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1. On finding your memoir in the kitchen: dinner is served

Today on Huffington Post I'm sharing (in words) one of my seven video essays on the art of memoir. Here I'm thinking about those memoirs that begin in the kitchen and about the writers (MFK Fisher, Mary Gordon, Lavinia Greenlaw, Diana Abu-Jaber, and Chang-Rae Lee) who lead the way.

The link is here.

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2. The Heroine’s Journey in Room

Room (2015) is a movie directed by Lenny Abrahamson, written by Emma Donoghue (based on her award-winning novel), and starring Brie Larson and Jacob Tremblay. It’s about a woman kept prisoner by a rapist in a backyard shed for seven years where she gives birth to a son and raises him for five years before […]

The post The Heroine’s Journey in Room appeared first on Cathrin Hagey.

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3. On Why Living a 'Small Life' Is Big, interviewed by Annie Scholl, on HuffPo

On the campus of St. Albans there is this rich and purple light. There is this calm.

Yesterday morning, I talked with Annie Scholl for close to an hour by phone. Annie, a writer and photographer, is an interviewing pro. She asked questions I sometimes found difficult to answer. I was glad, in the end, to be pressed, for I knew that, with Annie, I was heard.

There are—make no mistake—deep frustrations that attend this writing life. I don't always successfully rise above them. I can sink to confusion and also to despair. I can wonder why, and also, why not? I can grow confounded.

But I'm happiest and more whole when I climb to whatever elevation is required to gain the broader view.

We talked about all of that. A fraction of that conversation is here now, on Huffington Post.
The final question is below:

You're not openly seeking to be a popular writer and make millions, but if that were to happen, how would you feel about it?
I actually think it's a scary thing to be in the glare and blare of the spotlight. I feel very lucky to have the life I have. I'm able to publish books that matter to me. I am not in the cross fire of envy. I am, in the end, enormously grateful for what I have. My ambition is to do well enough to be allowed to publish again. To remain rooted in the work. To participate in the literary conversation. Small ambitions. A fulfilled existence.

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4. growing into happiness: the Guardian, Little Flower, the Penn community, Hodgman

The annual Little Flower Teen Writers Festival is a school-wide celebration of writing and reading—a marvel of an invention in which a school, on a sunny Saturday, opens its doors to story weavers and student hearts. The dynamic, unstoppable Sister Kimberly Miller leads the way. Her girls wouldn't be anywhere else. And yesterday all of us who were in attendance were given keynote words from A.S. King that leapt us to our feet (yes, that's a deliberate inversion of language logic, but that's so what happened). King is one of those writers who has earned her status as a star. Her stories are essential. Her sentences are prime. And when she gets up there behind a microphone she has something actual to say—words that belong to her, ideas unborrowed.

I left Little Flower, rushed home, put on a skirt, swapped out my graffiti boots for a pair of four-inch heels, picked up the cake I'd made the day before, and headed out again to celebrate the career of Greg Djanikian, the exquisite Armenian poet whose life and work I profiled in the Pennsylvania Gazette last year. Greg is stepping down from full-time administrative duties at Penn so that he might write more and live less bounded-ly. Saddened as we are by the thought of seeing him less, last night was anything but a sad event. It brought together (in true Greg fashion) the teachers, writers, and student advocates who give Penn's creative writing program and Kelly Writers House their aura. Oysters, sherbet-colored shirts, an undaunted cat. Talk about food carts, the meaning of words, 1960, serial memoirists (the third Fuller), astonishing turns in storied careers, the art of the frittata, and the costs and high rewards of loving students. Sun when we arrived and stars when we left.

In between the two events, Kit Hain Grindstaff sent word of something wholly unforeseen—a Guardian review of Going Over. It begins like this below and can be read in full here.
Lyrical prose, beautiful and sensual imagery, a dark setting; yet, hope: there is always hope – because for the stars to shine, there needs to be darkness. Going Over just shot to my 'favourites' of 2015 list and I regret nothing. This book is graffiti, and colour and play dough and bikes. It is love, it is death, it is life; it is astronomy, maps, escapes and archery. It is a wall, splitting the earth with dark and hateful ideologies, and it is a spring in your step on one side: pink hair and coloured moles with a quiet and thoughtful being on the other; scope in hand, love clenched in heart and freedom circling though mind. Going Over is Ada and Stefan, Savas and Meryem, Turks and Germans and kids and adults. It is a story of humans and their plight in this world, and it is a story of love.

As is perhaps clear in this recent Huffington interview, I've been thinking a lot of late about what happiness is. I wrote toward that in today's Philadelphia Inquirer story, which has Frenchtown, NJ, as its backdrop. (Thank you Kevin Ferris and your team for another beautiful presentation of my photographs and words.) I've been also thinking a lot about kindness (never simple, often rare), thanks in part to George Hodgman's glorious memoir Bettyville, which I reviewed for the Chicago Tribune, here.

Today there is sun out there, flowering trees, wet-headed daffodils. I'm going to celebrate by finishing the fabulous Between You and Me (Mary Norris) and later checking into Chanticleer garden for the first time this year. I'm way overdue for a visit.

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5. Reflections on the European Migrant Crisis—and a matter that lies at the heart of GOING OVER, on HuffPo

Today, on HuffPo, I'm reflecting on the European Migrant Crisis—and on a primary theme, the Turkish guest workers, that sparked the writing of my Berlin Wall novel, Going Over (Chronicle Books).

The entire piece can be found here.

A brief excerpt, from the end of the piece, below:

When I set out to write my 1983 Berlin Wall novel, Going Over (Chronicle Books, 2014), I thought my research would primarily take me to the divided lives of those on either side of the wall. To the failed attempts at freedom. To the successful passages. To the lives of graffiti artists and stymied stargazers.

