Friday, April 5, 2024

WHO PUT THE PUP IN POETRY?

 

Howdy, Campers ~ Happy Poetry Friday and Happy Poetry Month! (poet Joan Bransfield Graham kindly sent me that article)

Many of you may remember that our beloved 14-year-old dog, Eli died last October.  It hit Kitty hard. She wouldn't sleep in our bedroom. She didn't purr for two weeks.

Although Eli was a large dog, our empty house reminded me of a poem I wrote when my mom's dog died:  

ON THE DEATH OF A SMALL DOG

Opening the front door,
there is no small sound of clicking nails
on the wooden floor
no bright eyes
no jumping, dancing dog.             

I have opened a pomegranate
and found no ruby seeds --
only this
hollow
shell.

published in Cricket Magazine November, 1999

Last week, we felt ready for a new dog. We knew exactly what we wanted: a cat-friendly, submissive dog, about a year old. NOT a puppy. 

Well...
we got two out of the three.  

Introducing four month-old Sadie, who fills our lives with laughter and whose puppiness creeps into most of my poems these days--hence, the title of today's post. 

                       


I began writing a poem a day on April 1, 2010 and I've been writing one a day ever since. Today I'm offering you a few dog poems I wrote during Poetry Month 2013. (Keep in mind they're Ruff Drafts.)
 


You can read them all here: https://www.aprilwayland.com/poetry/2013-poetry-month/

Here are a four, just for you:

WHAT NOT TO NAME YOUR DOG ~ rough draft
by April Halprin Wayland

Hy.
Hello.
Hey.

Trust me. You don’t want your dog
spinning in circles
wondering who's calling his name.

And do NOT name your child after a month.
Trust me.
I have whiplash for thirty days every spring.
==================

IF OUR HOUSE WERE ON FIRE, DOG, WHAT WOULD I TAKE? ~ rough draft
by April Halprin Wayland

I would take you
just you…

Well, you
and the usual zoo:

our tortoise and frog and our noodle-brain dog
and the cat that purrs if I can find her

and Mom’s grand piano, my scarf from Berlin
Dad’s old typewriter, my violin

and you.
==================

DISCIPLES AT THE DOG PARK ~ rough draft
by April Halprin Wayland

At this moment,
Tom is either
Mr. Cook, second grade teacher,
or God.

In the dust of the park,
five dogs sit tightly around Tom,
who is standing,
holding a dried chicken chip,
as if it were a gold medallion.

Pick me, pick me, pick me,
they seem to be saying,
like second graders,
waving their bare arms in the air.

If I sit up the straightest,
he will give it to me,
they seem to be saying,
noses held high,
backs straight,
tails up, wagging wildly.

Or perhaps they are worshipping,
praying with all their might
to the tall guy
who holds the answer to everything.

======================

DOG EXPLORER USES HIS NOSE ~ rough draft
by April Halprin Wayland

Sniff, o, sniff—what glorious fumes
coats the world beyond these rooms?

You with your pens and their feathery plumes—
sit ’round the table in your conference rooms

but I have a calling beyond these doors
to the tang and the stink at the wild waves’ shores

while you’re puzzling over lines of ink,
I’ll be rolling in things that stink!

I’ll catch the tang of a porcupine’s trail,
decoding flavors that tell a tale.

You find words, I’ll follow vapors
I’ll bound through meadows, you plough your papers.

As your new poem begins to speak
I’ll uncover a treasure that reeks!

================================

National Poetry Month was established in 1996 by the American Academy of Poets.

Here are two events for your edification:

April 9, 2024 9am PST…I’m the guest speaker in Poetry Month at Rebecca Gold’s Yogic Writing Circle I’ll speak for 30 minutes with a Q & A at the end. Each session includes a daily writing circle, Tuesday and Thursday co-writing sessions, and monthly guest speakers. Sign up on her website. Rebecca is an amazing teacher; I HIGHLY recommend her newest book, From Your Mat to Your Memoir.

