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1. The action packed first few weeks of a New Year

 My family and I went to New Orleans for a family vacation Jan 2-9. It was fun. Not a place on my "go back to" list, but a great family adventure which was the whole point.

For my artistic curiosities in New Orleans, I looked up and visited a few pottery joints and the Ogden Museum of Southern Artists and the Scuplture Garden at the New Orleans Museum of Art. I went into quite a few galleries and an artists co-op in the French Quarter. I'm sorry, I don;t usually like to be unkind about other art makers but my daughter Jo and I about gagged at how much truly bad art there was for sale on the street however, I did manage to find one talented young man and bought a print of his charcoal drawing of a parade on Royal Street.

We walked 30 miles around the city that week so we were pretty tuckered out when we got back to Pa. so we came home, layed on the couch and watched almost every previous episode of Downton Abbey with my daughter each night, drank a lot of wine and lamented that she would be going back to school within days.

My awesome niece Suzi came to visit and she and I and my daughter visited Isaiah's Magic Garden in Philadelphia. (ok, they call it Philadelphia's Magic Garden now because it became a non profit to save it from the bulldozer, but the city didn't build it, Isaiah did, so I'm still going to call it that!)

I bought clay while I was in Philly and a new glaze at The Ceramic Shop that I have never used  called "Magic Glaze" (how fitting) and that allegedly produces different results with almost every firing. Hmmm, can't wait to use it. I bought a gallon. $49 bucks! Hope I like it!

We spent the rest of the weekend binge watching more Downton Abbey with my daughter and niece drinking a lot of wine (did I say that already?) in our pajamas and  only surfaced into the world to take my neice to the movies for her first Dine-in Theatre experience, where we ate food and drank martini's and wine.

You may be wondering, since this is a blog about my artistic life, where does the art part come into this post?  Well, sadly for me, my daughter went back to school, my niece went back home to North Carolina, my husband went back to work after his long vacation and I have been at home again alone just  starting to rekindle the momentum of producing art and letting ya all know what I'm up to through the cyber world.

Now that all is quiet and I have returned into the studio, I have:

 *begun work on a new painting for that show in March which  I mentioned in my previous post.
Cat at Cafe du Monde in progress

 *spent a couple of afternoons making some cute little miniature houses which I intend to add to my wholesale catalog
These are not fired yet. I will post next week with the WIP

*Designed and printed postcards for upcoming March show

*Designed and printed new business cards.

* I've also begun a new relationship with Mala Galleria in Kennett Square where my pottery will be available for sale.

We got snowed in for a day during the great northeast Snowmageddon, so I did some baking and cleaning and purging of some closets and rooms.

My studio after round one still looking like springtime
My burnt pumpkin cheesecake. It still tasted good.

So there. See. It was action packed and I did do a lot despite the languishing around in pajamas watching television. (Sometimes a body just has to take time to rejuvenate) !

Today, as I work around the studio on my current painting , I am going to start another one as soon as I figure out what it will be. 

Next week, I will post some works in progress in painting or clay or both. Gotta keep it going!

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2. Drowned City - a review

 The National Council of Teachers of English recently named Drowned City: Hurricane Katrina & New Orleans by Don Brown (Houghton Mifflin Harcourt, 2015) the winner of its prestigious Orbis Pictus Award.

The NCTE Orbis Pictus Award  was established in 1989 for promoting and recognizing excellence in the writing of nonfiction for children. The name Orbis Pictus, commemorates the work of Johannes Amos Comenius, Orbis Pictus—The World in Pictures (1657), considered to be the first book actually planned for children. (from the NCTE website)

Drowned City: Hurricane Katrina & New Orleans is a spare, but powerful graphic novel account of the tragedy that befell the City of New Orleans following Hurricane Katrina.  Don Brown researches and illustrates Drowned City in his usual fashion.  It has extensive Source Notes and a corresponding Bibliography.  Every direct quote is sourced.  The illustrations are serious and in muted colors to accurately convey the gravity of the events; but they are sufficiently vague to spare the individual horror experienced by victims, survivors, and rescuers.  As he has done with other topics, Don Brown creates a focused, accurate, and powerful story - suitable for visual learners and for readers in a wide age range.

Other Hurricane Katrina books reviewed on this site:
Also by Don Brown and reviewed by Shelf-employed:

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3. A Penguin Named Patience, A Hurricane Katrina Rescue Story – PPBF

Title: A Penguin Named Patience, A Hurricane Katrina Rescue Story Written by: Suzanne Lewis Illustrated by: Lisa Anchin Published by: Sleeping Bear Press, 2015 Themes/Topics: Hurricane Katrina, penguins, rescuing, patience Suitable for ages: 3-7 Opening: Patience knew something was terribly wrong. It was dark and steamy … Continue reading

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4. International Studies Association Convention 2015: a conference and city guide

The International Studies Association Annual Convention will be held in New Orleans this week. The conference will be focusing on Global International Relations and Regional Worlds, A New Agenda for International Studies. If you’re attending, stop by booths 202, 204, and 206 to take advantage of our conference discount. Be sure to check out some of the panels and lectures our authors will be giving.

The post International Studies Association Convention 2015: a conference and city guide appeared first on OUPblog.

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5. 2015 Diversity Reading Challenge – The King Cake Baby

Just a quick reminder that I am blogging reviews from the 2015 Diversity Reading Challenge. Today’s picture book falls into category #2. I am sure to post more in this category as the year progresses. Title: The King Cake Baby Written … Continue reading

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6. Anti-Gravity Drills and Halloween in New Orleans

Month 4 of My Broken Leg
            For the past couple of weeks, I've been receiving treatment for my broken leg at the Southern Orthopedic Specialists in New Orleans. Although a friend recommended Tulane for physical therapy, the place where team members of the Saints are treated, the same institution that operated on my leg suggested that I stay within their network. Since my insurance covered the physical therapy treatment, I was happy to oblige.
Physical Therapist, Marsh, manipulates my foot.

