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1. Travel in peace, old friend

 

Nelson
Nelson Almeyda, one of my best friends, died today after living with cancer for more than a year. He was one of the most big-hearted people I’ve known, one of the funniest, sharpest, most expressive and most beloved, and also one of the most private. He was in fact so private about his troubles, so invested in being the one who helped other people and not needing help himself, that even now it almost feels like a violation to be posting this here.
My thoughts are with his wife and young daughter, and the rest of his family, and also with all his many friends, particularly those who were with him at the end. If you’re Googling around, bereft, because you knew him and cared about him, please rest assured he cared about you too, no matter how long it’s been since you were in touch.
In surface ways Nelson and I didn’t have much in common. We had extremely different temperaments and few shared interests or friends, and only one of us was an irredeemable nerd, and it wasn’t him. But there was always an intuitive understanding between us, a sort of emotional affinity that I’ve had with very few people.

 

As Max says, there aren’t enough people like Nelson in the world. I will love and miss him always.

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2. Review of the Day: Boats for Papa by Jessixa Bagley

boatsforpapaBoats for Papa
By Jessixa Bagley
Roaring Brook Press (an imprint of Macmillan)
$17.99
ISBN: 978-1626720398
Ages 4-7
On shelves now

So I’m a snob. A children’s literature snob. I accept this about myself. I do not embrace it, but I can at least acknowledge it and, at times, fight against it as much as I am able. Truth be told, it’s a weird thing to get all snobby about. People are more inclined to understand your point of view when you’re a snob about fine china or wines or bone structure. They are somewhat confused when you scoff at their copy of Another Monster at the End of This Book since it is clearly a sad sequel of the original Jon Stone classic (and do NOT even try to convince me that he was the author of that Elmo-related monstrosity because I think better of him than that). Like I say. Kid book snobbery won’t get you all that far in this life. And that’s too bad because I’ve got LOADS of the stuff swimming between my corpuscles. Just take my initial reaction to Jessixa Bagley’s Boats for Papa. I took one glance at the cover and dismissed it, just like that. I’ll explain precisely why I did so in a minute, but right there it was my gut reaction at work. I have pretty good gut reactions and 99% of the time they’re on target. Not in this case, though. Because once I sat down and read it and watched other people read it, I realized that I had something very special on my hands. Free of overblown sentiment and crass pandering, this book’s the real deal. Simultaneously wrenching and healing.

Buckley and his mama are just two little beavers squeaking out an existence in a small wooden house by the sea. Buckley loves working with his hands (paws?) and is particularly good at turning driftwood into boats. One day it occurs to him to send his best boats off into the sea with little notes that read, “For Papa. Love, Buckley”. Buckley misses his papa, you see, and this is the closest he can get to sending him some kind of a message. As Buckley gets better, the boats get more elaborate. Finally, one day a year later, he runs into his house to write a note for papa, when he notices that his mother has left her desk open. Inside is every single boat he ever sent to his papa. Realizing what has happened, Buckley makes a significant choice with this latest seagoing vessel. One that his mama is sure to see and understand.

The danger with this book is determining whether or not it slips into Love You Forever territory. Which is to say, does it speak more to adults than to kids. You get a fair number of picture books with varying degrees of sentimentality out there every year. On the low end of the spectrum is Love You Forever, on the high end Blueberry Girl and somewhere in the middle are books like Someday by Alison McGhee. Some of these can be great books, but they’re so clearly not for kids. And when I realized that Boats for Papa was a weeper my alarm bells went off. If adults are falling over themselves to grab handkerchiefs when they get to the story’s end, surely children would be distinctly uninterested. Yet Bagley isn’t addressing adults with this story. The focus is on how one deals with life after someone beloved is gone. Adults get this instantly because they know precisely what it is to lose someone (or they can guess). Kids, on the other hand, may sometimes have that understanding but a lot of the time it’s foreign to them. And so Buckley’s hobbies are just the marks of a good story. I suspect few kids would walk away from this saying the book was uninteresting to them. It seems to strike just the right chord.

It is also a book that meets multiple needs. For some adult readers, this is a dead daddy book. But upon closer inspection you realize that it’s far broader than that. This could be a book about a father serving his time overseas. It could be about divorced parents (it mentions that mama misses papa, and that’s not an untrue sentiment in some family divorce situations). It could have said outright that Buckley’s father had passed away (ala Emmet Otter’s Jugband Christmas which this keeps reminding me of) but by keeping it purposefully vague we are allowed to read far more into the book’s message than we could have if it was just another dead parent title.

Finally, it is Bagley’s writing that wins the reader over. Look at how ecumenical she is with her wordplay. The very first sentences in the book reads, “Buckley and his mama lived in a small wooden house by the sea. They didn’t have much, but they always had each other.” There’s not a syllable wasted there. Not a letter out of place. That succinct quality carries throughout the rest of the book. There is one moment late in the game where Buckley says, “And thank you for making every day so wonderful too” that strains against the bonds of sentimentality, but it never quite topples over. That’s Bagley’s secret. We get the most emotionally involved in those picture books that give us space to fill in our own lives, backgrounds, understandings and baggage. The single note reading, “For Mama / Love, Buckley” works because those are the only words on the page. We don’t need anything else after that.

As I age I’ve grown very interested in picture books that touch on the nature of grace. “Grace” is, in this case, defined as a state of being that forgives absolutely. Picture books capable of conjuring up very real feelings of resentment in their young readers only to diffuse the issue with a moment of pure forgiveness are, needless to say, rare. Big Red Lollipop by Rukhsana Khan was one of the few I could mention off the top of my head. I shall now add Boats for Papa to that enormously short list. You see, (and here I’m going to call out “SPOILER ALERT” for those of you who care about that sort of thing) for me the moment when Buckley finds his boats in his mother’s desk and realizes that she has kept this secret from him is a moment of truth. Bagley is setting you up to assume that there will be a reckoning of some sort when she writes, “They had never reached Papa”. And it is here that the young reader can stop and pause and consider how they would react in this case. I’d wager quite a few of them would be incensed. I mean, this is a clear-cut case of an adult lying to a child, right? But Bagley has placed Buckley on a precipice and given him a bit of perspective. Maybe I read too much into this scene, but I think that if Buckley had discovered these boats when he was first launching them, almost a full year before, then yes he would have been angry. But after a year of sending them to his Papa, he has grown. He realizes that his mother has been taking care of him all this time. For once, he has a chance to take care of her, even if it is in a very childlike manner. He’s telling her point blank that he knows that she’s been trying to protect him and that he loves her. Grace.

Now my adult friends pointed out that one could read Buckley’s note as a sting. That he sent it to say “GOTCHA!” They say that once a book is outside of an author’s hands, it can be interpreted by the readership in any number of ways never intended by the original writer. For my part, I think that kind of a reading is very adult. I could be wrong but I think kids will read the ending with the loving feel that was intended from the start.

When I showed this book to a friend who was a recent Seattle transplant, he pointed out to me that the coastline appearing in this book is entirely Pacific Northwest based. I think that was the moment I realized that I had done a 180 on the art. Remember when I mentioned that I didn’t much care for the cover when I first saw it? Well, fortunately I have instituted a system whereby I read every single picture book I am sent on my lunch breaks. Once I got past the cover I realized that it was the book jacket that was the entire problem. There’s something about it that looks oddly cheap. Inside, Bagley’s watercolors take on a life of their own. Notice how the driftwood on the front endpapers mirrors the image of Buckley displaying his driftwood boats on the back endpapers. See how Buckley manages to use her watercolors to their best advantage, from the tide hungry sand on the beach to the slate colored sky to the waves breaking repeatedly onto the shore. Perspective shifts constantly. You might be staring at a beach covered in the detritus of the waves on one two-page spread, only to have the images scale back and exist in a sea of white space on the next. The best image, by far, is the last though. That’s when Bagley makes the calculated step of turning YOU, the reader, into Mama. You are holding the boat. You are holding the note. And you know. You know.