I found that. I wrote that. But there was something more, something bigger at the heart of this Berlin story -- the lives of the Turkish immigrants, those "guest workers," who had been called to West Berlin to help mitigate a rising labor problem in the wake of the war. Vaccinated, packed onto planes and trains, and redirected to worlds they couldn't foresee, these Turkish citizens left often-rural homes to become poorly paid semi-skilled laborers on German assembly lines. They were crammed into ghettoized apartments, left to their own societal devices, sometimes despised. Those who sought protection from German police -- women, mostly, seeking to escape abusive marriages or challenging conditions or threats of "honor" killings--were often foiled in their search for help. The Turkish immigrants were resident foreigners. They were a culture within a country, both separate and essential.

This Turkish story, it seemed to me, was as resonant, as relevant, as supremely timely as the story of walls and divisions and political strikes against family life. It contained lessons that even today disrupt ideas about German identity and about diversity -- anywhere, in any country. It had to be written about, to stand beside the better-known Wall story.

Those who are fleeing ravaged homes in Syria, Afghanistan, and elsewhere know only that which they are leaving. They cannot imagine what is next -- who will help them, who will open doors, who will allow them to maintain their dignity. As governments, agencies, and families all around the world watch the exodus in horror and with broken hearts, it becomes an urgent matter to also imagine what happens next.

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6. Huffington Post piece: women living with male aggression

What do the recent federal election in Canada and the new year’s eve attacks on women in Cologne, Germany have in common? Political leaders caught micromanaging the intimate details of women’s lives. Read my article “What Women Wear Daily: Male Aggression” for more.

The post Huffington Post piece: women living with male aggression appeared first on Cathrin Hagey.

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7. How is First Book Delivering Social Impact?

First Book’s fearless leader, President and CEO Kyle Zimmer will speak live Thursday at 1:05pm EDT on HuffPostLive alongside other tireless social entrepreneurs that include Hilde Schwab, David Jones and Asher Hasan. The live discussion will examine how corporate assets can deliver social impact both nationally and globally.

Check out the livestream below, available at Thursday 1:05pm EDT:

The post How is First Book Delivering Social Impact? appeared first on First Book Blog.

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8. Rewind: A Great Kids’ Book on the Creation of Macy’s Thanksgiving Day Parade Balloons

Melissa’s Sweet is on a glorious roll this year getting a lot of well deserved attention for her illustrations for  A Splash of Red,  Brave Girl, and Little Red Writing.  So I thought I’d republish this interview from a couple of years back about her delightful book about Tony Sarg and the Macy’s Parade balloons.

Just in time for the annual Macy’s Thanksgiving Day Parade comes Melissa Sweet‘s picture book biography, Balloons over Broadway: The True Story of the Puppeteer of Macy’s Parade. That puppeteer is none other than Tony Sarg, a remarkable man indeed. Author/Illustrator Melissa Sweet has done a bang-up job focusing in on the man, directing young readers toward the activities that led him to his epiphany — why not float creature balloons over the parade? Why not indeed?

Sarg being a unique man, Sweet’s story is a fascinating one. But it is really with her illustrations that she, an already much lauded illustrator, has truly outdone herself. Mixing primary sources, toys she made herself for the book, collages, assemblages, comics, drawings, paintings, and more, she has created a picture book biography like no other. Through her text and art the brilliant Sarg bounds to life in this book as do his ideas, his creations, and his stories. Balloons over Broadway is a book that will be enjoyed by everyone in the family — be sure to have your copy on hand when watching this year’s parade!

Thinking that many would enjoy knowing more about how this book came to be I asked Melissa if she’d be willing to answer a few questions and provide a few images. She did all that and more as you will see.

So everyone in America it seems spends Thanksgiving morning watching the Macy’s parade and those incredible balloons. But I have to say it never really crossed my mind to consider how they came into being so your book was quite a revelation. What inspired you to do it? Was it the balloons first or Tony Sarg?

It was Tony Sarg that intrigued me first and I had the same response–how did this brilliant illustrator and puppeteer invent the character balloons? I knew there was a story there. The Macy’s parade and Tony’s life are so intertwined that parade was the perfect vehicle to tell his story.

Tony Sarg seems like such a larger-than-life figure. Did that make it a bit hard at times to write the book? I mean, did you have to pick and chose stories, winnow the text down a lot to get to the essence of his life in terms of the balloons? Was there anything you found especially hard to put in or leave out?

It’s true, with a character like Tony Sarg, every story seems worth telling. In this case, the essence also had to be something that children could relate to. There were many stories I wanted to tell–how he sat in a theatre watching a puppet troupe perform for 50 nights in a row to learn their trade. And how at the end of the Macy’s parade he released the balloons into the sky with a reward for their return.

But my favorite story is when a “sea monster” was sighted off the coast of Nantucket, (where Tony had a house). Luckily, Tony and some friends “captured” it and brought it onto the beach as everyone Nantucket watched. He had a great humor and was a bit of prankster. (The image of this event below is courtesy of the Nantucket Historical Association.)

I’m curious about your research which was clearly extensive. You seem to have traveled, interviewed, made things, and read and read. Any especially memorable moments along this journey?

A few years into the research I was in touch with a man in his nineties who worked for Sarg at the 1939 World’s Fair. It was remarkable to hear his stories of that time. Another was when I was visiting Nantucket for the first time (where there is a great collection of Sarg’s work at the Nantucket Historical Association), I went to the public library which is in a gorgeous old building on a cobblestone street. It started to snow as I was looking through old newspaper clippings about Sarg and it was dawning on me what a legend he was. The whole place seemed magical.

Tell us a bit about creating the art. You mention it at the end of the book, but HuffPo readers might enjoy learning a bit about how you went about making it. Just a little bit, perhaps?

