"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

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Ntozake_Shange,_Reid_Lecture,_Women_Issues_Luncheon,_Women's_Center,_November_1978
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" · Children's · concenter · Picture book · recommend · wondermous

{book} an antidote

30 days of pbDay Twenty-SevenI’m Bored

By Michael Ian Black 

Illustrated by Debbie Ridpath Ohi 

Simon & Schuster for Young Readers 2012

I'm Bored by Debbie Ohi

The potato was unexpected.

I did not read the inside jacket copy. I didn’t even notice the back cover. Browsing shelves, I saw the front cover, remembered it’s popularity when it was released, and added it to my stack of books. I dove straight into the reading.

im bored potatoA few pages in, after the self-pitying complaints of boredom, the child finds a potato and thinks it may be interesting. It isn’t. And it is, because they proceed to have an argument. The child has to prove that kids are not boring, stating that they are actually quite fun. The potato remains unconvinced, wishing it’d had a flamingo for company instead.

I flashed on an sequence of exchanges between Sherlock and Watson from BBC’s Sherlock…The potato suddenly adopted Benedict Cumberbatch as his voice talent. What was weirder was interposing Martin Freeman as the protagonist of the picture book.

The standoff between child and potato is hilarious—and effortlessly makes the story’s point about boredom. Children are capable of all sorts of activity/imagination. The ending is awesome. I rate the last pages of I’m Bored up there with the Hat books by Jon Klassen.

brought Charles Schulz's Peanuts to mind, to good effect.
brought Charles Schulz’s Peanuts to mind, to good effect.

The title page bearing a heavy bold blue title sets a good tone. Ohi follows with sweeping expanses of white page. There is nothing to distract the reader. We are left only with the protagonist who is bored—and to be appropriate, rather boring herself. She leans, lays, pitifully wails her boredom. She has every promise of liveliness in those pigtails, sunshine-colored clips, striped and pink heart t-shirt. Ohi and character begin to fill the space with imaginative sets to accompany her costuming, props and declarative adventures. The story picks up, crams images on pages, exciting the eye.

I’m Bored is a marvelously designed experience, and that is the only subtle aspect to this highly entertaining read that I know every family could benefit from right about now. Place Michael Ian Black and Debbie Ridpath Ohi timeless picture book next to your copy of Paula Bossio’s The Line, and have it keep company with your books by Jeffers, Willems, Klassen, Barnett,  Reynolds and Santat.

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Michael Ian Black is a popular comedian who began his career with The State, a sketch comedy troupe he co-founded at New York University in 1988, which went on to have a successful run on MTV. […] His screenplay “Run Fat Boy Run,” starring Simon Pegg and Thandie Newton came out in 2007. Michael is also a stand-up comedian, who regularly tours the country. […] His first children’s book, “Chicken Cheeks” was released in January, 2009. His latest project is “Michael and Michael Have Issues,” a comedy series premiering in July 2009 on Comedy Central. Michael is married and has two children.

Debbie Ridpath Ohi is a published writer and illustrator based in Toronto, Canada. After graduating from the University of Toronto with a B.Sc. in Computer Science and Psychology, I worked as a systems programmer/analyst for Toronto-Dominion Bank for two years before stepping off the corporate cliff and immersing myself in the arts: writing, teaching piano, and doing some freelance art. Ohi created a Web resource for writers called Inkspot which won a bunch of awards and a newsletter circulation of nearly 50,000. Inkspot began as a hobby but soon became a fulltime career.

Her first picture book that she is writing and illustrating, Where Are My Books? debuts from Simon & Schuster Books For Young Readers in Summer 2015. Debbie’s illustrations appear in Naked! (Simon & Schuster Books For Young Readers 2014) written by Michael Ian Black. She is also the illustrator of three Judy Blume classics (Freckle JuiceThe Pain and the Great OneThe One in the Middle is the Green Kangaroo) reissued as chapter books by Atheneum (2014) as well as on the covers of seven middle grade reissues including Are You There God? It’s Me Margaret.

