Masshole makes good,
makes us all laugh, kicks some a$$
in the process. Rock on.
Yes Please by Amy Poehler. Dey Street Books, 2014, 352 pages.
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Masshole makes good,
Who Would Win: Winter or Summer?
Here in the New York City area, we’re pretty much sick and tired of being sick and tired of winter! Freezing temperatures and mushy snow make us long for summer. But will we feel the same way in summer? Will we long for the cool, magical, coziness of winter? Well, if you can’t decide, weigh in . . .
Winter vs. summer. Who’s the winner, in your opinion?
- Ice cream vs. Hot chocolate
- Snowboarding vs. Surfing
- Shovel snow vs. Mow the lawn
- Beach house vs. Mountain ski house
- Snowsuit vs. Bathing suit
- Ice pops vs. Icicles
- Winter holidays vs. summer vacation
- Hawaii vacation vs. Iceland vacation
- Building a sand castle vs. Building a snowman
- Frozen vs. Teen Beach Movie
And if you live in a part of the world where you are enjoying beautiful weather right now, then I am officially jealous!
Let us know your winter vs. summer winners in the Comments below!
-Ratha, STACKS WriterAdd a Comment
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by Philip Cafaro
How many immigrants should we allow into the United States annually, and who gets to come?
The question is easy to state but hard to answer, for thoughtful individuals and for our nation as a whole. It is a complex question, touching on issues of race and class, morals and money, power and political allegiance. It is an important question, since our answer will help determine what kind of country our children and grandchildren inherit. It is a contentious question: answer it wrongly and you may hear some choice personal epithets directed your way, depending on who you are talking to. It is also an endlessly recurring question, since conditions will change, and an immigration policy that made sense in one era may no longer work in another. Any answer we give must be open to revision.
This book explores the immigration question in light of current realities and defends one provisional answer to it. By exploring the question from a variety of angles and making my own political beliefs explicit, I hope that it will help readers come to their own well-informed conclusions. Our answers may differ, but as fellow citizens we need to keep talking to one another and try to come up with immigration policies that further the common good.
Why are immigration debates frequently so angry? People on one side often seem to assume it is just because people on the other are stupid, or immoral. I disagree. Immigration is contentious because vital interests are at stake and no one set of policies can fully accommodate all of them. Consider two stories from among the hundreds I’ve heard while researching this book.
* * *
It is lunchtime on a sunny October day and I’m talking to Javier, an electrician’s assistant, at a home construction site in Longmont, Colorado, near Denver. He is short and solidly built; his words are soft-spoken but clear. Although he apologizes for his English, it is quite good. At any rate much better than my Spanish.
Javier studied to be an electrician in Mexico, but could not find work there after school. “You have to pay to work,” he explains: pay corrupt officials up to two years’ wages up front just to start a job. “Too much corruption,” he says, a refrain I find repeated often by Mexican immigrants. They feel that a poor man cannot get ahead there, can hardly get started.
So in 1989 Javier came to the United States, undocumented, working various jobs in food preparation and construction. He has lived in Colorado for nine years and now has a wife (also here illegally) and two girls, ages seven and three. “I like USA, you have a better life here,” he says. Of course he misses his family back in Mexico. But to his father’s entreaties to come home, he explains that he needs to consider his own family now. Javier told me that he’s not looking to get rich, he just wants a decent life for himself and his girls. Who could blame him?
Ironically one of the things Javier likes most about the United States is that we have rules that are fairly enforced. Unlike in Mexico, a poor man does not live at the whim of corrupt officials. When I suggest that Mexico might need more people like him to stay and fight “corruption,” he just laughs. “No, go to jail,c he says, or worse. Like the dozens of other Mexican and Central American immigrants I have interviewed for this book, Javier does not seem to think that such corruption could ever change in the land of his birth.
Do immigrants take jobs away from Americans? I ask. “American people no want to work in the fields,” he responds, or as dishwashers in restaurants. Still, he continues, “the problem is cheap labor.” Too many immigrants coming into construction lowers wages for everyone— including other immigrants like himself.
“The American people say, all Mexicans the same,” Javier says. He does not want to be lumped together with “all Mexicans,” or labeled a problem, but judged for who he is as an individual. “I don’t like it when my people abandon cars, or steal.” If immigrants commit crimes, he thinks they should go to jail, or be deported. But “that no me.” While many immigrants work under the table for cash, he is proud of the fact that he pays his taxes. Proud, too, that he gives a good day’s work for his daily pay (a fact confirmed by his coworkers).
Javier’s boss, Andy, thinks that immigration levels are too high and that too many people flout the law and work illegally. He was disappointed, he says, to find out several years ago that Javier was in the country illegally. Still he likes and respects Javier and worries about his family. He is trying to help him get legal residency.
With the government showing new initiative in immigration enforcement—including a well-publicized raid at a nearby meat-packing plant that caught hundreds of illegal workers—there is a lot of worry among undocumented immigrants. “Everyone scared now,” Javier says. He and his wife used to go to restaurants or stores without a second thought; now they are sometimes afraid to go out. “It’s hard,” he says. But: “I understand. If the people say, ‘All the people here, go back to Mexico,’ I understand.”
Javier’s answer to one of my standard questions—“How might changes in immigration policy affect you?”—is obvious. Tighter enforcement could break up his family and destroy the life he has created here in America. An amnesty would give him a chance to regularize his life. “Sometimes,” he says, “I dream in my heart, ‘If you no want to give me paper for residence, or whatever, just give me permit for work.’ ”
* * *
It’s a few months later and I’m back in Longmont, eating a 6:30 breakfast at a café out by the Interstate with Tom Kenney. Fit and alert, Tom looks to be in his mid-forties. Born and raised in Denver, he has been spraying custom finishes on drywall for twenty-five years and has had his own company since 1989. “At one point we had twelve people running three trucks,” he says. Now his business is just him and his wife. “Things have changed,” he says.
Although it has cooled off considerably, residential and commercial construction was booming when I interviewed Tom. The main “thing that’s changed” is the number of immigrants in construction. When Tom got into it twenty-five years ago, construction used almost all native-born workers. Today estimates of the number of immigrant workers in northern Colorado range from 50% to 70% of the total construction workforce. Some trades, like pouring concrete and framing, use immigrant labor almost exclusively. Come in with an “all-white” crew of framers, another small contractor tells me, and people do a double-take.
Tom is an independent contractor, bidding on individual jobs. But, he says, “guys are coming in with bids that are impossible.” After all his time in the business, “no way they can be as efficient in time and materials as me.” The difference has to be in the cost of labor. “They’re not paying the taxes and insurance that I am,” he says. Insurance, workmen’s compensation, and taxes add about 40% to the cost of legally employed workers. When you add the lower wages that immigrants are often willing to take, there is plenty of opportunity for competing contractors to underbid Tom and still make a tidy profit. He no longer bids on the big new construction projects and jobs in individual, custom-built houses are becoming harder to find.
“I’ve gone in to spray a house and there’s a guy sleeping in the bathtub, with a microwave set up in the kitchen. I’m thinking, ‘You moved into this house for two weeks to hang and paint it, you’re gonna get cash from somebody, and he’s gonna pick you up and drive you to the next one.’ ” He seems more upset at the contractor than at the undocumented worker who labors for him.
In this way, some trades in construction are turning into the equivalent of migrant labor in agriculture. Workers do not have insurance or workmen’s compensation, so if they are hurt or worn out on the job, they are simply discarded and replaced. Workers are used up, while the builders and contractors higher up the food chain keep more of the profits for themselves. “The quality of life [for construction workers] has changed drastically,” says Tom. “I don’t want to live like that. I want to go home and live with my family.”
Do immigrants perform jobs Americans don’t want to do? I ask. The answer is no. “My job is undesirable,” Tom replies. “It’s dirty, it’s messy, it’s dusty. I learned right away that because of that, the opportunity is available to make money in it. That job has served me well”—at least up until recently. He now travels as far away as Wyoming and southern Colorado to find work. “We’re all fighting for scraps right now.”
Over the years, Tom has built a reputation for quality work and efficient and prompt service, as I confirmed in interviews with others in the business. Until recently that was enough to secure a good living. Now though, like a friend of his who recently folded his small landscaping company (“I just can’t bid ’em low enough”), Tom is thinking of leaving the business. He is also struggling to find a way to keep up the mortgage payments on his house.
He does not blame immigrants, though. “If you were born in Mexico, and you had to fight for food or clothing, you would do the same thing,” Tom tells me. “You would come here.”
* * *
Any immigration policy will have winners and losers. So claims Harvard economist George Borjas, a leading authority on the economic impacts of immigration. My interviews with Javier Morales and Tom Kenney suggest why Borjas is right.
If we enforce our immigration laws, then good people like Javier and his family will have their lives turned upside down. If we limit the numbers of immigrants, then good people in Mexico (and Guatemala, and Vietnam, and the Philippines …) will have to forgo opportunities to live better lives in the United States.
On the other hand, if we fail to enforce our immigration laws or repeatedly grant amnesties to people like Javier who are in the country illegally, then we forfeit the ability to set limits to immigration. And if immigration levels remain high, then hard-working men and women like Tom and his wife and children will probably continue to see their economic fortunes decline. Economic inequality will continue to increase in America, as it has for the past four decades.
In the abstract neither of these options is appealing. When you talk to the people most directly affected by our immigration policies, the dilemma becomes even more acute. But as we will see further on when we explore the economics of immigration in greater detail, these appear to be the options we have.
Recognizing trade-offs—economic, environmental, social—is indeed the beginning of wisdom on the topic of immigration. We should not exaggerate such conflicts, or imagine conflicts where none exist, but neither can we ignore them. Here are some other trade-offs that immigration decisions may force us to confront:
- Cheaper prices for new houses vs. good wages for construction workers.
- Accommodating more people in the United States vs. preserving wildlife habitat and vital resources.
- Increasing ethnic and racial diversity in America vs. enhancing social solidarity among our citizens.
- More opportunities for Latin Americans to work in the United States vs. greater pressure on Latin American elites to share wealth and opportunities with their fellow citizens.
