The Dog Ate My Homework And Other Gut Wrenching Tales Of A Fourth

2018

FEBRUARY 2018

Game Over, Super Rabbit Boy!
By Thomas Flintham

Game Over, Super Rabbit Boy! is the first book in a new series that will surely be a hit for readers who are looking for easy-to-read chapter books that read like a video games.  With its short chapters and action packed, full-color pages similar to a graphic novel layout, this is an entertaining and quick read for young readers. In the video game world, King Viking has created an evil robot army to attack Animal Town and to spread No Fun across the land. They have even kidnapped the happiest and most fun animal in Animal Town, Singing Dog! Is Super Rabbit Boy fast enough and brave enough to save the town? He must complete 6 levels and “beat” King Viking in order to win and save the day. Can he do it?  What happens when Sonny, the boy who is actually playing the game, loses at a level? Will it really be GAME OVER for Super Rabbit Boy?  Minecraft fans may want to give this series a try.

Recommended for gamers and readers in grades 1-3.

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POSTED: February 27, 2018

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Mr. Lemoncello’s Great Library Race
by Chris Grabenstein

This is the third book in the Mr. Lemoncello’s Library series and it is just as entertaining as it’s predecessors,Escape from Mr. Lemoncello’s Library and Mr. Lemoncello’s Library Olympics. This time, Kyle Keeley and his friends are back to test
Mr. Lemoncello’s all-new Fabulous Fact-Finding Frenzy game. This “Amazing Race” style game has the teams uncovering interesting facts about famous people. They will race across the country using bicycles, bookmobiles, and even Mr. Lemoncello’s corporate jet to find the facts! The first team to bring their facts back to the library will win some fantastic prizes. Kyle is ready to research and he is ready to win! However, during the race, he uncovers some conflicting facts about Mr. Lemoncello. Could the great man, his hero, actually be a fraud? He must get past the fake facts to find the real truth. Filled with loads of puzzles and games, this is another fast-paced book covering a timely topic about not always accepting the first answer as the truth. Research is the key to uncovering the truth! 

Recommended for readers in grades 4-6.

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POSTED: February 19, 2018

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I’ve Got Feet! Fantastical Feet of the Animal World
by Julie Murphy Illustrated by Hannah Tolsen

Readers will love this fun book full of a menagerie of animal feet in action. Tolsen’s bright and cheerful artwork exhibits an array of animals, including cheetahs and blue-footed boobies. This informational picture book introduces children to the many ways which animal feet have adapted to life in their respective environments and can swim, climb, dig, kick, and even attract mates. Though none of the information goes very in-depth, this is a great book for young animal lovers interested in a quick overview of the indeed fantastical feet found throughout the animal world. Preschoolers and kindergarteners will be itching to learn more about these amazing animals (and their feet!) after reading this.
Recommended for ages 5-7.

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POSTED: February 12, 2018

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The Water Walker
by Joanne Robertson

This new nonfiction picture book tells the true story of an Ojibwe grandmother, Josephine Mandamin, and the Mother Earth Water Walkers who started an important environmental movement in 2003. This group made up of mostly women walk to increase awareness of the importance of clean water.  In 2003, after she heard an Ojibwe elder say that clean water would someday disappear, Mandamin and her friends began their walk. It took them 7 years to completely walk around the Great Lakes and the St. Lawrence River. Basing their walks on the Anishinaabe Ceremonial Water Teachings, they only walk during the day. Since that first walk, Mandamin and the Mother Earth Walkers have walked across the entire United States from ocean to ocean to promote their cause! The book includes a glossary of the Ojibwe words and their pronunciations found in the book. After you read the book be sure to check out the website, www.motherearthwaterwalk.com. The bright and bold illustrations add to this simple story. This important story about water preservation should be read and shared with everyone. Recommended for readers of all ages.

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POSTED: February 5, 2018

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Marigold Bakes a Cake
by Mike Malbrough

Marigold is a very fussy cat who likes everything just exactly his way and loves to bake. His favorite days are Mondays because that means he gets to spend the entire day baking! Marigold decides to bake a fabulous cake, but is constantly being interrupted by various birds while he sets about baking.  A finch arrives, a gang of loons, then more and more birds silently fill his kitchen. Readers may wait in anticipation for Marigold to do what cats usually try to do when bothersome birds are around- eat them- but Marigold does what any dignified lover of baking would do…he tries to teach the birds who to bake! Many laugh out loud moments fill this book and children will be giggling every time another bird suspiciously appears in Marigold’s kitchen. 

Recommended for children ages 3–7.

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POSTED: February 1, 2018

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January

Gimme Shelter: Misadventures and Misinformation
by Doreen Cronin; illustrated by Stephen Gilpin;
cover by Kevin Cornell

The Chicken Squad- Dirt, Sugar, Poppy, and Sweetie, are back in their fifth adventure! These chicks are not your typical barnyard fluff balls spending their days pecking chicken feed and chasing bugs. These adventurous chicks solve mysteries and fight crime! The Chicken Squad pride themselves in being ready for anything in the barnyard. In their latest adventure, Sugar decides they need a storm shelter in the yard for protection. While digging the shelter, the Chicken Squad uncovers something mysterious and stops their work to investigate the mystery. To make matters worse, a big storm is now on it’s way! Will they be able to solve the mystery and save themselves before the big storm? Other books in this fun, easy- to-read chapter book series include The Chicken Squad: The First Misadventure and Dark Shadows: Yes, Another Misadventure. Check out their website at www.chickensquad.com for more information about the series and fun games! Recommended for grades 2-4.

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POSTED: January 22, 2018

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The Tea Dragon Society
by Katie O’Neill

The Tea Dragon Society is a whimsical new graphic novel, based on O’Neill’s imaginative webcomic, which follows Greta, a young blacksmith, as she discovers the magical world of “tea dragons”. These adorable mini-dragons are kept as pets not only because they produce delicious tea leaves on their antlers and horns, but because the owners of these creatures form special bonds with the dragons. This special connection allows whoever drinks the tea-dragon tea to experience the memories of the tea-dragon’s owner.  Greta is welcomed into the Tea Dragon Society, a group of tea-dragon caretakers who show her the ropes of this delicate and rare art.  Nearly without any real dramatic storyline, this book is a fun feel-good story with great world-building. It is also an extremely cute book, colored in beautiful hues and filled with manga-inspired illustrations, making it a perfect graphic novel for middle-grade fantasy or magical manga fans. Recommended for readers ages 9-12.

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POSTED: January 15, 2018

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This is a Good Story
by Adam Lehrhaupt; Illustrated by Magali Le Huche

What makes a good story? In this new picture book by award winning author Lehrhaupt, a young girl is writing and illustrating a story. She wants it to be “a good story” so she gets help by a narrator who offers her ideas and critiques what she has written. First, she starts with a hero and heroine who live in a small town. She creates a conflict when an evil overlord attacks the town. Next, she has to plan how the hero and heroine can resolve this conflict to have a happy ending. Readers are introduced to the basic elements found in a story in a very imaginative and creative way. Not only is this book an excellent book for classroom use to teach writing but it is also a fun book to read aloud and share. After all, who doesn’t love a story about a hero and heroine saving the day? Young readers may be inspired to write and illustrate their own stories too. Recommended for grades K-2.

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POSTED: January 8, 2018

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Someday, Narwhal
by Lisa Mantchev; Illustrated by Hyewon Yum

Readers will love this sweet and quietly inspiring story about a fantastically tiny narwhal who lives in a fishbowl, longing to see the world but scared to leave the familiar comfort of her home.  Thanks to some help from her friends and a red wagon, Narwhal is able to see her neighborhood as she is wheeled around town in the wagon.  Little Narwhal finds the bravery needed to leave the safety of her house and perhaps will one day explore the wider world, as she glances at travel posters for farther flung destinations. Softly illustrated in colored pencils and gouache, Yum’s light and airy artwork makes this beautiful story about friendship one that children will want to read again and again. Recommended for children ages 4-6.

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POSTED: January 4, 2018

 

 

2017

DECEMBER 2017

Virginia Hamilton: America’s Storyteller
by Julie K. Rubini

This new and well-researched biography is a great introduction to the life of honored children’s author, Virginia Hamilton, who was from Ohio and died in 2002. Hamilton was born and grew up with her large extended family in Yellow Springs, Ohio. She used the stories she heard from her family as a basis for some of her books like The House of Dies Drear, and later used her own experiences with racial discrimination and the civil rights movement for books such as The Planet of Junior Brown. She wrote forty-one books in many genres mostly featuring African Americans, ranging from picture books to folktales and mysteries to realistic fiction. She became the first African American writer to win the Newbery Award in 1974 for M.C. Higgins, the Great. To ensure and accurate biography of this important author, Rubini asked Hamilton’s husband and poet, Arnold Adoff, to check the manuscript before it was printed for errors and misinformation. The additional photographs and informational sidebars add details to this great story making it a memorable read for all.  Children will definitely finish this book knowing much about the personal and professional life of this remarkable woman. Recommended for readers in grades 5 and above.

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POSTED: December 18, 2017

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Ban This Book
by Alan Gratz

What would you do if your favorite book was banned from the library? In the latest by Alan Gratz, Ban This Book, fourth grader Amy Anne Ollinger decides to make a stand and fight back when her favorite book,  From the Mixed Up Files of Mrs. Basil E.Frankweiler is banned from her school library. Anne fights back by starting a secret banned books library out of her locker. Other books banned are Wait Till Helen Comes, Captain Underpants, Scary Stories to Tell in the Dark, Goosebumps and The Egypt Game. Amy Anne soon has these books and other controversial titles available in her locker for students to check out. Unfortunately, Amy Anne‘s library locker is eventually shut down by the principal when he finds out what she is doing and she is suspended from school. However, her hard work has won her the support of many of the students and their parents and she begins to pressure the school board to review these banned books and allow them back in the school. This wonderful story should be an inspiration to readers knowing that your voice can be heard when you stand up for what you believe in! Recommended for students in grades 4-6.

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POSTED: December 13, 2017

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7 Ate 9: the Untold Story
by Tara Lazar; Illustrated by Ross MacDonald

Tara Lazar, author of Little Red Gliding Hood and The Monstore, has a new clever and puzzling whodunit book in 7 Ate 9: The Untold Story. 6 must solve a crime-did 7 really eat 9? Where is 9 now? 6 asks Private “I” from the Al F. Bet agency for help in solving 9’s mysterious disappearance. Private” I” starts his investigation at the local Café Uno but unfortunately he cannot add 2 and 2 together to find 9. Will he be able to solve the mystery? The oversized letters and numbers with their expressive faces illustrated by MacDonald give the book a classic noir detective look reminiscent of the Maltese Falcon from the 1930s and 40s. Mathematical puns and loads of word play can be found on every page of this book. This humorous story will surely entertain adult readers as well as children. Check our Tara Lazar’s blog and website for more book suggestions and information on how she got started writing. Recommended for readers of all ages.

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POSTED: December 4, 2017

NOVEMBER 2017

Don’t Sneeze! #2 (The Kid From Planet Z)
by Nancy Krulik; illustrated by Louis Thomas

Nancy Krulik, the author of the George Brown and Katie Kazoo books has once again found success with her new series, The Kid from Planet Z. The first book in the series, Crash!  tells how Zeke Zander, an alien, came to live on Planet Earth with his family. When their spaceship crashes, they must try to act like humans while trying to fix their ship so that they can fly back home. This is not an easy task since they have antennae on their heads and a talking cat! In the second book, Don’t Sneeze, Zeke is still having a hard time adjusting to human life. Humans do some very weird things! When Zeke get the zeebop flu, he worries about how to explain his illness to his new human friends. Will they still like him? How can he help Amelia and Zack stop the fifth grade bully, Slade, from bothering the kids on the playground? What’s an alien to do?  Fans of the Galaxy Zack and How to be an Earthling series will enjoy this new, entertaining, and
easy-to-read series. Recommended for grades 2-4.

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POSTED: November 20, 2017

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Birds Make Nests
by Michael Garland

Birds Make Nests is a beautifully illustrated nonfiction picture book that depicts a lovely array of various bird species and their distinct nests. There are many interesting facts sprinkled throughout the book, such as how the Great Crested Flycatcher uses a snakeskin placed in the front of it’s nest to keep away predators. Readers will learn that not all birds make their own nests and some simply lay their eggs in other bird’s nests! In addition to providing beautiful and realistic illustrations of the many bird types, this book is a great way to introduce life science and engineering concepts to kids. Recommended for ages 4-8.