I like it when a picture book wins me over. When I can get past my own personal bugaboos and see it for what it really is. Emotional resonance in literature for little kids is difficult to attain. It requires a certain amount of talent, both on the part of the author and their editor. In Boats for Papa we’ve a picture book that doesn’t go for the cheap emotional tug. It comes by its tears honestly. There’s some kind of deep and abiding truth to it. Give me a couple more years and maybe I’ll get to the bottom of what’s really going on here. But before that occurs, I’m going to read it with my kids. Even children who have never experienced the loss of a parent will understand what’s going on in this story on some level. Uncomplicated and wholly original, this is one debut that shoots out of the starting gate full throttle, never looking back. A winner.

On shelves now.

Source: Galley sent from publisher for review.

Like This? Then Try:

Misc: Be sure to check out this profile of Jessixa Bagley over at Seven Impossible Things Before Breakfast.

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3. Comic: Plot For Sale

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4. SCENES FROM LIFE - A SHORT PLAYETTE: MR. AND MRS. EVERYBODY TALK PLANTS

SCENE:  DEN IN THE EVERYBODY HOUSEHOLD.

AT RISE:  MRS. EVERYBODY IS HAVING AN IMPORTANT CHAT WHILE MR. EVERYBODY IS READING A NEWSPAPER

MRS. EVERYBODY
Why? Why must you torture me like this? What did I ever do to deserve this treatment other than heap undying love and devotion to your upkeep?

(MR. EVERYBODY glances up and returns to reading his book)

MRS. EVERYBODY
You seem to be dying slowly right in front of my eyes and I'm at a loss how to save you

MR. EVERYBODY
(looking around)
You talking to me?

MRS. EVERYBODY
Fed you top of the line nutritional supplements and this is the thanks I get

MR. EVERYBODY
I appreciate your cooking, honey. You make fantastic meals and really, I'm in great shape

MRS. EVERYBODY
You are not aging well, sweetheart

MR. EVERYBODY

(gets up to examine himself in the mirror on the wall behind him)

For the record, I'm in better condition now than I was when we married. Sure there's a few extra inches on my stomach but that's due to your good cooking. Work out on the tread mill...

MRS. EVERYBODY
I fear it's time for us to part, sweetheart. You are halfway between this world and the next

MR. EVERYBODY
Say what? Is it something I said?

MRS. EVERYBODY
You've given me a lot of pleasure over the years. Your nightly performance kept me riveted and it's something I will cherish all my life

MR. EVERYBODY
Hey! There's still a lot of life left in this body! Is there somebody else? I can change, y'know!

(MRS. EVERYBODY turns around and stares at her husband)

MRS. EVERYBODY
It's just so hard to say goodbye! Did you say something?

MR. EVERYBODY
You never said a word. I deserve to know who's the new love of your life!

MRS. EVERYBODY
Say what? What are you babbling about?

MR. EVERYBODY
You're leaving me!

MRS. EVERYBODY
Are you insane? You thought that... That is really funny

MRS. EVERYBODY
There is nothing funny about being informed that your wife is leaving your for someone else. It's always the husband that is the last to know

MRS. EVERYBODY
Husband of mine - I was talking to my prayer plant here that is slowly croaking after 40 years and I'm about to replace her with a new one

MR. EVERYBODY
How was I supposed to know? There was only you and me in the room and I never guessed you were talking to a...a... house plant

MRS. EVERYBODY
I've raised this houseplant from a small little stalk. Fed her...coddled her...and she gave me years of pleasure but lately she seems to have taken a turn for the worst. The writing is on the wall...or in this case, in all those brown leaves.

MR. EVERYBODY
A plant is a plant is a plant. Don't know what the big thing is. Just empty the pot and replace it with a new one. Simple

MRS. EVERYBODY
How could you be so cruel and callous! You just can't...discard it like it that!

MR. EVERYBODY
I dunno. Never bothers you to do that with your clothes

MRS. EVERYBODY
Besides, I read an article that said plants can sense pain and they react to it. How could I betray my friend after all the years we've been together? I feel like a killer! I feel like I'd be ripping out her guts and tearing her apart

MR. EVERYBODY
Not that I pretend to feel what you feel but check this out

(MR. EVERYBODY shows her a page of the newspaper)

MRS. EVERYBODY
What's this? The Plant-a-atrium is having a sale on houseplants?

(turns to look at plant and at newspaper ad)

(MRS. EVERYBODY cont'd.)  'Parting is such sweet sorrow my formerly green friend. Go meet your other friends in the composter! Do not think badly of me for I shall remember you with great fondness.' I'm ready.

MR. EVERYBODY
Ready for...?

MRS. EVERYBODY
To make new friends at the Plant-a-atrium, silly! We all gotta go some time. I mean, it's just a silly plant for heaven's sake...


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5. 11 Kids’ Books on Dealing with Loss, Grief, Illness and Trauma

Here is a list of 11 books that address a wide range and variety of emotions that young readers may experience when faced with serious illness, loss, grief or trauma.

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6. Thoughts in the necropolis

One of Glasgow’s best-known tourist highlights is its Victorian Necropolis, a dramatic complex of Victorian funerary sculpture in all its grandeur and variety. Christian and pagan symbols, obelisks, urns, broken columns and overgrown mortuary chapels in classical, Gothic, and Byzantine styles convey the hope that those who are buried there—the great and the good of 19th century Glasgow—will not be forgotten.

But, of course, they are mostly forgotten and even the conspicuous consumption expressed in this extraordinary array of great and costly monuments has not been enough to keep their names alive. And, of course, we, the living, will soon enough go the same way: ‘As you are now, so once was I’, to recall a once-popular gravestone inscription.

Is this the last word on human life? Religion often claims to offer a different perspective on death since (it is said) the business of religion is not with time, but with eternity. But what, if anything, does this mean?

‘Eternal love’ and ‘eternal memory’ are phrases that spring to the lips of lovers and mourners. Even in secular France, some friends of the recently murdered journalists talked about the ‘immortality’ of their work. But surely that is just a way of talking, a way of expressing our especially high esteem for those described in these terms? And even when talk of eternity and immortality is meant seriously, what would a human life that had ‘put on immortality’ be like? Would it be recognizably human at all? As to God, can we really conceive of what it would be for God (or any other being) to somehow be above or outside of time? Isn’t time the condition for anything at all to be?

OLYMPUS DIGITAL CAMERA
Entrance to the Necropolis. Photo by George Pattison. Used with permission.

If we really take seriously the way in which time pervades all our experiences, all our thinking, and (for that matter) the basic structures of the physical universe, won’t it follow that the religious appeal to eternity is really just a primitive attempt to ward off the spectre of transience, whilst declarations of eternal love and eternal memory are little more than gestures of feeble defiance and that if, in the end, there is anything truly ‘eternal’ it is eternal oblivion—annihilation?

Human beings have a strong track record when it comes to denying reality.

One fashionable book of the post-war period was dramatically entitled The Denial of Death and it argued that our entire civilization was built on the inevitably futile attempt to deny the ineluctable reality of death. But if there is nothing we can do about death, must we always think of time in negative terms—the old man with the hour-glass and scythe, so like the figure of the grim reaper?

And instead of thinking of eternity as somehow beyond or above time, might not time itself offer clues as to the presence of eternity, as in the experiences that mystics and meditators say report as being momentary experiences of eternity in, with, and under the conditions of time? But such experiences, valuable as they are to those who have them, remain marginal unless they can be brought into fruitful connection with the weave of past and future.

From the beginnings of philosophy, recollection has been valued as an important clue to finding the tracks of eternity in time, as in Augustine’s search for God in the treasure-house of memory. But the past can only ever give us so much (or so little) eternity.

