Talking to the moon

On Saturday March 28, 2015, we will have an opportunity to talk to the moon.

From 8:30 to 9:30 p.m. people everywhere are encouraged to turn off their lights in recognition of Earth Hour.  For those of us who live in the city, there are too many lights to fully appreciate the night sky.  Earth Hour is a chance to do just that–to really see and appreciate the night.

redknitcapgirlAfter participating in Earth Hour while living in New York City, artist Naoko Stoop turned her experience into a beautiful, fable-like picture book.  Red Knit Cap Girl caught my attention with the lovely illustrations, but the opening line was what really stuck with me: “In the forest, there is time to wonder about everything.”  In this book, Red Knit Cap Girl wonders about the moon.  How would you talk to the moon?  Would you throw it a party?

It is a simple story with curiosity at its core.  It is a favorite of mine, and I hope you will give it a chance.  Perhaps you will even find yourself talking to the moon on a dark night this weekend.

More about Red Knit Cap Girl & Earth Hour:

 

 

Now Available: Wild About Shapes

wildaboutshapesWhen you see a title like Wild About Shapes, you probably think you know exactly what kind of book you’re getting.  Circles, squares, triangles, etc.  No surprises.  File it on the shelf next to the math concept books, and call it a day.  Most of the time, you’d be right on.

Not this time.

Wild About Shapes by Jeremie Fischer is nothing like you’d expect.  It is one delightful surprise after another.  The “shapes” referenced in the title are really, well, abstract blobs of color that don’t look like much of anything until you turn the acetate page. Then you can see the animal–that’s where the “wild” comes in.  In the end, it’s almost magical that way the animals appear out of nowhere.

The spiral binding will probably mean that most libraries pass on this book, and that’s a shame.  It’s a fun, kid-friendly book that will have readers of all ages considering visual perspective, color, and space.

This is a book to be experienced.  I think it will surprise you.

 

Thank you to Flying Eye for providing me with a review copy.  Opinions are my own.

Women in MN Music

The Local Current blog has covered some of the most notable women in Minnesota music history here and here for Women’s History Month.  I’m sure they’ll also highlight the fantastic all-women bands that are playing out locally right now, but I wanted to share a couple of that I think deserve some attention.

  • echoKitten Forever is a riot grrrl inspired punk band.  Rift Magazine reviewed their 2013 release Pressure: “The band’s anthemic axiom ‘Do you wanna get loud? Yeah you know you wanna.’ aptly initiates the album of 13 poignantly short songs.  Listeners needn’t be well-versed in riot grrrl ideology in order to enjoy the listen, since this release strips the genre down to its essential pieces: unabashed femininity, honesty, partying, and punk rock.”
  • L’Assassins are surf rock with a bit of rockabilly thrown in.  The Current said, “These ladies aren’t following anyone’s rules. That attitude is what makes L’Assassins one of the most refreshing bands in local music right now.”
  • Puff Puff is the newest of the three all-women bands I’m featuring today–and I should note that their current line up includes a non-female after bass player Tanja Sturges relocated out of state–but they are my personal favorite.  Their surf/garage/twee sound is the sort of thing that has me spinning Puff Puff’s music frequently.  They promise a new 2015 EP recorded with the original line up, and the one song released from it is well worth the listen.  This is a band to watch, and I’m not just saying that because they are friends of mine. ;)


recordcollectingforgilsIf you have any interest in women in music, check out Record Collecting for Girls by Courtney E. Smith for a fun and opinionated look at women in music that takes on everything from not being taken seriously as a female music geek to questions about the universality of the female voice.  Fascinating reading.  I’ve recommended it before, and I’ll probably do it again.

Also check out some of my previous music posts featuring female musicians: Speaking Music, Caroline Smith, Lucy Michelle, and Zoo Animal.

Or, if you’re like me, you’ll want to read some music-related teen fiction.  I’d recommend Supergirl Mixtapes, The Disenchantments to start with.  More great titles are on my Book Lists wiki.

What women have you been listening to?

