Personal posts by public historian, Rose O'Keefe
Living with Dogs
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. https://www.liftbridgebooks.com/rochester-childrens-book-festival.
#amreading; #RACWI; #RochesterNY; #rickbragg; #williemorris; #jacklondon; #jackgibson; #deankoontz; #ownvoices; www.rcbfest.com; #ebwhite;
Upcoming author panel
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. https://www.liftbridgebooks.com/rochester-childrens-book-festival.
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!
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;
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
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.
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.
Thank YOU, Floyd Cooper!
By the time I get my books from the library, I don’t remember what prompted my choices, but I have enjoyed this latest bunch. It is hard to say which I like more: Floyd Cooper’s illustrations or text? Mandela, 1996, is a superb biography with a satisfying author’s note. It may be impossible to read Cumbayah (1998) without singing along. Jump, from the Life of Michael Jordan (2005) and Willie and the All-Stars (2008) are terrific. Max and the Tag-along Moon, Grandfather, grandson and the moon above them both (2017) is exactly what the world needs more of. Same goes for Coming Home from the Life of Langston Hughes (2021). Thank YOU, Floyd Cooper!
To my surprise, three more interviews from How Long Will I Cry? Voices of Youth Violence have been sobering but good. In The Walk Home, a couple, Juan and Dr. Esther Pitts, shared stories of being one of the first black families in a particular neighborhood, of it changing, how they lost two of their teenagers to violence in 2009 and how they coped. So powerful. In the interview, When a Bullet Enters a Body, Dr. Nancy L. Jones, who retired as chief examiner in the Cook County Medical Examiner’s Office, gave a tour of the facility and that was processing 4,500 to 5,500 cases a year. She saw her work as bringing peace to the families and friends of the deceased. In, How Dare I Still Be Happy, a woman nicknamed Tu-Tu, who grew up with her grandparents in Chicago, got by starting at age 15 under the protection of a gang and had two daughters in 1991 and 1995. After more bumpy roads, she moved away and was amazed she could still laugh and be happy.
Don’t let the Pigeon Drive the Bus by Mo Willems (2003) surprised me because I didn’t know what to expect. Even though it came across as dated, this story about a foolish bird hit the spot.
Life can be so strange, right? Last week, when I checked my blog, it seemed that several of them had not uploaded since mid-August. Yikes! Not a crisis. I did finally finish Oliver Twist, by telling myself I could handle Dicken’s long-winded prose 25-pages at a time. I never expected it to be so gruesome and the cruelty lingered long after the sweet and happy ending.
#amreading; #ownvoices; #SCBWI; #RochesterNY; #Floyd Cooper; #Mo Willems; #OliverTwist;
Tough issues and happy thoughts
One of the things I tell myself is that I’m better at remembering faces than names. So the other day when I was scolding myself for mixing up Nikki Giovanni and Nikki Grimes, I did the obvious and googled them. Yes, I had the pleasure of hearing Nikki Giovanni’s interview at the SCBWI summer conference and admired her tremendously. Yes, I am in the middle of reading Nikki Grimes’ One Last Word (2017) and savoring it as I go. Then, after reading copies of PW out of order, this week I read the Aug. 30 issue that featured Grimes’ back-page essay on Soapbox. What a life – can you imagine making it through countless hardships, achieving remarkable success and then having school districts claim your sensitive treatment of painful topics is inappropriate? Grimes’ essay gave me a boost about tackling my own tough issues.
Speaking of tough issues, three more chapters in How Long Will I Cry? Voices of Youth Violence, are stunning. In, Where in This Community Does It Say We Care?, Chicago neighbor Diane Latiker told of adding bricks with the names of 118 murdered children to a memorial she started in 2007. As of the time of the interview it had 376 bricks and the Chicago City Council approved a larger site for a public park for her Kids Off the Block that had already helped 2,000 kids. In Hell Broke Loose, Hynth Davis, a 20 y-o neighbor described being the only of his friends to survive high school, one of the fallen being someone described in Latiker’s interview. In I Only Work Here, retired police captain Thomas McMahon described how his work day began with each tragedy in various Chicago neighborhoods, particularly the one right next to the blocks where Latiker was doing her successful outreach. The odds seems so tough then. We need to hear more of the good things that are being done. Grimes’ On Bully Patrol is a magnificent expansion of Georgia Douglas Johnson’s Hope. Her final poem, I Leave the Glory Days is a sweet and uplifting ending to a moving collection. My list of books to read seems never ending and adding each of the authors and illustrators at the end of her book will no doubt take me all winter. What a happy thought!