A recent French philosopher has proposed that time cannot undo our having-been and that the fact that the unknown slave of ancient times or the forgotten victim of the Nazi death-camps really existed means that the tyrants have failed in their attempt to make them non-human. But this is a meagre consolation if we have no hope for the future and for the flourishing of all that is good and true in time to come. Really affirming the enduring value of human lives and loves therefore presupposes the possibility of hope.

One Jewish sage taught that ‘In remembering lies redemption; in forgetfulness lies exile’ but perhaps what we it is most important to remember is the possibility of hope itself and of going on saying ‘Yes’ to the common, shared reality of human life and of reconciling the multiple broken relationships that mortality leaves unresolved.

Pindar, an ancient poet of hope, wrote that ‘modesty befits mortals’ and if we cannot escape time (which we probably cannot), it is maybe time we have to thank for the possibility of hope and for visions of a better and more blessed life. And perhaps this is also the message that a contemporary graffiti-artist has added to one of the Necropolis’s more ruined monuments. ‘Life goes on’, either extreme cynicism or, perhaps, real hope.

Featured image credit: ‘Life goes on.’ Photo by George Pattison. Used with permission.

The post Thoughts in the necropolis appeared first on OUPblog.

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7. Exorcising the Past: A Reading & Talk

Marie Mockett's childhood notebook

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!

This image is from one of Marie’s childhood notebooks; she shared it with the Asian American Writers’ Workshop when they visited her writing studio.

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8. The Naming of Tishkin Silk: a book to reshape your heart

“Griffin came into the Silk family after Scarlet, Indigo, Violet, Amber and Saffron. He came early in the morning on that uncommon day, the twenty-ninth of February. His father’s prediction, considering the date of Griffin’s birth, was that he would be an uncommon sort of boy.

Perhaps he was, thought Griffin ruefully. For the first time in his life, he wished he’d been born on the twenty-eighth day of February or even the first of March. Maybe then he would have been an ordinary boy instead. If he were an ordinary boy, maybe Mama wouldn’t have gone away. Maybe his secret thoughts wouldn’t have changed everything.

tishkinsilkWith these words The Naming of Tishkin Silk by Glenda Millard starts weaving gentle magic around your unsuspecting heart.

Griffin is a member of the somewhat unusual and perhaps slightly bohemian Silk family, who live on the outskirts of a small Australian town. Griffin carries a secret deep inside him, a huge worry that he finds hard to share until he meets Layla, instantly recognisable to him as a princess because she is wearing a daisy-chain crown. Thanks to the thoughtfulness shown by his new friend, Griffin’s courage grows and together they do something that heals the sorrow which all the family has felt after a terrible event no-one has been able to talk about for months.

Just like Griffin, this is a truly “uncommon” short novel, the first in a seven part series. From unexpected characters to profoundly moving themes threaded together with sometimes astonishingly lyrical writing, this book is something utterly different and incredibly beautiful. I have never before come across such delicate and yet powerful writing in a novel for children. Unique, breathtaking and full of fierce love and deep sorrow, The Naming of Tishkin Silk is the sort of book that changes you forever, the sort of book you are just so glad to have inside you, to enrich even the happiest of days and to sustain you on dark nights.

The dual aspect of this novel – intense sadness and intense happiness – reminded me of a passage in The Prophet by Khalil Gibran about joy and sorrow; “the deeper that sorrow carves into your being, the more joy you can contain.“. Whilst this book deals with some of the most difficult themes you’re likely to come across in books for its target age range (approximately 8-12), Millard does it with such quiet tenderness that it doesn’t overwhelm. Indeed, like the adult characters inside the book, Millard enters the world children inhabit without patronising them, but rather with immense respect, sincerity and creativity.

The stories we tell ourselves in an attempt to make sense of the world around us, adjusting to different family setups when new babies are born, sibling jealousy, and the value of having space and taking time to think form some of the varied threads woven throughout this precious book. Never once soppy or sentimental, Millard writes with honesty and integrity about deep and loving emotions. This is a tremendous book for exploring kindness and empathy.

It’s Australian setting is lightly but evocatively worn, grounding the somewhat enchanted story in a very real time and place. Yes, my praise for this book goes on and on! And yet, when this book first arrived in my home, I shelved it in a dusty corner. I judged the book by its cover, and the cover did not work for me at all (Caroline Magerl illustrated this first book in the series, but subsequent volumes have been illustrated by Stephen Michael King). It looked airy-fairy, hippy-dippy, saccharine and syrupy and not like something I would enjoy. Someone whose judgement I trust, however, kept telling me I should read the book. Pig-headedly, I kept ignoring this advice. But what a fool I was! Tishkin could have been part of me for two whole extra years if I had listened and not let my prejudices sway me.

For once I had read the book, I was utterly smitten. I could not get hold of the rest of the series quickly enough.

kingdomofsilk

If, however, I still had a niggling doubt, it was about how children would respond to these books. Subtle and yet emotionally complex, featuring an unusual family, and dealing with issues as varied as death, illness, fostering, immigration and dementia over the course of the books now available in the UK (the 6th title in the series, The Tender Moments of Saffron Silk, is published next week on World Book Day, and the final will be available in September this year), I was very curious as to how young people, rather than adults would respond to these books.

I only have one child’s response to call upon, but M, my ten year old, has taken these stories to her heart as much as I have. She’s read each one in a single sitting, and whilst she agrees they are indeed full of sadness, they are also “really funny and playful”, “just the sort of family I want ours to be like”. She has SO many plans for implementing aspects of these stories into our lives, from making the recipes which feature throughout the series, to adopting the special breakfast rituals the Silk Family has into our own home, from making our own paper to consecrating an apple tree for tea parties, from collecting shiny foil to painting special poems on walls and doors. I think I shall be posting our activities, our Kingdom of silk playing by the book for a long time to come on the blog!

As it is, we’ve already got our own green rubber gloves with red nail polish…

nellstylegloves

…we’ve painted our toes like Layla…

laylastyletoes

… and we’ve started having hummingbird nectar and fairy bread when we come in from school.

hummingbirdnectarfairybread

cheers

Layla and Griffin and all the Kingdom of Silk clan are now part of our lives: We are all the richer for them. These books are alive with wonder and warmth and they’re some of the best I think my family has ever shared.

In the closing pages of The Naming of Tishkin Silk , this gently heart wrenching, heart-soaring short novel, Millard writes, “There are some days when heaven seems much closer to earth than others, and Friday the twenty-seventh of February was one of them.” By introducing you to this book today, also a Friday the twenty-seventh of February, I’ve tried to offer you a slice of such beauty, kindness and wonder as will indeed make today (or at least the day you start reading your own copy of The Naming of Tishkin Silk ) one of those days where heaven really does seem a little nearer by.

Photo: Tonya Staab

Photo: Tonya Staab

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9. #664 – The Flat Rabbit by Bárður Oskarsson

cover

 

 

The Flat Rabbit
Bárður Oskarsson
Owlkids Books           9/15/2014
978-1-77147-059-9
40 pages     Age 4+
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“What do you do with a flat rabbit? A dog and a rat come across a rabbit. A flat rabbit, lying silently on the road. It all seems rather sad, so they decide to move her. But where to? They can’t just return her to her apartment, completely flattened. What would the neighbors think? The dog and the rat try to figure out what to do. Then the dog gets a brilliant idea. They decide to give the rabbit the send-off she deserves.”

10-11_FlatRabbit

Review

The Flat Rabbit deals with a serious subject most young child, under age 6, are incapable of understanding: the finality of death. The author uses humor in this gentle story of two friends sending off another friend—the flat rabbit—in a respectful manner, honorable and pleasing to the rabbit. They find their friend in the middle of the road and decide it cannot be much fun lying there. The dog and rat decide to help the rabbit move to a better place.

“Do you think she is having a good time? the rat finally asked . . .