            When I tell most people that I am undergoing physical therapy, they look at me with extreme pity, as if the doctors were water boarding me for days on end. I actually enjoy physical therapy, probably because I enjoy exercising in general. I spend most of my day in front of a computer and often feel the need to engage in some sort of exercise, preferably yoga. In fact, although I couldn't walk for the first three months of my accident, I was able to keep up my yoga practice in bed. Special thanks to my teacher, Julie Nail who emailed me non-weight bearing poses. She helped me remain, positive, strong, and flexible during those early months of infirmity and not being able to walk .

Julie Nail (photo by Lerina Winters)
            At the Southern Orthopedic Specialists (S.O.S.), I experienced a very fun type of weightless therapy, the Alter G, Anti-Gravity Treadmill. This doesn't mean I have the training to go for a spacewalk. However, walking in the bubble of air, allowed me to feel a type of weightlessness and I was able to improve my gait. With a neoprene pair of shorts, I zipped myself into the Alter G machine, while air filled the bottom of the cage with air, allowing me to eliminate much of my body weight. I felt like a baby being hoisted by the armpits as my legs re-learned how to walk. And then the fun part began, walking backwards in the Alter G treadmill.
The Alter G Anti-Gravity Treadmill

Clicking my heels for a speedier recovery
            I must admit, there are two things I highly dislike about physical therapy. After the stretches and exercises are done, the therapist manipulates your foot and uses a hands on approach to get a feel for how much your range of motion has improved. I could do without the pulling and twisting of my foot in ways that a broken ankle should not be moved. Each therapy session ended with an arctic blast of an ice cold pack wrapped around both of my feet for fifteen minutes. I don't even like ice in a glass of water, let alone, wrapped around my foot for what seems like hours. The therapists laughed at my pained facial expressions each time they applied the ice packs.

There's No Place Like Home

            One of the perks of physical therapy in New Orleans, during the month of October, meant I had the opportunity to participate in the city's Halloween Festivities. New Orleans is a spooky and haunted place on any given night, but the place to be on is Molly's bar in the French Quarter. The bar hosts a parade with a brass band, carriage riders, and marchers. The best part is anyone can join the parade.  Since I wanted to be in that number, I made sure to wear comfortable shoes. I glittered a pair of comfortable leather and transformed them into Ruby Slippers for my Dorothy costume. Thanks to the therapists at S.O.S. and my yoga teachers, I was ready to march, walk, and strut. 
In front of Molly's
Catching Throws from the Carriage Riders
Glittering Shoes is Fun

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7. Disaster Strikes in Threes

Melinda Palacio
The calm after the storm

So the saying goes, disasters strike in threes. After I fell down the stairs and broke my leg, I wanted to count those two events as disasters two and three. Number one was earlier this year when our house was broken into. The good news on that was I had nothing to take. The burglars made a mess of the house, overturning drawers, taking out every box, stuffed into my closet. The rascals tore open a pretty envelope that I was saving to use when the mood struck me to surprise someone with old fashioned postal mail. I was even offended when the thieves didn't take any of my jewelry, opting instead to throw earrings and bracelets to the floor. However, what they did take was a jar of quarters. Somewhere, dirty thieves needed to do laundry. I hope they feel good about themselves in their clean clothes.

The work of messy thieves.

So the break-in and my broken leg counted as numbers one and two. Fate would not allow me to count the surgery as number three. The proverbial third shoe finally dropped three weeks ago when a broken washing machine caused the house to flood. A fifty-cent plumbing part nearly destroyed the house. Luckily, we have flood insurance which will cover the cost of the demolition (now finished) and restoration. As with my million dollar leg, a fall that resulted in a giant medical bill, I am very fortunate to have health insurance and flood insurance.
What used to be the kitchen. Walls, floors and ceiling flooded.

The good news is that the house will be even better than it was before and we will be able to get rid of the carpet on the stairs that caused me to slip and break my leg. Perspective is key here. After having been rushed to the emergency room with a dislocated ankle, my foot facing the wrong way, and a broken fibula, most other disasters like the house flooding, the ceiling caving in the kitchen, complete with sink, cabinets, and appliance, walls and floors needing to be demolished and rebuilt, doesn't seem that horrible. I'm able to continue writing. There are two rooms in the house that were unaffected. And luckily, I had my laptop with me and was not in the house when the disaster happened.
My million dollar leg
I spent the entire summer in the bed office due to my broken leg and I get to spend the next couple of months there again due to a near total house flood and forced remodel.

My leg is healing well, although it will be another couple of months until I am up and running, or dancing. In writing news, I took Rudy's challenge and entered the William Faulkner WisdomCompetition, I made it to the final round in Poetry. Congratulations to winner Claire Dixon. Entering poetry competitions is sobering and challenging, but it's nice to be recognized for work that has already been published. Last week, Nicole Thompson featured me in Latin Post.

Blas Falconer, Melinda Palacio, Michelle Detorie after the Mission Poetry Series reading.

A highlight of this summer was reading in the Mission Poetry Series with Blas Falconer and Michelle Detorie. The September day was gorgeous. With perfect weather on one of the last days for tourism in Santa Barbara, along with a street closed by the Sol Food Festival, the audience could have been sparse, but instead we had a crowd eager for poetry. As my friend reminds me, It could've been worse. 

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8. ALA 2011 in New Orleans

Just back from ALA, that great gathering of 25,000 people devoted to archiving and disseminating the best of the best of our culture. Walking around the massive exhibit hall, it is a bewildering and humbling mixture of businessmen hawking library furniture or the latest software, the old-timers and the newcomers signing books with the hope of generating interest in their project amidst the thousands of new books, the authors meeting–pressing the flesh–of the gatekeepers to vast audiences out there somewhere in the US, the editors and marketers and salespeople hoping that decisions made months earlier were the right ones which will give their publisher–not to mention their individual careers–a boost.

