On this day in 1817, Jane Austen died at the age of 41. But what if you could change that? What if you could diagnose the mysterious illness that killed her? What if you could just meet her?
Jane Austen fans who are willing to entertain the idea of time travel may be interested in The Jane Austen Project by Kathleen Flynn. Dr. Rachel Katzman and her colleague haven’t gone back in time to save Ms. Austen. Actually, they aren’t supposed to change anything about the past. Their task is to make the acquaintance of the Austen family and find a way to steal a copy of Jane Austen’s unfinished novel as well as her letters. Of course, this is far more difficult than one might think, and all sorts of complications arise both from keeping their secret and from their attempts not to change the course of history. While it’s not necessarily in the same style of Austen’s works, it is certainly a well-researched opportunity to indulge in the fantasy of getting a chance to be BFFs with one of your favorite writers.
Or, if you happen to be in Minneapolis, you could always stop in the Jane Austen rooms open at the Minneapolis Central Library for the month of July to immerse yourself in her world.
I started kindergarten in Kentucky and finished in Minnesota. While I don’t have a lot of clear memories from that age, I do remember with surprising clarity how it felt to be in a new school in the middle of the year where nothing seemed the same and no one seemed to want to be my friend. I’m told I had an adorable Southern accent from the relatively short time my family had lived in Kentucky, which faded as I became more and more Minnesotan throughout the school year. I remember feeling like I would never belong there, but somehow eventually I did.
Eventually my family moved so many times that it became our Thing. I attended elementary schools in Wisconsin, Colorado, and Illinois in addition to Minnesota and Kentucky. We never wanted to move, but it was never a question that we had to. We were in search of a new or better job for my dad every time we packed up to move. Not so different from Keet, in Catching a Storyfish, whose family moves from Alabama to Illinois. Why? she asks again and again. “Better job, / better pay, / better school, / away, away.”
“For all the reasons parents drone,” Keet is stuck in a place where she talks funny and nothing feels quite right. Her story is told is quiet poems and follow her through the first few weeks at her new school as she tries to find her voice. “Give it time,” everyone says, and Keet watches the clock. I know that clock. My clock was always resetting as my family packed up yet again. It is true, though, that each and every place we lived did eventually become “home.” I dreamed of taking every place and all its people with me when we had to leave. Keet said it better: “Give me a box, / a big box, / the right box, a heart box, / to carry everything I love / and all my friends / from far, far away.”
Now I belong to a lot of different places. I think perhaps Catching a Storyfish captures how that happens better than perhaps any other children’s novel I’ve read. I agree with Keet: “My voice is all the places I’ve been / and all the stories I’ve heard.”
Read more about Catching a Storyfish:
- Kirkus review: “A gentle-spirited book about a black girl who almost gives up her gift but for love and friendship.”
- School Library Journal review: “…understated, fully realized, deftly written, and utterly absorbing.”
While it was Young Adult Literature that drew me to the world of children’s book initially, once I started exploring picture books, I fell in love with picture book illustration as an art. I loved the variety, the experimentation, and the visual storytelling evident in the picture books I saw. I can’t claim to be an expert on artistic styles or media, but I know what I like, and after over ten years in the kidlit world, I have a pretty good idea of what works with kids, critics, or both.
The In Words and Pictures exhibit at the Minneapolis College of Art and Design is an opportunity to see a small window into the picture book world to get a sense of what is possible when it comes to picture book illustration. The exhibit includes Debra Frasier’s cut paper collages from A Fabulous State Fair Alphabet, Betsy Bowen’s wood block prints from Antler, Bear, Canoe, and a variety of other artistic styles. But the really interesting part, for kidlit fanatics like myself or kids who are curious about the story behind the books, are the notes and sketches paired with the art that give a sense of the process.
What better way to show kids that the process is messy than to show them the way a rough sketch goes through so many iterations before it becomes the book they know and love?
I must admit, I was particularly captivated by Lauren Stringer’s paintings from Winter is the Warmest Season, which has long been one of my favorite wintery picture books. But all the artists and books in the exhibit—from veterans of the field like Nancy Carlson to some that were new to me—taken together offer a fascinating look at the different paths that these stories take from idea to publication and all the twists and turns in between.
