Sunday, August 6, 2017

Introducing GinnyKaczmarek.com!

Ta-da!
via GIPHY

I'm so excited to share my new website, GinnyKaczmarek.com! I've uploaded posts from this blog over there, so it's chock full of book reviews, writer resources, peeks into works in progress, links to published writing, yoga videos I like, and more.

Big thanks to my husband for helping me with the backend stuff. And thank you for stopping by! Hope to see you in my fancy new digs. Enjoy, subscribe for new posts, and feel free to share!

Thursday, July 27, 2017

Summertime, and the living is busy

With school-age kids in the house, summertime is pretty active around here. We took a trip to Wisconsin to visit family and friends, which was amazing. Lazy summer? Ha!





After all the boating, tubing, skiing, fishing, kayaking, swimming, potlucking, partying, bonfiring, and belly-laughing, I could use a vacation. 

One of these days, I'll get back to writing. Til then, I'm just putting things into the pot and letting them simmer.

And enjoying the little things. Like sunset over the lake.



Tuesday, June 27, 2017

Resources for grief

I  recently received devastating news about beloved friends and community members. My heart is broken for the family and friends he left behind.

Because I was at such a loss to express my grief, and to explain to my own children what happened, I pulled together a few resources that I found helpful. I hope some of these things might help likewise confused and hurting friends.

For those of us who may help to care for grieving children in coming weeks, I thought these were thoughtful articles. This whole site, The Healing Center, seems to have wonderful resources. I don't think that I'd try the suggested projects during a playdate, but they're ideas to keep in the back of my mind, just in case. 



Here's a great article for those of us who want to help but aren't sure what to do or say. This article has thoughts about helping grieving children, too.


And for managing my own feelings, I've found a few self-care videos that provide some solace.

This video is lovely. It moves a little fast, which I found helpful for getting out of my head for a while. But if you're craving something more comforting, keep scrolling.


This next one is very soothing, comforting, and chill. It's a yin practice, but I see no reason men wouldn't find it healing as well.


Take care. I'll post and share other resources as I find them, as well as the efforts of our community to find concrete ways to support our friends in their time of sorrow and healing. 

Friday, June 23, 2017

New website coming soon!

I'm very excited to announce that I'm working on a brand-new website, GinnyKaczmarek.com! It's going to have my older blog posts as well as new stuff, like books I'm working on, samples of my work, an extended About Me (because everybody wants to know more About Me, right? Right? Hello?), plus ways to share, sign up for updates over email, and all kinds of goodies.

I'm pretty excited and hope to launch soon!


via GIPHY

Friday, May 26, 2017

Book review: YA fantasy books with strong girls

Welcome to Part 3 of my book review series featuring speculative literature books with strong girl protagonists. In previous installments, I listed books for younger middle grade readers (ages 8-10) and middle grade readers (10-12). This post emphasizes readers 12-16, moving into the young adult category.

(By the way, my age recommendations are based on my judgement of thematic appropriateness, rather than on reader comprehension. Younger readers may be able to read older books, but parents and teachers might want to check out the books first.)

On to the books!

Every Heart a Doorway by Seanan McGuire



This book has been raking in awards, nominations, and glowing reviews for good reason. Set in a school for unique students who don't fit anywhere else, this book explores what happens after children are cast out of Fairyland.

Of course, there are as many different fairylands as there are doorways (rabbit hole, anyone?). Seventeen-year-old Nancy was recently cast out of an Underworld, where she learned the power of extreme stillness as she served the Lord of the Dead. Now the noise and chaos of 21st century life is overwhelming. Sent to Miss West's special school, Nancy and the other students (and teachers) learn to relate to one another based on their alternate reality (and its degree of Logic, Nonsense, or Absurdity) with the hope of reconciling to the "real" world--or finding their doorway back.

When a gruesome murder shatters the school's calm, Nancy--the newest student--and her fellow Underworld friends are under suspicion. They must work together, using their various paranormal skills, to solve the mystery, clear their names, and save the school from further violence.

I loved this book's tone, from the perspective of a quiet, moody, intense teenage girl who's weird even among the weirdest kids. Her friends (and nemeses) are equally memorable characters from diverse backgrounds (although most of them are white). Of particular note is a clever, magnetic transgender student who befriends Nancy and becomes a love interest. Although I would have preferred more ambiguity in the final pages, I definitely recommend this book for anyone drawn to the spooky and strange.

Very excited to see that a sequel is due in June 2017!


Wednesday, May 17, 2017

Kidlit writers: Sale on writing tools!

For the next 4 days (May 16 - 19), Writing Blueprints by the folks behind Children's Book Insider (as well as a 1-year membership to Children's Book Insider) are ON SALE to celebrate their 27th anniversary!


