USA Election – The Graphic Novel

9 Nov

This is the United States of America:

 

This was the USA during the presidential campaign:

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This is the USA today:

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This is my dream for the USA:

To get there, this needs to happen:

And then we’ve got to stop doing this:

And start doing this:

The END

Dragon Was Terrible – Perfect Picture Book Friday

23 Sep

It’s Fall!! It’s time for Susanna Leonard Hill’s Perfect Picture Book Friday!

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We all know those little dragons who just can’t behave. They’re busy coloring on the walls. Playing pranks. Throwing sand.

This story is about an incorrigible dragon, just like the ones you may have at home—only worse. The dragon terrorizes villagers, spitting on cupcakes, stomping on flowers, stealing candy from baby unicorns. Then the KING makes a proclamation that sounds quite authoritarian, rewarding any knight who can tame the dragon. Everyone has high hopes. But the knights fail miserably.

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That pesky, tagging dragon…..Another proclamation, this time offering a reward to the villagers if they can tame the dragon.

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That pesky, tagging dragon. But the villagers fail, too.

Enter a boy with a feathered cap who takes a different, mysterious approach to taming that terrible dragon. An approach that focuses on telling a story. Yes, folks. This book shows us how the power of story can tame the most terrible of dragons, our children. And it’s done without moralizing, pointing fingers, or otherwise hitting the reader on the head with anything resembling a plank. Well done!

 

TITLE: Dragon Was Terrible

Ages: preschool – first grade

Author: Kelly DiPucchio 

Illustrator: Greg Pizzoli

Publisher and pub date: FSG 2016

ISBN: 978-0-374-30049-4

 

Return from the Abyss

22 Sep

Summer slips away, leaving room for Fall. The first order of the day is to talk for a moment about a friend’s book of poems, Selene by Michael Odom. 

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Don’t turn your back on her

I see this book as a reflection of an obsession. A woman. A sorceress. A corpse. An eternal ambivalence, love and hate. The cover uncovers, revealing the darkness within. It is not an easy read. But then, poetry can be unsettling. A way of seeing that slices through the dailiness to a core that may be exquisitely ugly. But it is real, and we cannot turn our guilty gaze away from the disaster. Just the opposite. We hope to understand more about our own lives the longer we stare at the ruins of others’.

The opening poem lets the reader know that men will not get off easily in this book:

“The simple strength of men who never know,

Their muscle-coats, their steel, their robotic wars,

Their Scantron lives lesson-planned in their brains,

The blows they give and take to the head, sports,

Their races to finish lines, walks to start,

Ready-go guns, their disciplined controlled

Resilience, their climbing grasps, like primates,

For leafier nests, prettier mates, shinier cars,

And Power, the lying god, their angry work

Ethics with long old ages dreaming TV

And beaches and golf, their nearby balls-of-dust

Planets they reach for and prayers to a ghost,

Big man boasts…I know a boy much smaller

Who carries in his pocket a collapsed sun.”

For what it’s worth, I can’t help but think that the boy is the poet’s sun. Pun intended.
The reading pendulum will swing completely in the other direction tomorrow with a new title for Perfect Picture Book Friday. And then a rec for a new YA or two next week. Some Middle Grade novels…Stay tuned! Looking forward to catching up with everyone in the blogosphere.

Listen to Your Mother – video release!!!

14 Jul

So while I’m frantically revising picture book manuscripts to take to Highlights Summer Camp

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Fake picture of me….

 

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The Real Me

 Listen To Your Mother released the 2016 videos from shows in 41 cities. As promised, here’s my piece in the San Francisco Show! It was a privilege and an honor to be on stage with such amazing women. Cheers!

Summer Life Saving

17 Jun

I hadn’t planned on going to my niece’s wedding. She was getting married in Orlando last week and had planned a large party/reception for friends and family in Illinois in early July. In honor of her grandparents (my parents) who had been married 65 years, she had decided to get married on their wedding anniversary, June 10.

