Tuesday, July 29, 2008

Picture Books for Grownups

I have a theory that writers are either born to be novelists or poets. Novelists like details. Lots of 'em. Poets like to find just the right word. Novelists write novellas, chapter books, and sagas composed of multiple texts. Poets write odes, poems, and...picture books!

The Sistahs will tell you that I've often repeated that I just don't "get" picture books. They are a mystery to me. I feel that they require a kind of magic that I just don't possess. How, I wonder, can a person tell an entire, perfect story in a mere 32 pages? I've tried but somehow my need to include detail after detail soon has me dividing my manuscript into chapters.
But I do hold a certain fondness for certain picture books. I especially like the kind that is written on two levels. Snowflake Bentley is one example. The regular text tells the fascinating story of a man so obsessed with the beauty of individual snowflakes that he works his whole life to find a way to photograph them. Sidebars provide more "adult" commentary and additional facts.

I remember, as a child, reading certain novels over again. Picture books--not so much. Once I learned to read on my own, I was desperate for thick books that would take me away for hours at a time. Rereading a novel not only brought me back to a favorite place but the second and third readings always opened my mind just a bit more. I relished favorite descriptions and didn't jump over the challenging words to get to the end. I knew the end. Now I could savor the journey. Double-layered picture books make me feel the same way.

Recently my daughter gave me a picture book that challenged me
in this way. She gave it to me because it was a Caldecott winner and she knows I like to collect award-winning children's books. The Wall: Growing Up Behind the Iron Curtain by Peter Sis, is a picture book but as I read it I felt it was not really for children as much as for the 'tween to adult reader. As an artist, Sis has the advantage of designing his pages and his story exactly as he wants. The result is a book that may be difficult for today's children to understand, at first, but will resonate with those of us who grew up learning how to stock a bomb shelter.

Sis includes photos, cartoon-like drawings, as well as excerpts from his childhood journal. Some of the entries show a typical childhood: "I built a scooter that collapsed when my sister, Hana, was riding it downhill. she hates me!" Other entries show what it was like to grow up in a Communist country: "We are all encouraged to get a pen pal in the Soviet Union. I've chosen Volodja in Leningrad. Our letters are graded." And, "We are told that if we see our parents doing wrong, we should report them."

Even as a child artist, Sis is told what he should draw and paint:"After drawing whatever he wanted to at home, he drew what he was told to at school. He drew tanks. He drew wars."

There is a happy ending, of course, because this is a picture book, after all: "On November 9, 1989, the wall fell." I think of the adults, like me, who read this book, and remember. More importantly, I think of the immigrant children who may read this story and have hope.

The Excitement Builds

View the recent press release for the Eighth Annual National Book Festival to be held in Washington, D.C. on Saturday, September 27.

poster by illustrator Jan Brett

Some of The Write Sisters, if they can get their act together, are planning on visiting the festival where their book, Women of Granite: 25 NH Women You Should Know, is going to be NH Center for the Book's featured book!

...Where's that number for Amtrak?


Friday, July 25, 2008

Poetry Friday--Pictorial Inspiration

Just plain living can provide inspiration for a poem, but sometimes, you need something more. I like to use photos as a starting place. Someone a little more accomplished than I am, Walter Dean Myers, also uses photos. Brown Angels: An Album of Pictures and Verses (HarperCollins, 1993) and Glorious Angels: A Celebration of Children (HarperCollins, 1995) are the stunning result.

I'll share one of my favorite photo resources--the Library of Congress. The Prints and Photographs Catalog is superb, and the amazing part is, not all of the collection is digitized, so there may be thousands more photos to come in the future! Browsing can be a real time eater, though, so beware--you may find it addictive. What to search for? Anything. Pick a word like "sisters" and type it in. I did, and one of the many results turned out to be a poster of the Meers Sisters.

There are many other fabulous results to explore such this photo taken by the Gerhard Sisters:

Do you know who this woman is? Look for the answer below.

Or this one that had as a description:

Where two Catholic sisters died in Nazi bombing raid on Algiers. Two Catholic sisters were praying before this crucifix in a convent in Algiers when German dive-bombers almost demolished the building, killing them and thirteen other nuns. The fifteen sisters killed and three who were severely wounded, remained in the convent at prayers when the raid started while other sisters guided sixty orphans from the building to the safety of an air raid shelter. Mother Superior Marie Duval, who had lived at the convent for thirty-one years, was among the victims. She was awarded the French Legion of Honor posthumously by General Henri Honore Giraud, civil and military commander-in-chief of French North and West Africa, whose citation said, in part: "On April 17, 1943, she was a victim of German barbarism, as were fourteen of her sisters."
The description, combined with the photo, could easily lead you to a poem, or, a whole novel!

