poet-related · Uncategorized

{poetry} april 2014

natl poetry month

the month I was born

I was made for poetry

so was a nation

Welcome to National Poetry Month 2014!

“Inaugurated by the Academy of American Poets in 1996, National Poetry Month is now held every April, when schools, publishers, libraries, booksellers, and poets throughout the United States band together to celebrate poetry and its vital place in American culture. Thousands of organizations participate through readings, festivals, book displays, workshops, and other events.”–poets.org

Events are bound to have been planned in your communities, I hope you will find one to suit you. Poets.org has some cool things planned: The Poet-to-Poet Project sounds especially awesome; & the annual Poem-in-Your-Pocket Day is on the 24th.

We are going to begin an annual reading of Allen Ginsberg’s “Howl” with Natalya, and maybe a few others… really, how does one narrow the breadth of such incredible works available and longing to be celebrated at least once a year… and our library keeps expanding, having become introduced to so many contemporary poets in the last year: this is where tuition is better-spent.

I hope to share some poets and poems with you (written and performed); and maybe talk Natalya into sharing her favorite poets/poems, her thoughts about poetry, and/or a poem of her own.

slow lightning coverIn the meantime, too kick off poetry month, I want to share a poem* by Eduardo C. Corral, whom I’ve had the recent pleasure of meeting at a reading of his poetry from Slow Lightning (Yale University Press 2012):

In Colorado My Father Scoured and Stacked Dishes

from which this line followed me home the first time I’d heard it: “The gaze of the moon/stitches the buttons of his shirt to my skin.”

*first published in Poetry (April 2012), also appears in the book.

And Isn’t It Convenient that One of our Favorite Indies is Hosting a Sale: 15% Off ALL Poetry at Powell’s Books!

 

"review" · comics/graphic novels · concenter · juvenile lit · poet-related · recommend · short story · Uncategorized

{book} open mic

Open Mic: Riffs on Life Between Cultures in Ten Voices

edited by Mitali Perkins

Candlewick, 2013. (ages 12 & up)

hardcover, 127pages w/ “About the Contributors.” Library loan.

As Mitali Perkins observes in her “Introduction,” “humor has the power to break down barriers and cross borders. Once you’ve shared a laugh with someone, it’s almost impossible to see them as ‘other'” (x). Open Mic wants to tap into this power, employing ten gifted humorists to talk about growing up between cultures. There are prose and poems (x2) and a comic by Gene Luen Yang (ABC Chinese, Boxers & Saints), and even the comedic stylings vary so Perkins does a great job preparing for a broad readership–in other words, you can hand this to any middle-grader and they should find at least one out of the ten that will entertain.

Perkins does set down some rules, understanding that race can be a “tension-filled arena” (xi). It is a really good guide and includes a paragraph each in explication (which I obviously chose not to include below):

1. Good humor pokes fun at the powerful–not the weak.

2. Good humor builds affection for the “other.”

3. Good humor is usually self-deprecatory (note: not self-defecatory, although it can feel like that). (xi-xii)

A last bit from the “Introduction” on a hot topic in literature:

While I usually don’t like edicts about who can write about whom, in a post-9/11 North America, where segregation, slavery and even genocide aren’t too far back in history, funny multicultural stories work best when the author shares the protagonist’s race or culture. Funny is powerful, and that’s why in this case it does matter who tells a story. Writing that explores issues of race and ethnicity with a touch of humor must stay closer to memoir than other kinds of fiction on the spectrum of storytelling. (xii)

That said, none of the authors are White. Of the ten stories (a temperate number that hopefully hints at a series) Perkins includes herself and a brilliant variation of cultures w/ authors coming directly  (born in) or indirectly (generational) from roots in Mexico, Thailand, Taiwan, Hong Kong, South Korea, Palestine, India; Hispanic, African-American, or as G.Neri describes himself: “I’m Creole, Filipino, and Mexican–or as I like to call it, Crefilican. On top of that, my daughter is also German” (124). Many of the authors are well-traveled since childhood, and Debbie Rigaud is currently living in Bermuda.

What follows are brief remarks on the contents w/ links to author sites. One of reasons I love anthologies (on young and older shelves) is the opportunity to meet new voices and discover new reads. Many of these authors write Young Adult and, er, Not-Just-Young-Adult literature, like David Yoo who begins the collection with a good humor-setting tone, accessibility (read familiarity for anyone, including those of my western European ancestry), and insight the anthology is going for. The collection ends with some especially strong story-telling. (*=favorites)

“Becoming Henry Lee” by David Yoo (Choke ArtistThe Detention Club prose (1-13). 