Rainbow over Mississippi River, photo by Dwight Pattison

Rainbow over the Mississippi River

You get a sense of the vast reach of publishing industry, of how the latest new piece of technology can excite–and yet how Greek mythology can be made new for a new generation. It’s both about innovation and about rebirth of old stories, about the newest author and about the venerated pro.

Observations During ALA 2011

There are still some family owned publishing companies. Yes, in today’s economy and world, some families still carry on the family business: for example, Lerners, Erdmans, John Briggs of Holiday House. I walked through the aisle of small and independent publishers and wondered if any would rise to this type level? It has happened, it can happen again.

On the other end, the big publishers are big. And diverse. And in that sprawl, they almost lose any type identity. Individual imprints actually have a personal stamp of an Editor in Chief; but most publishers have one marketing department, so that individuality is blurred at a large convention like this, where Macmillan displayed together the books from Feiwel & Friends, Henry Holt, Macmillan Children’s Books, FSG and Square Fish. You can never be sure what you’ll get with a Macmillan book, because there’s so much variety.

Santa Parade, photo by Dwight Pattison

How to Get Noticed in New Orleans: Join the Santa Parade

It’s hard to get noticed. 25,000 people attending. Probably 3000+ new books for children and who knows how many for adults. Thousands. And you want to catch the attention of , well, thousands. Impossible. I spoke as part of a 10-person panel, Nonfiction Book Blast, of nonfiction authors. We were given the unfortunate time slot of 8 am on Sunday morning. Still–we drew about 80-90 people. For two hours, those librarians listened to presentations on non-fiction from
these authors: April Pulley Sayre (Rah, Rah, Radishes), Kelly Milner Halls (In Search of Sasquatch), Deborah Heiligman (Charles and Emma), Loree Griffin Burns (The Hive Detectives), Carla Killough McClafferty (The Many Faces of George Washington), Christine Taylor-Butler (Magnets), Shirley Duke (You Can’t Wear These Genes), Darcy Pattison (Prai

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9. Saint Louis Armstrong Beach - a review

Woods, Brenda. 2011. Saint Louis Armstrong Beach. New York: Nancy Paulsen (Penguin Group)

It's hard to believe that I'm labeling a book about Hurricane Katrina "historical fiction," but to middle-grade readers, that's exactly what it is.  While memories of  Katrina are still fresh in the minds of New Orleans and Gulf Coast residents, 2005 is a lifetime ago for a 5th grader, born in 2001.

This first-person fictionalized account of 11-year-old Saint Louis Armstrong Beach (named for his grandfather King Saint and the famous trumpeter), tells the brief story of the run-up to Hurricane Katrina, the storm (in which he is trapped with an elderly neighbor), and its aftermath.  With freakish good luck and a family with money and decent jobs, Saint will fare better than many, if not most, New Orleanians actually did.  However, Saint Louis Armstrong Beach: A Novel (a boy, a dog, and the hurricane that almost separated them) serves as an excellent middle-grade introduction to this important page in American history.  The plight of the less fortunate provides a backdrop for Saint's story.  When he wonders why others are not evacuating to shelter in other cities, his father reminds him that not all people can leave,

"And who's gonna pay for that?  Some people got no jobs, others got no money, and when I say no money ... I mean no money.  Some people got nuthin' except the clothes on their backs, Saint."
"Money's real important, huh?"
"Yep, but what you do with it is even more important.  Most a the people who claim money's not important are folks who have plenty of it.  You remember that."
If it's a tad didactic and Saint is a tad too saintly, so be it.  Sometimes we need the obvious lesson. A short (136 pages) and accessible book for young readers. Light on scientific information, pair this one with an appropriate nonfiction title.

Brenda Woods is a Coretta Scott King Honor Award winner for The Red Rose Box.

Other reviews @
Kirkus Reviews
Waking Brain Cells
Bermuda Onion's Weblog

Teachers, there's a Reader's Companion for Saint Louis Armstrong Beach.

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10. Happy Friendiversary! Mo Willems and First Book Join Forces to Bring New Books to New Orleans Kids

Happy Friendiversary! From your friends at First Book

Today is Friendiversary, when we celebrate the anniversary of our friendships. Think of one of your oldest and dearest friends. When did you first meet? How did you meet? That story is the story of your Friendiversary.

First Book is celebrating Friendiversary this week by providing 7,000 new Elephant & Piggie books to second-graders at Title I schools in Louisiana and Massachusetts. The Elephant & Piggie series is written and illustrated by our friend Mo Willems, whose support makes it possible for First Book able to provide these books. Every book includes a special Friendiversary note from Mo, and his publisher, Disney Publishing Worldwide, is also providing activity kits, stickers and posters free of charge to each classroom.

In fact, we’re so delighted with the Friendiversary kit that we also made it available to all the schools and programs in First Book’s national network.

There are Friendiversary parties happening in classrooms and programs all over today … or tomorrow, or last weekend. We’re pretty flexible on when you actually celebrate Friendiversary.

A Friendiversary party at James Singleton Charter School in New OrleansThe biggest party we’ve heard about so far took place in New Orleans, at James Singleton Charter School. (Mo grew up in New Orleans, and has a special place in his heart for New Orleans kids, so making sure they all had copies of his books was important to him.)

Lynetta Rhodes, the chair of the local First Book volunteer group in New Orleans, helped put the party together. She sent us some great pictures, and filled us in on all the details:

  • Every student got two copies of Mo’s books to keep, including There’s a Bird On Your Head, Are You Ready to Play Outside?, Today I Will Fly and Should I Share My Ice Cream?. (“I can’t believe I got two books!” one of the students told Lynetta).
  • There were all kinds of local celebrity guests on hand to read with the kids, including New Orleans city councilmember Susan Guidry, children’s author Robin Washington, Louisiana State Rep. Wesley Bishop and TV reporter Rosa Flores.
  • There was plenty of ice cream.