The best approach to immigration will make such trade-offs explicit, minimize them where possible, and choose fairly between them when necessary.
Since any immigration policy will have winners and losers, at any particular time there probably will be reasonable arguments for changing the mix of immigrants we allow in, or for increasing or decreasing overall immigration, with good people on all sides of these issues. Whatever your current beliefs, by the time you finish this book you should have a much better understanding of the complex trade-offs involved in setting immigration policy. This may cause you to change your views about immigration. It may throw your current views into doubt, making it harder to choose a position on how many immigrants to let into the country each year; or what to do about illegal immigrants; or whether we should emphasize country of origin, educational level, family reunification, or asylum and refugee claims, in choosing whom to let in. In the end, understanding trade-offs ensures that whatever policies we wind up advocating for are more consciously chosen, rationally defensible, and honest. For such a contentious issue, where debate often generates more heat than light, that might have to suffice.
* * *
Perhaps a few words about my own political orientation will help clarify the argument and goals of this book. I’m a political progressive. I favor a relatively equal distribution of wealth across society, economic security for workers and their families, strong, well-enforced environmental protection laws, and an end to racial discrimination in the United States. I want to maximize the political power of common citizens and limit the influence of large corporations. Among my political heroes are the three Roosevelts (Teddy, Franklin, and Eleanor), Rachel Carson, and Martin Luther King Jr.
I also want to reduce immigration into the United States. If this combination seems odd to you, you are not alone. Friends, political allies, even my mother the social worker shake their heads or worse when I bring up the subject. This book aims to show that this combination of political progressivism and reduced immigration is not odd at all. In fact, it makes more sense than liberals’ typical embrace of mass immigration: an embrace shared by many conservatives, from George W. Bush and Orrin Hatch to the editorial board of the Wall Street Journal and the US Chamber of Commerce.
In what follows I detail how current immigration levels—the highest in American history—undermine attempts to achieve progressive economic, environmental, and social goals. I have tried not to oversimplify these complex issues, or mislead readers by cherry-picking facts to support pre-established conclusions. I have worked hard to present the experts’ views on how immigration affects US population growth, poorer workers’ wages, urban sprawl, and so forth. Where the facts are unclear or knowledgeable observers disagree, I report that, too.
This book is divided into four main parts. Chapters 1 and 2 set the stage for us to consider how immigration relates to progressive political goals. Chapter 2, “Immigration by the Numbers,” provides a concise history of US immigration policy. It explains current policy, including who gets in under what categories of entry and how many people immigrate annually. It also discusses population projections for the next one hundred years under different immigration scenarios, showing how relatively small annual differences in immigration numbers quickly lead to huge differences in overall population.
Part 2 consists of chapters 3–5, which explore the economics of immigration, showing how flooded labor markets have driven down workers’ wages in construction, meatpacking, landscaping, and other economic sectors in recent decades, and increased economic inequality. I ask who wins and who loses economically under current immigration policies and consider how different groups might fare under alternative scenarios. I also consider immigration’s contribution to economic growth and argue that unlike fifty or one hundred years ago America today does not need a larger economy, with more economic activity or higher levels of consumption, but rather a fairer economy that better serves the needs of its citizens. Here as elsewhere, the immigration debate can clarify progressive political aspirations; in this case, helping us rethink our support for endless economic growth and develop a more mature understanding of our economic goals.
Part 3, chapters 6–8, focuses on the environment. Mass immigration has increased America’s population by tens of millions of people in recent decades and is set to add hundreds of millions more over the twenty-first century. According to Census Bureau data our population now stands at 320 million people, the third-largest in the world, and at current immigration rates could balloon to over 700 million by 2100. This section examines the environmental problems caused by a rapidly growing population, including urban sprawl, overcrowding, habitat loss, species extinctions, and increased greenhouse gas emissions. I chronicle the environmental community’s historic retreat from population issues over the past four decades, including the Sierra Club’s failed attempts to adopt a consensus policy on immigration, and conclude that this retreat has been a great mistake. Creating an ecologically sustainable society is not just window dressing; it is necessary to pass on a decent future to our descendants and do our part to solve dangerous global environmental problems. Because sustainability is incompatible with an endlessly growing population, Americans can no longer afford to ignore domestic population growth.
Part 4, chapters 9–11, looks for answers. The chapter “Solutions” sketches out a comprehensive proposal for immigration reform in line with progressive political goals, focused on reducing overall immigration levels. I suggest shifting enforcement efforts from border control to employer sanctions—as several European nations have done with great success—and a targeted amnesty for illegal immigrants who have lived in the United States for years and built lives here (Javier and his wife could stay, but their cousins probably would not get to come). I propose changes in US trade and aid policies that could help people create better lives where they are, alleviating some of the pressure to emigrate. In these ways, Americans can meet our global responsibilities without doing so on the backs of our own poor citizens, or sacrificing the interests of future generations. A companion chapter considers a wide range of reasonable progressive “Objections” to this more restrictive immigration policy. I try to answer these objections honestly, focusing on the trade-offs involved. A short concluding chapter reminds readers of all that is at stake in immigration policy, and affirms that we will make better policy with our minds open.
How Many Is Too Many? shows that by thinking through immigration policy progressives can get clearer on our own goals. These do not include having the largest possible percentage of racial and ethnic minorities, but creating a society free of racial discrimination, where diversity is appreciated. They do not include an ever-growing economy, but feature an economy that works for the good of society as a whole. They most certainly do not include a crowded, cooked, polluted, ever-more-tamed environment, but instead a healthy, spacious landscape that supports us with sufficient room for wild nature. Finally our goals should include playing our proper role as global citizens, while still paying attention to our special responsibilities as Americans. Like it or not those responsibilities include setting US immigration policy.
* * *
Although I hope readers across the political spectrum will find this book interesting, I have written it primarily for my fellow progressives. Frankly, we need to think harder about this issue than we have been. Just because Rush Limbaugh and his ilk want to close our borders does not necessarily mean progressives should be for opening them wider. But this is not an easy topic to discuss and I appreciate your willingness to consider it with me. In fact I come to this topic reluctantly myself. I recognize immigration’s contribution to making the United States one of the most dynamic countries in the world. I also find personal meaning in the immigrant experience.
My paternal grandfather came to America from southern Italy when he was twelve years old. As a child I listened entranced to his stories, told in an accent still heavy after half a century in his adopted country. Stories of the trip over and how excited he was to explore everything on the big ship (a sailor, taking advantage of his curiosity, convinced him to lift some newspapers lying on deck, to see what was underneath …). Stories of working as a journeyman shoe repairman in cities and towns across upstate New York and Ohio (in one store, the foreman put my grandfather and his lathe in the front window so passers-by would stop to watch how fast and well he did his work). Stories of settling down and starting his own business, marrying Nana, raising a family.
I admired Grandpa’s adventurousness in coming to a new world, his self-reliance, his pride in his work, and his willingness to work hard to create a better future for himself and his family, including, eventually, me. Stopping by the store, listening to him chat with his customers, I saw clearly that he was a respected member of his community. When he and the relatives got together for those three-hour meals that grew ever longer over stories, songs, and a little wine, I felt part of something special, something different from my everyday life and beyond the experience of many of my friends.
So this book is not a criticism of immigrants! I know that many of today’s immigrants, legal and illegal, share my grandfather’s intelligence and initiative. The lives they are creating here are good lives rich in love and achievement. Nor is it an argument against all immigration: I favor reducing immigration into the United States, not ending it. I hope immigrants will continue to enrich America for many years to come. In fact, reducing current immigration levels would be a good way to insure continued widespread support for immigration.
Still, Americans sometimes forget that we can have too much of a good thing. Sometimes when Nana passes the pasta, it’s time to say basta. Enough.
When to say enough, though, can be a difficult question. How do we know when immigration levels need to be scaled back? And do any of us, as the descendants of immigrants, have the right to do so?
Answering the first question, in detail, is one of the main goals of this book. Speaking generally I think we need to reduce immigration when it seriously harms our society, or its weakest members. The issues are complex, but I think any country should consider reducing immigration:
- When immigration significantly drives down wages for its poorer citizens.
- When immigrants are regularly used to weaken or break unions.
- When immigration appears to increase economic inequality within a society.
- When immigration makes the difference between stabilizing a country’s population or doubling it within the next century.
- When immigration-driven population growth makes it impossible to rein in sprawl, decrease greenhouse gas emissions sufficiently, or take the other steps necessary to create an ecologically sustainable society.
- When rapid demographic shifts undermine social solidarity and a sense of communal purpose.
- When most of its citizens say that immigration should be reduced.
Of course, there may also be good reasons to continue mass immigration: reasons powerful enough to outweigh such serious social costs or the expressed wishes of a nation’s citizens. But they had better be important. And in the case at hand they had better articulate responsibilities that properly belong to the United States and its citizens—and not help our “sender” countries avoid their own problems and responsibilities. Reversing gross economic inequality and creating a sustainable society are the primary political tasks facing this generation of Americans. Progressives should think long and hard before we accept immigration policies that work against these goals.
But what about the second question: do Americans today have a right to reduce immigration? To tell Javier’s cousins, perhaps, that they cannot come to America and make better lives for themselves and their families?
Yes, we do. Not only do we have a right to limit immigration into the United States, as citizens we have a responsibility to do so if immigration levels get so high that they harm our fellow citizens, or society as a whole. Meeting this responsibility may be disagreeable, because it means telling good people that they cannot come to America to pursue their dreams. Still, it may need to be done.
Those of us who want to limit immigration are sometimes accused of selfishness: of wanting to hog resources or keep “the American way of life” for ourselves. There may be some truth in this charge, since many Americans’ interests are threatened by mass immigration. Still, some of those interests seem worth preserving. The union carpenter taking home $30 an hour who owns his own house, free and clear, or the outdoorsman walking quietly along the edge of a favorite elk meadow or trout stream, may want to continue to enjoy these good things and pass them on to their sons and daughters. What is wrong with that?