“I don’t know . . .” he [the dog] replied slowly. “I don’t know.”

As a social worker, The Flat Rabbit would be a great tool for helping kids process not only death, but also separation. Nearly every page can provoke discussion. The abrupt ending demands discussion. The Flat Rabbit can open up discussions on the mysteries of life, the finality of death, and the use of compassion and respect.

16-17_FlatRabbit

I also love the simple illustrations and the gentle humor.

“Do you know her?” [The rat asked the dog.]

“Well,” said the dog, “I think she’s from number 34. I’ve never talked to her,                                        but I peed on the gate a couple of times, so we’ve definitely met.”

The Flat Rabbit may not be a typical picture book, but it does a great service for children dealing with, or asking about, death. Parents will have a platform for discussion and a gentle way to help their child cope with a difficult subject. The most important aspect, as this social worker sees it, is the respect and compassion for life and death that the author deftly deals with in The Flat Rabbit. The dog, after brainstorming most of the day, comes up with a brilliant plan to help the rabbit. The dog and the rat gently lift the rabbit off the road then spend the rest of the day and night on their plan to honor and care for the rabbit.

24-25_FlatRabbit

An interesting side note: the author lives in the Faroe Islands, an archipelago made up of 18 islands between Iceland and Norway.  Flata Kaninin, the original version, was nominated for The Nordic Council Children and Young People’s Literature Prize 2014. Sadly, it did not win.

THE FLAT RABBIT. Text and illustrations copyright © 2011 by Bárður Oskarsson. Translation copyright © 2014 by Marita Thomsen. Reproduced by permission of the publisher, Owlkids Books Inc., Berkeley CA and Toronto, CAN.
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Learn more about The Flat Rabbit* HERE.
Purchase The Flat Rabbit at AmazonB&NBook DepositoryOwlkids Books
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Meet the author/illustrator, Bárður Oskarsson:  short bio
Meet the translator, Marita Thomsen, at her website:
Find other wonderful picture books at the Owlkids Books website:   owlkidsbooks.com

*The Flat Rabbit—original title Flata Kaninin—published in 2011 by BFL:    www.bfl.fo
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Copyright © 2015 by Sue Morris/Kid Lit Reviews


Filed under: 5stars, Children's Books, Library Donated Books, Picture Book Tagged: Bárður Oskarsson, compassion, death, life cycle, Owlkids Books, picture books for older kids and adults, respect, unfathomable questions

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10. The death of a friend: Queen Elizabeth I, bereavement, and grief

On 25 February 1603, Queen Elizabeth I’ s cousin and friend - Katherine Howard, the countess of Nottingham - died. Although Katherine had been ill for some time, her death hit the queen very hard; indeed one observer wrote that she took the loss ‘muche more heavyly’ than did Katherine’s husband, the Charles, Earl of Nottingham. The queen’s grief was unsurprising, for Elizabeth had known the countess longer than almost anyone else alive at that time.

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11. The Sittin' Up - a review

I would never think of "North Carolina fiction" as a genre in children's literature, but I seem to have read quite a bit of it lately. I picked up Three Times Lucky  because my daughter is attending college in North Carolina.  I loved it!!  Later, I had the good fortune of reviewing The Ghosts of Tupelo Landing (also by Sheila Turnage) for AudioFile Magazine.  I can't say enough how quirky and wonderful and timeless these books are!

Another North Carolina book caught my eye last year (I love the cover art!) but I just got around to reading it.

The Sittin' Up by Sheila P. Moses (Putnam, 2014).

The premise for The Sittin' Up is an interesting one.  The year is 1940, and former slave, Mr. Bro. Wiley has died.  Stanbury "Bean" Jones is 12 years old, finally old enough to attend his first "sittin' up," an area tradition with similarities to an "Irish wake" or Judaism's "sitting shiva."  There is not a lot of action in The Sittin' Up - something I've seen it knocked for in other reviews.  I, however, loved the opportunity to take my time and get to know the rich personalities of the Low Meadows community, where they treat death with sorrow, remembrance, practicality, and humor.

Mr. Bro. Wiley lived with Bean and his parents, Stanbury and Magnolia Jones, and was revered by the everyone in the closely-knit African American community. Bean's father, a stutterer, is generally accepted as a leader of the community and is a foreman on the tobacco farm where many of the Low Country men work for the white, wealthy, Mr. Thomas. Bean's mother is Magnolia, a kind, commonsense woman with a baby on the way.

Other characters include Miss Florenza (the bootlegging sinner who dares wear red to a sittin' up) and Miss Lottie Pearl (Pole's busybody mother and Magnolia's best friend),

"Yes, Lord. Please help us," Miss Florenza said.  Miss Lottie Pearl rolled her eyes at Miss Florenza.  Poor Miss Florenza can't even talk to Jesus without Miss Lottie Pearl putting her two cents in.  

Bean's best friend is Pole (they go together like a bean to a pole), and there's the preacher (who is more concerned with fancy clothes, cars, and women, than his parishioners),

"I thought we were in a Depression," Pole whispered to me.
"We are." I whispered back.
"Look like to me Reverend Hornbuckle should have been thinking about how the folk at Sandy Branch Baptist Church are gonna eat come winter instead of buying a new car," Pole said.  Wasn't sure if the preacher heard my sassy friend, but she didn't seem to care.  She got a whole of Miss Lottie Pearl in her as sho' as Mr. Bro. Wiley was dead in the house.
There's also Uncle Goat the liar,
Ma swears Uncle Goat is the biggest liar in Northampton County.  Papa said that ain't so.  He said Uncle Goat is the biggest liar in the state of North Carolina. That's how he got the nickname Goat.  Ma says he eats the truth up faster than a goat eats grass.

Even Mule Bennett has a personality,
"I will never forget Mr. Bro. Wiley," I thought as we headed to town.  Mule Bennett must have felt the same way.  He was slowing down and barely lifted his head.  Papa kept saying, "Get-get, get up, mule, get up." But Mule Bennett took his own sweet time.
Mr. Bro. Wiley,the reader gets to know through the remembrances of the living.

Yes, this is a story about segregation and how a great catastrophe serves as a catalyst for change, but that is the backdrop for a story that is mostly about people - wonderfully flawed people - people who sometimes do the wrong thing, but choose the right one when it matters - people who know the value of dignity and community - people who find sorrow and joy and humor in the small occurrences of daily life  - people - just plain people - just like us.

I may have nothing in common with North Carolina sharecroppers of 1940, but these people "spoke" to me, nonetheless.  If you enjoy historical fiction with a character-driven plot, you'll love The Sittin' Up.



Next on my list of North Carolina fiction: Stella by Starlight. More on that one later.

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12. Fusenews: In which I find the barest hint of an excuse to post a Rex Stout cover

  • I’ve been watching The Unbreakable Kimmy Schmidt recently.  So far the resident husband and I have only made it through two episodes, but I was pleased as punch when I learned that the plot twist in storyline #2 hinged on a Baby-Sitter’s Club novel.  Specifically Babysitter’s Club Mystery No. 12: Dawn and the Surfer Ghost.  Peter Lerangis, was this one of yours?  Here’s a breakdown of the book’s plot with a healthy dose of snark, in case you’re interested.
  • And now a subject that is near and dear to my heart: funny writers. Author Cheryl Blackford wrote a very good blog post on a comedic line-up of authors recently presented at The Tucson Festival of Books. Mac Barnett, Adam Rex, Jory John, Obert Skye, and Drew Daywalt were all there.  A good crew, no?  One small problem – we may be entering a new era where all-white male panels cannot exist without being called into question.  Indeed, I remember years ago when I attended an ALA Conference and went to see a “funny authors” panel.  As I recall, I was quite pleased to see the inclusion of Lisa Yee.  Here, Tucson didn’t quite get the memo.  The fault lies with the organizers and Cheryl has some incisive things to say about what message the attendees were getting.
  • Speaking of Adam Rex, he’s got this little old major feature film in theaters right now (Home).  Meanwhile in California, the Gallery Nucleus is doing an exhibition of Rex’s work.  Running from March 28th to April 19th, the art will be from the books The True Meaning of Smekday and Chu’s Day.  Get it while it’s hot!
  • Boy, Brain Pickings just knows its stuff.  There are plenty of aggregator sites out there that regurgitate the same old children’s stuff over and over again.  Brain Pickings actually writes their pieces and puts some thought into what they do.  Case in point, a recent piece on the best children’s books on death, grief, and mourning.  The choices are unusual, recent, and interesting.

