Archive for May, 2007

Poetry Friday: Sylvia Plath

h1 Friday, May 11th, 2007

{Note: Vivian at HipWriterMama is on top of things and already rounding-up the Poetry Friday entries for today. Here’s the link} . . .

Sylvia, Frieda and NicholasA little Sylvia Plath seemed the natural choice for today, after Jules’s review of Your Own, Sylvia by Stephanie Hemphill.

Sometimes I feel compelled to defend poor Sylvia against those who think of her as the patron poet of semi-suicidal goth girls. I mean, okay… yeah, she is. But I think people tend to get hung up on Plath’s life story and forget what an awesome poet she really was. It’s easy to do – her bio works as a parable for a lot of motifs: the angsty misunderstood girl who couldn’t live up to her own expectations, much less everyone else’s; the talented artist who sacrificed her own ambitions to support her husband and raise his children, only to lose him to another woman; the poster child for the questionable diagnoses and barbaric treatments of mid-century psychiatry… But really, if you can get past all the prefab persona and just look at her body of work, you’ll find some seriously good poems. Her images come at you like kidney punches, one after the other; and they’re rendered in so precise a meter it’s as though she painstakingly pared away any excess syllables with an X-acto knife.

Here’s an example. It’s one of her later poems, “Balloons,” from her posthumous collection Ariel.

Since Christmas they have lived with us,
Guileless and clear,
Oval soul-animals,
Taking up half the space,
Moving and rubbing on the silk

Invisible air drifts,
Giving a shriek and pop
When attacked, then scooting to rest, barely trembling.
Yellow cathead, blue fish—
Such queer moons we live with…

See? “Oval soul-animals” – simple and perfect. And not the least bit angsty. Read the rest here. And also check out this nifty site for an English class at Stanford, with links to most of her poems in either chronological or alphabetical order. Go on, you know you want to… go get your Plath on!

Oh, fine… you can light a candle or two, if it’ll help set the mood.

My black nail polish? Oh, geez, I think it’s over in that box of makeup I only use for Halloween… um, yeah, go ahead.

A Cure CD? No. Well… maybe Head on the Door… I mean, NO, I’m sorry, no. Just read the poems already.

Picture Book Round-Up, Part Two:
Three new titles you can’t bear to miss

h1 Thursday, May 10th, 2007

Bah-dum-ching. Awful pun. Sorry. Yup, more from my huge stack of new picture book titles that please me for one reason or another, and I grouped some of the ones about bears together here in this post, ’cause, uh, I’m a dork. And ’cause I have such a huge pile of great books about various topics and with all kinds of protagonists — animal or not — that I can.

Thank You Bear
by Greg Foley
Penguin Group
March 2007
(library copy)

This picture book is a gem, a little sparkly, shinybright gem. At the Thank You Bear site, you’ll see that someone has said, “It’s the new Emperor’s New Clothes” (actually, that someone who said that is Karl Lagerfeld. Yes, the fashion designer. The Thank You Bear site has all kinds of celebrity endorsements — from David Bowie to David Byrne to Michael Stipe — if you care about that kind of thing). I get the Emperor vibe, but I think it has more of a Carrot Seed sensibility about it . . . “Early one morning, a little bear found a box,” the book opens. We, as the reader, aren’t sure what is in the box, if anything, but we do know that the little bear looked inside and said, “‘Why, it’s the greatest thing ever! Mouse will love this.'” But when he shows the box to the monkey, the owl, the fox, the elephant, the squirrel, and the bunny, they all — in one way or another — rain on his parade. Read the rest of this entry �

Picture Book Round-Up, Part One:
Canine capers (but throw in a cat, a bear, and one elephant) from McCarty, Seeger, Magoon, and Ehlert

h1 Wednesday, May 9th, 2007

Fabian Escapes
by Peter McCarty
Henry Holt and Co.
March 2007
(library copy)

If I were a cheerleader (shudder), I’d be doing one of those thrust-my-arms-up-and-forward-and-wave-my-fingers-in-the-air thingies for the return of Hondo and Fabian. If you’re familiar with McCarty’s first book (from 2002) featuring this dear duo (and if you’re not, oheavensgoreaditrightnow!), you know that Hondo got to have the adventure. Well, now it’s Fabian’s turn. And it’s perfect and so spot-on funny, I tell ya, and with the same understated humor that graced Hondo and Fabian. Opening in the same way as the previous title (sweet, sweet words to read if you’re a Hondo and Fabian fan) — “Fabian on the windowsill, Hondo on the floor — two sleepy pets in their favorite places” — we see that Hondo gets to go out for his walk, but he immediately returns and “Fabian escapes out the window. Fabian will have an adventure.” Right on, Fabian! Way to make things happen. McCarty juxtaposes the two adventures (who says you can’t have some fun inside, too?): Fabian’s outside eating flowers, while Hondo’s in the kitchen eating a stick of butter; Fabian “meets the neighbors” (that aforementioned wonderfully understated humor, as Fabian’s staring at a row of dogs, we see in the illustration), while it’s Hondo’s turn to get mildly tortured by the baby! Poor Fabian; those friendly neighbors “are happy to play chase with their new friend.” And poor Hondo; the baby wants to play dress-up. When it’s all said and done, Fabian’s welcomed home, just as Hondo was in the last adventure. McCarty scores once again with his minimalist text; detailed, texturized pencil art and soft, muted colors in his sophisticated yet welcoming style; and his subtle humor. He’s a class act, once again showing us that when the pleasures are simple, life is good.