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But when I received my niece’s email, asking friends and family to send or bring a rock to the wedding, I knew I had to go. You see, my mom LOVED rocks. She once chased a Caterpillar D10

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working on road construction through a field on her little John Deere

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to ask the driver if he would push a mountain of a boulder onto the farm ground. He did.

My niece learned to love rocks—well, that might be a stretch—she learned to wash the landscape rocks that surrounded my parents’ house. My mother believed that the landscape should be washed every spring, and the grandchildren (once the kids were grown and gone) were just the people to help her do it. So my niece learned to LOVE washing rocks.

It was natural that she would want rocks for her wedding. They’re a symbol of a strong foundation, right?

I got the email and immediately knew I had to TAKE the rocks to Florida, not ship them. We boated over to Angel Island, scavenged one large 10-pounder, one fist-sized, and a handful of smaller green stones called serpentine. Perfect! I would skimp on clothes and carry these in my luggage.

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Yes, the TSA left their calling card in my suitcase. They must still be shaking their heads, wondering why anyone would cart around a bunch of rocks.

Anyway, I delivered those rocks and myself to Orlando four days later. The ceremony was quite moving, with my nephew telling his rock story during the ceremony. A few months earlier, he had been shopping for a First Communion gift for a family member and saw a pile of rocks at the store. One read something along the lines of “Keep Calm and Carry On.” The saying reminded him of his grandfather’s calmness and how he dealt with stress. The second rock he picked up read “This Too Shall Pass,” his grandmother’s favorite saying. He decided those two rocks were meant for him, and he bought them along with a communion gift.

Then a couple of months later, he gets this request from his sister to bring rocks to her wedding on a date that honors their grandparents. So instead of keeping those rocks for himself as mementos of his grandparents, he gave them to his sister. (Yes, he is a fantastic guy!)

Really, those two rocks were my parents’ way of sneaking into the wedding.

Now, fast forward a couple of hours after we all head out to the hotel pool complex.

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We’re settling in, when my sister-in-law passes by a couple of people shaking the arms of a little girl lying on the pool deck. They had just pulled her from the water, and she’s not responsive.

Sooo, my sister-in-law grabs my niece and nephew (her kids) who happen to be physician’s assistants. They find no pulse and begin lifesaving techniques that include an inverted heimlich with the girl’s head below her waist. My nephew tries to activate the little girl’s gag reflex by sticking his finger down her throat. (Someone calls 911. Concerned bystanders suggest laying her flat. NO! Don’t do that! They also suggest giving her a glass of water. REALLY??) Still no response, but the heimlich is pumping lots of water out of her. My nephew tries again and again until he gets a gag from her and she begins to vomit water and food. Another few seconds of heimlich with her head down and she’s still vomiting but begins to cry. Success!!

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In honor of the wonderful world of Disney

Paramedics arrive, give her oxygen, and prep her for heading to the hospital, where she will stay for observation.

Two days later, I leave for home and get a text with a photo of my niece and nephew “meeting” the little girl and her babydoll at the hotel after she was released from the hospital. I’m not going to show it here because I don’t have a release from her parents, but suffice to say, I cried when I saw all three of them together and smiling.

Soooo, everyone, it’s summer swimming pool season. Please be vigilant. This was one of two bright spots (wedding, too!) in a horrific week for Orlando. Watch those swimmers, and if they don’t know how to swim, keep them in floaties whenever they’re near the pool. The one shown below snaps behind the child’s back, so they can’t take it off themselves. 

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Remember, a child slips below the surface without making noise. Be watchful, and listen for silence.

Spring Night (After Wang Wei via Robert Okaji)

10 May

Well, it seems I’ve been inspired by one of my favorite poets, Robert Okaji.

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Spring Night

(after Wang Wei via Robert Okaji)

 

Dogwood petals sigh in spirals, blessing my recline.

Spring darkness rests on hollow muted hills

while moonlight strikes the owls awake,

their hoots slipstreaming through ravines.