 {images belong to Debbie Ridpath Ohi, their text to Michael Ian Black}

"review" · fiction · juvenile lit · recommend · sci-fi/fantasy · Tales

{book} cello girls

rooftoppers coverRooftoppers by Katherine Rundell

w/ illustrations by Terry Fan

Simon & Schuster, 2013.

Hardcover, 277 pages.

newly owned, juvenile fiction (8-12).

‘On the morning of its first birthday, a baby was found floating in a cello case in the middle of the English Channel.’ Sophie may have survived a shipwreck as a baby, but her life really began when an eccentric but loving bachelor brought her home. Charles uses toast as a bookmark and welcomes Sophie writing on the walls. But when a child services organization threatens to remove Sophie to an orphanage, she and Charles flee to Paris to search for the one thing that might save her: her long-lost mother. (jacket copy)

If you guessed that I based this book purchase on the promise of the whimsical, you’d be right. And it imparts plenty of imaginative charm as the story cartwheels its way toward Parisian rooftops. The whimsy moves from quaint to less precious fascinations: like limited food resources, climate, and clothing. As with the tale itself, real life intrudes. It is questionable whether Charles and Sophie can go on like they are, in their own little world, and reality takes the cold and crude form of social services. In all honesty, they should’ve been just fine, but that persistent belief that her mother did indeed survive the sinking ship is finally able to be tested.

The benefit of beginning with an embrace of the unusual is the ability to continue in it. The story continually asks the reader to test probability, indeed, Charles’ family motto is: “You should never ignore a possible.” It takes imagination and Rundell proves she is fanciful in spades in introducing a world of rooftoppers.

Sophie is a strange and clever girl with fellow characters of just as appealing (read compelling) personality. However, it is in the meeting a young male rooftopper Matteo that we realize not all of Sophie’s quirks have been randomly generated. She is well-suited for this adventure, but that doesn’t mean she doesn’t have a few fears to overcome.

While the beginning chapters leading to Paris do not feel hurried, the novel relaxes into the fascination with the rooftops and its whys and wherefores. The “mother hunt” is never far from the teller’s consciousness, but the rooftoppers are evidently the reason the story is being told. It becomes a difficulty, in this relatively short novel, when spending an evening with Matteo competes with the greater premise of finding Sophie’s mother so she isn’t separated from Charles and doomed to the cold and sinister halls of institutionalization. Matteo is an appealing Peter Pan, Sophie is not as obnoxious as Wendy (which isn’t that hard to do, but still), and the rooftops make for an intriguing Neverland. But the story must close, and it is a fairly tidy ending with plenty of daydreams for readers to detach and carry with them. My impulse though is to not look for a sequel, but an anime.

I really adore Charles, the interactions there are completely lovely. And the plucky heroine and charming voice of the storyteller make for an entertaining read. I know exactly where to keep it on the shelf, when I am not lending it out.

recommendations… ages 8-12, love the fantastic, the fairy tale, and/or a bit of the improper. If you recoil at the idea of spitting, you needn’t bother.

of note: was a 2013 read.

"review" · fiction · Lit · recommend · wondermous · young adult lit

{book} love

rosie project coverThe Rosie Project

by Graeme Simsion

Simon & Schuster, 2013.

Hardcover, 295 pages. for the older crowd.

I told Sean that I’ve seen nothing but “Must Read” attached to Graeme Simsion’s The Rosie Project  as I held up the bright red book. It appeared on a crazy number of “Best of” lists as 2013 was closing. So you’ll not read it, he replied, knowing how contrary I can be. But I said, “I actually am.” (coincidentally proving my contrariness.) And now: I own it! (thank you sweet daughter of mine). If I’d bothered to make a list of favorite reads of 2013 this holiday season, The Rosie Project would have been on it. It is a seriously good time and Don Tillman is the best leading man of the year.

The Rosie Project is, as the publisher trumpets, “a hilarious, feel-good novel.”