Read the rest of this entry �

Your Own, Sylvia

h1 Tuesday, May 8th, 2007

Jump back, ’cause Stephanie Hemphill has poured her heart and soul and many years of research and hero worship into this fictionalized verse portrait of Sylvia Plath, entitled Your Own, Sylvia (Random House Children’s Books; March 2007; review copy). It’s quite daring and ambitious (“to imitate Plath’s form to tell her story could be bold-hearted courage, the sincerest form of flattery, or foolhardiness; perhaps all three by turns,” wrote KLIATT), telling us about Plath’s life through Hemphill’s own original poetry, many re-imagined in the style of Plath’s poems, and with Plath’s imagery scattered throughout the novel as well. But Hemphill pulls it off and passionately invites the reader in to get to know Sylvia; these are meticulously-crafted poems — and in many forms, from villanelles to rhymed couplets to lots of free verse and even one abecedarian — that serve as a wonderful introduction to Sylvia’s life. But even ardent Sylvia fans who need no convincing will enjoy this portrait and glimpsing Sylvia anew through the eyes of those who surrounded her in her short life.

It might be a tad confusing, so let me clarify right off the bat: The poems are based on the real, live life of the real, live Sylvia Plath, but they are fictionalized. Read the rest of this entry �

Seven Impossible Interviews Before Breakfast #24:
Blue Rose Blogger, Novelist, and
Author/Illustrator Grace Lin

h1 Monday, May 7th, 2007

As mentioned last week, we’ve had a great deal of fun chatting with the savagely smart Blue Rose Girls, and this week our site is graced (figuratively and literally) by the presence of the prolific and talented Grace Lin. As their site explains, Grace is one of the original Blue Rose Girls, having initially bonded with fellow illustrators Anna Alter and Linda Wingerter in 1996 and then eventually bringing the other ladies (Alvina, Meghan, Libby, and Elaine) on board. Grace is a consistent and always informative blogger over at the BRGs’ site — posting on such topics as racial identity and labelling in multicultural books; her thoughts on blogger book reviewing; her conference visits and author talks; how to boldly and confidently get your name out there and make a living as an author/illustrator; her own party-throwing (parties to rival the New York KidLit Drink Nights any ‘ol time, thanks very much); what it means to her to be a “multi-cultural author”; and much more. And Grace also has her own personal blog, Pacyforest, where she’ll keep you up-to-date on her writing and illustrating (“I’m a children’s book author and illustrator which means my secret life is full of drama, intrigue, adventure . . . and pink fuzzy bunnies,” she writes at the site).

Read the rest of this entry �

Happy Birthday, Jules!!!

h1 Sunday, May 6th, 2007

birthday-cake-note-card-c11765420.jpgHappy birthday to my very best friend, the ultimate co-blogger, a super mom, and an all-around kick-ass human being. Jules, I mean this from the bottom of my heart…


 You also look absolutely fabulous for, ahem, 24.

7-Imp’s 7 Kicks #9

h1 Sunday, May 6th, 2007

It’s time for another installment of 7-Imp’s 7 Kicks . . . For those new to our series, this is where we all stop in every Sunday to report seven (more or less is fine) Good Things that happened to you (or that you read or saw or experienced or . . . well, you get the picture) this week. Absolutely anyone is welcome to contribute.

* * * * * * * Jules’ list * * * * * * *

Hi, everyone . . . Eisha is unable to contribute this week, ’cause she’s visiting family — including her stinkin’ cute punkin’ head brand-spankin’-new nephew, Miles. And, in fact, as I was typing my list here, I got some photos of Eisha and Miles in my email folder. I hope Eisha and her sister-in-law don’t mind me sharing one. If you follow our Sunday 7 Kicks lists, you know Eisha’s in love with him and this is the first time she’s met him! So, check out that photo at the bottom of my list. How beautiful is that? . . . And Eisha’s visit to Tennessee to meet Miles leads me to Numero Uno on my 7 Kicks list:

1) Eisha came to visit us this week! Here is a pic of us after a big, ‘ol wonderfully fattening and rather greasy meal of Southern food, which Eisha says she’s missed (many thanks to the nice waitress who took the photo and whose name we never got). Those are my kiddos; Ada looks like she’s hiding, and Miriam has lots of ketchup* residue on her face, but they’re stinkin’ cute, if I must say so myself. And I must. So, for those who have ever wondered if this is, indeed, one huge conspiracy and the blog is really being run by one person who likes to pretend she’s two, here’s yet another photo of us in the flesh . . . We really enjoyed Eisha’s visit, and my eldest, Miriam (age three), is in love with her. Yup, pretty much thinks the sun rises and sets in Eisha and wishes she didn’t live so far, far away. But we were all very grateful for her visit.

