{book} never a nothing girl

Icebreaker by Lian Tanner

Feiwel and Friends, 2015 (orig. 2013).

Hardcover 304 pages

“Twelve-year-old Petrel is an outcast, the lowest of the low on the Oyster, an ancient icebreaker that has been following the same course for three hundred years. In that time, the ship’s crew has forgotten its original purpose and broken into three warring tribes. Everyone has a tribe except Petrel, whose parents committed such a terrible crime that they were thrown overboard, and their daughter ostracised.

But Petrel is a survivor. She lives in the dark corners of the ship, speaking to no one except two large grey rats, Mister Smoke and Missus Slink. Then a boy is discovered, frozen on an iceberg, and Petrel saves him, hoping he’ll be her friend. What she doesn’t know is that for the last three hundred years, the Oyster has been guarding a secret. A secret that could change the world.

A secret that the boy has been sent to destroy, along with the ship and everyone on it…” –Publisher’s comments

I hugged the book before I read it, and you can be sure I hugged it afterward. Why? Because Lian Tanner has written one of my favorite Juvenile Fiction Series (The Keeper Trilogy) and she did not let me down in Icebreaker.

Tanner creates rather than contrives her characters and their conflicts. It takes reading the novel to realize what I mean by that difference between the creating and the contrivance. The characters experience real, important change, within the boundaries of their personality. You labor alongside them in those pivotal moments.

Icebreaker is not for those who like to anticipate the story and control every outcome. Tanner doesn’t make her adventures easy on the characters, why would she make it easy on the reader? Tanner’s characters earn their stunning heroism and heart. That Petrel would arrive to a transformative state is perhaps expected, but what of the others, and what of the winding series of events that traverse the massive and entangle innards of the Oyster? There are clues to mysteries (Crab) for the reader to guess successfully, but the overall the sensation of honestly not knowing what is coming next is marvelous.

Tanner complicates her otherworldly stories in painfully realistic ways. Both Petrel (aka Nothing Girl) and the strange boy she rescues have internalized the beliefs of their respective adult worlds—and they have to push back for the sake of everyone. Theirs is a violent and devastated world. The different factions are rational outcomes and hauntingly familiar, yet there is a fine and cutting edge of ridiculousness in the situation. So much of the violence is situated in willful ignorance and incredible egoism. Squid is a still, quiet breath of fresh air.

The presence of tribal leaders’ children in the story is notable; especially the handling of daughters (like Squid) as game-changers. The offspring represent the attitudes of their tribes as well as the opportunity for change. The Braids’ leader, Orca’s daughter, is a horrible fascination and was no doubt one of the most tenuous to write. How to convincingly affect change in relatively few pages, and can we trust it going forward? Nothing Girl and the “rescued boy” (who represent two sets of “others” or factions) are convincing actors, posing in alternate versions of themselves, playing the role survival requires of them. The reader is helped to understand that there is a lot at stake when it comes to who and when to trust—and how to prioritize needs and wants. From the get-go, the question of whether a Nothing Girl should have rescued the boy on the ice haunts the story: Is he worth it? Is she?

The harsh setting is fraught with the kind of danger that inspires courage and resourcefulness, though the survivalist Petrel would downplay such aggrandizement of her reality. Yet while she may not find herself exceptional or worthy of manning the story, the reader will see what her few friends do, worth the risk-taking. She is so earnest, so damned determined and requiring of love. She is so damned familiar.

How Tanner manages to make such a horrible moment near the end, the realization of Nothing Girl as Petrel, to be also humorous… She has great storytelling instincts. Tanner is thought-provoking in unexpected ways, reminding the reader always of perspective (that there is always more than one at play).

Icebreaker combines the most appealing traits of juvenile fiction: an exhilarating imagination and an increasingly necessary imperative: empathy.

I wrote this of Museum of Thieves way back when: “Tanner created a cast and setting of delectable proportions for which I found I was ravenous in Museum of Thieves and will sure to be again in City of Lies.” Go ahead and transpose Icebreaker and Sunker’s Deep; Tanner is a satiating must-read.


Of note: Perfect for tracing the pathways of character development over the course of a plot, no “convenient” gaps to leap over here.

My reviews of Museum of Thieves and City of Lies



{comic} BFFs

little robot cover

Little Robot by Ben Hatke

First Second, 2015.