A Friendiversary party at James Singleton Charter School in New Orleans“The children looked adorable in their ‘Elephant and Piggie’ ears and the costumed characters made the kids shout with glee,” said Dianne de Las Casas, who hosted and helped plan the event. “Friendiversary at James Singleton Charter School was a great success.”

Happy Friendiversary, everyone!

If you work with kids from low-income families, you can be a part of Friendiversary and other great events and opportunities throughout the year. Sign up with First Book to find out how we can help you get new books for your kids.

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11. American Girl: Cecile's New Orleans Series

The American Girl 1853 series: Cecile and Marie Grace by Denise Lewis Patrick and Sarah Masters Buckey, American Girl, 2011

Cecile Rey is one of the "gens de couleur libres" or "free people of color" living in New Orleans in 1853. Together, she and her friend, Marie Grace, experience all that the diverse, busy city has to offer: Mardi Gras parades and costume balls, outdoor French markets, helping to fight a yellow fever epidemic, volunteering at a local orphanage, and performing at a city-wide benefit for the orphaned children.

Happy Mardi Gras, book lovers! In honor of the holiday, today I'm featuring a series set in New Orleans, and the first two books take place during Mardi Gras!

I was first inspired to cover this American Girl series after seeing a feature on author Denise Lewis Patrick on The Brown Bookshelf. I'd never given a thought to the authors behind my beloved American Girl books, and reading the story of how Patrick was asked to author the Cecile series piqued my interest. The Cecile series is unique from that of the other American Girls because she shares her books with a girl named Marie Grace. I read "Meet Marie Grace" and then all of the Cecile books in the series, and it's very clear that the two authors plotted the stories out together. Between the two "Meet ____" books, some lines were actually word-for-word the same. I'm really not sure why they chose to have two main characters this time. If any of you know, please fill me in!

On the surface, the Cecile/Marie Grace series follows the same "formula" as every other in the AG line.  We "Meet" the girls, they go through some "troubles" but eventually save the day, and everyone ends up stronger and wiser. A little didactic, yes... but these characters are brave, self-confident role models for little girls today. I really like the fact that each book includes a chapter of nonfiction in the back, explaining how the events in the story are a reflection of real events from the past.

Cecile's story is notable because, unlike so many black characters in historial fiction - including 10 Comments on American Girl: Cecile's New Orleans Series, last added: 2/21/2012
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12. My Month of More "Colorful" Reading

29 days ago, I challenged myself to read only books written by or about people of color. This challenge was partly inspired by Black History Month, and partly due to a realization that since leaving my classroom in Baltimore, I had pretty much stopped looking for books that reflected the faces of "my" students.

I can almost guarantee that I would not have read most of these books without taking on this challenge, and boy-oh-boy would I have been missing out! In an effort to summarize this month of reading, here are a few awards and a few "similar interest groups" for quick reference.

Favorite YA Read of the Month: Tie between Mare's War by Tanita S. Davis and Mexican Whiteboy by Matt de la Pena (these two couldn't be more different, but I'll remember them both for a long, long time)

Favorite MG Read of the Month: The Whole Story of Half a Girl by Veera Hiranandani (love, love, love this book)

Favorite New-to-Me Author: Ashley Hope Perez - I thoroughly enjoyed What Can't Wait and am eagerly awaiting The Knife and the Butterfly. I can't help but feel a TFA bond with Ms. Perez and I'm so thankful that teachers like her exist!

Favorite Blast from the Past: American Girl - Cecile's New Orleans series

Favorite Illustrations: Heart and Soul - The Story of America and African Americans by Kadir Nelson (Abigail Halpin is pretty fabulous too, but Kadir Nelson's paintings were just breathtaking)

Favorite Book that Brad Pitt Should Turn into a Movie: Now is the Time for Running by Michael Williams

Novels in Verse:
- Planet Middle School by Nikki Grimes
- The Firefly Letters: A Suffragette's Journey to Cuba by Margarita Engle
- Under the Mesquite by Guadalupe Garcia McCall

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13. Fusenews: If Henry James says it’s wrong I don’t wanna be right

I swear that every time my computer goes on the fritz I feel like I’m walking underwater for days on end while it’s in the shop.  I can’t do email effectively, I can’t update Goodreads, I can’t do anything without feeling like it’s all fake until that little laptop is returned to my knees where it belongs.  It’s a sickness, man.  Not healthy in the least.  But now that it’s back I can’t help but be thrilled!  Woot and woo-hoo and other “woo” related forms of cheering. Now on to the news . . .

  • First off, I’m pilfering this next link from the always amusing and informative Jennifer Schultz.  Because I am a member of PEN here in New York I’ve been vaguely aware of the efforts to help New Orleans rebuild post-Katrina (the Children’s/Young Adult Book Authors Committee helped move an elementary school library from St. Joseph’s School in Greenwich Village, New York City, to the Martin Luther King Jr. School in New Orleans and have continued to aid that school ever since).  The New Orleans public libraries themselves haven’t been on my radar as much.  Jennifer filled me in on the matter:

“Yesterday’s Times-Picayune (New Orleans’s newspaper) had an excellent article about the rebirth of the New Orleans Public Library system, which was devastated by Hurricane Katrina. Ever since they started to rebuild the libraries, their motto has been “Building Back Better.” The NOPL libraries were okay—they’ve always had strong community programming, but there was a lot of room for improvement—but drastic improvements were never going to be in the city’s finances, until Katrina came and they had no choice but to literally start over with many of their libraries. They didn’t want to just rebuild what they had—they wanted to take this unusual and tragic opportunity to make a strong and community-oriented system for the city. They wanted to make them public transportation-friendly, since many residents rely on it, technologically savvy,  environmentally-friendly—you name it. This is their website: http://nutrias.org/ (The nutria is a pest —they are great at destroying wetlands-and a source of humor in Louisiana-Louisianians can have a dark sense of humor. They had a rather colorful governor  years ago who suggested that folks should hunt and eat the nutrias in order to cut down on their numbers, and they’ve been sort of a joke ever since. Nutria fur is marketed as “guilt free fur,” etc).”