This Korean-American protagonist is neither White nor Asian enough to abide by those (un)comfortable and ill-fitted cultural stereotypes. Besides dealing with public personas and private crises of identity (think school & parental aspirations), Yoo touches on festishization of culture, a step beyond mere appropriation. Big kid words, I know, but Yoo balances what even a young reader will understand as serious beneath that palatable guise of good humor.

“Why I Won’t Be Watching the Last Airbender Movie” by Gene Luen Yang. comic (16-9). *

first: Derek Kirk Kim (Same Difference, The Eternal Smile, Good as Lily) makes an appearance. Of course, the two are friends and frequent collaborators, but they also share a similar stake in what the comic is about. White-washing happens in multiple forms, as does cultural ventriloquism. Speaking up against this is of import for multiple reasons, and Yang offers a unexpected point to the story’s ending. A point of contention offers an invitation to engage (if not instigate) a conversation; what if it offered an invitation in return?

“Talent Show” by Cherry Cheva (author; writer & exec. producer on Family Guy) prose (20-30). *

Two students, a Jewish male and Asian female, await their turn to audition for the school talent show. It is sweet and funny and I can’t say too much because it would just recalibrate expectations: which is some of what the piece is about.

“Voilà!” by Debbie Rigaud (Perfect Shot) prose (31-42).

“Yup–I’m fourteen now.” I nod, squeezing the last bit of polite from my reserves. “And yes–both my parents are from Haiti.” […] I shrug. People have assumed this before–that I’m only half Haitian. Or at least, those who can’t understand how a person with longer hair or lighter skin could come from Haiti” (32-33)

Above illustrates just one form of misidentification that Rigaud explores; language and other popular assumptions make appearances. Rigaud has fun with miscommunication up until the very end both lamenting and finding humor in people’s ignorance.

“Three Pointer” by Mitali Perkins (Bamboo People, Secret Keeper) prose (43-54).

Three Indian sisters, of whom the narrator is the youngest, play the “Guy Game,” yes, it has to do with dating–and no, their parents who were arranging marriages and degree programs were left unaware of their antics (44). The premise facilitates also sorts of topics on cultural and generational differences and similarities in ways that educate and certainly entertain.

“Like Me” by Varian Johnson (Saving Maddie, My Life as a Rhombus) prose (55-68). *

“With about thirty students per grade, Hobbs is the smallest boarding school in Vermont. Our demographics are just like the state’s. White, white, and white.

“I guess that’s not fair. Technically Rebecca is “one-eight German, three-eighths Sephardic-Jewish, and one-half Irish.” And Evan has enough Muskogee blood running through him to be a member of the Creek Nation. Still, I didn’t see anyone looking at them when we talked about the Holocaust or the Trail of Tears last year in World History. But let anyone mention Dr. Martin Luther King Jr. or Will Smith or even the slightly black-looking dude who trims Principal Greer’s prized rosebushes, and suddenly I’m the center of the attention.” (57)

Now twin girls have joined Hobbs and the questions of relationships begin to surface. Seeing and not seeing difference is handled deftly while calling out those awkward conversations on stereotype, in-group criticisms, the jokes people tell that aren’t all that funny.

“Confessions of a Black Geek” by Olugbemisola Rhuday-Perkovich (8th Grade Super Zero) prose (69-78).

I found the pop culture references amusing and was interested in where black geek and white geek might diverge or intersect. The seriousness, how personal, had a diminishing effect on earlier comedic tones at the close. Do not expect the stories to end on punch-lines, many have a heartening declaration like this one.

“Under Berlin” G. Neri (YummyGhetto Cowboy) long poem (79-99) **

My dad is black,/in a real southern way./But Mom is a light-skinned Hispanic/from Puerto Rico,/so I’m as black as Obama, I guess,/which is only half./My bro rolls his eyes. “Sorry./I meant ‘mixed American;” (83).

I am not awarding this one extra points for mention of currywurst, but the story of a family on the subway (in the literal underbelly) of Berlin is one of my favorites. It is rich with personality, like many of the others, but easy and playful, tender and smart, despite that “tension-filled arena.”

“Brotherly Love” by Francisco X. Stork (Marcelo and the Real World, Irises) prose (100-13). **

Touching on machismo and religion, sweetly and deftly, Stork is unsurprisingly pitch-perfect with this story about Luis talking to his sister. Sometimes that life between cultures is experience within a community and between generations and gender. This one is so well-done.

“Lexicon” by Naomi Shihab Nye (Habibi) long poem (114-21) **

“Half-baked, mix of East and West,/balancing flavors” the narrator speaks lovingly about her Arab father, about the power of words and perspective. There are some truly lovely images and lines: “words like parks to sit in.” “My father’s tongue had no bitch/hiding under it.” “But dying, this lover of life said sadly,/My dilemma is large. 

