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Quick snap from our recent visit to Mass Moca in North Adams, MA. It’s always good to get to a museum just to let it fill you up.
This here is Maggie, 14, proudly wearing her new “Kale” sweatshirt. To the right, that’s Gavin, 15, who basically does not approve of photographs. I’m nearly six feet tall, but Gavin is quickly closing the gap.
My oldest son, Nicholas, is not in this photo because he’s a senior in college at Geneseo, NY.
Rose, stretched out on Beanie’s bunk reading Paradise Lost. Beside her, the bluebook she writes compositions in for the Spanish class she’s taking the community college, and a battered paperback copy of The Wizard of Earthsea.
Beanie, sitting on Rilla’s unmade* bed, drawing a sketch of Rose. Beside her, her Journey North Mystery Class chart.
Rilla and Huck in a corner of the living room, in the midst of a litter of Legos, deep in some complex game. Their tones are urgent, their faces serious. Vast, capricious forces are afflicting a host of small plastic people with a series of grave disasters. Rilla shoots a glance at her fellow demigod, brow furrowed.
“Nobody likes my jokes,” grumps the smaller deity. From the kitchen, I chuckle.
“Ha!” amends Huck. “At least Mom appreciates them.”
Wonderboy’s at school, Jane’s away at college, Scott’s in the back room writing a comic book, and me? I’m just soaking it all in.
*Recently overheard, Rose to Rilla and Huck: “Listen, there’s something you should understand about Mom. If she sees you’re in the middle of a really good make-believe game, she will never interrupt you to make you do your chores.”
On March 5, Marie Mutsuki Mockett and I will be reading and talking about exorcising the past (all meanings of exorcise possible) at McNally Jackson at 6 p.m.
Marie’s wonderful new book, Where the Dead Pause and the Japanese Say Goodbye, is about death and grief and family and ghosts and so much more. She’ll read from it, and I’ll read from the working introduction to my book on the science and superstition of ancestry, and then we’ll talk about all of that and take questions and comments from you. Hope to see you there!
Today’s happy list is three keeper moments from my boys.
1. Huck, wistfully: “I wish no one in this family would have more birthdays. I like everyone the way we are.”
2. A story my friend Patti told me. Last Friday afternoon, Patti organized a wonderful St. Valentine’s Day party in the park for the kids in our homeschooling group. It fell during my work time, so Patti offered to keep an eye on Huck and Rilla for me so they could attend the party. So nice! Today she told me that in the thick of the festivities, Huck came up to her with a pine cone. “This is for you,” he said, “because that’s how much I love you.”
So basically this kid just has me melting all over the place these days. And I know how he feels—I wouldn’t mind having a six-year-old around at all times.
3. Wonderboy has a recurring kind of email he likes to send to family and close friends, describing what he wants to be when he grows up. Sometimes it’s a teacher or a “pet shop man” or a UPS driver. Today it was a librarian. As always, he included a long and detailed list of holiday hours—you wouldn’t believe how many holidays his library has special hours of operation for. After the list come the ground rules. If you want to visit his branch, here’s what you should know:
1. Please do not talk on the phone as you come in.
2. Do not run.
3. No yelling.
4. Please check out book.
5. Please return your library book as you are done.
6. No gum.
7. No slamming.
8. No child should be bringing toys.
9. Please bring your key and library card.
10. Use the computer if you want.
11. As it closing time, just quietly leave.
12. No iPod or iPad or Computer, or DS or WII.
13. Bring a bag if you have so many books.
14. Bring a bag if you return so much.
15. Please Park somewhere near the library.
16. Please lock your car if someone gonna steal it.
17. No animal noises.
18. No hitting and eating books.
19. No ripping books.
20. No crashing.
Illustration by Jamie Smith from Jigsaw Jones #10: The Case of the Ghostwriter. This is one of my favorite illustrations from the entire series for reasons explained below. Jamie gave me the original artwork — for free, here, take it — and now I hang it on my office wall, and it always makes me think of my brother. Every day.
In what I hope will be a recurring feature on an irregular schedule, I thought I’d try to convey some of the background to each of my Jigsaw Jones titles.
And in no particular order.
The Case of the Ghostwriter has a lot of cool little things in it that most readers might miss.