Our narrator Don Tillman is “thirty-nine years old, tall , fit, and intelligent, with a relatively high status and above-average income as an associate professor [of genetics at a prestigious University in Melbourne]. Logically, [he] should be attractive to a wide range of women. In the animal kingdom, [he] would succeed in reproducing. However, there is something about [him] that women find unappealing” (3). Don goes on to share an example of a failed date. But while he is left wondering why women find him unappealing, the reader has little trouble at all. And yet, I find it hard to blame him as he laments the lost time and accumulated disappointment. And here lies much of the book’s appeal—Don’s perspective: both his obliviousness and his obsessions with detail.

His project to find a wife, holding on to a tenuous belief that there is a statistical probability of his finding a mate, is amusing. Lovelier is how Rosie’s project to find her biological father mirrors his. Lovelier still how neither are spectacularly “normal.” It is also exciting that Simsion does not place a traditionally acceptable model of marriage in hands of Don’s best friends (only real friends) Gene and Claudia. There is no room for the fallacy of perfect humans and perfect relationships in The Rosie Project.

The novel opens with a particularly funny situation wherein Don is going to give a lecture on Asperger’s, which is a new subject for him as he is covering for Gene. When Claudia asks if the expression seemed familiar to him, he identifies a colleague in the physics department, not himself, as she was so pointedly suggesting. The scene and its conversation is quickly shed as the novel progresses but what it was saying does not ever go away. His difference makes some things difficult for him, but he is not any less valuable or worthwhile or…however we measure a life. And that Don is source of humor, the novel never moves to humiliate him—love does this quite efficiently on its own… No one needs a diagnosis to understand how difficult reading a potential lover can be; or acknowledge how we can sabotage important moments out of fear, or even acute longing.

One of my favorite things about the book, aside from the Asperger’s Lecture, and the Daphnes, is how friendship functions in this romantic comedy—how much love requires it. But what does it look like, what does it do, and how does it affect a person both rationally and no.

The book is so effortless to read. Not in the predictably neat and tidy way, not at all. It is so funny and sweet and smart—incredibly smart. It was never a chore, is quotable whilst in the room with someone, and is requiring of several deep satisfying and exasperating sighs. I may have held my breath a time or two, The Rosie Project is an adventure you’ll not want to miss.

———

of note: a 2013 read.

"review" · Children's · Picture book · recommend

a quiet flight & a tree

30 DAYS OF PB 2013 aDay Twenty-Nine: The Boy and the Airplane

by Mark Pett

Simon & Schuster, 2013.

*

boy and the airplane cover

A little boy.

A lost airplane.

An idea takes root… (jacket copy)

This text-less picture book begs for a quiet moment in which imagination might take flight.  And yet, it also invites proper sound effects and zooming about with our own pretty red airplane. The Boy and the Airplane reads like a silent film of old if they were played like the comics drawn at the time (ala Little Orphan Annie).  We are its accompaniment until, well, even the boy grows silent after his plane becomes stranded on the roof–his mouth literally disappears.

boy and the airplane page

The story begins with a boy receiving a gift and in a lovely sequence takes it out to play in the company of a bird. At first he runs with the plane, then becomes the plane, and then sends the plane off for a solo flight. Once the plane lands out of reach on the rooftop, the boy makes several creative attempts to retrieve it. The most creative–and unexpected–attempt is alternately dumbfounding and delightful. I’m still not particularly sure about it as it stretches that delayed gratification model a bit far. Perhaps it is more on patience and how some clever solutions take time. And maybe the results are not ours to enjoy. In the end, the gift given is the gift a little boy-turned-old man can pass along to the next generation. –Just as a gift had been passed on to him at the beginning.

boy and the airplane

The soft greens, blues, and browns of the backgrounds compliment the tone, line-work and deep color-washes. It is a very contemplative, forward-dwelling book at odds with the prevailing ‘for me!’ candy-colored stories. The Boy and the Airplane is tinted with nostalgia in a palatable, accessible way (to those like myself who are rarely giddy at the mention of ‘nostalgia’) and is sure to be of interest to plenty. It would be a good read for any quiet moments proceeding a morning or afternoon out of doors. It has enough energy in the renderings that I wouldn’t recommend it for a night reading as it not only celebrate the quietly expressive, but full-body imaginative play.