"review" · Children's · concenter · Picture book · poet-related · recommend · Tales

traveling by gourd to grandma’s house

30 DAYS OF PB 2013 aDay Twenty-Seven: Grandma and the Great Gourd: A Bengali Folktale

retold by Chitra Banerjee Divakaruni, illus. Susy Pilgrim Waters

a Neal Porter Book (Roaring Brook Press) 2013

grandma and the great gourd cover“On her way to visit her daughter on the other side of the jungle, Grandma encounters a hungry fox, bear, and tiger, and although she convinces them to wait for her return trip, she still must find a way to outwit them all.” (summary).

Divakaruni is a renowned poet and storyteller. The text is rhythmic and precise, touched here and there with sound effects that make the story a lively and textured telling. Then there is the repetition in phrases, so politely spoken. The folktale is a delightful tale of wit, and adventure: “Grandma missed her daughter, too, and decided to visit her. She was a little scared about traveling through the jungle where so many fierce animals lived. But then she said, ‘What’s life without a little adventure?'”

grandma and the great gourdThe story celebrates life and family–family that includes loyal companions like Kalu and Bhulu. I also like the fierce and independent grandmother figure who is loved and lively and beneficial. She is witty and self-confident but also relies on her family and friends.

grandma susy-pilgrim-waters-grandma-2-

pre-text

While an illustrator, designer, and painter, Grandma and the Great Gourd is Susy Pilgrim Waters’ first picture book. She is an inspired choice for this folktale.  Her illustrations layer texture and color and distinct patterns. The landscapes are often representational rather than an attempt to imitate actual settings. The work takes on a rich tone, keeping good company with Kivakaruni’s text.

grandma lg_book_03

Grandma and the Great Gourd is a wonderful tale and beautifully rendered by Divakaruni and Waters. You should be filling your young person’s ears with fables, folktales, the Grimm-like, and the Faerie.* If you’ve yet to get started, begin here.

{images belong to Susy Pilgrim Waters}

* ‘If you want your children to be intelligent, read them fairy tales. If you want them to be more intelligent, read them more fairy tales.’ -Albert Einstein.

poet-related

{poetry} the 30th

20120207010229Today being the last day of April for the year, I suppose I will close National Poetry Month by failing to latch the door properly… Hello, my name is Leslie and I have fast become addicted to watching spoken word poetry on Youtube and TEDtalks. With apologies, you’re welcome. I will likely post the occasional video from here on out.

“A poet’s work is to name the unnameable, to point at frauds, to take sides, start arguments, shape the world, and stop it going to sleep.” ~Salman Rushdie

“To be a poet is a condition, not a profession. ” ~Robert Frost

Poetry is not an expression of the party line.  It’s that time of night, lying in bed, thinking what you really think, making the private world public, that’s what the poet does.  ~Allen Ginsberg

Genuine poetry can communicate before it is understood.  ~T.S. Eliot

I don’t create poetry, I create myself, for me my poems are a way to me.  ~Edith Södergran

There is a lot of talk about the poet and of poems. Many feel alienated by its literary office clad in leather and quality ink that smells faintly of pipe tobacco; others by the thought of cats wending their way through untitled piles of sheets toward the silhouette behind lace obscured upper-story windows–locked.

I remember those first lessons of Shakespeare in school. His incredible smithing, the consistency, and yes, bask in those sonnets, but remember they are impossible to write. Junior high is such a rough lesson in manners, feel (and feel deeply) but do not touch.

I remember finding e.e. cummings. no capital letters, lines in shapes that sometimes didn’t rhyme except with itself.

My education of self and by other is a bit of a tangle, certainly clumsy and out of sequential order, but rarely without meaning. I’ve come ’round again to the formal introductions. Milton, this school term, has wooed me into a love of pre-modernist notions. He was genius within the poet’s tradition–and daring with it. His ambition, his rocking in the chair, committing lines by moonlight into the words others would write and read by daylight.

I’ve a lot to learn, but there is something I understood and still know from the earliest…it is the value to a soul that they have a means of expression. [I love the idea of programs like Project V.O.I.C.E. who help/encourage young people in finding a means.]  It is of incredible import to the soul to realize the power of words and their defining. It is of immeasurable worth to another’s soul to be moved by your expression. Poetry is a powerful resource and communicator. And if you still have any doubt how it can hold such import:

Shane Koyczan’s 2013 TEDtalk: “To This Day” … for the bullied and beautiful”

 

"review" · concenter · fiction · juvenile lit · mystery · poet-related · recommend · wondermous

{book} hold fast

a lengthy, shockingly spoiler-free, post for Blue Balliett’s latest. This isn’t an apology, merely an acknowledgment. There are so many lovely and terribly relevant explorations … 

hold fast cover

Hold Fast by Blue Balliett

Scholastic Press, 2013.

hardcover, 274 pages.