I dedicated this book to Frank Hodge, a near-celebrity local bookseller on Lark Street in Albany, who is known and beloved by many area teachers and librarians. He’s one of Albany’s living treasures. When I moved to the area from Brooklyn, in 1990, Frank’s store, Hodge-Podge Books, was right around the corner. Of course, I stopped in and we became friends. I actually put Frank in this story: a guy named Frank owns a store called Hedgehog Books. I even included his cat, Crisis. Jigsaw and Mila visit Frank’s store in the hopes of tracking down a mysterious author.
Chapter Eight begins:
Hedgehog Books was a cozy little store. Our parents had been taking Mila and me since we were little. My mom said that Frank’s favorite thing was to bring books and kids together.
In the story, there’s a series of popular books — The Creep Show series — loosely modeled on R.L. Stine’s “Goosebumps.” Mila has been eating them up, reading titles such as Green Wet Slime and Teenage Zombie from Mars. The author’s name on the cover, a pen name, is R.V. King. (Ho-ho.) There’s a rumor that he’s coming to visit room 201 for the “Author’s Tea.” Who can the Mystery Author be? I bet you can guess.
For me, the part I’m proudest of in this book is Chapter Seven, “My Middle Name,” a tribute to my oldest brother, Neal, who passed away in 1993, a few months after my first son, Nicholas, was born.
Ms. Gleason has the students reading family stories in class, Abuela by Arthur Dorros and The Keeping Quilt by Patricia Pollaco. The students, including Jigsaw and Mila, are asked to write their own family stories.
To research his family stories, Jigsaw interrupts his parents while they are playing chess. “Now’s not a good time,” his father replies. “I’m trying to destroy your dear mother.” (I always liked that line.)
At bed that night, Jigsaw and his father have a heart to heart. Mr. Jones tells Jigsaw about his middle name, Andrew, who was Jigsaw’s uncle. Now this part is totally true, because my son’s middle name is Neal, after his uncle.
“And he died,” I said.
“Yes,” he said. “Andrew died.” I heard the air leave my father’s lips. The sound of a deep sigh.
I put my head on his shoulder. “Why did you name me after him?”
They talk some more:
That’s when I noticed it. The water in his eyes. A single tear, then another, slid down his cheek. My father was crying. I’d never seen him cry before. It made me nervous.
“Don’t be sad, Dad.” I hugged him with both arms, tight.
He wiped the tears away with the back of his sleeve.
He sniffed hard and smiled.
“I’m not sad, Jigsaw,” he said. “It’s just that I remember little things that happened. Little things Andrew said or did. And I’ll always miss him.”
“Can you tell me?” I asked. “About the little things?”
My father checked his watch. “Not tonight, son. It’s late already. But I will tomorrow, promise.”
“Good night, Dad,” I said. “I’m sorry you’re sad.”
“Don’t be sorry,” he said. “That’s life, I guess. Sometimes we lose the good ones. Good night, Theodore Andrew Jones. Sleep tight.”
Then he shut the door.
I’d never attempt to read that chapter aloud to a group. I can never read it without remembering, without crying. I guess in that scene, I’m Jigsaw’s dad — and my son, Nicholas Neal Preller, stands in for Jigsaw, trying to learn about an uncle, my brother, whom he never had the chance to meet.
1. I forgot (again) to pinch off the cilantro and it went (again) to seed. Every year I do this, and every year I glance across the yard one day and feel a rush of joy. I never think to put it on the list if you ask my what my favorite flowers are, but truly: cilantro is my favorite, even above milkweed. Unsophisticated blossoms, insubstantial at first glance, but blooming with such exuberance, beckoning the bees, mingling sociably with the sunny marguerites. Oh, I love them.
2. The stack of homemade Valentines on the kitchen table, slivers of colored paper confettied all over the floor
3. The sight of small boys in bright hats running up a green hill
4. Got the lawn mowed
5. Thought I had to make a health insurance phone call and then did not have to make it
On Monday my son will celebrate his 14th birthday. Please allow me to indulge for a moment and show you how much he's grown, while I have a good cry over how fast these years have flown by.
Monday is also my brother's birthday, but I don't think he'd appreciate me broadcasting his age. Suffice it to say he's my BIG brother. Here's a photo of the two of us on one of his birthday celebrations many moons ago. He's all about the cake while I'm mugging for the camera.
Today I'm sharing early birthday wishes, love, and a silly poem in their honor. Birthday Lights by Calef Brown
Light bulbs on a birthday cake. What a difference that would make! Plug it in and make a wish, then relax and flip a switch! No more smoke or waxy mess to bother any birthday guests.