Here's all the stuff on sale through WritingBlueprints.com:
  • Picture Book Blueprint 
  • Easy Reader Upgrade
  • Picture Book Blueprint / Easy Reader Upgrade Bundle
  • Chapter Book Blueprint  
  • Self-Publishing Blueprint  
  • One Year Membership to Children's Book Insider

I tried the Chapter Book Blueprint, and I loved it. I was taking a gamble, but it turned out to be exactly what I was looking for as I approached writing my first chapter book.

Through a series of worksheets and accompanying videos, writers are led through an intuitive process to build characters, plot points, conflict...and then to deepen each aspect. Once you're ready to start your first draft, you have an outline (which can also be used to create your hook and synopsis). And when you complete a draft, there are worksheets and videos for troubleshooting and self-editing until your manuscript is polished and ready to submit. (There are even suggestions for submitting!)

As a bonus, a private Facebook group offers connection to the creators of the Blueprints, as well as critique groups with other users. It's been great to meet writers journeying along the same path, to read what folks are working on, and to receive detailed feedback on my own work. I've been really impressed by the quality of other members' writing and the generosity of their critiques. Here's hoping we'll develop long-term writing friendships!

So this is a plug for a product that I purchased on my own and really found useful. It's basically a self-guided class that offers the basics for crafting a solid manuscript. Are there other ways to write? Of course. But because you can download and keep the worksheets, you can use them in whatever order you like for as many projects as you want.

Check out the introductory video, and take advantage of the sale! Use THIS LINK for the sale prices.


Chapter Book Blueprint VIP Power Bundle | Writing Blueprints.

Monday, May 15, 2017

Book review: Middle Grade fantasy books with strong girls

Here's part II of my new series reviewing speculative fiction books for kids that feature strong female characters. Last week, I introduced books for younger middle grade readers (ages 8-10). This week, it's all about the tweens. Check back; I plan to update this list regularly, particularly with more culturally diverse authors and protagonists.

Middle Grade Ages 10-12
The Girl Who Drank the Moon by Kelly Barnhill



This Newbery-medal winning novel blew me away. This exciting adventure begins with a village, shrouded in despair, that must leave its youngest baby in the forest for a witch in order to ensure another year of survival. Of course, one mother does not give her child willingly, setting off a chain of events within the village. When we meet the witch, and the baby she collects, delightful surprises involving moon-magic, a tiny dragon, and a poetic swamp monster propel events toward an inevitable reunion/conflict between the village and those who would try to control its people.

The language, the surprising plot, and the engaging characters entranced me. I loved the witch who is considered a healer in one town and evil in another; the village elder with the vicious heart of a tiger; the apprentice witch who doesn't know her own power; and the gentle, creative male "hero" who is rescued by the women that form the core of this story.

Subtly subversive, beautifully written, and deeply engaging--I cried!--this is an amazing book. It does have elements that sensitive readers might find disturbing (the willingness to sacrifice babies, and the gentle death of a beloved character). But I would recommend this book highly for kids and adults.

Monday, May 8, 2017

Book review: Younger fantasy books with strong girls

I love a good fantasy (or speculative fiction). Transport me to another realm and I don't wanna come back. Well, unless it's a dystopian world. Then where we are now doesn't look so bad. Usually.

So imagine my delight in finding a batch of recent fantasy books for kids featuring strong female leads. I plan to keep adding to this list, particularly with more culturally diverse authors and protagonists. I've organized them by general reader age appropriateness, and plan to include more posts for different ages. Keep checking back!

Younger Middle Grade (ages 8-10)

The League of Beastly Dreadfuls series by Holly Grant
Book I and Book II: The Dastardly Deed


This funny, imaginative mystery series begins with a funeral and goes downhill from there. After a bunch of strange occurances, Anastasia is forced to move in with her creepy aunties in their weird Victorian house. Once there, she becomes a very curious Cinderella, forced to serve her aunts in squalid conditions with a foreboding sense of something really bad about to happen.

The faux-Victorian setting and mixture of goofiness and existential dread echoes A Series of Unfortunate Events. When this intrepid prisoner turns to investigation, she discovers mystical friends and clues to the truth that will set her free in a most unexpected way.



In Book 2, The Dastardly Deed, Anastasia travels with her newfound relatives to an underground ice palace, just one part of a world of magic and fascinating people. Another mystery requires sleuthing, which brings her closer to finding the truth about her family.

Although the creativity and surprises are abundant, I preferred Book 1's semi-realistic setting and humor (or maybe it's just the Goth in me). The world-building in both books is engrossing, and the humor and mysteries keep readers guessing. Best of all, Anastasia is a smart, creative, delightfully imperfect guide that readers will enjoy following anywhere.

Looking forward to Book 3: The Witch's Glass this summer!

Check next week's post for a Middle Grade recommendation!


Tuesday, May 2, 2017

Book review: Sisters of the Revolution

Sometimes I forget how fulfilling it can be to read explicitly feminist writing.

So I have been enjoying the heck out of Sisters of the Revolution: A Feminist Speculative Fiction Anthology edited by Ann and Jeff Vandermeer.