Chomping at the bit to read the latest Lockwood & Company book by Jonathan Stroud?  It’s a mediocre salve but you may as well enjoy his homage to Sir Arthur Conan Doyle.  Mind you, I was an Hercule Poirot fan born and bred growing up, but I acknowledge that that Doyle has his place.  And don’t tell Stroud, but his books are FAR closer to the Nero Wolfe stories in terms of tone anyway.

Over at The Battle of the Books the fighting rages on.  We’ve lost so many good soldiers in this fight.  If you read only one decision, however, read Nathan Hale’s.  Future judges would do well to emulate his style.  Indeed, is there any other way to do it?

You may be one of the three individuals in the continental U.S. who has not seen Travis Jonker’s blog post on The Art of the Picture Book Barcode.  If you’re only just learning about it now, boy are you in for a treat.

“Really? Rosé?”

That one took some thought.

  • Daily Image:

And now, the last and greatest flashdrive you will ever own:

Could just be a librarian thing, but I think I’m right in saying it reeks of greatness.  Many thanks to Stephanie Whelan for the link.

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13. Homicide on the street I walk nearly every day

Even a justified shooting by a police officer is classified as a homicide. And that's what took place Thursday right outside my kung fu school, on a stretch of sidewalk I walk on six days a week.

Screen Shot 2014-03-13 at 5.15.23 PMThis guy was wanted for several bank robberies. What's more disturbing is that a few months ago he grabbed a teenager working at Palm Beach Tan, pushed her into his minivan and assaulted her. He then took off with her in the van. She escaped by jumping from the moving vehicle. She survived with serious injuries.

Recently, girls who attend the nearby middle and high school had reported a "creepy guy in a van" following them. Three cops, including one who is assigned to the high school, went looking for him. They found his van, but he didn't match the description and said he was going to the library. After he left, they noticed the front and rear plates of the van didn't match.  The high school resource officer found the guy and asked him to put his hands up.  Instead, he reached for a gun. He was shot in the head and the heart and died. The cop was wounded in the hand.

This all happened before the kung fu class I would normally attend.  lass was cancelled last night, but I was actually out with Mutlnomah County Sheriff's Office Search and Rescue as they heard from a death investigator. She was a fill in because another medical examiner was doing an autopsy on the dead guy. Circles within circles.

Creey guy in vanVery strange and unsettling all the way around. Today two reporters tried to interrupt our kung fu class, but were turned away. I could have parked in the spot where I think he died but chose to park on the other side of the street. You can see my car on the right behind the reporter, on the other side of the street.

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14. Dreaming of Someone’s Death: What Can Be Done?

Dream of Someone Dy8ing

The Knight’s Death by Antonio de Pereda

Having recorded my dreams for over 35 years, I can refer to a number of dreams that made me aware beforehand someone was going to die. Recently, I had another one of those dreams and they are unsettling—no matter how long or well you have worked with dreams. It is a fairly common phenomenon so I have decided to share some reflections on my experience:

The Dream Could be Symbolic

Take heart in that not every dream about someone dying means that person is going to die in the near future. It may be suggesting your relationship with that person is undergoing a change and will not remain the same. It may also mean that a part of you, which that person symbolizes, is dying. For example, you dream about your young 20-something neighbor dying might mean your relationship with that person is going through a death and rebirth or that the 20-something in you is dying as you see the first gray hairs in the mirror. Your gut instinct will tell you if your dream means any of these two things.

When the Dream is Prophetic of a Real Death

However, some dreams are literal, and one such dream could really mean the 20-something will die. Since every dream is a gift even when we would rather not get the information contained in these letters from the Unconscious; remember that a dream about someone dying was given for the reason such as to help you to prepare for the event or better appreciate the person while he or she is still alive. For example, I dreamed of my father’s and mother’s deaths long before these events happened. I even saw in a dream how my mother would die—in the arms of my father. The sadness in my heart told me these dreams where prophetic. Here is how I responded to the dreams:

  • I made it a point to visit my parents and spend quality time with them.
  • I tried to do little and big things that meant something to them.
  • I told them I loved them and communicated other important things I needed to say.

When they did pass, I felt no regrets and the inner critic saying, “You should have done…” As a result my grief was clean, viewing it as a privilege to mourn and honor these two amazing people who brought me into the world.

So when I had the dream of a close friend dying, and felt in my gut that this dream indicated she might really die at some point in the future, I now focus on spending quality time with this person, doing fun things we like to do. I try to show appreciation for what she does for me. I have not told her about my dream because I think it would be pointless. Since in my dream she died of natural causes and not from a plane or car accident, there is nothing I can do to prevent her possible death other than offer the usual friend’s advice (when appropriate) about eating well, exercising and getting a good night’s rest.

In Dead Men Do Tell Tales, teen detective Ashlynn has learned to work with dreams about someone dying. In this case, she is able to see the dream as a messenger to help her police father solve a crime.


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15. Apparition, by Gail Gallant | Book Review

This YA paranormal mystery/romance is a page-turner all the way. Told in the present tense, the action always feels immediate. The author captures Amelia’s grief over her mother, self-doubt over her paranormal abilities, and conflicting pulls of love for both the dead Matthew and the living Kip.

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16. Haven't I seen you someplace before? More dueling skulls

Unknown-2images-1images

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17. Saying goodbye

2014-04-28 11.37.06What a long strange, day. I started with a radio interview, and even with a GPS I got lost trying to find the studio.

Next I went to see my mom's house.  From the outside it looked the same, but from the inside - and these people were very gracious to let me come in when they had only moved in the day before - there was nothing that reminded me of her.  Even the beds were in the "wrong" positions.
2014-04-28 11.13.12
Next I went to the neighborhood cemetery she always loved - we all did.  The bench is the one we sat one more times than I can count.  She would always leave seed for the blue jays and we would watch them cautiously wait for us to leave before they would eat it.

The grave stone fo2014-04-28 11.26.00

file:///Users/aprilhenry/Dropbox/Camera%20Uploads/2014-04-28%2011.33.22.jpg
r Silas Hawk has been pushed over, but I have long thought of giving that name to a character.

Next I went to Graveyard #2 and laid a poppy on the grave of my old friend Penny, who died of a brain tumor when we were in first grade.

2014-04-28 13.04.20-2Then I met the Flower Girls for lunch. They had all worked with Mom at one flower shop or another. They said it was good to have a foursome again. Each one missed different things about her - her phone calls or her emails. They not only told stories about her but they acted out her part. In them, I could see her again. Hopefully in me they could see her, too.

After that, it was a trek to the other side of town to see where my mom's and dad's ashes were interred.  I was running late and by the time I finally found it, all I could do was stand there and cry on this very blank looking stretch of grass. I choked out "You were good parents."