I’m looking forward to Mark Pett’s 2014 picture book The Girl and the Bicycle.

pett girl and the bicycle

{images belong to Mark Pett}

"review" · Children's · Picture book · recommend

breaking bunny

30 DAYS OF PB 2013 aDay Twenty: Battle Bunny

by Jon Scieszka and Mac Barnett

w/ pictures by Matthew Myers

Simon & Schuster, 2013

breaking bad bunny

Alex, whose birthday it is, hijacks a story about Birthday Bunny on his special day and turns it into a battle between a supervillain and his enemies in the forest–who, in the original story, are simply planning a surprise party.–book summary

ba Bunny-1small

Battle-Bunny-coverlarge1ssYou know the saccharine picture book that is so cloying it would rot your teeth after a few reads if your teeth had survived the first reading seeing as there is that unfortunate but compulsive need to— yeah, I should stop there, because undoubtedly you already know of the kind of pain of which I speak. Children do, too. And they anticipate more than the grimacing contrived sweetness.

Whenever I synopsize Birthday Bunny (the original, terrible book) for a bunch of kids, I say: “A bunny wakes up on his birthday. But none of his friends remember it’s his special day. He goes to the forest, and he sits on a stump, and he gets very sad, and what do you think happens at the end?” And then a chorus of bored kid-voices comes back in unison: “They throw him a surprise party.” It’s a pretty good axiom for a children’s book writer: Surprise parties are not surprising.–Mac Barnett (7 Imps interview)

Jon Scieszka and Mac Barnett have found away to rescue this type of picture book from the collective groan. They enlisted Matthew Myers’ help and created Birthday Bunny and Battle Bunny.

Their effort to avoid an overtly contrived work succeeds in how well Alex is characterized from cover to cover. It is easy to attribute the changes from Birthday Bunny to Battle Bunny to Alex without thought of the grown men behind the project. Believing a child is wielding a pen, who can possible guess where the story is going?!

ba bu tumblr_muivaw4ipC1qk8jkmo3_r1_500ba bu Birthday Bunny is so terribly convincing it serves only to make the modifications that much more impressive. For example, their ability to transform this adorable bunny into something considerably more vicious will transfix the reader. Battle Bunny works as catharsis, pushing back against the subject and themes of Birthday Bunny. It inspires creativity–and perhaps more, the artist-reader’s ownership of their creative spirit. Its also just hilarious. 

Experience this one. and gift it.

_____________________________

do check out this 7 Imps June 2013 interview!

{Images belong to Matthew Myers}

"review" · fiction · Lit · recommend · short story · wondermous

{book} speaking of paradise

birds of a lesser paradise coverBirds of a Lesser Paradise: Stories by Megan Mayhew Bergman

Scribner (Simon&Schuster) 2012.

hardcover, 224 pages.

purchased at a Library sale some time back with a vague memory of reading a positive review from a trusted source.

Please:  If you are not a reader of short stories as a general rule, bear with me on this one. And if, like me, you whiff anything that could be classified as “women’s fiction” and you reflexively re-shelve, consider making this one an exception. While Bergman’s work is hardly simple, it is not elusive. It may be challenging.

From a prizewinning young writer whose stories have been anthologized in The Best American Short Stories and  New Stories from the South comes a heartwarming and hugely appealing debut collection that explores the way our choices and relationships are shaped by the menace and beauty of the natural world. […] As intelligent as they are moving, the stories in Birds of a Lesser Paradise are alive with emotion, wit, and insight into the impressive power that nature has over all of us. –publisher’s comments

“As intelligent as they are moving” is an aspect quickly noted as we follow one female protagonist after another in an exploration of what is natural and unnatural in their settings and relationships. I tend to expect that in a collection of 12 stories there will easily be one or three I could do without; not so with Birds of a Lesser Paradise. I found myself more deeply impressed as I continued reading–even as I began to anticipate character types, themes, and narrative structure; even as a sense of loneliness and its odd accompaniment of contentment settled in with each quietly punctuated concluding sentence. The stories are as lovingly complicated as the females who inhabit them, and I found myself trying to preserve line and after line to share with you.