Advanced Reader Copy (thank you First Second/Net Galley) in exchange for a fair review.

When a little girl finds an adorable robot in the woods, she presses a button and accidentally activates him for the first time. Now, she finally has a friend. But the big, bad robots are coming to collect the little guy for nefarious purposes, and it’s all up to a five-year-old armed only with a wrench and a fierce loyalty to her mechanical friend to save the day!–Publisher’s comments


As observed of his Zita Spacegirl series “Hatke does really good robots—seriously, spaceships, gear, and really great robots.”* So when I heard First Second was publishing his Little Robot, I was super geeked.

little robot 43

Little Robot is deceptively simple in presentation. Unlined panels, a lot of white space, silence for pages, uncluttered or uncomplicated compositions. The first text is “tap,” a sound effect on page 25. The first spoken text is on 27. The story is quiet yet brimming with expression. The reader is like the cat licking the robot, there is an initial zing, as well as a residual. We cannot remain unaffected.

little robot 45

Like other Hatke heroines we’ve met, this little girl is beautifully determined and resourceful. She is alone and capable, lonely and courageous, and likes it that way. What is awesome about the story: its point is not whether the little girl will prove acceptable or not when human children arrive at the end of the book. When the human children do arrive, she runs off with her already true friend, the little robot she fought so hard to befriend/rescue. True, she needed a friend–and she’d found one.

Little Robot is very much a story of daring, of tenacity, of not letting a monster robot get in the way of a friendship you’ve invested in, one you’ve been waiting for.

The subject of life and death is hardly subtle, and in that way, it is accessible. The Little Robot is as animated and unnamed as the Little Human protagonist. They also seem to be subject to a greater machine at work, one that leaves her to her own devices, sneaking into the yards of others’ to play—an older white male watching her from the window. What is equally left unsaid is whether the man is malevolent. “ROM!” takes on a different affect at the end of the story after the mechanism is re-adjusted, can we infer the same of its human counterpart (if said man is, in fact, its counterpart?); Industry is.

I love the juxtaposition of Machine and Nature. I love the delightful experiences of those a forming friendship. I love that the last image brings to mind Castle in the Sky (Miyazaki, 1986)… Hatke is artful in his use of of panel, in the reaches across. He is judicious in breaking the reverie of the image with text. He’s playful. And he writes the best female characters and their adventures in such a way that it makes it difficult to understand just how rare their portrayals and their settings actually are.


Ben Hatke’s work is worth the anticipation it builds, not just the robots, but the girls, their adventures, their courage, their heart. I can’t wait to meet his next adventure, but in the meantime, I’ll indulge a few re-reads.


recommendations: emerging readers through grade-school, and adults. STEM kids, and artists. Those needing greater diversity in their library/repertoire. lovers of robot art.

*Legends of Zita Spacegirl review. Here is one for Zita Spacegirl.

{images belong to Ben Hatke}

{National Poetry Month} Pockets

On Pockets with Poetry by Natalya Lawren {guest writer}

To finish out the fantastic National Poetry Month, instead of a post as some fantastically deep reflection, I’m pushing us to do something as active participants. You may have guessed it– tomorrow is Poem in your Pocket Day. At first I was going to write about and feature poems about pockets, but that was both a hard-to-fulfill and stupid idea. :) I’m not afraid to admit it. Nor am I afraid to move on to something other than myself.

The idea is pretty simple– take your favorite poem, and carry it in your pocket. I would suggest not keeping it crammed in there. Share them. Express. It can range from a folded piece of paper to a laminated bookmark. Poem in Your Pocket Day has been around every National Poetry Month and is one of the few nationwide events organized with all certainty. It is fairly unobtrusive, yet powerful in its own way.

Admittedly, a lot of people (including myself) forget to print out a poem, so this is a great opportunity to carry extras to give people, start a discussion and share, giving them something to hold onto for the day. Often, libraries and stores will pass out their own, which have saved me quite a few times. And though the written word is powerful, if you cannot bear to carry a scrap of paper, your phone may suffice. Is social media in your pocket? Most likely. Or you could print out an epic poem on a scroll and pull it out just to freak people out.