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All’s Faire in Middle School
by Victoria Jamieson

Jamieson follows up her Newbery Honor-winning graphic novel Roller Girl with another pitch perfect story about middle school, families, and friendships in her latest title All’s Faire in Middle School.  Readers will totally identify with eleven-year-old Imogene, lovingly referred to as Impy by her family, as she begins middle school- a feat to prove her bravery as a squire in training with the Renaissance Faire. As if middle school isn’t bad enough, this is Impy’s first experience with formal schooling since she has spent her entire life until now being homeschooled.  She makes friends with a group of girls who aren’t quite as nice as they seem and soon starts to feel embarrassed of her thrift shop jeans and her family’s unusual lifestyle. Impy struggles to navigate the choppy waters of middle school and questions her own bravery and values when she does something she regrets just to fit in at school.  A highly recommended read for kids age 9-12.

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A House Without Mirrors
by Marten Sanden

A House Without Mirrors is a lovely, haunting, and classic story perfect for older tween readers looking for a more serious read. This tale of magical realism, originally published in Swedish, follows Thomasine who has spent months living in the huge home her great-great-aunt owns assisting her father with the care of her elderly aunt. Thomasine’s father is distant, struggling with the loss of Thomasine’s younger brother. One day her cousin discovers a mysterious wardrobe that if filled with mirrors that can transport you into a different world. This story covers topics like grief, family, and growing up in a magical adventure sure to please readers. Recommended for readers ages 10 and up.

OCTOBER 2017

Sing, Don’t Cry
by Angela Dominguez


Families will love this uplifting picture book that carries a positive message. Author Dominguez was inspired by her grandfather, Apolinar Navarrete Diaz who was a successful mariachi musician. The story depicts how once a year a family’s Abuelo (grandfather in Spanish) comes from Mexico to visit. He always brings his guitar to share with his grandchildren so they can sing together. Through beautiful illustrations readers will see Abuelo’s life, both the good and bad moments, as he sings and plays music for his family. The grandchildren join in, each thinking of their own good and bad life experiences as they sing. Singing is a way to help lift their spirits and share a special moment as a family. The illustrations change between black and white for the somber and sad memories, while bright colors with black outlines serve as the illustrations for the majority of the book. Sing, Don’t Cry is a powerful and touching picture book recommended for ages 4-8.

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Swing It, Sunny by Jennifer Holm 

Readers who were curious about what happened to loveable Sunny after finishing Sunny Side Up can rejoice now that Holm has released this much anticipated sequel Swing It, Sunny. When we catch up with Sunny Lewin again, summer is over and she has entered middle school. Gramps still checks in with her with frequent phone calls from Florida, and Sunny reassures him she is doing just fine. The truth is that Sunny is still struggling with the absence of her older brother Dale who we learn was sent to a military boarding school while Sunny was visiting her Gramps and Dale will be attending school there all year. Dale comes home to visit and when he does he still isn’t the same- he’s rude, grouchy, and doesn’t even seem to like the pet rock Sunny saved up money to buy him for Christmas! All is well in the end as Sunny becomes friends with the new neighbor, an older girl who teachers her how to flag twirl and serves as not only a substitute older sibling but as someone to help her navigate middle school. Recommended for readers ages 8-12.

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Women Who Dared: 52 Stories of Fearless Daredevils, Adventurers, & Rebels
by Linda Skeers

Families will love sharing this great nonfiction title together which explores a plethora of interesting and amazing women from history! Often not mentioned in our history books, this great book of short biographies introduces young readers to ground breaking women who dared to break the rules and often times risk their lives. Familiar names like Valentina Tereshkova, the first women to fly into space are included alongside less well known famous women such as Helen Gibson who was the first woman to be a professional stunt person. The fun, colorful painting illustrations make this not only a treat to read but also a delight to look at. Recommended for readers ages 7-13.

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Escargot
by Dashka Slater; Illustrated by Sydney Hanson

Readers will fall in love with this hilarious and adorable book about a tiny French snail! Brimming with charm and sprinkled with French words and expressions, this sweet picture book depicts Escargot, a beret wearing garden snail, searching for a delicious carrot-free salad to eat.  Throughout the book he slowly makes his way to the salad of his dreams, but he also talks to directly to readers enticing them to choose him, the snail, as their favorite animal. Laugh out loud moment ensue. Airy and cartoonish illustrations make this a great read all around. Recommended for children ages 4-6

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POSTED: October 4, 2017

 

SEPTEMBER 2017

Ugly Cat & Pablo
by Isabel Quintero ; Illustrated by Tom Knight

Move over Bad Kitty! Ugly Cat is here and does he have an attitude and personality you do not want to miss. In this funny new chapter book series Ugly Cat is best friends with Pablo, a mouse who likes to dress well. They like to go around the neighborhood making trouble and eating. They love paletas or ice pops and will do whatever they can do in order to get some. In this first adventure, when Ugly Cat and Pablo try to trick a young girl in the park to drop her icy paleta, the tables turn and Pablo is instead caught to be a tasty treat for girl’s pet snake! How will Ugly Cat save his friend and enjoy the delicious paleta too? Spanish words are intermixed with English words throughout the story, and a glossary at the end will also help with the meaning of the Spanish words and phrases.  In addition to a great story, Tom Knight’s illustrations truly bring these two friends and the other neighborhood characters to life. A special bonus is the recipe for paletas de coco included at the end of the story. Readers of books with unusual friends like the Bad Guys should try this new series. Kids are sure to be left looking forward to more adventures with Ugly Cat and Pablo! Recommended for readers in grades 2-4.

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POSTED: September 18, 2017

 

Yours Sincerely, Giraffe
by Megumi  Iwasa ; Illustrations by Jun Takabatake

Poor giraffe. He is bored. He really wishes for a friend to share things with so he writes a letter to whomever over the horizon. Pelican who has just started his own mail delivery service takes his letter and gives it to the first person he sees beyond the horizon who happens to be Seal. Seal then delivers it to Penguin and thus, Giraffe becomes the pen pal of Penguin. From Giraffe’s letters, Penguin learns about what a “neck” is and what a “giraffe” is and Giraffe in turn learns about penguins and how they live through Penguin’s letters. They eventually want to meet but how can they when they are from opposite sides of the world? Their attempts to meet are hilarious and will keep readers laughing out loud!  The cute black and white illustrations help to make this early chapter book an easy and fun read. This is also a great book for parents or teachers to use to help children with their letter-writing skills. Recommend for readers in grades 2-3.

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POSTED: September 11, 2017

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Gandhi for Kids: His Life and Ideas, with 21 Activities
by
Ellen Voelckers Mahoney

Gandhi for Kids is the latest book in the For Kids series, which is written in a straightforward and easy to understand format. Each book in the series introduces children to people, events, and ideas that have influenced or changed the world’s history. In today’s world filled with violence, Gandhi for Kids is the perfect choice for readers who want to learn about Gandhi’s contribution to the nonviolence protest movement. Besides his activism, this book also gives a thorough overview of his childhood, family career, and his impact on the lives of contemporary leaders such as Martin Luther King Jr. and Malala Yousafzai. The book also includes a timeline, glossary, index, and a resource section with websites and books for more exploration. The 21 activities for kids focus on writing, art, math, and science and nicely supplement the nonfiction text. Recommended for readers in grades 4-6.

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POSTED: September 6, 2017

 

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AUGUST 2017

Inspector Flytrap in The President’s Mane is Missing
by Tom Angleberger; Illustrated by CeCe Bell

This is the second book in the Inspector Flytrap series, a funny and clever easy-to- read series featuring a mystery-solving Venus Flytrap and his assistant, Nina the Goat. Together they work at the Inspector Flytrap Detective Agency where “no case is too big” to be solved. In this book, the President of the United States is unveiling a huge horse statue in Washington, D.C. He invites Nina the Goat and Inspector Flytrap to the festivities. When the mane of the horse’s statue goes missing and a giant fly from Venus starts terrorizing Washington D. C., Inspector Flytrap and Nina the Goat forego the fun to try to save the U.S. capital before it is destroyed. Will they be able to do it? Fans of the Ricky Ricotta series and the Galaxy Zack series will enjoy this fun and wacky, graphic novel-inspired chapter book series. Recommended for readers in grades 2-4.

 

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POSTED: August 28, 2017

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Happy Dreamer
by Peter H. Reynolds

We can all dream big and Peter H. Reynolds, author of picture book favorites Ish and The Dot, tells us how in his latest book! All of our dreams are important and our dreams can help to make the world a better place. Fold out pages at the end of the book show all the different “types” of dreamers. The charming and fun Illustrations go along well with the inspirational message “By following one’s own path, we can all be happy dreamers!”.  This book would be great for sharing and reading aloud but also would be the perfect gift for graduations and for other happy monumental occasions.  Readers can access additional extension activities for this book from Scholastic for more dream fun at home. Recommended for all ages.

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POSTED: August 21, 2017

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Fairest of Them All
by Sarah Darer Littman

The latest title by Sarah Darer Littman, author of Charmed, I’m Sure, is Fairest of Them All which continues the fairy tale themed from her previous book. Aria Thibault, Sleeping Beauty’s daughter, loves everything to do with the fashion design world except needles. All of her life, her family has been super-protective of her around sharp objects, especially needles! In fact, even though Aria wants to become a fashion designer, her mother has forbidden her to sew. Secretly she joins her school’s new Couture Club and plans to enter a fashion competition for a reality TV show, Teen Couture. Unfortunately, another competitor tries to sabotage Aria. When she is pricked by a needle, Aria falls under a mysterious spell that forces her to speak with a Shakespearean dialect. Will this ruin her chances of winning? This is a fun and easy book to read. It will be perfect for fans of Jane B Mason’s Princess School and Wendy Mass’ Twice Upon a Time series. Recommended for readers in grades 4-6.

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POSTED: August 14, 2017

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Bunnybear
by Andrea J. Loney; Illustrated by Carmen Saldana

Bunnybear was born a bear, but feels more like a bunny, so when no one else is around he bounces around the forest happily eating berries. The other bears don’t seem to understand him, so Bunnybear runs off only to find a warren of rabbits who can’t seem to understand him either! Luckily, he meets Grizzlybun- a bunny who feels like bear inside. Bunnybear tells his new rabbit friend, “You just look one way on the outside and feel another way on the inside. That’s okay”. Eventually the two are accepted by their forest families and enjoy a fun party together. This hopeful, gentle story is not only a great story about friendship but a sweet picture book to share with children who may have their own identity issues. Recommended for readers ages 4-8.

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POSTED: August 7, 2017

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JULY 2017

One Trick Pony
by Nathan Hale

Hale’s latest graphic novel is a wonderfully original  science fiction story that is sure to keep readers on the edge of their seats until the final pages. In a departure from the historical fiction stories in his “Hazardous Tales” series, One Trick Pony gives kids a fast-paced post-apocalyptic adventure. This story has something for everyone in it, featuring a brave heroine, a robotic horse, and plenty of creepy alien invaders to escape! Using only shades of grey, black, and yellow Hale weaves an exciting tale which at its heart is a story about a girl and her horse (robotic horse in this case). Recommended for readers ages 9-12.

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Posted: July 31, 2017

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A Time to Act : John F. Kennedy's Big Speech
by Shana Corey; Illustrated by Gregory Christie 

Young readers who enjoy biographies will enjoy this stellar picture book biography which focuses on former president Kennedy’s evolution on civil rights while in office. The book begins by detailing Kennedy’s childhood, service in the U.S. military, and how he got his start in politics. Though the president was hesitant initially to strongly support civil rights, the story eventually exhibits how he ends up changing his mind and delivering his historic antidiscrimination speech. This important speech helped set the stage for the Civil Rights Act of 1964. Complete with beautiful and expressive illustrations from Christie, and an empowering message for children to speak out and “make history”, this is a wonderful choice for readers ages 8 and up.

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POSTED: July 24, 2017

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Wolf Hollow
by Lauren Wolk

Fans of historical fiction will enjoy this serious and complex middle grade novel which serves as both a coming of age story for our narrator, twelve- year- old Annabelle, and also a look at morality and lying. Set in rural Pennsylvania during World War II, the story begins with Annabelle navigating how to deal with Betty, a bully, who hassles her and threatens her younger brothers on their way to school.  Bullying escalates to violence and the blame is placed not on Betty but on a hermit-like, gun-toting, World War I veteran named Toby. Annabelle finds herself caught in the middle of this drama as both Annabelle and Toby go missing. A great story for tween readers in search of a challenging read. Recommended for ages 10 and up .

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POSTED: July 17, 2017

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Fish Girl
by David Wiesner & Donna Jo Napoli

Thanks to an awesome team up of two stand-outs from the world of children’s literature, readers have this thoughtful and captivating graphic novel. Beautifully illustrated by Wiesner with his classic artwork, the story follows a young mermaid who stars in a boardwalk attraction and is kept in a large tank by Neptune, the owner of the aquarium and apparently our mermaid.  The mermaid accidentally meets a human girl one day, who names her Mira, and the two quickly form a secret friendship. Although there are some dark elements to this tale, it ends happily with Mira escaping the controlling Neptune and setting free all of the other marine animals he has held captive for profit.  Recommended for tween readers ages 10-12.