April 13, 2024 11:30am PST…FREE Adult Poetry Writing Workshop. How to Put WOW in Your Poetry (Don't you want to know what WOW stands for?!?) We'll play with words and have time for writing and sharing. Chances are, your writing will never be the same. Join us for the fun at the Hermosa Beach Library 550 Pier Ave, Hermosa Beach, CA 90254

Thank you, Irene, for hosting Poetry Friday this week at Live Your Poem

posted by April Halprin Wayland with a hug she wishes weren't virtual
 

 A photo from long-ago when Monkey and Eli regularly read poetry to each other

poems (c) 2024 April Halprin Wayland. All rights reserved.

Friday, March 15, 2024

Don't Forget to Celebrate!

 


Recently, a friend shared his wisdom when another said that writing is hard, and asked if there was a way to make it easier. To this, my friend said, describing his approach to writing fiction, “Write it from inside the characters. Allow the characters to grow their own story and follow their lead. When it is complete and you are seeking opinions about how well you wrote it, leave your ego at home and allow the comments --- even the foolish or misguided ones --- to penetrate because they are talking about a book, not about you. Even a fool is correct once in a while! The goal is to create a work of art that will speak well of you. Any hack can cobble together 80,000 words, but most of that kind of writing can put a shark to sleep.”

Every term, my MFA students lament this very thing. I have to remind them that every writer carries similar worries at every stage of their career. In some part, it's the nature of the business itself. But it's also a function of human nature.

It seems the core of these worries are defined by a lot of shouldas and couldas, accompanied by a strong belief in several sacred myths about writing and writers.  Myths, they hope, that carry the secrets to and serve as a compass for how to succeed as a writer.

Myth: Writers only write when they are inspired.

I’m too old to wait around, hoping for some magical muse to show up. The truth is, writers write. It seems to me that curiosity is much more important.

Recently I’ve been going through a phase in which I really like Australian TV. The scenery. The intersection of history between indigenous and penal colonies. The Māori (and the Huka!). A common plot device is cricket – whether it’s baking, mystery, supernatural or comedy, there always seems to be a leather ball and a flat bat involved. To understand the context, I started researching cricket. And watching Australian cricket. (Baggy green is now my favorite color! What a sticky wicket!) This led me to research certain cricket personalities, then cricket history, which led to reading more about British colonialism. Which led to reading about the mid-Atlantic slave trade and the middle passage and the slave narratives. Which led me to Caribbean uprisings. While it sounds like a rabbit hole that Lewis Carrol might envy (and it was), I began noticing a seed for a story. This seed soon developed into a premise. Then it became a character. Then it became a draft.

More often it is through the act of reading and writing itself that inspiration finally decides to visit.

Myth: Writers are introverts.

There may be some truth to this. I prefer long walks to parties. I prefer languorous conversations with my flowers. Albeit, my granddaughter is pretty good at discussing the secrets of dragonflight. Others travel, attend literary events, participate in writing and reading groups, join online discussions. Sometimes I pop into one or two events.  Given my luddite nature, my relationship with social media is rather wobbly. (The irony that I’m writing a blog isn’t lost on me. But I did handwrite this first!) Some may be energized and go full steam into social events, while others find it exhausting. In the end, writers need diverse perspectives and connections to enrich their writing, but ultimately, it’s more important for you to be you.

 Myth: Method X is better than Method Y.

I’m a nerd about the writing process. I find it an endlessly fascinating topic. While I have more than a fair share of degrees and certificates in the writing process, I still attend classes, workshops and lectures given by the best in the business. If you have the chance, I can’t recommend enough the classes given by Emma D. Dryden, Harold Underdown and Eileen Robinson, and the many offerings at Free Expressions, sponsored by Lorin Oberweger and company, featuring such lecturers as Donald Maass, Chris Vogler and many others.

Whether it’s plotting versus pantsing, the hero’s journey versus the snowflake method, or saving the cat versus the three-act narrative, editing while you go or hammering out an SFD, everyone has their own way of engineering a story. My own process tends to follow four steps:

1. Research to get an overview of historical and social contexts. Besides, I like to read. You never know what treasure you’ll find.

2.  Outline, because I tend to work with a cast of characters as well as historical/social elements that require careful staging.

3. Write that SFD, usually by hand first.

4. Revise, then revise again, then revise again, because this is where the real magic happens.

What makes it work for me is that I set time apart for my writing and treat it like a job. I know how busy life becomes, having worked as a single parent maintaining a household. But it is still my job to write.

Myth: Writers are excellent spellers.

Yea. Right.

Myth: Writing is easy.

