Sunday, May 27, 2012

of shadows and sand

Sometimes I'm a shadow and the sea is not much more.
Sometimes I write haiku because it comes on the breeze.
pillows of sea foam--
rainbow sparks until drifting,
vanishing sand clouds
Sometimes I love this world.

Tuesday, May 22, 2012

Baby love (and a plea)

Isn't this little guy too cute in his Spidey glasses? He's also too sick, and I'm asking you to read his story, please.
Jayden had his first surgery when he was only 24 hours old. There have been many more procedures in his short life, but he keeps fighting.

I've been blogging buddies, long-distance writing pals, with his grandmother, Wen Baragrey, since before her daughter became pregnant, since before they knew her unborn child wasn't doing well, since before their home in Christchurch, New Zealand received a pounding in a series of unrelenting earthquakes.

Jayden was born and required frequent trips to the hospital, even as the ground kept shaking and terrorizing the people of Christchurch. Finally the family decided to relocate to Australia where they now live. But Jayden still needs help, and that's why I'm writing this post.

Wen has established the HelpBabyJayden blog to tell his story. There is also a donation page with Australia's MyCause. If you can give anything, it will be a blessing to this family as they struggle to meet Jayden's needs.

Another blogging friend, Natalie Bahm, has set up an auction to begin June 2. There will be books, critiques and art offered for bid.

Please do whatever of these things you can--spread the word, donate an item to the auction, attend the auction, make a donation to the MyCause site. Thank you so much.

Friday, May 18, 2012

Sometimes it's brutal out there

Once again Paolo Bacigalupi delivers a superbly written YA novel. Breathtaking. Brutal. Significant.

He won a Printz award for the first book, Ship Breaker, set in this world--a future America where war lords force kids to fight for them, torturing, enslaving or killing everyone in their way. I think my favorite character in The Drowned Cities is Tool, a horrific half-man created by scientists as an ultimate soldier. Tool breaks from his controllers and develops his own alliances and moral code.

This book has teeth and will chew on you like a coywolv with a bone.

 Here's an early description of Tool: Though it walked like a man, when it bared its teeth, tiger fangs showed, and when it pricked up its ears, a jackal's ears listened, and when it sniffed the air, a bloodhound's nose scented. The soldier had seen it fight in the ring enough times to know that he would rather face a dozen men with machetes than this hurricane of slaughter.

This story is harsh, if you haven't realized that already, here is a snippet of a wounded warboy talking to the main character, a mixed-race girl named Mahlia: Gold-flecked eyes studied her, unblinking. "Got to learn quick if you want to stay alive. Drowned Cities eats stupid for breakfast." He straightened, pushing himself up in bed, wincing. "'Spect you know that, though. I ain't seen a cast-off in more than a year. Last time I saw a girl like you, LT had her head on a stick."

The character development, dialogue, setting and world-building are all well done. Add that to issues raised about the choices people make when faced with war (Do you charge into danger to save a friend? Do you do whatever it takes to survive? Do you allow lines to blur between right and wrong?), and this book has import.

I also want to acknowledge Jean Craighead George, who died this week. She was 92 and had written more than one hundred books, including the Newbery-winner Julie of the Wolves, which transported its readers (young and older) into the life of a wolf pack on the tundra.

 It is such a beautiful and important book that I've been disturbed by people who routinely try to ban it from school libraries because the young girl protagonist flees to the tundra after an arranged marriage leads to a sexual assault. There is nothing graphic about the scene. Sometimes bad things happen. What is important is how people deal with them, and Ms. George gave Julie the tools and smarts to save herself.

Through her many books, she brought the wonder of nature into our lives, and I, for one, am grateful.
The New York Times wrote a wonderful tribute to her.

Friday, May 11, 2012

Facing a monster within

Every once in awhile there comes a book that is extraordinary. This is one of those.

 Even the story of how it became a story is extraordinary. After the untimely death of author Siobhan Dowd, Patrick Ness was asked if he would write a book from a framework she'd begun. In a note at the front of A MONSTER CALLS, Ness writes:"I felt-and feel-as if I've been handed a baton, like a particularly fine writer has given me her story and said, 'Go, Run with it. Make trouble.' So that's what I tried to do."