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POSTED: July 10, 2017

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A Cat Named Swan
by Holly Hobbie

“Then he was alone.” Readers will find this striking sentence beginning Hobbie’s beautiful picture book story about a lonely, homeless kitten. The tiny kitten has somehow lost his family, and manages to survive on the streets, but is eventually taken to an animal shelter and adopted by a loving family. Dubbed Swan by his new owners, he enjoys the luxuries of being a house cat, such as sleeping wherever and whenever he wants. This lovely story of animal rescue and adoption will surely touch the hearts of animal lovers young and old. Recommended for readers ages 3-7.

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POSTED: July 3, 2017

 

 

JUNE 2017

The Heartless Troll
by Oyvind Torseter

Based on a Norwegian fairytale, The Troll with No Heart,  this graphic novel follows Prince Fred as he sets out to save his six brothers who have been turned to stone by a mountain troll. Prince Fred discovers a trapped princess when he enters the troll’s cave home and the only way he can escape the cave, save the other princes, and the princess is to find and destroy the evil troll’s heart. Although the illustration style is very much cartoon-based, it is incredibly unique and artistic. The story has some genuinely creepy images, especially of the troll, making this a story for older readers who are not easily scared.

Recommended for readers 10 and up.

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POSTED: June 13, 2017

Dorothea Lange: The Photographer Who Found the Face of the Depression
by Carole Boston Weatherford; illustrated by Sarah Green.

Dorothea Lange was on of the leading documentary photographers of the twentieth century, becoming the first woman awarded a Guggenheim fellowship for her work in 1940. This picture book biography outlines the struggles Lange encountered on her way to success. At age seven she was stricken with polio which left her with a limp for the rest of her life, but also grew within her a special sense of empathy and compassion for the less fortunate. She was not a stellar student in school but managed to graduate and eventually study photography at Columbia University. Lange became most famous for her photo Migrant Mother, which put a face to the Great Depression and lead to government aid at the migrant labor camp which Lange visited. Filled with beautiful yet simple illustrations and two pages of additional information at the end, this book is a wonderful introduction to an important American artist.

Recommended for children in Kindergarten-3rd grade.

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POSTED: June 5, 2017

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The Secret Project
by Jonah Winter and Jeanette Winter

The book begins with a quiet desert mountain landscape, as we meet a coyote, prairie dogs, and an artist some may recognize as Georgia O’Keefe enjoying its natural beauty. Soon the government has claimed a private boys school in this desert for a clandestine purpose, as scientists arrive and begin to conduct research on a mysterious “Gadget”.  These scientists are often referred to as the “shadowy figures” in the story, and often appear just as that in the illustrations. These gray men eventually drive their creation to the middle of the desert for testing and this is when readers will understand what this secrecy is about.  After a countdown from 10, a massive mushroom cloud blooms over the next four pages of illustrations and the books ends with two empty black pages. An author’s note follows, explaining how in March of 1943 the U.S. government started bringing scientists to the New Mexico desert to create the first atomic bomb. A mysterious and dark story is told in this serious nonfiction picture book, one that is sure to spark discussion between young readers and adults. Recommended for readers 6 and up.

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POSTED: June 1, 2017

 

 

MAY 2017

Bridges: An Introduction to Ten Great Bridges and Their Designers
by Didier Cornille

This beautiful non-fiction picture book depicts ten bridges that were not only amazing in their design and engineering, but also changed how we travel. The physical size and shape of the book itself is clever and makes for an interesting reading experience as it is long and wide, a perfect format for the amazingly detailed bridge artwork throughout.  Some of the cool bridges highlighted include the Brooklyn Bridge and the Valley of the Giants Tree Top Walk, which is located in the canopy of eucalyptus trees in Australia. A sure hit with aspiring young engineers and architects, this book is recommended for ages 6 and up.

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POSTED: May 22, 2017

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Ghosts
by Raina Telgemeier

Ghosts is indeed about ghosts, but is also a heartfelt story about serious topics like childhood illness, loss, and family. Maya, who has cystic fibrosis, and her older sister Catrina, move to the foggy Northern California city of  Bahía de la Luna with their parents in an effort to help Maya’s illness. Her parents think that the fresh coastal air will be good for her health. Differing slightly from her previous works, this story incorporates fantasy elements into Telgemeier’s trademark realism as the girls meet actual spirits while adjusting to their new home, and grappling with Maya’s uncertain future. Fans of Telgemeier’s previous books, Smile,Sisters, and her Babysitter’s Club adaptations, are sure to adore this fantastical new graphic novel. Recommended for ages 9-12.

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POSTED: May 15, 2017

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Leaping Lemmings!
By John Briggs; Illustrated by Nicola Slater

“If all your friends jumped off a cliff, would you?”. Briggs plays with this age-old question we have all heard at one point or another from parents in this fun new picture book. One lemming is the story is different from all the others- he dresses differently, behaves differently, and he isn’t afraid to speak his mind. While the other animals are tunneling in the winter, he decides to go sledding with the puffins. The other lemmings don’t seem to understand him, but when this unique lemming uses his independent mind to save his friends from literally jumping off a cliff, they start to come around to his ways. This would make for a fun read-aloud and teaches children that it is okay to be different! Recommended for children in preschool to second grade.

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POSTED: May 15, 2017

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Mae and June and the Wonder Wheel
by Charise Mericle Harper; illustrated by Ashley Spires


June and her dog, Sammy, are looking for a new best friend. They believe that a friend should follow the 3 Fs - be fun, be friendly, and be full of adventure! June wants her new friend to also have fun with the Wonder Wheel, a special gift sent to her by her Grandma Penny. If you follow the directions of the wheel, you can have fun adventures every day by making ordinary activities more enjoyable and special.  Unfortunately, Mae is already friends with April at school and April does not like June or dogs. Can Mae be friends with June too?  June is determined to find out! Fans of the Ivy and Bean series will enjoy this story too. This is a quick, fun book to read with short chapters and cute, simple illustrations. Let’s hope this book will be the first of a new series! Recommended for readers in grades 2-3.

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POSTED: May 15, 2017

April 2017

Chasing Butterfree
by Alex Polan

Are you a fan of Pokémon GO? If you are, then try this new series, the Unofficial Adventures of Pokémon GO Players! Ethan, Devin, Carlo, and Gianna are Pokémon trainers. With the help of their favorite Pokémon, they’re ready to tackle both the real world and the virtual world in Pokémon GO. Chasing Butterfree is the third book in the series. Gianna and Team Mystic go on a trip to the zoo and are amazed at all of the rare Pokémon they see and all of the PokeStops they find. How lucky can Team Mystic be? But their luck changes when Gianna loses her special Pokémon-catching cap. Will Team Mystic ever be able to find it? Other titles in the series are Catching the Jigglypuff Thief, Following Meowth’s Footprints, and Cracking the Magikarp Code. This is a quick and fun read for all Pokémon Go fans, especially readers in grades 2-3.

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POSTED: April 24, 2017

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I Got This: To Gold and Beyond
by Laurie Hernandez

2016 was a magical year for Laurie Hernandez. At sixteen years old, she accomplished many of her childhood dreams, including being a member of the 2016 gold winning U.S. Olympic gymnastics team, competing and winning the TV reality show Dancing with the Stars, and becoming youngest ever trophy winner. By sharing her story, she wants to encourage others to dream and dare to go after their goals. Starting gymnastics at age 6, she relied on her family’s love and support to help survive the rigorous training and many sacrifices. According to Laurie, “You win whenever you commit to something, because you can’t experience growth without even trying”. A glossary of gymnastic terms and several never- seen-before photos of her and her family are included in this autobiography. She also encourages readers to write down their goals and dreams in a journal so that they can believe they will accomplish them. She is such a positive person that as a reader, you can’t help but be inspired by her story!

Recommended for children in grades 4-6.

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POSTED: April 20, 2017

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What Do You Do With an Idea
by Kobi Yamada; illustrated by Mae Besom


What can YOU do with an idea? Winner of the Gold Independent Publisher Book Award in the children’s picture book category, this book’s message is a great one to share with readers of all ages. A young boy has an idea. It starts out as a small golden egg in the young boy’s black and white world. He doesn’t know what to do with this idea but he can’t get rid of it since it follows him everywhere! He’s afraid that no one will like his idea so he tries to hide it but the idea continues to grow. The young boy gradually starts to feel better and more confident about his idea. As the idea grows, the young boy’s world grows more colorful too. He feels happy as the idea becomes a part of everything in his life. Finally, the idea breaks open. The last line of the story is, "So what do you do with an idea? You change the world." How true!  This book will soon become a timeless classic!

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POSTED: April 11, 2017

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Word of Mouse
by James Patterson and Chris Grabenstein;
illustrated by Joe Sutphin

Isaiah is a special mouse. He has blue fur and he can read and write. He can even talk to humans if they want to listen to him! Isaiah and his family have lived their entire life in a mysterious scientific laboratory and now they want to escape and see the real world. When the mouse family attempts to leave, Isaiah is the only one who makes it to the outside world. Now, Isaiah is all alone and afraid.  Will he be able to live in a world of mean cats, hungry owls and people who are terrified of mice? How will he get back to his family?  He befriends a human girl named Hailey and with her help and the help of another mouse family, he plans a rescue to retrieve the family he left behind. Will he succeed? Fans of The Tale of Despereaux,Stuart Little, and Mrs. Frisby and the Rats of Nimh will surely enjoy this new, delightful animal fantasy. Short chapters with plenty of illustrations make this an easy, quick read for readers in grades 4-6.

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POSTED: April 3, 2017

 

March 2017

Home Sweet Motel
by Chris Grabenstein; illustrated by Brooke Allen

Home Sweet Motel is the first book in the new series, Welcome to Wonderland. Eleven year old  P.T. Wilkie, his mother, and grandfather run the Wonderland Motel in St. Pete’s Beach, Florida but they are struggling to keep it open. They may have to sell it if they can’t find the money to pay a loan that is coming due in a month’s time. P.T. and his friend Gloria work together to develop some money making plans to save the motel. One scheme involves finding some stolen diamonds that were hidden somewhere in the motel years ago and collect the reward money before the crooks, fresh out of prison, come back for the same money.  Readers of James Patterson’s I Funny series should give this new series a try. Funny, laugh out-loud, short chapters, wacky characters, a little mystery, and lots of illustrations make this a fast-paced and quick read. The book also includes some funny add-ons at the end of the book, such as how to say, “Help! The Toilet is is Clogged!” in more than 20 languages. Recommended for grades 4-6.

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POSTED: March 27, 2017

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Doll Bones by Holly Black 

Readers looking for a spooky adventure story will not be able to put Black’s Doll Bones down! Winner of the Mythopoeic Fantasy Award in Children's Literature and a 2014 Newbery Medal Honor Book , this story follows three friends as they attempt to return a haunted doll, made from the ashes of a young girl who died years ago, to her grave. Despite the creepy premise there are not very many ghostly appearances by the deceased girl and only a few mildly scary scenes. Doll Bones is a fun, well-written, coming of age journey- perfect for fans of Goosebumps and recommended for readers ages 9-12.

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POSTED: March 21, 2017

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Snow Whiteby Matt Phelan

Phelan has published a beautifully crafted, unique retelling of the classic Snow White story that is sure to please fans of both the graphic novel format and fairy tales. Snow White is set in 1920s New York City and interestingly reads like a blend of historical fiction and realistic fantasy. Samantha White, nicknamed Snow, lost her mother at a young age. When her wealthy father remarries Snow finds herself the stepdaughter of an ambitious actress known as “The Queen of Follies”. Snow’s father has a ticker tape in the family’s apartment, which is constantly spitting out stock market updates, and takes the place of the Queen’s magical mirror in this reimagining. Slowly driven mad with jealousy from reading the messages on the tape, the stepmother hires a man to kill Snow. She luckily is saved by a gang of seven orphaned boys, a clever twist on the seven dwarves.  The stepmother eventually tricks Snow with a poison apple, but is saved by the dashing Detective Prince. Phelan’s nearly colorless watercolor evokes a dreamy tone and successfully continue the narrative when dialogue is absent.  Snow White is a stand-out graphic novel recommended for tween readers ages 9-12.

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POSTED: March 13, 2017

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All The Dirt: A History of Getting Clean
by Katherine Ashenburg

Ashenburg has written a very interesting, readable non-fiction title that outlines the history of human hygiene. That might sound boring at first, but this book is a really fun read! All the Dirt covers the history of bathing, waste management, washing of clothes, changing definitions of “clean”, and more. Young readers and adults alike will be surprised at some of the facts in this book, such as how people living in France during the eighteenth century might not have bathed more than once a year!  From the ancient Romans, medieval Europeans, and current practices in Zimbabwe and India- this book covers a wide variety of cultures and traditions. Recommended for ages 10 and up.

