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“If one advances confidently in the direction of his dreams, and endeavors to live the life which he has imagined, he will meet with a success unexpected in common hours. He will put some things behind, will pass an invisible boundary; new, universal, and more liberal laws will begin to establish themselves around and within him; or the old laws be expanded, and interpreted in his favor in a more liberal sense, and he will live with the license of a higher order of beings.”

― Henry David Thoreau, Walden

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With the annual New Jersey Society of Children’s Books Writers and illustrators (NJ SCBWI) June Conference on the horizon one has to think – there is something so amazing about so many individuals all streaming into one location from all over the country for a single purpose – to share, to learn and to grow in the one thing that unites us all – children’s books. We meet old friends and make some new, share and see amazing illustration, and have the opportunity to sit in workshops and at lunch tables, not just with our peers, but with editors and agents from some of the finest publishing companies and agencies in the U.S. Cheers to us all!

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This little phrase is bandied about all over the place nowadays; it’s on mugs, tee shirts, posters and more. And like so many sayings that become pop sensations, there is an undeniable element of truth in it.

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I was reading, (kind of re-reading and reflecting on, actually), Deepak Chopra’s small volume titled The Seven Spiritual Laws of Success, which are, according to Chopra, really the same as the Seven Spiritual Laws of Life. In the chapter about the fourth spiritual law, the Law of Least Effort, he writes about how easily we can fulfill our desires by learning, as nature can exemplify, how to do less and accomplish more. There are three little lessons within this law, and the one that reflects this post’s title is the one I am currently pondering.

The idea is to accept people, events, and situations exactly as they are in this very moment, versus what we would like them to be. Sounds so easy, but it’s not always the case. So much of our unhappiness comes from our disappointment and frustration that people and situations are not what we’d hoped, expected and/or planned. Think about it. We did something nice and so-and-so didn’t even have the courtesy to thank us, or didn’t thank us enough, soon enough, or whatever. We planned so carefully for a party and it rained. In addition to that, some people didn’t show up, and they never called or texted, etc. And we become miserable. The variations are endless, and of course, run the gamut from day-to-day occurrences to life-changing events.

7SpiritualLaws-DChopra2Life is filled with all kinds of disappointments and we have a choice to accept them and let them go … or not. When we don’t, and we grab on like the proverbial dog on a bone? we become yet more miserable. We can make ourselves crazy. This accepting of “It is what is is” seems to me to be a lifelong lesson, to be learned again and again in different circumstances and at different levels of awareness. While expending less energy on what isn’t or what might have been, we gain so much more for other things.

Chopra makes analogies with nature, such as fish – they just swim, or grass – it just grows. Imagine if grass worried if it would be mowed or chewed on by cows or destroyed by weed killer. It doesn’t — it just grows. We can do that, too. Accept this exact moment as it is. It’s not to say we can’t intend for things to be different in the future, but right now? It is what it is.

It can be easy. Or a worthwhile challenge. Or the ruin of our day. Our pick.

 

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There are so many ways one can get lost on the web, between websites, social media, blogs, etc., but then there are places where you simply feel found. One of those places is on the ANHonestHouse-CReyes-Cover2lovely blog of Cynthia Reyes, where I find myself on a regular basis. Not only is Cynthia a wonderful writer with something to say, but she is also a published author whose second book, An Honest House, has just been released.

An Honest House is a memoir, designed to be read as a standalone or as the sequel of the memoir she started in 2013 with her first book, A Good Home.

Perhaps a step back is in order as a backdrop to Cynthia’s latest accomplishment – A Good Home is described as a “profoundly emotional book about the author’s early life in rural Jamaica, her move to urban North America, and her trips back home, all told through vivid descriptions of the unique homes she has lived in — from a tiny pink house in Jamaica and a mountainside cabin near Vancouver to the historic Victorian farmhouse AGoodHome-CReyes-Cover2she lives in today … Full of lovingly drawn characters and vividly described places, A Good Home takes the reader through deeply moving stories of marriage, children, the death of parents, and an accident that takes its high-flying author down a humbling notch.”