Does any of this sound easy?

Just as an engineer relies on a structurally-sound blueprint – one that, according to Larry Brooks in his book, Story Engineering, requires a plan based on proven physics and structural dynamics -- to build something that will bear weight and resist the elements, so must a writer engineer a story using the literary equivalent. The technicality of the story is fundamental to its creativity. The master writers make it look easy, but behind the scenes, it’s all sweat, blood and a few tears.

There are no easy answers. I tend to like what  Margaret Dilloway suggests in The Writer Unboxed, that you have to give  yourself the permission to write, and you have to give yourself your own approval and authentication, instead of depending on external sources. As she states,  "Nobody else can do that for you. You have to take that power and confidence for yourself.”

Most important, remember that it's important to celebrate the little things. And the big things. And the wicked goggly things, too.

 Celebrating the completion of my SFD! You know, shitty first draft! Only 99 more to go!

Thank you for reading!

-- Bobbi Miller

 

Friday, March 1, 2024

Play, Play, and More Play

My word for the year is PLAY.  The opposite of toil.  And why not? 

17 years ago, at my current school, I wrote my Teaching Philosophy to articulate the direction that I was headed as a kindergarten teacher.







“I believe in the power of play (think of anyone you know who has lost their passion for life and they’ve probably forgotten how to play.)

I believe in learning through wonder, exploration, and discovery (think of anyone you know who is a lifelong learner and they’re probably driven by wonder, exploration, and discovery rather than thinking of learning as a task that must be completed.)”

My commitment to play has become even more entrenched.  I’m not sure what my life would have been like had I not found my way to a career surrounded by 5-year-olds and a life of visual art and writing for children.  Play is powerful. My own daughter went to a school until she was 12 in LA committed to play, Play Mountain Place.  I carry the lessons of our experience there as a parent into my classroom every day.

https://www.playmountain.org/

I design writing, reading, math, science, and social studies invitations to deepen the play and find relationships between scholastic skills.  




Writing is a tool to express oneself.  This is the reason to learn to write.  Our week is designed with many different projects anchored in play, all leading to the goal of writing.  Story crafting in the Wildlands (an acre of outdoor learning on campus), the classroom, or the play yard is designed to end in writing.  Making inventions at the Maker Table is designed to lead to writing about the invention. Consistent writing leads to more writing.  Writing makes stronger readers. All of this steeped in play.





In my own writing, play drives my work.  It is the joyful adventure of following an idea without fully knowing where I’ll land.  It is playfully following the twists and turns. It is the journey of delight that brings me back to the computer (or notebook) again and again.  Creativity anchored in play is like a drug. If it were toil, I doubt I would be compelled to return over and over.  It is play that drives me. Play that beckons me back. Play that keeps it fresh, alive, and youthful. 


Friday, February 16, 2024

My Word for the Year—Hope by Mary Ann Rodman


 My word for this year is right next to my front door. Hope. 

I am a pessimist by nature. I think I inherited this “attribute” from my mom who had two favorite sayings. 1.  Don’t get your hopes up. 2. Don’t expect the best and you’ll never be disappointed. (So that’s how The Greatest Generation got through the Depression, WWII and raising us Boomers. Chronic skepticism.)

So when my college roommate sent me this during the Pandemic, I had to chuckle. The world was going to hell in a hand basket, and she literally sent me Hope, courtesy of UPS. I hung it where I would see it multiple times a day. Who knew? Maybe it would inspire hope. Right, I thought. As if!

This has been a particularly grim winter for me. Battleship grey skies…not even clouds, just solid grey overhead. Every time I turned on my computer I learned another cousin, friend, former student or had died. I was writing myself into literary cul-de-sacs. And let’s not talk about the general state of the world. In fact, the only hopeful thing in life was that little word, hanging by the front door.

But you know what? The sun started making cameo appearances throughout the day. People didn’t stop dying but now there was good news as well. Friends who had searched decades for an agent, acquired one. First time authors of a certain age (which is now how I refer to myself) were being published. My long dormant brain became aware of story ideas.

In other words, I felt hopeful. I also had faith, that elusive concept that makes hope possible. As the Bible says  “Now faith is the assurance of things hoped for, the conviction of things not seen.” --Hebrew 11:1

I will write my way out of those cul-de-sacs. Those ideas will blossom into stories.