Then I had to run back to my car in time to make drive to another town to do a newspaper interview.  The photographer took a million pictures.  Hopefully he used the filter that makes you look younger and not tear-stained or sleep-deprived.
.
2014-04-28 14.38.57

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18. Comic: Death and the Writer

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19. Cancer takes another Portland writer

Unknown This is how I'll always think of Jay Lake.  It's how he looked when I first met him, 10 or 12 years ago.  He died of colon cancer yesterday.  He fought so hard, up to and including getting gene sequencing.
me and Lisa Lisa Madigan (Lisa Wolfson) died from pancreatic cancer in February 2011, just 8 weeks after she was diagnosed.  She had had breast cancer 20 years earlier, and accepted more than most of us that life does not last forever.
Bridget and AprilAt 33,  Bridget Zinn was young enough to be my kid.  She died in May 2011, again from colon cancer. (Don't tell let anyone tell if you if there is blood in your stool that you are too young to have colon cancer.)  Her 2013 book, Poison, was just named a Oregon Spirt Honor book, as was The Girl Who Was Supposed to Die.  

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20. A thought on poets, death, and Clive James. And heroism.

By Andrew Taylor


Whatever else we think of poets, we don’t tend to see them as heroes.

Gold fountain pen on hand written letterThere are exceptions, of course – Wilfred Owen and Siegfried Sassoon famously won the Military Cross, and some three hundred years earlier, Sir Philip Sidney was praised for his dash and gallantry at the Battle of Zutphen; then there’s Keith Douglas from World War II, one of the few deserters ever to abandon his post to get into a battle, who was killed shortly after the D-Day invasion.

It’s not a long list, and those on it performed their acts of heroism in, so to speak, their time off. They were heroes who happened to be poets as well. Poetry, by and large, is a solitary craft: it’s not easy to perform acts of derring-do when you’re hunched on your own over a desk. The greatest battle most poets fight is the unequal struggle against a blank sheet of paper.

But there’s another sort of heroism that poets can achieve, in honour of their talent and their craft – the courage to stare death in the face, and to keep on writing, honestly and truthfully.

Vernon Scannell managed it. After months of illness, shuffling from room to room and from oxygen cylinder to oxygen cylinder, he gave up and took to his bed — often, in the sick and ailing, a sure sign that death is approaching. Instead, he started writing again, and produced Last Post, maybe the best volume of his life:

“There’s something valedictory in the way
My books gaze down on me from where they stand
In disciplined disorder and display
The same goodwill that wellwishers on land
Convey to troops who sail away to where
Great danger waits …”

A couple of months later, he was dead.

And now there’s Clive James. Poems like Sentenced to Life and Holding Court chart James’s progress towards what he calls “dropping off the twig” with clear-eyed courage. There’s sadness and regret, but not a shred of self-pity. Approaching death, he seems to say, brings its compensations:

“Once, I would not have noticed; nor have known

The name for Japanese anemones,

So pale, so frail. But now I catch the tone
Of leaves. No birds can touch down in the trees

Without my seeing them. I count the bees.”

The Daily Mirror, never far from the front of the pack in the race to find a crass and clumsy phrase, quotes James (inaccurately, as far as I can see) as saying that he has “lost his battle with cancer”. Not so.

We all, as one of Shakespeare’s less well known characters points out, owe God a death, and getting better from cancer can only ever put off the final reckoning. But facing it down, as Scannell did and as James is doing – sending back poems like dispatches from the last frontier any of us will ever cross – is the only battle we can win. Catching the tone of leaves as the world closes in is what a real poet does, and if it’s not heroism, then I don’t know what is.

This article originally appeared on andrewtaylor.uk.net.

Andrew Taylor is the author of ten books, including Walking Wounded: The Life and Poetry of Vernon Scanell, biographies of the Arabian traveller Charles Doughty and the 16th Century cartographer Gerard Mercator, as well as books on language, literature, poetry and, history. He studied English Literature at Oxford University and worked as a Fleet Street and BBC television journalist in London and the Middle East before returning to Britain in the 1990s to concentrate on his writing career.

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Image credit: Selective focus on gold pen over hand written letter. Focus on tip of pen nib. © AmbientIdeas via iStockphoto.

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21. The year I walked through hell

I know it's Labor Day, not New Year's, but I'm declaring it officially the start of a new year. This last year was the hardest year I have ever had in my life.  Good things happened too, I'm not saying that, but I would trade those good things to reverse some of the bad. A year ago today, I was involved in a horrific car accident, then moved home and took care of my mom while she was on hospice, and then ended up in the hospital.

The accident

We were driving to dinner. September 1, 2013. I had my hand on my husband's knee and we were smiling and talking about nothing.

Past his shoulder suddenly: a dog. Appearing so out of nowhere it's like magic. A black lab running flat out toward us. Pink tongue streaming behind. Black leash streaming behind.

It looks totally happy. Happy and clueless.

No time to scream. No time to brake. No time to react.

A second after we first see it, the dog and car meet just past the driver's side front bumper.

And then we are screaming.

We pull over in the gravel, still screaming. It has to be dead. It has to be.  Oh my god.  It seems like we are a long ways away, blocks and blocks, but later I see it's not even half a block.

I get out. It's worse than I thought.

Not one dog, but two.

Two dogs lying on their backs in the street, paws in the air.

I've never seen dogs lying like that. Cars are already stacking up. A young man kneels by one, a young woman by the other.  Screaming, crying, begging. What will these people think of us?  We killed their dogs.

MauroAs I get closer, I can see they are street kids. The girl with red-gold dreads and pants made of patches. The guy with red-gold hair and a black T-shirt. (I later found his picture online.) They carry their dogs to the side of the road. The guy is begging. "Aldo! Aldo!" The black lab is moving a little. And then it dies.

The little dog is still alive and whining.

I try to look up Dove Lewis, the emergency animal hospital, on my phone. I keep typing the wrong letters, and the harder I try the worse I get. The lady who answers says to bring the dogs in. I tell my husband to get the Subaru.

These two kids are wailing. Stumbling from one dog to the other, shaking, weeping so hard that snot runs down their faces.

The guy lifts the lab into the back - even though we all know it must be dead - and then climbs in beside it.  The girl sits in the back with the little dog and I pick up their two huge packs (they were setting down their packs when they lost control of the dogs) and bag of groceries and somehow manage to shove them all in the car.

And then we drive. Too fast. I keep telling my husband to be careful, that the guy is just loose back there.

Otherwise, the car is mostly quiet. The guy is curled over the dog, weeping soundlessly. The girl is trying to reassure the little black and white dog, named Karate Kid. Neither of these two are that much older than our daughter.  But somehow they've gone from being someone's precious babies to two kids living on the street with their dogs.

At the vet hospital, a tech in blue scrubs comes out to the parking lot, puts her hand to the lab's neck and shakes her head.  She's a tall girl, broad-shouldered, and she manages to carry his body in by herself. Three hours later, we are looking at X-rays of the smaller dog. (It turned out that another car actually hit him.) The ball on one hip joint has been turned into paste.  Everything has been pushed to one side.

And after they say goodbye to both dogs, both kids stagger back out into the waiting room. Eyes nearly swollen shut with weeping. We were strangers thrown together, sharing a nightmare.

2011-07-22 12.23.02 Becoming an orphan
Eleven days later, I drove down to my home town
on a few hours sleep. I had gotten back from a business trip to North Carolina and New York City the night before. My mom had declared that September 12 was when she was going on hospice. She had congestive heart failure and interstitial lung disease and had been put on oxygen a few months before.

2013-10-12 14.50.34I think she had hoped that the magic of going on hospice would cause her to die right away. But then the hospice nurse said she might live for months. My mom and I exchanged horrified glances while the nurse prattled on, oblivious. It took her a long time to figure out that Mom wanted to die and soon.

For years, my mom has been dying on the installment plan.  She was ready to die. There was nothing unsettled, nothing unsaid. She thought it was funny when, after she had decided she would go on hospice, her fortune said, "You are soon going to change your present line of work." She firmly believed in God and and afterlife, although she had no preconceived ideas about what it would be like.
2013-09-21 14.31.36

The nurse only took her off a couple of her meds.  On her own, Mom decided to go off the others.  She stopped her oxygen. Then she stopped eating.  Then she - sort of - stopped drinking.

