"review" · Children's · concenter · music · non-fiction · Picture book · poet-related · recommend · wondermous

{book} a legacy, a man, a company of men, and Ntozake Shange

30 days of pbDay Twenty-Nine: Ellington Was Not a Street

Written by Ntozake Shange

Illustrated by Kadir Nelson

Simon & Schuster for Young Readers [text: 1983] 2004

ellington2The narrative of Ellington Was Not a Street comes from Ntozake Shange’s poem “Mood Indigo” (from A Daughter’s Geography, 1983). The poem, excerpted for the picture book, is a reflection of and tribute to a legacy of African American innovator, a “company of men” “who changed the world.” It is a personal poem of a young Shange (nee Paulette Williams) whose home nurtured and was nurtured by this company of men.

Only such gorgeously wrought poem could withstand the company of Kadir Nelson’s illustrations. The images themselves (as Sean, an Artist, breathed “precise”) have a precision a poet, too, would recognize.


ellington celebrating-the-duke

You may want to read with some kind of liquid precision the first time through, caught in a rhythm of the words, but plan the time to linger again and again on an image, a deeply impactful moment Shange and Nelson have crafted. It took me a stretch of time to pull away from the cover, then from the portrait facing the title page (‘piano’ image above). I was drawn to circle

our house was filled with all kinda folks

our windows were not cement or steel

our doors opened like our daddy’s arms

held us safe & loved

As the narrative acknowledges the simultaneity of then and now, the illustrations move back and forth in time between the streetscape whether the narrator reminisces and her childhood home. Her home is quiet, interior, full of warm patterns. The street is busy with a different sort of liveliness, other textures that are met with rain. The narrator holds a red umbrella amongst the institutionalized black, a “Don’t Walk” sign flashing at the intersection.

Our narrator, she is small in the presence of the company, her and her brother, and she is small in this house (another of her surroundings), but she is without question present, never forgotten, and cherished (e.g. a man’s suit jacket draped over her as a blanket as she sleeps on the couch).

ellington fps-133397_2zThe images are real, not abstracted. The poem is hardly abstract, but an illustrator could have reinterpreted the narrative into something more ephemeral. The detail in the setting, the verisimilitude of the portrait, the inclusion of a group sitting for a ‘photograph,’ these establish the very real and tangible existence of the life/lives represented.

Ellington Was Not a Street includes two pages of biographies using excerpted images from the narrative, “More About a Few of the Men ‘Who Changed the World’:” (I will list them as the book does) : Paul Robeson, William Edward Burghardt (W.E.B.) DuBois, Ray Barretto, Earlington Carl “Sonny Til” Tilghman, John Birks “Dizzy” Gillespie, Dr. Kwame Nkrumah, Edward Kennedy “Duke” Ellington, Virgil “Honey Bear” Akins, The Clovers.

The endpage at the close shares narrative the in its stanzaic form of “Mood Indigo.” Of course “Mood Indigo” is also a musical composition by Duke Ellington, so exquisitely observed on the vinyl held by our narrator on the cover: the record, an RCA Victor special of Mood Indigo by Duke Ellington and his famous orchestra. I have a YouTube option, undoubtedly a lesser quality, if you are interested.

Do I really have to say it? You really must find a copy of Ellington Was Not a Street.

ellington cover


Ntozake Shange, Barnard College, Reid Lecture, November 1978 via Barnard College Archives

Poet, performance artist, playwright, and novelist Ntozake Shange was born Paulette Williams on October 18, 1948, in Trenton, New Jersey. She earned a B.A. in American Studies from Barnard College in 1970, and then left New York to pursue graduate studies at the University of Southern California in Los Angeles. It was during this time that she took the name “Ntozake” (“she who comes into her own things”) “Shange” (“she who walks like a lion”) from the Zulu dialect Xhosa. She received an M.A. in American Studies from USC in 1973. […] She is the author of multiple children’s books and prose works, including Some Sing, Some Cry (St. Martin’s Press, 2010), If I Can Cook You Know God Can (1998), See No Evil: Prefaces, Essays & Accounts, 1976-1983 (1984), Sassafrass, Cypress & Indigo: A Novel (1982), and The Black Book (1986, with Robert Mapplethorpe).