If you can get there in the next few days, I highly recommend In Words and Pictures to families. Even those who aren’t usually drawn to art exhibits may find that the opportunity to see where your favorite books come from or discover a new favorite is the real pull here. While you’re there, have a seat in the cozy reading nook and grab a book to read. Whether you are a book lover or an art appreciator, it’s well worth the visit.
Adam Levy has been mostly known to me as part of the Bunny Clogs since I had taken my daughter to a few of their performances as local events, but he is best known for being the lead singer of the Honeydogs. In the last several years, though, Levy has added another role to the list of things he is known for in the Twin Cities: Mental Health Advocate.
In 2012, Levy lost his son to suicide. Since then, he has become a vocal part of the mental health community pushing for a world that works for mental health rather than attempts to respond to mental illness when it becomes a crisis. His new record, Naubinway, delves deeply into the loss of his son. The songs are personal and, at times, quite raw. It is a tribute to loss and the healing power of art and sharing.
You can hear him speak about the record and listen to the title track from the record in this video:
I am very glad that people like Adam are sharing their experiences with mental illness, and I hope that this openness leads to less stigma and more people getting the care they need.
For my fellow librarians: I will be reading the Mental Health in YA Lit series at Teen Librarian Toolbox in 2016, and I hope you will be too. After all, as quote from TLT:
“According to the NCCP, approximately 20% of adolescents have a diagnosed mental health issue. Most mental health disorders begin to present in the adolescent years. Suicide is the 3rd leading cause of death among adolescents. According to NAMI, 50% of children who present with a mental illness will drop out of school.”
This is too important to leave unspoken. Thank you to all those speaking out and all those listening.
Lookbook’s Wild at Heart was the soundtrack of 2010 in the Twin Cities music scene. It was in the background of a lot of memories from that time for me, but I must admit that I feel like I didn’t really connected with it until recently.
One morning when I left for work several weeks ago, Wild at Heart was in the car’s CD player, presumably left there by my partner the day before. It was when I was driving that it clicked for me. It went from a band I knew and kind of liked to my summer music obsession. It makes sense, I suppose. After all, it seems driving is a part of all the songs on this record. Singer Maggie Morrison said,
“I can only write my parts of the songs when I’m driving around in a car,” she confided. “That way, I don’t have to worry about anyone hearing me. I can be as experimental as I want or as loud as I want, and I’m a lot less self-conscious.”
For many of the tracks on “Wild at Heart,” Morrison would take off from her mom’s house near Madison, Wis., for long, fast drives around the farmland valleys.
Lookbook turned my summer commutes into dance parties in the best way possible.
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.
- Kitten 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. ;)
If 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?
I spent Election Day afternoon handing out kids’ ballots and I Voted stickers to the kids at my polling place. It was pretty quiet, but the kids who did cast ballots in the Kids Voting Minneapolis mock election seemed so proud to be voting just like their parents that I couldn’t help but be glad I was there.
According to Kids Voting Minneapolis, about 50% of young people grow up in non-voting households like I did. I didn’t vote at all until I was in my late twenties, and, as someone who is new to voting, I can tell you that it is intimidating to vote for the first time. That is exactly why I wanted to volunteer with Kids Voting. The goal of the organization is to de-mystify the process for kids in an effort to foster an engaged electorate when they grow up. I believe in this wholeheartedly.
It is important to me that my daughter knows that we are a voting household. We pay attention to politics, and we participate in elections. She is growing up in a household in which politics are frequently discussed and debated. Even so, I realized this year that she had never accompanied us to the polling place. We’d always voted while she was at school or otherwise occupied as a matter of convenience. That changed this year. All three of us cast ballots together this year, and I hope that this is a new tradition will continue for a long time.
I also took the opportunity to share more about the election process with my six-year-old with the book Vote! by Eileen Christelow, which I was delighted to learn was actually inspired by Minnesota’s high voter turnout and early voter education! It is a fun picture book that follows a small town mayoral race from the dog’s eye view. It covers a lot of information, and it would be perfect for a second or third grade classroom. For fourth and fifth grade classrooms, try America Votes by Linda Granfield, which even mentions the Kids Voting organization along with the note that “Statistics show that the Kids Voting program actually increases parent voter turnout by nearly five percent.”
Increasing voter turnout? Getting to see the pride of participation? Encouraging a new generation of civic involvement? These are all great reasons to make volunteering with Kids Voting Minneapolis an Election Day tradition as well.