Besides, the charge of selfishness cuts both ways. Restaurant owners and software tycoons hardly deserve the Mother Teresa Self-Sacrifice Medal when they lobby Congress for more low-wage workers. The wealthy progressive patting herself on the back for her enlightened views on immigration probably hasn’t ever totaled up the many ways she and her family benefit from cheap labor.
In the end our job as citizens is to look beyond our narrow self-interest and consider the common good. Many of us oppose mass immigration not because of what it costs us as individuals, but because we worry about the economic costs to our fellow citizens, or the environmental costs to future generations. Most Americans enjoy sharing our country with foreign visitors and are happy to share economic opportunities with reasonable numbers of newcomers. We just want to make sure we preserve those good things that make this a desirable destination in the first place.
All else being equal, Americans would just as soon not interfere with other people’s decisions about where to live and work. In fact such a laissez-faire approach to immigration lasted for much of our nation’s history. But today all else is not equal. For one thing this is the age of jet airplanes, not tall-masted sailing ships or coal-fired steamers. It is much quicker and easier to come here than it used to be and the pool of would-be immigrants has increased by an order of magnitude since my grandfather’s day. (In 2006, there were 6. million applications for the 50,000 green cards available under that year’s “diversity lottery.” ) For another, we do not have an abundance of unclaimed land for farmers to homestead, or new factories opening up to provide work for masses of unskilled laborers. Unemployment is high and projected to remain high for the foreseeable future. For a third, we recognize new imperatives to live sustainably and do our part to meet global ecological challenges. Scientists are warning that we run grave risks should we fail to do so.
Americans today overwhelmingly support immigration restrictions. We disagree about the optimal amount of immigration, but almost everyone agrees that setting some limits is necessary. Of course, our immigration policies should be fair to all concerned. Javier Morales came to America illegally, but for most of his time here our government just winked at illegal immigration. It also taxed his paychecks. After two and a half decades of hard work that has benefited our country, I think we owe Javier citizenship. But we also owe Tom Kenney something. Perhaps the opportunity to prosper, if he is willing to work hard. Surely, at a minimum, government policies that do not undermine his own attempts to prosper.
* * *
The progressive vision is alive and well in the United States today. Most Americans want a clean environment with flourishing wildlife, a fair economy that serves all its citizens, and a diverse society that is free from racism. Still, it will take a lot of hard work to make this vision a reality and success is not guaranteed. Progressives cannot shackle our hopes to an outmoded immigration policy that thwarts us at every turn.
Given the difficulties involved in getting 320 million Americans to curb consumption and waste, there is little reason to think we will be able to achieve ecological sustainability while doubling or tripling that number. Mass immigration ensures that our population will continue growing at a rapid rate and that environmentalists will always be playing catch up. Fifty or one hundred years from now we will still be arguing that we should destroy this area rather than that one, or that we can make the destruction a little more aesthetically appealing—instead of ending the destruction. We will still be trying to slow the growth of air pollution, water use, or carbon emissions—rather than cutting them back.
But the US population would quickly stabilize without mass immigration. We can stop population growth—without coercion or intrusive domestic population policies—simply by returning to pre-1965 immigration levels.
Imagine an environmentalism that was not always looking to meet the next crisis and that could instead look forward to real triumphs. What if we achieved significant energy efficiency gains and were able to enjoy those gains with less pollution, less industrial development on public lands, and an end to oil wars, because those efficiency gains were not swallowed up by growing populations?
Imagine if the push to develop new lands largely ended and habitat for other species increased year by year, with a culture of conservation developed around restoring and protecting that habitat. Imagine if our demand for fresh water leveled off and instead of fighting new dam projects we could actually leave more water in our rivers.
And what of the American worker? It is hard to see how progressives will succeed in reversing current powerful trends toward ever greater economic inequality in a context of continued mass immigration, particularly with high numbers of relatively unskilled and poorly educated immigrants. Flooded labor markets will harm poorer workers directly, by driving down wages and driving up unemployment. Mass immigration will also continue to harm workers indirectly by making it harder for them to organize and challenge employers, by reducing the percentage of poor workers who are citizens and thus able to vote for politicians who favor the poor, and by limiting sympathy between the haves and havenots, since with mass immigration they are more likely to belong to different ethnic groups.
But it does not have to be this way. We can tighten labor markets and get them working for working people in this country. Combined with other good progressive egalitarian measures—universal health care; a living minimum wage; a more progressive tax structure—we might even reverse current trends and create a more economically just country.
Imagine meatpacking plants and carpet-cleaning companies competing with one another for scarce workers, bidding up their wages. Imagine unions able to strike those companies without having to worry about scabs taking their members’ jobs. Imagine college graduates sifting through numerous job offers, like my father and his friends did fifty years ago during that era’s pause in mass immigration, instead of having to wait tables and just hope for something better.
Imagine poor children of color in our inner cities, no longer looked on as a problem to be warehoused in failing schools, or jails, but instead seen as an indispensable resource: the solution to labor shortages in restaurants and software companies.
Well, why not? Why are we progressives always playing catch up? The right immigration policies could help lead us toward a more just, egalitarian, and sustainable future. They could help liberals achieve our immediate goals and drive the long-term political agenda. But we will not win these battles without an inspiring vision for a better society, or with an immigration policy that makes that vision impossible to achieve.
To read more about How Many is Too Many?, click here.Add a Comment
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I had a crush on
Ed Grimly and I'm not
ashamed to admit it.
I Must Say: My Life as a Humble Comedy Legend by Martin Short. Harper, 2014, 336 pages.
Blog: Ink Splot 26 (Login to Add to MyJacketFlap)
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Create a Caption for these Stylish Penguins
I love penguins just in their regular tuxedos (a.k.a. their birthday suits!), but these dressed up penguins look ready for a fancy South Pole party! Don’t they look like they could dance the night away?
What do you think these stylish penguins are saying to each other? Leave your caption in the Comments!
Sonja, STACKS StafferAdd a Comment
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Adam Gopnik, writing in the New Yorker, recently profiled eminent American sociologist Howard S. Becker (Howie, please: “Only my mother ever called me Howard”), one of the biggest names in the field for over half a century, yet still, as with so many purveyors of haute critique, better known in France. Becker is no wilting lily on these shores, however—since the publication of his pathbreaking Outsiders: Studies in the Sociology of Deviance (1963), he’s been presiding as grand doyen over methodological confrontations with the particularly slippery slopes of human existence, including our very notion of “deviance.” All this, a half dozen or so honorary degrees, a lifetime achievement award, a smattering of our most prestigious fellowships, and the 86-year-old Becker is still going strong, with his most recent book published only this past year.
From the New Yorker profile:
This summer, Becker published a summing up of his life’s method and beliefs, called “What About Mozart? What About Murder?” (The title refers to the two caveats or complaints most often directed against his kind of sociology’s equable “relativism”: how can you study music as a mere social artifact—what about Mozart? How can you consider criminal justice a mutable convention—what about Murder?) The book is both a jocular personal testament of faith and a window into Becker’s beliefs. His accomplishment is hard to summarize in a sentence or catchphrase, since he’s resolutely anti-theoretical and suspicious of “models” that are too neat. He wants a sociology that observes the way people act around each other as they really do, without expectations about how they ought to.
The provenances of that sociology have included: jazz musicians, marijuana users, art world enthusiasts, social science researchers, medical students, musicologists, murderers, and “youth,” to name a few.
As mentioned earlier, his latest book What About Mozart? What About Murder? considers the pull of two methodologies: one, more pragmatic, which addresses its subjects with caution and rigor on a case-by-case basis, and the other, which employs a more speculative approach (guesswork) by asking “killer questions” that force us to reposition our stance on hypothetical situations, such as whether or not, indeed, murder is always already (*Becker might in fact kill me for a foray into that particular theoretical shorthand*) “deviant.”
His work is required reading in many French universities, even though it seems to be a model of American pragmatism, preferring narrow-seeming “How?” and “Who, exactly?” questions to the deeper “Why?” and “What?” supposedly favored by French theory. That may be exactly its appeal, though: for the French, Becker seems to combine three highly American elements—jazz, Chicago, and the exotic beauties of empiricism.
On the heels of his appearance in the New Yorker, Becker participated in a recent, brief sitdown with the New York Times, where he relayed thoughts on Charlie Hebdo and the French media, Nate Silver, and jazz trios, among other concerns.
From that New York Times Q & A:
I work out in a gym with a trainer twice a week. Oh, it’s pure torture, but I’m 86 so you’ve got to do something to stay in shape. I do a mixture of calisthenics, Pilates and yoga—a lot of work on balance. My trainer has this idea that every year on my birthday I should do the same number of push-ups as I have years old. We work up to it over the year. I was born on the anniversary of the great San Francisco earthquake and fire in 1906. It seems auspicious but I don’t know why.
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We need diverse books
because Gabi's is a
Gabi, Girl in Pieces by Isabel Quintero. Cinco Puntos Press, 2014, 208 pages.
Meet Eva Bella, the fifth-grader who voiced the part of young Elsa in the movie Frozen.
Q: Do you do voice-overs often or was that your first time?
Eva: It was my first. I’ve done a few small movies before, but this was my first big thing and also my first premiere. It was a pretty good first premiere and big movie to do because it has made other people so happy. It’s such a great film with the animation and everything about it.
Q: I’m sure you were very happy that it won an Oscar. Were you able to go to the Oscars?
Eva: No, but I watched every single second of it on my TV. (Laughs)
Q: What’s the best book you ever read?
Eva: Dork Diaries #6.
Q: What was your most embarrassing moment?
Eva: When I slipped in water at my school and fell flat on my face. (Laughs) A lot of my friends helped me up. No one laughed but my face was completely dirty, though.
Q: What is the most unusual talent you have that people don’t know about?
Eva: I can spin really fast without getting dizzy, and I don’t get sick on roller coasters, either.
Q: What’s your next project coming up?
Eva: I actually have a new animated TV series called Shimmering Shine. I’m Shimmer and it’s for Nickelodeon. It’s about two sisters that live in Genie World and they go to visit their friend in the human world. They help her with whatever problems she has. They make a few mistakes along the way, but it just teaches you and helps you know that it’s okay to make mistakes.