Where is Early’s father? He’s not the kind of father who would disappear. But he’s gone . . . and he’s left a whole lot of trouble behind.

As danger closes in, Early, her mom, and her brother have to flee their apartment. With nowhere else to go, they are forced to move into a city shelter. Once there, Early starts asking questions and looking for answers. Because her father hasn’t disappeared without a trace. There are patterns and rhythms to what’s happened, and Early might be the only one who can use them to track him down and make her way out of a very tough place.

With her signature, singular love of language and sense of mystery, Blue Balliett weaves a story that takes readers from the cold, snowy Chicago streets to the darkest corner of the public library, on an unforgettable hunt for deep truths and a reunited family.~publisher’s comments.

Important: late Middle English: from medieval Latin important- ‘being of consequence’, from the verb importare ‘bring in’.  Adjective: of great significance or value, likely to have a profound effect on success, survival, or well-being; having high rank or status; significantly original and influential.

I am sketching out a list of “important juvenile fiction books and authors.” You should know that I think books and writers are important period, but this list is for those who place intimate conversations of a social and creative consciousness into the hands of young people. Blue Balliett is located with indelible ink on this list. With Hold Fast, Balliett has used her considerable gift  to not only pen a compelling mystery, but to raise awareness for the plight of our homeless children. She also returns with her signature take on the brilliance of young minds. If you’ve read Balliett, you understand how singular she is, and she just keeps getting better and better.

Meet the Pearls:

“Taken with a cell phone camera, this family portrait: Dashel Pearl, his wife, Summer, and their kids, Early and Jubilation, a daughter and a son. They live in Woodlawn, once feared as the home of Chicago’s most powerful gang, but now a quieter place. The family sits in two tidy rows on the chipped steps of a brick building, knees to backs, parents behind kids, hands sealing the foursome. Boy by girl behind girl by boy: symmetrical and smiling. The father is pale, the mother dark, the kids cocoa and cinnamon. Eyes in this family are green, amber, and smoky topaz.” (5)

They live in the largest apartment they can afford: a one bedroom primarily furnished with found objects. Dashel gets around by bicycle year round to get to public transit.* She stays home with 4 year old Jubie. Early, 11, attends school. They are saving for a house, like the one they pass on family walks “that invites dreams” (7).

Dashel’s love of reading and words with meaning is infectious. The family keeps notebooks of quotes and words. He tells his children, “words are everywhere and for everyone […] words are free and plentiful” (6); and they are empowering. Dash also shares his love of Langston Hughes. “What’s the rhythm, Langston?” is often heard. Dash, adopted as a baby and then lost those parents young, grew up in a number of foster homes. “He didn’t have a parent or grandparent to give him advice, but Langston seemed to do just as well. […] Dash had told Early that this famous poet was a rainbow mix, too, like Sum and probably Dash himself: Langston had African American, white, Jewish, and Native American roots. And, like Dash, Langston had grown up without much love or a steady home” (87). Hughes spoke often of dreams and their importance, and this spoke to the Pearls.

When Dash goes missing the readers are equally unsure what might’ve happened to him. It doesn’t look good even before his disappearance is complicated by the arrival of criminals breaking-into the Pearl’s home in a pretty scary sequence that leaves Sum, Early and Jubie without wallet or home. We are quickly introduced to the everyday realities of families who haven’t had it as good as the Pearl’s. The neighbor lady (whom they only know by sight) and others are surprised by Sum’s ignorance of how to navigate social rescue/welfare organizations and numbers. Worse is when profiling really kicks in by our greater institutions—and noticeably not by the homeless shelter workers.

“Something terrible has happened to keep my husband away, we’re terrified, have had to leave our home, have been robbed, lost our savings, and our family has done nothing wrong. Now, aren’t the police supposed to protect people like us?” (72)

“I realized something awful in that room today. That when you’re this poor and without money or an address, hardly anyone thinks you’re worth listening to or helping. Just the words living in a shelter make you you someone the police aren’t too worried about, less than your average citizen when it comes to rights. And now that Dash is missing, the fact that he’d been a man with a job, a family, and a home doesn’t seem to count. Seeing how excited the detectives were about [spoiler], I knew they cared more about [spoiler] than the man. Or us.” (132)

Early’s response to the latter being the understatement of the year: “Dang,” Early said, swallowing hard. “That’s scary.” It is of interest that the mother’s realization is expressed well after Early’s experience at school where children can be really cruel and adults can be inept. Children see and know more than they are often credited. And their resilience is not an excuse to continue to ignore their vulnerabilities.