My studio is full of old toys, fabric and found objects I’ve collected. I started making quirky toys and paper-mache puppets using the materials I had on hand. People often ask which comes first, words or pictures, and in this case making these objects taught me about Tony’s creative process and helped me figure out an angle to tell the story. I knew I wanted a 3-dimensional aspect to the art to give the feel of what Tony’s studio might’ve been like. I recently made some fun Christmas ornaments based on the book for the Martha Stewart show with instructions on her website. They’re miniature parade balloons.

What are you working on now?

I have a wonderful mix of non-fiction and picture books I’m working on and next year I have a picture book biography coming out: Mrs. Harkness and the Panda By Alicia Potter and Spike: The Mixed Up Monster by Susan Hood, about an axolotl which is as funny as its name.

Melissa, thank you so much for taking the time to answer my questions and providing the following movie of Sarg in action as a puppeteer.

Also at the Huffington Post  (along with a slide show with more images of Sarg and some interior art from the book).

2 Comments on Rewind: A Great Kids’ Book on the Creation of Macy’s Thanksgiving Day Parade Balloons, last added: 11/27/2013
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9. Through the Slushpile Spectacles - Are Children's Writers a Breed Apart?

by Addy Farmer Peering through my spectacles this week, I spotted this interesting article in The Guardian.  It examined the reaction to writer, Lynne Sheperd's piece in The Huffington Post in which she urged J.K.Rowling to stop writing and give other people a crack at earning some money. She says: I didn't much mind Rowling when she was Pottering about. I've never read a word (or seen a

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10. The Collective Power of a Nation of Readers

This piece also appears on The Huffington Post’s Impact blog.

Steve White, a volunteer at a local nonprofit, worked through the holidays to ensure that 3,000 kids in need in Denver would have brand-new books of their own at Christmas.

Elisa Mayo, the finance coordinator for a school district in Mississippi, helped students at her Title I school get the books — and the encouragement — they needed to start book clubs, and now dozens of students, from third to fifth grade, voluntarily skip recess to meet and to talk about their new books.

A community group in Navajo County, Arizona was so determined to have a free library for local children that they raised money through bake sales, started with a donated room in a nearby gas station, and eventually came up with the funds to build a library.

These everyday heroes all have something in common. They are part of First Book, a nonprofit network of teachers, librarians, community leaders and program administrators serving kids in need — a network that stretches across the country and around the world.

An Alabama teacher and her class, part of First Book's network

These men and women and thousands more like them are working every day to transform the lives of children from poor neighborhoods, and they know how desperate the need is. Kids from low-income families lack the resources that many of their middle and upper-class peers take for granted. Every study confirms the impact that has on their futures. One study that never fails to shock revealed that, while children in affluent neighborhoods had access to an average of 13 books a day, there is only a single age-appropriate book for every 300 children.

First Book is working to change that. We partner with the publishing industry to provide books — brand-new, high-quality books — to the teachers and program leaders who sign up with us. Our network is the fastest-growing group of educators in the country serving kids in need: we just reached the incredible milestone of 100,000 registered schools and programs.

Reaching that milestone is exciting, because that means that we’re reaching more children in need than ever.

But there’s another reason why bringing so many educators together matters.

By joining First Book, the people we serve are acknowledging something important: we have more power collectively than we do as individuals. It’s one of the most powerful ideas in human history, from the birth of cities to the workers’ unions that built the country to the marvelous online social networks that are transforming how we communicate.

We’ve already seen the impact this can have. For example, at one point, there was no bilingual edition (English and Spanish together) of the perennial children’s classic, The Very Hungry Caterpillar, but the educators we work with requested it repeatedly. Based on that feedback, we were able to go to the publisher and show that there was real demand. A bilingual edition rolled off the presses shortly thereafter, a book now available to all children and families.

This unprecedented network is also the source of valuable insight into the needs of those serving children at the base of the economic pyramid. There is no group of people whose voices are more critical to our collective future; what they have to say about the 30 million children living in low-income families in the United States and their futures is of paramount importance to us all.

Everyone at First Book is proud of our role in supporting this network. But we know there’s much, much more to be done. We estimate that there are 1.3 million educators and program leaders out there eligible to join us, and we’re doing everything we can to connect every single one.

The post The Collective Power of a Nation of Readers appeared first on First Book Blog.

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11. In HuffPo: On teaching the Berlin Wall, at a Philadelphia High School

A few weeks ago I taught the Berlin Wall at a Philadelphia school where graffiti is part and parcel of the capstone process. 

I tell that story today on Huffington Post.

I speak of this young man, the s

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12. A Latina en Lucha Needs You Mucha Campaign

Melinda Palacio

Michele Serros and Melinda Palacio

 In 1995, I heard Michele Serros read at Martinez Bookstore in Santa Ana. At the time, I didn't see myself as a writer. My mom's best friends, Mary Rose and Eddie Ortega are avid readers and collectors of Chicano Literature. I had no idea what I was in for when I went along for the ride with the Ortegas. I met my first published author, a young jubilant Chicana whose stories were so real and close to home, I laughed without realizing the magical impact of that experience.

Michele Serros reading at a fundraiser for the 2010 Latino Book and Family Festival

In the past twenty years, Michele's stories and books have become iconic and required reading in high schools and colleges.  I never thought decades later we would both be featured authors on panels and writer pals who send each other late night texts.  Earlier this year, I had my own debut at Martinez Books. Thanks to Reyna Grande, who gathered 140 Latino authors for the 2010 Latino Book and Family Festival (see photos and post on La Bloga), I met Michele Serros again as a fellow published author.

Giving Back to a Young Author Who Has Inspired So Many

Less than a year after that moment of meeting Michele Serros again at the Latino Book and Family Festival, I knew that she had some complicated news she wanted to share. But she was hesitant to come out with it. I remember seeing her again in Berkeley when she came to hear me read with Francisco X. Alarcón at Moe's Books. She hinted at her illness, but didn't say outright, I have cancer.  I think she was hoping the disease that claimed her mother would go away and that she wouldn't have to burden her family, friends, and fans with the knowledge that she was fighting for her life.

