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1. Adorable Tot Used for Photo-Illustrations for First Bedbug Book

This picture from one of our illustrators was too cute not to shar She Kept Bedbug From "Sleeping Tight"  Child That Appeared in Book I This precious little scamp was a couple of years older when she was used as a subject for the photo-illustrations for the first Bedbug book. But she was so cute in this photo, that I just had to share. I think you'll agree, she was the perfect child to

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2. September Reflections

In September, I read 52 books.

Board books, picture books, early readers:

  1. Max and the Won't Go To Bed Show. Mark Sperring. Illustrated by Sarah Warburton. 2014. Scholastic. 32 pages. [Source: Review copy]
  2. Red Panda's Candy Apples. Ruth Paul. 2014. Candlewick. 32 pages. [Source: Review copy] 
  3. I'm My Own Dog. David Ezra Stein. 2014. Candlewick. 32 pages. [Source: Review copy] 
  4. Peppa Pig Ballet Lesson. Adapted by Elizabeth Schaefer. 2014. Scholastic. 24 pages. [Source: Review copy] 
  5. I Feel Five. Bethanie Deeney Murguia. Candlewick. 32 pages. [Source: Review copy] 
  6. Go To Sleep, Little Farm. Mary Lyn Ray. Illustrated by Christopher Silas Neal. 2014. Houghton Mifflin Harcourt. 40 pages. [Source: Review copy] 
  7. The Scarecrows' Wedding. Julia Donaldson. Illustrated by Axel Scheffler. 2014. Scholastic. 32 pages. [Source: Review copy] 
  8. The Loch Mess Monster. Helen Lester. Illustrated by Lynn Munsinger. 2014. Houghton Mifflin Harcourt. 32 pages. [Source: Review copy] 
  9. Big Bad Bubble. Adam Rubin. Illustrated by Daniel Salmieri. 2014. Houghton Mifflin Harcourt. 40 pages. [Source: Review copy]       
  10. Poppy the Pirate Dog's New Shipmate. Liz Kessler. Illustrated by Mike Phillips. 2014. Candlewick. 64 pages. [Source: Review copy] 
  11. Tony Baloney Buddy Trouble. Pam Munoz Ryan. Illustrated by Edwin Fotheringham. 2014. Scholastic. 40 pages. [Source: Review copy] 
  12. Biggety Bat: Hot Diggety, It's Biggety! Ann Ingalls. Illustrated by Aaron Zenz. 2014. Scholastic. 32 pages. [Source: Review copy] 
  13. Cinderella in the City. (Level 2) (Flash Forward Fairy Tales) Cari Meister. Illustrated by Erica-Jane Waters. 2014. Scholastic. 32 pages. [Source: Review copy] 
  14. Snow White and the Seven Dogs. (Level 2) (Flash Forward Tales) Cari Meister. Illustrated by Erica-Jane Waters. 2014. Scholastic. 32 pages. [Source: Review copy] 
  15. Monkey and Elephant Go Gadding. Carole Lexa Schaefer. Illustrated by Galia Bernstein. 2014. Candlewick. 48 pages. [Source: Review copy] 
  16. Racing the Waves (Tales of the Time Dragon #2) Robert Neubecker. 2014. Scholastic. 32 pages. [Source: Review copy] 
  17. Steve & Wessley in The Sea Monster. (Level 1) J.E. Morris. 2014. Scholastic. 32 pages. [Review copy]    
Middle grade and young adult fiction and nonfiction:
  1. Goodnight, Mr. Tom. Michelle Magorian. 1981. HarperCollins. 320 pages. [Source: Library]
  2. Everything on a Waffle. Polly Horvath. 2001/2008. Square Fish. 176 pages. [Source: Review copy] 
  3. One Year in Coal Harbor. Polly Horvath. 2012. Random House. 224 pages. [Source: Review copy]
  4. Emperors of the Ice. Richard Farr. 2008. FSG. [Source: Review copy] 
  5. The Hobbit. J.R.R. Tolkien. 1937.  320 pages. [Source: Bought] 
  6. Wednesdays in the Tower. Jessica Day George. 2013. Bloomsbury. 240 pages. [Source: Library] 
  7. Mythmaker: The Life of J.R.R. Tolkien. Anne E. Neimark. 2012. Houghton Mifflin Harcourt. 144 pages. [Source: Review copy]
  8. I Kill the Mockingbird. Paul Acampora. 2014. Roaring Book Press. 176 pages. [Source: Library] 
  9. Blue Plate Special by Michelle D. Kwasney. 2009. Chronicle Books. 366 pages. [Source: Library]
  10. Love by the Morning Star. Laura L. Sullivan. 2014. Houghton Mifflin Harcourt. 320 pages. [Source: Review copy]   
  11. Get Into Art: Animals. Susie Brooks. 2013. Kingfisher. 32 pages. [Source: Review copy] 
  12. Get Into Art: People. Susie Brooks. 2013. Kingfisher. 32 pages. [Source: Review copy]
Adult fiction and nonfiction:
  1. Fahrenheit 451. Ray Bradbury. 1953/1991. Del Rey. 179 pages. [Source: Bought]
  2. No Name. Wilkie Collins. 1862/1998. Oxford University Press. 748 pages.
  3. Northanger Abbey. Jane Austen. 1817/1992. Everyman's Library. 288 pages. [Source: Book I Own] 
  4. Blackout. Connie Willis. 2010. Random House. 495 pages. [Source: Bought] 
  5. The Singing Sands. Josephine Tey. 1952. 224 pages. [Source: Bought]
  6. In Search of England. H.V. Morton. 1927/2007. Da Capo Press. 304 pages. [Source: Bought]
  7. The Boleyn King. Laura Andersen. 2013. Ballantine. 358 pages. [Source: Library]
  8. The Attenbury Emeralds. Jill Paton Walsh. 2010/2011. St. Martin's Press. 352 pages. [Source: Library] 
  9. The Late Scholar. Jill Paton Walsh. 2014. St. Martin's Press. 368 pages. [Source: Library]
  10. My Cousin Rachel. Daphne du Maurier. 1951. 374 pages. [Source: Library]
  11. Death of a Schoolgirl (Jane Eyre Chronicles #1) Joanna Campbell Slan. 2012. Berkley Trade. 340 pages. [Source: Library]
  12. The Lost. Sarah Beth Durst. 2014. Harlequin. 352 pages. [Source: Library] 
  13. The Twilight of Lake Woebegotten. Harrison Geillor. 2011. Night Shade Books. 320 pages. [Source: Review copy] 
Christian fiction and nonfiction:
  1. Unbroken. Laura Hillenbrand. 2010. Random House. 473 pages. [Source: Library] 
  2. The Bible Study Handbook. Lindsay Olesberg. 2012. IVP. 240 pages. [Source: Bought]
  3. Edwards on the Christian Life. Dane C. Ortlund. 2014. Crossway. 208 pages. [Source: Review copy] 
  4. Love's Fortune. Laura Frantz. 2014. Revell. 400 pages. [Source: Review copy]
  5.  The Names of Jesus. Warren W. Wiersbe. 1997. Baker Publishing. 159 pages. [Source: Bought]  
  6. One Way Love: Inexhaustible Grace for an Exhausted World. Tullian Tchividjian. 2013. David Cook. 240 pages. [Source: Bought] 
  7. Fair Play (It Happened At the Fair #2) Deeanne Gist. 2014. Howard Books 433 pages. [Source: Library] 
  8. The Savior of the World. Benjamin B. Warfield. 1991. Banner of Truth. 270 pages. [Source: Bought]  
  9. The Early Readers Bible: New Testament. V. Gilbert Beers. Illustrated by Terri Steiger. Zonderkidz. 256 pages. [Source: Bought] 
  10. The 30 Day Praise Challenge. Becky Harling. 2013. David Cook. 208 pages. [Source: Bought]