What a genius!
Sometimes it’s hard to decide where to draw the line and give up. One of the strangest books I have ever read was Daniel and Dani Nayeri’s Another Faust (2009). This was a retelling of the tale of bargaining with the devil, in which five lonely, miserable teens learned to manage their ill-gained powers. The shifts in mindset within and among the characters was so fluid, as well as the alternating inserts about historical figures who’d manipulated time and destiny, that it was one of the most slithery stories I’ve ever read. Some of it was uncomfortable, but it was also intriguing to wonder whether good triumphed over evil. I was glad I stuck with it but couldn’t do the same with, Straw House, Wood House, Brick House (2011). But I got his drift -- teens and YA readers hate reading boring stuff. The contrast between Straw House and Nikki Grimes’ magnificent One Last Word (2017) and a few more chapters in How Long Will I Cry? Voices of Youth Violence, was too much genre hopping for me. Instead, I decided to switch to Nayeri’s Everything Sad Is Untrue (2020). Finishing it over the 9/11 weekend was oddly reassuring, because I was so pleased with how he told his story, mixing it with his Iranian culture and bringing in everything from the Hobbits to Super Heroes to Scheherazade to fill in the many blanks. What a genius!
#amreading; #ownvoices; #RACWI; #RochesterNY; #danielnayeri; #nikkigrimes; #teenfiction;
Labor Day Leisure
What a privilege on Labor Day to share a blog post. Lately it’s been challenging to stay calm as national and international news screamed so loud. I took relief from the news and hot and humid weather by finishing Richard Peck’s New York Time (1981). His take on a middle-aged white woman whose suburban life fell apart got off to a slow start, but once it took off, it did! He has such a way with oddballs and stereo-type-busting people. What a master story-teller.
After another humid scorcher of a day, I tackled Enid Blyton’s The Adventures of the Six Cousins (1948 and 1950/2010). I’m not sure where I got her name, but after reading that she wrote 700 books for children, some translated into 30 languages, I decided to study her. At first glance the story seemed out-of-date with its English mom, dad, 3 kids, pet and barnyard animals, but there was so much more to this paired book about country-mouse and city-mouse cousins who had to get along in a cramped old farmhouse. Without ever mentioning a countryside that would have been rebuilding itself after WWII, she captured the clash of personalities and lifestyles with kindness, honesty and clarity. I can see why they were so popular. Reminded me of Pearl Buck’s riveting books from the 1930s about China.
It is so humbling to tackle a few more chapters from How Long Will I Cry? Voices of Youth Violence. We’ve had enough sad news going around Rochester with gun violence that you would think reading more about it would be a downer, but no. In Trying to Break the Cycle, one author described her bleak childhood as a Vietnamese American in Uptown Chicago; her rebellious detour into hanging with violent peers; a brush with the law and decision to make a better life for herself. What a turn-around. At the time of her interview she was studying criminal justice in college.
In The Girl Was a Fighter, Cristina Figueroa described constant beatings at home and the relentless threat of getting beaten after school. She decided that getting pregnant at age 14 and living with a thug was one way to get her own home, but that teen father also turned abusive. She moved back with her parents, taking her 2 year-old and 4 year-old stepson. Then, she and her best friend decided to take the GED and she went on to Northeastern Illinois University, worked fulltime and became a probation officer. Thinking she knew it all, she got a wake-up call in learning to listen to youth whose stories were as harsh as hers, but varied tremendously. One of the toughest street-fighting girls she ever met ended up doing volunteer work in Mississippi after Hurricane Katrina. Impressive.
#amreading; #ownvoices; #SCBWI; #LaborDay; #RochesterNY;
While making my way slowly through Oliver Twist, I commented to my family how in the days before electricity, TV, radio, all the computers, Dickens spends an entire page describing the city at night, in rainy weather with biting winds, that barely changes as dawn slowly reveals its filth and poverty. I’m getting weary here, but one installment at a time, they seemed to hit the spot for his readers who would have known every street, alley and all the bleak scenery he described. I long for a zippier speed.