Speculative fiction is a catch-all phrase for science fiction, fantasy, and other harder-to-classify writing with a fabulist "what-if" slant. What if employees were encouraged to conform to corporate culture through biological additions, as in Eileen Gunn's "Stable Strategies for Middle Management"? What if there was "The Woman Who Thought She Was a Planet" as in Vandana Singh's story?

This book encompasses an excellent selection of stories from the 1960s to now by a diverse group of writers, both well-known--Angela Carter, Octavia Butler, Ursula K. Le Guin, James Tiptree, Jr. (really Alice Bradley Sheldon)--and up-and-coming--Nnedi Okorafor, Rachel Swirsky.

Although this collection is definitely for adults, I was excited to see a couple of my favorite kidlit authors, Catherynne Valente and Kelly Barnhill, represented. I was also thrilled to discover writers like Nalo Hopkinson and Hiromi Goto.

Some of the stories are familiar, like "The Screwfly Solution" and "The Evening and the Morning and the Night," but these are woven artfully among others arranged so that stories "speak" to one another across time and space. I loved the combination of styles: a journalist's "report" ("The Forbidden Words of Margaret A." by L. Timmel Duchamp) horror, surrealism, sci-fi (Elisabeth Vonarburg's great reimagining of Do Androids Dream of Electric Sheep), sword-and-sorcery, fairy tales, and more.

The strains of feminism are diverse too, with varying degrees of satire, uplifting hear-me-roar grrl power, and horror-filled dystopian warnings. These stories represent women of different cultures, ages, sexual orientations--even species. Each selection is delightful reading and a thoughtful commentary on women's roles in society. These are stick-to-you stories. I know that Susan Palwick's "Gestella," about a werewolf in love, will haunt me.

Highly recommend this book, and I can't wait to dig further into the oeuvre of many of these writers.

Special shout-out to publisher PM Press, an amazing, socially conscious publishing organization out of Oakland. Looking forward to exploring their collection further, too!

Tuesday, April 25, 2017

Book review: Body, In Good Light by Erin Rodoni

In keeping with April's theme as National Poetry Month, I'm happy to review a lovely book of poetry by a former colleague of mine at Literary Mama, Erin Rodoni.



Erin was the assistant editor in poetry at LM until she had the double good fortune of giving birth to her second child and seeing her first poetry collection in print. Busy woman! Working with her for about a year, I appreciated her careful eye and wide range of poetic appreciation.

Both of these skills are on display in Body, In Good Light. Erin's poetry demonstrates deftness with a variety of styles while offering a clear, consistent voice. Body, in Good Light explores the tension between body and spirit, light and shadow in sensual, clear-eyed poems.

As the book's title suggests, the visceral aspects of the body undergird the poems ("sometimes meat, we dream"), particularly as the body loves, ages, battles disease, and gives birth to and nurtures new life. At the same time, poems revel in qualities of light, especially when imbuing the physical with an internal, spiritual glow, like "tomorrow's sun in her hair."

Erin's startling descriptions, such as "pureed carrots like lamb's blood on the door," made me imagine her as an impressionistic painter who can evoke external as well as internal landscapes by combining visuals, scent, texture, and sound. Check out these lines from "The Woman Who Is Your Mother":
I still love the unapologetic suck of a struck match
and the horse that joyfully bucks its rider no matter
how much shugar it lips from a palm. I know the woman
who is your mother will never forgive herself
for all the ways she has to break you
before the world can.
In the book's third section, motherhood sharpens questions of identity, physicality, and wonder as "the woman / who is your mother still marvels that roaming minerals / in her blood settled to form your bones." I also loved the lines: "Now that I'm never alone, / I suddenly am so // lonesome." Yeah, it's like that. At the same time:
the perfume of another sphere still rises from your body
while you sleep, sweet as the Technicolor sugar at the bottom
of a box of Trix.
Rich imagery, nuanced wordplay, and shifting layers of meaning reward multiple readings of this elegant collection.

Monday, April 17, 2017

Speculative YA fiction and poetry? Yes please!

I'm happy to announce my first poems for kids are available in the new issue of Stinkwaves Magazine!


I was really excited to find a YA magazine devoted to speculative fiction, poetry, and art. They're also engaged in building a community of writers and artists, including young and up-and-coming creators, through the magazine and their parent publisher Handersen Publishing's books for kids. Exciting to be part of this new endeavor!

My two poems in this issue, "The Threshold Machine" and "American Inferno," were once described as "Dr. Seuss meets Kafka." Check out the latest issue for some fun, strange, creative work--and don't forget to subscribe!

Saturday, April 15, 2017

Happy National Poetry Month!

Poetry books are popping up like Easter eggs! Since I reviewed Poetry for Kids: Emily Dickinson, Quarto for Kids/MoonDance Press has published three more titles in their Poetry for Kids series. They've chosen some wonderful American writers; crossing fingers that the publisher branches out into poets of color, too.