Interview by Sue Schneider
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Excerpted from Mayakovsky: A Biography by Bengt Jangfeldt
Mayakovsky returned to Moscow on 17 or 18 September. The following day, Krasnoshchokov was arrested, accused of a number of different offenses. He was supposed to have lent money to his brother Yakov, head of the firm American–Russian Constructor, at too low a rate of interest, and to have arranged drink– and sex–fueled orgies at the Hotel Europe in Petrograd, paying the Gypsy girls who entertained the company with pure gold. He was also accused of having passed on his salary from the Russian–American Industrial Corporation ($200 a month) to his wife (who had returned to the United States), of having bought his mistress flowers and furs out of state funds, of renting a luxury villa, and of keeping no fewer than three horses. Lenin was now so ill that he had not been able to intervene on Krasnoshchokov’s behalf even if he had wanted to.
His arrest was a sensation of the first order. It was the first time that such a highly placed Communist had been accused of corruption, and the event cast a shadow over the whole party apparatus. Immediately after Krasnoshchokov’s arrest, and in order to prevent undesired interpretations of what had happened, Valerian Kuybyshev, the commissar for Workers’ and Peasants’ Inspection, let it be known that “incontrovertible facts have come to light which show Krasnoshchokov has in a criminal manner exploited the resources of the economics department [of the Industry Bank] for his own use, that he has arranged wild orgies with these funds, and that he has used bank funds to enrich his relatives, etc.” He had, it was claimed, “in a criminal manner betrayed the trust placed in him and must be sentenced to a severe punishment.”
Krasnoshchokov was, in other words, judged in advance. There was no question of any objective legal process; the intention was to set an example: “The Soviet power and the Communist Party will […] root out with an iron hand all sick manifestations of the NEP and remind those who ‘let themselves be tempted’ by the joys of capitalism that they live in a workers’ state run by a Communist party.” Krasnoshchokov’s arrest was deemed so important that Kuybyshev’s statement was printed simultaneously in the party organ Pravda and the government organ Izvestiya. Kuybyshev was a close friend of the prosecutor Nikolay Krylenko, who had led the prosecution of the Socialist Revolutionaries the previous year, and who in time would turn show trials and false charges into an art form.
When Krasnoshchokov was arrested, Lili and Osip were still in Berlin. In the letter that Mayakovsky wrote to them a few days after the arrest, the sensational news is passed over in total silence. He gives them the name of the civil servant in the Berlin legation who can give them permission to import household effects (which they had obviously bought in Berlin) into Russia; he tells them that the squirrel which lives with them is still alive and that Lyova Grinkrug is in the Crimea. The only news item of greater significance is that he has been at Lunacharsky’s to discuss Lef and is going to visit Trotsky on the same mission. But of the event which the whole of Moscow was talking about, and which affected Lili to the utmost degree—not a word.
Krasnoshchokov’s trial took place at the beginning of March 1924. Sitting in the dock, apart from his brother Yakov, were three employees of the Industry Bank. Krasnoshchokov, who was a lawyer, delivered a brilliant speech in his own defense, explaining that, as head of the bank, he had the right to fix lending rates in individual cases and that one must be flexible in order to obtain the desired result. As for the charges of immoral behavior he maintained that his work necessitated a certain degree of official entertainment and that the “luxury villa” in the suburb of Kuntsevo was an abandoned dacha which in addition was his sole permanent dwelling. (It is one of the ironies of history that the house had been owned before the Revolution by the Shekhtel family and accordingly had often had Mayakovsky as a guest—see the chapter “Volodya”). Finally, he pointed out that his private life was not within the jurisdiction of the law.
This opinion was not shared by the court, which ruled that Krasnoshchokov had lived an immoral life during a time when a Communist ought to have set a good example and not surrender to the temptations offered by the New Economic Policy. Krasnoshchokov was also guilty of having used his position to “encourage his relatives’ private business transactions” and having caused the bank to lose 10,000 gold rubles. He was sentenced to six years’ imprisonment and in addition three years’ deprivation of citizen’s rights. Moreover, he was excluded from the Communist Party. His brother was given three years’ imprisonment, while the other three coworkers received shorter sentences.
Krasnoshchokov had in fact been a very successful bank director. Between January 1923 and his arrest in September he had managed to increase the Industry Bank’s capital tenfold, partly thanks to a flexible interest policy which led to large American investments in Russia. There is a good deal of evidence that the charges against him were initiated by persons within the Finance Commissariat and the Industry Bank’s competitor, the Soviet National Bank. Shortly before his arrest Krasnoshchokov had suggested that the Industry Bank should take over all the National Bank’s industrial–financial operations. Exactly the opposite happened: after Krasnoshchokov’s verdict was announced, the Industry Bank was subordinated to the Soviet National Bank.
There is little to suggest that the accusations of orgies were true. Krasnoshchokov was not known to be a rake, and his “entertainment expenses” were hardly greater than those of other highly placed functionaries. But he had difficulties defending himself, as he maintained not one mistress but two—although he had a wife and children. The woman who figured in the trial was not, as one might have expected, Lili, but a certain Donna Gruz—Krasnoshchokov’s secretary, who six years later would become his second wife. This fact undoubtedly undermined his credibility as far as his private life was concerned.
When Lili and Elsa showed Nadezhda Lamanova’s dresses in Paris in the winter of 1924, it attracted the attention of both the French and the British press, where this photograph was published with the caption “soviet sack fashion.—Because of the lack of textiles in Soviet Russia, Mme. Lamanoff, a Moscow fashion designer, had this dress made out of sackcloth from freight bales.”
By the time the judgment was announced, Lili had been in Paris for three weeks. She was there for her own amusement and does not seem to have had any particular tasks to fulfill. But she had with her dresses by the Soviet couturier Nadezhda Lamanova which she and Elsa showed off at two soirees organized by a Paris newspaper. She would like to go to Nice, she confided in a letter home to Moscow on 23 February, but her plans were frustrated by the fact that Russian emigrants were holding a congress there. She was thinking of traveling to Spain instead, or somewhere else in France, to “bake in the sun for a week or so.” But she remained in Paris, where she and Elsa went out dancing the whole time. Their “more or less regular cavaliers” were Fernand Léger (whom Mayakovsky had got to know in Paris in 1922) and an acquaintance from London who took them everywhere with him, “from the most chic of places to the worst of dives.” “It has been nothing but partying here,” she wrote. “Elsa has instituted a notebook in which she writes down all our rendezvous ten days in advance!” As clothes are expensive in Paris too, she asks Osip and Mayakovsky to send her a little money in the event of their managing to win “some mad sum of money” at cards.
When she was writing this letter, there were still two weeks to go before Krasnoshchokov’s trial. “How is A[lexander] M[ikhailovich]?” she asked, in the middle of reporting on the fun she was having. But she did not receive a reply, or if she did, it has not been preserved. On 26 March, after a month in Paris, she took the boat to England to visit her mother, who was in poor health, but that same evening she was forced to return to Calais after being stopped at passport control in Dover—despite having a British visa issued in Moscow in June 1923. What she did not know was that after her first visit to England in October 1922 she had been declared persona non grata, something which all British passport control points “for Europe and New York” had been informed of in a secret circular of 13 February 1923.
“You can’t imagine how humiliating it was to be turned back at the British border,” she wrote to Mayakovsky: “I have all sorts of theories about it, which I’ll tell you about when we I see you. Strange as it may seem, I think they didn’t let me in because of you.” She guessed right: documents from the Home Office show that it was her relationship with Mayakovsky, who wrote “extremely libellous articles” in Izvestiya, which had proved her undoing. Strangely enough, despite being refused entry to Britain, she was able to travel to London three weeks later. The British passport authorities have no record of her entry to the country. Did she come in by an illegal route?
At the same time that Lili traveled to Paris, Mayakovsky set out on a recital tour in Ukraine. Recitals were an important source of income for him. During his stay in Odessa he mentioned in a newspaper interview that he was planning to set out soon on a trip round the world, as he had been invited to give lectures and read poems in the United States. Two weeks later he was back in Moscow, and in the middle of April he went to Berlin, where Lili joined him about a week later. According to one newspaper, Mayakovsky was in the German capital “on his way to America.”
The round–the–world trip did not come off, as Mayakovsky failed to obtain the necessary visas. It was not possible to request an American visa in Moscow, as the two countries lacked diplomatic ties. Mayakovsky’s plan was therefore to try to get into the United States via a third country. Britain’s first Labour government, under Ramsay MacDonald, had scarcely recognized the Soviet Union (on 1 February 1924) before Mayakovsky requested a British visa, on 25 March. From England he planned to continue his journey to Canada and India. In a letter to Ramsay MacDonald, Britain’s chargé d’affaires in Moscow asked for advice about the visa application. Mayakovsky was not known to the mission, he wrote, but was “a member of the Communist party and, I am told, is known as a Bolshevik propagandist.” Mr. Hodgson would not have needed to do this if he had known that on 9 February, the Home Office had also issued a secret circular about Mayakovsky, “one of the principal leaders of the ‘Communist’ propaganda and agitation section of the ‘ROSTA,’” who since 1921 had been writing propaganda articles for Izvestiya and “should not be given a visa or be allowed to land in the United Kingdom” or any of its colonies. In Mayakovsky’s case the circular was sent to every British port, consulate, and passport and military checkpoint, as well as to Scotland House and the India Office. But in the very place where people really ought to have known about it, His Majesty’s diplomatic mission in Moscow, they were completely unaware of it.
While he waited for an answer from the British, Mayakovsky made a couple of appearances in Berlin where he talked about Lef and recited his poems. On the 9 May he traveled back to Moscow in company with Lili and Scotty, the Scotch terrier she had picked up in England, tired of waiting for notification that never came. When he got to Moscow he found out that on 5 May London had instructed the British mission in Moscow to turn down his visa application.
The preliminary investigation and subsequent trial of Krasnoshchokov caused a great stir, but it would certainly have got even more column inches if it had not been played out in the shadow of a significantly more important event. On 21 January 1924, Vladimir Lenin died after several years of illness.