It feels like forever since I’ve run a Fast Five post! So long, perhaps I need to explain myself again. Fast Fives are books thematically grouped together. Here are some that still get plenty of views:
Today’s Fast Five books are ones I devoured with infants at home. Those early days, I wasn’t good for much other than baby care and reading (how perfect is it that feeding a baby fits so nicely with cruising through a book?). My boys are middle schoolers now, but these five books continue to be favorites:
The first time I saw this book I was a freshman in college, but didn’t read it until years later when I found it in a used bookstore. Possession now ties for first place (with The Count of Monte Cristo ) as my favorite book of all time. There’s poetry! Romance! Mystery! History! Dual story lines that weave in and out of one another! A ticking clock! And overall there is spectacular, spectacular writing.
My freshman year at Hendrix College, my History of Christianity professor showed us the movie version of The Name of the Rose. This is the only Eco novel I’ve ever read (something I must remedy someday). It’s monks, middle-ages, and mystery — super engrossing. A great read.
This is the book The King and I musical was based on. I’ve had a life-long crush on Yul Brynner (don’t laugh) and had recently seen Anna and the King, a 1999 movie based on the same true story of British school teacher Anna Leonowens‘s experiences teaching in the court of Siamese King Mongkut. While the book has been criticized for some cultural inaccuracies, the story is a true adventure.
Margaret George is a master. As a historical novelist, I’ve learned it’s vital to make sense of a character’s actions and motivations as they unfold alongside true history. Margaret George has this down pat. One of the things that continues to stick out for me is George’s ability to make the Egyptian / Roman battles come alive. And then there’s the Julius Caesar and Mark Antony romances. Goodness all around.
Flor and Sylvie are the best of friends. They live on Moonpenny Island - a small island that only boasts 200 residents when all of the summer folks leave. Even though Sylvie and Flor seem quite different from one another, they compliment each other very well. Sylvie doesn't make fun of Flor's fears, and when she does laugh at her, it's not the kind of laugh that hurts her feelings.
Imagine Flor's surprise when Sylvie announces that she is leaving Moonpenny and moving to the mainland in order to live with her aunt and her uncle and attend private school. It seems that Sylvie's big brother's mess ups have made her parents want a better situation for her.
One day, Flor goes off on her bicycle to hang out in the old quarry after her parents have a fight. She runs into a girl she doesn't know! It's a girl with hiking boots wearing an oversized sweatshirt. She says her dad is a geologist, and that they are on Moonpenny Island because of all of the fossils. The girls strike up an awkward friendship and not unlike Flor and Sylvie, Flor and new girl Jasper need each other.
What follows is a poignant story of friendship, family and change. Springstubb is at her very best as she coaxes the characters along in their journeys and sets the stage for the story to unfold. This is the summer that everything is changing for Flor and her family. It's that eye opening summer...the one where a certain degree of innocence is lost and truths are revealed. The juxtaposition of the three families gives readers much to think about.
The Children’s Book Review | January 31, 2015 Enter to win a hardcover copy of A Dozen Cousins (Sterling Children’s Books, February 3, 2015), story by Lori Haskins Houran and illustrations by Sam Usher. One (1) winner receives: A hardcover copy of A Dozen Cousins Age Range: 4-6 Giveaway begins January 31, 2015, at 12:01 A.M. PST and ends February 28, 2016, […]
From bound manuscripts to the National Book Award dinner, from home to far away, from family to friends to strangers to new friends, from schools to conferences, from high to low, from hard work to a few lazy days...
0 Comments on the characters of fall as of 1/25/2015 2:17:00 PM
First, a definition: Fantasmagory: a dream-like state where real life and imagination are blurred together.
From chapter one: My name is Dory, but everyone calls me Rascal. This is my family. I am the little kid. My sister's name is Violet and my brother's name is Luke. Violet is the oldest. Violet and Luke never want to play with me. They say I'm a baby. "Mom! Rascal is bothering us!" "What is she doing?" calls my mother. "She's looking at us!" "She's breathing." (1-2)
I loved, loved, LOVED Abby Hanlon's Dory Fantasmagory. I guess I'm not the only one. This one received starred reviews from Publishers Weekly, Kirkus, and School Library Journal. I've just read it, and already I can't wait for the next book in the series: Dory and the Real True Friend. (July).
Dory is six. But. She still likes to stay in her nightgown instead of getting dressed. Even winter nightgowns, inside out and backwards in the summer. She has an imaginary friend, Mary, that is her best, best friend. Would Dory play with Luke and Violet if they let her? Sure!!! She'd love to play with either one or both. But. Since they don't want her near them, well, Mary is good and reliable to have around.