I haven't read these yet, but I was really impressed by the Emily Dickinson book: the thoughtful selection of poems, the gorgeous art, and the helpful backmatter. If these books are anything like the first, I'd bet any of them will be winners.

Check them out:


Poetry for Kids: Carl Sandburg
Poetry for Kids: Robert Frost





Thursday, March 30, 2017

On meeting Angie Thomas

A few weeks ago I had the pleasure of meeting Angie Thomas, author of The Hate U Give, at our local SCBWI LA/MS JambaLAya conference.


As you can see, I was fangirling a little bit, and I hadn't even read her book yet! I still regret not making intelligent conversation at the signing or later, at dinner. Sigh.

Angie and our regional SCBWI coordinator Cheryl Mathis held an inspiring conversation about Angie's incredible road to publication (and subsequent best-selling status and film-in-production).

Though her story sounds like a fairy tale, I was struck by her discussion of the book she'd written before The Hate U Give--which had been rejected 60 (did I write that down correctly?) times. After banging her head against that wall, her mom said, "Why don't you work on that other one?" meaning what became The Hate U Give. Way to go, Mom!

Obviously, Angie was not a neophyte: she'd earned a BFA in writing, submitted drafts of her queries to Query Shark for feedback, and researched her "dream agent," "stalked" him through Twitter, and contacted him through his agency's Q & A with her idea. As a writer, hearing that her success came after hard work, struggle, and disappointment made it seem even more impressive (and, potentially, achievable for the rest of us!).  

In her talk, Angie addressed the trolling she experienced after starting a diversity hashtag. Speaking to a young black writer who had expressed her admiration for Angie, she said, "What helped me was knowing girls like you would have my book in a few months." Angie's humor, strength, and grace in the face of overwhelming success as well as mean-spirited criticism will stay with me a long time.

To her readers, as well as other writers, Angie Thomas offers "light in the darkness." Many thanks for her visit, and blessings for her continued success.


Wednesday, March 29, 2017

Book Review: The Hate U Give

Believe the hype. This book is as good as everybody says it is.

From its elegant front cover to its subtly devastating back cover (of a barely visible, faceless, brown-skinned young man) this book had me riveted.


Sixteen-year-old Starr attends a party she shouldn't (her parents would freak) with a friend she barely knows anymore. Although Starr's family lives in a working-class black neighborhood, Starr lost touch with her old friends once she started private school in a mostly white neighborhood 45 minutes away. Now she's interacting with people who only remember her as Big Mav's daughter and think she thinks she's "all that."

Shots ring out, and her oldest friend (and former crush) Khalil whisks her to his car, offering to take her home. Their sweet reunion is cut short when the car is pulled over on a deserted street for a broken taillight. In a grueling scene, Khalil is shot to death by the cop, with Starr as the only witness.

In the following days, Starr works through her shock and grief with the loving support of her family and Khalil's. Starr is terrified to let anyone know that she was the person riding with Khalil; she wants to be treated normally, not like a freak. But when she returns to school, her classmates--including her white best friend--have a totally different response to the news that a "suspected drug dealer" and "gangbanger" has been killed. So careful about her cultural code-switching, Starr's silence begins to eat her up inside.

As Khalil's death moves from personal to public, Starr realizes her testimony might change the narrative. It might also get her killed; a violent gang leader warns against snitches. She gains courage from her community: her family, true friends, police officer uncle, and activist lawyer encourage her to do what she feels is best.

Although heartbreaking events drive the plot, Thomas's well-rounded characters engage with humor, love, and empathy. For example, Starr's obsession with the proper care and maintenance of "vintage" '90s sneakers: "No lie, every time a sneaker is cleaned improperly, a kitten dies." Starr and her boyfriend Chris share inside jokes about "Fresh Prince of Bel-Air" and love of '90s hip-hop (including his charmingly awkward public rap to win her back). Her dad teases her with his theory that Hogwarts houses are secretly gangs: "with their own colors, their own hideouts, and they are always riding for each other. ... 'Just 'cause they was in England don' t mean they wasn't gangbanging.'"

I loved these characters, their love for one another, and their desire to protect their community. As Starr says, "People like us in situations like this become hashtags, but they rarely get justice. I think we all wait for that one time, though, that one time, when it ends right."

Angie Thomas has humanized the people behind the hashtags, bringing readers inside the minds and hearts of people caught in impossible situations. Her book encourages empathy and compassion while demanding justice. A powerful, beautiful, uplifting book.





Friday, March 10, 2017

JambaLAya Kidlit Festival tomorrow!

Exciting! I'm attending the LA/MS SCBWI children's literature festival here in New Orleans tomorrow!



AND I might get a chance to meet the author of the #1 New York Times bestseller, Angie Thomas!


Ms. Thomas is a guest author at the conference, offering her insight into writing and publishing her first book. Her story is amazing, and I look forward to hearing more from her--and lots of other exciting editors and authors!--tomorrow.