In April 2013, she could no longer ignore the diagnosis. The cancer advanced to Stage 4 adenoid cystic carcinoma, affecting her bones, liver, lymph nodes and paralyzing her left vocal chord.

Some of her friends convinced her to join a crowd funding campaign to help pay for the astronomical price of what her insurance does not cover. Michele Serros chose to stand down cancer in a public way, sharing photos from her hospital stay on Facebook and writing about her lucha on the Huffington Post. Join her campaign and help her say, Hasta La Bye Bye Cancer! You will even be able to join in her chorus of gritos September 16. As of yesterday, she has raised $26, 517 out of a goal of $30, 000.

I hope that Michele exceeds her goal. I look forward to belting out a grito for her on September 16, Mexican Independence Day and the last day to contribute to her GiveForward Campaign, 'A Latina en Lucha Needs You Mucha.'

Yesterday, I texted and emailed a few people and gathered a little help to round out this Bloga post and boost the crowd funding campaign for Michele Serros. Here are a few more testimonials.

Michele Serros and Mary Rose Ortega

Mary Rose Ortega writes:

"Over the years, I have been to several of her readings, have read and collected her books. All her books are personally autographed. She has brought back many memories and has added laughter to my life. I feel she has included us on her day to day struggle because she knows we care. She puts laughter on the persistent cancer that she is fighting. As a Chicana, I feel that she has always made me proud and when a friend is in need, we need to be there for them. So please give, what you can, to help her in this fight against Cancer."

Mona AvaradoFrazier and Michele Serros
at the Ventura County Museum where Michele was the keynote speaker for the Latina Film Festival.
Lucy Rodriguez-Hanley made a short film based on one of Michele's short stories.

Mona AlvaradoFrazier writes:
"We are homegirls, Michele and I. Not only did we attend the same high school, are from the same hometown, and in the same critique group but we are homegirls in the fight against cancer. My own fight was nine years ago.

When Michele told me she had cancer, there were no words that I could say, I could only hug her tightand feel the struggle ahead that is a battle for life as it is known before the word 'cancer,' is uttered

Michele is genuinely sweet, a quality hard to come by when you suffer the loss of a parent and grow up in an economically depressed urban areaShe is kindwittytalentedand so much moreBut the quality I know her best for is her ganasthat unique ability to survive and thrive whatever the odds

Thank you to everyone who donates to Michele's fight against cancerShe has many more stories to write."

Florencia Ramirez

Florencia writes:
 "As far as I'm concerned  Michele Serros put Oxnard and El Rio on the map! My favorite all time poem of Michele's is "Dead Pig's Revenge." I've read and re-read it through the years. Recently, I read it aloud to my children; they couldn't stop laughing. But the best part is they could relate: to the chicharrones, to growing up in Oxnard. Michele's poetry and stories are theirs too. 

Through her stories she shows us how life is hysterical, joyful, cruel, and baffling...but somehow we get through it and it is all damn beautiful. But damn this cancer that tugs at Michele's life...it is too soon, too many unwritten stories only she can write. 

With the help of Facebook, she has taken us with her on her lucha against cancer. She shows us all how to face life's toughest challenges with grace and authenticity. And like the young Michele in "Dead Pig's Revenge," this to will have a happy ending."

Reyna Grande

La Bloga friend, Reyna Grande writes:"
"Michele is a wonderful human being and a talent writer who has inspired me by her hard work and dedication but also by the strength and resiliency she ha s shown during this difficult period of her life. I wish her all the best and I encourage everyone to give to her campaign as a way of thanking her for everything she has given us, her readers and fans."

Michele Serros, Stylish Survivor and Author
Join her Campaign. Help her fight cancer.

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13. Ten (or so) Great 2014 Kid Books for Gift-giving

I have read and loved a ton of books this year; among my many favorites are the following suggestions for great gifts this holiday season.

1, For a book that will be fun for a wide range of middle-grade readers and is also a great book to read aloud as a family, check out Jennifer L. Holm’s The Fourteenth GoldfishThis deceptively spare book (comes in at just under 200 pages) packs quite a punch. It offers a clever take on a trope that is not unfamiliar in children’s books — that of an older person suddenly contending with being young again. In this case it is the protagonist’s scientist grandfather who gets to try teen life once again and his grumpy response is spot on hilarious. But mixed-in are warm and sensitive considerations of growing old-growing up, new-old friendships, familial love, the passion-pleasure of scientific research, and relationships overall. For more read my New York Times review.

2. A book that absolutely demands to be read aloud is B. J. Novak’s The Book with No Pictures.  The title says it true — there are no pictures at all. What there is is lots of silliness that is all designed to push the poor adult reading the book aloud into more and more awkwardness. And what kid doesn’t like seeing an adult put him or herself into the silliest position possible? While my 4th graders got a kick out of this one, I would guess it would be especially beloved (and demanded over and over) by younger kids. Novak plays with the whole methodology of reading aloud in a very entertaining and clever way.

3. A picture book that may begin as a book to read aloud, but will send young readers back to it to examine over and over on their own is Mac Barnett and Jon Klassen’s Sam & Dave Dig a Hole. Be forewarned, grown-ups, the ending of this one has a Twilight Zone, The Sixth Sense, Cabin in the Woods vibe where things-turn-out-not-to-be-quite-what-you-thought. After I read it to them, my 4th grade students went wild coming up with theories for this; my blog post featuring them is here.

4. Another favorite picture book of mine is one on the guy who invented the thesaurus, Jen Bryan and Melissa Sweet’s The Right Word: Roget and his Thesaurus. For kids who love words and book with illustrations full of words, look no further. This one is absolutely gorgeous and fascinating. For the end papers, illustrator Sweet replicated all of Roget’s original set of words! My blog review here.