Fast forward to the release of An Honest House three years later which picks up “from the early days of her recovery from a car accident, as told in her first book, A Good Home, she shares in this new book intensely lyrical stories of life with her husband Hamlin in their historic farmhouse north of Toronto …You will be challenged as the author immerses you in the reality of post-traumatic stress disorder, depression, and the courage it takes to live with chronic pain. And you will say a wrenching farewell to the farmhouse as she opens a new chapter in a life still devoted to creating beauty out of the materials life serves up to her, be they dark and haunting or light and joyful.”

From everything I have read about An Honest House, and from what I’ve learned over the past few years of Cynthia through her blog, the journey with her through her challenges and successes, her fears and her triumphs, will be one well worth taking.

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This past weekend was the wonderful, huge, annual library sale that I go to every year, and below you see my haul.

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What? You don’t see any books? That’s because I never got there. Being under the weather for a few days, plus it was raining non-stop, I knew my best bet was to stay home and feel better. I missed the excitement of just being around the thousands of books, and certainly the traditional follow-up lunch with my friend in which we go over our multitude of finds, but in the end, I am hardly bookless.

I still have books from last year’s venture; friends share books all the time; I have bookshelves stuffed with selections I’ve yet to read or would happily read again; and … the local library is in a decent walking distance from my home. I am living in a very book-rich world.

AllTheLight-ADoerr2Not to mention, I am still living in the world of Anthony Doerr, Pulitzer Prize winning author of  All the Light We Cannot See. Yesterday, before I closed-up shop for the day on my work, I read a bit online about him and his other books, and watched a video of how he came to write this phenomenal book. I also looked at photographs of Saint Malo, the walled city on the coast of Brittany, bombed practically beyond recognition at the end of World War II, and an important location for much of the story. Doerr wanted to write a different tale about the war, and much like the outstanding author of The Book Thief, Markus Zusak, he certainly has done that. I am at times brought to tears at the beauty of Doerr’s use of words, and am moved by the story he tells.

As I approach the end of the book, I am deeply saddened by what has happened to one of the characters, but am holding out hope for the others. Soon I will be returning this novel to my local library, never knowing if my next book will be in the stacks, sitting in the $1.00 shelves at the front desk, or waiting for me here at home. I don’t own a kindle, and don’t read online. I thoroughly enjoy the weight of a book in my hands, the smell of paper and ink, the turning of the pages, and the placing of a bookmark where I’ll begin again as soon as I’m able.

We who love to read are a lucky lot, are we not?

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If you had asked me 5 or 6 years ago if I liked historical fiction, my answer would have been “Meh.”

Sadly, I was effectively turned off to all things history as a child, when my first learning experiences labeled “History” were nothing more than an endless dry and boring series of names, dates, places and events to be absorbed and later regurgitated on tests. In retrospect, our teachers had to cover 7 or 8 different subjects daily, so what were chances that any of them would be a real history buff and would teach us history with great enthusiasm and insight? Apparently, pretty slim.

KiteRunner-KHosseiniIt wasn’t until college when I had an exceptional professor who taught Contemporary Civilization in the context of art, (I was at an art school), and for the first time someone teaching history had neurons in my brain firing rapidly. History suddenly came alive! Unfortunately, at that point, I had very little mental framework in my brain to hang it on. But I started to take an interest in the subject.

What really kicked my interest into high gear has happened in more recent years when I would come across a novel set in a particular place and time period, so rich and textured, that I wanted to learn more. One of those books was The Kite Runner by Khaled Hosseini, and it sent me flying to the internet to learn about the Afghani people and what was transpiring in Afghanistan during the time this novel took place. I cannot recall the country of Afghanistan mentioned once in history or geography in my childhood education, but now, here was a piece of fascinating history.