Yay!

Wednesday, March 8, 2017

Book review: The Bitch Is Back

Great title, right?

Perfect for on A Day Without a Woman, when women around the country are marching, striking, and celebrating women's work and accomplishments (by showing what happens if we step away, Lysistrata-style).

I'm home with a sick kid today, so I'm celebrating women by wearing red (and my 1 Billion Rising t-shirt) and writing about women's writing. Unpaid labor? Maybe so. But a joy to create and support women creators.



Sequel to The Bitch in the House, which I haven't read yet, this collection of personal essays is the literary equivalent to eavesdropping on 26 juicy conversations, getting the dirt (albeit well-composed and edited) on a variety of women in midlife:

  • The university president who hobbles in heels for six months after breaking her foot but before seeing a doctor, scared to admit she's getting older
  • A trans woman who comes out after 12 years of "supposedly heterosexual marriage"--and whose wife chooses to stay after her transition
  • Two different stories from the "other women" who blew up their lives for a lover...and the sometimes messy, sometimes beautiful aftermath
  • A Muslim woman, married at 14, who earned a Ph.D. while raising 8 kids and her thoughts on leaning in...and out
A diverse selection of writers, yet with several common threads: Most are professional authors, editors, or professors, not surprising for a memoir collection. A large contingent are able to jet off to Paris and Hawaii, own second homes, and write $12,000 checks. This lends an odd homogeneous quality to the voices that I can't relate to, though I connect to the emotional core of their stories.

One essay, however, sticks out like a sore thumb. "Dirty Work" is the story of a woman who owns a housecleaning company "as told to" the editor. Her story of surviving abuse and homelessness is authentic and important, yet the essay's structural differences, as well as the narrator's class and age, ostracize her story as if it were something outside the norm. I wish there had been a wider socioeconomic range in this collection to represent a truer range of experiences.

Overall, I was engaged and engrossed in these well-written stories from women in their 40s, 50s, and 60s. In our youth-obsessed culture, it's refreshing to know what midlife women think about where they've been and where they're going.

I recommend this book for any woman with a story to tell. C'mon, you know you do.



Monday, February 20, 2017

Marching with 1 Billion Rising

It's Carnival time here in New Orleans! That means parades, parties, and...protests?

Yep. When someone told Emma Goldman "it did not behoove an agitator to dance," she responded:

"I want freedom, the right to self-expression, everybody's right to beautiful, radiant things." 

YES!



In that spirit, on Sunday I participated in a One Billion Rising Revolution march organized by Ashe Cultural Arts Center--part of a Mardi Gras parade.

That's me with the red wig as we prepared to march. 

The Mystic Krewe of Femme Fatale hosted our group of about 30 beautiful, diverse women, men, and kids singing, dancing, and high-fiving the crowds in solidarity against the exploitation of women.

My spouse and kids participated to show that men and boys also need to support an end to violence and exploitation--and the creation of a positive new paradigm in which all people stand together in love, support, and awesomeness.

I first danced in support of One Billion Rising a few years ago, when I was a member of the Pussyfooters, one of New Orleans' oldest adult female dancing groups

Diva tendencies? Hm, let me think...

Then, as now, I was heartened and uplifted by the overwhelmingly positive support of parade goers, from women pumping their fists and shouting "You go, girls!" to men applauding "the work y'all do" to boys and girls cheering and waving. 

This is how those of us committed to the continuation of diversity, positivity, and mutual support will #keepmarching and encourage others to march, too. It's not about being against something (other than the incredibly obvious abuse and exploitation of women)--but being FOR a vision of the world we are creating, one revolutionary dance at a time.


I literally danced my boots off--the soles fell off about halfway through the parade route--#NeverthelessShePersisted!

Monday, February 13, 2017

Live in Hypertext Magazine!

Just in time for Valentine's Day, Hypertext Magazine offers its Love Bites issue.

And my roundabout love story Renovations is part of the fun!


This essay is actually many years old. I wrote its first incarnation as part of my creative nonfiction workshop in the University of New Orleans's MFA program back in 2004. 

As a poetry student, I remember being so nervous to have the creative nonfiction specialists read and critique my essay, especially after reading their amazing work. Was I ever gratified when they offered their enthusiastic support! 

Yet it took me a long time to try putting it into wider circulation. Part of it was my insecurity about my nonfiction; part of it was nervousness about exposing so much about myself (and possibly embarrassing the people in the story). I don't know how memoirists do it! Years ago, I received a very nice rejection and then let it sit...and sit.  

Finally, with the passage of time, I felt enough distance to consider it purely from a technical standpoint. I dug it out, dusted it off, and realized it offered a perspective you don't hear too often: a grown, partnered woman with a crush. Uncomfortable, sure, but ultimately relatable. 

Luckily, Hypertext's editors agreed!

Thursday, February 9, 2017

Book review: March

Happy African-American History Month!