Here's photo of twin sisters, Winnie and Jimmie, who were spinners in a Mississippi mill in 1911:

twin sisters
sharing eternity
in fading sepia

Browse online, or go through your box of personal photos, and I'm sure you'll be inspired to write!

Answer: the woman in the photo is Helen Keller

Many thanks for the warm welcome at the Poetry Friday Round-Up this week hosted by A Year of Reading! Read about all the P.F. participants here.

Thursday, July 24, 2008

People Are Talking

Have you seen The Hippo? It's a local news, food, arts and entertainment weekly published out of Manchester, New Hampshire. Check out page 47 of the July 17-23, 2008 edition for a review of Women of Granite: 25 New Hampshire Women You Should Know by Janet Buell and the rest of the Write Sisters. Here are a few snippets from Lisa Parson's review.
  • "For kids needing summer reading material, Women of Granite is a good one. For grownups, it's a good book to surf through -- won't take long and you'll learn something."
  • "It brings Harriet Wilson (the country's first published African-American novelist) to life more than anything else I've read about her, and the same goes for Granny D, the 90-some-year-old who walked across the nation encouraging people to get involved in politics."
  • "It lives up to its title: these are women you should know, and so the book tells you about them . . . It's just about the sheer accomplishments of women."
Hurray us, and thanks to Ms. Parson for the nod. If I didn't already own the book, I'd run right out and get it.

The review wasn't entirely a lovefest, however. Ms. Parson took exception to a few of our glossary words, including
butterfly and workout. I'll give her workout. That one slipped under the radar for sure, but she can't have butterfly. That was included not because kids wouldn't be able to pronounce it without help, but because it defined a swimming stroke done by Olympian Jenny Thompson.

I also have one teeny tiny correction. Ms. Parson said our illustrator was Janet Greenleaf. It was, in fact, Lisa Greenleaf. It's just one of those crazy little things that slip under the radar. Kind of like workout.

If you just can't wait to check out our review in The Hippo, your can read it here online.

Tuesday, July 22, 2008

Research Ramblings

I stopped by the Harvey-Mitchell Memorial Library this morning. I’m researching Eunice Kennedy Shriver and Maria Shriver for Apprentice Shop’s 25 Women You Should Know series, and needed to interlibrary loan a couple of books. HMML actually had one of the books I wanted, so I picked up The Kennedy Women: The Saga of an American Family by Laurence Leamer (Villard Books 1994). The trick is going to be confining my reading to Eunice and Maria. Love them or loathe them, there’s no denying this is one fascinating family. I happen to like them.

My father actually knew John Kennedy when Kennedy was a young Senator. Daddy was fresh out of law school and living in Washington, D.C. He met Kennedy while working at the Department of the Navy writing speeches for Admiral Rickover. The two rode the senators’ underground train together, zipping around beneath the Capitol, talking about whatever it is two young World War II veterans from Massachusetts might talk about.

I love that I’m writing about Eunice and Maria. All this Kennedy research is pushing memories of my father, who has been dead 29 long years, to the front of my mind. Thank you, Shriver women.

Friday, July 18, 2008



This is my favorite piece of writing. Just the title itself makes me envision what this poem will be about - nonsense words. I don't know if that was Lewis Carroll's intent, but that's what Jabberwocky sounds like to me. And that's what I like so much about this poem - all the made up words that mean absolutely nothing, and yet Lewis Carroll makes them have meaning.

I've read that the first use of the words 'chortled' and 'galumphing' were in this poem and that Carroll invented them. Now they are part of our everyday vocabulary. How many people can say they invented a new word?

And how talented do you have to be to make words like mimsy, brillig, and slithy mean something? Even if you don't know what Carroll had in mind, each word is evocative enough to give you a sense of what they might mean, even out of the context of the poem.

A sunny day is . . . well . . . a sunny day. We all pretty much envision the same thing. But if the day is brillig? It can mean a hundred different things to a hundred different people. And a vorpal sword? I can see it in hand, sunlight glinting off its jagged blade. The manxome foe is huge and threatening as he comes wiffling through the wood.

What does wiffling mean? I don't know, and neither does my Word program, because it keeps changing wiffling to waffling. But in my mind, wiffling is nothing like waffling. To me, it means fast and furious, or perhaps, as Carroll might have said, fasturious. And as the beast charges, I hear the snicker-snack of the vorpal blade, the quick one-two motion that - snicker-snack - cuts off the Jabberwock's head before it can blink an eye.