ShanghaiGirle-LSee2The two novels that recently afforded me that desire to delve into history were those by author Lisa See, Shanghai Girls and Dreams of Joy.The first novel begins when Shanghai was known as the Paris of Asia, and sisters May and Pearl were  “beautiful girls”, models. With their father having lost all their money, the sisters, with their mother, must flee Shanghai as the Japanese invade China. The sisters were forced to emigrate to the United States in arranged marriages. From their interment on Angel’s Island to creating lives for themselves and their families in Los Angeles’ Chinatown, we follow the complex relationship of Pearl and May and Pearl’s daughter, Joy.

In Dreams of Joy, Joy, now in college and angry at her family’s deception and distraught over one family member’s suicide, secretly runs away to China to find her true father. Her studies have convinced her that Communism is the best of all systems, and she is determined to start her own life, although  DreamsOfJoy-LSee2she is soon to be profoundly discouraged and isolated. Pearl leaves the states to search for her daughter, encountering endless roadblocks along the way. The backdrop of much of the novel is the time under Chairman Mao and The Great Leap Forward, a time of alleged progress in which a famine took the lives of millions of Chinese people. (From Wikipedia – “The Great Leap ended in catastrophe, resulting in tens of millions of deaths, estimated from 18 million to 32.5 or 45 million. Historian Frank Dikotter asserts that “coercion, terror, and systematic violence were the foundation of the Great Leap Forward” and it “motivated one of the most deadly mass killings of human history”.)

Lisa See writes about family and relationships and this alone would have held my attention, but told against the backdrop of both China and the United States in times of political change and turmoil of every kind, I searched to know more. My knowledge of history is still spotty, but through the pages of beautifully written historical novels, I continue to learn. It seems history stands at my back door, always with a hand raised, always ready to knock.

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One of the (many) wonders of books is that they sometimes arrive at just the right time. Perhaps it’s not exactly a magical book but it’s the one that’s juuuust right for where we are and what we need to read right now.

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For example, a dear friend of mine came upon a book not long ago and was just over the moon about it. She got me so excited that I went immediately to my local library and borrowed it. I began to read. I was not excited or over the moon as I’d hoped; in fact, I was occasionally disenchanted by the author’s style, which was quite different from what I’d read of hers previously but seemed to me to be trying a little too hard to be hip and cool. I continued reading, sometimes really enjoying it, and while I felt it got better towards the end, it never made me jump up and down.

So I returned the book to the library, and talked about the book with my wonderful librarian, who is also familiar with the author, and she said she’d give it a try. Her response was that she liked it. Not crazy about it, but what had bothered me did not bother her, and she would read some more. And there you have it. Kind of like Goldilocks and the three bears, I thought.

For one of us it just wasn’t the right fit; for another it was enjoyable, but not fabulous; but for the original reader it was exactly the right size and the perfect book for her right now. And that’s what makes books so wonderful. Certain books come into our hands, into our lives, and they are exactly what we want – and/or need – to read at that moment in time. I’ve certainly encountered books like that – haven’t you? The story, or the information, is so meaningful right then that it just couldn’t be any better.

Sometimes it takes a while for that book to appear in our hands, but we always know it when it arrives. For those of us who write, or at least for me, it is my dream to write that book for children that will be exactly what they want – or need – at that moment in time. Even if it’s only one child, I’ll be happy.

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Ada-TitlePage2Welcome and thanks for stopping by. Visiting today is debut author and friend, Laurie Wallmark. Accompanying her – at least in spirit – is the brilliant young scientist, Ada Byron Lovelace.

Ada Byron Lovelace and the Thinking Machine is a picture-book biography of the world’s first computer programmer. Ada was born two hundred years ago, long before the invention of the modern electronic computer. At a time when girls and women had few options outside the home, Ada followed her dreams and studied mathematics. This book, by Laurie Wallmark and April Chu, tells the story of a remarkable woman and her work. Kirkus Reviews describes the book as a “splendidly inspiring introduction to an unjustly overlooked woman.” [starred review]

Laurie’s blog tour hosts had some options in our presentations, so I offered some interview questions that will hopefully show us a different side of Ada. I’ve also included some of the book’s stunning artwork by April Chu.