Thank you, Jennifer!  Fantastic info.  I can’t wait for ALA to return and to get to see the city (and it’s libraries!) firsthand.

14. Review: The Downfall of a Good Girl by Kimberly Lang


Title: The Downfall of a Good Girl

Author: Kimberly Lang

May Contain Spoilers

From Amazon:

Southern debutante Vivienne LaBlanc can’t believe bad-boy rock star Connor Mansfield is back in town for the New Orleans annual Saints and Sinners pageant. He has a reputation as wicked as his devilish smile, and Vivi has no intention of becoming one of his latest groupies! He once crushed her high school heart, so playing the saint to Connor’s sinner should be easy. But how can Vivi get those less-than-angelic thoughts out of her head-especially when Connor’s so good at tempting her to be bad?


I struggled with The Downfall of a Good Girl.  I never felt a connection with Vivi, the story’s protagonist.  She is everything that I am not.  She comes from one of New Orleans’ oldest and wealthiest families, she is a former beauty queen, and now she spends her days running an art gallery and volunteering for various charitable causes.  I am fortunate to run a brush through my hair and pull it back into a ponytail on a daily basis, so a former pageant competitor was difficult from me to relate to.  The plot revolves around the annual Saints and Sinners fund-raising competition, where Vivi is pitted against her childhood nemesis, Connor Mansfield.  Connor and Vivi have been at loggerheads forever, and Vivi is dismayed to discover that Connor, now a successful rock star, will be her competition.  She had never considered that he would be chosen to be the Sinner, and she’s not happy about it at all.  She is extremely competitive, she hates to lose, and for a majority of the book, she is a poor loser just at the thought of losing.  If I met her, I don’t think we would ever be buds.

Connor is reeling from a scandal, and though he proves that the gossip about him is false, he’s still reluctant to put himself in that kind of position again.  When he meets Vivi again, he thinks he’s safe.  He doesn’t even like this woman, and she hates him.  Ever since that flash of temper when they were teens and she publically slapped him, they have been like oil and water.  What Connor doesn’t know is that Vivi once carried a torch for him, but after realizing that he was only using her to get to know her friend better, she can’t find it in herself to forgive him.  Worse, her family and Connor’s are very close, and they have been thrown together since childhood.  Forget that gentle, Southern belle non-sense – she doesn’t want to be nice to him, so she usually isn’t.

While I did enjoy the sparks between them, Vivi’s personality grated on me.  She determines from the beginning that she is going to win the contest by raising the most money, but when Connor is unveiled as the opposition, she gives up before things even begin.  Instead, she charges herself to be a better person than Connor, though even that’s a struggle for her.  Why is he back in town, stealing her thunder?  This was supposed to be her moment to shine, not Connor’s!  This thought process annoyed me, because it is the charity’s moment to shine, and the fact that Vivi was allowed to participate should have been honor enough.  She’s been denied few material things in life, but in terms of personal accomplishments, she is lacking.  She was runner up in the Miss American pageant, and she is steamed to be second best again.

Once Vivi loosens up a little and finally lets go, jumping into an affair with Connor, the pacing of the book picks up significantly.  Their competition becomes fun, and they both focus on doing their best to raise as much money for the charity as they can.  Vivi is having the time of her life, until Connor starts thinking about making New Orleans his home base.  Suddenly, their temporary affair isn’t such a good idea anymore.  She doesn’t want to risk her heart to him, and as long as their arrangement was temporary, there was no threat to her emotions.  Her attitude about trying to stick with Connor permanently pissed me off.  Instead of gambling on that ever elusive HEA, she decides that it’s not worth the effort.  If I had been Connor, I would have been furious.  It’s okay to have a fling, but not okay to try to make things work out permanently?  If Connor had walked away at that point, I wouldn’t have blamed him.

I loved the setting for The Downfall of a Good Girl, and the book would have made my TBR pile just because of that. It’s unfortunate that I didn’t click with the heroine, and that some pacing issues at the beginning of the story prevented my from feeling engaged in Connor and Vivi’s romance.

Grade:  C+

Review copy provided by publisher

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15. review – Ol’ Bloo’s Boogie-Woogie Band abd Blues Ensemble by Jan Huling

Ol’ Bloo’s Boogie-Woogie Band and Blues Ensemble by Jan Huling Henri Sorensen, illustrator Peachtree Publishers 5 Stars . Inside Jacket: Ol’ Bloo Donkey has always dreamed of retiring from the cotton field to become a honky-tonk singer.  But when he overhears the type of retirement plan Farmer Brown has in mind for him—of the permanent …

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16. Across America in an RV With First Book

Today’s blog post is by Brenda Berg, who loaded her family into an RV and spent over half a year traveling across the country. They called their adventure the Gump Trip, and along the way they distributed 6,000 brand-new books to kids in need at local schools and community programs in the First Book network.

Have you ever sat in the carpool lane and dreamed about your next vacation? Last year, I decided to make it a reality. The plan – before my daughter entered middle school– was to go from music lessons and organized sports to something real.

Brenda Berg and her children at Glacier National Park

Brenda Berg and her children at Glacier National Park

After months of getting things in order, my kids and I set off on an adventure of a lifetime, traveling to 49 states and two Canadian provinces. (We were also joined by an exchange student from Sweden and my husband joined us about once a month.) In seven-and-a-half months, we traveled over 35,000 miles.