To celebrate, check out the #1 New York Times and Washington Post Bestseller March by John Lewis, Andrew Aydin, and Nate Powell, winner of:

  • National Book Award for Young People's Literature
  • Coretta Scott King (Author) Book Award, which recognizes an African American author of a book for kids
  • Michael L. Printz Award for excellence in young-adult literature 
  • Robert F. Sibert Informational Book Award
  • YALSA Award for excellence in young-adult nonfiction
  • Robert F. Kennedy Book Award
  • Eisner Award
  • One of YALSA's Outstanding Books for the College Bound
  • One of Reader's Digest's Graphic Novels Every Grown-Up Should Read



Is this the same Rep. John Lewis our president recently derided as "all talk...no action or results"? Yes, it is.

As this graphic novel trilogy artistically demonstrates, John Lewis's legacy of action and results began with the Civil Rights Movement, when he was a college student. All three volumes flash between Lewis's participation in President Obama's Inauguration Day in 2009 and Lewis's recollections of his experiences as a young black man in America in the early 1960s, making the first black president's inauguration all the more profound.

  • In Book 1, Lewis describes his childhood in rural Alabama during Jim Crow, his desire to grow up to be a preacher, and how meeting Martin Luther King Jr. influenced his participation in the Nashville Student Movement's lunch counter sit-ins.
  • Book 2 begins in Nashville, 1960, as nonviolent sit-ins are met with both success and increasingly violent response. The Student Nonviolent Coordinating Committee (SNCC) works with other Civil Rights leaders and groups to organize Freedom Rides, actively demonstrating for integration. The book ends with the 1963 March on Washington.
  • Book 3 begins with the horrific bombing of a church in Birmingham in September 1963. Civil Rights leaders, activists, and supporters are mobilized, but the accompanying rise in violence divides even as it galvanizes. Stakes continue to rise as people suffer and die. The book culminates in the historic Selma to Montgomery marches. It ends, after a long, difficult road, with the passage of the 1965 Voting Rights Act.

Powell's black-and-white illustrations capture emotion and action cinematically, bringing scenes and individuals to vivid life. Lewis and Aydin write matter-of-factly, sticking close to events as they happened from Lewis's inside perspective. Yet the inherent drama--whether a SNCC meeting or a violent conflict with police--keeps pages turning, even if you think you know Civil Rights history. 

The book's tone echoes the tenets of nonviolent civil disobedience. The calm, factual rendering of each situation contrasts sharply with the irrational absurdity of the violence and rhetoric against the demonstrators. Who are the "bad guys" here, those steadfastly protesting unjust laws and accepting prison stays, or those hysterically screaming, hosing, beating, and killing people to defend the status quo?

Insane as the words and deeds of people like sheriff Jim Clark, governor George Wallace, and even President Lyndon Johnson ("You've gotta get 'em by the balls and you gotta squeeze!") seem--officials covering the murders of activists' bodies, beating activists in jail, assaulting unarmed marchers--readers will draw parallels to current events.

March serves as a reminder of what the "good old days" were actually like for millions of Americans. 

It also offers inspiration for those working for further reform and change to ensure that all Americans are truly equal and free.

I highly recommend this collection for readers age 13 and up. The language and violence--while accurate and effective--may be too challenging for children younger than 8th grade to truly understand, and the heroic acts may be too complex for young kids to appreciate. 

That said, I hope that families, classrooms, and book clubs will read and talk about March (and John Lewis) as we honor heroes of our recent past--with the intention of encouraging heroes for the near future.


Sunday, January 29, 2017

The books of Marti Dumas

I recently had the pleasure of meeting author Marti Dumas in an SCBWI monthly meetup. She passed around a few of her books, and I was so besotted, I asked if I could borrow them to write up reviews--and she said yes!



My kids and I particularly enjoyed the series Jaden Toussaint, the Greatest (ooo, and I just saw that she's published a fourth in the series!).

The engaging layout grabbed me right away. Lots of great black-and-white illustrations, big easy-to-read fonts, and clever textual flourishes like numbered lists and "Pause" and "Unpause" buttons when the narrator needs to offer a little bit of extra information convey a fun, playful tone that attracts young readers.

The stories are fun, too. Jaden Toussaint is a 5-year-old who "speaks kindness, oozes confidence" and "specializes in: Knowing Stuff. And also, ninja dancing."

In fact, when Jaden reaches a point in each story where he's stuck, he knows he needs to "kick his brain into top gear" through hilarious 2-page spreads of him ninja dancing. When he's done, he gets "that swirly, whirly, zinging feeling" of a great idea, which he puts into action to solve the story's problem. His school pals and loving family are usually involved, but Jaden is the hero readers will root for.

The problems Jaden faces are relatable, funny, but also convey a message: in "The Quest for Screen Time" Jaden learns about constructive ways to agitate for change; "The Ladek Invasion" teaches compassionate solutions to a buggy problem; and "Muffin Wars" deals with how to overcome jealousy and deal with challenging people.