Zoo Animal’s Return

Zoo Animal may have taken the last year and a half away from the spotlight, but Holly Hansen’s minimalist, poetic style has remained among my most-played music choices as it has for the last several years.  I was thrilled to hear that Zoo Animal was playing shows again, and even more excited to learn that it was going to be an early show with another local favorite, Fort Wilson Riot, opening.

 We were there with our seven-year-old in tow.  She was the one in the pirate costume.  I love it when we have opportunities to share our love of music with our daughter, even if it did mean that my view of Zoo Animal’s set left something to be desired.  Even from a distance, it was a powerful performance.

zooanimalMar15

Later this month, you can hear Zoo Animal get Loud at the Library in St. Paul.  I love it when my favorite musicians play at my favorite places.  :)

  • Read more about Zoo Animal on this blog here and here or see my photos of the show here.
  • Listen to their latest releases here.
  • Watch a documentary about Holly Hansen and her songwriting here.

Thursday 3: Overlooked Books

Last year I kept my Thursday 3 posts over on my photo blog for the most part.  This year I thought I’d bring them over here.  This week I want to share three picture books from 2014 that did not win any big awards (that I know of) and may  have slipped through the cracks. 



Sleepover with Beatrice and Bear by Monica Carnesi is a sweet friendship story with a twist.  When winter comes Bear is ready to hibernate and Beatrice (a rabbit) tries and fails to sleep through the winter with her friend.  Instead, she finds a creative way to share her experience with her friend while allowing both of them to be who they are.  I loved the messages (be yourself! find creative solutions!), and the fact that the messages were subtle compared to the sweetness of the story.  Well worth sharing with your little ones whether they have found themselves in a similar situation or not.

Brimsby’s Hats by Andrew Prahin is another story of friendship and creative problem solving that may have some appeal to the maker/DIY crowd.  In this picture book from a debut author/illustrator, Brimsby’s friend moves away, and he is lonely.  He struggles, at first, to make new friends, but he uses his talents as a hat maker to get the attention of some birds.  It is a gentle, quiet story that I found quite charming. 

100 Things That Make Me Happy by Amy Schwartz isn’t a story at all.  It is, as the title suggests, a list of everyday happinesses in fun rhyming couplets.  I am an admitted idealist who can’t help but be drawn to a book that promises such positivity, but this book is sure to warm the hearts of readers of all ages and liven up storytimes with its bouncy rhymes. 

You can check out the books that did win big at the Youth Media Awards here.  It was a great year for books!

 

Talking about religion…

I have been eagerly following the discussion of Faith and Spirituality in YA Lit going on at Teen Librarian Toolbox.  I haven’t been talking about religion very much anymore on this blog.  It is one of those awkward topics after all, like politics, that people tend to avoid.  But I am still reading about it a lot, and I am very glad that others are talking about it.   After all,  I spent most of my life (including all of my teen years) as a person of faith in a non-mainstream religion, and I seem to always be drawn to stories that reflect the feelings that I remember from my religious experience, including the feeling of not wanting to be part of the religious identity I had always known.

starbirdHere are just a few of the teen fiction titles that resonated with me, and my admittedly unusual experience, on the subject of faith:

  • Hush by Eishes Chayil – This story addresses issues of sex abuse in a minority religious community in which reporting to the outside authorities is discouraged.  It affected me deeply since it was an issue for my former religion as well.
  • Like No Other by Una LaMarche – While there has been some discussion of the problematic portrayal of Hasidic Judaism in this book, I thought that Devorah’s emotional experience struggling with her faith and strict religious community was beautifully written.  I think that is an important story to tell, and I saw this story as a way of sharing parts of my own.
  • Starbird Murphy and the World Outside by Karen Finneyfrock – Starbird’s situation in this book is even more different from mine than the previous two on this list–she lives in a cult–but, again, it is the emotional experience that resonated with me.  When she leaves her home and interacts with the Outside for the first time, she learns that Outsiders are not all bad and that her ideas about the world might not be completely accurate.  This is, perhaps, one of my favorite de-conversion stories that I’ve read for its grace in capturing a nuanced experience.
  • Eden West by Pete Hautman – While I’m on the subject of cults*, I’ll throw this book into the discussion even though it won’t be published until April.  There are already too many cults in teen fiction, but I’ll allow this one.  Yes, the cult has some weird beliefs, but Hautman lets his character figure it out slowly and reluctantly.  No matter how weird one’s beliefs are, the process of leaving them is slow and reluctant.  Too many teen novels don’t get that.  This one does.  Watch for it.