© 2014 Becky Laney of Becky's Book Reviews

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3. What I Read in September

Reader Friends, this was an absolutely abysmal reading month for me.  In fact, I had to go all the way back to June of 2013 to find a month where I read as few pages as I did this month.  I only read 9 books this month and only one in physical format.  Because analyzing my reading statistics is what I do for fun, I've determined two main causes for the reading slump I didn't even realize I was in until I counted up September's stats.

One reason I've fallen behind in reading is yoga.  I'm spending anywhere from forty-five minutes to two hours a day working out, including weekends.  I live a half hour from the gym, so that means up to three hours a day are being spent going to the gym and exercising.  It also means I'm more tired at night and can't stay awake past midnight reading when I've got a yoga class early the next morning.

I am totally fine with the impact this has had on my reading.  (FYI: I'm planning another post about yoga soon, with some information and links on how I got started, since so many people responded that they're interested).  This is the first time in my life that my exterior life, particularly the functioning and strength of my physical body, has been anywhere close to as important as my interior life.  I've spent 30 years focusing on developing my mind and personality and accepting myself on the inside, so I'm overdue for spending some time developing strength in my physical body.

However.  The other reason I've fallen behind is a bit less noble.  What happened this month is that Netflix acquired every season of Criminal Minds.  And I acquired the Netflix app on my telephone.  Addiction is not even the word for what I'm caught up in.  I watch Criminal Minds on my phone during every.spare.second.  Doing the dishes, cooking, brushing my teeth, ANYTHING that doesn't require my full attention has been done to a soundtrack of Criminal Minds.

I've devoured three and a half seasons this month and there are nine seasons total, so you can do the math.  I may have a few more slow months ahead of me before I finish.  Since I almost always eschew television for reading, I'm giving myself a pass for a while to enjoy this series for as long as it takes.

All said, I read less than usual this month (for me) but I thoroughly enjoyed almost everything I read:

The Hidden Girl by Louise Millar
The Reason I Jump by Naoshi Higashida
The Good Girl by Mary Kubicka
Everything I Never Told You by Celeste Ng
One Kick by Chelsea Cain
Evil Eye: Four Novellas of Love Gone Wrong by Joyce Carol Oates
Reality Bites Back by Jennifer L. Pozner
The Undertaking by Audrey Magee
V-Wars, Volume 1 by Jonathan Maberry

What did you read this month?

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4. Doge.


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5. Book Review: Liar, Temptress, Soldier, Spy by Karen Abbott

From Goodreads:
Karen Abbott illuminates one of the most fascinating yet little known aspects of the Civil War: the stories of four courageous women—a socialite, a farmgirl, an abolitionist, and a widow—who were spies.

After shooting a Union soldier in her front hall with a pocket pistol, Belle Boyd became a courier and spy for the Confederate army, using her charms to seduce men on both sides. Emma Edmonds cut off her hair and assumed the identity of a man to enlist as a Union private, witnessing the bloodiest battles of the Civil War. The beautiful widow, Rose O’Neale Greenhow, engaged in affairs with powerful Northern politicians to gather intelligence for the Confederacy, and used her young daughter to send information to Southern generals. Elizabeth Van Lew, a wealthy Richmond abolitionist, hid behind her proper Southern manners as she orchestrated a far-reaching espionage ring, right under the noses of suspicious rebel detectives.

Using a wealth of primary source material and interviews with the spies’ descendants, Abbott seamlessly weaves the adventures of these four heroines throughout the tumultuous years of the war. With a cast of real-life characters including Walt Whitman, Nathaniel Hawthorne, General Stonewall Jackson, detective Allan Pinkerton, Abraham and Mary Todd Lincoln, and Emperor Napoleon III, Liar, Temptress, Soldier, Spy draws you into the war as these daring women lived it.
 History isn't always my go-to in terms of non-fiction.  I'm much more likely to pick up something science, medical, psychological, or sociological than I am to pick up a strict history text.  That said, something about this one just called out to me and I am so very glad it did.  It's certainly one of the best non-fiction works I've read this year and I'd venture to guess that it'll wind up on my top ten overall list for the year.  It's just brilliantly done.

I was hooked form the author's opening note, before the book even begins.  She makes a point to tell us that the book contains "no invented dialogue.  Anything that appears between quotations comes from a book, diary, letter, archival note, transcript, or...from stories passed down by her descendants."