Kadir Nelson is an award-winning American artist whose works have been exhibited in major national and international publications, institutions, art galleries, and museums. Nelson earned a Bachelor’s degree from Pratt Institute in Brooklyn, New York. […] Nelson has also gained acclaim for the artwork he has contributed to several NYT Best-selling picture books including his authorial debut, “WE ARE THE SHIP: The Story of Negro League Baseball”, winner of the Coretta Scott King and Robert F. Sibert Awards, and was published by Disney/Hyperion in the spring of 2008.

His corpus thus far is extensive: Heart and Soul: The Story of America and African Americans (2011); Nelson Mandela (2012); He’s Got the Whole World in His Hands (2005); Baby Bear (2014); Change Has Come: An Artist Celebrates Our American Spirit (2009); Moses: When Harriet Tubman Led Her People to Freedom, words by Carole Boston Weatherford (2006)…. you can find listings here and here.

{images belong to Kadir Nelson, words to Ntozake Shange}



"review" · comics/graphic novels · Illustrator · non-fiction · recommend

{comic} are you my mother?

Alison Bechdel wrote about her and her father in Fun Home (Houghton Mifflin, 2006). She is back to write a book about her and her mother. While you could probably enjoy Are You My Mother? without having read Fun Home, I think this latest memoir works better with a familiarity with the former (also, Fun Home is really good). That said, the two comics are quite different. An important distinction is how accessible the first book is comparatively.

From the best-selling author of Fun Home, Time magazines No. 1 Book of the Year, a brilliantly told graphic memoir of Alison Bechdel becoming the artist her mother wanted to be.

Alison Bechdel’s Fun Home was a pop culture and literary phenomenon. Now, a second thrilling tale of filial sleuthery, this time about her mother: voracious reader, music lover, passionate amateur actor. Also a woman, unhappily married to a closeted gay man, whose artistic aspirations simmered under the surface of Bechdel’s childhood…and who stopped touching or kissing her daughter good night, forever, when she was seven. Poignantly, hilariously, Bechdel embarks on a quest for answers concerning the mother-daughter gulf. It’s a richly layered search that leads readers from the fascinating life and work of the iconic twentieth-century psychoanalyst Donald Winnicott, to one explosively illuminating Dr. Seuss illustration, to Bechdel’s own (serially monogamous) adult love life. And, finally, back to Mother — to a truce, fragile and real-time, that will move and astonish all adult children of gifted mothers. –publisher’s comments

“For nothing was simply one thing.” Virginia Woolf. This is the epigraph, and a beautiful way to begin a multi-layered narrative where it becomes increasingly evident that nothing can so simply be attributed to one thing. It seems an obvious statement, but how many stories (oral or written) fail to capture this truth. Bechdel’s story does not fail.

in which the author captures the reader’s expression as well…

Bechdel further arms herself with Virginia Woolf’s own self-examination of her childhood, referencing Woolf’s journals and her novel To the Lighthouse. Woolf is an inspiration, Alice Miller’s The Drama of the Gifted Child is textual gold, and, as author Lawrence Weschler remarks in his blurb on the back cover, “D.W. Winnicott (the legendary psychoanalytic theorist […] comes to serve as her quest’s benign fairy godfather).” Bechdel records her dreams (the book begins with one), and she reads a lot of psychoanalytic theory. She transcribes childhood memories, photographs, therapy sessions, intimate moments with her partners, and exchanges with her mother (past and present). Bechdel moves back and forth along timelines in a way that those familiar with Woolf’s own translations of consciousness can appreciate. Conversations and events overlap and panels return as they are called to fore for a particular examination.

The irony is that if it weren’t for how effectively she modeled creative risk-taking, I would probably not be writing it. (234)

Bechdel tries to decode dreams and incidence, she researches the possible meanings, the causes and effects, in her relationships, particularly as they apply to her and her mother. It can become a bit weighted, a bit exhausting. Sometimes the text overtakes the illustration. Fortunately (for many) Bechdel is deft at translating theory into applicable thought. And a progression is marked.