The book’s epigraph: “We will now discuss in a little more detail the Struggle for Existence.” Charles Darwin, On Origin of the Species.

[1] “Housewifely Arts” (1-25) With her 7 year-old child in tow, a woman is in search of the bird whose voice has captured the mother she lost the previous Spring; really she has the need to reconcile the motherhood of past, present, and future. The observation of time and the generation is especially lovely here; though the narrator was sometimes hard for me.

“The things my body has done to him, I think. Cancer genes, hay fever, high blood pressure, perhaps a fear of math—these are my gifts. I have to pee, he says. I release him, let him skip into the fluorescent, germ-infested cave, a room slick with mistakes and full of the type of men I hope he’ll never become.” (5-6).

The disintegrating spaces and relationships and the longing to hold on to some part if not all, begins in the first story and continues with a beautiful aching throughout the collection.

[2] “The Cow that Milked Herself” (27-35). A nameless “I” is expecting her first child. Preoccupied with the anxieties of anticipated indignities and competing for the attention of her dedicated Veterinarian husband, she comes to find warmth and confidence in being a part of nature.

You begin to really understand how good the author is with using science in metaphor, to say nothing of just delivering it so eloquently. And you’ll start to note the number of Vets, biologists, and outdoorsy characters from this point onward. I adore this story in particular for the way in which it relates the vulnerability of needing another person’s love and understanding; she revisits this time and again.

[3] “Birds of a Lesser Paradise” (37-59). “I was a thirty-six-year-old single woman living in a poor man’s theme park, running birding trips into the swamp. […] For the Most part, I was happy” (41). The “poor man” is her father whom she adores. As for her life and happiness: changing landscapes in response to economics or age or the indefinable lives of others intersecting are matters of contemplation and affect the landscapes of one’s dreams. Autonomy does not come without desire for companionship of one sort or another; nor does it come without strings, familial or otherwise.

The first lines of the first story is not the first declaration of independence in the collection. And many of the stories find women preferring, if not content with, maintaining a “single” status.

[4] “Saving Face” (61-76). Lila is a Veternarian who values her independence and her pride, needing to be beautiful, not pitied. The scars are not the most heart-breaking results of Lila’s accident, but the confrontation with beauty, culture, and self-perception. “Now that her face was altered, she felt she was walking through life relying on a different set of tools” (66). This one is a sad one, somewhat despairing, and reliant upon what few romantic tendencies I own. Not to be missed.

[5] “Yesterday’s Whales” (77-100). First lines:

“I’ve been told self-righteous people always have it coming, that  when you profess to understand the universe, the universe conspires against you. It gathers and strengthens and thunders down upon you like a biblical storm. It buries your face in humble pie and licks the cream from your nose because when the universe hates you, it really hates you” (77)

Finding out you’re pregnant as a believer in and lover of the founder of a nonprofit interested in returning the planet to nature by freeing it from the human parasite illicits the sort of reaction with which our narrator begins the story. There are so many lines from this one…and my notes…“I wanted to become what I most admired, what now seemed most real to me. I wanted to be that exalted, complicated presence in someone’s life, the familiar body, the source of another’s existence” (91). The image of a whale, the use of the biological, was absolutely wonderful. Activism meets traditional values in the lives of intelligent women who have always sought a balance with nature. This story is a thought-provoking one.

Legacy, the human ego, hope and life in the face of an unknown; nature’s persistence and our belonging in relationship with nature.

[6] “Another Story She Won’t Believe” (101-116). First lines are particularly noteworthy in this collection, and this story is an exemplar. Just the same, I will skip to page 105, “it occurs to me that sometimes we make homes where we do not belong.” Our narrator, a recovering alcoholic and an estranged mother, is only one of the displaced we find in the story. When the narrator thinks about her daughter, ‘what will she do when she finds the world is still spinning’ (114), that life does continue on, you know the story is wondering this very thing of its narrator as well. I’m still wondering over this question, the author recommending our own exercise of imagination, leaving us as she does. I suppose the story would be depressing if not for its matter-of-fact telling, its oddities, and those fantastic references to old cinema film stars.

so, you’ll have noticed a trend in excellent titles, first lines, and closings. And you’ll notice a tension in realities and the stories we tell ourselves—and how the embracing of each my have a place.