I can feel that fluttering of hope that Emily Dickinson wrote of.  If there comes a time when hope seems to be taking another sabbatical, I can always recall my favorite Woody Allen quote: 

 “How wrong Emily Dickinson was! Hope is not the thing with feathers. The thing with feathers has turned out to be my nephew. I must take him to a specialist in Zurich.”

Hope also has a sense of humor.

When all else fails, there are the wise words of Cormac McCarthy—“Keep a little fire burning; however small, however hidden.” 

Posted by Mary Ann Rodman

Friday, February 2, 2024

My Word for 2024

 

Great minds think alike. Or rather similar Spirits recognize 

a similar need.

My word for 2024 – LIGHT, both the Noun and the Verb, and 

Carmela’s LIGHTER, both the Adjective and the Adverb, share 

the same root:         

            The word “light” comes from Old English leht 

            (Anglian), Leoht (West Saxon), meaning 

            “brightness, radiant energy, that which makes 

             things visible.”

I admit (painfully):

My expertise at finding silver linings?

My ability to focus on the positive?

To date, neither has totally reduced the sometimes-crushing 

weight of our oft-dark World that surprisingly leaves me – 

a Cubs Fan! – wobbly, unable to navigate.


Fortunately, the two inspirational quotes I keep in view on my 

real-life desk top broadcast a qualifying NEVERTHELESS.

Dr. Martin Luther King’s words help me steady my footing, 

look up and find my way.

He’d been asked if given the choice, what era would he live in?  

He acknowledged his land’s troubles and confusion, messes 

and sicknesses.

     “But I know, somehow,” he said, “that only when it’s dark 

       enough can you see the stars.”

        
(Curly Girl Designs)     

The Dark, I’ve learned, can indeed be a Good Thing.

So, thirty-three days into this New Year, I continue to focus all of 

me on the Anyones and Anythings who and that gift me with joy, 

wonder, cause for celebration and/or prompt me to count my 

blessings on a quarter-hour basis.

All those lights, all those nouns, especially the Proper ones, keep 

me keepin’ on.

Ah, the Possibilities!

 

But even more important, I learned all those lights empower me so 

can do the same for others.

They recharge my batteries so I can burn bright, so I can light the 

way enabling others to keep keepin’ on.

                                                       (Mary Lou Falstreau)


 
L.R. Knost’s words remind me. “The broken world waits in 

darkness for the light that is you.” 

Ah, the opportunities!


 Thanks to Mary Lee at A(nother) Year of Reading for hosting 

today’s Poetry Friday. 


 In signing off, I can’t help but recall the motto of my family’s 

electrician Moish Dove who happened to be my father’s lodge 

brother.  “Let there be light!”


Esther Hershenhorn

p.s.

My go-to sources for inspirational cards that help to keep me, 

and thus everyone I know and love, keepin’ on?

Curly Girl Designs and Marylou Falstreau’s Cards and Prints!

Friday, January 19, 2024

My Word of the Year for 2024

Happy Poetry Friday! I share a poem by James Stephens at the end of this post along with a link to this week's roundup. 

Today, I kick off our first TeachingAuthors' topic for 2024: our one word (or short phrase) theme for the year. Three weeks into January, I'm still getting used to my word: LIGHTER

I've been feeling a bit burdened lately and wanted a word that would help me feel lighter physically, emotionally, and spiritually. I hope that, in turn, I'll bring more light to those I encounter. 

To help remember my word, I write it at the top of my to-do list every morning. Since I'm a visual learner, I like to also draw an image that helps me keep my word in mind throughout the day. Unfortunately, my drawing skills are quite limited, so the image needs to be something simple. I ended up choosing a kite.

Image of a vertically striped kite flying against a blue sky with puffy white clouds
Photo by Charlotte Harrison on Unsplash

It's amazing how one little word can shift your perspective. Thanks to my newfound focus on LIGHTER, I recently noticed that it's no longer dark at 5:00 pm. Given the frigid temperatures and the piles of snow all around, if not for my word, I don't think I would have realized that the days here in the Northern Hemisphere are already lengthening. 