Bechdel’s fascination with Winnicott is a fascination. the parallels she draws are key, and she moves his story, and Woolf’s, alongside her own journey to write this book and to come to some kind of conclusion regarding her relationship with her mother. Like the woman in progress, so are the comics she is shown to be writing (her strips, Fun Home, and Are You My Mother?). Bechdel captures the complicating, and a good memory will serve the reader as the layers compound and the theories dissect.The publisher’s comments make the book feel more charming than it is. I think it too raw for charm. It is finely crafted, precise, and yet not smooth, not easily navigated. The conversations regarding mirrors and reflections, transference, and subject/object are illuminating.

Here’s the vital core of Winnicott’s theory: The subject must destroy the object. And the object must survive this destruction. If the object doesn’t survive, it will remain internal, a projection of the subject’s self. If the object survives destruction, the subject can see it as separate. (267)

Are You My Mother?left me with a lot to think about.

I was tempted to lay it aside after a while. Meta can be tiring, as can personal drama (call me shallow if you will), but I was glad to have finished the book. Pieces do come together, a greater (textured) image formed. Both separations and attachments are made. Please do not give up or set aside the read for the sake of that last chapter. I did not find the read as humorous as others seem to have, comedic yes, but that last chapter, and that last two-page panel… Natalya and I were talking breath-taking final lines, Are You My Mother?will be added to my list.

I enjoy Bechdel’s drawing style and her composition of page and panel. Her images have a lot to offer, and her inclusions are what make the graphic medium so much fun for the memoir. I enjoyed the use of red and its varied implications. And as I recognized the image from the cover, I love the choice of the cover. The title is perfect. Bechdel is a powerful comic artist, she has a great sense of style and is very thoughtful in text and image. I am not a fan of memoir in general, and when I do read memoir it is in graphic novel form. Bechdel is an artist to study for anyone interested in the form.

recommendations: Fans of Woolf, Winnicott, psychoanalysis; readers of theory, memoir, feminist writings, Adrienne Rich references; contemplations on gender/sexuality, of mothers/daughters, the creative process.

of note: one can go on and on about various aspects of this book. I linked two reviews below, the first shorter than the latter for further reading, and likely better explication.


Are You My Mother?: A Comic Drama by Alison Bechdel

Houghton Mifflin Harcourt, 2012

Hardcover, 289 pages.

A great review by William Rycroft of “Just William’s Luck”

A review by Meghan O’Rourke for The Slate (in which we disagree about little except the ‘failure’ of the last third of the story via predictability.)

"review" · cinema · documentary · foreign · non-fiction · recommend

{film} cave of forgotten dreams

I’ve heard that Cave of Forgotten Dreams is epic in 3D at IMAX. Well, Werner Herzog’s documentary on the Chauvet cave isn’t too shabby on the regular ol’tv; in fact, it is downright incredible. Now, am I referring to the content of the caves or the documentary? Both.

The Chauvet cave is located in Southern France. It is home to the oldest known paintings on the planet, some 32-35,0000 years old. Even more amazing is how well preserved they are. They appear as if drawn the previous day! The French Ministry of Culture is tasked with protecting these caves and Werner Herzog was given very special permission to bring a small crew in both to follow select experts, and then by themselves. The caves are very restricted. There is a very rigorous set of rules by which they have to abide. You may have heard of the Caves of Lascaux (whose Paleolithic paintings are dated around 17,300 years old). They had been open to the public but with the exposure to air conditioning, high-powered lights, and breathing viewers, fungus began to grown on the walls, and thus the paintings. Those tending the Chauvet cave have learned from the others’ experiences. So, already you have footage of an experience you wouldn’t have otherwise and apparently Herzog uses the 3D technology brilliantly.

A few things over which I marveled and other randomness:

–The paintings are actually layered with thousands of years between each, and yet the collaboration is stunning in the overall composition.

–The instances of Futurism. The wooly rhino’s horn and the eight legs on some animals: these depict movement, like the Futurist used.