[7] “The Urban Coop” (117-132). The narrator is not getting any younger, nor is her much older partner, and she’s thinking she might like to express maternal-love to more than their dog and the homeless “boys and girls” who work the urban coop she and her partner founded. There is guilt, a worry that she is capable even while we see that she is. There is also a generational component, not only between a young woman starting out in the world and one who has been at it a while, but between the idealist-intention/ethic of their generations.

This isn’t what I expected, Sam [the young woman] said.

I lied. It will be if you give it time, I said. Hard work can turn any old dump into a fertile paradise. (123)

This section appears in the middle-ish of the story, but it illuminates major conflicts in the story: expectations, hard work’s ability to transform, fertility…

The breadth of age, experience, and lifestyles of the women in the collection is lovely, and that we can begin to establish shared anxieties between them all.

[8] “The Right Company” (133-148). She is looking for a place to be happy, to belong, feeling a bit of an oddity and not just because she is new to this little coastal village. She has been estranged from her husband for months and has made a male friend who is just that, a friend. What is the place of nostalgia, of kept distances, and what does independence looks like when interdependence has always been the way of it? Who is responsible for what actions? What does rescue come in the form of?

“In towns like these, I thought, there are no perfect rescues. You go down with your own ship” (148).

Who rescues whom, and when is it a community sport or up to the individual…is the latter possible?

[9] “Night Hunting” (149-164). This is a mother and daughter story and their encounters with the wild, deadly, unknown, the rare, the hunter and the all too soon. Nature and motherhood is brutal. It is chilling and good luck at that attempt for some sort of straightforward allegorical read.

[10] “Every Vein a Tooth” (165-183). Gray leaves her to her Victorian house full of decrepit pets aka animals she’s rescued. He can’t take it anymore and the story doesn’t blame him, kind of. It reads a bit married-with-children (not the television show). It is said that pets give love unconditionally, but are they really without demands? And we get a comparison between urban naturalists that is ever interesting. I adore her treatments of the subject of activists and survivalists. The narrator has to decide how strongly she feels about her cause.

“A friend once told me there were 2 kinds of urban naturalists. The McDonald’s-eating semi-hoarder animal activist, and the armchair conservationist with bloodlust” (172).

Those motherhood themes throughout the collection, of self-sacrifice, of legacy and purpose, are front and center here. As well is that sense of our place in nature, as animal, as nurturer…

[11] “The Artificial Heart” (185-204). A story set in 2050, “I” is caring for an aging parent with her partner and no children of their own in a world where they live with the carnage of a stripped and mutilated landscape. We get the relevancy of the aged, bodies that have been mined, too. Love and knowledge amidst survival are key conversations that carry us back to the now, to live deliberately, with a mind on the future and those resources that we will come to depend on—including our children, blood or adopted.

The notions are rarely if ever preached. What is lost in the balancing action hardly comes off as so cleanly heroic; it is framed too personally for that—usually; depends on how you feel about the decisions made, where your own values lay.

[12] “The Two-Thousand-Dollar Sock” (205-221). “Give up the illusion of control” (217). “I “ is a wife, mother, dog-owner, experiencing difficult decisions, much of them to do with finances. Survival looks different here, much more domestic and familiar to those readers who rarely camp in tents, let alone live rurally. The narrator observes in sections the significant changes that have been visited upon all the landscapes a woman experiences: her own body, her lover’s, her child’s, pet’s, home…

How is one to be fearless and yet live with very real responsibility?—we’ve gotten this throughout the collection, but as the attachments to the narrator varied, so did the replies. Priorities lead to some painful outcomes, yet for others it is a liberating motion. Regardless, all live with fears, with frailties, and yet all express determination, courage; it is seen in our reflection of  and relationship to Nature.