Saturday, October 26, 2019

What Really IS Happily Ever After? A Review of STEPSISTER by Jennifer Donnelly


                

                Halloween week seems an appropriate time to review Stepsister by Jennifer Donnelly. I got this book from the library after it was recommended by a local high school librarian as the best thing she had read all summer (and she reads a LOT).  Think back to the Cinderella story you know. This ain’t it.
                The key is on the front and back covers—“Beauty isn’t always pretty”(front), and “Don’t just fracture the fairy tale. Shatter it" (back).
                Donnelly has rewritten the Cinderella story with a focus on the ugly stepsisters. The story begins with the two stepsisters, Isabelle and Octavia, each cutting off part of her foot so that it would fit the glass slipper. As in the original tale, that ploy doesn’t work, and Ella, the good, beautiful, cast-aside stepsister, gets the prince. She rides off in his carriage and lives happily ever after—or does she? As we read, we learn more about the motives of each stepsister and other characters, which furthers our understanding of their personalities.
                This story can be read on different levels. To heighten the fantasy, Donnelly has Fate, Chance, and Isabelle’s free will duking it out. With help and a challenge from a shift-shaping godmother, Isabelle learns what her true heart’s desire is. She grows from having the narrow view of a female’s role imposed by her mother, making her vain and selfish, to becoming her country’s heroine. Yes, this is a story of female empowerment, suitable for older preteens and up.
                Turning the traditional tale on its head, readers ponder:  What is beauty? What is “a female role” in society? How do we respond to jealousy—our own and that of others? What is strength? How can we work together with people we may not like?
                The writing is excellent and full of surprises. One of my favorite passages demonstrates why you would want to keep reading:

                                “Isabelle put her weapon down and her hands up. A sword was no match for a gun. Chest heaving, she stood, then slowly turned around, certain that another deserter had come up behind her and was pointing the pistol straight at her head.
                                Or maybe a burglar. A brigand. A cold-blooded highwayman.
                                Never, for a second, did she expect to see a monkey wearing pearls.” (p. 89)

                When I researched the Cinderella story for my book for teachers and librarians, Once Upon a Time, I learned that this is considered a universal story. That means that instead of originating in one place and traveling to another, this story has versions that have originated in cultures around the world. 


               
                A couple of other good sources for fairy tale information are The Classic Fairy Tales by Iona and Peter Opie and the Sur la Lune website, as well as the work of Maria Tatar and Jack Zipes.

Sunday, September 22, 2019

Dear Poet--a Wisdom Book for Creatives and Dreamers


            


           When I received a digital copy of Charles Ghigna’s Dear Poet courtesy of the publisher, I read it. I immediately reread it. And then I read it again. I ordered a print copy, so that I can more easily refer to it, mark it, and highlight it. Just before setting down these words, I read it. And I immediately reread it. It’s that good.
            Dedicated to his artist son, Chip, and writer wife, Debra, Ghigna wrote this slim book of poems with them in mind. He also looked back and wrote the advice he wished he'd received as a young poet.
            Taken together, the title and subtitle, Dear Poet: Notes to a Young Writer, may seem exclusive to those involved with poetry. The rest of the title opens up the book’s true purpose and includes a larger audience: A Poetic Journey into the Creative Process for Readers, Writers, Artists, & Dreamers.
            This is a book of wisdom for creatives and persons following their own dreams at any age. Replace the word “poem” with your dream, and the advice will apply to you. I read the entire fifty-six page book in twenty minutes. I will absorb it over the course of the rest of my life.
            Ghigna includes poems about recognizing limits, dealing with difficulties, keeping hope, and getting out of one's own way. Using metaphor and simile, he defines the undefinable—style, voice, inspiration, and poetry itself. You will find an echo, a firefly, a sunset, and other ordinary things to guide, encourage, and give purpose to your creative journey.

I highly recommend buying this wisdom book and keeping it handy to read and re-read to soak in inspiration.

A look back: I reviewed Charles Ghigna's book for children, First Times, here.



Saturday, August 31, 2019

Oceanly, an "I Love You" Book

It’s here! Oceanly by Lynn Parrish Sutton, illustrated by the very generous Hazel Mitchell, from whom I won the book and who included the swimming seals artwork as a bonus.

It's been awhile since I've written here. Now that fall is near, I'm back to business. I'd like to introduce you to a "love"ly new book. Here's my review from Goodreads:

OceanlyOceanly by Lynn Parrish Sutton
My rating: 5 of 5 stars

Here's a beautiful addition to the canon of "I love you" children's picture books, which make for great gift-giving, lap-reading, and bedtime reading. Author Lynn Parris Sutton's creative, rhyming text begins each sentence with "I love you" followed by an adverb followed by something ocean-related. For example, "I love you splashily like the spout of a whale./I love you flexibly like a seahorse's tail." Illustrator Hazel Mitchell's illustrations complete the story, depicting diverse people and accurate drawings of all things oceanly. I especially like the "joyful" seals whirling in the water, and the boy sitting by the ocean, holding a book while he leans on his golden retriever. This "I love you" book extends beyond the very young child, as it offers opportunities for learning about the ocean environment and fun with language.

I'm thankful to Hazel Mitchell, from whom I won a complimentary copy.