There are a few things you should know about Dory. One, Dory has a BIG imagination. She tends to live in a world all her own, a blurred reality, of sorts. Two, Dory's nickname I admit is a good one. Throughout the book she does indeed act like a Rascal. I could see how Dory's behavior could prove problematic for her parents. (Readers do see them getting upset with her, acting frustrated, etc.)
So. One day Luke and Violet decide to "scare" Dory. They tell her about Mrs. Gobble Gracker.... It doesn't take either one long to regret their brief venture into fantasy. They can't win against the force that is their younger sister. Soon Mrs. Gobble Gracker is ALL Dory is talking about. All of her play centers on this imaginary villain.
How far will she take it? You may or may not be surprised! This is one you're going to want to read for yourself.
I tend not to blog much these days but am trying to get back to it and write more than what I would put on Facebook. If you’ve read by blog for a while, you know how much I love family history and keeping connected with memories. This is one of those posts.
Yesterday my Great Aunt Trudy passed away and she was the last one of my “Greats.” I always loved this Dorthea Lange-ish photo of her. Taken around 1940 would be my guess.
She was my grandmother’s sister and it was fun to listen to what sisters in their 80′s would talk about. She was such a sweet lady and for whatever reason, when I think of her, I think of pastel colors, pinks and peaches. I don’t really associate colors with people, but I always have with her. Maybe I only saw her in the spring and summertime and those were the colors she would wear. Not sure.
She was 95 years old and had a small and crackly voice that complimented her shrinking stature as she got older. I was actually just telling my kids about her little voice a few days ago. She retired from Walgreens years ago, and today I always prefer to shop there over any other drug store just because of the kindness and generosity the company showed her, especially when her husband passed away. She was a real sweet lady and by her passing, today she gave me the gift of looking through old family pictures and remembering the sweet and kind legacy I have.
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I’m going to blog every day this year!
Well, obviously I didn’t mean weekends.
::mutter mutter:: Look, that Downton episode was over 90 minutes long. These things take time! A LOT of time. Like, I’d have had to start writing in 1924 to have a recap ready to publish by Monday morning.
It’s ready to go live! Now I can get back to regularly scheduled blogging.
::small boy appears, wants to cuddle::
Hmm, maybe not quite yet.
(Photo taken by Rilla on New Year’s morning. Thanks again for the excellent gift choice, Godmother.)
I’ll be running the Downton posts at GeekMom this year. Episode 1 should go live today; I’ll post the link here when it’s up.
I was lucky enough to receive this ARC a long time ago. It was irresistible. I mean, look at that cover! Read that title! I am a person who has never even had a twinkie, but I knew I needed to read this one. Sometimes a book just gives you a feeling, and this one was calling to me.
Twelve year old Gigi (short for Galileo Galilei) and big sister Didi (short for Delta Dawn) have moved from their trailer park digs in South Carolina to an apartment in Long Island. One of the only things they have brought with them is their late mother's recipe book which helped the girls win big money in a cooking contest, and Didi is set on giving Gigi a better life that she had. Gigi is all registered to go to Hill on the Harbor Preparatory School and as long as she keeps following Didi's recipe for success by studying hard and getting top grades, everything will be great.
But here's the thing...Gigi is ready for some changes. She has even come up with her own recipe for success that doesn't include studying in the library every extra moment of the day. Instead she wants to find friends her own age, try on a new version of her name, and find ways to have the qualities she knows her late mother would see in her shine. Gigi (now Leia) is feeling confident about memorizing her locker combination and her schedule and is ready for her first class on her first day when she crashes into Trip who just happens to be the most beautiful boy she's ever seen, and is also in her English class. All of a sudden this front row girl was sitting in the back row next to Trip.
But change isn't alway smooth or easy, and even though Trip and most of his friends are super nice, mean girl Mace notices Leia's dollar store shoes and less-than-healthy E-Z Cheeze sandwich and makes sure that Leia knows that she is the square peg at school. Leia can handle the insult about the shoes, but nobody makes fun of Didi's cooking!
Readers will be rooting for Leia as she navigates through all sorts of changes in her life. From the tony world of private school to freshly unearthed family secrets, Leia's life is not following any recipe! Kat Yeh has written a treat of a middle grade story that will tug on your heart strings and make you smile in equal measure. The multifaceted characters and rich turns of phrase that had me reading with a twang are only a couple of the reasons I read this book in one big gulp. The Truth About Twinkie Pie is a book with honesty and heart and I cannot wait to share it with the tweens in my life!