Instead of guitar lessons, we visited the Fender guitar factory and attended live concerts. Instead of indoor climbing classes, we climbed in Alaska and hiked in dozens of national parks. Instead of textbooks, we visited dozens of historic and interesting sites. We definitely got real!

Our commitment to ‘return to real’ extended beyond national parks and factory tours. We were also committed to education and service. In order to reach hundreds of children across the country in a real way, we partnered with First Book to give new, high-quality books to kids in need.

The Berg family and First Book volunteers with local children in New Orleans

The Berg family and First Book volunteers with local children in New Orleans

Of the 200 stops we made along the way, the six First Book events – where we worked with local First Book volunteers gave away new books to kids in need – were our favorite experiences, ones that will change our lives forever. We gave away over 6,000 books and met with hundreds of children to talk about traveling in our amazing country. The smiles from those children were better than the sunrise over the Grand Canyon (and that’s a sight that is hard to beat!).

Most of us look for ways to give back in our communities, but I encourage people to consider giving back as they travel. There are isolated and other under-supported communities all over America that will benefit and you will gain a whole different perspective on America at the same time. And, just like your efforts at home, you will get back far more than you will give.

Inspired? Visit First Book on the web to find out how you can volunteer or raise funds to help kids in need get the brand-new books that will change their lives.

The post Across America in an RV With First Book appeared first on First Book Blog.

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17. Carnival Time in New Orleans by Margot Justes

Chicago’s winter this year has been brutal, and I was lucky enough to be able to escape it for a brief respite. A seven day cruise to the Bahamas first took me to New Orleans.

I thought Mardi Gras was only celebrated on the designated day-not so-the Carnival season starts the weekend before and carries on for a full week, ending the following Sunday. This year it started on the 21st of February.

I never thought I’d be anywhere near a place that celebrated Mardi Gras, not a big fan of crowds, but I couldn’t escape the beginning of the Carnival season in New Orleans.  I was there the first day of the festivities. That meant the first two parades that passed right on Canal Street, literally outside the main entrance to the hotel. How could I not participate and see the floats-after all-they’re legendary.

I joined the crowd on the street, young and old alike piled against the barricades along the street and waited for the fun to start. For me it started much earlier.  I walked on Canal, Bourbon, Royal and Decatur streets in the early afternoon, and the party was already in full swing.  Alcohol was freely flowing, as were the masks and various holiday accoutrements, from feathers, too-toos, beads and face paint. 

The parade started at about eight thirty in the evening, streets were closed making access difficult, if you were unlucky enough to want to go anywhere near the parade route. Carnival is big business in New Orleans. The floats are amazing, simply stunning, as are the costumes. The floats were colorful, garish and over the top, just perfect for the Carnival excesses. Marching bands, and of course the required political cars streamed along the street, one after the other. They were still going strong at midnight. I however was not. 

I’d never go out of my way to go anywhere during Carnival time, but this was an unplanned opportunity to see a bit of it, before it got really crazy on the actual day.  I was told Mardi Gras is absolutely nuts, but by that time, I was already on board ship. That being said, it was a wonderful opportunity to see a bit of the famed festival.

This was not my first trip to New Orleans, and I had fond memories of Café du Monde, so of course I stopped for coffee and beignets. The beignets were as I remembered them, absolutely delicious, the coffee I thought lacked strength and depth.  I remembered it as being more flavorful. Maybe my palate has changed, or maybe they’ve adapted the coffee to suit everyone. I do love my coffee on the strong side, but I thoroughly enjoyed the experience.  There is something to be said for going back, and still take pleasure from the experience.

This was a first time I tried the colorful King Cake, and I loved it. Purple, gold and green colors decorate the top, sprinkled liberally with coarse sugar. Filled with a light cream center, the yeast dough is moist, and every bite is truly heavenly. I was told there are many versions, but I only sampled the one the hotel had to offer. Between the beignets, the King Cake, a huge lunch at the Court of Two Sisters, a Muffalata sandwich at the French Market, and the Shrimp Po-Boy, I can say the food is yummy.

Surprising to see were the many art galleries that lined the streets. Everywhere you turned that was a gallery, or local art was sold in a souvenir shop. Since my time was limited, I took the On and Off Bus, it’s a wonderful way to catch a glimpse of the city.

The French Quarter has not changed, it is alive and well. Effects of Katrina are still evident in many places, but the tourist trade is doing well, and that helps the area recover. The spirit of the locals is amazing and gracious.

Visit Paris from your armchair, A Hotel in Paris, is on sale for only 99. through Sunday.

Margot  Justes
A Hotel in Paris
A Hotel in Bath
Hearts & Daggers
Hot Crimes Cool Chicks

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18. Broken in New Orleans

Aligator at Avery Island

What started out as an outing to one of my favorite gatherings, the Women's National Book Association (WNBA), turned into an evening spent in the Emergency Room at Oschner Baptist in New Orleans, followed by surgery two days later.

Two weeks ago, after putting on a dress and summer shoes with no back strap, I simply tripped and fell down the stairs. I never made it to the WNBA potluck. There's no exciting story about twerking gone wrong or fancy foot stepping in a second line or a heroic jump into the swamp to rescue a child from the jaws of an alligator. Given the magnitude of my injuries, my story is mundane.

More Gators

I descended the green carpeted, angled, spiral stairs. My shoes went flying off, I tumbled down the last steps leaving me with a swollen and bruised left ankle, a broken right fibula,  a dislocated right ankle and my right foot twisted and turned in the wrong direction. One very painful misstep.
The Stairs
There was no doubt at all the fall was bad. Steve found me on my back, cradling my wrong-facing foot. He scooped me up, asked me if I could use my left swollen ankle, and put me in the back floor of our green Honda Element.