–They talked about the absence of human figures (until the very back cave where there is one). Using various angles and approaches of light, you can see the movement/dimension of the paintings; the artists used the contours of the cave walls. But where are the humans? One thought is how the light projects the human form silhouetted upon the wall, the shadows move among the animals.

–The ideas of dreaming: dreaming into existence that which you desire for self or your clan. Paint it and they will come. How spending time in the caves profoundly affected some of the researches, inspiring their own dreaming.

–the film captures the sense of awe. Even I could experience some of the visceral effects in viewing the paintings, and then in acknowledging their age.

–Fertility rituals/imagery. In the furthest cave there is a pendant they cannot access fully but it has the painting of the lower half of a female body (in keeping with sculptures populating the area/cultures following). The upper half is a bison. What you see (kinda) is a minotaur figure. Pretty incredible, huh?

–That the creators of these paintings lived parallel with the Neanderthal.

–there are footprints of a child, beside footprints of a wolf.

–there are bones of animals, primarily of bears who nested there and scratched the walls. But the evidence of what animals were roaming captures the imagination.

–Herzog talks to experts on what the environment would have looked like, indications of culture, etc.

–that the furthest chamber has poisonous air, which makes me think of the oracles situated around the cracks in the earth that aided in mystical visions.

–the lioness nuzzling alongside the lion is gorgeous.

–that they can follow one of the artists into the cave because he had a crooked pinky finger, and that he was ~6 feet tall.

–lastly, there is a post-script in the film, which is a nod to Herzog’s –er–uniqueness. He talks about it a bit in this “interview” w/ Stephen Colbert on the Colbert Report (June 2011).

I highly recommend this film. [We caught it on Netflix Streaming if you have that option.] I hope it returns to the theater at some point because I would love to experience this one in 3D as well.


Cave of Forgotten Dreams (2010), Director/writer/narrator: Werner Herzog; running time: 90 minutes

Herzog Finds His Inner Cave Man” by Manohla Dargis; Roger Ebert reviews.

Wiki link, IMDb page

"review" · arc · foreign · non-fiction · recommend

{book + tv} the beauty, the sorrow & the abbey

The British television series Downton Abbey peaks all sorts of interests in its viewer-ship. I, for one, am obsessed with the costuming. And then there are the sets. I have also, like many others, taken an interest in the variety of perspectives woven into the show. Not only the ones between and within the classes, but of this latest turn in season 2: of World War I.

At the end of last year I received an ARC for Peter Englund’s The Beauty and the Sorrow (as translated by Peter Graves, Knopf 2011), I’ve yet to properly finish it and write a review worthy of it; yet I can confidently recommend it just the same. Englund’s rarefied approach to non-fictional historical texts is a refreshing one. He has taken recorded history/primary sources via journals, letters, photographs, etc. and pieced them into a chronological narrative. His sources are diversified so as to cover the personal experiences from as many perspectives as Englund could manage. He is deft in introducing and following a large cast.

A highly original and revelatory narrative history of World War I that brings into focus its least examined, most stirring component: the experience of the average man or woman.

To create this intimate picture of what war was really like, Peter Englund draws from the diaries, journals, and letters of twenty individuals. They hail from Belgium and Denmark, Austria and Hungary, Italy, Australia, New Zealand, and Venezuela. Some fight on the Western Front, others in the Alps or Mesopotamia; some never see a battlefield. There is a twelve-year-old German schoolgirl, an English nurse in the Russian army, a French civil servant, an American woman married to a Polish aristocrat—all of whom will be united by their involvement, witting or otherwise, in The Great, and terrible, War.

A brilliant mosaic of perspectives, the narrative reads with a depth of feeling and an evocation of time and place we might expect of a novel, and allows these twenty men and women to speak for not only themselves, but also for all of those who were in some way shaped by the war, yet whose voices remain unheard. –publisher’s comments.

The author himself is not without a voice. He shapes the narratives into an accessible translation of personhood, time, and place. Englund returns the voices from the past into flesh, capturing personality, individual voice.