For his 11th birthday, Billy Wilson's dad surprised him a German Shepherd puppy. A lot of people were anti-German Sheherds because it was considered a Nazi dog, but Billy loved his, naming her Sheeba. By Billy's 12th birthday, England is at war with Germany, his dad is away in the Army, and his friends have been evacuated to the country, along with most of London's other schoolchildren. But his mum decides to keep Billy and sister Rose, 6, home with her. Still, his dad manages to get leave and find a shiny almost new bike for Billy's birthday.
But soon dad returns to the army, and mum, Billy and Rose spend uncomfortable nights in the Anderson shelter in the backyard in Balham, South London, but no bombs are falling in London yet. But that all changes on September 7, 1940. Now, bombs are falling and the three Wilson's decide go to the nearest Underground station when the air raid sirens go off. That way, they don't hear the sirens, the planes, and the bombs as much.
Night after night they carry blankets to the station, thinking they will be safe. And they are, until Balham Station takes a direct hit. Billy and Rose are separated from their mum, but thanks to the help of a new friend, they make it out of the station. But where is mum? It's hard to see anything in all the chaos, dust and debris, but Billy and Rose insist on waiting for her to come out of the station, until a WVS lady, Mrs. Bartley, makes them leave. After all, bombs are still falling.
Once in a shelter, it is decided by the authorities that Billy and Rose will be sent to Wales for safety - against their will, and with the Major in charge insisting, rather coldly, that they are now orphans. Luckily, at breakfast, they meet a boy about Billy's age called All-Off (because he cut all his hair off), who advises them not to go to Wales. But, although, All-Off gets out of the shelter in time, Billy and Rose are put on a transport truck to Paddington Station and Wales.
Determined to find his mum and to get back home to finally let Sheeba out of the Anderson shelter where she was put for safety, Billy waits for the right opportunity for escape the transport truck. By the time that happens, they are far from home and Billy has no idea how to get back to Balham.
As Billy and Rose make their way home, they meet with even more adventures, setbacks, and disappointments, but Billy finds a best mate in All-Off. Billy also discovers a courage within himself he probably never thought he possessed, as well as a strong sense of responsibility for Rose and Sheeba and it doesn't hurt that his new best mate has some pretty good street smarts.
I loved Barbara Mitchelhill's first WWII novel, Run Rabbit Run, based on real events, it's about a sister and younger brother who must deal with some harsh fallout because their dad is a conscientious objector. Billy's Blitz is also based on a real event. On October 14, 1940, Balham Station was being used as a bomb shelter and really did take a direct bomb hit, killing 64 people. Mitchelhill imagines the aftermath of a terrible disaster for two kids who don't know if their mum made it out alive or not. Her realistic description of the station, in fact of bombed London generally, are really spot on.
What Billy saw when he came out of Balham Station
So is her characterization. Billy is at times afraid, brave, wanting everything back to normal, or wishing someone else could deal with their problems. Rose can be a whiny brat, not realizing the seriousness of their situation, yet she can also be brave and helpful when asked to be. All-Off is a real favorite - definitely his own boy, yet faithful to Billy and Rose. The authorities, concerned only with evacuating orphans, made my toes curl with anger at their lack of empathy. Luckily, there is the WVS (Women's Volunteer Service) lady to counterbalance that.
Billy's Blitz is a compelling realistic novel that gives the reader a true to life picture of London during the Second World War. We tend to think that all of London's children were safely evacuated but many remained in London with their family and often, family members became separated or worse and kids were left to survive by themselves even while dealing with loss and grief. Mitchelhill's novel demonstrates how easy it is for this to happen in the midst of chaos, and how easily the best laid plans can go awry, yet she manages to do this without scaring her young readers.
This is a novel that is sure to please young readers, especially those interested in WWII and/or historical fiction.
This book is recommended for readers age 9+
This book was received from the author
The Paper Cowboy. Kristin Levine. 2014. Penguin. 352 pages. [Source: Library]
"Hands up!" My best friend, Eddie Sullivan, had a newspaper rolled and pointed at me like a gun. He was only twelve, but over the summer he'd grown so much, he looked big enough to be in high school.