My Bird's Eye View

From the floor of the Element, I had a bird's eye view. I tried to focus on the beauty of seeing nothing but branches from leafy oak trees and the upper stories of shotgun houses. I did my best to visit a place beyond the pain of every little bump and pothole. The tiniest bounce from the car caused ripples of pain to radiate from my broken foot to every inch of my being.

When we finally arrived at the ER, I was taken aback by three things. First, I'm in a wheel chair, saturated in the most pain I've ever felt, and before any formalities, a nice hospital attendant puts a sheet over my lap to protect my modesty. My grandmother would be happy that I was wearing good underwear. Second, the faces and expressions on everyone at the hospital said it all. Each person winced, mouthed Ouch, some chimed in with the obvious, OOOh, That Must Hurt. And, third, the most irksome part of the situation, was the formality of having to fish out my ID and insurance card while I sat with my bent knee, leg pointed towards the sky, cradling my  broken leg and wrong-facing foot.

I panicked when I saw all the people in the ER's waiting room. I wondered if they would wheel me to the side and tell me to wait because I didn't have a life-threatening gun shot wound or something potentially fatal. Relief came when they wheeled me to a room, started a morphine drip, along with other powerful drugs that left me relaxed enough for them to relocate my ankle and contort my foot into place.

in the E.R., patched up, ready for a cast

The doctor, who shared a name with my sister Emily, told me I would be fitted with a hard cast the next day and that I would be sent home, after six hours of being in the ER, with a prescription for pain pills. All this information was acceptable to me. I was dejected, however, when the orthopedic surgeon, who was supposed to put a cast on my leg, apologized and said he had to operate immediately. Immediately, in medical bureaucracy speak, meant the next day.

I've had foot and ankle injuries all my life from years of ballet and modern dance. However, I have never broken anything, let alone had to have an operation with pins and plates inserted in my leg and Frankenstein stitches to hold the two halves of my leg skin together.

On Tuesday, July 7, the surgeon will remove the stitches. Next month, I will be able to put weight on the leg. After three months, I will be able to drive again.

Let the Healing Begin

My freak accident forced me to slow down. I didn't need all this pain to get the memo. But as many friends have pointed out, I have more time to write. I also realize how lucky I am to have so many people rooting for my speedy recovery, sending love and healing thoughts my way, and taking time to make life a little easier for me. I am blessed.

Have a safe July 4th

Melinda Palacio is the author of the novel, Ocotillo Dreams, and the poetry collections Folsom Lockdown and How Fire Is a Story, Waiting.

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19. Window of Isolation: Louisiana's Leprosarium

Carville: Amid Moss and Resurrection Fern
Poems by Gina Ferrara

Poet Gina Ferrara's new chapbook, Carville Amid Moss and Resurrection Fern
(Finishing Line Press 2014) delivers a new way of looking at leprosy, now known as Hansen's disease. The beauty of these poems is arresting and surprising, given the once taboo subject of leprosy. The leprosarium at Carville operated for over a hundred years.

As a child in catholic school in New Orleans, Ferrara grew up hearing about lepers. Four years ago, when she visited the colony in Carville, Louisiana, she learned more about the lives of the patients. Carville is located off River Road, near Baton Rouge. However, it is essentially in the middle of nowhere. Ferrara captures that sense of isolation in her Carville Poems. The title references the fact that moss and resurrection fern can be found in the oak trees at Carville. Ferrara was taken by the physical beauty of the landscape at Carville and how the beauty of the land was intertwined and connected to the personal experiences of the patients. From "A Perfect Terrain": 'Drenched in moss and resurrection fern, the oaks stayed stoic--/a perfect terrain for the ostriches, swift-footed and flightless/that would never arrive.'

In writing these poems, Ferrara never lost sight of the loneliness experienced by Carville residents. "I wanted to convey how people who had the disease became isolated--very removed from the lives they had lived and previously known, " she said. "They no longer saw their families or loved ones. They had to establish a new and different way of living."

Residents at Carville may have been isolated, but they lived life to the fullest, put on dances and Mardi Gras balls, and published a newspaper with a circulation of over 250, 000. The poem, "Tea Hour on Point Clair Road," shows how the ladies would take their tea, 'The fingerless/Even the unmarred waited for the sips and stains of tea hours,/ Something miraculous as a cure/under a sun no longer at apex.'

Gina first began writing the poems in the spring of 2010 and finished the book over a period of two years. She approached Finishing Line Press because they had published her first poetry chapbook, The Size of Sparrows, in 2006. She met one of  the patients, Pete from Trinidad, who was about ten years old when he arrived and is now in his eighties. He is one of the last patients to live there, rides around on his bicycle, and is eager to talk to visitors. The lyrical poems, along with photographs by Elizabeth Garcia, offer a window into life at Carville, Louisiana.
Gina Ferrara

Carville in the Spring
Gina Ferrara

Sugar surrounds this sanctuary
far from ordinary or Galapagos.
The road ends each time
I check my appendages
for open wounds, red splotches in tandem.
I remember the last pliant hand I held.
Would the constellated sky feel like a hand?
Each finger with its own unblemished identity—
supple and tapering to a square tip,
the bony range of knuckles
buckling only to brush inside my palm.
I squint and scan for semblances of past lives.
Who is the gypsy? Who is the physicist?
I have my suspicions.
Today a woman arrived.
She strolls through the covered corridors
with memories of her identity and scepter,
helpless and unable to reign over the bacilli
waiting to uprise in time as unwanted suns.

Gina Ferrara's work has previously been featured on La Bloga. Her latest full-length poetry book, Amber Porch Light was also recently reviewed by Frank Mundo in the Examiner.