One of my biggest problems with historical non-fiction, particularly works that purport to read like popular fiction, is that the author embellishes, intentionally or unintentionally, and that the facts take second place to the story.  This is certainly not a problem for Abbott.  Her research is intensive - there are almost fifty pages of notes at the end and a complete bibliography over ten pages long.  There is not a single bone to pick in terms of research, accuracy, and attention to nuanced details.  Abbott clearly did her research and let that guide the book.

Entertainment Value
In addition to what I've said above regarding the attention to historical detail and the intensity of research, I could not put this book down.  The four women profiled are absolutely fascinating.  Abbott had no need to deviate from historical fact because the facts are just so very compelling.  The lives of these women are extraordinary.  I can't even begin to start telling you how intriguing and compelling their stories are, and Abbott tells them in a way that reads like a narrative, while staying true to her research.  I'm so impressed with the way she was able to avoid creating any dialogue outside of historical record, but the book still manages to read like something straight out of fiction.

I've already recommended this to the Nesties as a group and to individuals who I think will enjoy it, and it's one that I'll be pushing hard whenever anyone asks me for a non-fiction recommendation this fall.  It's just remarkably well done.  I think it will appeal not only to history buffs, but also to those who enjoy historical fiction and biography.  And of course, it would be a great choice for anyone with a particular interest in the Civil War.  We're only looking at three months till Christmas, and I think this is an excellent option for gift-giving.

Thanks to TLC for having me on the tour.  Click here to see the full list of bloggers participating.

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6. Time Management Tuesday: Be More Discriminating About Reading

What I Learned On My September Vacation

When I got my own personal laptop and was no longer sharing computers with family members, I became very excited over bookmarking sites. I bookmarked a lot of them. I classified them. I stockpiled the things and fantasized about reading them. I looked forward to reading them on this vacation I just took.

I did read a great many of them. And what I found was that in many cases I didn't need to have bothered. A lot of these things were repeats of information I'd already seen elsewhere. There is only so much information out there on writing and marketing, but there are a lot of blogs and websites with writers who have just discovered this stuff and think it is newsworthy.

How much time could I save myself by being a lot more discriminating about my reading material? Well, I decided, let's see.

Personal Precedent For Creating More Time By Cutting Reading

Quite honestly, I've been cutting reading for years.
  • Giving up. Yes, yes, I used to be one of those readers who had to finish any book she started. It was an obsession or some kind of moral code. When did things change? I don't know. Maybe around the time I started hearing stories about a million books being published every year. (I don't know if that's actually true, by the way.) Which may have coincided with me reading one too many bad books. Which may have been around the time I realized life is short. I should be fussier about how I spend my time.
  • Skimming. I also skim books, particularly those that have some significance in my field but I just don't like. Skimming definitely lets you hit the high points in a work, get a feeling for its world, and just find out what happens. "That's a skimmer," is a phrase I often use, but only to myself. (Did I just write that out loud?)
  • I gave up reading listicles a year or two ago. There's something I've never missed. Seriously, ever seen a listicle called "The Top 10 Cures For Cancer" or "5 Ways To Find God?" Okay, you probably have. In which case, you know what I mean.

How Can I Cut More?

  • Impose Limitations. Some time management specialists suggest making to-do lists on post-it notes in order to force yourself to be reasonable about what you can do in a day. I'm going to try limiting myself to just three to five bookmarks in any category. I want to add a new one? I have to take one off, either by reading the thing or just dropping it.
  • Give Them A Chance To Make Their Case. To make the bookmark list, a post will have to meet a two-paragraph test. It has to prove to me in that time that it has material new to me or compelling in some new way.
  • Size Matters. Personally, I believe the Internet is different. Material written for it should be concise. Otherwise, it should be in The New Yorker. Over the years, I've moved away from blogs that regularly ran long. I'm not saying I'll never read a magazine article on-line, but if I do, it won't be a random act.
  • If You Haven't Read It In A Year... Ever hear that advice about getting rid of clothes you haven't worn in a year? Yeah, I could do that with bookmarks.

Seriously, How Much Time Do You Expect To Gain With This, Gail?

Hmm. Maybe not that much. But I won't have a long list of bookmarked sites hanging over my head, which can only be a good thing.

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7. Bespectacled

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8. Agent Starting Out – Building List

brent-taylor-literary-agentUwe Stender, agent and owner of TriadaUS Literary Agency, Inc. located northwest of Pittsburgh recently hired Brent Taylor who recently completed an Internship at The Bent Agency.

According to Publishers Marketplace, owner Uwe Stender has sold six books so far this year. Here is an opportunity to get in on the ground floor with a new agent, Brent Taylor (pictured on left), at a fairly new agency.

Here is what Brent says he is looking for: “My tastes are eclectic, but all of my favorite novels are similar in that they have big commercial hooks and fantastic writing. I am seeking smart, fun, and exciting books for readers of middle grade, young adult, new adult, and select mystery/crime and women’s fiction.

Middle Grade: For younger readers I am on the hunt for a humorous, intelligent fantasy; a scare-the-pants-off-me ghost or haunting story; fast-paced literary writing similar in style to Jerry Spinelli and Cynthia Lord. I have soft spots for larger-than-life characters and atmospheric setting (creepy and/or quirky).

Young Adult: I’m always looking for genre-bending books that can be an exciting puzzlement when thinking about how precisely to market; specifically mystery and crime for teens, the grittier the better; high-concept contemporary stories with addicting romantic tension. I’m a sucker for themes of finding your place in the world, new beginnings, and summer-before-college stories.

New Adult: My tastes in New Adult tend to be more darkly skewed but I would love a well-executed story that shares the same excitement, wonder, and invigoration of books like LOSING IT. Although I appreciate any story that’s told well in great language, in New Adult I’m more concerned with being entertained and gripped by the edge of my seat than in being stimulated.

Adult: I would love a psychological suspense based on actual events, i.e. CARTWHEEL by Jennifer Dubois which fictionalized the Amanda Knox trial and hooked me from beginning to end. Alternatively, I’d love high-concept women’s fiction; either an exquisitely told story huge in size and scope, or a less ambitious novel that simply warms my heart.”