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POSTED: March 6, 2017

February 2017

We Found a Hat
by Jon Klassen

Klassen returns to finish his award-winning hat picture book trilogy with this gem involving two turtles and a coveted ten gallon hat. Readers who are familiar with
I Want My Hat Back and This Is Not My Hat will not be surprised to discover the story revolves around both turtles wanting the hat, but unlike his previous hat books, these animals are friends. Divided into three parts, the story begins with the turtles discovering the hat but agreeing to leave it behind because there is only one hand. Part two continues with the turtles watching the sunset together, though one of them is distracted by the nearby hat. Finally, in part three, the two friends go to sleep and the tale concludes with a beautiful dream sequence in which both turtles are wearing the great hat and floating in a dark, starry space.  A sweet and funny story about friendship, and of course, stylish hats. Recommended for ages 4-8.

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POSTED: February 27, 2017

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Tek, the Modern Cave Boy
by Patrick McDonnell

Tek is a cave boy who loves his technology: his tablet, video games, phone, and TV. He stays in his cave all day long glued to his electronic devices and has missed much of the outside world including dinosaurs and the entire Ice Age. However, when a volcanic eruption destroys his gadgets, Tek is forced outside into the prehistoric world. Will he be able to survive without his tech?  Is there life and fun beyond technology? This clever book actually looks like a tablet from its cover to most of its inside pages. As the story progresses, readers will notice how the “battery life” gets lower on each page as the “Wi-Fi signal” weakens to nothing. As Tek explores his new world without the use of technology, the tablet-like page format begins to morph into more of a traditional book format. Fans of Lane Smith’s It’s a Book will enjoy this one too. For grades 1-3.

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POSTED: February 20, 2017

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Gertie’s Leap to Greatness
by Kate Beasley; illustrated by Jillian Tamaki

Gertie wants to be the best fifth grade student in the universe! She has lived with her father and her Great-Aunt Rae for most of her life after her mother left them and moved into another house on a different street. When Gertie learns that her mother is finally moving away from their town, she wants to show her mother how special and great she is. If she does, maybe her mother may not want to move away. Gertie develops a plan to become the best student in fifth grade. However, the new girl in school, Mary Sue, wants to be the best student too. There is only room for one great student in fifth grade so what will Gertie do? Despite the hardships and hurts of daily life, Gertie faces each day with a brave and hopeful face. Fans of Kate DiCamillo’s Raymie Nightingale will enjoy this heartwarming story with a likeable, spunky main character. For grades 4-6.

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POSTED: February 13, 2017

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The Wild Robot by Peter Brown

This short and original story focuses on Roz, who is a robot. Roz finds herself alone in a secluded island wilderness after her shipping crate is lost at sea. She has many existential questions to deal with in this new place. Who is she and why is she here? The various animals she encounters are incredibly weary of her and at times violent in their attempts to scare her away. AS she struggles to survive, she finds herself responsible for a tiny orphaned gosling (orphaned due to Roz herself).  The animals begin to give her a chance and she tries to build a life for herself amongst the wild animals. This is an interesting survival story that also addressed many emotional questions regarding our purpose, where we fit in, and who are families are. The book is also sprinkled with various illustrations that add to the reading experience and will appeal to readers in grades 3-5 especially.

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POSTED: February 7, 2017

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Don’t Touch This Book!by Bill Cotter

Larry, the purple, blobby monster from Don’t Push the Button is back for another fun, interactive adventure. This time with books!  Larry does not want anyone to touch his book. But when he allows you, the reader, to touch a page with one finger….the magic begins for everyone!  Fans of The Book with No Pictures and The Monster at the End of this Book will want to add this delightful book to their read aloud collection to share with preschool and kindergarten children. Love the book? Meet Bill Cotter, the author and illustrator, in person here at Rocky River Public Library on Monday, February 20, at 11:00 AM!

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POSTED: February 1, 2017

 

January 2017

The Bad Guys
by Aaron Blabey

The Bad Guys is the first in a new series featuring the Bad Guys - Mr. Wolf, Mr. Shark, Mr. Snake, and Mr. Piranha. They want to start being known as the Good Guys and do some nice things for a change but their reputations (and rap sheets) stand in the way. By forming the Good Guys Club together, they plan to change that Bad Guy image. First, they start small by helping to get a cat down from a tree but soon they develop a grand plan to free 200 dogs from the Maximum Security City Dog Pound! Naturally, events don’t always go the way they are planned. Will they be able to do it?  Written in a graphic novel-chapter book hybrid format, similar to the Captain Underpants series, this easy and fun book is a treat to read. Look forward to more books in the series in the future. For grades 1-3.

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POSTED: January 23, 2017

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Emma and Julia Love Ballet
by Barbara McClintock

This lovely picture book follows the everyday life of two ballet dancers, Julia a professional ballerina, and Emma a young ballet student. Readers see them from the moment they wake up, as they attend dance lessons, eat, read, and eventually meet at the end of the story when Emma gets her performance program autographed by the prima ballerina, Julia. McClintock’s wonderfully realistic illustrations capture the grace and athleticism of ballet, while working perfectly with the straightforward text.  Both characters devotion to ballet is made evident and ballet lovers of all ages will enjoy this story, though it is especially sure to please young readers dreaming of dancing on stage themselves one day. Recommended for ages 4-8.

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POSTED: January 12, 2017

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School Freezes Over
by Jack Chabert; illustrated by Sam Ricks

Eerie Elementary is alive! Only 3 students, Sam, Lucy and Antonio, know that the school was brought back to life by the mad scientist, Orson Eerie.  In book 5 of the series, a terrible snow storm hits the school forcing the students to be trapped inside for the night. Oh no! Eerie Elementary begins to freeze from the inside out! Can Sam, Lucy and Antonio save the other students before everyone freezes? This fast-paced story with illustrations on every page will appeal to fans of Dav Pilky’s Ricky Ricotta series. Other books in this series are:  The School is Alive, The Locker Ate Lucy, Recess is a Jungle and The Science Fair is Freaky. For grades 2-4.

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POSTED: January 12, 2017

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All the Dirt: A History of Getting Clean
by Katherine Ashenburg

Ashenburg has written a very interesting, readable non-fiction title that outlines the history of human hygiene. That might sound boring at first, but this book is a really fun read!

November 30

NaNoWriMo at Work


Image courtesy of National Novel Writing Month

Although this a poetry blog, the flip side of the creative writing coin is fiction. This month, the Writing Center organized three on-campus events to support and encourage students interested in being part of NaNoWriMo (National Novel Writing Month). During the month of November, participants across America attempt to write a 50,000-word novel. This year, several students took their first stabs at writing and editing novels! They wrote tens of thousands of words in addition to all their writing for classes.

The piece below is an excerpt from the first chapter of a yet untitled novel that received substantial edits during the NaNoWriMo haul. The storyline follows two characters on opposite sides of a civil war in a fantasy archipelago kingdom.

      The crowd's muttering made Castin pause a moment, still smiling.
      "How will we accomplish such a feat? How can a king be removed? By the people, my friends! By you and I and all Prince Albian's loyal subjects!" Castin threw his arms wide, as if to encompass all of Paith. "I have taken it upon myself to organize this resistance, along with Ettore Maynard and Barchett Endroe." He gestured to the steward, then the blond man on his right. "With Ettore's knowledge of government, Barchett's grasp of military design, and my drive, we will give Albian the comfort of justice. We will take our kingdom back. We will put a king worthy of the title on the throne! But – and this is the best part, my friends – once we have cleansed the Palace, we will set up a governance for ourselves! The king/heir system has failed. With Brecc removed, we can create a better, more equal reign. Never again will heir islands be treated as lesser. Never again will we be forced to pay higher tax! Our imaginations are the only limitation to what good we can work for this Forty Island Kingdom!"
      Castin shook his fists into the sky and laughed, wild and triumphant. His eyes shone with the vision he had painted for them.
      "If you will commit to justice, then join me, join the Prince's Army," Castin cried above the villagers, his words rising to the gray-washed sky. "Be at the gates of Unik on the isle Sythr in a week's time. There, history will begin!" With that, Castin stepped down from the well. The villagers rushed to greeting him, shouting, laughing, pounding his back.
      Baen watched Castin's easy smile. He watched the man who had been a stranger an hour ago laugh and jostle with the people. His costly clothes were dirtied against mud-stained, weatherworn homespun and neither he nor the villagers noticed. Baen grinned.
      War was brooding, its righteous tip aimed at the King.

--By Hannah Baumgardt, CSB 2020

Invitation for your Writing:
Finish the following story in either poetry or prose: It was less than a second, maybe half a second, but it changed everything.

November 9

Why Write a Poem?

Since the beginnings of human society we've had a need for someone in the tribe to be the documenter, the recorder, the person that tells the stories of what got us where we are. The poet is that person. The assertion that if we forget the past we are doomed to repeat our mistakes has much validity. This applies to personal or family history as well as the big picture of societal history Poetry is a powerful voice with which to bear witness.

People are complicated creatures. We see, we hear, we feel. We get angry, we laugh, we cry, we get bored. We get lonely and frustrated and sometimes, so filled with awe and wonder we are about to explode. There are positive and negative ways to express our feelings. Poetry, music, dance and art are among the positive. Then again, there are people who express themselves with racist epithets or picking fights, being bullies or worse. Poetry is one of the positive ways to express the range of emotions we humans possess, even the negative emotions, without causing harm to ourselves or anyone else.

As human beings, we all have personal reasons, to perhaps, express ourselves with an occasional poem. At times we have a need for catharsis, a need to unburden ourselves. Poetry can also be a tool for healing ourselves or others after times of trauma. We all react to both internal and external stimuli, for example, poems written by soldiers at war, or poems written after the 911 attacks. Perhaps we've just seen the most glorious sunset of our lives or heard the words "I love you" and we can't contain our reaction to what life places before us.

Poetry can also be a meditative experience. It helps us think on another level. Sometimes we need to write a poem out of curiosity. Words can be the ship that takes us on a journey of exploration. Poetry is a way to solve what puzzles us.

Write a poem for the sake of art. A poet is just as much an artist as a painter, a sculpture or a musician. A poet's medium, written and spoken word, is created with an audience's or another person's consciousness as the canvas, the stage, the bock of stone that is sculpted.

A poet is an entertainer. Famous American writer (and former Saint John's faculty member), J.F. Powers, once told me a writer is nothing but an entertainer. If you don't entertain, who will read what you write? Author Bea Lake in "Mutant Message From Forever" says "entertainment is meant to cheer the weary, soothe the frustrated, comfort the distressed." If you're an entertainer, try entertaining with a poem!

Poetry is fun! What better reason to write a poem could there be?

We need to communicate with each other. There are times when we see something, hear something or feel something and we just want to tell someone else about it, when one human being needs to communicate with another. Try a poem. Like wondering if the proverbial tree falling in the forest really fell if nobody noticed it, a poem needs a reader or listener. Find that person.

What are your reasons to write a poem? Find them and give poetry a try. If you need an audience, want to improve your poetic ability or just talk about what you've written, bring your poems to the Writing Centers on either campus. There are creative writers on our staff and we don't care if you're taking a creative writing class or not, though we'd love to hear from Creative Writing students. We're interested in writers and writing of all kinds. Share your work with us. We're people just like you and we'd love to hear what you have to say.

Stories From Tierra Amarilla

An old man and his old black dog sit in the sun,
the wind deflected by a crumbling adobe wall,
rusty hinges barely supporting
a paint-chipped blue door that never opens.
The old abuelo's drooping head
is full of stories he's told himself all his life,
half made up in his mind, though all of them true.
He tells these stories to his deaf, white-whiskered dog
or any passerby that stops to share the sun.
If you stopped, he would tell all those stories to you,
and you would feel obliged to carry them with you,
not as stones in your pocket,
but as poems written on dragonfly wings.

— Larry Schug, Writing Center volunteer tutor

October 26

As the weather is getting chilly, the Writing Center is getting very excited about Halloween! Take a look at the skeleton and bats hanging out at the Alcuin Library location.

Originally a pagan tradition intended to ward off evil spirits by obscuring children's faces, Halloween has become a secular holiday filled with cute kids in costumes, candy, scares, and parties. More often than not, Halloween offers a chance of becoming something you are not and to enjoy time with your friends. This poem tries to encompass all aspects of the holiday-including a dark and creepy undertone. To show the lighter side of the season, an end rhyme on the second and fourth lines of each stanza is included. Also, having the syllables of each line match up with the corresponding one on the next stanza helps add consistency and flow.