One way I'm lightening my mood and outlook is by reading humorous poetry, such as Animals in Pants written by Suzy Levinson and illustrated by Kristin & Kevin Howdeshell (Abrams) and My Head Has a Bellyache and More Nonsense for Mischievous Kids and Immature Grown-Ups written by Chris Harris and illustrated by Andrea Tsurmi (Little Brown).

And this month I'm especially excited about a new Think Poetry class I'll be taking with the amazing team of Janet Wong and Sylvia Vardell--I'll be learning ways to add humor to my own poetry! My heart is flying at the mere thought. 🪁

I'm also reading poetry that isn't necessarily humorous, but still uplifting. For the last few months, I've been savoring the poems in the beautiful anthology Sing a Song of Seasons: A Nature Poem for Each Day of the Year selected by Fiona Waters and illustrated by Frann Preston-Gannon (Candlewick).

When I read the poem for yesterday, January 18, "White Fields," the imagery really hit home—here in northern Illinois the fields are indeed covered in snow. And since the poem is in the public domain, I decided to share it today:

          White Fields
          by James Stephens

     In the winter time we go
     Walking in the fields of snow;

     Where there is no grass at all;
     Where the top of every wall,

     Every fence, and every tree,
     Is as white as white can be.

     Pointing out the way we came—
     Every one of them the same—

     All across the fields there be
     Prints in silver filigree;

     And our mothers always know,
     By the footprints in the snow,

     Where it is the children go. 

There's one more thing helping me feel LIGHTER these days: Two of my math-based poems appear in the STEM edition of Tyger Tyger Magazine. I feel especially honored because the editor created a terrific Teaching Resource to go with my poems. You can see all the poems and Teaching Resources in the issue by following the links on the Tyger Tyger website here. I'd love to know what you think of my poems!

Poetry Friday logo by Linda Mitchell
I hope this post has left you feeling a bit LIGHTER. Don't forget to check out this week's Poetry Friday roundup hosted by Robin Hood Black at Life on the Deckle Edge.


Carmela 🪁

Friday, January 5, 2024

Intro to Writing Children's Poetry for the Brave, Big-Hearted, and Curious on Jan 17th


Howdy, Campers! Happy New Year and Happy Poetry Friday! (The link to this week's PF is below.)

This is a quickie to tell you that once again I'm teaching a one day, three-hour virtual class called Intro to Writing Children's Poetry for the Brave, Big-Hearted, and Curious! (my title, not necessarily UCLA's). 

We'll be inspired by wonderful poems, play with some of the basic poetic tools, and have time for writing and sharing...all in just three hours! 

Class is on Wednesday, January 17th from noon-3pm PST. 

Enrollment, which opened January 3rd, is limited. 
There is always a waiting list
Here's a rough draft of today's poem...can anyone relate?

THE TEACHER’S BRAIN SPEAKS
by April Halprin Wayland

I double, double dare you

to coax them out.

Set aside their cell phones?

I highly doubt.

 

I don’t think you’ll inspire them

or set their hair on fire when

you face them all

and class begins...

 

But wait a sec—they're *galvanized*—

their eyes are bright—they’re energized!

There’s silence (save the sound of pens)

How did you do that? Very Zen.

 

I guess I’m wrong again.

2024 April Halprin Wayland, all rights reserved

image by stockking on freepik
Thank you, Marcie, for hosting Poetry Friday at Marcie Flinchum Atkins

posted with hope and a big smile by April Halprin Wayland, with help from Kitty and our tiniest pond turtle, Ted Lasso.

Friday, December 15, 2023

The Making of History

As Teaching Authors end our year exploring our favorite books, I am focusing on historical fiction, and on the making of history. History often carries the stigma of being dry and irrelevant, says Y.S. Lee (The Agency 1: Spy in the House, 2010), but “the freedom of fiction is one way of exploring a subject that may seem intimating or remote. After all, it’s a kind of fantasy, a parallel world in which people act with recognizable human impulses and ideals but abide by very different rules.”

The genre of historical fiction is very broad, one that Mary Burns (1995) labels a “hybrid and a shape-shifter,” combining history with fiction.  Or, as Trevor Cairney (2009) suggests, historical fiction is where “literature meets history.” Avi, an award-winning master of the genre, offers that some historical fiction stays close to the known facts, while others are little more than costume drama. “Ultimately, what is most important is the story, and the characters.” Facts, according to Avi, do not make a story. “Believable people do…Truth may be stranger than fiction, but fiction makes truth less a stranger.”