People behave in unanticipated ways; there is as much base behavior as heroism. Mr. Englund discussed the soldiers who actively tried to catch a venereal disease from prostitutes as a way to evade service at the front. “The most grotesque expression of this can be seen in the trade of gonococcal pus, which soldiers buy and smear into their genitals in the hope of ending up in hospital,” he writes. “Those who are really desperate rub it into their eyes, which often results in lifelong blindness.”–Dwight Garner *

The imagery culled from the front, no wonder these men’s desperate aversion. The juxtapositions (like base/brave) ground the experience of The Beauty and the Sorrow.

Englund quotes directly from his sources in an elegant fashion. He also provides footnotes with contextual information, interesting facts. They enter/read like a person following along with you who is familiar with the greater scope of the events and can interject historical perspective; he explains who particular figures are; makes asides, etc.

One of the things I find remarkably vivid is how no one could really understand what was going on and how it came to be so. Some had ideas, of course. The explanations and motivations vary. And then it is the war, no mistake, and what next? What now? Englund haunts the text with pervasive themes/emotions: fear, confusion, courage, bigotry, helplessness, awe… The chaos and coincidence are breath-taking. Englund provide context, and you may draw from your own history lessons, but none of it lessens the effect of each individuals own limited perspective. The war becomes a human story–the day-to-day, and less a fascination with political maneuvers, propaganda, battle myth, and statistics (although such fascination is involved).

The transition from the old ways of doing war and the new are remarked with some humor and horror. The assinine blundering at great cost to the common people. The criticisms are unmistakable. Englund comes across as one who aligns himself less with the writers of history and more with those who actually suffered it. This and the voices of the individual men and women and children are incredibly compelling.

If you’ve an interest in World War I, avid or no, The Beauty and the Sorrow is one you’ll enjoy. I think you’ll find it an interesting companion piece to Downton Abbey.

*Dwight Garner has written a brilliant The New York Times review of this book, “Mass Slaughter on a Personal Level” (Nov. 2011), please read it and continue to seriously consider adding this book to your lists.

Ian Thomas’ review, “The Beauty and the Sorrow: An Intimate History of the First World War, by Peter Englund”, for The Guardian (Nov. 2011)

another review by me likely to come, after I reach that ending Garner promises.


{image: 1– Carnival Films Production filming Downton Abbey, in the foreground:Thomas (Rob James-Collier), 2– Hardcover, Knopf 2011}

"review" · Children's · fiction · Illustrator · juvenile lit · non-fiction · Picture book · poet-related · recommend

“The word, gentleman, is a public concern of the first importance.”

The word is dada.

Hugo Ball in costume for reciting a sound poem, 1916, Zurich.

The second time I took a course on Modern British Literature (not because I failed the first), we were again required to present some one or some thing that was contextually relevant to the life&times we were studying. I chose to present on Dada. No, I didn’t listen to Sean and wear a big lobster claw or some other ridiculously Dada Iconic costume. Conforming wasn’t the idea. Besides, I thought my slides were enough. And I wanted people to be able to leave with some concept of Dada, if not a sliver of understanding. Also, my grade depended on coherence and I looked strange enough trying to present anyway. Dada may seem fairly simple in execution, but it is not easily explained. Not when Why? is a reflexive inquiry.

Researching Dada was a lot of fun! Sean was an awesome help as he is an Artist and has learned his Art History. And as an Architect, there was more. We had the best conversations on that which led up to the movements and that which led away. And while this was great geeky fun, it was also necessary because Dada is not easy. Dadaists may seem silly, and often dismissed out of hand, but the dada were serious, “And while we put on a show of being facile, we are actually searching for the central essence of things, and are pleased if we can hide it. […] DADA is neither madness, nor wisdom, nor irony, look at me, dear bourgeois” (Tristan Tzara, in one of his 7 Dada Manifestos in 1918).

[I am by no means an expert on Dada, and I feel my grasp is fairly tenuous at best.  I thought some background was best as I read the following book a bit critically as I am not completely unfamiliar with Shelley Jackson’s subject.]