Spooky Scary Skeletons
--By Anna Norris, CSB 2019

Spooky scary skeletons
Knocking at your door
You better give them candy
Before they ruin your floor

Jack-o-lanterns all alight
Ghosts hung in the yard
Halls all full of cobwebs
With witches standing guard

Masks with hidden faces
Of figures that you fear
Do not let them scare you
As they draw ever near

It's now time to party
Brains and blood tonight
Do not forget your garlic cloves
The vamps all tend to bite

Create your own:
Write your own seasonally-inspired poem about Halloween and or fall in general. Experiment with a rhyme scheme to see if that adds or detracts from the overall effect.

October 12

The CSB/SJU Writing Center will be creating entries for Poetry at Work this year. The twenty undergraduate tutors are excited to share this project with you!

College is a time of expression, where students are encouraged to think creatively and find themselves through their passions. Likewise, blackout poetry focuses on pushing creative boundaries and forces author to improvise by limiting their voice in the poem and relying on found language. The author must have a certain amount of trust with the page, allowing the given words to guide their poetic voice. There is a similar level of trust when it comes to college. Students must rely on their surroundings in order to navigate a new way of life.

On August 31, the Writing Center held its first formal event to introduce students to the new writing center space in the renovated Alcuin Library at Saint John's. The tutors collaborated with library staff to host the event. Molly Ewing helped us set up a station for composing blackout poetry and provided some discarded volumes from the library. This fun exercise encouraged students to play with different writing styles. In blackout poetry, individuals choose a page from a book and create a poem by blacking out words on the page until the remaining words form a poem. Below are some examples that students submitted from the event.

Poem by Brie Baumert.

Poem by Holly Ossanna.

Writing Center Student Employees.

September: Transitions

September 21

As I prepare this posting, our world is facing violence, war, distrust, and tensions that erupt in the worst behavior that human beings carry within them. The poem I share this week does not address or solve any of those urgent problems; it is a poem about making time to write, even in the midst of so much need. There are wonderful models of poets whose writing grapples with the most challenging issues of our time, whose advocacy comes through their poetry. Their work seems unquestionably worthwhile to me, and I doubt that anyone would question the time they devote to their writing. When a poem comes from a more personal landscape, as this one does, or captures a moment of joy, or expresses something unrelated to politics or social justice or human drama, it can seem optional, unnecessary, and making time to write can be hard to justify. But writing poetry can nourish and enlighten us in the personal sphere, helping us prepare to meet the needs of the world more courageously and fully. Writing can help especially when it brings to the surface expectations or assumptions that operate subconsciously. Writing this poem helped me see an ideal of motherhood I had internalized, without being aware of it, a constant measure of my inevitable failure. Devoting time to the poem made the sense of failure worse in a way (I was even further from the ideal described here because I took time to write), but working through the poem helped me realize that not writing the poem would not bring me much closer to the ideal. Being a perfect whatever is always out of reach. Releasing myself from this expectation was a necessary step in my maturity as a parent, and learning to make time for what sustained me amidst the flurry of tasks was extremely important.

The Good Mother's Reward

In the time it takes to write this poem
I could have opened the new packs of diapers,
stacked them neatly, strategically.
I could have folded all that laundry, too --
shirts, socks, training pants, onesies, tights, booties, hats.
I could have made it all ready for the frenzied morning grab.

I could have prepared a dinner of
freshly cooked vegetables packed with vitamins
bits of cheese cut in the shape of their names
fruit arranged in a smiley face and
sandwiches cut into triangles (not squares)
and even a cookie as a special treat.

I could have baked the cookies --
the house after daycare would have smelled
the way my grandmother's did,
dessert still warm on a gently perspiring plate
glass of milk confident, proud beside it,
two percent or maybe even whole.

I could have pressed my apron for the baking --
I know I could have found it crumpled in a drawer
and washed and ironed it, starched and crisp.
I could have added a ruffle, too, assuming I could find
my sewing machine, still in a box in the basement.
I could have made room among the cartons and the chaos.

I could have followed the seductive trail of motherhood
back to its subterranean storage where the perfect mother waits.
I see her sigh at me now, fold her plump arms over her ample waist
and then, just before the word from the sponsor,
she smiles that beatific all-forgiving smile
and rumples my hair with a slightly floury hand.

My own hand signals the ultimate laborsaving device to print
as I race to the freezer to see what's for dinner.
Pizza and guilt, and a poem as my just desserts.
      -- Karen Lynn Erickson

Invitation for your writing:
Think about your own strategies for making time to write, knowing that what works for others may not work for you. If you wish that you wrote more, experiment with different writing schedules, locations, goals and strategies to share work and receive support from other writers. If the quandary of the ideal expressed in this poem resonated with you, consider whether an ideal may be helping and/or hindering your work. Draft a poem or lyrical prose passage where you explore the ideals against which you measure success - as the perfect writer, friend, student, athlete, daughter, brother, employee, partner, citizen…. What aspects of the ideal draw you forward, giving you strength and inspiring further effort? Is there any part of the image that needs to be updated, refined or retired?

September 7

Today we celebrate the transition of "Caution: Poetry at Work." This year it will be the creation of Kyhl Lyndgaard and the tutors who make up the Writing Centers at Saint Ben's and Saint John's. Karen Erickson and I are delighted that Kyhl and his tutors will give the new light of their creativity to this site, devoted to the good work of reading and writing poetry. We're also pleased that they asked each of us to write one last poem to inaugurate the second year.

Speaking of transitions, some of you may have been lucky enough to witness the total eclipse of the sun on August 21, 2017. An eclipse is a spectacular transition from light to darkness and back to light, as the moon follows its leisurely orbit between Earth and sun. The moon's shadow gradually blocks out the sun's light until even a cloudless day turns into a moonless, starless night. As the moon continues in its path, oblivious of the awestruck watchers on Earth, light and warmth gradually reappear, as if it were the first day of creation.

In truth, this transition from light to darkness to light happens every evening and every morning without fail. But it might take an eclipse to make us notice this ordinary miracle and learn to love both day and night, darkness and light. In Salzburg, Austria, a total eclipse happened in 1999. When the light returned, instead of hearing a Mozart tune there in Mozart's birthplace, the visitors heard Louis Armstrong singing "What a Wonderful World" in praise of "the bright blessed day [and] the dark sacred night."

All transitions are, at least at the beginning, movement from light to the darkness of the unknown, untried - birth, the first month of college, new parenthood, the beginning of a new job, the transition from vigorous health to fragility. My poem this week celebrates "the dazzling darkness" life asks us to embrace.

In the Dazzling Dark

There is in God--some say--
A deep but dazzling darkness. . . .
                --Henry Vaughan

In the deep but dazzling darkness
swim big-eyed fish in ocean caves no light has ever reached.

And all the shy animals at home only in darkness:
bats asleep in caves during the day, floating silently alive at night,
guided by unerring radar,
black panthers with green eyes;

And owls calling "Who? Who?" Listening, gazing into the dark, we ask the questions
that sleep during the day but rise up on strong wings at night: "Who am I?" "Who is my
neighbor?" "Who, oh who, are you my God?"

In dark Earth the roots of ancient sequoias secretly reach out and clasp the long-
fingered roots of neighboring trees, sharing food, helping each other stay alive through
drought and fire, steadying the ground they need to grow.

In the glare of endless day, stars, dreams, and fireflies flicker out and fade.
They're at home only in the velvet black of night.

So too the parts of each of us that find shelter in darkness-
fears, dreams, hopes, sorrows, gladness too fragile and shy to bear the light of day.
Only in the dark do we know ourselves, purely and without distraction.

In the pulsing darkness of the hive, bees are making honey and the wax for Easter
candles that need chapel darkness to glow,
as imagination glows in the dark hives of our brains.

In the darkness of our mother's womb God knits each of us into an intricate pattern,
then knits us into herself. For nine months babies, their eyes sealed shut, navigate by
touch, smell, and sound in that blood-rich darkness before they swim toward light
and all its blooming wonders

The deep but dazzling darkness of God is a womb in whose shelter lives all that was, is,
and still might be-
deep space where God is creating new worlds, new wonders.
The future, the moment after this one, intensely alive but still and always in shadow.

In the deep but dazzling darkness of God is the ocean of faith, the darkest virtue,
where we trade certainty for possibility.

When we dare go into our undiscovered selves
our roots grow toward each other, entwining, feeding, supporting, like ancient trees.
And we grow together toward God, who at every moment, is growing deep
underground toward us, leading us to unfathomable reaches of justice, mercy, and joy.

     --Mara Faulkner, OSB

Invitation for your writing:
Think of a time when you made an abrupt transition from light to darkness (such as entering a bat cave) or from darkness to light (such as waking up to a bright light shining in your eyes.) Try to describe the experience. With sight all but useless, did your other senses take up the work of sensing? As you write, see if this experience becomes a metaphor for transitions in feelings, thoughts, or insights.

May: Working it out

May 25

During a visit to a retirement community's memory care unit, I met an elderly resident who periodically recited a prayer. This seemed to have a calming effect; though her recitation had no connection with our conversation, each time she said the familiar words, she seemed to relax. With its sounds, form and function, poetry can indeed bring comfort. Creating a poem can bring the deep and sustaining pleasure of capturing an experience or intimating a revelation.  In this poem, the harvest figure is preparing for winter, where scarcity replaces plenty, trying to store up what will soon be gone, just as a poem can capture a fleeting moment. Whether it is in digging into the soil, or planting lovely blooms, or clearing the brush, or putting up jars for the winter, the work of poetry can please us and challenge us, calm us and keep us on our toes.

Bringing In

Everything else waits
while I gather herbs and plant new bulbs,
pull carrots and onions from the chill ground,
spread straw with cracked hands
over garlic in the raised beds.

The kitchen floor is littered
with bits of leaves and trails of fallen dirt.
An impatient elbow shoves dishes aside
to make space to wash and bundle the parsley and thyme.
Work lies restless, untended on my desk
and laundry mounds its way toward crisis -
But this is harvest time.

I have come to love the snap
of the wind saying the end is near,
the aches in knee joints put to the test
eager soon to rest until next year,
the tables spread with the tangible fruits of a season's growth,
even the massive compost heaps of empty or frost-stopped vines
richly clinging to the last clods of crumbling soil,
vines pulled from the earth in the
unrepentant wisdom of an autumnal soul.
I hang high the rakes and tempered blades,
scour rods and trowels, bent and nicked
from hard use among glacial stones.

Inside I savor the smell of drying lemon balm,
the plump feel of freezer corn and beans,
the tang of tomatoes simmering in all the sun
of so many summer noons.
That sun seeps into the kitchen walls
and rests in all the hidden summer corners
where colanders and barbecue tongs lie still.
That sun is now ground into my finger creases
like the garlic and basil I've crushed and spread.
The dark nights lengthen but harvest fills my cup.
In every warm place I have
I am harboring the sun.

--Karen Lynn Erickson

From Dwellings. © 2013 by Karen Erickson. Used with the permission of The Permissions Company, Inc., on behalf of Finishing Line Press, www.finishinglinepress.com.

Invitation for your writing:
Thank you for reading and writing with us this year. Look back over the poems that spoke to you and your own writings from the year. We hope you see a rich array of soul-nourishing words that will keep you company and lend you courage, joy, understanding, and tolerance for the mystery and unpredictability of human experience. Do you see themes or images or phrases that recur?

In the coming months, we plan to gather these entries into a form more easily downloaded, in parts or in whole, for use by individuals or groups. We will post a final message to our Facebook page when it is ready. It has been a marvelous adventure sharing this web experiment with you!

May 18

Martin Luther is supposed to have said, "If I knew the world would end tomorrow, I'd plant apple trees today." That bold statement pays homage to humankind's stubborn refusal to abandon hope. We continue to bear and raise children, teach them lessons for their future and the future of the Earth, plant trees whose fruit we may never taste. Martin Luther is also describing poetry, though he may not have realized it. There are certainly some moments in our personal and communal lives that feel like the end of the world, and then poets can only bear witness to tragedy. But poetry can help us resist the seductive voice of despair. We can write poems of difficult hope, facing oppression and suffering, and finding within ourselves and our communities the seedlings of resistance, kindness, and delight. I tried to do that in "Patches."

Patches

This is the day that the Lord has made.
Let us rejoice and be happy today.

Happiness is a crazy quilt stitched every day
from scraps too good to throw away.
We've learned from our mothers' mothers how and why.

They knew we need the warmth of color on long cold nights
whether we lie together or alone.

Not that they thought about it much. No hard-working woman spent her days sewing.
That was for the evening after the cows were milked, the dishes done up,
the bread set to rise, when, by the light of the kerosene lamp
her children did their homework at the table
or someone played an old tune on the harmonica.
Only then did she pull out her needle and patches.

Crazy quilts were made to last, the stitches
tight and even, the fabric sound, the colors still cheerful
though muted by wear and washing and drying in the sun.