The novel clings to the compassionate as it collides with the hardness of people and life. Balliett moves the reader in thoughtful ways, using the mystery and Early’s youth and smarts to guide the reader through a book that refuses to look away from its subjects. I love how authors employ humor to counter-weigh the complex and often ugly moments of a book, but I savor and admire the juvenile fiction author who can rely on other, rarer, charms. Balliett threads hope to counter-weigh, she employs a light, and this is a different smile, and it comes before the story’s end.

The structure of the novel is of import to the pacing of its heart-felt, brain-felt 274 pages. The Pearls, we learn, keep a notebook of onomatopoeia. The chapters (but for the first and last) are named after “C” words that are onomatopoeia. Each have smaller sections that begin with each word and hold thematically. The breaks move and relieve the reader along a linear timeline of the 3rd-person limited variety. We follow Early who uses words and rhythms in ways the book demonstrates. Each of those “C” words come with definitions where in the chapters reiterate their meaning. Early shares words, the author introduces each character with the intention of their names. Dashel “Dash” (p 15) increases with significance in characterization—and in light of the title: Hold Fast. And of course, that opening definition and intention that opens the novel grounds everything:

“Home, from the Middle English hom and Old English ham. Noun: a place to live by choice, sometimes with family or friends; a haven; a place of origin, comfort, and often of valued memories.

“By the end of the 2012 school year, an estimated thirty thousand children in the city of Chicago were without a home. This number does not include those living in the surrounding suburbs, and is thought to be low.”

According to the “Acknowledgment” at the end of the book (after p 274), Balliett did a lot of research, talked to a lot of people. The novel would portray a sense of what homelessness would look like for Early and her mother and brother, and touch on the experiences of other’s situations with equal gravity. Some of the compositions are stark, others strongly inferred, and all of it touching.

“Facts on the homeless vary, depending on what you read and how statistics are collected and presented. Shelter rules also vary. Not to be questioned, however, are the harsh realities of homelessness. Sadly, they have nothing to do with fiction.”

I mentioned hope, and one such beacon is Early. Early keeps her head up, and both her self-awareness and the awareness of her surroundings is necessary to this hope-fullness. Aged 11, Early is a creative force to be reckoned with—though I have no reason to believe she is unique in her ability rise up against the hardships that would hold her down. She relies on the hope of seeing her father and rightly believes in her ability in solving the mystery of his disappearance. She has doubts, which coincide with the reader’s, artfully instigated by the clever author. But she has notions that keep her going, that enquiring eye of hers searching out rhythms, patterns, riddles and connections to be solved, or at the very least contemplated. We have the mystery unfolding to keep us turning pages, but time is harder on Early and she needs more than the mystery to balance out despair. Enter the energizing effect of a creative energy that empowers and enlists hope and fits snugly into the import of holding fast to our ability to dream.

Enlightened by her situation, head-up and engaged, Early starts to notice, to really look at people (thinking of Waive) and her surroundings—and to question: “How come there are so many homes standing empty in Chicago and so many people like us who don’t have a home? How come those empty homes aren’t being fixed up and filled with people who need a place to live” (171)?

It is a question Balliett bids the reader to linger over in her “Note:” “As of October 2011, the city of Chicago reported roughly fifteen thousand abandoned buildings, most the result of foreclosure. They sit silent, haunting the neighborhoods that surround them. With an estimated thirty thousand homeless kids in this city, the questions are obvious. Luckily, so are the dreams.” “The dreams” are a nod to Early’s idea for project (202-3) and its yield (253-7). Balliet novels believe in a children’s capacity to be powerful agents of change. That children are brilliant.

Brilliant: late 17th century: from French brillant ‘shining’. Adjective: (of light or colour) very bright; exceptionally clever or talented; outstanding; impressive; very good, excellent, or marvelous. Noun:a diamond of brilliant cut.

And it isn’t only in Hold Fast that someone(s) would thieve [from] the brilliant.

There are some points in the novel that are especially difficult. One is what and how much Summer (the mother) leaves to and confides in Early. In a lot of ways it is necessary in informing Early and the reader for the sake of the plot. But it also points to Balliett’s bold consistency of character and allowing for that kind of discomfort. Jubie is 4 and a product of the environs of those 4 years; this adds incredible tension. As for Early and Summer: children in tough circumstances grow up quickly at the loss of childhood, and (no matter how good a parent) the grief and depression of an adult after the loss of a loved-one takes a toll. Summer is left very much alone, the family alienated of relatives and community. Add the burden of societally placed barriers and inconsistencies and there is a lot of unfairness to pass around. There are plenty of places in which we could intervene. Hold Fast relays grim realities even as it models a compassion toward those too oft robbed of the dignity of its reception. Compassion is a first step.

Dreams (by Langston Hughes)

Hold fast to dreams
For if dreams die
Life is a broken-winged bird
That cannot fly.
Hold fast to dreams
For when dreams go
Life is a barren field
Frozen with snow.

