1938 about his having owned 117 chairs, sold off half his possessions only to find  that he had merely scratched the surface, was followed by an excerpt from Charlotte’s Web: “A rat never knows when something is going to come in handy. I never throw anything away.” How could I not smile?
After deciding not to finish Watchers by Dean Koontz (1987) I could make a guess as to why journalist, author Rick Bragg chose it as one of his favorite dog stories. Even though the first chapter starting with the good robo-dog was engaging, the shift to creepy and then sadistic scenarios was a turn off. What a relief not to force myself to cringe my way through it in order find out how it all turned out. Oh well.

Thank you to all the viewers who turned out for the first virtual Rochester Children’s Book Festival Kids’ Books Roc, on Saturday. It was fun, and obvious to see that the presenters enjoyed themselves too.
#amreading; #RACWI; #RochesterNY; #ebwhite; #rickbragg; #deankoontz;


Kids Books Roc!

Nov 05, 2021 by Rose O'Keefe

It is a pleasure to repeat the announcement I will be part of an authors’ panel tomorrow at the Rochester Area Children’s Writers and Illustrators online book festival Kids Books Roc! It’s a great line-up of 43 authors and illustrators, Sat. Nov. 6, from 11 a.m. to 5 p.m. I am on from 4 to 5 p.m. in Room 1: How To Write Non- Fiction That Middle Graders Want To Read​ with Ronny Frishman, Andrea Page, and Sally Valentine.

It bugged me that I couldn’t remember the exact title of the book that I’ve been reading: In the Words of E. B. White, Quotations from America’s Most Companiable of Writers, edited by Martha White (2020). I envied Martha White once I learned she was E. B.’s granddaughter. I imagined something idyllic, like the softly-lit, honest but kind world that Charlotte wove in the barn in Charlotte’s Web. I didn’t grow up with that book, nor Stuart Little, which I found peculiar. Reading his words triggered nostalgia for a perfect world that didn’t exist, making me wish I were wittier and a more clever writer. The way he wrote about turning away from the world and all its troubles and spending time admiring nature worked for me.

#amreading; #ownvoices; #RACWI; #RochesterNY; #ebwhite;

Living with Dogs

Nov 01, 2021 by Rose O'Keefe

When I returned Dark and Shallow Lies to my branch library I told the librarian how much I had enjoyed it. She in turn told another worker there who was delighted to hear about it and we enjoyed that sweet high sharing a tip for a great read. I also told the librarian I couldn’t find all the five dog books Rick Bragg had said were his favorites. His new book The Speckled Beauty (Oct. 2021) was mentioned along with My Dog Skip (1995) by Willie Morris; The Call of the Wild by Jack London (1903); Savage Sam by Fred Gibson, (1962); Watchers by Dean Koontz (1987) and an essay by E. B. White, edited by Martha White (2013). I enjoy letting my fingers do the walking through the online catalogue and was able to place a hold on 3 out 5. Having read Call of the Wild decades ago, I decided to pass on that but could not find Savage Sam there, or at my second favorite go-to place, Abe books.

It made my day to bring home Speckled Beauty, My Dog Skip and collected essays of E.B White. So far, I went through Skip that rainy afternoon and evening and started and later finished Speckled the next day. So much for lamenting our rainy fall weather. Skip is a memoir of an only child growing up during WWII greatly enhanced by the shenanigans of his lively dog.

It’s hard to imagine anyone sticking with a dog as difficult as Speck, but Rick and the Bragg family do. This memoir starts out slowly, but picks up as it goes and I couldn’t wait to see how things turned out. Ends up, quietly for Rick who has struggled with illness, and fair for the astounding dog that could have been dead a dozen times. Another good read.   

It is a pleasure to repeat the announcement I will be part of an authors’ panel at the Rochester Area Children’s Writers and Illustrators online book festival Kids Books Roc! It’s a great line-up of 43 authors and illustrators, Saturday Nov. 6, from 11 a.m. to 5 p.m. I am on from 4 to 5 p.m. in Room 1: How To Write Non- Fiction That Middle Graders Want To Read​ with Ronny Frishman, Andrea Page, and Sally Valentine.