How to submit:  Send your query letter and first ten pages pasted in the body of the message to brent [at] triadaus.com. Or follow him on twitter: @NaughtyBrent

Talk tomorrow,


Filed under: Agent, Editor & Agent Info, Middle Grade Novels, Places to sumit, Young Adult Novel Tagged: Accepting Query Letters, Agent Building List, Brent Taylor, New Agent, TriadaUS Literary Agency, Uwe Stender

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9. Anniversary Birds

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10. Writer Wednesday: Frequently Asked Questions Part Two

Today I have part two of my Frequently Asked Questions that you all submitted.  If you missed part one, you can read or view it here. And once again, you have the option of reading the questions and my responses or watching the video of me answering the questions.

How did you create such an engaging blog with so many followers, and how long did it take?
I love my blog and my followers. When I started it, I was interested in meeting other writers and readers like me. I’ve made a lot of great connections over the years. I also like to be very open on my blog. I embarrass myself sometimes because I’m just me, no censoring. I’m okay with that though because I want my readers to know the real me. I’d never pretend to be anyone I’m not.

I REALLY want to know how you write those 8,000 word days: is the family sequestered for the day? are you on a floating island somewhere?
I’m held hostage by a bunch of characters who won’t shut up or stop pestering me to write their story. Seriously. My characters are demanding, and they talk so fast I can barely keep up. That’s really the only way I can explain it.

If you could write anywhere, where you would you pick? The beach? A cabin in the mountains?
While I love the beach and mountain views, I wouldn’t want to write there because I’d be distracted. Give me my boring old house any day of the week. I can stay focused there and just write.

You get an incredible amount of writing done. After you fast draft or get your first draft in print, how much editing do you have to do?
It really depends on the book. Sometimes I read a draft and think it’s really not far off at all. Other times I cringe and roll my eyes at myself.

Has the editing process gotten easier over time?
I love editing. Call me weird, but I do. I think the English teacher in me just gets giddy at the thought of reworking something and making it really shine. That’s not to say that edits are easy. They can be tough, but I remind myself how it will all be worth it when I’m finished.

Does your husband read your books?
Only my picture books. He’s not a reader at all, so if it’s more than a few pages, he’s not reading it.

Which five books have moved/inspired you the most?
This list changes every once in a while when I read a great new book, but here’s what it looks like right now:
Percy Jackson and the Titan’s Curseby Rick Riordan
Crescendo by Becca Fitzpatrick
Hex Hall by Rachel Hawkins
Delirium by Lauren Oliver
Divergent by Veronica Roth

What is an embarrassing moment from your life? Did it help you writing? If so how?
Oh wow, I have many. Let’s see. On more than one occasion I’ve used the men’s room by accident, and of course I’ve been caught. I actually did use that for a short story that I sold, so I definitely think it helped my writing. Also, I can convey embarrassment on the page with no problem now. ;)

If you still have questions for me, feel free to leave them in the comments.

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11. manx lit fest 2014

So Philip Reeve hijacked my previous blog post and turned it into a Manx Reeve & McIntyre pop quiz. But it wasn't exactly a comprehensive look at my visit to the Isle of Man for the Manx Lit Fest. The main reason I blog is so that I don't forget things, and Manx Lit Fest was so fabulous that I absolutely must go back and record it.

Writer Rakie Keig plunged me straight into a Manx cultural lesson when she drove me from the aiport to Douglas, where I would be staying for the weekend. We drove over the Fairy Bridge and she urged me to greet the fairies (as everyone does on the island, I learned from asking around). She also advised me never to say the word r-a-t, and subtitute the wod 'longtail' if I needed to say it. Her third tip was never to say I had come over from 'the mainland', but to call it 'the adjoining island'. Thanks for the tips, Rakie!

Douglas has a lovely long promenade along the beach, with a sort of faded grandeur that makes it easy to imagine the old days, when it was a prime seaside holiday destination. The Regency Hotel had lots of quirky old features, including a beautiful but tiny lift.

The lift had those sorts of grated gates you see on Russian lifts, and of course, I had to take a photo down the shaft. And then I imagined the pile of dropped camera phones at the base of it.

The lift became a major feature of my stay, and got tinier and tinier as my costumes grew larger.

My first event was a reception for the festival's sponsors, and one of the nice surprises was getting to meet a young author named Harri Sansostri. I meet a lot of kids who write, but I'd connected with Harri a year ago, when he was just beginning to try to promote his book on Twitter. He was sending the same promo tweet to everyone and I at first thought it was spam, but then realised his age, and we had a good conversation about promotion, which led to me writing this blog post for him. There was too much to say on Twitter, and I thought it might help Harri and other kids (possibly even adults!) who are trying to walk the fine line between promoting their books and being annoying. I'm sure I often go about it the wrong way, but Harri is proof that just getting out there and trying something, even if he got it wrong at first, can pay off in the end.

Harri's learned so much since then about using social media and his mother came up to me and thanked me for giving him that advice, and he tweeted me later to say how helpful it had been. (Which was good to hear; some people would just get angry if another person referred to their early tweets as spammy!)

I was so pleased to see he's ploughing forward with his books, having finished the second one and working on the third. Here's an update about it on his website, and it's great to think he's already being invited to a literary festival. He's also done quite a few school visits, which is very impressive!

Another person I met at the reception was teacher-turned-rap-battler, poet Mark Grist. The only things I knew about rap battles are from watching Eminem's film 8 Mile, but talking with Mark so intrigued me that I went to see his event later, which was undoubtedly the most entertaining poetry evening I've ever been to.

The actual rap battle videos are quite sweary (one of them has over 4 million views), but you can see a family-friendly version here, where Mark talks about taking rap battles into schools. The thing I loved most about his gig was the way he wove stories about his teaching experiences in between poetry recitations; it was great comedy.


After the reception, my Oliver and the Seawigs and Cakes in Space co-author Philip Reeve and I hosted the annual Book Fanatics' Quiz Night (see the previous post). The next day was Schools Day, and I spent the morning with the kids at Marown Primary School.