It was a very strange three weeks.  Good conversations. Watching a lot of old movies and documentaries, as well as the entire first season of Homeland and the Forsyte Saga. Being bored. Wondering when/ hoping/being afraid she would die. Weeping in the laundry.


I was getting an award October 5.  I was going to cancel. Mom told me not to, and then died quietly October 1, a few hours after the hospice nurse said she would live for at least a week, maybe longer. Of course, I was flat out useless at the awards. I basically stood at the podium and wept. It got so bad that one of presenters gave me her already used Kleenex.

2013-09-23 15.13.35room and biting my hand so she wouldn't hear me. Being scared. Laughing. Telling her to stop apologizing for my being there. Trying to write a little. Eating my way through so much junk food.  The day the wild turkeys came - and my mom's favorite memory involved a drive in the country and a flock of wild turkeys. 2013-09-21 07.43.42

When you hear hoofbeats, don't look for zebras
Doctors have a saying.  "When you hear hoofbeats, don't look for zebras." In other words, it's probably a cold, not a rare fatal virus.

Or in my case, just before Christmas when my leg turned red and started swelling up, it was probably cellulitis.  And when it didn't respond to three different antibiotics, they decided it was MRSA cellulitis, and I ended up in the hospital for three days. In case I was contagious and  might pose a danger to people who were already physically sick, they put me on the psych unit. Let's just say, that was interesting. T
hen I had a rare reaction to IV Vancomycin called hand-foot syndrome. First my hands and feet felt like they were on fire. Then eventually all the skin peeled off. Oh, and somewhere in there, the doctor thought I had a blood clot in my heart that was throwing off bits.  It was a month or so of suck.

2013-12-24 12.15.01
2013-12-28 11.30.16 2014-01-08 12.21.57

I did a LOT of lying on my back, staring at white acoustical ceilings, and crying.  And wondering whether I would lose my leg or die. I actually came out okay (except a scar from a biopsy).  It turns out that an errant kung fu shin clash probably led to something called traumatic panniculitis (dermatologist's theory) or a crush injury (orthopedic doc's theory).  Unfortunately, even though everyone eventually agreed I never had cellulitis, they couldn't agree on what I did have, so I coudln't be featured in the NY Times' Think Like a Doctor series. I couldn't even persuade the hospital to not charge me my copay, since they never tested to see if I had an infection.

Write or die
I like that program, Write or Die, for forcing you to write, forcing you to create instead of criticize or dither.

This past year was write or die for me. I turned in a book February 19th. February 20th I started a new book and turned that in June 1, despite doing school visits and events in St. Louis, Detroit, Chicago and Houston.  Both editors said the books were the best I had ever written. And I sold a new book over Memorial Day.  I'll finish it in November.
Screen Shot 2014-08-25 at 2.58.01 PM

So that's it. The highlights of my year. I hope to have a much quieter one this year.

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22. Dead or Alive? Discover the Most Amazing Animal Survivors

deadoralivecoverDead or Alive? by Clive Gifford, illustrated by Sarah Horne is a book packed with oohs and aahs, eurghs and arghs.

It is most definitely my kind of book.

If you’re looking for a book that will get your kids curious, disgusted, delighted, amazed, and astonished all in the space of a few pages, it will also be your kind of book.

An exploration of the greatest animal survivors, how they defy death and keep alive against the odds, Dead or Alive? shares stories of many extraordinary animals. From frogs who can freeze to catatonic opossums via zombie crabs and animals which have survived in space without spacesuits, this book is packed with unusual, engaging and remarkable facts.

The importance of playing dead, the huge range in animal life spans, the discovery of creatures which have come back from (apparent) extinction, and cloning are amongst other topics which feature. All are backed up by a really useful further reading list, web resources, glossary and even a fun quiz to take (or make your parents take). Exciting, engaging and the start for many more questions – what more could you want from a book?

Great illustrations?

Well you’ve got that too in Dead or Alive?.

Horne’s illustrations are funny and full of energy. Her cartoon style characters show a terrific range of emotions, surreptitiously encouraging readers to feel really involved with the bizarre and fascinating stories being told. Judicious use of animal photos in amongst the brightly coloured, zany illustrations add another richness to the visuals.

Click to see a larger image.

Click to see a larger image.

Dead or Alive? is an example of kids’ non-fiction par excellence.

Amazing information, brilliantly presented in a way which is bound to get young readers wanting to know more (and providing them with some starting points to do so). This is the sort of book kids will return to time and time again, to discover new facts as they dip in and out of the book, to re-live thrills when reading about particularly disgusting animal behaviour, to think about the very essence of what it means to be dead or alive.

This book has ‘lived’ by our dinner table for most of the summer. It’s been read and returned to many times, with lots of it being read out by the kids, desperate to share something they’ve found revolting or surprising. It has inspired all sorts of play and exploration, starting with a hunt for a bit of dead or alive action in our own back garden.

On one occasion we stumbled upon this Garden Spider and wasp:

deadoralive1

deadoralive2

Maybe it was a bit gruesome watching the spider prepare its prey (the wasp was wriggling when we started watching), but it gave us plenty of opportunities to talk about wildlife, food chains, and even a little bit about how death is very much part of life.

Next we scoured under rocks and in neglected corners of the garden for any dead bugs we could find so that we could look at them under our microscope. We stored the spiders, woodlice and bees we found in small makeup containers (from our local chemist, but you can get them online too).

deadoralive5

This is a field microscope which works really well for us as we can look at 3D objects (ie not slivers on slides), and the kids can look through two eyepieces (which is easier than looking through just the one). We got ours from here and can highly recommend it. It’s super simple to use, and yet packs quite a punch; Dr Who monsters have nothing on close-up views of pincers and scales and eyes of everyday garden bugs!

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After examining our dead subjects we added them to our own Natural History Museum (here’s the post explaining how we started it) and this led to a conversation about a different Natural History Museum we had visited earlier this summer which was packed with specimen jars. Spooky and intriguing, mesmerising and slightly frightening, we then decided our museum needed specimen jars too.

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We made our “specimens” out of plasticine and wax, put them in jam jars with water stained brown with the swish of a tea bag, and then wrote labels explaining what strange creatures we’d found, when and where.

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The one specimen that was made from plant matter (shhh! It’s a secret – of course, this is really a slice of alien brain) we put in a jar of vinegar stained with a little bit of brown sugar.

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I think these could provide great prompts for storywriting, or as props come Halloween time… (if you want to create EDIBLE specimen jars for a spooky party, do take a look at this!).

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Whilst making our specimen jars we listened to:

  • You Spin Me Round by Dead Or Alive
  • Dead Or Alive by Lonnie Donegan
  • Dead Chicken Joe by John Hadfield

  • Other ways to bring the pages of this book “to life” include:

  • Making clones. Choose your favourite animal cookie cutter and make a trayful of genetically identical biscuits you can munch on.
    Image: fdecomite

    Image: fdecomite

  • Visit a butchers and talk about the different animals (some) humans eat, and the different parts of the different animals. Can you identify the different parts? Why does meat from one animal look different to meat from another animal?
  • Find a museum or stately home to visit and hunt stuffed animals. Our experience is that kids are fascinated by the results of taxidermy. Mummified animals are also always a hit.
  • Were you fascinated by dead animals as a child? Are you kids curious when they see a dead animal?

    Disclosure: I received a free review copy of Dead or Alive? from the publisher.

    3 Comments on Dead or Alive? Discover the Most Amazing Animal Survivors, last added: 9/8/2014
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    23. Grief

    Death. Grief. Sorrow. Those aren’t words that any of us like, especially when they involve those closest to us. I don’t pretend to understand sorrow, though I have experienced it many times. I experienced it when my grandparents died. I experienced it when my own father was in a car accident, and again when my…

    10 Comments on Grief, last added: 9/29/2014
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    24. Fusenews: Bemoaning, Lamenting, and Generally Carrying On

    • A stumper to begin the day. I got this message from my aunt and I simply do not know the answer. Librarians of the world, do you know? Just to clarify beforehand, the answer is unfortunately not Are Your My Mother? by P.D. Eastman:

    “… seeking info on a children’s book that was [a] favorite at least 30 years ago about a baby bird (with goggles) who is having trouble learning to fly.”