So here it is, a funderful piece of poetic nonsense and imagery. Enjoy!

By Lewis Carroll

'Twas brillig, and the slithy toves
Did gyre and gimble in the wabe;
All mimsy were the borogoves,
And the mome raths outgrabe.

"Beware the Jabberwock, my son!
The jaws that bite, the claws that catch!
Beware the Jubjub bird, and shun
The frumious Bandersnatch!"

He took his vorpal sword in hand:
Long time the manxome foe he sought --
So rested he by the Tumtum tree,
And stood awhile in thought.

And as in uffish thought he stood,
The Jabberwock, with eyes of flame,
Came wiffling through the tulgey wood,
And burbled as it came!

One, two! One, two! And through and through
The vorpal blade went snicker-snack!
He left it dead, and with its head
He went galumphing back.

"And hast thou slain the Jabberwock?
Come to my arms, my beamish boy!
O frabjous day! Callooh! Callay!"
He chortled in his joy.

'Twas brillig, and the slithy toves
Did gyre and gimble in the wabe;
All mimsy were the borogoves,
And the mome raths outgrabe.

Wednesday, July 16, 2008


By Christina Meldrum
Knopf 2008

Madapple is the story of two births and three murders, and at the center of them all is Aslaugh, a teenage girl who lives with her mother in Hartswell, Maine. I don’t know if Hartswell is a fictitious town or not but, real or fictitious, I’m certain it lies in close proximity to Stephen King’s town of Castle Rock.

Aslaugh lives with her mother who is a little . . . well . . . strange. They have almost no contact with the outside world. They forage for plants and greens to eat and cure themselves of their ills. Aslaugh is educated at home and taught science and languages and everything you can think of except religion. Aslaugh’s mother believes religion is merely superstition, and yet she hints to Aslaugh that she was born of a virgin birth.

One night, their next door neighbor sees Aslaugh burying her mother in the back yard. The police are called, Aslaugh is arrested, but eventually acquitted. She goes to the nearby town of Bethan to live with her aunt and two cousins. Her aunt is the head of a charismatic church. She has a daughter a few years older than Aslaugh, and a son the same age. The daughter has been curious about Aslaugh all her life, and sets out to prove she was born of a virgin birth. The son is less fanatical and he and Aslaugh form a close bond.

When Aslaugh turns up pregnant, we are left wondering if she has had sex with her cousin, been visited by God, or ravaged by the devil. It might even have been that butterfly she ate. Meldrum made me believe all these things were possible. She weaves science, religion, myth and folklore together throughout the story, raising question after question that keeps you turning the pages.

Eventually, there are more deaths for which Aslaugh is blamed, but Meldrum sets up the story perfectly so that you never know the truth until almost the very last page.

The story is told in alternating chapters of story and courtroom scenes, and the courtroom scenes are where we get many of the answers to the questions raised. But Meldrum never gives us all the answers, not until the very end. It was a page turner all the way.

And the icing on the cake is that it is well written. There is no slogging through sloppy writing here. The jacket copy says this is Meldrum’s first novel. I’m hoping she’ll write a lot more.

Monday, July 14, 2008

Vive la Revolution!

Today is Bastille Day. On July 14, 1789, the citizens of Paris, France attacked the Bastille, a French prison. It wasn’t heavily guarded, and there were only seven prisoners inside, but there was gunpowder to be had, and arms which could be used against the King’s army. The people attacked, the Bastille fell, and the French Revolution had begun in earnest.

In the spirit of Bastille Day, I’m suggesting you rise up and start your own rebellion.

No, I’m not suggesting you try to overthrow a small country, but you could confiscate a small room or space in your home for that office you’ve always wanted. And you don’t have to put the Royal Family to the guillotine, but you could shut the door on them for a few hours to give yourself some undisturbed writing time. Looting the palace coffers might be a good idea, too. It could get you to that longed-for writers’ conference or workshop, or buy you a new computer or laptop.

It might be scary at first, especially if you’re the type who has never picked up a pike before. And it could even get rather messy. In the end, you might find you have to take a head or two. But no one said this would be easy. Rebellion seldom is. Still, when you’re sitting in the cool shade of a tree in your back yard, typing away on your new wireless lap top, instead of sweltering at your computer in the house, I’m sure you’ll agree it was worth it.

So on this Bastille Day, take out your pike. Raise it in the air and announce to the world that you are a writer. Declare to the powers-that-be that your writing is just as important as music lessons, NASCAR, and Little League. And if the Royal Family isn’t impressed, put a head upon that pike. They’ll come around.