5. One of the most lyrical and moving books of the year is Jacqueline Woodson’s National Book Award winning memoir Brown Girl Dreaming. Intertwining stories of her childhood in the South and Brooklyn, Woodson manages to bring a lens to race and racism, friendship, and what it is to grow into a writer and poet. One to give to an introspective young reader and emerging writer as well as one to read and discuss as a family.

6. Another memoir that probably would be great as an individual read is Cece Bell’s graphic novel  El Deafo, a moving and at times quite funny memoir of her youth. I’m planning to have my 4th grade class read it later this school year and am confident that they are going to love it. While Bell doesn’t shy away from issues dealing with her hearing loss, doing so with wit and a refreshing lack of self-pity, it is the search for a good friend that will resonate most with young readers.

7. The Crossover by Kwame Alexander is a powerful verse novel involving twelve-year-old African-American twins, both of whom are gifted basketball players. A student of mine last year who was serious about basketball and writing absolutely adored this one and I was thrilled to be able to get a copy signed for him by the author. The poetry is energetic and the story compelling — a sure-fire hit for a wide range of readers.

8. I was completely charmed by Dana Alison Levy’s The Misadventures of the Family FletcherThis episodic novel of a family of two dads and four adopted boys of various races is a delight. The boys are so real and their experiences funny, tender, and relatable. I’ve had it at school debating when to read it aloud to my class and am confident that it will be a success when I do. Here’s a quote from my Horn Book review: ”Levy provides a compelling, compassionate, and frequently hilarious look at their daily concerns. By book’s end readers will want to be part of (or at least friends with) this delightful family.”

9. For older children with a predilection for history, look no further than Candace Fleming’s The Family Romanov. Balancing the over-the-top lifestyle of the last Russian royals with firsthand accounts of the rest of the populace, Fleming provides a fascinating and highly readable version of this tragic story. Handsomely designed and full of photographs, this volume seems uncomfortably timely when considering today’s 1 percent, those who currently have the bulk of the world’s wealth.

10. Finally, I’m going to cheat and give you some more favorites without commentary that I’ve reviewed elsewhere:

Also at the Huffington Post.



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14. In today's HuffPo: writing toward fear, as I wrote toward One Thing Stolen

I have made reference to the challenges that beset me (self-afflicted, surely) as I set out to write One Thing Stolen. Today, in Huffington Post, I'm write of the fears I was writing toward during the process.

The piece begins like this, below, and carries forward here.

There is a girl who only just recently knew who she was, what she wanted, the dimensions of now. A girl who has a retro-minded best friend and a reputation for ingenious ideas about night snow, urban gardens, and the songs that rise up from Philadelphia streets. She has a mother and a brother, both loved. She has a father obsessed with the Florentine flood of November 1966--that unforeseen spill of the Arno River, that mud that clawed through homes and stores and across the face of Cimabue's "Crucifix," among so many other treasures. This girl has moved with her family to Florence. This girl is losing herself.

It's hard to say, precisely, when she began to peel away. When an obsession with nests and nest building became her terrible secret. When thieving erupted as a necessary part of her existence. When words began to clot and clog and answers became elusive.

It's hard to say when all this started. It's impossible to know how it will end.

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15. 10 Greatest Kisses in Literature

In honor of Valentine’s day, The Huffington Post has compiled a list of the 10 best kisses in literature. From the romantic (Gone with the Wind) to the creepy (Lolita and Humbert) to the the innocent (Callie’s first kiss with her friend Clementine in Middlesex,)  this list has a little of bit of everything for everyone.

So Happy Valentine’s Day to all the book lovers out there!

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16. Go, Renee Olstead!

You may recognize Renee Olstead from her current role as Madison on ABC Family's The Secret Life of the American Teenager, or you might have seen her as Lauren on the TV series Still Standing. Maybe you saw her in the movie 13 Going on 30. But did you know that Renee is not only an accomplished singer and actress, but also a student? She's currently attending college classes and working on two productions, a new season of Secret Life and the movie The Midnight Game.

Renee recently posted an article at The Huffington Post in which she thanks her English professor, Joan Eyles Johnson, for inspiring her to be "a better writer, citizen, and human being." She goes on to say:

"I want to speak up and tell you that mascara and clothes don't make you cool, neither do name-brand handbags, but being a leader can. Every day we can choose to challenge what we 'know' and go on our own quest for answers. As teens, you have the ability to channel your thoughts and inspirations through the power of social media, to connect with one another and start social movements for change! Find something you care about -- social injustice, animal rights, international war crimes, human trafficking, or women's rights -- and make a statement. Connect with one another, take a stand, and spread the word."

Click here to read Renee's article.

Follow Renee on Twitter @renee_olstead - and tell her @readergirlz sent you!

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17. Be Positive!

Check out this article by Anya Strzemien at The Huffington Post, which is collecting comments for a good cause. Simply give yourself a compliment! For every comment up to 5,000, the Huffington Post Media Group will donate $1 to Girls Inc. I pointed readergirlz diva Melissa Walker to the article and she immediately posted about it at I Heart Daily. As Melissa said, "How cool is that?"

I told my friend Amber Benson about it as well, and she tweeted: "Say something positive about yourself and help raise some money for Girls Inc - JUST DO IT!"
 Go to the Huffington Post website and leave your comments by April 10th! Then post, tweet, et cetera, and encourage others to do the same.

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18. Storytelling Thursday - Tell YOUR Story

For Storytelling Thursday, I'm sharing a post from Huffington Post's Anya Strzemien.  Anya is tired of hearing her friends - her women friends - talk badly about their looks.  In her article, she talks specifically about looks but we women also talk badly about our cooking, "I can never make this casserole taste as good as my sister can", our talents, "I can't draw - or sew - or write - or sing as well as (insert name here)." our housework - you name it.  It gets wearing to have to reassure us.  It really does.