I led an Oliver and the Seawigs session with Years 2-4 and we finished by drawing Sea Monkeys and singing the Sea Monkey sea shanty.

These cheeky Sea Monkeys made me laugh:

The youngest children, Reception and Year 1, had already been reading Jampires, so I was able to build on what they already knew. We started out by drawing Jampires (who love jam), but then I had them think of their favourite food, and invent a little critter that might be obsessed with it. We even did a little bit of world building, talking about their creatures' homeland, filled entirely with their favourite food, and we drew trees with the food hanging from them (sausages, chocolate, salmon, etc).

Besides the Jampires, it was fun seeing Pizzapires, Sausagepires, Chocopires...

And then I finished with the oldest kids, Years 5 & 6. I led them in a Comics Jam, which was quite intense.

It's always fun watching them at the end of the session, when their comic is returned to them, and they can see where other kids have taken their story.

This loo door made me laugh, but no, the Marown staff do not have visible horns! Huge thanks to the school's Literacy Coordinator Megan Udy, who organised my visit, and to Nicki McMullin, from festival sponsor Isle of Man Bank, who drove me to my events.

I did solo events in the morning, but I was glad to join up with Philip in the afternoon for a shorter visit Cronk-y-Berry School. (Isn't that a great name?).

In the evening, we had a Serious Literary Event in St Bridget's Chapel on the gorgeous Nunnery Estate, just outside of Douglas. (Here's Philip being all posey in the evening sunlight.)

We were joined in our event by novelist Sara Crowe, author of Bone Jack
, and we talked on the subject of 'Creating a Lifelong Love of Words'. A lot of what I talked about was the importance of visuals in getting kids reading, their love of comics, and the importance of making books to inspire kids to love books. You can get an idea of what I talked about in an earlier blog post I wrote here, about setting up school comics festivals. Actually, we talked about A LOT, but you really had to be there. Come to one of our events sometime!

The next morning was Cakes in Space morning, and I assembled various bits of my costume on the hotel window ledge. Standard illustrator equipment, you see.

And then we went to Douglas' Family Library, where we were met by an eager crowd, and possibly our youngest ever!

We demonstrated the power of SCIENCE with the Nom-O-Tron:

Delighted everyone with the tuneful strains of our Cakes in Space song:

And presented awards for the best Cakes in Space-themed craft projects! Check out THIS HAT:

Utter genius, such a beautiful hat! It was created by the contest winner, a boy named David. Hurrah!

The hat was almost good enough to eat. (Stop that, Reeve!)

Oo, look, David also made a Cakes in Space Poglite! So fabulous!

We didn't get explanations for these drawings, but they looked pretty amazing.

And we also did a bit of drawing ourselves, on the day!

I led the group in drawing Pilbeam the robot, whose voice was so expertly reenacted by Philip.

Check out some of these great Pilbeams!

When we first started doing our Cakes in Space event, Philip and I were worried that drawing Pilbeam would be too complicated. But somehow, the step-by-step approach seems to work with even very young children. You can learn how to draw Pilbeam (as well as Astra and killer cakes) over on my website here.

One of the nice things about the book signing session after the event is getting to see people's drawings up close, and having little chats with everyone.

Big thanks, Family Library team, for a great morning! We were so pleased to see wonderful decorations everywhere, and the competition was a real bonus!

After a quick costume change, our next stop was Laxey Glen Gardens for the Roald Dahl Family Day, where we did an open air Oliver and the Seawigs event. And we got to hang out with fabulously funny writer Mark Lowery! If you haven't read his Socks are Not Enough, go read it now, it had me laughing and dying with embarrassment for its main character.

One of the cool things about the Isle of Man was just HOW many people had read Philip's books. Here's a Murderous Maths fanboy popping out from the trees, and so many people told him how his Mortal Engines books had a huge impact on them. Even Mark Grist said he walked into a lamppost reading the end of A Darkling Plain.

We were VERY lucky for sunny weather for the stage event, and we had to shout quite a lot to be heard, but we had a good audience and the dog on the stage slept peacefully throughout the show. Thanks to everyone who came along!

We were hoping to do a bit of sightseeing, and just before we left, festival Treasurer Pam Cope kindly drove us to Peel, for a look at its magnificent castle. I'd been to the Isle of Man for a wedding 13 years ago, and I'd forgotten an awful lot, but I knew Peel Castle would be worth revisiting. And gosh, it's pretty.

And so many interesting parts to explore! Hey, where has that Reeve gone off to?

Hmm, something's flitting through that bit of ruin there...

Let's zoom in. Ah, 'tis just a little Manx fairie.

Of course, in such a dramatic location, one must create dramatic album cover photos:

And I took a photo of a beautiful, rusty, old boat in Peel Harbour, for Ian McQue, who draws such things so well.

Festival photographer Steve Babb had us pose with the local Viking rope sculpture, and tweeted that we were arguing over our next book title.

Here's my photo of Steve! He was great fun and took so many terrific photos! Thanks, Steve!

Manx Lit Fest was a brilliant festival and I recommend it to any authors or visitors. So much to see and do! Huge thanks to the festival team (having a tiny breather in a Peel cafe): Festival Director John Quirke, Pam Cope, Jane Quirke and Technician Andrew Kniveton.


But that's not the whole team, there were SO many other people involved, driving, running events, baking, you name it. Here's volunteer Rakie Keig, the person who drove me from the airport:

Harri Sansostri with the excellent staff of Bridge Bookshop in Port Erin, who sold books at our events:

And one more photo of John Quirke, just because in the Mortal Engines books, 'Quirke' is a god, and that is undoubtedly why we got invited, ha ha... Thank you so much, John and team for a brilliant festival!

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12. Its Fall-time for Oliver.

I've stretched out the summer to the last warm beach day but alas...its Fall. I do actually enjoy the season and had a chance to indulge my love for this time of year in New England a few years ago while illustrating Oliver Finds his Way by Phyllis Root. The board book is still available at your favorite independent bookstore. Visit my site, http://www.christopherdenise.com, for quick links to purchase past titles.

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13. The past is never dead.