I am not writing this book to get famous but to give you some tips on living./Listen, kiddo: sometimes you stare at a black dot for an hour and nothing happens./But sometimes it gets up and walks across the floor./ I like bugs. /What I’m trying to say is, Pay attention and expect the best.~Mimi’s Dada Catifesto

Mimi’s Dada Catifesto by Shelley Jackson

Clarion Books, 2010.

hardcover, 48 pages. Picture Book, ages 6 & up

Mimi is an artistic cat in need of a human. But for a cat like her—with the soul of an artist—only an artist will do. Mr. Dada is a human who believes that art can be anything, and that anything can be art. And for a human like him—with the soul of a Dadaist—only an artistic pet will do. Sometimes, though, it takes a while for humans to see what’s right in front of them all along. So it is a good thing that Mimi is loud and silly and surprising and bold. Mimi is a Dada cat, through and through.

This charming story about staying true to yourself sparkles with playful prose and stunning mixed-media illustrations while introducing readers to the Dadaist art movement. ~Publisher’s Comments

I saw Shelley Jackson’s Mimi’s Dada Catifesto face out on a Library display. I was intrigued as to how Dada would do in a children’s picture book. However would the author/illustrator introduce the Reader to Dada, let alone explain what Dada was/is? The answer: some necessary use of oversimplification, and a marvelous “Author’s Note” at the end.

“This is a Dadaist book, and so, like the Dadaists, I borrowed from many famous works of art to make it.” If it were allowed, I think a photocopied set of pages of a first book constructed out of images and other found objects would have been brilliant. As it is, I think Shaun Tan in the construction of this book as well as Jennifer Bryant’s A River of Words: The Story of William Carlos Williams, which is no insult, of course.

Speaking of William Carlos Williams, while certainly regarded as one of the greatest, if not the greatest American Modernist Poet, I was surprised to see a poem inspired by “This Is Just to Say” in a book about Dada, especially when the poem was written in 1934 and the Dada were declared “dead” in 1923 by the Surrealists (a few of whom had been Dada). Yes, yes, I know Dada is not “dead” for plenty. It just—it is not the same. And I acknowledge the fact I am arguing with a children’s picture book**; one I am just glad someone attempted and pulled off. Who wants to dwell on the depressing historical context, let alone share it with a child? Not Shelley Jackson, and not most of the parents who wouldn’t pick up this book, and not most of the parents who would.

Jackson is looking for accessibility and this illustrated piece is that, whether the Reader is a child or adult.  In the “Author’s Note” Jackson walks the Reader back through the book, enumerating her sources, “Mimi’s art show was inspired by Marcel Duchamp, who invented the “ready-made,” “The costumes of Mr. Dada and his friend are inspired by Hugo Ball’s costumes.” A passion and a lively sense of humor lift from the text and artwork. Mimi’s Dada Catifesto is a fun book.

In addition to a narrative, an artistic cat looking to live alongside an artistic human, Jackson inserts games and activities. Count the peas on a page, host a “ready-made” exhibit, and create a poem from clipped-out words. Ideally, someone would have marked in this Library book already, have already pasted their bits of cut-out words to form a poem on the appropriate page. And then the next Reader should paste over a few words and add some at weird angles between the already there. Yes, I am very definitely tempted.



“The world was full of silly things in 1915, just like now (umbrellas! bow ties! false teeth!), but most art ignored the silliness. To the Dadaists, that was the silliest thing of all.”*

Dada is in many ways suited to the young audience Jackson is targeting. Apparently silliness abounds, from the sound poems to the costumes to the raucous performances to the indecipherability of action. The assertions that “art can be anything and anything can be art” to “They thought that when you understand something, you stop thinking about it. Not understanding is much more interesting,” to “The Dadaists made art out of everything. Pieces of newspapers, ads, junk they found on the street—even other works of art.” Jackson examples Marcel Duchamp’s 1919 parody of da Vinci’s Mona Lisa, notably ignoring the added inscription and it’s coarse implication. What an exciting idea, though, right? Art within reach, Art without criticism, while being criticism. Anyone can be a dada. “Many cats are Dadaists.”