#amreading; #RACWI; #RochesterNY; #rickbragg; #williemorris; #jacklondon; #jackgibson; #deankoontz; #ownvoices;; #ebwhite;

Upcoming author panel

Oct 27, 2021 by Rose O'Keefe

It is a pleasure to announce I will be part of an authors’ panel at the Rochester Area Children’s Writers and Illustrators online book festival Kids Books Roc! It’s a great line-up of 43 authors and illustrators, Saturday Nov. 6, from 11 a.m. to 5 p.m. I am on from 4 to 5 p.m. in Room 1: How To Write Non- Fiction That Middle Graders Want To Read​ with Ronny Frishman, Andrea Page, and Sally Valentine.

Over the summer, I was so excited to start the Canterbury Classics, Charles Dickens Four Novels (2019) of The Adventures of Oliver Twist, A Christmas Carol, A Tale of Two Cities and Great Expectations, that I skipped the introduction and dove into Oliver Twist. Last week I finally finished Great Expectations and same as with Oliver Twist, it took me a while to shake the lingering blues after reading Pip’s tale of woe. After finishing them all, I turned to the introduction by Ernest Hilbert, PhD. His facts and information were fascinating and made much more sense after reading the foursome. My understanding of Dickens and his complicated life grew tremendously. Sobering.

The list of books suggestions from KidLit411 could keep me busy for a decade. I finally read an earlier posting that mentioned a debut YA novel by Ginny Myers Sain. I started Dark and Shallow Lies (2021) cautiously because I don’t like gore, but her setting in a tiny backwater town in Louisiana with the dubious distinction of being the Psychic Capital of the World drew me in. The story followed Grey, a high school student who returned for the summer, months after her best friend Elora had disappeared. Elora was one of group of teens who each had a different psychic skill. Wow! Myers Sain hit one nail on the head after the next with descriptions of the range, depth and hardships that came with each ability. It made me wonder if that’s what that odd word neuro-divergent was all about. It had taken me a long time to understand that I was clairaudient, so reading about talents I had never heard of was refreshing. The story itself was a complicated murder mystery that the author pulled together as a massive hurricane barreled into the Gulf Coast. My only afterthought was it was hard to tell if the locals in the struggling Cajun, Acadian community, were all white. Even so, a powerful story about hidden abuse.

#amreading; #ownvoices; #RACWI; #RochesterNY #ginnymyersain; #KidLit411;

Happy Birthday Nikki Grimes!

Oct 20, 2021 by Rose O'Keefe

Even if I had next to nothing to say today, it is an honor to send Happy Birthday greetings to Nikki Grimes, poet and author extraordinaire! If it weren’t for the national group SCBWI and our local RACWI, I wouldn’t know about this remarkable, magnificent woman. Thanks for blessing our world with works that uplift and inspire!

That said, I have started Charles Dickens’ Great Expectations (1861) and am amazed at his skill in describing ordinary scenes and spot-on about the double standards, cruelty and poverty that so many ordinary people lived under, in 1800s England.

#amreading; #ownvoices; #SCBWI; #RACWI; #RochesterNY #nikkigrimes;

Healing Words

Oct 11, 2021 by Rose O'Keefe

Last week, I had the mixed blessing of lugging home an armload of books from the library that was heavier than what I liked to carry. But right away at home I sat down and read Nikki Grimes’  Growin’ (1977) the story of a feisty girl Pumpkin who got in the face of a sullen boy, Free. Despite being a bit dated, it was full of believable scenarios of school children in New York City moving on after a death and job loss. My Man Blue (1999) was a wonderful, touching take on the friendship between a boy without a dad and a man who had lost his son. At Break of  Day (1999) paired her rewording of the biblical creation story with magnificent artwork –breathtaking and uplifting. As for Shoe Magic (2000) – what fun! How I wish I’d read books like them to my children when they were young.

It took me a few tries to find the haiku buried in plain sight in Pocket Full of Poems (2001). Worth the effort. At Jerusalem’s Gate: Poems of Easter (2006) was also magnificent. The combination of the retelling of the Passover story and the colorful illustrations was breathtaking. Grimes worked her healing word-magic again in Oh, Brother! (2008) in which the older boy in a blended family of a newly-married mom with a son and dad with a son, learned to trust there was enough love to go around. The love even grew with the addition of a baby sister. Sweet. The first illustration in Voices of Christmas (2010) of the archangel Gabriel was so powerful it took me by surprise. The text and image for each of the characters, Mary, Joseph, Elizabeth, Zechariah, a neighbor, the innkeeper, a shepherd, Gaspar, Herod, Melchior, Simeon, Anna, Balthasar, and the reader, was a wonderful step-by-step walk through the Christmas story from each point of view. Holy, wholly genius!  