So too the quilt of happiness. You end every day piecing together bright scraps-
               the day's first laughter
               the wren weaving her nest of twigs and grass in the end of the clothesline pole
               friendship remembered, sturdy, made of rough cloth.

But as fast as you can set in a new patch, happiness is undone-
                unstitched by the little hands of a child slave
                by loved hands twisted by disease, now rigid and cold
                by hands throwing bombs at peace treaties made and rent in a day
                                the edges frayed by exploding bodies.

Yet this is the day that the Lord has made. Let us rejoice and be happy today.

The choice, my friends, is wrenching but plain:
                surrender to the bitter cold
                or in worn and faithful hands
                take up our needles and patches again.
                                                                                                --Mara Faulkner, OSB

Invitation for your writing:
Try writing a poem of difficult hope.  Here are a few suggestions:
                Create within the poem a place and time of respite.
                Dare to record delight, beauty, kindness, resistance.
                Look for humor and share it. Invite your readers to laugh.
                Show the world in all its vast and glorious and terrible diversity.
                Imagine alternatives to what is and must not be.

May 11

Last week we explored the ways cultures and communities interact in the same time and space. This week we consider how characteristics, skills, loves and hatreds can span generations. This poem tells the story of a surprising shared activity that helped me see something across four generations, though I will never know precisely what the activity meant to those who came before nor to those who follow.

Dandelions

You have to get it at the root
my grandpa always said
as he dug into his perfect grass
If you just pull the top it comes right back
He'd hold the forked spade sure and easy in his palm
putter eyeing the birdie cup
a divining rod seeking the source of all
He'd spy a weed and the tool would
furrow past lush blades of succulent green 
down between the spiked leaves that dared invade
and sever the thing just beneath the surface of the ground
Ah, you see? That one won't be back
The small town dentist of immigrant stock
made another clean extraction and
looked with pride at nature purified

Sometime after my grandpa died my lawyer dad
who cut and mended with words, not tools
began to hunt for weeds in his hitherto untended yard 
A friend watching him one day puzzled over
his sudden love of unbroken turf
I told her about his sire, vigilant
against the yellow blooms and spreading leaves
Did he feel the thrust of an ancient seed?
Or reach an understanding with the stoic Nordic son
who really did walk ten miles in the snow each day
to go to school? Which root did he find
when he sighted down the slightly rusting blade?

I too bought a dandelion fork
one of the first things when I had a yard and kids and cares
I try to keep the prickles down but they love to gather buds of pure gold
and present them to me with anxious pride, breathe the seeds into the wind
I leave a portion of the yard for them 
not just because of the ache in my lower back
and the fatigue of stooping low
but to leave some roots unbroken  
and work for my children's chosen tools

                                -- Karen Lynn Erickson

Invitation for your writing:
Think of an object that came to you from a parent, grandparent, or ancestor, or of a skill or characteristic that you share with one of them. Write a poem where you pass the object back and forth, telling one another what it means, or where you describe the recognition you feel at a tone of voice, a tilt of the head, a way of laughing, an ability that you share.

May 4

Poetry can give us an avenue for entering imaginatively into what we know and don't know, about ourselves, about others. Some of our knowing and not knowing reveals itself horizontally through community groups that jostle one another, sharing space willingly or resentfully, perhaps most productively when we are seeking common ground. What we see in ourselves can be mirrored in people very like us, and very different from us. A few years ago, I wrote a poem called "Boarders," describing the feeling of being crowded out of my home by the refugees clamoring at the door.  It ends with these lines:

                                Do I want to come inside this crowded
                                Needy place
                                Or run to where no bodies touch
                                And isolation waits
                                Armed  sterile   bright?

Since I wrote that poem, the world and I have changed. I've spent the last four years volunteering one morning a week as an English language tutor for adult immigrants. And though more people arrive in our classes and in our country every day, seeking refuge, the world and my heart now seem spacious enough to give all of them a home. In Writing to Change the World, Mary Pipher says, "Everything really interesting happens at borders. Borders teem with life, color, and complexity." One of those borders is the one between cultures and languages.  Sometimes poets write beyond the end of a poem they thought was finished.  That's what I did, and here's the new poem, called not "Boarders" but "Borders."

Borders

In the crowded classroom at Discovery School
waves of language rise up in a tangle of tongues-
                HmongSomaliNurUrduKoreanChineseFrenchSpanish.
English is the lingua franca in this little world
its devilish inconsistencies
embellished with laughter and pantomime.
Here in this haven
as we toss questions back and forth over the borders-
                Are you scared of death?
                Will wars ever end?
                How can we raise good children?
rumors and terrors fade
and friendships flourish.

The students come day after day
walking as tall and straight as queens and princes
or bent under old wounds or burdens they can't lay down-
                A sister dead of starvation in south Sudan
                A brother shot before her child-eyes in Mogadishu.

I've learned only one word in Somali-nur, hill, with a river of
trills at the end.
Every day we climb the hill of language, my students and I,
celebrating small successes with high fives, 2 thumbs up, or a pat on the back.
Sometimes we're nourished for the climb with a feast of sambusas or kababs.
One day we'll reach the top
and though we all know that our classroom isn't Heaven
we can almost see it from there--
the world as God dreams it
drenched in the dew of kindness
green with hope for peace.

"See you next Tuesday," I say.
"Inshallah," they reply.
"God willing," I agree.
        --Mara Faulkner, OSB

Invitation for your writing :  Write beyond the end of a poem you thought was finished (or at least abandoned some time in the past.)  Or try writing between the lines of one of your poems.  See if what appears between the lines is the real poem or part of the original.

April: The Work of Art

April 27

As we learn to open up to the challenges, complexities, traumas and unbearable pain of the world, and to the beauty, truth, and insights sometimes found within them, we need to develop ways of remaining open as well, sustaining attention, maintaining energy and life. For some, disciplines of exercise, prayer, meditation, reading, or community work make this possible. For others, music, humor, cooking or dance provides outlets that keep the spirit from fleeing, from flinching at the task of really seeing. This poem describes an experience walking a labyrinth, an ancient practice that challenges visually and physically the notion that the real work is to get somewhere, rather than simply to be present and aware.

Labyrinths

Walking the labyrinth, small puzzles unlock.


All the way in I tread upon tomorrow's tasks,
disrupt a clamor of what to do, controversies
dog each step, and I know what I should say,
what I should have said. I gauge how far I have walked,
how far I have yet to go, wondering if I am doing this right.

And then the center suddenly spreads.
The fumbling nail finally opens the clasp,
the locket rests in satin for the night
small fears nestle among the links.
Thumb becomes clever, measures the fit
of the shoe, one small length from tip to toe.
The pointer rises in a gesture of speech
but no argument, just the third line of a long-
forgotten poem tumbling onto a smooth tongue.

Measured steps enclose, and skirt
and seamlessly collide. Behind me,
the large puzzles stand arms lifted to the sun,
to the moon, to inner light, uninvolved
and unconcerned with small solutions,
sentinels marking the unlocked heart
and the insoluble path.

     --Karen Lynn Erickson

From Dwellings. © 2013 by Karen Erickson. Used with the permission of The Permissions Company, Inc., on behalf of Finishing Line Press, www.finishinglinepress.com.
Image by David Paul Lange, OSB, used by permission of the artist.

Invitation for your writing:
Make a list of activities, practices, or disciplines that help keep you present, open, and nourished on the path. Then look at your calendar or schedule - do you have time set aside for the activities that keep you whole, "uninvolved and unconcerned with small solutions"? Write a poem as invitation to your heart to keep aware, with a promise to provide the sustenance needed for the journey.

April 20

Some photographers say that their camera lens and the frame it creates helps them look at parts of the world they might otherwise shy away from. A poem can do the same. But even with the framing and filters the poem provides, steady, unflinching attention is dangerous to our comfort, our preconceived ideas, and maybe even to our happiness. Having seen, we can't unsee what the poem's gaze sets before our eyes. That's as true for the poet as for the readers. "The Watchers" asks what will happen to me, the poet, if I let the poem's images and logic take me where they want me to go. This poem is a struggle between turning a blind eye and seeing. It asks but doesn't answer a pressing question.

The Watchers
(for Angeline Dufner)

"I looked out the window and saw a sparrow and I became the sparrow." (John Keats)

The watchers rarely stick around
to warn us of the dangers.
Keats for one, made light with looking,
flew away at age twenty-five.

I know a woman who looks at birds.
Standing empty and alert as a shadow
she's seen what others live a lifetime
and never see:

A tree of land-locked warblers
on a foggy morning

blue herons setting air-filled bones
gently on hollow trees

pileated woodpeckers, shy as pterodactyls,
their great shadows flowing across the snow
just at sunset

and a sparrow
impaled on a long thorn
eaten alive by shrikes.

I'm watching closely to learn
the costs of her looking.

Will her cat begin to watch her
with narrow yellow eyes?

Will she follow the birds' migrations
her car, green as willow, flying down the freeway
and never be seen again?

Marooned and homesick in her classroom
will she mournfully teach "Ode to a Nightingale"?

Or will she die with the black and white bobolinks
whose numbers dwindle year by year?

I need to know
because I've watched too.
This boy-man Tom, for instance,
his schizophrenic mind, his blackbird eyes
his hands curled and shaking
without a swaying branch to still them.

He's flown all his life against windows and walls
and lights now only long enough to ask me
"Where do you get your peace?"
What will happen to me
if I watch him with the poet's intense gaze

when even a sidelong glance is enough
to carry me on long migrations away
from peace? And even if I could
choose blindness

what would keep my traitor hands
from reaching out, their feathery nerves
ready to catch on a face
the lightest sinking
into grief?

         --Mara Faulkner, OSB

Invitation for your writing:
What are you afraid to pay attention to, whether in your life, the lives of those you love, or the life of the world around you? In a safe place where no one else will see it, write about that fear as truthfully as you can. Set it aside for a while. When you take it out and look at it again, see if there is in the midst of the fear a shining moment of courage that would help your readers and you.

April 13

Writing a poem can help us focus our attention on habitual patterns that are invisible much of the time. How can we take what seems like the unavoidable architecture of reality (but which is actually a personal or social construction), and challenge all the assumptions, stereotypes and expectations that give it power? What are the patterns of exclusion, the habits of value that affect our actions and reactions without our even realizing it? This poem allowed me to wrestle with the repeated silencing that was part of the chilly climate for women in academia some twenty-five years ago. A male colleague liked to quote to me Samuel Johnson, who compared women at the pulpit with a dog walking on its hind legs (surprising they can do it at all, not surprising that it’s not done well). I offer this poem to anyone who has felt resistance or faced impediments in their efforts to voice their thoughts, to relate their experience, to influence their environment, to change the world for the better.

      Dancing with Bears

I reach down into that "she" in grief,
torn from the softer one they like --
the funny one, the mom, the good soul
set aside and in a harsher light
strident, primordial and dismissed
like so much static on the line.
You know she just can't follow
Insufficiency rests heavy on my chest
and I can't breathe
not a word, not a whimper
I am that she again.

They roll their eyes just a quiver,
they sigh and shake their heads;
You see what diversity brings us.
I feel for a long moment the steady
comradery they had and no longer have,
the singleness of purpose and the confidence
that truth began with them, moved with their eyes
and rested on their liquid tongues,
their hands moved in a predetermined sweep.
My hands, trained to applaud, to applaud,
tremble in my lap, my eyes fit to gaze and perhaps to weep.
That was as it should be.

But the dancing bear grunts onto stage
and sways towards the pulpit
insight staunched in the bitter earthy smell
of matted fur, nose twitching towards the thing
I might say that they could hear.

I grasp the lectern, glance down at my notes;
they clear their throats and cross their arms.
I take them on and tell them that I think.
I interrupt their wild rejections and drive my words
deep under their skin and between their hairy arms.
They scratch and writhe, wait out my turn
and then go back to dancing among themselves.
She really doesn't follow, you know;
That's what comes from diversity --
No more excellence, no more clarity.

How can I tell them that for once we all agree?
That all we share is a mumbled wail from bipedal snuffling shapes,
seeking the honey and finding only an empty comb.

            -- Karen Lynn Erickson

Invitation for your writing:
Reflect on situations where you felt silenced, where you knew it would be difficult for others to hear you or take your message seriously. I chose to take a spot at a lectern, because speaking in public 30 years ago often happened in that venue. With the social media at our disposal now, speaking up and speaking out can take many forms. Write a version of this poem where the speaker chooses another venue - is the outcome more positive? Then think of a time you found it difficult to listen to someone else. How might you listen in a radically different way, welcoming voices that do not initially make sense to you? Can poetry be a productive avenue to share even clashing views?