On page 21 of Fourth Down and Inches, author Carla Killough McClafferty quotes an entry from the private diary of the coach of the Harvard University football team. In that entry, the coach, who was the highest second-highest paid employee of the university, recounts minimizing a player's concussion to avoid a PR disaster: "Since football is being severely criticized just at present, a case of concussion on the brain would be very serious.” The year? 1905.

Nothing has changed.

“The normally well-oiled public relations machine at the University of Michigan has been clanking badly in the past four days as the Ann Arbor school deals with the fallout from football coach Brady Hoke's decision to play a concussed player.”

Well, not exactly nothing. Now the coaches are apparently worse at handling the PR and they get paid more than anyone at the university. (Brady Hoke gets $4.6 million.)

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14. Check Out Rio's Playlist! {ATLANTIA by Ally Condie} #AtlantiaAbove

Hello my lovelies! I hope you're ready for a treat! Today, as part of the ATLANTIA blog tour, we have the amazing Ally Condie with us to talk about her new heroine, Rio! Rio has been trapped below the sea, in the underwater world of Atlantia for her entire life. Now all she wants is to go Above, to see the sky and feel the sun. Although living under the sea sounds fun at first, I think

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15. Talking About Life and Death

     by Sally Matheny
Talking About Life and Death

     We were seventeen years old and looking forward to graduation when it happened.

     Our friendship began only a year and a half earlier. Her family had recently moved to North Carolina from Ohio. The school year had already begun. She was the new kid without friends and she had cancer.

     Our Junior Civinettes club went to her house to welcome her to the neighborhood and to introduce ourselves as her new friends. We were nervous about going because we didn’t know anyone our age with cancer. I knew my boyfriend’s mother had survived Hodgkin’s.  That’s what this girl, Jan, had so she was probably going to be alright.

     Jan and I became good friends. We hung out at school and visited each other’s homes. We never talked about cancer or life and death. We didn’t talk about it when her sandy blonde hair began to fall out. She only asked if I’d help her brush off the loose hairs from her sweater.  I did.

     We didn’t talk about life and death when she came to school one day wearing a wig and people began to whisper. And stare. I just walked with her.   

     We didn’t talk about life and death when she grew weaker. She only asked if I’d help carry her books.  I did, and when I couldn’t, I enlisted others to help.  Jan had many friends. She always smiled and made conversation easy for those who dared to come close to her. A teen with cancer is a difficult thing to understand. I tried not to think about that. Jan was fun to be with and I knew she would get well.

A teen with cancer is a difficult thing to understand.

     So, we didn’t talk about life and death. Not when we had to stop and let her rest a lot when playing tennis, not when she missed school, not when I drove her to chemotherapy, not when she had to have a hysterectomy.

     I thought life and death were things people talked about when they got old.

     Except Jan did not get old. She died.

     Then, I panicked because Jan and I had not talked about life and death. As nice as she was, I didn’t know if my dear friend believed in Jesus Christ. And then, it was too late.

     Sure, I had considered talking to Jan before. But, I was afraid that if I talked about such things, she would think that I assumed she was going to die. I didn’t want her to think that because I didn’t think she was going to die.

     My heart grieved the loss of my friend and ached because I had failed her. The burden became too great. Before the funeral, I asked Jan’s mom. She assured me Jan was a Christian. Relief came, but not peace. I still failed my friend. I could have been more encouraging to her during her difficult journey by talking about the hope in Christ we shared. Why had I not prayed withher instead of just for her?

     I was given a bittersweet gift my senior year in high school—a glimpse of how quickly things pass— opportunities, friends, life. No one is guaranteed tomorrow. No one.

Life is fleeting.

Today is the day to talk about death and eternal life.


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Check it out: Publishers Weekly noticed Fun & Games!

Jon is a normal teenager about to start college, but in Slater’s novel he finds that he can’t move forward in life until he comes to terms with his family’s past. While his grandmother is a Holocaust survivor, his father vehemently avoids religion. Jon’s two older sisters are a handful: Nadia is a manipulator, with her fingers in everything the family does, and Olivia is toeing the line between virgin and professional soft-porn star. When an incident at Hebrew school sends the rabbi to Jon’s house, it precipitates a crisis of faith that causes their father to abandon them for Israel, where he is killed. As Jon departs for college, accompanied by two of his best friends, the lies and intrigues get deeper, and the more he learns about his family, the more he realizes he doesn’t know them. When he returns home for a wedding, tragedy strikes and forces the family to reach a reckoning with their lies. The characters manage to be both familiar and well-realized individuals, and beneath the banal suburban setting hide deep troubles. Slater finds a successful tone between comedy and pathos that carries readers through some of the less plausible twists, even making the violent ending work. While Jon’s best friends could be more clearly defined, Jon’s own progression is strong. Slater has painted an intimate and memorable family portrait. (BookLife)
Reviewed on: 09/29/2014 

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17. But What

What a wonderful poet is Judith Herzberg. On the recommendation of my friend Cath I read Herzberg’s But What: Selected Poems. The poems are selected from five of her published collections with an additional section of five new poems. This book of selected was published in 1988 with early versions of some of the poems appearing in magazines and books as far back as 1980. All of the poems are translated from Dutch by the same person though, Shirley Kaufman.

The collection provides selections from Herzberg’s first book of poetry, Zeepost, published in 1963, to Dagrest, published in 1984. During that time period Herzberg published seven books of poetry so two of them are not represented in this collection. Still, it manages to provide a nice line of development through time. However, since Herzberg is still living, you could say it covers only her early work.

The poems tend to be one page, two pages at the most. Her style is short, crisp, she has an edge as opposed to being gentle and musical as some poets are. She writes of every day things. Her tone is often melancholy, musing on life, death, place. Her poems don’t flow over you as you read, they stick to you and ask you to stop and consider for a while.

Herzberg writes things like,

We live off the intentions of our intentions.
’We Live’


To know there are rhododendrons on
     the slopes of the Himalayas
is not enough.


We are tomato flowers
in our buttonholes and will never grow up to be

Herzberg doesn’t do humor so when it shows up in ‘How Far’ it took me by surprise:

He always used to look out through the OO’s
of his DOOR, but now there are glasses in front
of his eyes that enlarge the business.