I've yet to be disappointed by Kristin Levine's fiction. I loved, loved, loved The Best Bad Luck I Ever Had. I loved, loved, loved The Lions of Little Rock. I still would love to find time to reread both books. Her newest book is The Paper Cowboy. The author's note reveals much: The Best Bad Luck I Ever Had is loosely based on her maternal grandfather's memoirs; The Lions of Little Rock was inspired by her mother's childhood in Arkansas. This newest book? Well, it is based on/influenced by her father's childhood. It is set during the McCarthy era, when the threat of communist spies was very strong no matter how big or small the community.
I'm tempted to keep it brief: READ THIS. But would that do it justice? Probably not. But I don't want to give away too much either.
I love The Paper Cowboy for its humanity. It almost aches with its humanity. There's not one perfect, flawless character within. Tommy, the protagonist, is far from perfect. In fact, he's a bit of a bully. But it's almost impossible to keep standing in judgment of Tommy once you get a glimpse of his home life. Time and time again, readers see a powerless Tommy in heartbreaking situations.
I love The Paper Cowboy for its look at family life. Every member of the family is fully developed. (Well, perhaps with the exception of the baby. Tommy's youngest sister is just three months old when the novel opens!!!) But one really gets relationships in this book. Tommy in relationship with his dad, with his mom, with his older sister, with his younger sisters. And the relationships--no matter if they're "good" or "healthy" or not-so-much, the relationships feel completely authentic. The sibling Tommy is closest to is his sister, Mary Lou, who is badly burned--an accident--near the start of the novel.
I love The Paper Cowboy for its sense of community. I loved getting to know folks in his community. Particularly, I loved his developing relationships with several adults within the community: Mr. McKenzie and Mrs Glazov, Mrs. Scully and Pa and Ma Konecky. I just came to CARE for all the characters, no matter how 'minor.' For example, Mrs. Glazov never felt 'minor' to me at all! I just LOVED, LOVED, LOVED her.
I love The Paper Cowboy for its look at friendship and school life and even bullying. I didn't "love" the book because of its examination or treatment on bullying. I wasn't seeking out a book on bullying. I certainly wasn't expecting a book on the subject of bullying told primarily from the bully's point of view. But sometimes a book just finds you, you don't have to seek it out. I do think it's interesting to consider Tommy as a whole person. Yes, at recess at his school, he can pick on his classmates and get away with it because he has a way with his teachers. But the reader sees deeper and sees beneath the surface. Yes, absolutely Tommy's actions are just WRONG. But when a character is fleshed out so completely, so thoroughly that compassion may just come easier than judgment. One friendship comes about so slowly that it deserves attention. I loved the character of Sam McKenzie.
I love The Paper Cowboy because its one that makes you feel--sometimes so much it leaves you aching. It's an emotionally intense read. There are just some TOUGH moments to witness in this coming-of-age novel.
I originally posted this back on July 10, 2008 — before I knew how to insert photos.
Fathers and sons and baseball. You can almost hear the violins, the sap rising from the roots. It’s a tired cliche, of course, but that doesn’t render the dynamic meaningless.
My father, ten years before I came along, with Neal or Billy.
My father wasn’t a sports guy; I can’t remember him ever turning on the television to watch a game of any sort. Hey, I can’t remember having catch with him. But I had four older brothers, and my baseball-loving mom, and a dozen kids on the block for that. Dad was Old School. I think of him as more CEO/CFO in Charge of Household as opposed to today’s helicopter-style parent, forever hovering, eager to bond and share and become best buddies. That wasn’t my father’s way.
So, basically, I played Little League and my father did other things. And I want to make this clear: It was perfectly okay. But one year, when I was ten years old and playing for the Cardinals — astonishingly vivid memories of those games — somehow my father got roped in as a coach. He didn’t know a blessed thing about baseball. Didn’t care to know. The manager, hard-nosed Larry Bassett, taught my father how to keep the scorebook and I’m fairly certain that was the full extent of his usefulness.
I found it embarrassing. Not horribly so, but it felt odd to see my father on the ballfield, clueless and unathletic. What did the other boys think? It was 1971 and my dad was painfully uncool. I loved baseball deeply, passionately. In that sense, we lived on separate planets. Of course now, years later, I see it from a different perspective. And it boils down to this: He was there. As a parent, isn’t that 98% of the job? Just showing up, day after day. Being there. My father is gone now, died almost two years ago, fell on the front lawn and never got back up. Maybe that makes you (me) appreciate those times, those presences, all the more. For he will never “be there” again.