Maybe we do it to be complimentary to the other person.  And, maybe, we're all lying and we actually believe that we're awesome.  Well, Anya wants you to tell her why you think you're awesome and for every comment, she'll give $1 to Girls, Inc.

So, visit Anya's article and tell her why you like the way you look. Tell a different story about yourself and change the world's perception of YOU. I did.

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19. Writers Against Racism: Author Ana Castillo REJECTED (Tucson HS)

Over the weekend, I was catching up on my Facebook posts and resting. I had to cancel Jacquie Harvey’s interview for another day because I was truly exhausted.  Anyway, while trolling, I saw a post from YA author Matt de la Peña
How do you say no to Ana Castillo, Tucson? http://www.huffingtonpost.com/jeff-biggers/breaking-tucson-high-scho_b_1458984.html


In a stunning rejection of celebrated author Ana Castillo’s offer to read and speak with Tucson high school students next week, Tucson Unified School District administrators added a new chapter to the nation’s most troubling censorship crackdown.What is going on in Tucson? What message is this sending to their young people? What can we do to help???

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20. Ode to Libraries video

Thanks to the Huffington Post for sharing this quite, um, laudatory video of Daniel Handler and Maira Kalman performing, as you will, an Ode to Libraries.

I couldn't figure out how to embed the video so follow this link.  It's lovely.  And it features my FAVORITE instrument.  Guess which one.

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21. Indian in the... Dishwasher?!

Though the toy Indians seen in Indian in the Cupboard are not available in the numbers they once were, they still appear in interesting places...

This morning, I was reading Huff Post's "Uncommon Items to Put in the Dishwasher" and item #2 is a plastic toy Indian. Here's a screenshot:

Where, I wonder, did they get it? How and why did they choose it over something else?!

2 Comments on Indian in the... Dishwasher?!, last added: 7/25/2012
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22. Adam Gidwitz on Spooky Spooky Fairy Tales

Halloween’s just around the corner which means All Hallows Read is too. When Neil Gaiman first proposed this idea of giving books for Halloween I offered some suggestions, among them Adam Gidwitz’s fairy tale debut, A Tale Dark and Grimm.  Now Adam is back with In a Glass Grimmly, as macabre and entertaining as his first book, and I thought it would be fun to see what he had to say about fairy tales, their reputation, and other related topics.

For those readers unfamiliar with your two books, how about a twitteresque description. Not too much more than 140 characters that is!

Two children travel through the funniest, weirdest, darkest Grimm tales, facing horrible parents, cruel peers, and other monsters. And—most painfully of all—themselves. (147! I’m a champion!)

Since you are a sort of fairy tale nerd (as am I) what is your take on my impression that for the general public fairies and fairy tales continue to have an image problem. Seems to me that for all the urban fantasy out there (in books, movies, and television shows), many still associate fairy tales with sparkly teeny tiny women flitting about with wings, pink, and Disney.  Would you agree? Disagree?  

I agree. And most of these adaptations don’t really help the cause at all. Most of the current adaptations of Grimm fairy tales take details from the original tales and use them as a jumping off point to tell their own story and to do their own thing. They toss the form and the style of the fairy tale out the window. I think this is a great waste. Fairy tales have endured not only because of the stories they tell but also because of how they tell them. Fairy tales are told simply, matter-of-factly; they are brief; they deal with the deepest of emotions–pain, humiliation, betrayal, lostness (if you will)–without any hyperbole or drama. The Grimm fairy tales in crystalize our most essential emotions. These modern adaptations, for the most part, have nothing to do with our deepest human emotions. They miss the point of fairy tales altogether.

Another criticism fairy tales get is that they are violent yet you seem to have embraced that idea and run with it. Why? 

The real fairy tales are indeed quite violent. But the violence is not gratuitous. On the contrary, it is essential to fairy tales’ task. One of fairy tales’ methods of speaking to the readers’ deepest emotions is a technique I like to call “tears into blood.” There is a wonderful Grimm tale called “The Seven Ravens,” in which a father loves his one little daughter so much more than his seven boys that he wishes they would turn into birds and fly away–which they promptly do. When the little girl discovers that her brothers’ disappearance is due to her father loving her more than he loved the boys, she runs away from home to find them. She is given a chicken bone by the stars (yep, you read that right), and told that it will open the Crystal Mountain where the boys are trapped. The little girl journeys to the mountain but, upon arriving, realizes that she has lost the chicken bone. At this moment, any real child’s feelings of guilt would be extraordinary. Not only was it indirectly her fault that her brothers were turned into birds, but in losing the chicken bone she has lost the ability to save them.

Now, do a little thought-experiment with me. Imagine that “The Seven Ravens,” at this critical juncture, abruptly changed genres and became adult realistic fiction. What would the little girl do? She would live out her days trying to come to terms with her guilt, failing in the majority of her relationships and wondering what could have been. Right? Very depressing. Now, let’s imagine that “The Seven Ravens”, at the moment when the girl discovers the loss of the bone, switches from fairy tale to middle grade adventure novel. In this scenario, the girl would remember a little piece of wire that she received in the first chapter, and she would pick the lock on the door to the mountain and free her brothers. Either that or the bad guy would show up and she’d have to fight him.

But “The Seven Ravens” is a fairy tale. So what happens? The little girl cuts off her finger. And then she slides it into the lock on the door to the Crystal Mountain, and, without any further explanation, the door opens, and she sets her brothers free. This solution raises a series of questions (why the heck does her finger open the door? for example). But what this solution does for the reader is that it takes all the guilt the girl was feeling–about the transformation of her brothers, about the lost chicken bone–into blood. It turns emotional pain into physical pain. It turns tears into blood.