    • CatherineCertitude 210x300 Fusenews: Bemoaning, Lamenting, and Generally Carrying OnHere’s a new one.  Apparently the 2014 Nobel Prize winner for literature is a French author with a children’s book to his name.  And the book?  According to Karen MacPherson it’s Catherine Certitude.  Now THAT is a title, people!
    • Me Stuff: Pop Goes the Page was very very kind and did a little behind-the-scenes interview with me about good old Giant Dance Party.  Ain’t Dana swell?  Meanwhile my favorite transgender children’s librarian Kyle Lukoff just posted a review of Wild Things on his blog.  I’ve been very impressed by his reviews, by the way.  The critique of A is for Activist is dead on.
    • On the one hand, this may well be the most interesting board book I’ve seen in a long time.  On the other, why can’t I buy it through Ingram or Baker & Taylor?  Gah!
    • Movie news! Specifically Number the Stars movie news. Read on:

    Young readers and their families enjoyed an afternoon celebrating the 25th anniversary of Lois Lowry’s Number the Stars  at Symphony Space in New York on October 19th.  Actor Sean Astin (Lord of the Rings) was on hand to read from Lowry’s work,. He and his wife Christine have secured the rights to adapt the book for film.

    The event was one of the Thalia Kids’ Book Club series at Symphony Space. The next event is a celebrity-studded tribute to the work of E. B. White on Wednesday, November 19th, with proceeds benefiting First Book Manhattan. (Link: http://www.symphonyspace.org/event/8497/Family-Literature/thalia-kids-book-club-terrific-tails-a-celebration-of-eb-white

    Lowry event PHOTOS just posted via Getty Images: http://www.gettyimages.com/detail/news-photo/lois-lowry-and-sean-astin-attends-number-the-stars-25th-news-photo/457520190

    • Aw heck.  Since I’m just reprinting small press releases at this point, I’d be amiss in missing this:

    ASK ME ANOTHER WITH MO WILLEMS

    • Date: Wednesday, November 5
    • Time: 6:30 doors, 7:30 show
    • Price: $20 advance, $25 door
    • Location: The Bell House, 149 7th Street (between 2nd and 3rd Aves), Brooklyn, NY 11215
    • Ticket Link: http://www.thebellhouseny.com/event/699477-ask-me-another-brooklyn/
    • Blurb: Join NPR’s Ask Me Another, along with host Ophira Eisenberg and house musician Jonathan Coulton, for a rousing night of brainteasers, comedy, and music. This week’s V.I.P. (that’s puzzle speak for Very Important Puzzler), is acclaimed children’s book author Mo Willems. Willems is known for titles like Knuffle Bunny, Don’t Let the Pigeon Drive the Bus!, and the Elephant and Piggie series. See how he fares in a trivia game written just for him. For more information and tickets visit www.amatickets.org.

    DuckDeathTulip 300x180 Fusenews: Bemoaning, Lamenting, and Generally Carrying OnAs a children’s materials specialist I have a little file where I keep track of my 80+ library branches and the types of books they want.  One of the topics you’ll find on my list?  Death.  We’re always asked to provide books about the bereavement process.  Now The Guardian has done a nice little round-up of some of the more recent ones.  Note, though, that death books all have on thing in common: They’re all about white families.  Finding a multicultural book about death isn’t impossible but it is harder than it should be, particularly when we’re discussing picture books.  Thanks to Kate for the link.

    • There is a tendency online when a story breaks to write a post that comments on one aspect or another of the situation without saying what the problem was in the first place.  That’s why we’re so grateful to Leila Roy.  If you found yourself hearing vague references to one Kathleen Hale and her article of questionable taste in The Guardian but didn’t know the whole story, Leila makes all clear here.
    • Hm. I like Harry Potter as much as the next guy but the Washington Post article Why the Harry Potter Books Are So Influential All Around the World didn’t quite do it for me.  Much of it hinges on believing that HP is multicultural.  I don’t suppose I’m the only person out there who remembers that in the original printing of Harry Potter and the Philosopher’s Stone, Dean Thomas was not mentioned as black.  That was added for subsequent editions.  Ah well.  Does it matter?
    • Daily Show Head Writer and fellow-who-is-married-to-a-children’s-librarian Elliott Kalan recently wrote a piece for Slate that seeks to explain how his vision of New York as a child was formed by Muppets Take Manhattan and Ghostbusters.  But only the boring parts.  Yup.
    • Fountas and Pinnell have a message for you: They’re sorry.  Thanks to Colby Sharp for the link.
    • Daily Image:

    They’ve finally announced the winner of the whopping great huge Kirkus Prize.  And the final finalist on the children’s side turns out to be . . . Aviary Wonders, Inc.  And here’s an image of the committee that selected the prize with the winner herself.

    Left to right: E.K. Johnston (author finalist), Vicky Smith (Kirkus Children’s Editor), Claudette McLinn, Kate Samworth, John Peters, and Linda Sue Park.

    Screen Shot 2014 10 27 at 11.25.19 PM 500x389 Fusenews: Bemoaning, Lamenting, and Generally Carrying On

    They mentioned the prize money but they never mentioned that the winner also gets a TROPHY!!  That’s big.  We don’t get many trophies in our business.  Well played.  And thanks to Claudette McLinn for the photo.

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    10 Comments on Fusenews: Bemoaning, Lamenting, and Generally Carrying On, last added: 10/29/2014
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    25. Death at a Distance

    I saw someone’s Facebook status today:

     

    a

    And I was immediately struck with anger.

    At first, I wasn’t sure quite why. I get what they meant. It seems like Ebola’s everywhere! It’s constantly on the news, all over the internet, and everyone’s talking about it. It makes sense to be sick of hearing about it.  We’re bound to get sick of hearing about anything that much!

    But still, I couldn’t shake the discomfort that rung in my head over that status. Ebola seems far away, after all, it’s only been diagnosed four times in the US. It’s easy to tuck it away in your mind as something distant that doesn’t affect you and forget why it’s a big deal.

    It’s even become a hot topic for jokes on social media:

    b c

    de

     

    Because so many see this very real disease as a far away concept, we find safety in our distance and it’s easy to make light of it.

    But guys….

    f

     

    4,877 deaths. 9,935 sufferers. That’s not funny. That’s not something to ask to “omg shut up.”

    The idea of disease never really hit home for me until my little sister was diagnosed with cancer. Yes, Ebola and cancer are two very different things. But I know what it’s like to watch someone I love very dearly suffer. I know what it’s like to hold my sister’s hand while she cries because she can’t escape the pain or the fear that comes with her disease. I know what it’s like to cry myself to sleep begging God to take her illness away. And I can’t help but imagine a sister somewhere in Africa in a situation very similar to my own, watching her loved one suffer, hearing her cries, and begging for it to all be over- but without the blessings of medicine and technology that my sister has access to.

    We are quick to throw on our pink gear for breast cancer awareness and dump ice on our head for ALS because that kind of awareness is fun and easy. I’m not trying to diminish those causes- they are great causes that deserve promotion. But I mean to make note of the fact that when another very real disease with very real consequences is brought to light and gains awareness, people groan that it’s in the news again and make jokes about it on the internet. Because Ebola doesn’t have the fun and cute promotional package, we complain and make light of it and its need for awareness and a solution.

    People are suffering and dying from Ebola. Just because that suffering seems far away, doesn’t make it any less significant.

     

    This is a guest post from my oldest daughter, Meredith. I begged her to let me post it. 


    Filed under: Don't Blog Angry

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