Except I should have known that this was a ruse, that this man with “eye-hunger” was not going to remain funny.

One of my favorite poems in the book, “Shoes,” comes late and is this short little gem:

Every morning, between putting on
his right and his left shoe,
his whole life quuickly passes by.
Sometimes he almost doesn’t
get around to the left one.

These are poems not to be rushed through. They are not terribly difficult but they do agitate the brain. Sadly, not much of Herzberg’s poetry has been translated into English. Even if you are not a big poetry reader, you are sure to find something to like in this selected collection.

Filed under: Books, Poetry, Reviews

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18. Aaron Blabey’s Lessons With a Twist

Aaron Blabey is an actor-turned children’s author and illustrator, having great success with award-winning books including Pearl Barley and Charlie Parsley, The Ghost of Miss Annabel Spoon, and Pig the Pug, which is becoming one of Australia’s best selling picture books. Fortunate to have Sunday Chutney as the chosen book to be read in schools […]

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19. WD Poetic Form Challenge: Madrigal Winner

I’m sorry for taking so long to share the winner of the madrigal challenge. I’ve known for a week or two now, but you know what they say about good things coming to those who wait, right? If you don’t, trust me on this one.

Thank you to everyone who submitted a madrigal! They were really fun to read, and I found myself constantly caught up in their musical nature.

My initial short list included 22 poems, but I’m always stuck having to pick one winner. This time around, that winner is Bruce Niedt for his poem “Senior Discount,” which won me over with its humor.

Here’s the winning Madrigal:

Senior Discount, by Bruce Niedt

Apparently I’ve reached a certain age
where I’m forgiven at least ten percent.
I wonder how and when my youth was spent.

The movies, the museum and the stage
all offer handsome discounts for this gent.
Apparently I’ve reached a certain age
where I’m forgiven at least ten percent.

Nobody checks ID, they simply gauge
me by my face and how my spine is bent.
Free coffee doesn’t ease my discontent.
Apparently I’ve reached a certain age
where I’m forgiven at least ten percent.
I wonder how and when my youth was spent.


Win $1,000 for Your Poetry!

Writer’s Digest is offering a contest strictly for poets with a top prize of $1,000, publication in Writer’s Digest magazine, and a copy of the 2015 Poet’s Market. There are cash prizes for Second ($250) and Third ($100) Prizes, as well as prizes for the Top 25.

The early bird deadline is October 1 and costs $15 for the first poem, $10 for each additional poem. Enter as often as you’d like.

Click here to learn more.


Here is the Top 10 list:

  1. “Senior Discount,” by Bruce Niedt
  2. “A Tree in an English Garden,” by William Preston
  3. “Christina’s World,” by RJ Clarken
  4. “What She Needs,” by Taylor Graham
  5. “A Conversation with Nana,” by Nancy Posey
  6. “Windthrift,” by Jane Shlensky
  7. “The Unneeded Weed,” by Susan Schoeffield
  8. “Passion Play,” by James Von Hendy
  9. “Midsummer Night,” by Daniel Ari
  10. “Barbecue,” by Andrew Kreider

Congratulations to Bruce and everyone in the Top 10! And thank you to everyone who took the time to participate and comment on each others’ poems.

The next WD Poetic Form Challenge is already in motion for the terzanelle. Click here for the guidelines and to participate.

Also, be sure to read through the 450+ comments from the madrigal challenge. Click to continue.


roberttwitterimageRobert Lee Brewer is Senior Content Editor of the Writer’s Digest Writing Community and author of the poetry collection, Solving the World’s Problems (Press 53). He edits Poet’s Market, Writer’s Market, and Guide to Self-Publishing, in addition to writing a free weekly WritersMarket.com newsletter and poetry column for Writer’s Digest magazine.

He loves hosting, reading, and judging these challenges.

Follow him on Twitter @robertleebrewer.


More poetic good stuff here:

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20. Falling Leaves

The breezes blow, the leaves drift down
And settle on the grass.
Before we blink an eye, we know
This, too, shall come to pass.

For soon the trees will all be bare
As winter makes its mark.
We'll wake and have our evening meal
Both when it's nearly dark.

The icicles will form and drip;
We'll watch them while indoors
And jackets made of down or wool
Will fill the racks in stores.

But wait! I've jumped the gun a bit,
For leaves still mostly cling
As I await the changes
That the autumn winds will bring.

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21. Want: Gertie the Dinosaur and Winsor McCay Figurine

This Gertie the Dinosaur and tuxedoed Winsor McCay garage kit is especially appropriate in 2014, the 100th anniversary of McCay's seminal animated film.

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22. The Little Devil and the Rose: Lotería Poems / El diablito y la rosa: Poemas de la lotería

By Viola Canales

ISBN: 978-1-55885-792-6
Format: Paperback

Pages: 143

In her ode to “The Umbrella,” Viola Canales remembers a family story about her mother, who every Saturday as a child “popped open her prized child’s bright umbrella / as did her little sister / and followed their mother’s adult one / from their Paloma barrio home / to downtown Main Street McAllen / walking like ducks in a row / street after street,” until one Saturday “the littlest one disappeared / inside the wilderness of Woolworth’s.” Warm-hearted recollections of family members are woven through this collection of 54 poems, in English and Spanish, which uses the images from loteríacards to pay homage to small-town, Mexican-American life along the Texas-Mexico border.
Cultural traditions permeate these verses, from the curanderaswho cure every affliction to the daily ritual of the afternoon merienda, or snack of sweet breads and hot chocolate. The community’s Catholic tradition is ever-present; holy days, customs and saints are staples of daily life. San Martín de Porres, or “El Negrito,” was her grandmother’s favorite saint, “for although she was pale too / she’d lived through the vestiges of the Mexican war / the loss of land, culture, language, and control / and it was El Negrito to whom she turned for hope” to bring enemies together.
Fond childhood memories of climbing mesquite trees and eating raspas are juxtaposed with an awareness of the disdain with which Mexican Americans are regarded. Texas museums, just like its textbooks, feature cowboy boots worn by Texas Rangers, but have no “clue or sign of the vaqueros, the original cowboys / or the Tejas, the native Indians there.” And some childhood memories aren’t so happy. In “The Hand,” she writes: “In the morning I arrived at my first grade class / knowing no English / at noon I got smacked by the teacher / for speaking Spanish outside, in the playground.”
Inspired by the archetypes found in the Mexican bingo game called lotería, these poems reflect the history—of family, culture and war—rooted in the Southwest for hundreds of years.