A few other titles that make the list: A Brief Chapter in My Impossible Life by Dana Reinhardt (atheism/agnosticism & Orthodox Judaism), Devoted by Jennifer Mathieu (Quiverful Christianity; Publishes in June 2015), A World Away by Nancy Grossman (Amish). On the nonfiction shelves: Brown Girl Dreaming by Jacqueline Woodson or Rapture Practice by Aaron Hartzler.  I have a running list going on my book list wiki.

None of these books is an exact match to my experience of religion or of separating from it, but each of them offers some glimpse into the world of making your own way in the world that is different from the way you were raised (or considering the possibility of doing that).  That is not an easy thing to do, and it is not easy to capture.  I am looking forward to the continued discussion on TLT, and I applaud them for taking up a topic that people often avoid discussing in mixed company.

Curious about my current religious identity? I shared that story here.

* When you are part of a minority group that isn’t often reflected in fiction, you tend to find similarities where you can.  There is an emotional resonance for me with these stories about cults because they are also a minority belief group. My discussion of these books should not constitute a commentary on religion in general or in specific.

Just-right adventures

How old should a child be before he or she should be allowed to ride public transit by themselves?

I don’t have a good answer to that question, and I don’t know that one exists.  If you go by the discussion I heard on my drive to work this morning on MPR News, it certainly seems like the two sides (free range parents vs. helicopter parents) will never find common ground.  I fall somewhere in the middle, probably closer to helicopter than I might like to admit.

The truth is that I know more than a few adults who are afraid or extremely hesitant to ride public transit by themselves.  I feel like I am forever assuring people that the city bus seems scarier than it really is while they counter with stories that begin with “I heard…” and end with something terrible happening.  The idea of convincing parents that their children should ride a bus solo seems rather ludicrous in that context.

busrideJust a few hours after listening to experts and callers weigh in on the topic, I happened upon a picture book that provided another perspective.  In The Bus Ride by Marianne Dubuc, a little girl rides a bus by herself for the first time.  Her bus ride looks a little bit different from my usual bus rides.  Her world is populated by what appear to be scary animals.  Wolves and bears board the bus with her.  They seem intimidating, but in the end, they are friendly, or at least benign.  The girl’s solo trip is not without adventure, but it is a quiet sort of adventure.  It seems like a just-right adventure in this book.

It doesn’t answer any questions or set any guidelines for solo bus travel, but it does portray public transit as a gentle place full of community, much like Last Stop on Market Street did.  That is a message that I can firmly get behind.  I still have no idea when I will allow my daughter to ride public transit on her own, but I sincerely hope that she will feel comfortable doing so as an adult.  Until then, we’ll be off in search of just-right adventures of our own, in books and in life.  Some solo, some together.

Read More:

  • Lenore Skenazy’s writes about letting her nine-year-old ride the NYC subway alone (and the response she got after she wrote about it) in this essay.
  • The recent NPR story about free-range parenting.
  • A review of The Bus Ride from one of my favorite kidlit review blogs.
  • Peek inside a bit of The Bus Ride on the publisher’s web site.

How we tell our stories

redbutterflyI didn’t realize what Kara in Red Butterfly and  I had in common until I was twenty-five pages into the story when she describes her “one blunt hand” that she always keeps hidden in her sleeve.

I couldn’t help but think that when I finally write my own story, I hope it takes at least that long to get to describing my limb difference.  It may be the first thing that most people notice when they see me, but it doesn’t have to be the first part of my story or even the main part of my story.

It isn’t the main part of Kara’s story either.  Her story is about family and belonging and how messy and difficult those things can get.  I don’t have personal experience with Chinese culture or international adoption, so I can’t speak to those aspects of Kara’s story.  I can say that it was really nice to read about a limb difference that wasn’t a trauma, and I can happily report that Kara doesn’t struggle to do anything.  She rides a bike and does all sorts of other tasks that people would typically expect she couldn’t do.  Those things aren’t a big deal.