Big topics for little kids, but presented age-appropriately and with humor. My kids and I loved them.

We also had the pleasure of reading Jala and the Wolves, an earlier book. Jala is another engaging character, and when she meets the wolves, readers are vividly brought along on her journey. To me, the "framing" chapters that begin and end this book are a little long, and some of the borrowed tropes (a magic mirror, waking to reality) didn't hold the creativity of the wolf chapters. Nonetheless, my 6-year-old was captivated, and we both hope that Jala might have more adventures with her wolf family (that we get to read!).

All four books are published by New Orleans-based Plum Street Press, which has the wonderful mission of publishing books that feature "children of color just being kids." Marti Dumas's delightful characters are proud kids of color having exciting adventures in both fantasy and realistic settings. I look forward to more of Marti Dumas's work!

Friday, January 27, 2017

Kidlit review: The Little Linebacker

As part of Multicultural Children's Book Day I received the uplifting softcover picture book The Little Linebacker: A Story of Determination by Stephen Tulloch and Maria Dismondy, illustrated by Heather Heyworth.


Sure to appeal to young football (or other sport) fans, The Little Linebacker is the story of young Stephen Tulloch, who grows up to be a real-life linebacker for the Titans and the Lions.

Every few pages in The Little Linebacker represents a challenge in Stephen's lifelong goal to become a pro football player. As a young child, he's impatient with Little League practices; as he gets older, he struggles with his math grades; as a teen, he is chosen last for the team. (Challenges are gentle and relatable to most children; this book does not tackle larger societal issues.)

Each setback is met with realistic disappointment on Stephen's face until he finds sources of inspiration: his mom, a mentor, a friend, even an inspirational poster ("You can. You will. End of story.").

In each case, Stephen sets his mind to his goal and works to do better, whether it's channeling his energy into studying math or supporting his teammates in whatever capacity he can. These solutions are also easy for kids to understand and apply to themselves.

By the end, Stephen's success is achieved through his willingness to work hard, keep trying, and to work collaboratively, goals that are emphasized in the reading tips at the beginning of the book as well as "Tully's Tips for Kids" at the end of the book.

With text featuring longer sentences and multisyllabic words, this picture book is designed to be read aloud or by moderately comfortable self-readers. The illustrations are bright, cheery, and cartoony, with easy-to-recognize character expressions against familiar backdrops (kitchen, playground, classroom). The multicultural cast reflects the book's themes of cooperation and mutual support.

The Little Linebacker is part of several educational programs by the authors: The Stephen Tulloch Foundation, Operation 55, and Maria Dismondy's books, blog, and public speaking programs.

For families and teachers seeking uplifting, sports-themed stories that emphasize determination and teamwork, The Little Linebacker lines up!

Click here for more multicultural children's books as well as a FREE Classroom Kindness Kit! #ReadYourWorld



Tuesday, January 24, 2017

One door closes...

...and another pops right open.

After my first rejection of the year, I received my first acceptance! Hypertext Magazine accepted my essay "Renovations" for publication in (I think) a Valentine's-themed issue. Not sure if it's an online issue or print. Either way, YAY!

More info as I know it. And a reminder: Keep writing, keep submitting!


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Monday, January 23, 2017

First rejection of the year!

Celebrate rejection, right? It means we're trying.



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TRYING, not crying.

No, really, it was actually a positive rejection (writer friends, you know what I mean). The magazine had rejected one of my two poems right away, but the other one they held onto...for 6 months. As a poetry editor, I know that sometimes means a series of editors are taking a closer look and seriously considering it for publication. AND this is a notoriously difficult magazine to get into. All my fingers were crossed.

When the rejection finally came, it was polite and encouraging--and different than the other one I had received. That means it had been personalized. It invited me to submit more work.

Not exactly a handwritten note extolling my virtues, but hey, that is a step in the right direction!


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Friday, January 20, 2017

Coping mechanisms

When I'm stressed out about events beyond my control, I tend to make stuff. Over the past couple weeks leading up to today's inauguration, I have:

1. Finished a first draft on a new kidlit novel

2. Knitted a Pussyhat for my sister-in-law planning to attend a Women's March tomorrow


Me modeling the Pussyhat.
3. Made my own seitan, aka "wheat meat," which is superexpensive at Whole Foods. Used it in Tandoori Seitan, which was a flop, and vegetarian Philly cheesesteaks, which were a hit!


4. Baked banana-nut bread from scratch

5. Made eggnog bread pudding (with rum sauce) from stale sourdough

I have a request for another Pussyhat from my son, plus a stack of books to read and review, and edits to that new novel, poets to respond to, and new recipes to try...

The world out there has gotten pretty scary and intense. For now, I'm in here, creating. And doing lots and lots of yoga. What about you? How do you cope?