But be warned. Nobody’s reign lasts forever. So enjoy it while you can.

Vive la revolution!

Friday, July 11, 2008

Poetry Friday

Have I mentioned Poetry Friday here before? If not, I'll tell you a little bit about it. Every Friday, bloggers devote their blog posting to the subject of poetry. It could be posting an original poem, issuing a poetry challenge, sharing a technique or a favorite book of poetry. Many of the Poetry Friday bloggers participate in a Round-Up where the host blog mentions the various postings. Today, the Round-Up is hosted by Under the Covers, the blog of writer Lisa Chellman. I've been participating in Poetry Friday at my library blog, but I haven't yet participated in the Round-Up. I'm hoping the Write Sisters will decide to become participants in Poetry Friday, too, and that one day we will be brave enough to add our blog to the Poetry Friday Round-Up.

So, to get the ball rolling, I'm going to recommend a book that perhaps, if you're a writer, you've already read. It's Letters to a Young Poet by Rainer Maria Rilke. I've only recently picked it up for the first time and found that it is, as the synopsis on the Barnes & Noble site says, "a classic that should be read by everyone who dreams of expressing themselves creatively."

Here's a taste of what in store for you if you decide to purchase or borrow it from your local library (you can also read it in any number of places on the internet):

from letter 6:
What is necessary, after all, is only this: solitude, vast inner solitude. To walk inside yourself and meet no one for hours--that is what you must be able to attain. To be solitary as you were when you were a child, when the grown-ups walked around involved with matters that seemed large and important because they looked so busy and because you didn't understand a thing about what they were doing.

from letter 9:
And about feelings: All feelings that concentrate you and lift you up are pure; only that feeling is impure which grasps just one side of your being and thus distorts you. Everything you can think of as you face your childhood, is good. Everything that makes more of you than you have ever been, even in your best hours, is right. Every intensification is good, if it is in your entire blood, if it isn't intoxication or muddiness, but joy which you can see into, clear to the bottom. Do you understand what I mean?

Rilke often mentions childhood, which is probably part of these letters' appeal to me, a writer for children.

There are only ten letters, so don't think you'll have to devote hours to reading. Read just one letter a day--it won't take long, and I don't think you'll regret it!

To learn a little about Rainer Maria Rilke, and his poetry, click here.

To end this first Write Sisters' Poetry Friday post, I'll include one of Rilke's poems:
Little Tear-Vase

Other vessels hold wine, other vessels hold oil
inside the hollowed-out vault circumscribed by their clay.
I, as smaller measure, and as the slimmest of all,
humbly hollow myself so that just a few tears can fill me.

Wine becomes richer, oil becomes clear, in its vessel.
What happens with tears?-They made me blind in my glass,
made me heavy and made my curve iridescent,
made me brittle, and left me empty at last.

Tuesday, July 8, 2008

Favorite Quotes

I love books (and sites) of quotations (also proverbs).* There's nothing new under the sun, so I like to see what's already been said!

Since we are The Write Sisters, I thought I'd treat you to a few of my favorite quotes for writers. Please feel free to share your favorites!

All art is knowing when to stop.
Toni Morrison

What some people may not know about my books is that a very thin book usually means a very fat wastebasket.
Beatrice Schenk de Regniers

Every writer is a frustrated actor who recites his lines in the hidden auditorium of his skull.
Rod Serling

Always be a poet, even in prose.
Charles Baudelaire

Writing is a pleasure, and I feel that if I did not enjoy writing, no one would enjoy reading my books.
Beverly Cleary

Imagination, n. A warehouse of facts, with poet and liar in joint ownership.
Ambrose Bierce

The writer does the same as the child at play; he creates a world of fantasy which he takes very seriously.
Sigmund Freud

Writing means summoning oneself to court and playing the judge's part.
Henrik Ibsen

The difference between the almost right word and the right word is really a large matter--it's the difference between the lightning bug and the lightning.
Mark Twain

It is often necessary for a writer to distort the particulars of experience in order to see them better.
Wallace Stegner

I find the great charm of writing consists in its surprises.
Oliver Wendell Holmes

Everything in the world exists in order that it may end up in a book.
Randall Short

The two most beautiful words in the English language are "check enclosed."
Dorothy Parker

What writer doesn't agree with that?


*You may have suspected that I have one of those quotes sites! Mine is Kurious Kitty's Kwotes and I'm pretty good at making sure I get a quote posted every day!

Monday, July 7, 2008

The Most Value for Your Buck

Because I'm a public librarian, I will, from time to time, be harping on the value of the public library. When was the last time you checked out the database offerings at your local public library? What, you didn't know your library had online databases? I bet you didn't know it had a website either!