You know, it’s pretty self explanatory, and despite my urge to make this day meaningful, quirky, and this post elaborate, I don’t think that I need to do any of that. Poetry is awesome. I hope you don’t need anything more from me on that front, because this is my last post for National Poetry Month (well, look for a farewell picture of my own Poem in Your Pocket Day experience).

What is a better way to end it? So tomorrow, April 30th, put a poem in your pocket and venture out.

Though before you go, I’d like to give my thanks to all of you reading– I’m most certainly still experimenting and by no means a fantastic blogger, but I thank you for hearing me out and hope you’ve enjoyed. I also want to thank L, who has graciously allowed me to invade her space with my own ramblings, and has taken the time to edit, advise, and post them up here. Without her, none of this would have left a stash of rough drafts in Google Docs to be presented on this blog of hers. And as the very final word, I want to request all of you for this to not be a 1 month a year thing. Of course, it is fantastic that you’ve dedicated the time to celebrate National Poetry Month. But if this sticks with you for less that a few days after the month ends, well, don’t tell me about it. ;)


Guest Blogger Natalya Lawren

On Matters of Poetry

{National Poetry Month} On Narrative Poetry

On Narrative Poetry by Natalya Lawren {guest writer}

Poetry is not all about exploring a concept in a series of images– maybe it’s more like short stories which are, oh, right– exploring a concept in a series of images. But hey, joking aside, the difference between poetry and narrative is large, because poetry may contain a story, but will not flesh it out and tell it like a short story or a novel might.

Except when it comes to narrative poetry, which is very common, though popular perception makes it less so in modern times. Epic poetry was the way in which stories were passed on orally and to ease the process of memorizing. The language was precisely memorized and the rhythm and rhyme carried it along. Homer traded in these intricacies, particularly following the epic adventure of some of the most popular focus of early narrative poetry, that of heroes and gods.  Chaucer, Dante, and Arthurian Legend are also good examples of stories told through poetry. Even Shakespeare, though not completely in verse, utilized in the speech of the nobility in his plays.

Narrative poetry does not need to be long or spoken, but its requirements are that it tells a story, has a plot and usually, like prose, a character and setting. But as we move more into either an implied story or some change in approach to poetry, we appear to be moving farther from a continuous narrative that has such a fantastic impact. Not to be too hasty and attempt to mourn the loss of a form that is alive, there are still narrative poems being written, of which I would say my current favorite is “Sir Gawain and the Green Knight.” Perhaps we will witness a return to poetry being the prevalent form of telling a tale.  Perhaps as an epic fantasy, perhaps a personal story. A ballad of romance gone wrong, or how you came to love mint chocolate chip ice cream.

I, unfortunately, am terrible at Narrative poetry, so I will not endeavor to share any of my disastrous attempts. But despite my utter failure, I’ve included this category because it is a massive part of poetry historically and presently. Just like poems can express revolutions, songs, people, and the fantastical, poetry is not only reserved by the abstracted– it can express a plot of a story. Some of the most successful poems and famous creations have been just that.

What may be so distancing from poetry might be this need for it to be/seem/fulfill expectations of the abstract.  Yet storytelling has always been a captivating experience, and when you find the right story in the right form, you fall in love. That’s what reading and hearing and experiencing has been all about. And if you feel as though National Poetry Month detracts from this experience of reading a story, I am here to tell you that it doesn’t have to be like that.  We have become caught up in a stereotype of everything poetry is and must become, but what I am trying to do for myself and everyone else is exploring the many facets of what poetry is, because we get to the unfortunate truth– everyone judges a book by its cover.

Yet a cover for a book of poetry may entail the fantastic journey of the lone hero in slaying a dragon. It can be a quirky and honest experience of a mistake. What have we to say to that? If we had to give the prevalence of poetry in the original form (before writing evolved onto paper) a reason, it would be to tell a story– to unfold the image of the creation or teach the people the history of a tumultuous war. How would the explanation differ from present-day?

I encourage us to be aware of the narrative form and to seek out writings in it. Read some classics, or find contemporary or still-living poets and their work. Tell a story of your own and think the best way to formalize it. Narrative poetry is a fantastic thing to read and experience, and I encourage everyone to seek it out for National Poetry Month.