Dash places this poem in the family notebook (54), and the next poem in sequence is Hughes’ “What happens to a dream deferred?”, which reflects a real life tension in the novel. Hold Fast’s antidote for despair is to continue to hope and dreams fuel our hope,** while minding Hughes question and the final line of its poem.

Balliet’s incorporation of such impacting artists and their translation into such intimate spaces, such as a young person’s mind, provides an incalculable worth to her novels. Balliet writes good mysteries, mysteries with unexpected textures, with complexities that make for a rich and rewarding read. I love how empowered and inspired her young protagonists are towards using all of their selves creatively and determinedly.

I find Balliet entertaining, but I acknowledge that a lot of the thrill comes from admiring her craftiness. But does “entertaining” necessarily translate as “mindless?” There are plenty of fluffy reads to excite many a reader and they hold a place, but I do hope those many find a more challenging read, an important book now and again that gifts an awareness that makes us a better human.

recommendation: ages 8-13, boys & girls, would be nice to read w/ a grown-up and plan some sort of service project, to say nothing of penning dreams and starting notebooks. for the creative-minded (aka anyone); for bibliophiles; the impact of word, book, libraries, teachers, and poets is awesome in Hold Fast.

of note: it would be tempting to refer Balliett books to those kids who have tested into gifted programs, whether it be reading, writing, math and/or spatial…or any who benefit from atypical curriculum. but one of the many things that impresses me with Balliett’s books, is how you can pick out adults who believe in the potential of the child protagonist and invest in them, sharing their time, intellect, creative play… In honor of Balliett, I wouldn’t dare underestimate any child’s needs or abilities. I would encourage and child (and adult) to give one of her novels a go. Hold Fast is as good as any a starting place.

*noticed the other (very wintry) day the sheer number of Denver’s service sector/day laborers that use bikes to get around; w/ educated guesses that they have to use them to reach public transit as well, bus lines and bike lanes relatively wasted on multi-car-owning neighborhoods.

**A Dianna Wynn Jones quote comes to mind (thanks to Sarah), “nobody ever solved a problem while believing it was hopeless.”

I pulled my definitions from the Oxford English Dictionary (US version)

my review of The Danger Box.

"review" · fiction · Lit · poet-related · recommend · wondermous · young adult lit

{book} graffiti moon

graffiti moon coverGraffiti Moon by Cath Crowley

Alfred A. Knopf, 2012 (2010 in Australia)

hardcover, 257 pages. contemporary teen fiction.

tagline: an artist, a dreamer, a long, mean, night

a little wanting song guaranteed I would be reading more of Cath Crowley’s work. I took me a bit of time to get a hold of a copy of Graffiti Moon, and it was well worth the wait–not that I would recommend any body who likes good contemporary teen fiction wait, especially if they like romantic comedy and/or art.

Senior year is over, and Lucy has the perfect way to celebrate: tonight, she’s going to find Shadow, the mysterious graffiti artist whose work appears all over the city. He’s out there somewhere—spraying color, spraying birds and blue sky on the night—and Lucy knows a guy who paints like Shadow is someone she could fall for. Really fall for. Instead, Lucy’s stuck at a party with Ed, the guy she’s managed to avoid since the most awkward date of her life. But when Ed tells her he knows where to find Shadow, they’re suddenly on an all-night search around the city. And what Lucy can’t see is the one thing that’s right before her eyes.—publisher’s comments

It’s a bit of a case of You’ve Got Mail except the cute meet has an amusing twist; a bit of Nick and Nora’s Infinite Playlist, but different. Told in alternating narrators (Lucy and Ed and with poems by Leo), the Cath Crowley’s Graffiti Moon spans the night following Lucy and cohorts’ completion of year twelve. The occasion for overlays were so nice and really exemplified Crowley crafting of three very individual narrators.

Lucy is roped into an evening out with her best friend Jazz and she decides to make the best of it by finally meeting Shadow. Jazz eyes Leo with interest and the feeling is mutual, but that means Ed has to come along. Even so, Leo has an early morning date with crime that he is obliged to make and Ed is (again) set to help out his friend. So the passing of time is marked as they travel about, looking and talking about the graffiti art/ist; which is not tedious reading in the least. If anything, it would be fun to reference the images/artists Lucy and Ed talk about as they talk about it. Love that Rothko is a featured inspiration.

Graffiti Moon could be accused of creating a cast of quirky characters foreign to the novel’s audience for mere entertainment, but the verisimilitude will be striking—I hope, because it would depressing if they were not. Okay, so some of the problems at home may resonate, and that isn’t a happy-making thought, but young people dreaming and passionate about artful things is. Ed may do graffiti, but Leo does the poetry, and Lucy is a budding glass blower and in certain company sharing their passion for art is okay. But not everyone gets it and that comes into play. Being able to be oneself and find your mode of expression is paramount, survivalist even, and both relationships and individuals operate in unique ways (e.g. Lucy’s parents).