To my surprise, I’m having a similar experience reading Richard Peck’s New York Time (1981). He is spot on about a certain white-middle-class female mindset, but so many of the quips are dated enough that I miss them, and pages of them get tedious. His Through A Brief Darkness (1973) is another powerful and painful page turner about a high school student whose family has moved to a chi-chi Connecticut suburb, where her struggles to get used to chi-chi life are upended by getting raped by the son of a local rich family. Considering the date of publication, this is a brutally frank take on blaming the victim. Ouch! I would say, he and Dickens are kindred spirits.
Summer Weather Escapes
Some part of my brain is going nuts wanting to read, read and read everything I can. A reaction to what’s been going on in the world lately? A helpful and useful escape? Whatever the reasons, I’ve read two more chapters of How Long Will I Cry? Voices of Youth Violence. This book is always a surprise and the chapters Tomorrow Is Not Promised by Charlie Brown, and The Dream Club’s Chief Dreamer by Colleen F. Sheehan are uplifting. Thank you so much for letting your words be put on paper for strangers far and wide to read. Then I made the decision to start the Canterbury Classics set of Charles Dickens Four Novels (2019), starting with Oliver Twist. Just the introduction to this was so impressive and the first few chapters so enticing, I thought I’d plow through it in a hurry. No. This is another one to take one bite at a time.
Between KIDLIT411 and SCBWI, I have more books suggestions than I can keep up with, but I’m willing to give it a go. The Whole HOLE Story by Vivian McInerny (2021) is so imaginative it’s a surprise and a delight. Muon Thi Van’s wishes (2021) has the distinction of being a beautifully-illustrated story told in 75 words. The longing for no longer needing to wish for a safe and happy home rings a universal chord.
And then there’s another fast and fun read from the great, late Richard Peck. His honesty, characters and setting in Ghosts I’ve Been (1977) plus the fantastical other-worldly plot twists made this a perfect read for a muggy summer day. But the painful honesty in Are You Alone in the House? (1976) was a punch in the throat. The topic of disbelieving victims and favoring well-heeled abusers is not new. I don’t want to know what triggered this painful story, but oddly enough, it matches Oliver Twist’s cries for help from his abductors that no one took seriously.
#amreading; #ownvoices; #SCBWI; #KIDLIT411;
How Long Will I Cry? Voices of Youth Violence is one of those books I keep by my bed to digest slowly. I recently read the interview, Death Is Contagious by Max Cerda. His story is so open, honest and uplifting that I was glad I did. Next was, Unanswered Prayers by Pamela Montgomery-Bosley who worked full-time at a youth center, and was the founder of Purpose Over Pain, a group for parents who lost their children to violence. Despite her painful story, her voice is strong and clear. A Twig In A Tornado is by Timothy Clark who decided to turn his life around by attending the Community Youth Development Institute, an alternative school in South Side Chicago. These collaborative stories definitely give me hope.
Then I took a first look at One Last Word: Wisdom from the Harlem Renaissance by Nikki Grimes (2017) that I bought on my book-buying spree after the SCBWI conference. What a heart-warming beginning. The Preface, introduction to the Harlem Renaissance, Author’s Note and Poetry Form led me into a good place – her mind as she heeded the words of someone who valued her worth when she was young. This one’s going to be good.
The Iroquois, The Six Nations Confederacy in the American Indian Nation series, by Mary Englar (2016) had a satisfying blend of truthful information, colorful illustrations and side bars. Its five chapters were well-paced and gave an overall view of traditional life before and after the arrival of Europeans in a way that did not glamorize or romanticize the culture. What a relief.
While researching possible agents for some of my works, I’ve come across wish lists for certain topics by underrepresented voices. Sometime they mention writers with disabilities and I cringe at the thought of labeling myself that way. And yet, as a survivor of childhood me-too, I have struggled with depression and anxiety most of my life. Every now and then I get a reminder that I am neuro-divergent -- not a phrase that I can relate to. What’s a better way to phrase that without falling into conventional put-downs? Medically I’ve been described as hyper-sensitive to temperature change, which this summer means I’m a functioning adult when the temperature is around 75, a breeze is blowing and the humidity is low. All I can say is it’s a good thing I have a strong prayer routine. Also, having tri-focals and 2 sets of reading glasses has become so normal, that I’ve forgotten that I never needed them when I was younger.