Remember that historical fiction is the coming together of two opposing elements: fact and fiction. History tends to be written by those who survived it. The meaning of history, just as it is for the novel, lays “not in the chain of events themselves, but on the historian’s [and writer’s] interpretation of it,” as Jill Paton Walsh once noted.

I’m often asked how I go about researching my own historical fiction. Because I tend to write stories of forgotten heroes, even as I reveal familiar events, in new, unexpected ways my initial research focuses on titles that explore this other side of history, allowing me to experience those perspectives that were not allowed their own stories. History is more than dates. History is people, too. In the best of historical fiction, as with any story, a child becomes a hero who gains power over their situation, a theme that contemporary readers appreciate. 


Harriet Jacobs: Incidents in the Life of a Slave Girl, written by herself (first published in 1861 by Thayer & Eldridge; L. Barsky, ed., The Townsend Library, 2004.) is a heart wrenching autobiography. Jacobs is addressing White Northern women who cannot comprehend the evils of slavery. Her story reveals in excruciating detail her journey from slave girl to free woman, how she navigates the horrors of her life in her fight to preserve her human dignity. Writing her story is Jacobs’ ultimate act of self-assertion.

The Autobiography of Solomon Northup: Twelve Years a Slave (first published in 1853 by Derby & Miller; S. Eakin, Eakin Films & Publishing, 2013.) is another gut punch of a read. Northup is a free man, a skilled carpenter and violinist. Offered a high-paying job as a musician, he traveled to Washington, D.C. Too late he discovered he had been tricked. Drugged and bound, he was sold as a slave, and sent to New Orleans. In her article, The Cultural Significance of Solomon Northup’s Twelve Years a Slave , Mollie Lieblich explains:

Created as propaganda for abolitionism, slave narratives often conformed to reoccurring narrative structures and literary conventions. Authenticity was considered essential. Most pre-emancipation slave narratives include phrases such as “written by himself” or “herself” on title pages, as well as numerous testimonials, prefaces, and letters of endorsement by white abolitionists and supporters. The narratives usually began, “I was born,” identifying a specific birthplace but no date of birth, since slaves often did not have that knowledge. … Slave narratives proved that, despite the odds, many slaves managed to escape their degradation and learned how to read and write. After escaping their bondage and making contacts with abolitionists, they were able to tell their tale to others.”



Ashes: The Seeds of America Trilogy, by Laurie Halse Anderson (Atheneum Books for Young Readers, 2016) is a modern classic (in my opinion), a thumping good read as noted by the New York Times, that illustrates this process of blending fact and fiction. She weaves these experiences of Jacobs and Northup into a new life in this story of enslaved Isabel as she continues her search for her sister, Ruth (began in Anderson’s award-winning, Chains, another of my favorite reads), and their flight to freedom.


“Historical fiction helps young readers develop a feeling for a living past, illustrating the continuity of life,” says Karen Cushman, another master writer of historical fiction. Reading a blend of history and historical fiction helps me envision how I might bring my own characters to life.

Just a note, Teaching Authors is taking a winter break and our posts will resume on January 19.

Until then, I wish you a historical happy holiday!

--Bobbi Miller

 

 

 

 

Friday, December 1, 2023

My End of the Year Round Up

  I both love and hate doing the "end of the year books" post. I love sharing my favorite books with you, but hate picking just a couple.  In years past, I picked one book per category--picture book, middle grade and YA. This year I'm adding my new obsession--graphic novels...so four best books.

If I had to pick just one, it would be my YA selection, Artifice by Sharon Cameron (Scholastic.) It's been awhile since I've read something so engrossing that I had to ration my reading to an hour a day. Otherwise, I would've read for hours straight, ignoring appointments, phones and my family.