The choice of art, the graffiti for Ed and the glass for Lucy are nice choices, nicely used and well-articulated. I was especially charmed by Crowley’s sense of humor and her own artful ways with the craft of writing. I enjoyed a turn of phrase time and again and laughed outright a time or seven. It is fun that N read it because I had to merely reference a moment and we were laughing over it again together. I am smiling just now thinking about the hijinks with the bicycle. And yep, the get-away van…

Graffiti Moon isn’t all sweetness like I’m worrying that I am making it sound. Lucy is pretty cute if not frustratingly naïve at times. The romancing isn’t easy nor is it necessarily every character’s immediate concern: at least, not with their pairing. Crowley layers in quite a bit of character history and personal conflicts in these 257 pages, not all of it pleasant (especially for Ed and Leo). For a story set on that edge of a future, some of the images appear bleak, certainly messy. I like the messiness of the characters and the relationships (except the threatening, bloodletting parts) not just because it makes them interesting reading, but because it makes for characters who actually change—and one night’s progress would’ve failed Graffiti Moon if not for Crowley’s sense of story. (As for the threatening, bloodletting parts, that was good dramatic effect and who doesn’t love Ed and Lucy all the more after the park encounter?)

Crowley’s energetic launch into story, her humor and deft handling of character there in the first chapters invest the reader into an adventurous night that only gets better and better. I could say that you could find morning having experience a light-weight’s rush of adventure, but there is too much heart for that and I should think that no reader could leave Graffiti Moon unaffected in some way.

recommendation: high school and upwards, boys and girls alike. lovers of art, contemporary drama that isn’t too sticky, romantic comedy, art, and swoon-worthy kinds of characters even when they can still be asses at times.

my review of a little wanting song (U.S. print: Knopf, 2010)

* had I read Cath Crowley’s “about” page I would have known she was my kind of person from the start.

"review" · Children's · concenter · Illustrator · Picture book · poet-related · recommend

{illustrator} LeUyen Pham (pt 2)

Yesterday I posted a bit of what I learned about LeUyen Pham. Today I am looking at a few of the picture books she illustrated.

A Stick is an Excellent Thing: Poems Celebrating Outdoor Play by Marilyn Singer (Clarion Books/Houghton Mifflin Harcourt, 2012).

Marilyn Singer, a renowned poet, offers 18 poems involving outdoor play with games like double-dutch, hop-scotch, monkey in the middle, and swinging on the swings. What I loved was how this is not a collection of poems that excludes the urban landscape with its expanse of pavement, sidewalks, stoops, and diverse population. The poems vary, and some were more difficult for me to read aloud than others (more to do w/ my pronunciation, no doubt). My favorite poem was “Upside Down” and the book closes rather sweetly with “Stargazing.”

The images echo the energy in the poems; there is always movement. The skin tones are warm and the clothes vibrant against the colorful backdrops which project the idea of landscape onto the children themselves. They are where the action, the creativity, the relationships take place. They are unleashed upon the out-of-doors, walking on edges (in “Edges”) and running and chasing and crashing (in “Really Fast”). There is something classic in the images, old Golden Books come to mind. I’m not sure how intentional this is, but it is brings a certain nostalgia for old school outdoor play and the carefree summers running about the neighborhood (or ‘hood in “Hopscotch”) with your friends. But as the reviewer for School Library Journal points out, LeUyen Pham gives the book a modern seasoning to its nostalgia eliminating the all-white cast and putting girls on skateboards and placing jump-ropes in boys’ hands. Although, no one seems interested in demystifying the hopscotch fascination with girls.

[stick rumpus]

I noticed the lack of scrapes or band-aids, and Library School Journal questions the cleanliness and glow of the imagery in the illustrations and poetry. Monkey in the Middle can be fair, and splashing in the gutters isn’t a health hazard. The spirit of it is good though, and will no doubt be avoided by helicopter parents. I am hoping that librarians are putting this one on the end-caps and at eye-level, maybe above a nice pile of sticks.

A fantastic review by School Library Journal.

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Once Around the Sun: Poems by Bobbi Katz (Harcourt Books, 2006)

In her 12 poems dedicated to each month on the calendar, Bobbi Katz subjects seasonal objects to personification in the most delightful ways. My favorite poem, and the first, “January” wishes the “sled would stop whispering “one more time” and once—just once—pull you back up that hill! The poems and the illustrations bring people together. “Grandma tells you how each spring she falls in love with the world all over again—and you understand” (“April”). It is multi-cultural, multi-generational, mult-geographical (love the urban inclusions) experience.