April 6

Mary Oliver's often repeated advice to writers is: "Pay attention. Be Amazed. Write about it." Pay attention to what? Not just to new purple crocuses and plum blossoms, but also to the poet's self-body, mind, heart, spirit. A recent news article about older people gathering to read and write poetry asks the question, "Can Poetry Keep You Young?" This poem, in which I pay attention to a host of new aches, pains, and discomforts that may accompany aging, answers, "Maybe, as long as we keep on being amazed and telling about it."

The Better Half
(for my friends at fifty)

Everything hurts these days.
They call it arthritis, sinus trouble, allergies
prescribe pills, sprays, salves.

But the body knows better.
I think it is trying to grow back
into the good ground.

The hair
rides the slightest hint
of moisture in the air
coiling and uncoiling
around the furrowed brain.

The ears lean into the wind
pulling in distant thunder.
The drums throb, vibrate
are sometimes struck dumb by what they've heard.

Water in every joint
swells and roils
a sea listening to a moon.

The lips and teeth sense storms
way out in the West
and want to set up an electric chirping
with the sparrows in the lilac hedge.

The eyes
nests that scratch and burn
lose themselves in leaves.

The arms ache.

The heart pushes wildly against the ribs
a caged Canadian honker
frantic for flight.

What will happen next?
Is this how death begins
this gradual remembering of the dust

Or is it the golden-age marriage
of mind and mud?

None of us knows
but the gnarly toes
Grip the earth

and the tongue
sings and sings
through its pain.

       --Mara Faulkner, OSB

Invitation for your writing:
What would you like to say to your friends at twenty, eighty, thirty, seventy, forty? Write a poem offering the advice or wisdom you are learning from your life. If you go deep into your own story, you will find yourself face to face with people who have been there, too, or who might be teetering on the edge.

March: The Work of Translation

March 30

For this fifth Thursday, we again invite you to post on our Facebook page your thoughts on translations of all kinds, or to share a translation of your own (http://www.facebook.com/poetryatwork/). If the original poem or image or text is in the public domain, you can include it, or simply add a reference or link so readers can track it down. We look forward to reading your posts!

March 23

This poem tries to capture a visual experience that was profoundly linked to my writing self. I wonder sometimes if it would have been an essay if I had had more time to write then and there, or if it would have been a photograph, had photographing been allowed at that time in that place.

In the glass case with the Gutenberg Bible

A misty trudge through long-ago familiar streets leads me toward
the graduate library, briefcase bristling with slips and note cards,
references seeking fulfillment in my reading of their books --
a quest to reunite far-flung citations with their mother text
through my scholarly eyes. Will they cry aloud at the reunion,
relish the close embrace as I tuck the card into the spine,
before I photocopy the fragment to ingest further at my leisure?
Will there be a violence of good-bye, as citation slip follows
not the volume to the stacks but the spineless copied ghost, a scrap
I may or may not use in the great puzzle of my newly forming book?

I stop a moment before the Beinecke, remembering how this court was once
one of the favorite places in my world -- white, grey, cream -- smooth granite
and alabaster city glowing in morning sun, sighing in evening pearls
while the carillon played, now quenched by drizzle but still smugly holding
all potential to ignite the mind and strengthen the soul's firmament.
I enter its hushed expanse and find again the Gutenberg Bible, spread nobly
in its double self, proud to be one of the first of what I have known as books,
one of the last to remain complete after nearly 600 years,
glassed in from alien breath and the oily hands that might grasp or turn
or marvel through touch at the bold type and hand-flourished margins.

This I cannot snap in my work as modern scribe;
I can only look at its open face and drink it in, complete and utterly saved.
My eyes tire of the black figures motionless after their birth in moveable type;
I yearn to turn a page and see what's next.
I look up and see my reflection in the glass, first my face
on the near pane of the case, then my entire bust in the far side.
I am in the case with the Gutenberg Bible and thrill to see myself there.
A smile turns my indistinct self into a Vermeer woman
arrested for just a moment in her daily tasks, pitcher, basket,
briefcase laden with a woman's work, stopped to see art created,
stopped to see self in art, to smile that inward knowing softening
that recognizes the complete in a fragment and the impossibility
of seeing the complete except in fragment after fragment.

Someone else will turn this Bible's page, wearing white gloves
and key jingling at their appointed side, turn it not to Sarah's laughter
or Jacob's wrestling as I itch to do, but to the prescribed academic
liturgical moment, to dose the public with proud pages,
portions measured religiously, reverently, within the hush of hard stone.
It is time for me to go, but I linger before this case holding
my image as reader of a first completed book.
For I too am moving type across a sea of virtual vellum
wresting words from their bindings and setting them in the glass case
of my monograph, in awe before the august CONTROL - P - PRINT.

               --Karen Lynn Erickson

Invitation for your writing:
Think about your own images of published books, or public sharing of texts, and the material and immaterial elements of your writing. If you generally type, try writing longhand. If you generally read your poems silently, try reading them aloud. If you compose poems orally, experiment with different ways to record your work. If you've never memorized one of your poems, learn one by heart and recite it, perhaps while looking at your image reflected in some polished surface. If anything is holding you back from sharing your work, set yourself on a path to transcend all the limits you can, and imaginatively include yourself in the version of authorship that will help you do what you need to do.

March 16

A student once gave me a little blue cardboard box she bought from a street vendor in Nepal. It's about two inches by four inches and holds loose pieces of rough handmade paper. At the time, I was hopelessly busy, without the stillness and solitude that brings poetry to the surface. But in brief moments between classes or in earliest morning when dream scenes still filled my head, I "kept faith with my writing self," as Tillie Olsen puts it, by writing an image, an overheard sentence, a strange word or phrase ("crockpot ideas") on those 2 x 4 sheets of paper, hoping that they would somehow turn themselves into poetry there in the fertile darkness. Well, that didn't happen, but when my life slowed down I took a look at what had accumulated and found scraps I could translate into poems. I guess that's pretty much what poets do all the time. Here's one of those translations.

Fall, 2015

If pages are leaves then books
are trees swaying in the wind
where kids in treehouses dream
and wonder rises in them
like sap.

Tree-books need someone
to rake up the fallen leaves
of red and gold and brown
and save them in the bag of the mind
to stack against the foundation
warming us during the long winter
just ahead.

Even the dour weatherman
used to predicting drought
and disaster
calls this is the most beautiful October
he can remember-
clear days and nights with moons
heavy and deep orange on the horizon.
Two eclipses-the moon, the setting sun.
Every day we think this beauty has to end.
And then the maples' embers
glow red in the morning fog.
There is, so far, no final eclipse.

Don't leave us
maples
yellow lindens
wine-dark oaks.
Friends, my brother
this Earth
God
golden and gone.

    --Mara Faulkner, OSB

Invitation for your writing:
Find a little receptacle for scraps of poetry. Anything small will do-a little box like mine, a notebook small enough to fit in your pocket, your cell phone. Collect every day for a while. Then, without expecting anything dramatic, take out the scraps and see if you and they can do the work of translating the randomness of life into a poem.

March 9

I had the life-changing opportunity to study for an academic year in France twice, once at age 20, and again at 25. The first year gave me academic French - quite correct, mostly understandable, and not too heavily accented, but I sounded a little like a textbook most of the time. The second year gave me a chance to know children, meet for lunch with the mother of a friend, discuss and debate with colleagues of all ages, and I learned to live in French. I wrote this poem trying to express why learning another language was so empowering, and yet at the same time deeply humbling. I learned, from everything I now could say and hear, how much I still could not put into words.

Langues étrangères

Langues étrangères
je veux toutes les apprendre
je veux les faire défiler comme des rois
     les promener comme des enfants
          les dresser dans ma bouche
               comme des caniches
"Dis ça!" - Je le dirais

En fait, je n'en ai qu'une
Une langue encore si étrangère bien que
     j'y travaille depuis longtemps déjà
je joue encore en prononçant ces mots
ça fait si drôle de les entendre sur ma langue!
Je sors des phrases et je m'amuse à vous
     les lancer comme des ballons
          un jeu dans l'air
J'oublie que pour vous ce ne sont que des mots
     que vous entendez depuis toujours sans jeu
          et sans problème, on dit, c'est sérieux
ces mots peuvent vous blesser, vous renseigner,
     vous ennuyer et après tout
il me faut passer par eux pour dire
quand il m'arrive à aimer que moi, enfin,
     j'aime enfin, je t'aime beaucoup ou même
          je t'aime tout court
Comment le dire? sans jeu et sans problème?
Il faut encore une nouvelle langue

Langues étrangères
je veux toutes les entendre comme j'entends la mienne
je veux les faire fondre sur ma langue jusqu'à ce qu'elles
     s'y confondent
et puis une seule me suffirait
et je saurai tout dire

Karen Lynn Erickson

[Quick translation]

Foreign Languages

Foreign languages
I want to learn them all
I want to parade them like kings
     take them for a walk like children
          school them in my mouth
               like trained poodles.
"Say this!" - I would say it.

In fact, I have just one of them
a language still so foreign even though
     I've been working on it for a long, long time
I still play around pronouncing these words
It's so weird to hear them on my tongue!
I take out sentences and for fun throw them
     to you like toy balls
          a game in the air
I forget that for you these are just words
     that you have heard forever with no game
          and with no problem, as they say, it's serious
these words can hurt you, inform you,
     bother you, and after all
I have to go through them to say
When it happens that I love that I, well,
     I finally love, I like you a lot or even
          I just plain love you
How to say it? With no game or problem?
I need another new language

Foreign languages
I want to understand them all as I hear my own
I want to melt them on my tongue until they
     are mixed up together
and then a single one would be enough for me
and I would know how to say everything.

Invitation for your writing:
Take a poem you love (your own or someone else's) in one language and translate it (from one language into another, or modernize a work in an older style, or change the historical context or setting and recast the poem, or change from rhymed form to free verse, or free verse to rhymed form). When does the play of translation/adaptation obstruct the emotional sense of the poem, and when does the play bring you closer to the depth of meanings in the original?

March 2

Every poem is a translation in a way. Poets take the random, chaotic, mysterious, contradictory, clashing stuff of human life and turn it into words, lines, and stanzas that on the page look shapely and full of meaning. But every poet will tell you, with chagrin, that something is always lost in the translation from experience to words, no matter how eloquent and musical. Yet, we keep trying.

Poetry also performs other acts of translation, maybe because we want so badly to tell each other what we've seen, heard, and touched and watch their eyes light up with understanding. We translate poetry from one language to another and poetry to prose or prose to poetry. Poets also try to make the leap from one artistic form to another, to help us hear, for instance, the joyful, wordless rhythms and riffs of jazz or see a Joe O'Connell sculpture from an odd angle. That's what I have tried to do in this week's poem.

Unbecoming: A Look at "Eve in Baroque"
Joe O'Connell, Marble, 1990

Emerging from the softly shining marble that was once the communion railing in a monastery of Benedictine women, Eve balances the unbitten apple on a plump and polished knee. Her marble skin glows faintest pink as if washed by earliest light or lit by a secret she's holding inside. She has a teenager's face, hair cut in junior-high bangs in front and wild as sea waves in back, and half-closed, dreaming eyes. She takes for granted the snake curled blissfully around her, sharing her warmth, her shape. Eve and the snake know each other, and are not afraid.

It's taken my hands
more than fifty years to unlearn
one indelible summer lesson.

This I remember: three little tow-head girls
wandering in the dusty pasture between our house and the woods
breathing in the pleasant heat
the sharp sweet smells of clover and of manure dying in the sun.
We found a treasure
a burnished curve in the dust
a silky rope
mysterious and delightful to hand and eye.
We picked it up and ran
to where my father worked in the field.

Almost blind, his hands
grown huge with the effort of seeing,
he held it close to his one good eye.
A silky rope? The snake's eye
open in death
caught his.

Thinking to protect his little girls he flung it far
across the summer pasture
a coppery arc shining in the sun.
In its place grew a stale terror
as twisted as the tale of Eve
and the snake-
the first unmaking
the breaking
of communion.

I've touched snake skins since then
dry and papery as words
and followed snake trails through poems
but my hands are lonely for the silk
of scales placed just so
and my body
like Eve's
imagines its sinuous
friendly
coil.

--Mara Faulkner, OSB

From Still Birth, Copyright © 2013 Mara Faulkner. Used with permission of The Permissions Company, Inc., on behalf of Finishing Line Press, www.finishinglinepress.com/.

Invitation for your writing:
Choose a piece of visual art that attracts you-a painting, photograph, sculpture, building, piece of furniture. Sit with it for a while, just looking at it, or, if possible, touching it. Simply describe your sense impressions as clearly and concretely as you can. Then see if your description itself is a poem, or if a poem emerges from it.

February: Poetry: Work or Gift?

February 23

This poem came to me as I was listening to a sermon in a church during the Christian season of Lent. I promise I was truly listening to the sermon, until I got distracted by the image of stones calling out, and by the work of precursors and prophets, and how their voices must sound exactly like stones.