Saturday, January 14, 2017

Recycling Christmas trees

How cool is this? In the New Orleans area, we can recycle our Christmas trees to benefit the coastal wetlands.



This was the first year we had a "real" tree. We usually have a fabulous black-and-silver plastic one, prelit and ready to decorate in three steps!

Oh my goodness they were so little!


Which was an improvement over the Christmas Ladder.

Oh my goodness we had no furniture yet!

The Waldorf School of New Orleans sells trees and wreaths as a fundraiser, so we bought a tree, planning to donate it...but it smelled so good...we ended up bringing it home. (Yes, this is also how we ended up with two rescue dogs and a cat.)

I always feel a little funny about paying to cut down a living thing, letting it slowly die in my living room, and then throwing it onto the overflowing garbage heaps. (I try to keep my existential Grinchiness to myself.)

But coastal erosion is a big deal, and Louisiana loses land every year. This means fewer barriers between us and annual tropical storms and hurricanes. Land mass slows them down, so they aren't as powerful when they reach human habitation. Less land + powerful hurricanes = more destruction. I've lived through Katrina and its aftermath. We need to do all we can.

According to the National Christmas Tree Association, since 1986, local governments have collected Christmas trees and used them to rebuild the coastal wetlands, bulking up the eroding coastline with "tree fences." According to the article, these tree fences helped preserve marshland even during Hurricane Katrina.

One year, we visited the beach and saw a line of trees doing their post-Christmas work for the houses right on the Gulf. Pretty cool, right?

At least, I think that's a tree fence and not just where locals tossed their trees.

Tuesday, January 10, 2017

JambaLAya Kidlit Conference in New Orleans

I just signed up for the New Orleans SCBWI JambaLAya Kidlit Conference! Have you?



Early bird pricing is in effect until the end of January--a great deal for a conference! Diversity scholarships are available, too. AND there are manuscript / portfolio consultations, plus a dinner. It's going to be great! I've gotten to know the folks of my local SCBWI, and I know they're going to throw a great conference. Here's the official rudown:

March 10-11, 2017

So … you have a story and want to get it published? Or, you want to learn how others got their stories and/or illustrations published? Or, you like gathering around in the company of other writers and illustrators to share insights and wisdom into the fascinating publishing world of childrens' books?
Whatever made you click to get here, BIENVENUE! 
Featured speakers include Executive Editor and author Cheryl Klein "The Magic Words", YA debut author Angela Thomas "The Hate U Give," author Whitney Stewart and more. Critique guests also include Editor in Chief Nina Kooij and Art Director Kevin Johnson with Pelican Publishing Co., and freelance editor Catherine Frank.
DETAILS:
Friday, March 10 Icebreaker ~ Kidlit Drink Night Meetup at The Columns Hotel at 5 p.m.
Saturday, March 11 Conference Academy of Sacred Heart Mater Campus beginning at 8:45 a.m.

So register already, and I'll see you there!

Sunday, January 8, 2017

Cultivating hygge

Have you heard of hygge? It's the Danish art/practice/culture of coziness and comfort, and apparently it's hot, hot, hot right now. The adjective is hyggelig, as in, "Gee those slippers look hyggelig!"


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Because honestly, who doesn't love candles, and warm socks, and snuggly blankets, and police procedurals about serial killers? (Well, I guess I did love The Girl with the Dragon Tattoo.)

It's pretty easy to make fun of, I suppose, but I'm into it. I like the idea of staying home with my family, eating popcorn and watching movies under a supersoft blanket from Grandma Flory. Even on New Year's Eve, my spouse and I watched New Orleans revelers party in the rain--from the comfort of our couch, hot toddies in hand. (We did reminisce about the days when we were in the Quarter, in the rain, on New Year's Eve...been there, did that.)

And I LOVE that it's pronounced HOO-gah. Oh yeah, gimme some of that!

So if there's an awesome-sounding name--indeed an entire culture--for something that feels comfortable and right, I'm on board.

Just call it introvert paradise and hand me my slippers.


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Friday, January 6, 2017

Happy 2017

Can you believe it's 2017? Me neither. But I'm awfully glad. I've grown to love January. Such a clear, blank slate to start fresh.

Well, that's what I'm working toward anyway.

I didn't really make resolutions, exactly, but I have been following Yoga with Adrienne's "Revolution: 31 Days of Yoga."



Today was Day 6, a pretty rigorous core workout, but the episode gives such a great sense of Adrienne's goofy personality, welcoming attitude toward yoga, and easy, soul-enriching sensibility that I recommend checking it out. And then go back and start from Day 1, a very comfortable and relaxing practice!



I've been following Yoga with Adrienne for over a year now, a couple times a week, and I really like her practices. She has tons of videos to choose from, including "pillow yoga" and "yoga for when you're stressed." New videos show up every Wednesday, except during January, when she hosts daily practices. (You can check out the previous years' daily practices, too.)

I'm finding improved strength as well as increased relaxation after practicing at home semi-regularly. I recommend it!