That, honestly, kind of warms my heart a little bit.

My story isn’t about trauma, and my only struggle is convincing people I’m not struggling.  It feels really good to see a middle grade novel that gets that.  I would recommend Red Butterfly to young readers (ages 10-12) who are interested in a thoughtful story written in lyrical verse.

More about me and my limb difference on Fake Arm 101.

My Day at School

I spent most of Monday in what felt like a sea of first graders.  I was at my daughter’s school for Parent Involvement Day, and as usual there were questions everywhere I turned.  I don’t exactly blend in.

In the lunch line, a little girl asked me if I was a pirate.  The look in her eyes and the tone of her voice told me she meant it nicely.  “I’m not,” I said with a smile. “But it looks like it, doesn’t it?  My hook is even cooler than a pirate’s though.  It opens up!”  She seemed suitably impressed.

Later one of the boys and I discussed some potential additions to my prosthetic arm after I’d explained to him how it worked.  He thought extendo-arm feature would be cool.  Super strength too.  I told him I hoped he would be the one to invent a prosthetic arm with super strength when he grew up.  He looked thoughtful as he said, “Yeah, I probably will.”

But it wasn’t all adorable. How is one supposed to respond to the child who repeatedly says, “You are scary.”? I still don’t know.  It would have been different if this child had seemed afraid, but he only seemed interested in drawing negative attention to me. There are only so many ways I can think of to say “I know I look different, but I’m really just like you.”  And some people won’t hear that message no matter how I say it.

wonder

The good news is that I’m not the only one saying it.

When I first read Wonder by R.J. Palacio, I wanted every kid I knew to read it.  It said what I’d been trying to say for years.  Auggie says in the book: “The only reason I’m not ordinary is that no one sees me that way.”  If you haven’t read it yet, give it a chance.  It may be message-driven (or what some have called “guidance counselor fiction“), but it’s a message to which I feel a strong connection.

jacobseyepatchI have mentioned Jacob’s Eye Patch on this blog before, but it bears mentioning again.  It is a great picture book for talking about differences.  I highly recommend it–and the activity kit–for it’s realistic look at curiosity and questions.  We always tell our kids not to mention anyone’s difference or ask any potentially embarrassing questions, but Jacob offers a “green light” to people who have questions about his eye patch.

My philosophy: When you can’t blend in, you might as well take questions.  It isn’t always comfortable.  But, as I often assure nervous parents whose children are about to ask me anything, I have heard it all, and I swear I’m not as scary as I look.

Sunday morning bus rides

marketstreet_bgMost Sunday mornings, my daughter and I ride a city bus to church and back home again.  We have waited for the bus in the rain and in the falling snow.  We have shared smiles with many different drivers and riders as we all explored our great city via public transit.

So I was excited to share Last Stop on Market Street by Matt de la Pena with my daughter.  How many picture books have families riding a city bus?  Only a few that I know of.  And none do it with the magic that Matt de la Pena brings to a simple bus ride.  Last Stop on Market Street is a celebration of city living that I want to share with everyone–especially those who question my appreciation for public transit.

In the story, CJ and his grandmother are riding the bus after church.  CJ asks question after question–Why don’t they have a car? How come that man can’t see? Why do they have to go somewhere after church?–and his grandmother answers them all with kindness.  I couldn’t help but smile as I read the story, and at the end, when they arrive at a soup kitchen to serve food to hungry people, I was reminded to look for opportunities to see beauty in the world.

On a chilly morning like this one, I have to admit I was silently wishing we were a two car family, so we could drive to church and my husband could drive to work.  But I thought of CJ and his Nana.  I thought of all the little moments I’ve had with my daughter on our Sunday morning bus rides.  I thought about my city and my church.  I am grateful that my city has a pretty great transit service and that my church has so many opportunities to help people.  Perhaps one of these Sundays, we will catch a later bus home so we can join the group that packs meals for homeless MCTC students after the service.

You can see some illustrations and read more about the story behind the book in this post at Seven Impossible Things Before Breakfast.