He never read Six Innings, either. If he did, I would have told my father that I loosely modeled a character after him, Mr. Lionni, Alex’s dad, right down to the thick-framed glasses and questionable attire, the black socks, brown loafers and shorts. There’s a scene when Mr. Lionni takes his baseball-loving son, Alex, for extra batting practice. That scene sprang directly from my childhood; I remember the one and only time my father pitched batting practice to me — awkwardly, poorly, like he was hurling foreign objects. But I was struggling with the bat, the same as Alex in my book, and that man, the father, tried to help the best he could.
In Six Innings, it’s a minor scene (pp. 56-58), just a little backstory about one of the boys on the team. But for me, it resonates across the years, like an echo across a vast canyon. My dad and baseball. Our moments together on the diamond, a burnished memory, glowing like hot coals almost forty years hence. He was there. I didn’t appreciate it then, though I certainly recognized the uniqueness of the event; I was just a boy. But that’s what writing gives us, the opportunity to revisit, revalue, remember in the root meaning of the word — to re-member, to make whole again, to bring those disparate things together. Me and Dad and baseball.
Postscript: Oh, yeah, about the name Lionni. That’s another tribute to a great children’s book author by the name of Leo. Someday I should put together a full roster. I see James Marshall manning the Hot Corner, nimble and loose; Maurice Sendak on the hill, strong-armed and determined; maybe sure-handed Bernard Waber over at second base . . .
Addendum II: Today is 1/16/2015, and I came across this post while hunting for other prey. It’s been a week consumed with writing — I’m trying to finish a book today that I started four years ago — and I’ve neglected the blog. Not that anybody cares. Anyway, here’s something. Also: a curiosity. My father was named Alan J. Preller, and grew up on Long Island. The new GM of the San Diego Padres, A.J. Preller, also grew up on Long Island. It’s not a common name. I’ve talked it over with my brother, Al, and we’ve decided he’s probably a second-cousin or something, connected to my late Grandfather, Fred Preller, 22-year assemblyman from Queens, NY. Ah, baseball.
Kevin has a special-needs uncle – let’s call him Roy. His grandmother adopted him out of foster care when he was a toddler.
I guess, technically, he’s not really special needs. He’s not retarded but rather, just slow. His birth mother drank and probably did drugs when she was pregnant with him which caused brain damage. He’s only a few years younger than myself.
Kevin’s grandmother passed away and he’s been living with Kevin’s parents all of these years.
However – Kevin’s parents are getting older and it’s harder for them to get around and quite honestly, they just want to live their remaining years peacefully. The situation has become tense and Kevin became his co-guardian – he’s now fully (or will be when his mother passes away) responsible for him.
We knew, at some point, he would need to get out on his own, learn to be independent. The challenge? He can’t really be by himself. He has no concept of money. He will never drive. And he doesn’t always have common sense when it comes to some things. So he will need frequent supervision. Our plan was to get him moved into an apartment and the family would take turns dropping by to check on him – take him meals once in a while, etc.
I came up with the plan of moving him into our rental house across the street. He would pay us rent and we could keep a close eye on him. (He gets money from the government every month due to his disability and might I just add – THIS IS WHAT GOVERNMENT PROGRAMS WERE MEANT TO DO: to help those that can’t fully help themselves. NOT SUPPORT PEOPLE WHO ARE MENTALLY AND PHYSICALLY CAPABLE OF WORKING. *ahem* Focus Karen, focus). No one is currently living in the house now and we need to get someone in there so we can start paying down our loan.
Kevin originally bought the house with his parents in mind and they are still welcome to move in, as soon as they sell their house. The problem? Who knows when that will be. It could be months. It could be years. In the meantime, Roy can live there and we’ll come up with another solution if/when his parents sell their house and/if they still want to move in when that happens. We talked about this plan and he was going to present this plan to his parents after bowling with Roy.
Things sort of reached a breaking point on Sunday night. Kevin left to go bowling with Roy and was gone for several hours. He was gone so long, I started to become worried about him. When he finally came home, he had Roy with him. He felt like the situation was getting worse and why wait?
Our plan is happening now.
The problem is – Kevin didn’t do this gradually so Roy doesn’t have any of his stuff moved into the house yet. So, he’s living with us until we can move him into the house. I’m sure we’re still going to have to “introduce” him slowly to being in the house and living on his own. I’m going to try and talk the boys into spending a few nights with him at the rental house so he doesn’t get scared being on his own. Plus – it’s always a little spooky spending the night in a new place.