Nina Allender Suffrage Cartoonist: With a Drawing Pencil She Helped Win the Vote for Women, by Ronny Frishman (2020), is a short, fact-filled biography. There was so much history in it, that I will have to study it again. And, I have been plugging away at Dickens’ Tale of Two Cities, aiming for 25 pp. a day and sometimes succeeding.

So Many Good Books

Oct 08, 2021 by Rose O'Keefe

Because I enjoyed Nikki Grimes’ One Last Word (2017) so much and am not familiar with her work, I placed a number of her books on hold. The first one that came in to my branch library was Dyamonde Daniel: Make Way for Dyamonde Daniel (2009). What a good and quick read after a long day. Despite being a bit dated in pre-cellphone time, the characters are real, the New York City setting is believable, and Dyamonde’s decision to find out what’s bugging a new boy at school leads to a good ending. I’m looking forward to more.

Congratulations to me! I finally finished How Long Will I Cry? Voices of Youth Violence. Each interview was honest and good and I’m glad I did. In, Home Was the  Three of Us, teaching artist Jeff Maldonado Sr. shared about how he coped after the unexpected death of his gifted son Jeff Jr. Their neighborhood was covered in reminders, J-Def R.I.P., they received letters from strangers, there was a peace march and spontaneous fundraisers for the funeral. Maldonado handled the grief was by painting an ofrenda, an altar, for a three-month exhibit for the Day of the Dead at the Mexican Art Museum that included a video, and handwritten personal notes.

In The Funeral Home Lady, Cathlene Johnson, a retired funeral home manager, shared how her role was to be there patiently while others’ lives were in turmoil. Some people came back to her just to talk and she saw that the need to be comforted was the same for the family of victims as the family of murderers.

Daisy Camacho shared in The Scar Tells a Story, how when she was a doctoral student in developmental psychology, she attended a house party where the person she went with was randomly killed. She was shot in the neck and has a scar that shows when she tilts her head back, when she’s laughing. In the final interview How Do You Learn to Live Again?, the mother of the student shot at that fateful party, Joy McCormack, told of the despair and deep depression she struggled with after Frankie’s death. It took years before she could laugh and smile again, and to her surprise, the day she did, her other son happened to take of picture at just the right time.  

On a gray and wet Sunday, I started tiptoeing my way into Charles Dickens’ A Tale of Two Cities. My mantra is, “I can read 25 pages at a time.” Between the old-fashioned style and horrible descriptions of lawlessness and crime in 1755 London, and poverty, filth and stench tenements in Paris in the shadow of Notre Dame Cathedral, it’s not a fun read. I don’t make it through 25 pages every time.

I counted how many books I read in September: 15.

About Anger

Sep 30, 2021 by Rose O'Keefe

The similarity between two new books, Thunder and Cluck: Friends Do Not Eat Friends, by Jill Esbaum (2021) and Trejo: My Life of Crime, Redemption and Hollywood, by Danny Trejo with Donal Logue (2021) is a surprising and a different take on the painful tale in Dicken’s Oliver Twist that I finished a week ago. In the graphic easy reader, an orange-and-purple dinosaur learned to get along with a blue-green insect that was not fazed by its size, roar or rage. Cluck asked Thunder for its version of how things were supposed to go, and then asked more questions. By the end, Thunder changed from a predator to a friend. At first the pace seemed tedious. After I re-read it, I saw how Cluck’s patience allowed the beast to change at its own pace. Genius.

The beginning chapters of Trejo were so brutal I cringed waiting for the shift into redemption. Danny Trejo’s training into a leading family of crime lords was as stunning in its truthfulness as Dickens was about  urban crime in 1800s London. Trejo’s shift from utter despair to wondering if there could be a better way to live, is wonderful. The bumpy ride he had on his road of sobriety over the next 20, 30, 40 years was engrossing. I’m a bit curious to watch Machete, the first super-hero action flick to feature a Mexican hero, and the movie he made with his son, From Son to Father. Trejo’s honesty about anger is refreshing.   

The horror of Oliver Twist’s step brother being hell-bent on turning his innocent little brother into a thief still lingered and reading Trejo’s story pulled me out of it. The centuries old legacy of anger and violence and how to address it is as timely as ever.  Whether the recent surge of solar flares made a difference or not, I felt very testy lately. Computer techno glitches sure didn’t help.