In this beautifully ambitious picture book, Shelley Jackson creates a fun introduction to Dada. She begins with beginners and pairs dadaist venues with a sweet story. Not unlike the cat, Dada is also looking for a place to belong. It is a stray beast, a bold and sassy figure, who finds the sacrifices for the sake of integrity and dignity well worth the while. Mimi is told as long as she behaves 1, 2, & 3, all will be well (i.e. purr; look cute; don’t wash your behind while they’re watching). She cannot compromise. There is something at stake. Dada was her response. Dada is her voice.

If you are looking for an unusual subject for an informative yet narrative-driven picture book, especially within the realm of Art, Mimi’s Dada Catifesto is a must. Even if you aren’t, do give Shelley Jackson marvelous little creation a chance. This one would be fun to own, collaborate with, and lend out to friends to make their own additions; then perhaps a soiree? We can deal with the historical, the political, contexts later.


*does the use of “silliness” come across as a bit saccharine to you too? that is, if you are familiar with what was going on.

**In the Author’s Note,” Jackson writes, “Nobody could agree about what Dada meant, and nobody really understood Dada—not even the Dadaists!” This could be seen as convenient, argumentatively, but that doesn’t make it any less true. I like Jackson’s boldness and ingenuity in tackling  this Art Movement, and to good review.

Do check out this review by the wonderful blog “7 Impossible Things Before Breakfast”

I mentioned I thought the “Author’s Note” very good, Jackson also includes a list of resources under “More About Dada;” books, websites, and audio cds. She includes Matthew Gale’s Dada and Surrealism (Phaidon Press, 1997) which I also found to be a brilliant resource.

>The quote in the title is the last line of Hugo Ball’s 1916 Dada Manifesto, which was read at the first public Dada soiree in Zurich on July 14, 1916. I just love the way it resonates; of course, especially in light of that which comes before it.

"review" · comics/graphic novels · fiction · juvenile lit · non-fiction · recommend · young adult lit

bake sale

Bake Sale by Sara Varon

First Second Books, 2011; Hardcover, 158 pages (including recipes)

Calling all Foodies, your graphic novel is here! Many of the book recs put the ages 9-12, but lovers of the cupcake trend and bakers in general will own Sara Varon’s Bake Sale regardless of age.

Things appear to be going well for Cupcake who owns a bakery, plays in a band, has a best friend Eggplant and a friendly customer-base. However, Cupcake is in a bit of a baking rut. He tries a few things that do not go as planned, but Eggplant has an idea when he discovers Cupcake’s idol is Turkish Delight.  Eggplant not only knows her, but is going to see her when he goes to visit his family. Eggplant invites him along and Cupcake must raise money for his ticket. Bake Sales with creatively themed desserts are a great solution, but when he has to quit the band to host them, Cupcake has to review his priorities and deal with the outcome. When Eggplant loses his job, Cupcake again has to decide what he is willing to do.

In Bake Sale, life isn’t all pink and pretty frosting with a cherry on top. Sometimes a blueberry will have to do for a while. Some things give way to better and Cupcake takes some rewarding chances; and some less rewarding chances—for him. In the end, who can predict the future, but hey, it will likely turn out just fine! Okay, maybe the book is for those suffering in this Recession, too. Bake Sale  serves up a warm message about the value of having and being a great friend, good neighbors, and comfort food.

Aside from the cannibalistic tendencies of the anthropomorphized food characters, Bake Sale is a sweet little book with illustrated recipes at the back. The drawings are highly accessible and warm in their soft hues. I was a bit distracted by all the labeling, especially where it seemed unnecessary, if not completely overdone. I can read the arrows showing that the page in that cookbook is being flipped (17), do I need “flip!” as well? And I’m pretty sure a 9 year-old knows what a faucet is and buckets (37), among many other things. As the illustrated recipes appear, the ‘excessive’ labeling makes a bit more sense. Cupcake’s story is also an illustrated recipe, even down to the way ingredients are substituted based on availability, necessity, or individualist flair.

Some may find the ending a bit anticlimactic, perhaps too open-ended, or not even that rewarding, but there is a hopefulness that works with, rather than subverts, the sadder realities written into the story. The ending is perfectly suited to the story, even as the story perfectly suits current cultural trends and economics.