#amreading; #ownvoices; #SCBWI;
Colorful Local History
It's Not the Heat
Rochester’s Public Market is one of my favorite places in the whole world, and Saturday I went at 9 a.m. for a quick shop. The heat and humidity must have increased just as I got there and I quickly felt awful. I managed to shop, but didn’t have energy for anything for the rest of the day. My solution? I rested and read Peas and Carrots by Tanita S. Davis (2016) all afternoon. Finished it and am glad I did. Again, the author’s story added such a good dimension of reality to the well-paced story of two foster sisters. I don’t remember who recommended it, but I’m glad I placed it on hold from the library.
One of my favorite lines from the 1993 movie Cool Runnings, about the Olympic Jamaican Bobsled Team, is when the John Candy characters tells the team as it arrives in a freezing, snowy airport, “It’s not heat, it’s the humidity.” (Actually that is totally true in winter too.)
Still taking it easy on a humid Saturday, in the evening, I decided to read one of my post-SCBWI conference book buys: A Modern Retelling of Little Women: Meg, Jo, Beth and Amy, A Graphic Novel by Rey Terciero and Bre Indigo (2019). What a great surprise! The graphics were colorful and inviting, the NYC/Brooklyn setting was appealing, the modernization worked for me with all its twists and curves away from the original story. Thoroughly enjoyed it.
In the shade, with a breeze, I’m fine and I know it. #amreading; #ownvoices; #SCBWI;
Zora Neale Hurston’s autobiography Dust Tracks on a Road, (1942/1991) is one of those books that seemed too short and left me looking for more – as in, what – it’s over? Her second version of “My People, My People” was so different from the first – much more specific and longer that I was tempted to print them out for a paragraph-by-paragraph comparison. But she killed a darling from the first one that I really liked. “Light came to me when I realized that I did not have to consider any racial group as a whole. God made them duck by duck and that was the only way I could see them.” I was also impressed with Henry Louis Gates, Jr.’s commentary, because as a huge Finding Your Roots fan, it felt like I was touching history through his words. Maybe the chronology is in other texts of hers because it seemed familiar, but I read it more than once, longing for clues that would bring her to life on the page.
In the meantime, I attended the marvelous online Big FIVE-OH SCBWI conference and took in as much information as I could soak up. One of the sessions moved be to get to a bookstore for comp titles for a MG historical fiction story that I’ve re-written as a graphic novella. After looking over several sections, I came to the conclusion that my graphic history book doesn’t exist as such, yet. YET. Capstone’s 2019 modern retelling of Little Women, Meg, Jo, Beth, and Amy, as a graphic novel comes close. While very good in its own right, the 2014 WHOHQ, Who Was Frederick Douglass? has by my quick scan, in a 106 pp. paperback, about 3 sentences on his family – the topic of mine. The American Indian Nations 2003/2016 revised The Iroquois, The Six Nations Confederacy has an attractive format, even though not a graphic novel. HWOWH’s Who Was Harriet Tubman, (2002/2016/2019) has reader-friendly layout and illustrations that I like. And Nikki Grimes’ One Last Word (2017) is a just-because purchase. #amreading; #SCBWI;
Stepping Back In Time
What a surprise to finish an edition of fables illustrated by Charles H. Bennett dissatisfied with the experience only to start Twenty Four Fables of Aesop and Other Eminent Mythologists, with illustrations from etchings of Marcus Gheeraerts the elder. This 1931 volume has the aura of olden days. Gheeraerts was a freeman of the Painters’ Guild in Bruges in 1558 and the plates selected plates were from 120 of his that were published in Bruges in 1567. They were very popular because of their skillful portrayals of animals and Flemish life. Sir Roger L’Estrange translated the fables into English. He was a Royalist who spent four years in an English prison from which he escaped and then fled to Holland. Eventually, back in England, he was put in charge of printing presses, printers and vendors of books and papers, for which he had a monopoly over writing, printing, or publishing news or advertisements.
Meanwhile, I got a reminder from my branch library that the copy of Sapiens, A Graphic History Vol. 1 (2020), which I had requested a month ago, finally arrived. The notice came just as I waded through the end of the book and wondered what Harari would have say about the state of the world today. Since Sapiens was first printed in Hebrew in 2011 and in English in 2014, I was curious about his updates. I finished the graphic novel in two sittings. It is fascinating and so much easier on the brain than the full text and yes, he holds humans accountable for the messes we’ve made. Assuming there’s a second volume, I’m looking forward to it.