 

Unlike Robert, I named the birds and took liberties with the tree petals. I’m writing a new rhyming picture book right now, so this detour was a welcome respite. Feeling a little spring-feverish. Ahhh—ahhh—Cheers!

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What Lies Between Us – Nayomi Munaweera

29 Apr

This past Saturday, a friend and I hosted a women’s literary dinner at my home. The guests of honor were Nayomi Munaweera

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and her devastating new novel, What Lies Between Us.

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First, a little background.

Fifteen years ago, Nayomi was earning a PhD in English Literature when she realized she wanted to write fiction instead of WRITE ABOUT fiction. So she dropped out of school (cue parental angst), moved to the San Francisco Bay Area and spent the next decade working various jobs while writing Island of a Thousand Mirrors, a novel about the Sri Lankan civil war and its effect on families. 

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Nayomi’s preferred cover

The novel won the 2013 Commonwealth Book Prize for the Asian Region, was longlisted for the 2012 Man Asian Literary Prize, and was chosen as a Target Book Club pick this past January. Here’s the Target cover:

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This latest edition includes information about Nayomi’s family (including photos), book group questions, recommended further reading, and a sneak peak at the first chapter of her new book, What Lies Between Us.

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This new novel explores the much more private trauma of sexual abuse, mental illness—including postpartum psychosis, and its impact on families. It depicts the complexities of a mother-daughter relationship bound by a thin strand of desperation with the tensile strength of a spider’s web. A strand that extends to a new baby girl, a strand that will come to break.

“Motherhood. With her birth a new person is released in me. A person who has nothing to do with the person I was before. I had not known until I crossed into this new land what would be asked from me. What is asked is everything.”

The novel also shines a light on how patriarchal and class-based cultures pressure women to make choices that follow others’ expectations rather than their own preferences. And how patriarchy fashions a woman’s sense of self as a reflection in someone else’s eyes. And that reflection is often fractured, missing essential pieces.

Early on in the novel, the narrator tells us “It was something I learned then. That you could take the crumpled remains of something destroyed and smooth them into newness. You could pretend certain things weren’t happening even when you had seen or felt them. Everything done can be denied.”

But much later, she capitulates: “Nothing is forgotten or finished. All of history is lodged in the earth, in the water, in the strata of our flesh.”

Nayomi shared the background behind her story, saying that women who kill their children are often considered monsters. She wanted to explore what was hidden behind that label. What were the stories behind women such as Andrea Yates who drowned all five of her children in the bathtub? Nayomi’s research found that these women often do show early signs of distress, but no one really understands just how close to the edge they are until it’s too late. Similarly, the young mother in this novel is surrounded by co-workers in the medical profession and other intelligent people who don’t fully comprehend the depth of her struggles. 

San Francisco Chronicle writer, Anita Fellicelli, gave What Lies Between Us a stellar review. She wrote: “Trauma is rarely captured in literary form with as much fiery intensity as it is in Nayomi Munaweera’s devastating second novel, What Lies Between Us…the novel sinks into the kind of heart-wrenching darkness found in Toni Morrison’s ‘Beloved.’…It’s a testament to the power of Munaweera’s dazzling, no-holds-barred storytelling that the novel’s climax still feels shocking.”

I agree. This book shattered me.

And I must disagree with the Kirkus reviewer who lauded the book before saying: “The melodramatic framing device only distracts from the crystalline precision with which Munaweera renders the richness of the immigrant experience as well as her character’s singular longings, fears, joys, and demons.”

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That statement left me wondering if the reviewer was male, because every woman I know who’s read this book did not think of the story’s setup as a “melodramatic framing device,” but as real life fallout resulting from sexual abuse and/or mental illness, experiences that many women share. Experiences that are often hidden from consciousness while heavily influencing the course of their lives. Some end up killing themselves or becoming society’s monsters.

So, be off with you Kirkus! To me, it’s not so much about the “richness of the immigrant experience” as about the darkness that lurks within too many women’s lives.

Nuff said.

 

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