But why is this good? Because every child has cut himself. Every child has been bruised or bled. And so every child knows that the blood stops eventually, the wound scabs over, the bruise yellows and fades. Fairy tale violence teaches the child that emotional wounds heal. That salty tears dry. That no matter the pain, victory is possible.

In your first book you stuck pretty closely to several Grimm fairy tales. This time you branch out a bit.  How did you end up with the tales you did retell and what made you move farther into your own original ones?

Thematic considerations and practical ones. First, the thematic: The emotional journey of A TALE DARK AND GRIMM is the children’s evolving relationship towards parents. The journey of IN A GLASS GRIMMLY is about peers. There were certain tales–”The Emperor’s New Clothes,” for example, and Christina Rossetti’s “Goblin Market”–that dealt with issues of peers and peer-pressure beautifully, that I really wanted to include. The practical consideration was that I had settled on calling the children Jack and Jill, mostly because that was another folkloric pairing (like Hansel and Gretel) that kids would recognize. (I briefly considered the Grimm Jorinda and Joringel, but I just didn’t think those characters have the same instant name recognition, you know?). So, once I settled on Jack and Jill, that suggested the famous Jack stories, such as the gruesome “Jack the Giant Killer” and the popular “Jack and the Beanstalk.”

I’m curious about your research. In addition to presumably reading a ton of fairy tales, what other research have you done? 

I spent most of 2012 living in Europe–mostly in France. My wife was doing her dissertation research in medieval history. I, on the other hand, was eating a ridiculous amount of bread, writing in the mornings, and traveling on the weekends. I explored the Black Forest. I found the Crystal Mountain (well, I think I did). I walked under white cliffs along an endless beach (see the chapter “The Giant Killer” in IN A GLASS GRIMMLY). So I certainly did some geographical and scenic research. I also play with language in my books, particularly regarding characters’ names. So I had some German friends I consulted with on the name of the giant salamander that appears near the end of IN A GLASS GRIMMLY, and I spent a lot of time buried in the Gaelic dictionary developing the names of the giants. Finally, I read a fair amount of secondary material on the fairy tales, to ensure that I was honoring their traditions as well as their content.

Your books are being rightly recommended as fun Halloween-related horror.  Do you have any others that you might want to recommend to go with them?  

I love Laura Amy Schlitz’s SPLENDORS AND GLOOMS –very creepy, very Victorian, and very dark. It’s got a witch, a magic amulet, a murderous puppeteer, and a little girl who has to visit a graveyard every year on her birthday. What’s not to love?

The other day one of my students who loves your books was railing about the oddity of fairy tales. Why, she ranted, does Gretel have to use a bone for a key in the first book? Why can’t she just just a carefully constructed object that doesn’t involve..let’s see how to phrase this so as not to spoil things….nasty personal stuff?  How would you respond to her and others like her?

Fairy tales don’t make any sense. That’s the wonderful thing about them. Their strangeness is their beauty. Also, it’s hilarious.

What’s next? 

One more Grimm book. This one is about a boy named Coal and a girl named Ash. Coal is based on the simpleton character that recurs throughout Grimm’s fairy tales–the boy who everyone thinks is stupid, but turns out to possess a special wisdom. Ash is short for Ashputtle. Also known as Cinderella. If you know the Grimm version of Cinderella, you know this book will be just as strange and dark as the two that preceded it.

And to end, for fun, a few questions that Proust also had to answer (and Vanity Fair has taken-off from for years).

What is your idea of happiness?
Writing in my pajamas in the morning; a huge, rare cheeseburger for lunch; an afternoon with my wife and friends; and an evening with just my wife.

What is your idea of misery?
A world with no introspection. For this reason, I fear for our society. Who needs Big Brother and thoughtcrime, when self-awareness is obliterated by a constant stream of chattering screens?

If not yourself, who would you like to be?
An astronaut.

Where would you like to live?
Most of the year in Brooklyn, and then the month of June in Paris. Or the White House. They have a bowling alley, a basketball court, and a private chef. As long as I didn’t have to do any of that annoying work that the dude who lives there has to do.

What is your favorite food and drink?
My favorite food is a huge, rare cheeseburger. My favorite drink is not for kids, so I’ll leave it out.

What is your present state of mind? 
What did Proust say? Bored because of these questions? No. Hungry, because I keep talking about cheeseburgers.

Also at Huffington Post.

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23. Bookish Gift Giving: Peter Sis’ The Conference of the Birds

Wondering what to give that dreamy child you know or an adult relative with a taste for beautiful books?  Might I make a suggestion? Consider one of Peter Sis’ unique and beautiful books, say his latest, The Conference of the Birds.

An artist who works far and wide, the Czech Sís has received many honors including multiple Caldecott Honors, a Macarthur Fellowship and most recently the Hans Christian Andersen Medal (you can see his acceptance speech here). He is well-known for drawing on his personal history in books like The Wall: Growing Up Behind the Iron Curtain and Tibet Through the Red Box while also taking on extraordinary people such as Galileo in  Starry Messenger and Darwin in The Tree of Life.

The Conference of the Birds is Sis’s gorgeous adaptation of the 12th century epic poem written by Farid Ud-Din Attar from Persia, the story of a flight of birds in search of their true king. Led by a hoopoe, the birds’ journey is a treacherous, soul-wrenching allegory. Their road through the world is filled with doubt, death, and destruction, but ends with a final moving epiphany. Those who appreciate allegorical works like Antoine de Saint-Exupéry’s  The Little Prince are likely to feel the same way about this one. Particularly since, as with de Saint-Exupéry”s work, it is the art that takes this story to whole new levels of meaning and consideration.

Originally published and promoted as a picture book for adultsThe Conference of the Birds is a moving and spectacularly beautiful book for all ages that would make an excellent holiday gift this season.