But it’s time. Kevin’s parents won’t live forever and no one in the family really wants him to live with them. And to be perfectly honest, Roy is mentally capable of living on his own, he just hasn’t up to this point. There has always been someone to baby him and look after him.
And he won’t be “alone” per se, the family will still be available and did I mention we’ll be across the street if he needs anything?
I think it’s a win-win for everyone, quite frankly.
This is going to be quite an adjustment on everyone’s parts. I think this will actually be good for Blake. He has always had a special connection to Roy – Kevin’s grandma watched Blake when he was a baby so I could continue to work and Blake and Roy have sort of grown up together. They are pretty close. For example, right now, Blake is watching TV with Roy and I can’t tell you the last time Blake came out of his room to watch TV. I think he feels like he needs to take care of Roy and that might be a good thing in the long run for Blake. Roy gives him purpose. He feels comfortable around him and he’s the most animated whenever he’s around him.
Again, a win-win situation. Stay tuned … we’re turning the page to another chapter in our lives.
When I am writing everywhere I go, everyone I meet and everything I hear someone say has the potential to feed into my story, particularly when it is a place removed from my everyday life and experiences. When I travel I find images, scents, stray bits of conversation take seed and create stories of their own. I've just returned from a week in the south of Italy where I visited family many times as a child, and over the years since but I'd not been there for a few years. I have returned, my head full of all the different characters and situations I encountered, conversations, tastes and sounds.
I was staying with family and that meant I was not a tourist, just skimming the surface and seeing the tourist sights. I chatted to two different couples at the airport one the way there and the other on the way back. Both couples were on holiday to Rome to enjoy the Italy of the holiday brochures and I was aware of how different their experiences and perceptions of Italy, and the Italians, are to mine. I, too, enjoyed the beautiful blue skies and scenery and of course the wonderful food - a very important part of life there. I also fed my creative brain on the differences in culture, the language and particularly the use of language - the ways that expressions change from one language to another and where direct translations can be quite humorous. But for me there were also the discussions that happen in families and amongst friends and acquaintances about everything from Italian politics, the economy, the corruption and their perceptions of world affairs, to the moans about day to day life and memories of family who have now sadly passed away. I often find it frustrating as a wordsmith whenI do not have quite the facility with words that I am used to in English - my Italian is conversational and my vocabulary is not really as extensive as I would wish. But thankfully, it was adequate to join in conversations and to understand most of what was being discussed, except at times when the speaker's language was thick with dialect!
I was able to spend time writing beside a cosy log fire - it is January after all - although to me it was like a Scottish spring, bright and sunny most days with a bit of a chill in the air, but most people there thought it was very cold! I met some people who will make colourful characters, some so 'colourful' that they and their view of life may seem hardly credible to most people. Those are the most interesting to store away for future use.
I had a horse riding lesson and I learned even more when I acted as translator for someone who only spoke English and came for a riding lesson. I found out a lot about looking after horses, too. As far as I am concerned nothing is wasted because basically everything is research! This is Michela. A delightful character who was hand-reared when her mother died giving birth to her. She appeared to have an opinion about almost everything, if only I could speak Donkey! I am sure she deserves a story of her own. When chatting to an old aunt, I was told forcefully several times not to forget that she expected me to write the story of her and her siblings and parents, so that the future generations would not forget them all. I suppose that is the wish of many older people who see their own time and family becoming part of a forgotten past as the new generations appear. By the time the younger ones are old enough to ask questions so much is often lost and forgotten. It will be interesting to write something about the family members like my aunt and her parents, just for the family, to record these people and their lives.
Back home now I am distilling my thoughts and memories, images and ideas. I managed to get quite a bit of writing done while I was away and now I am keen to get back to the book again. My head is full of memories of crisp blue skies, lovely food and strong coffee, as well as stray thoughts in Italian, as my brain tries to switch gear back to English!
Travel, as has been often said, broadens the mind and it creates great images and ideas to feed the soul and the creative mind. So now it is time to get back to my desk and use all that inspiration!
------------------------------------------------------------------------------ Linda Strachan is the author of over 60 books for all ages from picture books to teenage novels and the writing handbook Writing For Children
She has written 10 Hamish McHaggis books illustrated by Sally J. Collins who also illustrated Linda's retelling of Greyfriars Bobby
Linda's latest YA novel is Don't Judge Me Linda isPatron of Reading to Liberton High School, Edinburgh