Viola Canales is the author of Orange Candy Slices and Other Secret Tales (Piñata Books, 2001) and The Tequila Worm (Wendy Lamb Books, 2007), winner of the Pura Belpré Award and the PEN USA Award. A graduate of Harvard College and Harvard Law School, she was a captain in the U.S. Army and worked as a litigation and trial attorney. In 1994, she was appointed by President Bill Clinton to the U.S. Small Business Administration. She lives in Stanford, California.

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23. A Brief History of Video Games Played by Mayors, Presidents, and Emperors

Brandon Bartlett, the fictional mayor of Portland in my novel Sherwood Nation, is addicted to playing video games. In a city he's all but lost control of, he relishes the little bit of control that can be got by sticking oneself behind the cockpit of a WWII airplane or facing off against a small band [...]

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24. Fall for a Good Storytime

You guys. It is October. ALREADY. Which means you’re probably inundated with requests for fall-themed books and storytimes. I’m here to help. There are tons of resources for Fall Storytime available on the internet, whether you’re a storytime newbie or a seasoned storytimer looking to shake things up a bit. Here are some of my favorites:


  • Bear Has a Story to Tell by Phillip C. Stead, illustrated by Erin E. Stead (Roaring Brook Press, 2012) – Animals are preparing for winter and Bear has a story to tell before he settles down to sleep.
  • The Busy Little Squirrel by Nancy Tafuri (Simon & Schuster Books for Young Readers, 2006) – How does a squirrel get ready for winter? This could be a great STEM conversation starter!
  • Fall is Not Easy by Marty Kelley (Zino Press Children’s Books, 1998) – This hilarious book will get kids laughing as a tree tries its hardest to put on proper fall colors.
  • I See Fall by Charles Ghigna, illustrated by Ag Jatkowska (Picture Window Books, 2011) – Make sure you include books featuring diverse children in your fall storytimes!
  • Kitten’s Autumn by Eugenie Fernandes (Kids Can Press, 2010) – Mixed media art and simple rhyming text make this one a great one for sharing.
  • Leaf Jumpers by Carole Gerber, illustrated by Leslie Evans (Charlesbridge, 2004) – Rhyming text describes the different colored leaves we see on different trees in the fall.
  • Leaf Man by Lois Ehlert (HMH Books for Young Readers, 2005) – Illustrations made of fall leaves make this a great one for talking about leaves changing with older preschoolers or early elementary kids.
  • Mouse’s First Fall by Lauren Thompson (Simon & Schuster Books for Children, 2006) – Simple text makes this a winner for sharing with very young children.
  • Poppleton in Fall by Cynthia Rylant, illustrated by Mark Teague (Blue Sky Press, 1999) – I love to read the story “The Geese” with older preschoolers and early elementary kids.
  • Pumpkins by Ken Robbins (Square Fish, 2006) – The photo illustrations make this a great nonfiction choice for adding some STEM content to your storytime. Don’t be afraid to paraphrase.
  • That Pup! by Lindsay Barrett George (Greenwillow Books, 2011) – A spunky puppy has been digging and finding treasures all over the yard – acorns!
  • Too Many Pumpkins by Linda White, illustrated by Megan Lloyd (Holiday House, 1993) – After a pumpkin went SPLAT! in the garden, Rebecca Estelle has too many pumpkins!
  • We’re Going on a Leaf Hunt by Steve Metzger, illustrated by Miki Sakamoto (Cartwheel Books, 2005) – Using the familiar cadence of “We’re Going on a Bear Hunt”, this trio is off to find some colorful fall leaves.

(Thanks to the following awesome Twitter librarians for suggesting titles for this list: @Jbrary, @MelissaZD, @misskubelik, @pussreboots, @taletrekker)

Flannel Stories/Rhymes/Activities:

Photo by Abby Johnson

Photo by Abby Johnson

The Perfect Pumpkin. A felt pumpkin and a lot of black felt shapes lead to experimenting with jack-o-lantern creation. Use different shapes to create different faces – some scary, sad, or funny – and ask the kids what shapes you should use to create the perfect pumpkin!

Build a Pumpkin Patch. Pass out felt pumpkins and call kids up to put their pumpkins in the patch based on what color they’re wearing (e.g. “If you’re wearing red today, red today, red today, If you’re wearing red today, please bring up your pumpkin!”). An alternative if you have a large crowd would be to make felt pumpkins of different shapes and sizes (large, small, flat, skinny, triangular) and build a pumpkin patch together, asking for the kids’ help in describing the different shapes and colors they see.

Photo by Abby Johnson

Photo by Abby Johnson

Fall is Not Easy. The trim size of the above-mentioned book by Marty Kelley is a bit small for sharing with a big group. We’ve turned it into a felt story for hilarious fun!


Photo by Abby Johnson

Fall Leaves Felt. You can do a lot with some felt leaf shapes. We hand them out to the kids and call colors to bring up to the board. You can also talk about what colors they are, use them with the above-mentioned story We’re Going on a Leaf Hunt by Steve Metzger, or use them with a “five little leaves” rhyme or song (try Five Little Leaves).

Bring in some real fall leaves to explore! You can make leaf rubbings, arrange the leaves to make pictures (a la Leaf Man), let kids sort by color or size, or put out some magnifying glasses to let kids take a closer look.


More resources!

You can find more Fall Storytime plans at the following sites:

What are your favorite readalouds and activities for Fall Storytime?

— Abby Johnson, Children’s Services Manager
New Albany-Floyd County Public Library
New Albany, IN

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25. Tomorrow in NYC: An Evening with the National Film Board of Canada

Tomorrow night in Manhattan, the National Film Board of Canada will present its latest films.

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