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20. Setting the scene of New Orleans during Reconstruction

The Reconstruction era was a critical moment in the history of American race relations. Though Abraham Lincoln’s Emancipation Proclamation made great strides towards equality, the aftermath was a not-quited newly integrated society, greatly conflicted and rife with racial tension. At the height of Radical Reconstruction, in June 1870, seventeen-month-old Irish-American Mollie Digby was kidnapped from her home in New Orleans — allegedly by two Afro-Creole women. In The Great New Orleans Kidnapping Case: Race, Law, and Justice in the Reconstruction Era, Michael A. Ross offers the first ever full account of this historic event and subsequent investigation that electrified the South. The following images set the scene of New Orleans during this time period of racial amalgamation, social friction, and tremendous unease.

Featured image: The City of New Orleans, Louisiana, Harper’s Weekly, May 1862. Public Domain via Wikimedia Commons.

The post Setting the scene of New Orleans during Reconstruction appeared first on OUPblog.

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21. Life in New Orleans during the Reconstruction Era [infographic]

Reconstruction was a time of great change in the city of New Orleans. The Civil War had just ended, and the South was devastated. Although Abraham Lincoln’s Emancipation Proclamation had done much for racial equality, racial tension and conflict was ubiquitous in New Orleans. In June 1870, at the height of Reconstruction, 17-month-old Irish-American Mollie Digby was kidnapped from outside her home. The kidnapping was highly publicized in the media of the day, and residents of New Orleans followed the story with intense fervor, all the way to the sensationalized trial of two Afro-Creole women. In The Great New Orleans Kidnapping Case: Race, Law, and Justice in the Reconstruction Era, Michael A. Ross looks at why the story of Mollie Digby was so important, and what it reveals about that point in New Orleans history. Below is an infographic depicting life in New Orleans at the time of Mollie Digby’s kidnap.



Download a jpg or PDF of the infographic.

Heading image: 1857 view of Canal Street. Public Domain via Wikimedia Commons.

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22. The “Oprah” Show and the Gift of Books

First Book is deeply grateful to have been part of “Oprah’s Surprise Spectacular.” We were overwhelmed when 13,000 people at the United Center stood in tribute to Oprah Winfrey and the power of reading – each holding a brand new children’s book to be donated to a child in need through First Book. Surprises don’t get much better than that!

Oprah's final audience of 14,000 holds up books provided by First BookBut the story doesn’t end there. Thanks to the audience’s generosity, more than 25,000 new books in total will be given to children in low-income communities throughout the country, including a donation of over 1,100 books for the children at KIPP Believe College Preparatory Academy in New Orleans, the school that was featured in the broadcast.

Honoring The “Oprah” Show’s 25-year legacy with a donation of 25,000 books for kids in need makes for a pretty spectacular surprise. Even though the guest of honor may not like surprises much, we could tell she liked this one.

Everyone at First Book thanks The “Oprah” Show’s audience for supporting our work and sharing the love of reading with children who need books in their lives.

First Book also thanks the fabulous people at Harpo for tapping us for this remarkable opportunity. You are an inspiring group, and we are honored to have worked with you.

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23. Sharks at ALA Annual!

ALA Annual is around the corner and we’re knee-deep (okay, maybe higher…) in planning.  Want a sneak peek at the treats in our booth?  Check this out:

SHARK FANS!!!!!  These are to celebrate Bob Shea’s super-fun picture book I’M A SHARK…and heaven knows that you’ll need a fan in sultry New Orleans.  Check out the back of the fan:

We’ll have these in the HarperCollins Children’s Booth #1315 (while supplies last) so come by and ask for one while checking out this storytime-ready picture book (try making your own shark fans as a storytime craft!).

See you in New Orleans!

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24. HarperCollins Children’s Books at ALA Annual

We’re in ALA Annual Countdown Mode here in the office – it’s only one week away!  Dozens of boxes have been filled with galleys and we can’t wait to share them with you.  However, while galleys are certainly a huge incentive to come by Booth #1315 to say hi, we also want to offer up our OUTSTANDING list of authors and illustrators signing in our booth during the conference:


5:30 pm – 6:30 pm
Veronica Roth (DIVERGENT)


9:00 am-9:30am
Carolyn Mackler (TANGLED)

9:30 am – 10:30 am
Alex Flinn (CLOAKED)

10:30 am – 11:00 am
Bobbie Pyron (A DOG’S WAY HOME)

11:00 am – 12:00 pm
Kadir Nelson (HEART AND SOUL posters)

11:30 am – 12:30 pm
Katherine Hannigan (TRUE…(SORT OF))

12:00 pm – 12:30 pm
Patrick Carman (DARK EDEN galleys)

12:30 pm – 1:00 pm
Katherine Hannigan (BRIDGE TO TERABITHIA)

1:00 pm – 2:00 pm


9:00 am – 9:30 am
Bob Shea (I’M A SHARK)

9:30 am – 10:30 am
Christopher Myers (WE ARE AMERICA)

10:30 am – 11:30 am
Rita Williams-Garcia (Newbery Honor and Coretta Scott King Author Winner for ONE CRAZY SUMMER)

11:30 am – 12:30 pm

1:00 pm – 1:30 pm
Claudia Gray (FATEFUL)

1:30 pm &

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25. Notes from the trenches: ALA Annual 2011

We arrived in NOLA yesterday and have already had an amazing time.  First, check out this cup I found in a kitschy gift shop yesterday:

It says: “Proud to be a public serving, friendly, book stamping, soft spoken, helpful, well-read librarian.”  And I couldn’t help but chuckle (and be a little annoyed).  As a former librarian, I never stamped a book in my ten years as a librarian – everything had gone automation by then.  And most of the librarians I know are anything BUT soft spoken.  What say all of you about this mug???

And here’s a sample of what waited at our booth at the convention center:

This is only one of about FIVE pallets of books waiting for us.  Or, shall I say, waiting for YOU?

Stop by and see us (HarperCollins Children’s) in booth #1315.  Look forward to seeing you!

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