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I enjoyed how in Marilyn Singer’s A Stick is an Excellent Thing, LeUyen Pham uses a cast of characters throughout, but I also enjoy her following a boy who has a little sister and a mom and dad and a dog and a grandmother) through Once Around the Sun. The child-oriented contemplations of the months and what they mean or bring seem suited to a singular character. The choice also allows for the illustrator to adapt the mood each poem brings more readily. The little boy becomes a thread and a joy.

see the story in this textless image that accompanies “September” on the facing page? New backpack being noticed, crisp clean (new) white shirt (that won’t say that way)…

I adore the color-work, and while it has a tinge of nostalgia, Katz and Pham are creating a sentimentality all their own, and in the present.

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{from Freckleface Strawberry: Best Friends Forever}

Freckleface Strawberry was checked out so I ended up with two of the following books. LeUyen Pham told “Seven Impossible Things before Breakfast,” this about the experience:

Freckleface Strawberry (Bloomsbury Books), by Julianne Moore […] was great to do. Julie apparently was sent several artists’ work to select from, and she loved the book Big Sister, Little Sister I had done a couple years ago. She’s the sweetest person, and really let me go at it with the character. In fact, she even asked me to cover the little girl in freckles — initially, I was shy about putting too many dots on her! Contrary to popular opinion, I never saw pictures of Julie as a child. My editor and Julie were pretty adamant about the fact that the character should just come from my imagination. I was pretty surprised afterward to discover that the little girl I had drawn looks almost exactly like Julie’s daughter!”

Freckleface Strawberry and the Dodgeball Bully by Julianne Moore (Bloomsbury, 2009).

This is one of those rare bully stories these days where the bully isn’t actually a bully. Much of the mistaken identity is attributed to the power of the imagination—perceiving the big strong kid as a bully and the dodgeball as something that is out to seriously harm you. –but isn’t it though? We had mornings where Natalya felt the same kind of dread, hoping against all odds they would not be playing dodgeball. The book does not downplay the existence of bullies or monsters or even fear, and it doesn’t downplay the role of the imagination on a person’s life.

Freckleface Strawberry’s thought the ball would hurt, and had avoided play with Windy Pants Patrick. She also thought she could become a monster, practicing her role at the back while the game was being played. She imagined herself to be strong and fierce and agile. The power of the imagination can work for and against you.

The story has some lovely rhythmic moments. The sentences are as declarative as the expressions on Freckleface Strawberry’s face—no, her whole body. LeUyen Pham fluidly sketches a distinct personality into the character. There is this beautiful moment where Freckleface Strawberry is curled into herself a bit in dread, and in some memory of a wince—already anticipating the sting of the ball. She hadn’t left the house yet. I don’t know if the Monster is in previous books, but I adore its appearance here. Her imagination is projected into a looming shadow of a Monster behind her, echoing her movements—until at last it goes to tip-toe away, anxious, too, about Windy Pants Patrick and the dodgeball. With Moore’s dramatic tension and Pham’s ability to create dimension we arrive at the moment of truth with the same sentiment to which Freckleface Strawberry comes—“Oh!” I love learning the lessons alongside the character, and Moore plays off common misperceptions and worry well to deliver a nice turn. Pham artfully brings the inner workings to the page. It is a lovely partnership.

Freckleface Strawberry: Best Friends Forever by Julianne Moore (Bloomsbury, 2011).

First thoughts: Could this book be any sweeter? I love it. Windy Pants Patrick is back as Freckleface Strawberry’s best friend. The other kids thought they were too different to be best friends, let alone friends. So even though it was their differences (from others) that brought them together (both being odd sizes, having nicknames, and families who love them, loving to read and eat lunch), their differences viewed differently, however, could keep them apart. Classic scenarios where boys don’t play with girls and vice versa ala “boys stink.” Each gender and height and interest and family make-up has its own place—so they really don’t have enough in common. Except they do. And it is a nice aspect to the story how they drift apart and drift back together again. While the reader/listener understands social dynamics and has probably witnessed or experienced the story themselves, we are rooting for the friendship—and likely inspired.

The story feels too real to be message-y. It is another snapshot from Freckleface Strawberry’s life and again it just resonates. I would have loved to have read these to N when she was younger. Moore and Pham offer very relevant, if not strictly entertaining work. Fortunately, Natalya isn’t too grown-up to read picture books and found Freckleface Strawberry charming and fun—and familiar.

The presentation of the book is fun and colorful, but not overwhelming—simply stated and straightforward in language and illustration; and yet the texture is there. While Pham provides more color and setting, I thought about Ian Falconer’s Olivia and how much of an impact an inked figure of a pig in a tutu could have. There is no mistaking the driving force in the text and images in either Olivia or Freckleface Strawberry.

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LeUyen Pham’s site.

{All images belong to her and their respective publishers}