Harari’s earlier book has several thought-provoking charts and statistics. Using data from 2000 about causes of death, he cites that 1.5% of deaths worldwide were due to wars and some form of violence; 2.25% were from car accidents; and 1.45% were from suicides. Having just seen the movie Roadrunner, the documentary about the late celebrity chef Anthony Bourdain, I am grateful for the movie’s going public with the topic of suicide, and Harari’s including it too.
Voices from the Past
Where did the time go? I’m still moving through Sapiens, and finished one volume of a 1931 illustrated edition of The Fables of Aesop. I don’t remember what prompted me to take these out of the library, but this version was not as charming as what I remember from grade school. The illustrations are also snarky.
A while ago, I ordered a free copy of How Long Will I Cry? Voices of Youth Violence, third edition, edited by Miles Harvey. To say this collection of heart-breaking stories and inspiring reactions is thought-provoking, is an understatement. The honesty is both painful and refreshing. The projects that have grown out of personal and community tragedies are worth learning from. This is another one that is not a fast read, but well worth digesting slowly.
Also, a month ago, I bought a copy of Dover Coloring Book on Frederick Douglass by Gary Zaboly (2014) and was eager to see what I would learn from it. The good news is that most of the information is good or good enough. The downside is that an illustration of cabin life made me think more of someone like Daniel Boone that Frederick Douglass, and the item about Douglass campaigning for vice president with Victoria Woodhull as president in 1872, is to the best of my knowledge, inaccurate. Woodhull may have wanted him as her running mate, but he was too busy campaigning for Grant to reply.
No Pop Quiz
My latest rounds of take-out from the library included The One Thing You’d Save by Linda Sue Park (2021). Got to admit, sometimes I want to race through a book to the end and I couldn’t do that with this one. I rushed through to see what others would save because I couldn’t decide what I would take. To my surprise, when I read the Author’s Note, I wanted to re-read it, and did. This is a such a surprising little book. Since family and pets are safe, the only thing I could come up with is a thumb drive of history images. There’s no pop quiz. I can still think about it.
I was doing some research and came across Clare Beaton, whom I didn’t know. So I got her Little Observers Go Camping, 2021, a delightful colorful board book. The Ocean Craft Book and The Nature Craft Book (both 2019) have good information and colorful illustrations that this adult thoroughly enjoyed, and crafts – so timely for stay-at-home students.
Joan Gannij and Beaton’s Elusive Moose (2006) and Hidden Hippo (2003) and Laurel Dee Gugler and Beaton’s There’s a Billy Goat in the Garden (2003) have friendly texts and marvelous decoupage illustrations that are a pleasure to read and look at. What a wonderful child-friendly world in There’s a Cow in the Cabbage Patch (2001). What terrific expressions on the various animals’ faces!
This was the first time I walked to the branch library without calling ahead for an appointment. Yes, I put on a mask outside the door and had my temp scanned inside. Even so, what a small triumph to pay an overdue fine and get all my books in person. Our strange new normal.
It may look like gardening is going to put a crimp in my reading quota, but not too much. Holly Goldberg Sloan’s counting by 7s (2013) is an engrossing story of misfits in Bakersfield, California. The plot twists kept me going to the marvelous feel-good ending.
Forward: a memoir by Abby Wambach (2016) is the kind of book that I wish were mandatory reading in high school. Let’s tell the truth about the price of competition. Well done!
John Green’s The Fault in Our Stars (2012) is hardly a cheerful story since it follows three teens with varying degrees and kinds of cancers. It is so well written though, I stayed with it to the end.
A few weeks ago, I had to pause from reading One Shadow on the Wall by Leah Henderson (2017). This is another book to digest in smaller doses. I took it with me on vacation and it was too hot and humid to do much outdoors for three days. What a perfect time to tackle the story of a boy in Senegal who faces one hurdle after the next with guidance from his deceased parents. The setting and characters are authentic, but I was blown away by the staggering information on street orphans in the Author’s Note. What a punch. Didn’t see it coming and I can see why some stories take so long to work their way onto the page.
Another one that took a long time for the author to write and for me to read is the winged seed, a remembrance by Li-Young Lee (2013). The combination of highly-personal stream of consciousness writing with painful family history made for slow reading. It took me over a year to tread through this one. I have been criticized as a writer for taking too long to get to the point of specific details. His thinking is convoluted and the details are so horrible, I can understand why he takes his time to spill them in dribs and drabs. The family history he shares is so painful, it is a testament to his personal courage to have succeeded in giving words to unspeakable acts. I felt humbled and grateful his effort.