View all my reviews

I Love You Oceanly is available from online bookstores and from your local Usborne Books and More representative.

Sunday, April 14, 2019

Hooray for the Bookmobile and its Creator--Mary Lemist Titcomb!



National Library Week officially ended yesterday, but let's keep celebrating, shall we? A friend recommended this marvelous book, an excellent read any time. A step back in history, a tribute to the woman who started the first bookmobile in the U.S., and a reminder of how far we've come, this picture book biography of Mary Lemist Titcomb is great for all ages. 

The theme throughout is stated clearly on the first page--"Mary never gave up." One of Mary's sayings was "The happy person is the person who does something." And so, she did! In a time when women had little power or influence, she faced obstacles galore, but made her dream a reality that became a beloved institution. 

The book's finely focused details are enhanced by historic photos and images of documents. The book concludes with photos of "Washington County Bookmobiles Through the Years." 

The Author's Note adds more layers to this interesting story. Sharlee Glenn found Titcomb's unmarked grave and raised money for a marker for Titcomb and her sister, Lydia.

I have to think that Mary would be happy that Sharlee "did something" about the something that Mary did. 



Our library still runs a robust bookmobile route. If you have bookmobile memories, please leave them in the comments.


Monday, April 1, 2019

Shakespeare Pops Up for National Poetry Month!

"Lord, what fools these mortals be!"
~A Midsummer Night's Dream, William Shakespeare

Even though it's April Fool's Day, I'm not fooling that Pop-up Shakespeare: Every Play and Poem in Pop-up 3D is an amazing feat of literature and paper engineering!

I won my copy on the Teacher Dance blog, courtesy of Candlewick Press. It lives up to its title and subtitle, truly including every. single. play. and. poem! And takes so much less shelf space than my old Riverside Shakespeare!


Reed Martin & Austin Tickenor of The Reduced Shakespeare Company help us understand the whole of Shakespeare with lift-the-flap features and pop-up pages for  Shakespeare's background, the Histories, Tragedies, Comedies, and Poetry. It includes play synopses, quotations, explanations, and humor. The book design itself was engineered by Jennie Maizels.


When you are done reading this side, turn it around and read the back! 

This book makes Shakespeare fun for those who are afraid of him. For those who already love him, this book enriches that love. 

If it's been awhile since you've read any Shakespeare, maybe you should "Brush Up."

And for a more serious look, try this site from The Poetry Foundation

Happy National Poetry Month!

Monday, December 24, 2018

Love, Light, Life, and Hope

View of Bethlehem
patrick brennan [CC BY 2.0 (https://creativecommons.org/licenses/by/2.0)], via Wikimedia Commons

Tonight we'll sing "O Little Town of Bethlehem." These words from that song have always stood out to me, "The hopes and fears of all the years/ Are met in thee tonight."

We all have hopes, and most of us have fears. Things don't go the way we want them to, and more things are out of our control than not.

But tonight, Christians around the world celebrate Love, Light, Life, and Hope being born into the world for everyone. Every one.

Whether or not you are a Jesus follower, who couldn't use some Love, Light, Life, and Hope?

Another song about Bethlehem touches me with these words:
"The heart is tired at Bethlehem,
No human dream unbroken stands;
Yet here God comes..."

Listen and take hope!


Monday, December 3, 2018

Merry Bookmas!



I love giving Christmas gifts, especially books--even to myself! If you need some holiday cheer, look no further than these two treats, one for kids and one for adults.


First, for the kids (or kids at heart), Elise Parsley brings us another funny Magnolia adventure in If You Ever Want to Bring a Pirate to Meet Santa, DON'T!. Yes, despite her dad's insistence that pirates are on the Naughty List, Magnolia brings the pirate. Kids and grownups alike will delight at pirate talk and behavior (the illustrations are hilarious, both in their action and characters' expressions) as the pirate and Magnolia wait in line to see Santa. The stand-off between pirate and Santa lead to an unexpected ending, with an unexpected transformation of Santa. And does the pirate remain on the Naughty List? Read the book to find out. (But my recommendation--if you want to avoid making a scene at the mall--is to follow the advice in the title.)

Elise held the attention of her large audience of kids and adults with a drawing demonstration at the book launch at our local Barnes & Noble. She also read the book and provided swag (including a pirate tattoo!) that kids loved.


For adults, I recommend A Very Merry Murder, the third in the Professor Prather cozy mystery series by Mary Angela. Set on a campus in a small Midwest town, Emmaline Prather again finds herself delaying semester grading; getting to know her neighbor, Mrs. Gunderson; attempting Christmas baking, and looking forward to a university-sponsored concert that includes her friend and fellow faculty member, Lennie. (Or is he more than a friend? Hmm....) Everything is holly jolly at the B&B where the musicians are staying until one of them is found dead. As in the previous two books, Emmaline's imagination runs wild at motives and suspects. (Or is she onto something?) She finds herself in mortal danger as her hunches lead closer to the truth. (There! Now you have to read it to find out the rest!)

Mary Angela gave a reading and presentation at our local Barnes & Noble recently. I enjoyed hearing the basis for the novel, learning more about the characters, and getting a clue about book number 4. 

What new Christmas books are you reading?