 Then there is the opening: "The monster showed up just after midnight. As they do." Right away, I'm invested. The story takes off from there as a boy, whose home life is sad and on the brink of catastrophe, discovers his particular monster leaves calling cards and gets him in trouble.

The black-and-white illustrations by Jim Kay are gorgeous and disturbingly frightful. And, for me, they have the added bonus of being a form of the Green Man, a mythical being that fascinates me. (Snippet: "Every time the monster moved,Conor could hear the creak of wood, groaning and yawning...")

I might classify this as magical realism since the story is set in contemporary times and is about cancer, loss and love, not mythic realms.

The monster tells Conor stories, but they have endings he doesn't expect or like. The strongest element of this tale is the ways we hide the truth from ourselves, how we let our minds trick us, how we refuse to see, and what it costs to admit the truth when it is terrible and leaves us gutted. That is what the monster has come to help Conor face.

The final pages made me cry. And cry some more.

Tuesday, May 8, 2012

Where the wild things live forever

There have been magicians in the world of children's writing and, surely, Maurice Sendak was one. He died today, and I'm crying for the loss of man I never met face-to-face, but I loved him just the same.

 He gave us truth and courage and wondrous possibilities by changing and challenging the landscape of books for children. The world was not all blue skies and kites in Sendak's stories.

 Children misbehaved, faced their monsters and figured out a thing or two about surviving this world: But the wild things cried, “Oh please don’t go - we’ll eat you up - we love you so!” And Max said, “No!” The wild things roared their terrible roars and gnashed their terrible teeth and rolled their terrible eyes and showed their terrible claws but Max stepped into his private boat and waved goodbye.

 I get goosebumps reading the next lines, which say so much about the fluidity of time and memory: and [he] sailed back over a year and in and out of weeks and through a day...

Maurice Sendak wrote and illustrated many books besides the Caldecott medal winner, WHERE THE WILD THINGS ARE, of course.
 I adored reading the joyful CHICKEN SOUP WITH RICE: A Book of Months out loud to my daughter:
 In January
 it's so nice
 while slipping
 on the sliding ice
 to sip hot chicken soup
 with rice.
Sipping once
 sipping twice
 sipping chicken soup
 with rice.

 Oh, please don't go, Maurice, we love you so. But since you must thank you for the stories you gave us. They will live on and on in our hearts, in our minds and in book collections everywhere.
Listen to Maurice Sendak read WHERE THE WILD THINGS ARE.

Friday, May 4, 2012

The Avengers!

The Avengers! Yes, today I"m going to see a film I expect to love, love, love. I mean, super-ego superheroes and Joss?

In case you haven't noticed I've had crush on Joss Whedon's creative view of life for a long time. Buffy the Vampire Slayer is  filled with wit and social awareness and those kind of deeper meanings that stick to you and follow you like a shadow. Not only did fans like me latch on to it from the start and watch episodes again and again, it became the focus of scholarly essays, symposiums, even college courses. Joss is both genius and geek with a career that proves it.

Here's a Whedon quote I love: "Make it dark, make it grim, make it tough, but then, for the love of God, tell a joke."

So who better than Joss to translate the long, rich comic-book lives of Iron Man, Thor, Hulk, Captain America, Hawkeye, the Black Widow to the big screen? And *rubs hands* pull them together to go against the Trickster Loki and his army.

I expect laughter and thrills while the planet is avenged!

Are you going?

* Next Day! Still hyperventilating. Is that hyperbole? Yes, but I love this movie so much I'm going back very, very soon. Wanted to buy another ticket as soon as I walked out but the lines were snaking all around. I won't spoil it by telling you anything except it's everything Joss Whedon brings to stories--wit, smarts, hilarity, well-balanced ensembles with developed characters, including the bad guy. The special effects rock, and the fight scenes, well, never seen anything quite like them. Still grinning, and that's not exaggeration.

And, be sure to sit through all the credits. There are a couple of surprises!