"review" · juvenile lit · non-fiction · Uncategorized


Knucklehead: Tall Tales & Mostly True Stories about Growing Up Scieszka

by Jon Scieszka

Viking Press, 2008.

hardcover, 106 pages. Juvenile/Non-Fiction.

Requested this from the Library after reading Melissa’s (at “Book Nut”) review; I was looking for a guaranteed laugh. Melissa writes, “It’s a sweet book, full of humor and affection,” and it truly is.

Have you ever:

–Had your brother try to sell you your own shirt?

–Made a list of all the bad words you know–for your teacher, who is a nun?

–Broken your brother’s collarbone playing football–four times?

–Tied your little brother into his bed with your dad’s ties?

Jon Scieszka has. Which is probably why Jon’s dad used to call him and his five brothers KNUCKLEHEADS.

Here is Jon’s side of the story. And here, at last, is the memoir that might answer some of the questions of how the heck does someone think up a story of a little man made of very smelly cheese. ~inside Jacket Copy

Are you curious as to what kind of childhood might inspire a writer and literary activist such as Jon Sciezska? I hope you’ve come across The Stinky Cheese Man and Other Fairly Stupid Tales, or The True Story of the Three Little Pigs. And/or do you know Scieszka’s name as the first National Ambassador for Young People’s Literature and his advocacy for the Reluctant Reader? He is also known for his non-profit literacy initiative for boys called Guys Read.  As the Publisher comments, “Part memoir, part scrapbook, this hilarious trip down memory lane provides a unique glimpse into the formation of a creative mind and a free spirit.” Knucklehead: Tall Tales & Mostly True Stories about Growing Up Scieszka will likely be the most amusing non-fictional work you’ll read all year. Scieszka would have the reader laugh, share in the affection he has for his family, and reassure the reader that boys given some room to be their wild and dangerous selves can have fantastic results–“a creative mind and a free spirit.” Although, I suppose not everyone is interested in such results.

I think it helps to have siblings, preferably a few male siblings; a childhood where you could run a bit wild around the neighborhood; and/or a relative who had those things and likes to share stories when reading Knuckleheads. The injection of nostalgia is sweet.  But the book wherein two chapters end with “warnings” was created with the younger audience in mind. Knucklehead is an autobiography for young readers. Will his stories inspire a bit of mayhem? I don’t know, I kind of hope so. Will it cause boys to feel better about being a boy and make them want good things for themselves? I think so.

If I had to do a report on the autobiography of a famous person in school, I would’ve loved to use Knucklehead.

Scieszka says he’s flabbergasted by his success, and feels lucky to get up every day and make up wild stories for kids.

“If the day gets really bad, I can always pull out fan mail,” he says with a laugh. “Who else gets mail where kids write to you and say, ‘Dear Mr. Scieszka, We were supposed to write to our favorite author, but Roald Dahl is dead. So I’m writing to you.’ ” ~Jon Vitale (“Jon Scieszka, A Seriously Funny ‘Knucklehead'”)*


*Jon Vitale wrote about Jon Scieszka and Knucklehead in 2008 for NPR books, “Jon Scieszka, A Seriously Funny ‘Knucklehead’.” I recommend the nicely written little article wherein Vitale writes,

Dick And Jane never made Scieszka want to read, but Dr. Seuss’s The Cat In The Hat and the funny parodies in Mad Magazine did. Later, when Scieszka was a graduate student at Columbia University, he began writing his own fiction. His heroes were Borges, Cervantes and Kafka — writers who played with language and new ways to tell stories.

After he got his degree, Scieszka brought his post-modern sensibility to a Manhattan elementary school, where he was teaching. He remembers telling the second-grade class about Kafka’s Metamorphosis.

“[I said] ‘What if a guy woke up one day and he was a bug? Wouldn’t that be weird?’ and they loved that,” Scieszka says. “And I think that was the trigger that made me think … oh man, here’s my audience. They’re just a lot shorter than I ever thought they might be.”

And I really want you to read the excerpts from Knucklehead. “Chapter 33: Car Trip” had be laughing out loud for several minutes.