Among the thousands of people jostling one another in the queues which snaked around in front of Trade Unions House, where the leader of the Revolution lay in state, were Mayakovsky, Lili, and Osip. Lenin’s death affected Mayakovsky deeply. “It was a terrible morning when he died,” Lili recalled. “We wept in the queue in Red Square where we were standing in the freezing cold to see him. Mayakovsky had a press card, so we were able to bypass the queue. I think he viewed the body ten times. We were all deeply shaken.”
Mayakovsky with Scotty, whom Lili bought in England. The picture was taken in the summer of 1924 at the dacha in Pushkino. Scotty loved ice cream, and, according to Rodchenko, Mayakovsky regarded “with great tenderness how Scotty ate and licked his mouth.” “He took him in his arms and I photographed them in the garden,” the photographer remembered. “I took two pictures. Volodya kept his tender smile, wholly directed at Scotty.” The photograph with Scotty is in fact one of the few where Mayakovsky can be seen smiling.
The feelings awakened by Lenin’s death were deep and genuine, and not only for his political supporters. Among those queuing were Boris Pasternak and Osip Mandelstam, who shared a far more lukewarm attitude to the Revolution and its leader. “Lenin dead in Moscow!” exclaimed Mandelstam in his coverage of the event. “How can one fail to be with Moscow in this hour! Who does not want to see that dear face, the face of Russia itself ? The time? Two, three, four? How long will we stand here? No one knows. The time is past. We stand in a wonderful nocturnal forest of people. And thousands of children with us.”
Shortly after Lenin’s death Mayakovsky tackled his most ambitious project to date: a long poem about the Communist leader. He had written about him before, in connection with his fiftieth birthday in 1920 (“Vladimir Ilyich!”), and when Lenin suffered his first stroke in the winter of 1923 (“We Don’t Believe It!”), but those were shorter poems. According to Mayakovsky himself, he began pondering a poem about Lenin as early as 1923, but that may well have been a rationalization after the event. What set his pen in motion was in any case Lenin’s death in January 1924.
Mayakovsky had only a superficial knowledge of Lenin’s life and work and was forced to read up on him before he could write about him. His mentor, as on so many other occasions, was Osip, who supplied him with books and gave him a crash course in Leniniana. Mayakovsky himself had neither the time nor the patience for such projects. The poem was written during the summer and was ready by the beginning of October 1924. It was given the title “Vladimir Ilyich Lenin” and was the longest poem Mayakovsky ever wrote; at three thousand lines, it was almost twice as long as “About This.” In the autumn of 1924 he gave several poetry readings and fragments of the poem were printed in various newspapers. It came out in book form in February 1925.
The line to the Trade Unions’ House in Moscow, where Lenin was lying in state.
So the lyrical “About This” was followed by an epic poem, in accordance with the conscious or unconscious scheme that directed the rhythm of Mayakovsky’s writing. If even a propaganda poem like “To the Workers in Kursk” was dedicated to Lili, such a dedication was impossible in this case. “Vladimir Ilyich Lenin” was dedicated to the Russian Communist Party, and Mayakovsky explains why, with a subtle but unambiguous reference to “About This”:
I can write
is not the time
as a poet
give to you,
In “Vladimir Ilyich Lenin” Lenin is portrayed as a Messiah–like figure, whose appearance on the historical scene is an inevitable consequence of the emergence of the working class. Karl Marx revealed the laws of history and, with his theories, “helped the working class to its feet.” But Marx was only a theoretician, who in the fullness of time would be replaced by someone who could turn theory into practice, that is, Lenin.
The poem is uneven, which is not surprising considering the format. From a linguistic point of view—the rhyme, the neologisms—it is undoubtedly comparable to the best of Mayakovsky’s other works, and the depiction of the sorrow and loss after Lenin’s death is no less than a magnificent requiem. But the epic, historical sections are too long and prolix. The same is true of the tributes to the Communist Party, which often rattle with empty rhetoric (which in turn can possibly be explained by the fact that Mayakovsky was never a member of the party):
once more to make the majestic word
Who needs that?!
The voice of an individual
is thinner than a cheep.
Who hears it—
except perhaps his wife?
is a hand with millions of fingers
into a single destroying fist.
The individual is rubbish,
the individual is zero …
We say Lenin,
but mean Lenin.
One of the few reviewers who paid any attention to the poem, the proletarian critic and anti–Futurist G. Lelevich, was quite right in pointing out that Mayakovsky’s “ultraindividualistic” lines in “About This” stand out as “uniquely honest” in comparison with “Vladimir Ilyich Lenin,” which “with few exceptions is rationalistic and rhetorical.” This was a “tragic fact” that Mayakovsky could only do something about by trying to “conquer himself.” The Lenin poem, wrote Lelevich, was a “flawed but meaningful and fruitful attempt to tread this path.”
Lelevich was right to claim that “About This” is a much more convincing poem than the ode to Lenin. But the “tragic” thing was not what Lelevich perceived as such, but something quite different, namely, Mayakovsky’s denial of the individual and his importance. In order to “conquer” himself, that is, the lyrical impulse within himself, he would have to take yet more steps in that direction—which he would in fact do, although it went against his innermost being.
If there is anything of lasting value in “Vladimir Ilyich Lenin,” it is not the paeans of praise to Lenin and the Communist Party—poems of homage are seldom good—but the warnings that Lenin, after his death, will be turned into an icon. The Lenin to whom Mayakovsky pays tribute was born in the Russian provinces as “a normal, simple boy” and grew up to be the “most human of all human beings.” If he had been “king–like and god–like” Mayakovsky would without a doubt have protested and taken a stance “opposed to all processions and tributes”:
to have found words
for lightning–flashing curses,
and my yell
were trampled underfoot
I should have
like bombs at the Kremlin
The worst thing Mayakovsky can imagine is that Lenin, like Marx, will become a “cooling plaster dotard imprisoned in marble.” This is a reference back to “The Fourth International,” in which Lenin is depicted as a petrified monument.
I am worried that
set in stone,
in syrup–smooth balsam—
Mayakovsky warns, clearly blind to the fact that he himself is contributing to this development with his seventy–five–page long poem.
The fear that Lenin would be canonized after his death was deeply felt—and well grounded. It did not take long before Gosizdat (!) began advertising busts of the leader in plaster, bronze, granite, and marble, “life–size and double life–size.” The busts were produced from an original by the sculptor Merkurov—whom Mayakovsky had apostrophized in his Kursk poem—and with the permission of the Committee for the Perpetuation of the Memory of V. I. Lenin. The target groups were civil–service departments, party organizations and trade unions, cooperatives, and the like.
After his return from Berlin in May 1924, Mayakovsky met with the Japanese author Tamisi Naito, who was visiting Moscow. Seated at the table next to Mayakovsky and Lili is Sergey Tretyakov’s wife, Olga. To left of Naito (standing in the center) are Sergey Eisenstein and Boris Pasternak.
The Lef members’ tribute to the dead leader was of a different nature. The theory section in the first issue of Lef for 1924 was devoted to Lenin’s language, with contributions by leading Formalists such as Viktor Shklovsky, Boris Eikhenbaum, Boris Tomashevsky, and Yury Tynyanov—groundbreaking attempts to analyze political language by means of structuralist methods. Lenin was said to have “decanonized” the language, “cut down the inflated style,” and so on, all in the name of linguistic efficiency. This striving for powerful simplicity was in line with the theoretical ambitions of the Lef writers but stood in stark contrast to the canonization of Lenin which was set in train by his successors as soon as his corpse was cold.
This entire issue of Lef was in actual fact a polemic against this development—indirectly, in the essays about Lenin’s language, and in a more undisguised way in the leader article. In a direct reference to the advertisements for Lenin busts, the editorial team at Lef in their manifesto “Don’t Trade in Lenin!” sent the following exhortation to the authorities:
Don’t make matrices out of Lenin.
Don’t print his portrait on posters, oilcloths, plates, drinking
vessels, cigarette boxes.
Don’t turn Lenin into bronze.
Don’t take from him his living gait and human physiognomy,
which he managed to preserve at the same time as he led history.
Lenin is still our present.
He is among the living.
We need him living, not dead.
Learn from Lenin, but don’t canonize him.
Don’t create a cult around a man who fought against all kinds of
cults throughout his life.
Don’t peddle artifacts of this cult.
Don’t trade in Lenin.
In view of the extravagant cult of Lenin that would develop later in the Soviet Union, the text is insightful to the point of clairvoyance. But the readers of Lef were never to see it. According to the list of contents, the issue began on page 3 with the leader “Don’t Trade in Lenin!” But in the copies that were distributed, this page is missing and the pagination begins instead on page 5. The leadership of Gosizdat, which distributed Lef, had been incensed by the criticism of the advertisements for Lenin busts and had removed the leader. As if by some miracle, it has been preserved in a few complimentary copies which made it to the libraries before the censor’s axe fell.
To read more about Mayakovsky, click here.Add a Comment
ON SALE NOW: RIGHT OF BOOM by Benjamin E. Schwartz With New Year’s resolutions being set there is a global determination to rearrange priorities. Gym memberships are being filled out, diet goals are imposed, and many are seeking to amend battered bank accounts. With all of these personal boosts of morale happening in cities across the nation it begs the question how will our nation faceAdd a Comment
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The wait is over! We’re thrilled to celebrate the publication of Beth Hautala‘s debut middle grade novel WAITING FOR UNICORNS (Philomel Books).
Kirkus calls Beth “an author to watch.” School Library Journal calls her writing “poignant.” Publisher’s Weekly calls Beth’s descriptions “spellbinding.”
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Talia McQuinn is much too old to believe in magic, yet she keeps a jar of wishes under her bed. When her whale-researcher father drags Tal to the Arctic for the summer following her mother’s death, she brings the jar along. During her stay, Tal learns of the ancient Inuit legend of the narwhal whale—the unicorn of the sea—she forms a plan to make the biggest wish of her life.