 The action takes place (mostly) over one week in Amsterdam, September 1943. Cameron based her book on the real lives of art forger Han Van Meergen and Johann van Hulse, a professor who is credited with saving 600 Jewish babies from the hands of the Nazis. The protagonist, however is seventeen-year-old Isa DeSmit. The Nazis have confiscated all the "degenerate" art (like Picasso and Chagall)from her father's gallery, essentially closing the business. The taxes are due on the gallery, which is also her home. Isa's mother is dead and her father, lost in grief, lives in another reality. Isa's best friend Truus has disappeared into the shadow world of the Dutch Resistance. With the Nazis snapping up art, left and right (real and fake), Isa decides to sell a forged Rembrandt, painted by her father, to Van Meergen's gallery, who in turn, sells it to Hitler himself. The money will pay the taxes. This sets off a chain of events that zooms from selling forgeries, to hiding Jewish children (and real Rembrandts) master to an encounter with a young Nazi named Michel who says he want to defect...but does he really? Cameron skillfully weaves a half dozen subplots, while asking"What is real?" in a world of forged art, secret identities, and collaborators. Artifice literally left me breathless and kind of exhausted...but in a satisfactory way. 



Middle Grade--Nothing Else but Miracles by Kate Albus (Margaret Ferguson Books)

OK, I'm biased. Having published a Middle Grade WWII era novel,  I fell in love with this story set NYC's Lower East Side. When their pop goes off to war, the motherless Byrne siblings, ages 17,12 and 6 (and their cat), he promises them that they will be safe. "The neighborhood will give you what you need," he assures them. "The neighborhood," a character in itself, proves Pop right. 

The story is told from middle child Dory's point-of-view, with humorous asides where the author directly addresses the reader. Although the Byrne's neighborhood conspires with the kids to avoid social workers and truant officers who could put them in an orphanage, there is still The Landlord. When their kindly landlord dies, his replacement wants the rent on time, no pets, and would turn the Brynes to the dreaded authorities if he discovers that they are living on their own. To complicate matters, oldest son Fish's 18th birthday is fast approaching, when he will be eligible for the draft. His shipyard job and Pop's military pay barely keep the family afloat. Dory can tell no one about the worries...at least not anyone human. Her "secret friend" is the Statue of Liberty. Dory lives close enough to Battery Park, that she often goes there to confide to "The Lady," whose weathered copper presence reassures her.

  This is historical fiction at its best. Not a single off note, or anachronism, or whiff of 21st century attitude or language kept me completely within Bryne's 1940's New York. Albus based her story on her own family's tales of this place and era. She is my new favorite historical fiction writer!



Picture Book--In Between by April Pulley Sayre and Jeff Sayre(Beach Lane)

I would've selected this as my picture book of the year, even if April Pulley Sayre wasn't a good friend and MFA classmate. I would choose it even if I didn't know that this would be one of April's last books before her untimely death in 2021.  

In spare words and lovely, close-up photography, the Sayres explore nature's moments of transition, the place between just hatched (or born) and maturity. Newly hatched birds, but not ready to fly. Frogs, no longer a tadpole, but not ready to leap from water to land. Although it looks like s picture book, it's a book for everybody, because all living things experience the "in between."  



Graphic--First Time for Everything by Dan Santat (First Second)

I am not alone in thinking that author-illustrator Santat's graphic memoir is something special. It won this year's National Book Award for Young People's Literature and has been named School Library Journal's Best Book of the Year...and award season is just getting underway! (Santat won the 2015 Caldecott Award for The Adventures of Beetle: The Unimaginary Friend.)

I readily identified with eighth grader Dan. I too, was the "good kid," who did what adults expected and stayed out of trouble. Dan and I both felt "invisible" to classmates, but that didn't stop us from being bullied. (My personal definition of hell is reliving 7th and 8th grade for all eternity.) So Dan is far from enthused when his parents send him on a class trip to Europe. (I also went on a European "class trip" but I was 16.)

At first, just being in a different country makes no difference in Dan's life. He's stuck with the same classmates that made fun of him. He doesn't understand why the adults in his life thought the trip was a good idea. But as he travels through France, Germany, Switzerland and England, a series of events slowly change him. He discovers Fanta and fondue. He sneaks into a semi-final match at Wimbledon and by chance sees Stefan Edberg defeat the great John McEnroe And he falls in love.

Although the book is set in 1989, the dynamics and emotions of the trip are timeless. It could've been the same trip I took in 1971. (Although the absence of cell phones does make a difference in the choices Dan is forced to make.) Not everyone has the opportunity to take such a trip, but reading A First Time for Everything is the next best thing.

I hope some of you will share your favorite books of this year in the comments.

Posted by Mary Ann Rodman