{National Poetry Month} here

Here by Natalya Lawren {guest writer}

Call me extremely lazy. Call me ferociously busy. Both apply. Both are somewhat relevant to today’s post. But let’s think of it as a nice break from the usual study, and just an appreciation for poetry itself. This is to date one of my favourite poems, and I believe it stands for itself. How about for now, we all just read it together.


Next Time Ask More Questions


Naomi Shihab Nye, 1952


Before jumping, remember

the span of time is long and gracious.

No one perches dangerously on any cliff

till you reply. Is there a pouch of rain

desperately thirsty people wait to drink from

when you say yes or no? I don’t think so.

Hold that thought. Hold everything.

When they say “crucial”—well, maybe for them?

Hold your horses and your minutes and

your Hong Kong dollar coins in your pocket,

you are not a corner or a critical turning page.

Wait. I’ll think about it.

This pressure you share is a misplaced hinge, a fantasy.

I am exactly where I wanted to be.


*originally published in Poem-a-Day, American Academy of Poets, 2015

{National Poetry Month} On Mail

On Mail by Natalya Lawren {guest writer}

I’ve spent this month talking to you. Similarly, poets devote themselves to a message but rarely receive a direct response. It’s time for this to change. It’s time for you, reader, to talk back.

Of course, I’d love to hear from you in the comments below, but what I had in mind was poetry.org’s Dear Poet Challenge.

They set up this absolutely fantastic opportunity for National Poetry Month involving a slew of famous poets, and the ability to send them mail. I’ll let you read it for yourself, and although I know it has an age limit, I would encourage even people who cannot participate in the competition to consider the process and write to their favourite poets. National Poetry Month is intrinsically linked with the idea of community. So a poet is waiting for your letter, just as you are waiting for a poem. Read a message and write back. We’d love to hear from you.

{National Poetry Month} on silence/speaking


on silence/speaking by Natalya Lawren {guest writer}

I apologize for the radio silence.  And on that note: more than ever I’ve realized how much of poetry is a voice. I say this because on Friday (the 17th), I participated in the Day of Silence, a movement of students in support of the LGBT community, protesting the bullying, harassment and bigotry that silences and forces people to hide who they are. But as I struggle with not speaking and relate it to not speaking out of fear of hate, I pondered not speaking at all! This is the silence of the oppressed, of the not-quite dissent but unvocalized issues.

I’m very much extroverted, and extremely talkative. I try to reconcile this with the popular stereotype of the writer who writes so they don’t have to speak. Though this stereotype is often not applicable, it is true that to write is the words that may not be communicated otherwise. Something personal. Something conveyed through poetry as an exploration, revelation, secret or struggle.

I’ve been saying this all along, but not in such clear of terms. Perhaps I should’ve said this on the first day of the month.

But it was today I began considering not only the movement as an act of protest, but also one of empathy, and something allowing me to listen and ponder the nature of communication. It’s simultaneously frustrating and fascinating to see how much I can encourage people to talk with just my facial expressions, and I began to study their reactions in turn. I am rarely as introspective about my usual day-to-day speech as I am now with my silent communications, and of course, I am most thoughtful about my writing. It somehow becomes less about just the brunt of what is being communicated, but how we share it, which has most always been the refinement of poetry, and now speech as I think about it.

So speaking is not necessarily poetry (though I promise you an article on spoken word poetry later in the month), but what if it became the same through the amount of thought of how to express, how to impact or best convey? Here I’m treading the challenge of making poetry relate to day-to-day life, a pursuit I continue even after “Poetry in the Everyday” and “On Matters of Survival.” Whether this communication is by changing the nature of the world around you or changing society, using blank spaces or writing messages directly to people, it must occur in some form or another.

And consider the silence. Call it blank space, call it made-of-fear. There are certain things we do not talk about. I believe art is one of those things. We talk in terms of entertainment and consumption, but conversations actually about music or poetry or just the nature of humanity are some of the best ones I’ve had. I think we should have more.

So whether you prefer to speak to people about poetry this month, or speak with the thought of poetry, or not speak at all but listen to others, I encourage us to have time of our own to do this. I do not want to detract attention from Day of Silence, which I believe is a fantastic endeavor, but I thank it sincerely for the inspiration for this idea. Be it silence or speech, take National Poetry Month to be something worth thinking about.



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