Blog: The Open Book (Login to Add to MyJacketFlap)
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LEE & LOW BOOKS is proud to announce that Andrea J. Loney ofInglewood, California, is the winner of the company’s fifteenth annual New Voices Award. Her manuscript, Take a Picture of Me, James Van Der Zee, is a picture book biography of James Van Der Zee, an African American photographer best known for his portraits of famous and little known New Yorkers during the Harlem Renaissance. From a young age, James Van Der Zee longed to share his vision of the world with others. When he discovered photography, this dream became a reality. Over many years, James worked hard to build his own business, where he specialized in highlighting the black middle class of Harlem, an aspect of American society rarely showcased at the time.Andrea J. Loney is a writer and software trainer for corporations and non-profits, where her students range from Korean War veterans to at-risk teens. Her mother is African American, and her father is Panamanian-Jamaican. Her family was one of very few black families in her New Jersey town, and this confluence of cultures has inspired her “to write about unusual characters finding or creating their own places in the world.” She will receive a prize of $1,000 and a publication contract.
LEE & LOW BOOKS is also proud to announce that Kara Stewart of Durham, North Carolina, has been chosen as an Honor winner for her manuscript Talent, about a young girl who goes to Sappony summer camp and is worried that she has nothing to perform at the camp talent show. With a passion for science and help from her friends, Alice Ruth finds her own strength and learns to be comfortable with who she is. A first time author and member of the Sappony tribe, Stewart is an Elementary School Literacy Coach and serves on the North Carolina State Advisory Council on Indian Education. She believes that it is vital for Native people to be reflected in an accurate, contemporary, and non-stereotypical way, and she wrote this story to honor her Sappony family, their resilience, and determination to keep their heritage alive. Stewart will receive a prize of $500.
Congratulations to Andrea J. Loney and Kara Stewart!
ABOUT THE AWARD: Established in 2000, the New Voices Award is an annual award given by LEE & LOW BOOKS to an unpublished author of color for a picture book manuscript. Past winners include It Jes’ Happened: When Bill Traylor Started to Draw by Don Tate, winner of the Ezra Jack Keats New Writer Award Honor, Bird by Zetta Elliott, an ALA Notable Book, and, most recently, Juna’s Jar by Jane Bahk, a Spring 2015 Junior Library Guild selection.
The award was established to combat the low numbers of authors of color in children’s book publishing and to help new authors break into the field. LEE & LOW BOOKS is committed to nurturing new authors. The company has introduced more than one hundred new authors and illustrators to the children’s book world and 68% of authors and illustrators published by LEE & LOW BOOKS are people of color. For more information, visit our New Voices Award page.
Authors of color who write for older readers are encouraged to learn about our New Visions Award for middle grade and young adult manuscripts as well.Add a Comment
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Is this pint-sized
sociopath actually growing
on me? Oh dear.
We Meet Again (Timmy Failure #3) by Stephan Patsis. Candlewick, 2014, 272 pages.
13 Books to Read Before You Turn 13
We love, love, LOVE books here at the STACKS. But there are a TON of books out there, like, millions. Maybe billions? I don’t know about you, but sometimes it feels like there are too many choices. With so many options, how can we ever sift through to find the must-reads?
So, I have come up with my *opinionated* list of the 13 books you simply MUST read before you turn 13 years old. By the way, if you’re older than 13 and you somehow missed any of these books, you should totally go read them now! They are not just for kids!
- Harry Potter and the Sorcerer’s Stone by J. K. Rowling
Harry is an orphan who lives a miserable life with his wretched aunt, uncle, and cousin – until a mysterious letter arrives from a school for magical children.
- Charlotte’s Web by E. B. White
A friendly spider named Charlotte, who lives in the beams over the pigpen, helps to save a pig named Wilbur from the usual fate of chubby little pigs.
- The Lion, The Witch, and The Wardrobe by C. S. Lewis
Peter, Susan, Edmund, and Lucy step into a magical world – Narnia – behind a magic wardrobe.
- Matilda by Roald Dahl
Matilda Wormwood is an extraordinary child with a rather unpleasant set of parents, but luckily, she has some magical pranks up her sleeve.
- Holes by Louis Sachar
Stanley Yelnats’ family has a long history of bad luck, so it’s no surprise when a deed of injustice ships him off to Camp Green Lake Juvenile Detention Center.
- Tuck Everlasting by Natalie Babbitt
10-year-old Winnie Foster stumbles upon the Tuck family which has been given eternal life after drinking from a magic spring.
- A Bear Called Paddington by Michael Bond
Mr. and Mrs. Brown first meet the friendly bear named Paddington on a London train platform. A sign around his neck reads: “Please look after this bear. Thank you.”
- Wonder by R.J. Palacio
Auggie Pullman has a facial deformity that has kept him home-schooled until the fifth grade. But now he is about to go to school for the first time.
- Number the Stars by Lois Lowry
When the Nazis take the Jews of Copenhagen to concentration camps during World War II, Annemarie’s family hides her Jewish best friend Ellen.
- Ramona Quimby, Age 8 by Beverly Cleary
Ramona gets to start a new school and ride the bus by herself, but she also has to deal with bratty Willa Jean and her moody older sister Beezus.
- Tales of a Fourth Grade Nothing by Judy Blume
Peter has had it up to here with his annoying little brother Fudge. When Fudge steals Peter’s pet turtle, it’s the last straw!
- The Westing Game by Ellen Raskin
A very strange – and exciting – chain of events is set in motion when 16 unlikely people gather for the reading of Samuel W. Westing’s will.
- Maniac Magee by Jerry Spinelli
Maniac Magee runs away from home and becomes a legend in his own time.
Do you like our picks for the 13 books you need to read before you turn 13? Did we miss anything? What would you add to this list? Leave your opinions in the Comments below!
Marisa, STACKS InternAdd a Comment
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Marilisa Jimenez-Garcia, research associate at the Center for Puerto Rican Studies, Hunter College, CUNY, graduated from the University of Florida with a PhD in English, specializing in American literature/studies, nationalism, and children’s and young adult literature. Marilisa is also a National Council for Teachers of English (NCTE) Cultivating New Voices Among Scholar of Color Fellow. She is currently working on a manuscript on U.S. Empire, Puerto Rico, and American children’s culture. She is the recipient of the Puerto Rican Studies Association Dissertation Award 2012 and the University of Florida’s Dolores Auzenne Dissertation Award. Her scholarly work appears in publications such as Changing English: Studies in Culture and Education and CENTRO Journal. She has also published reviews in International Research in Children’s Literature and Latino Studies.
How might the legacy of the first Latina librarian at the New York Public Library speak to recent ‘human events’? 2014 was a landmark year with regard to discussions of race, diversity, and young people of color in American society. A game-changing year in which much of the rhetoric of multiculturalism we often use when preparing our young citizens unraveled. Indeed, by summer 2014, events had sparked a campaign by educators looking for new approaches and resources on how to discuss race in the classroom (Marcia Chatelain, “Ferguson Syllabus”). Those of us focused on the narrative and social literacy of young people seem at a place of no return—a place where we must admit that equality is not so in the Promised Land.(1)
As an American literature and childhood studies researcher, I was not surprised that 2014’s list of recurring headlines, including court rulings, protests, and policing, also contained debates about children’s books. What young people read, and the worlds, norms, histories, and people therein, have always mattered in the U.S. Children’s reading materials (e.g. fiction, history, and textbooks) have always been at the forefront of the “culture wars,” particularly after the Cold War. Ethical pleas for kid lit diversity are also nothing new. The start of Pura Belpré’s NYPL career in the 1920s is actually marked by a question similar to Walter Dean Myer’s op-ed in New York Times: “Where are the people of color in children’s books?” In Belpré’s case, she wanted to represent what she saw as the history and heritage of the Puerto Rican child. She began writing her own books as result of finding Puerto Rican culture absent from the shelves. However, considering the contributions by people of color to children’s literature over the last 90 years or so including Belpré, and numerous studies on the lack of representation, we find that calls for kid lit diversity consistently fail. (For further information see Nancy Larrick’s study “The All White World of Children’s Literature” The Saturday Review, September 11, 1965 and also work by the Council for Interracial Children’s Books). Post-2014, what is remarkable about our current moment is the amount of mainstream and field-wide attention the diversity issue has garnered. It also remains to be seen how the incorporation of We Need Diverse Books will impact the literary world.
Conversation instead of compartmentalization. People of color including librarians and storytellers such as Pura Belpré and Augusta Baker were active (1920s and 1930s) when American children’s literature was advancing as a field with its own set of publishers, librarians, and prizes. The African American and Puerto Rican community have a longstanding tradition of employing children’s literature as a vehicle for imagination, cultural pride, and social consciousness.(2) Yet, systemically, people of color are left out of the conversation when it comes to accessing the breadth of children’s literature as an American tradition. Diversity should be understood as a conversation, rather than as a system of containing U.S. populations as compartments (with respective histories, literature, and cultural iconography) that never converge. A compartmentalized view hinders our ability to envision people of color as participants in the imagined landscapes of American history and culture—past, present, and future. Even our prizing system, including the Belpré Medal, tends to follow this logic of best Latino children’s literature, best African American children’s literature, but when it comes to best American children’s literature, people of color have historically fared in the single digits. Prizes such as the Belpré foster cultural pride, solidarity, and a market for Latino authors, yet they also continue the logic of compartmentalization.
Relevant instead of relatable. Belpré’s stories were based on folklore which some Latino/a children might find familiar. But, Belpré’s books are also artistic fiction. In other words, they are just stories to be enjoyed by whoever might enjoy them. As a teacher, I had to check my use of the term “relatable” when discussing literature with young people. Once we were reading The Outsiders (1967) and Nicholasa Mohr’s Nilda (1973) as means of comparing how young people grow up and encounter violence. I always remember one student closing her copy of Nilda, saying, “This is about culture, not about teens. I couldn’t really relate.” I was puzzled seeing that key characters in both books were adolescents. Certainly, when a Latino/a author writes about Latino/a characters, the story is shaped by Latino/a culture—which also varies in terms of racial, regional, gender, and national identity. But, the same is true for any author. Oliver Twist is a mainstream story, but it is also a commentary on 19th century childhood—a celebrated time for some who could afford it—and the conditions for poor, orphaned youth. Stories are always about culture. Yet, what we catalogue as “foreign” or “other” tells us more about ourselves than about the stories we read.