In the State of New Hampshire where the Write Sisters live, our state library makes databases available to public libraries. It saves librarians the hassle of searching for, and sampling services, and, it does the heavy-duty negotiating for a good price. Individual libraries may have even more databases than the state's offerings. Check out your library's website, or better yet, visit your library to pick up whatever passwords are needed! If you pay local taxes, you might as well use your local library! It's a great value for your money.

Here's what you'd find if you looked up the databases on my library's website: EBSCO, Biography Resource Center, Electric Library, Facts.com, NewsBank. These are the ones that I use personally. We have a bunch more, but I'm not much interested in business information or practicing for the SAT.

Now, if you don't have a public library that is operating in the 21st. century, then don't despair. If you graduated from a college or university, you may be allowed to use the databases as an alumna/alumnus. University offerings are fantastic! I envy anyone whose alma mater shares its resources!

If you write for the education market, don't forget about ERIC which is a free database service that deals with educational topics. There are plenty of government sites with information or digitized documents or other materials. One is the U.S. Census Bureau--it's great if you're working on a historic project.

If worse comes to worst, for a reasonable amount of money you can pay for a service such as NewspaperArchive. At around $100 a year, it's not bad if you do a lot of research in U.S. history of the past century. And, you may be able to write if off on your taxes! (Ask the IRS!)

By the way, please share any great databases that you come across. I look forward to hearing from you!


Saturday, July 5, 2008

We are Washington Bound!

After spending a good part of the last year writing profiles for the Women of series, it was a kick to actually meet one of our subjects. Former New Hampshire governor Jeanne Shaheen was slated to march in the Amherst 4th of July parade, and we took the opportunity to connect with her. She's in the midst of her senatorial bid, but we were able to nab a few moments of her time before she lead dozens of her supporters down Main Street.

What an incredibly gracious woman! Governor Shaheen was happy to learn that the New Hampshire Center for the Book selected Women of Granite to be the featured New Hampshire book at the National Book Festival in Washington, D.C. this September. This means at least seven New Hampshire women will be heading to D.C. this fall!

Pictured above from left to right are Sally Wilkins, Diane Mayr, Andy Murphy, Governor Jeanne Shaheen, Muriel Dubois, and Barbara Turner.

Friday, July 4, 2008

Happy, Happy 4th!

I just thought I'd jump in here and say have a great day! Ours started early, in the drizzle, at the staging area of the Amherst (NH) parade. Since we had profiled former governor, Jeanne Shaheen, and she had written the foreword, we wanted to present her with a signed copy of our book, Women of Granite. We literally ambushed her. She was there to march and promote her run for U.S. Senate, and as soon as she got out of her car to be greeted by her contingent, Andy rushed us right in! Governor Shaheen was very gracious and had her picture taken with the 5 representative Sisters. Andy's flesh-and-blood sister, Stephie, snapped a few pictures. I'm sure Andy will get one up on the blog shortly.

After the presentation, we brought up the rear of the parade, not as participants, just as spectators. We ended up at the Green, where our book designer and illustrator, Lisa Greenleaf, had a booth to display, and sell, her art. Mur, Barb, and I drifted over to the food area and found Sally's son selling pulled pork, and sausage sandwiches. What else could we do but indulge? It wasn't even 11:30 am and we were lickin' barbecue sauce off our fingers (we had had an early breakfast, so by 11 we were famished).

Amherst is a lovely historic location and the parade is an old tradition that I hope the town continues to support for many years to come!

Enjoy your independence and liberty!


Honor, justice, and humanity, forbid us tamely to surrender that freedom which we received from our gallant ancestors, and which our innocent posterity have a right to receive from us.
~ Thomas Jefferson ~

Thursday, July 3, 2008

Happy (Almost) 4th of July!

It just occurred to me that I signed up to blog for the Sistahs this week. I've been busy reading and editing chapters from the next two books that will be published by Apprentice Shop. Both books are part of the 25 Women You Should Know Series.

The lives of these women are just fascinating. They've accomplished many firsts (such as Maria Mitchell, the first woman astronomer) and fought for equal rights (such as Lucretia Mott).

Through their skills, they changed attitudes--as Dorothea Lange did with her photographs and Dolores Huerta did with the United Farm Workers.

Tomorrow we celebrate our country's independence. We'll think about the Revolutionary War years and the signing of the Declaration of Independence. We'll watch parades and fireworks displays. Maybe, we should also take Abigail Adams' advice, too, and "Remember the ladies."
We often speak of America's founding fathers, but our country's had some pretty great "moms" as well.