*How the blazes do you spell that word anyway? Is it “ketchup” if you’re Southern and “catsup” if you’re not?

Read the rest of this entry �

Poetry Friday — Robin Cruise & Margaret Chodos-Irvine:
Poetry for the ears and eyes

h1 Friday, May 4th, 2007

{Note: Today’s Poetry Friday round-up is being handled here by the honorable Ms. Herold at Big A, little a} . . .

Don’t you just love illustrator Margaret Chodos-Irvine? I do. She just gets better and better with each book, too.

Her newest illustrated title, Only You, just came out (April ’07; Harcourt Children’s Books; my source: library copy), and it’s my Poetry Friday entry for today, because it’s a lyrical, rhymed picture book text about parental love, written by Robin Cruise (who also authored last year’s Little Mamá Forgets, reviewed here by Yours Truly). As Booklist put it so well, “There’s no shortage of lyrical books that recount the way parents feel about their children. This one has the advantage of illustrations by Chodos-Irvine.”

As for the rhyming text, it’s lilting and comforting, as an effective bed-time story should be (it doesn’t set out to be a bed-timer, but the book shows all the ways a parent and child show love for one another, thus making it a great, soothing, quiet way to end a child’s day). This could also be one of those bestsellers that gets passed around from parent to new parent, what with the very subject’s built-in sentimentality. Read the rest of this entry �

A Note about Blogger Interviews

h1 Thursday, May 3rd, 2007

Eisha is actually on her way to Tennessee to meet her brand-spankin’-new punkin head nephew, Miles, and will be making a visit to the Danielson household (that’s me) as well (woo hoo!), but I’m still speaking for the both of us here in this short note about blogger interviews.

We have had a lot of fun chatting with The Blue Rose Girls, and we’re still not done (did you see our interviews with Elaine, Alvina, Anna, Meghan, and Linda?). We’re excited to be bringing you an interview with Grace Lin this coming Monday, and two weeks after that, we’ll feature author Libby Koponen. I think we’ll be sad to say goodbye to our Blue Rose Girls series, but we’re glad they graced our site with interviews and we’ve enjoyed them all.

Two quick notes, then, about the blogger interviews: Since there will be a one-week lapse between Grace’s and Libby’s interviews, we will take a temporary break from the savagely smart Blue Rose Girls to bring you the savagely smart Colleen Mondor from Chasing Ray. She’s agreed to be highlighted in our ongoing blogger interview series, and we’re looking forward to her telling us all about the upcoming Summer Blog Blast Tour, a week-long series of interviews with YA authors and at multiple blogs. It’s gonna be swell, I tell ya.

Second quick note: When we interview bloggers such as The Blue Rose Girls who not only blog but also write and/or illustrate books, we always tack on a few extra questions about their work as authors and illustrators. We’re kicking ourselves that we didn’t ask Blue Rose blogger Alvina Ling more about her work as an editor, which is just as important as authoring and illustrating, of course (we had simply gotten into the habit of doing that for authors and illustrators only, and we weren’t thinking). Mitali Perkins also made a great comment at Alvina’s interview, stating that she, for one, would love to see a full list of books edited by Alvina. That would be the precise moment we smacked ourselves on our collective head and thought the same thing, as well as wondered why we didn’t tack on some extra questions for her. Shame on us. So, I have since that time asked Alvina if she actually could produce such a list, and she said she’d be happy to in the near future (she’s got quite a bit on her plate right now). Thanks, Alvina. We look forward to that.

And, as for extra questions for Alvina (she also said she’d be happy to do follow-up questions), what are some things you’d like to know about the work of editors — or, specifically, her work as an editor? Eisha and I can compose questions, but we thought we’d bounce it off you all, too. Perhaps in the near future, we can have a follow-up interview of sorts with the talented Ms. Ling . . . If you have any general editor and/or specific Alvina questions, drop them in the comment box. Cheers!

Grief 101

h1 Wednesday, May 2nd, 2007

Why that post title? Because, as Publishers Weekly put it, Margo Rabb’s first YA novel, Cures for Heartbreak (Random House; February 2007), “gives readers a keenly insightful study of grief.” And — as you might guess about a book that, at its core, revolves around bereavement — it’s “endlessly poignant” (in the words of Michael Chabon), but then, throughout the novel, Rabb will turn right around and counter the desolation and poignancy with moments of truly funny dark humor. And not a single note of the novel strikes a false note, so all the sadness, all the grief, and all the humor is very real.

This absorbing character study of a novel is centered on Mia, a freshman at the Bronx High School of Science. Her mother dies quite suddenly — twelve days after diagnosis — of cancer (melanoma). She and her sister, Alex, and her father find themselves suddenly having to prepare for a funeral, and Mia, in particular, has difficulty with the realization that she doesn’t exactly know how to go about grieving (her sometimes antagonistic relationship with her older sister doesn’t help the tension in their home). Read the rest of this entry �