Imperfect characters instead of superheroes. When it comes to young readers, we have a tendency to want to simplify things that we adults even have a hard time understanding. Clearly, cognition is an issue. But our desire to create clear-cut heroes and villains in American history, or any history for that matter, will fail at best. Parents and teachers often battle for the representation of marginalized groups in textbooks. But, they rarely argue over whether or not America is an exceptional nation (Zimmerman).(3) Our approach to teaching and systemizing a heritage of American children’s literature should emphasize that this is a great nation shaped by imperfect people, whether dominant or marginalized. It’s complicated. Those we might see as heroes don’t always win or dominate “the bad guys.” In Belpré’s folklore, she often underlined this sense of imperfection. For example, she showed that even though the Tainos had beautiful values and bravery, they didn’t win every battle against the Spaniards (Once in Puerto Rico, 1977). Even the Medal named in her honor symbolizes this sense of complicated, converging histories in its use of the term “Latino/a.” This one term—which some even within our communities cannot agree upon—stands for those who represent multiple nations, histories, languages, and races. It’s not a perfect term. Nor, as my father always tells me, is this a perfect world. Sooner or later, our young people are going to learn that apart from any storybook or textbook. The pressure to present a perfect America often means that we erase the voices of the marginalized.
Here are some practical ways these principles might play out in the classroom:
- Consider talking with students about diversity and how they “see themselves” in books: Even with the best intentions, we have a tendency to talk about young people without asking their opinions. Try to have the start with them. If they are a bit older, have them read Walter Dean Myers op-ed for class discussion. You might ask them to journal about issues such as cultural authenticity in a book read for the class. Or you might ask them to write a story, graphic novel, science fiction adventure, or picture book about their communities as an assignment.
- Consider classroom presentation of books: We need to stop relegating people of color to special months in which we celebrate and include their stories. Although focusing on a particular group has its benefits, this should not override the other 11-months when they are excluded or barely mentioned. This also includes displays of books in your class library. Do you organize books alphabetically by author or by nationality and country?
- Consider genre: Avoid relying only on folklore, historical fiction, and biographies. This is also something publishers need to consider. Latino/as in particular have one of the lowest percentages in fantasy, science, and science fiction. Look for books in which people of color play active roles in actual and imagined societies.
For further reading:
Pura Belpré Lights the Storyteller’s Candle: Reframing the Legacy of a Legend and What it Means for the Fields of Latino/a Studies and Children’s Literature by Marilisa Jiménez-García in CENTRO Journal.
- R.L. L’Heureux, Inequality in the Promised Land (Stanford University Press, 2014)
- Katherine Capshaw-Smith, Children’s Literature of the Harlem Renaissance (Indiana University Press, 2006) and Marilisa Jimenez-Garcia, “Pura Belpré Lights the Storyteller’s Candle” (CENTRO Journal, Vol. 26, No. 1)
- Jonathan Zimmerman, Whose America?: Culture Wars in the Public Schools (Harvard University Press, 2002)
Play the truth or dare with fictional characters game from MagentaDolphin21!
Hi! This is a truth or dare game with fictional characters. I just thought this might be fun to do. You can dare ANYONE from any book, movie, TV show, etc. to do ANYTHING you want!!!! Literally, ANYTHING. The bizarre ones are actually the most fun! Please include what book, movie, TV show, etc. the character is from, in case I have to look them up. Oh, before I forget – you can also dare celebrities! Also, you can dare characters/celebrities who died. Sound weird? Well, this is a comedy thing, so we can abandon logic! Who wants to try one?
Write your character truth or dare question in the Comments.Add a Comment
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Grand Worlds End COMPETITION!!!
Well, I said I would start off 2015 by launch a competition in conjunction with True Believers Comic Festival and here it is in all its splendour.
The event takes place on Saturday February 7th 2015.
It is being held between 10am and 6:30pm.
The Venue is in the magnificent setting of Cheltenham Racecourse – Cheltenham – Gloucestershire – UK – GL50 4SH.
So if you want a chance at Winning a Ticket for FOUR – Two Adults and Two Children read on…
What a great way to start off 2015 by going along to the inaugural True Believers Comics Festival on Saturday February 7th 2015.
Here is your chance to win a Family Ticket, which will include 2 x Adult and 2 x Children’s Tickets.
All you need to do is to enter this simple competition and answer these five questions.
ALL of the ANSWERS you will find somewhere on the WORLDS END WEBSITE at www.worlds-end.co.uk or on the WIZARDS KEEP WEBSITE at www.wizards-keep.com
1. What is the Title of the First Worlds End Graphic Novel?
2. What is the name of the Wizard in the Worlds End series of books?
3. What is the name of the Evil Race of Alien Bad Guys?
4. Who writes and draws the Graphic Novel series?
5. What is the name of the Wizard’s little furry familiar?
There you go – once you have those answers safely sorted out, just email them to:
email@example.com or firstname.lastname@example.org
Or via snail mail to:
Wizards Keep Publishing
11 Walton Crescent
ALL correct entries will be placed into a Wizards hat and one lucky name will be drawn out!!!
And the good thing is – You can ENTER AS MANY TIMES AS YOU WISH.
The draw will be made on Monday 26th January 2015GOOD LUCK Folks!!!
Remember I'll be at Table #F1, so please come along and say hi.
Until next time, have fun!
January 19th 2015 Add a Comment
Blog: Emilyreads (Login to Add to MyJacketFlap)
JacketFlap tags: apropro of nothing, Churchy LaFemme, political, Add a tag
Blog: The Open Book (Login to Add to MyJacketFlap)
JacketFlap tags: Educator Resources, 20 minutes a day, daily reading, parent engagement, parents, reading, reading tips, Add a tag
Every time we visit the dentist, the hygienist asks how often we floss. We all know the correct and only answer is “everyday.” We squirm under the light as we try to come up with an answer that gets us as close to saying “everyday.” We leave feeling guilty and promise this is the year to change only to find ourselves in the same spot six months later.
This uncomfortable, familiar exchange reminds me of a lot of the conversations with parents about home reading habits at parent-teacher conferences. After each assessment cycle throughout the year, I would ask parents how reading was going on at home (outside of daily homework).
They knew this conversation was coming. I knew it was coming. They knew the right answer is “everyday” and like a hygienist peering into a patient’s mouth, I had an educated guess on how often the child was actually reading at home based on progress in class.
Just 20 minutes a day! I would list the benefits and show the charts (here and here and here and here and here). I would point out that one cartoon episode is 30 minutes (24 minutes without commercials!). Parents know how important it is—no one disagrees—and we would all nod earnestly and vigorously with promises to start this very night.
Yet, it is hard. Schedules are tight and unforgiveable. Children (and parents!) are tired at the end of the day.
- Both parents and children agree strong reading skills are among the most important skills children should have.
- Reading is one of the most popular resolutions for both parents and children.
- Half of all New Year’s resolutions fail within six months.
- Some parents need to expose their children to a new vegetable 10 or more times before they’ll consider trying it (point being: children aren’t always easy to work with).
- Even adults take 66 days on average to start a new habit (and more to break an old one).
Mind-blowing insight alert: Creating new habits takes time and persistence.
How do we make daily reading with children engaging, manageable, and achievable?
1. Start with bite-size steps. You don’t have to raise your child’s literacy level, knowledge base, or vocabulary by next week. Remember the end game: To create curious, book-loving readers. Starting a reading routine at home is about creating a lifelong habit for your family and children. Aim to improve your family’s daily reading routine for just the next eight weeks (by the following parent-teacher conference in March or May), instead of this year’s resolution to be reading every day for the rest of your child’s K-12 education (a bit daunting, no?).
2. Redefine what a reading routine looks like. Adjust what reading time is for your family based on your child’s age, reading level, energy level, and interest:
- You read the story to your child
- You alternate reading together by page, chapter, or day
- Your child reads to you and a younger sibling
- You download the audio book version and follow along in the book together
- You both read with your own copy silently side by side for the 20 minutes and discuss afterward
As Tim Gunn says, “Make it work.”
- If there is a new movie or community theater’s play coming out based on a book, read the book first and then reward yourselves with the movie or play.
- Pick a fairy tale to read and find additional versions in both book and movie form to compare. Hello, Cinderella!
- Follow up with a readers’ theater script to pair with the story. I can’t get enough of the readers’ theater scripts from California Young Reader Medal.
- If the book includes a craft, science experiment, or recipe at the end, read the story and then extend the learning into the garage or kitchen. This is great for whole family participation.
- Pair a current event or news article with a book on the same topic, culture, or time period.
4. Only pick books and formats your child loves or is interested in. Reading at home should not be boring, a chore, a punishment, or part of homework. Don’t pick books assigned in class, books that peers all seem to be reading, or books you think your child should be reading. This is about enjoyment, building interest, and creating memories. With this in mind, books come in all types/reading comes in all forms:
- Toy instruction manuals or activity/craft books
- Cookbooks—recipes are great for re-reading!
- Poetry collections
- E-readers (Note: Just be sure to pick a program that presents the story to the child as a book, not just as a cartoon where the music and animation effects can distract from the words and vocabulary.)
- Graphic novels and comic books—read about how Lee & Low publisher, Jason Low, became an avid reader after getting hooked on his first comics!
Better yet—let your child choose for maximum engagement.
5. Don’t cry over skipped reading. For whatever reason, reading time just didn’t happen one night. Whoops! Just read the next day and perhaps add a few minutes on extra. Any time is better than none at all. Remember you are trying to show that we read for enjoyment, not punishment. Every day you read with your child is a win—one skipped day doesn’t undo all the progress you have made together.