The Grief Hosanna

The stones are shouting --
          Are you listening?
     The stones are shouting out --
               Why are we silent?
          From beneath the strewn palms they cry out
                     as we withhold the blessing of Hosanna.

The Praise that does not stop death
     rises from the bedrock, from the earth
          crying blessing, asking us to prepare the way.
     We know what is at stake,
               where this Hosanna will lead --

I see someone arriving
               Hosanna
     someone I do not understand
                    Hosanna in the highest
          who will bring change to me and mine
                         Blessed is the one who is coming

Weeping over Jerusalem, hosanna flutters in my heart
     Denying as the dawn breaks, hosanna rises in my throat
          Looking to grieve where life is not found,
               hosanna rolls the stone away

--Karen Lynn Erickson

Invitation for your writing:

If you have had "gift poems," did the form come before the words and images, or did words and images arrive first, with the form emerging through your work, or did they come together? To play with form, take two (or more) images or concepts that seem dissimilar, and combine them in a title. Experiment with formats, giving one concept/voice in italics and the other in boldface, or one in capitals and the other in lower case, or one to the left and the other to the right, or one inside boxes and the other in circles, or one in the middle of the page and the other(s) all around it in the margins. How does the form of the poem constrain your writing? Is that constraint inviting or liberating in any surprising ways?

February 16

But sometimes poems do come as gifts, unexpected and unearned. We see the lines on the page and can barely remember having written them. To receive the gift, we have to "listen with the ear of the heart," as Benedictines are fond of saying, and be humble and brave enough to follow where the poem is leading. This poem is one of a very few gift poems I have received.

 

                            Things I Didn't Know I Loved

"I know all this has been said a thousand times before and will be said after me."
--Nazim Hikmet, writing in exile after 13 years in prison

I didn't know I loved
the wrangle of phones and human voices, rough, insistent
until I entered this silence and closed the door. I didn't know I loved
this silence until the hooked voices reached for me. I didn't know I loved
didn't really know I loved the treeless prairies until green bars grew up
between my eyes, the airy sunset, and the moon. Didn't know I loved
the thorny green thicket of my self
contrary and bear-haunted, until I took the straight smooth road
and found it strewn with death. I didn't know I loved
black bears lumbering through my dream toward my sister
whom I didn't know I loved
even though I've lost her now in the blind thicket and she
doesn't love me any more. I didn't know I loved
my mother until her rose-heart burst and bled
red petals into her chest, didn't know I loved
the garden of her flesh. And you, my God
under her ashes so silent and so cold, I didn't know I loved
you until you woke every morning in my little stove
so lowly in your prison house of wood and flesh and fire
so eager and so needful of my hands. I didn't know I loved
my hands-clumsy, tender-until they stirred the fire and found
                                                                                                                      these words.

         --Mara Faulkner, OSB

From Still Birth, Copyright © 2013 Mara Faulkner. Used with the permission of The Permissions Company, Inc., on behalf of Finishing Line Press, www.finishinglinepress.com

Invitation for your writing:

How do these ideas of work poems and gift poems play out in your writing? Do poems sometimes come to you from out of the blue? What sustains you when you have to work with that inspiration to make a poem? To find out, take a line, image, or idea for a poem that comes as a gift; then work with it to see what it wants to become. Follow author Doug Woods' advice to writers: "Start. Finish. Edit."

February 9

This is also a work poem, drafted in a workshop on how to write in the bits of time that are sometimes all we have for writing (such as moments spent waiting in the car for someone we're driving somewhere -- have a mobile poetry bag ready!). The poem captures exactly how I sometimes feel about a poem that simply won't be cultivated or fixed or finished, even through hard work and numerous drafts.

Weeding the Raspberry Patch

At the start I gently part the stalks to pull offending grasses
and visiting bee balm out by their roots; I break each dead cane
with a knowing snap, lay weeds and old growth carefully to the side.

Midway through it galls and I begin to yank whole clumps,
green and hollow alike, stopping only to eat the few tender berries
that somehow managed to ripen in the thicket of my neglect.

By the end, sweaty and sore and knowing I'll regret it in the morning,
I take out the garden shears and begin to wrench and hack in a frenzy
of frustration. I swear if my mower had gas, I'd level the whole patch.

Prairie intrusion temporarily subdued, I wrestle refuse into compost bags,
survey my folly - to think I get things at the root, to crowd and then to mow,
but sweet red still tips my tongue as nature breathes, Yield.

    Karen Lynn Erickson

Invitation for your writing:

Make a list of things you want and need to do, and "weed" it as if it were a garden. Which things are weeds (intrusions?), and which are intentional priorities? Are any of the "weeds" invasive to the point they are endangering the others? Are you giving the things that feed you enough space, air, attention? Transform the list into a poem, maybe in a conversation format where the weeds and the intended plants can tangle up again.

February 2

No question about it - poetry is work, sometimes hard work. A person who knows said that the ratio of gift poems to work poems is one to ninety-nine. If we wait around for inspiration to hit, and poems to fall from the skies, we'll probably write one poem every ninety-nine years. So, I urge myself and you to follow Gloria Anzaldúa's admonition in "A Letter to 3rd World Women Writers":

Forget the room of your own--write in the kitchen, lock yourself in the bathroom. Write on the bus or the welfare line, on the job or during meals; between waking and sleeping. . . . While you wash the floor or clothes listen to the words chanting in your body.

This is a work poem, written as a finger exercise with my students. It's built from scraps - a line from poet Adrienne Rich and a random cluster of words.

in those years, people will say, we lost track
of the river there where it wound
through the yellow wheat,
its brother, the breath of the west wind
strumming its moist song,
now in these dry times
as rare as Indian silk
or a reggae beat
among the polka-loving Russians
of North Dakota.
Oh why did we do it?
The answer as hard to find
as needles in straw
as willows in the parched river bottoms
as meadowlarks, remembered
but never heard except in stories
the very old tell the young.
"Beautiful," they say, "their song. . . ."
These voices, too, fading
like the tracks of a wild creature
now extinct
on blowing sand.
--Mara Faulkner, OSB
The opening line is from "In Those Years" by Adrienne Rich.

Invitation for your writing:

Borrow a line from a poem you admire. Then ask a friend to give you a list of words, preferably random and concrete. Write your own poem with the borrowed line as a beginning. Let the words take you someplace new. If you get stuck, borrow another line or two, being sure to give credit to the poet.

January: Emotion Work

January 26

This poem began by questions, and the answers surprised me. Certain answers to the title question seemed obviously preferable, as normative and unequivocal; healthy people, integrated people, fully realized people would answer the question in a certain way. The poem invited a tangling with expectation that was as deeply troubling as it was comforting, as challenging as it was liberating.

I'm not sure if this poem is finished or not, but I offer it as a signpost or a way station along a path where "finished" may not be the most relevant concern.

 

Are you lost?

Are you lost, lost and wanting to be found?
Can I help you find your way?

I am lost, but have travelled far to get there
and can be lost a little longer
Strangeness, my familiar, knows me well by now.

Are you found, found and wanting to be lost?
Can I help you lose your way?

I am indeed so deeply found
I am lost in my familiar self, so ensnared
by who I am that strangeness knows me not.

Acquainted now with unfollowable pain
and unquenchable communion,
we tread the space between fervor and forgiveness.

We know that grief needs the well of being found
     so it does not spill over and drown us –

and the humility of being lost
     to make us whole as it makes us hollow.

--Karen Lynn Erickson

Invitation for your writing:

Write a poem that is nothing but a series of questions, and try to refrain from answering any of them too quickly. Or ask yourself if there are any quandaries or emotions, like anger, pain, fear, insecurity, expectation of difficulty, in your life or in the life of someone close to you that are so familiar they carry on almost unchecked, unnoticed. Ask questions and allow the answers to surprise you: Are you lost? Have you taken up residence? Write a poem to describe the familiar experience as if you are sensing it for the first time, to make it strange, and perhaps to let it go.

January 19

A character in one of John Updike's novels says, "We've lost whole octaves of feeling." I think that the octaves we've lost might be the quiet emotions that flow from simple, ordinary events and experiences. Those quiet emotions and the events they accompany make up most of our lives, but they easily get drowned out. Here, too, poetry has important work to do. With its ability to see beauty shining through plain and even dirty surfaces, it can help the poet and readers feel the quiet delight and thankfulness in even the most mundane of tasks, such as planting seeds and pulling weeds.

Summer #1

"It must be therapy for you,"
the visitor says,
eyeing my garden clothes
ragged, filthy, and 10 years out of date.
She keeps her distance
suspecting that I smell
or fearing I'll touch her with hands
that won’t be clean till Thanksgiving.

Therapy!
What would that word mean
to the poplar shimmering silvergreen
and pushing little rootlets through the asphalt of the driveway
or the maples scattering their seed?

Did creating every fruitbearing plant cure God
of some primordial angst?

I see my mother up early every morning for 60 summers
small and weathered at the far end
of 200-foot rows of tomatoes and cucs.
Not therapy but darn hard work
to feed her family and surround with flowers
a ramshackle life.

I think of the seeds still underground
and their sweet, precise names—
     Detroit Dark Reds
     Scarlet Nantes
     Sugarbush
     Straight Eights.
Soon the birds and I will vie for the berries.
Before long I'll eat green beans
savory with onions
each flavor distinct and sharp.
And then I'll carry russets and red Norlands home
in the basket of my hands.

Wishing I could say that gardening is nothing
but life itself
eating and being eaten
feeding and being fed
I only wave and smile
and bend to my weed-friendly rows
as the cage of my ribs swings wide.

--Mara Faulkner, OSB

Invitation for your writing:
Make a list of the things you do every day or regularly, the more ordinary the better—changing diapers, grading papers, peeling vegetables, changing the oil in the car, emptying the kitty litter, harvesting sugar beets, mucking out the barn. Describe one of them in all its spectacular plainness.

January 12

If foods can enfold us in memory, so too can a song or a fragrance or sensation bring back to our conscious mind whole layers of experience. Returning to a place can be wistful or painful if it reminds us of loss -- we might feel it is too soon; returning to a place we have not seen since a time of loss can also help us see, help us accept the process of grief and healing.

Revisiting St. Martin-in-the-Fields

So this is what closure feels like – a mild
lengthening of clipped phrases and a lingering,
solid and full of grief, over memories and places
I had to skate over quickly before.

Closure is not release – it is a cadence resolved,
a weight anchoring the end of something no longer
left hanging, no suspense, no airy wondering,
no habit of pain, no self rich with suffering.

Closure is the signal clicked off. Closure is
the floor swept clean of all the remains of the party,
the confetti and the broken heel and the water stain
on the table, the gift wrap torn in festive frenzy
and the cigarette burn on the prized piano.

Closure is the door latching after a long walk on the beach,
the cleaning of the shells, the setting them in a bowl
where they invariably look less lovely
than you thought they would,
dried, unpolished, washed clean of debris.
We come to an arrangement,
a done thing, a habit soon quite silent, indifferent, like bones.

Closure is not life and it is not death. It is an attitude toward
the endlessly moving tide that flings up shells for us to find,
and pocket, and clean, and then forget. Closure feels like loss
when it settles on the heart, but it is rather a solid presence,
a window opened so the bee can escape.

We did not know she was there
when we closed it just as the storm was breaking.

Karen Lynn Erickson
From Dwellings. Copyright © 2013 by Karen Erickson. Used with permission of The Permissions Company, Inc., on behalf of Finishing Line Press, www.finishinglinepress.com.

Invitation for your writing:
Choose a strong emotion like grief and experiment with the puzzle of absence and presence. In what ways is your chosen strong emotion well represented by things that are there, present, taking up space, even blocking passage, in the way? In what ways is absence a better category to express the experience?

January 5

"Hi, how are you?"
"Fine, and you?"
"Fine."
* * *
"I'm so sorry for your loss."
"Yeah, it’s been rough."

Many of our daily conversations follow this pattern, but not because we're uninterested in each other's lives or unwilling to talk about what's under the surface. Many times we can't do it because our feelings are too raw, too muddled, too contradictory; they frighten us with their bald honesty. Poetry, with its love of honest emotion, dislike for platitudes, and trust of ambiguity, leads us into the depths and lets us emerge with words that answer the question, "How are you, really?" This poem helped me answer that question after my brother's sudden death.

Baked Beans: A Word from the Dead

How I long for a voice to break
            the long silence,
            a country strange and vast without sustenance.
A word in dream or vision to say, "I'm safe home. I'm happy.
      I'm myself and more, the person you knew and loved
            and didn't know."
Day and night I'm listening
            but not a word
            my brother as silent in death
            as he was in life
            when his mother and sisters waited months or years
            for a letter or a call
            as he trudged West, shedding possessions and people.
Just at the end he turned and flashed a smile,
            and then was gone.
Though he's in that new place where distance disappears

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