On December 9th at Prague’s international airport, a large tapestry based on one of the illustrations from this gorgeous book, sponsored and donated by Art for Amnesty, woven by master weavers in Aubusson, France, and honoring the memory and legacy of Václav Havel is to be unveiled. It is certain to be as spectacular as the book itself.


Also at Huffington Post including a slideshow with some illustrations from the book.

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24. Winning Battles for Writers: National Writers Union

Interview with National Writers Union Organizer Andrew Van Alstyne

by Linda M. Rhinehart Neas

Being a freelance writer can be as lonely as a sailor adrift at sea. In this interview, Andrew Van Alstyne, an organizer with the National Writers Union (UAW Local 1981), will share the importance of solidarity among freelance writers.

Andrew is a Ph.D. candidate in sociology at the University of Michigan. He currently lives in Arlington, Massachusetts with his wife and two daughters.

WOW: Andrew, to start, could you tell us a little about what the National Writers Union is and what they do for writers?

Andrew: The National Writers Union (UAW local 1981) has been around since 1981. We’re the only labor union representing freelance writers. We work on everything from contracts and grievances to copyright issues and member education. Writing is often a solitary profession and the union is a much-needed source of solidarity and support for its members.

This solidarity and support can be crucial for freelance writers. We just won a significant settlement with the publishers of Heart & Soul magazine for unpaid wages for contract writers and staff editors. The magazine’s publisher will sign a confession of judgment and pay the writers in six installments. The first payment was just sent to a writer facing foreclosure. This victory wouldn’t have happened without the commitment of the affected writers, but it also shows the value of collective action and solidarity.

WOW: How did the Pay the Writer campaign begin and why is it important?

Andrew: In 2011, AOL bought the Huffington Post for $315 million. By now, the Huffington Post model is well known: there are a small number of staff employees and a seemingly endless supply of unpaid bloggers. When the sale went down, the unpaid bloggers expected to be rewarded for the value they’d help create. Instead, the site made it clear that bloggers wouldn’t see a dime. In response, Huffington Post bloggers independently called a boycott of the site. We joined the campaign and launched Pay the Writer to make clear that working writers deserve to be paid. This was incredibly important beyond the Huffington Post as a host of imitators emerged all looking to cash in on unpaid bloggers. It’s a successful scheme—Turner just spent $200 million on Bleacher Report.

We recently announced an end to the Pay the Writer campaign so we can focus our energy on building an online writers division within the union. We already have strong divisions for book authors, journalists, and academics and an online division makes sense.

WOW: How can freelance writers know which companies are safe to work for?

Andrew: When dealing with particularly egregious cases, we will issue advisories. For example, in the case of Heart & Soul I mentioned earlier, we issued a Writers Alert letting writers know about the problems at the magazine.

In this market, there are far too many publishers looking to make a quick buck by taking advantage of writers, so it’s important that if a writer encounters problems, she or he has an ally. That’s why contract advice and enforcement is such an important part of what we do.

WOW: What advice do you have for writers—young and old—who are trying to work in the “online” market?

Andrew: A quick scan of Craigslist reveals the challenges writers face, as companies feel no qualms offering negligible rates for professional quality work. There is absolutely no way a writer can make a living on a fraction of a cent per word, but those kinds of job posts are everywhere.

For a new writer or an established writer, my first piece of advice is not to go it alone. Connect with other writers—joining the National Writers Union would be an excellent start. Beyond that, my advice is to not undervalue yourself. Every offer is negotiable, whether it’s on pay or rights or something else. Again, we offer advice on these to members.

WOW: What should writers be looking for in the future from the National Writers Union?

Andrew: We’ll continue working for writers. As our recent Heart & Soul victory shows, there is power in solidarity. As we build our online division, we’re looking to create the infrastructure necessary to make the digital age writer-friendly. Please visit http://www.nwu.org to sign up.

WOW: Thank you for taking time to share this information with us, today. I know there will be many members of WOW interested in what the National Writers Union has to offer freelance writers.


Interview by Linda M. Rhinehart Neas for WOW. Linda is no stranger to WOW. She has taught classes, written articles, participated in contests and joined blog tours. She is an educator/writer/poet, living in Western Massachusetts with her husband and cat. Linda is also a member of the National Writers Union, Local 1981. You can read more about her on her blog, Words from the Heart.

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25. Huffington Post: 50 things under 50$ (book promotion)

This article was in Huffington Post today ad offers some great ideas.
These days it seems like everyone's book marketing budget is a little tighter. If you're feeling the pinch, or if you're just looking for some great free stuff to do on your own, here are some tips that can help keep you on track. Along with the tips, I've also linked to other articles I've written on the various topics, in case you want to dig deeper:
  1. Buy your domain name as soon as you have a title for your book. You can get domain names for as little as12.95. Tip: When buying a domain always try to get a .com and stay away from hyphens, i.e. penny-sansevieri.com - surfers rarely remember to insert hyphens. You should also consider using your keywords in your domain because it'll help you rank better. Social media is great, but don't use your Facebook or Twitter pages as your "website" - you should own your domain and have a site. Period. http://www.huffingtonpost.com/penny-c-sansevieri/how-to-build-the-perfect-_b_1932184.html
  2. Head on over to Wordpress.com and start your very own blog (you can add it to your website later): http://www.huffingtonpost.com/penny-c-sansevieri/ten-reasons-why-you-shoul_b_839231.html
  3. Set up an event at your neighborhood bookstore. Do an event and not a signing, book signings are boring!
  4. It's all about content these days so why not create a calendar for content? Often if you aren't sure what to write, or when, a content calendar will keep you on track. You can plan the calendar around your free time (though you should blog weekly) and around holidays or events that may tie into your book.
  5. Then, while you're at it: brainstorm content ideas and start a content folder you can always refer back to when you aren't feeling "inspired" to write anything.

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