6. Do over think it—please! If you are finding it difficult to stick with reading 20 minutes a day with your child, think about where the obstacle is. Are nights too busy? Do transit or errands take time away from family downtime? Do you get home too late? Reading at breakfast or on the bus/subway, engaging grandparents and older siblings, trying 10 minutes in the morning and 10 minutes at night may help your family stick with the reading routine.
7. Join a community. You are not the first or last parent to a) struggle to inspire your child to read b) find time to read or c) make reading time exciting. There are wonderful experts with research, reading tips, and inspiration available. Some of my favorite parent reading newsletters are National Center for Families Learning, ¡Colorín Colorado!, Reading Rockets, and Zoobean.
The Number One Most Important Thing:
Every time you read with your child is a win. Every time you skip is a lost opportunity, but it won’t doom your child. Remember the end goal: To support our children’s lifelong love of reading (increased knowledge/vocabulary will be a bonus). Keep at it.
Here’s to a great year of reading and growing!
Jill Eisenberg, our Senior Literacy Expert, began her career teaching English as a Foreign Language to second through sixth graders in Yilan, Taiwan as a Fulbright Fellow. She went on to become a literacy teacher for third grade in San Jose, CA as a Teach for America corps member. She is certified in Project Glad instruction to promote English language acquisition and academic achievement. In her column she offers teaching and literacy tips for educators.Add a Comment
Blog: Ink Splot 26 (Login to Add to MyJacketFlap)
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Over 1.5 million teens and children are homeless. One of the items they need most is a pair of jeans. YOU can make a difference by helping to clothe homeless youth.
Teens for Jeans is a campaign to help get YOU involved!
- WHAT: Jeans. Check your closet for jeans that don’t fit you anymore. Run a drive at your school, place of worship, or local community center to collect as many pairs of jeans as you can!
- WHERE: Drop off all pairs at your local Aéropostale or P.S. from Aéropostale clothing store.
- WHEN: January 12th through February 16th, 2015
Make a difference! This winter YOU can help collect jeans for kids and teens who really need them!
—Amanda, STACKS InternAdd a Comment
Teen Superstar Zendaya Stars in K.C. Undercover, a Spy-Comedy Series
Zendaya Coleman (from Shake It Up and Zapped) stars in K.C. Undercover, a spy-comedy series premiering Sunday, January 18 (8:30 p.m., ET/PT) on Disney Channel.
Zendaya stars as K.C. Cooper, a high school math whiz and karate black-belt who learns that her parents are spies when they recruit her to join them in the secret government agency, The Organization. But K.C. has a lot to learn about being a spy, including keeping it a secret from her best friend Marisa. Together, K.C., her parents, and her younger siblings, Ernie and Judy (a humanoid robot pretending to be a girl), try to balance everyday family life while on undercover missions to save the world.
In the premiere episode, K.C. takes on her first undercover assignment — at her school dance! The mission: apprehend an enemy teen spy and recover the code for a virus designed to render every mobile device useless. (I didn’t really understand any part of that last sentence. I guess I’ll have to watch the show to find out what it means!)
Will you be watching K.C. Undercover? Let us know in the Comments!
Sonja, STACKS StafferAdd a Comment
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Pointless fluff in its
most charming form.
Anybody want a peanut?
As You Wish: Inconceivable Tales from the Making of The Princess Bride by Cary Elwes and Joe Layden. Touchstone, 2014, 272 pages.
Blog: Wizards Keep - The Tim Perkins Blog (Login to Add to MyJacketFlap)
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Well, I thought I would start off 2015 by announcing I am one of the guests at the first Comic Festival of the year for me, which is at the True Believers Comic Festival. This is the first time this event has been held.
The event takes place on Saturday February 7th 2015.
It is being held between 10am and 6:30pm.
The Venue is in the magnificent setting of Cheltenham Racecourse – Cheltenham – Gloucestershire – UK – GL50 4SH.
The convention is solely concerned with Comics themselves unlike most other events, which concentrate on Film, TV, Toys, and Cosplay with comics finding themselves marginalised in a ghetto somewhere within the venues.
From all accounts this one follows on from European festivals, like the one I attend each year in Malta, and others in the UK such as Thought Bubble and The Lakes International Comic Art Festival events, so as you can imagine, I am excited to have been asked to take part.
In their words; “The True Believers Comic Festival is a new UK based event that celebrates comics, their creators and the fans who love them.”
Check out the links below to their website and its many different pages of fun-filled activities that they have lined up for everyone visiting.
YouTubeWalk Through and Introduction to the True Believer Organisers themselves
I cannot wait to go along and meet everyone.
I’ll be situated at TABLE # F1 – Check out the Map below for more details.
I’m lined up to Join Emma Vieceli, Kate Brown and Dylan Teague on one of the event Panels, DRAWING COMICS, which is taking place at 16:15pm and, which is due to last approximately 30 minutes.
Of course I will also have all the usual products on sale and hope to have some BRAND NEW finished colour work on display from Worlds End – Volume 2 – A Hard reign’s Gonna Fall.
So please feel free to pop by my table and say hi and don’t forget to pick up the books and stuff and check them all out!!! So many folks seem frightened to touch the books until prompted, so please feel yourselves invited to take a look at them all.
Now, I’ll end with some exciting news regarding our latest Worlds End COMPETITION, which will give one lucky family a chance to WIN two adult and two children’s tickets to this wonderful Comic Festival and a Signed Sketch from my good self as the Prizes!!!
Check out this Blog and the News Pages on the Wizards Keep and Worlds End Websites on, Monday 19th January at around 12:00pm for all the details and to enter.
Now let the Magik begin...
See you all down there soon.
Until next time, have fun!
January 16th 2015 Add a Comment
Blog: The Open Book (Login to Add to MyJacketFlap)
JacketFlap tags: Diversity, Diversity, Race, and Representation, Lee & Low Likes, Race, African/African American Interest, Ava DuVernay, Civil Rights, David Oyelowo, film, fim review, History, Martin Luther King Jr, MLK, MLK Day, movies, Race issues, Selma, selma to montgomery marches, Voters Rights, Add a tag
In celebration of MLK Day today, we wanted to share two perspectives from Lee & Low staff members on why you should see Selma, the new movie based on the life of Martin Luther King, Jr. Much has been said about the lack of Academy Award nominations for the movie, but nevertheless moviegoers are uniformly in agreement that Selma is one of the best movies of the year. It offers a meaningful historical context for current events and a springboard for deep discussion, making it a valuable learning experience as well as a straight-up great movie.
Here’s why we think seeing Selma is one of the best ways you could spend MLK Day:
Jason Low, Publisher: The director of Selma, Ava DuVernay brings the audience a lean, gritty fight for voter rights during the civil rights movement. The depiction of Martin Luther King, Jr. is especially poignant. The name Martin Luther King, Jr. is a household name and a holiday. His name is the stuff of legend. But what many fail to realize is that Martin Luther King, Jr. was a man with faults and insecurities just like everyone else. The film does not shy away from King’s marital problems caused by his infidelities or self-doubt and indecision resulting from the battle fatigue and weight of leadership when so much is on the line. DuVernay’s King is so human that we fear for his life even during the quieter scenes because humans are vulnerable and these were dangerous times.
Conversations between President Lyndon B. Johnson and Martin Luther King, Jr. are riveting. The political needle was just as difficult to move in 1965 as it is today. The Voter Rights Bill was as messy an issue as any US president would have to face. The bill was steeped in violence and racism and Johnson’s instinct to postpone action was derailed when John Lewis and Reverend Hosea Williams tried to lead a march of six hundred protestors over the Edmund Pettus Bridge. The nonviolent protestors were savagely beaten by state police and news cameras captured a brutal, bloody war for all Americans to see.
I brought my family to see this film. Bearing witness to the bravery it takes to protest nonviolently for equal rights was (to me) the chance to see history at its most heroic. Although fifty years has passed since Selma took place, the film feels eerily current. Protests over police killings of unarmed black males are happening all over the country and continue to be front-page news. Watching a film like Selma is difficult, but all the more reason to see it. Great movies will move you, make you feel something and Selma does all of these things very deeply.
Rebecca Garcia, Marketing and Publicity Assistant: During Common’s acceptance speech for the Golden Globe for Best Original Song, he said, “Selma is now.” Even though the Selma to Montgomery Marches were fifty years ago, this film reminded me that the Civil Rights Movement was a hard battle and took a long time to take effect.
David Oyelowo does an excellent job as Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr. Dr. King in this movie struggles with self-doubt, isn’t the perfect husband, and even makes decisions that have other leaders in the Civil Rights Movement question his leadership skills. But this is the Dr. King we all need to see. He’s human and flawed, but is still inspiring and courageous.
While watching the movie, I was reminded of the many protests happening around the country in the wake of the Ferguson and Staten Island grand jury decisions. Change doesn’t happen overnight. Change is an arduous and bitterly long process. Selma serves as a reminder of what has been accomplished and what we still need to accomplish. Selma doesn’t hold back when it comes to the violence faced by protesters.
Ava DuVernay presents us with a flawed, realistic and ultimately human Dr. King. While David Oyelowo does amazing justice to Dr. King, I felt that the talented actresses in the movie (Carmen Ejobo, Oprah Winfrey, and Lorraine Toussaint to name a few) weren’t utilized to their full potential. Even so, Selma is a relevant and timely film that everyone should see. Take tissues with you.
Did you see Selma? What did you think?Display Comments Add a Comment
I Have a Dream Poetry Generator
In honor of Martin Luther King Jr. Day, we have a cool writing prompt challenge. Below are 25 words from Martin Luther King Jr.’s famous “I Have a Dream” speech delivered on August 28, 1963 at the Lincoln Memorial in Washington, D.C. The speech is very inspiring and describes Dr. King’s dream of a world without racism and prejudice.
Your task is to take these 25 words and generate your own “I Have a Dream” poem. You can add little words (like “a”, “the”, verbs, or anything that will help it flow) but try to include as many of these 25 words as you can in your poem. Any style of poem works – rhyming, non-rhyming, couplet, haiku, free-form, or even random. It’s up to you!
Leave your poem in the Comments. We can’t wait to be inspired . . . by you.
-Ratha, STACKS WriterAdd a Comment
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