Still A Dreamer: Having read as much as you have about Ada, what do you imagine Ada would make of social media? If alive today, would she tweet? Have a blog? Be on Facebook? How would she use them?

Laurie: Ada would most definitely use social media as a method of communication with her fellow scientists and mathematicians. She often attended evening salons at Charles Babbage’s house to connect and exchange information. Social media would have allowed her to do this more easily and frequently. Through Facebook and Twitter, she could hear about the many marvels of the Industrial Revolution without waiting for them to be published in scientific journals. With a blog, she could share her many scientific theories and receive feedback from her peers.

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SAD: Although Ada might have laughed at the term, she was a visionary. There have been so many technological discoveries since her own, what advances/inventions might Ada make use of were she alive today? How would she have used them to advance her own knowledge?

L: The greatest technological boon to Ada’s studies would be, without doubt, the Internet. As discussed above, social media could provide her with a wealth of information. More than that, websites of organizations like the Royal Society (the UK national academy of science) and individuals like the polymath Mary Somerville would be invaluable. Even seemingly minor inventions, like e-readers, would be useful since Ada was so often ill and confined to bed. With an e-reader, she could easily keep up with her studies.

SAD: Lord Byron the poet was Ada’s father, but had little to do with her upbringing, correct? At any point, to your knowledge, did either acknowledge/praise the wonderful accomplishments of the other?

L: Ada’s mother separated her from Lord Byron when Ada was only one month old. She was never allowed to see or interact with her father after that. Lord Byron, though, lovingly wrote of Ada in his poem, Childe Harold’s Pilgrimage:

Is thy face like thy mother’s, my fair child!
Ada! sole daughter of my house and heart?
When last I saw thy young blue eyes they smiled,
And then we parted—not as now we part—
But with a hope—*

He died when Ada was only nine years old.

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SAD: The $54,000 question – How can Ada’s work, which began as a child, reach girls today, (other than buying your book, of course), and inspire them?

L: Several organizations have used Ada’s name as a rallying point for their cause. The Ada Initiative (recently shut down) supported women in open-source technology and culture. One of their major achievements was to formulate a code of conduct signed by most major tech companies for appropriate behavior at technical conferences,. And of course there’s Ada Lovelace Day, a celebration of the achievements of women in STEM (science, technology, engineering, and math). On this day, people throughout the world blog about girls and women involved in technical activities. In 2015, October 13 is Ada Lovelace Day. Not coincidentally, this is also the release date of Ada Byron Lovelace and the Thinking Machine.

Join Laurie as she travels from blog to blog to introduce her debut picture book, Ada Byron Lovelace and the Thinking Machine. All stops are listed at: http://lauriewallmark.com/blogtour.php.

Laurie writes exclusively for children of all ages and has a lifetime love of, and involvement in, math and science as well. Learn more about Laurie at her
Website –  http://www.lauriewallmark.com,
on Facebook –  https://www.facebook.com/lauriewallmarkauthor
on Twitter – https://twitter.com/lauriewallmark

Better yet, come meet Laurie in person at her book launch on Sunday, Oct. 25th from 1 to 4 p.m. at The Book Garden in Frenchtown, NJ!

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AbsolutelyTrueDiary-SAlexie2I’m always glad to see that more and more publicity is given to banned books. Why? Because to me, banning books is the same as infringing on the right to free speech, except in print. Simple, right? Maybe even obvious.

I’ve pictured here the cover of number one of the ten top most frequently challenged YA (young adult) books in America, The Absolutely True Diary of a Part-Time Indian by Sherman Alexie. It’s a YA novel about a boy on the Spokane reservation who starts going to an all-white farm-oriented high school. (I apologize for the blandness and brevity of that description, but I’m not going for a book review in this post, so please do read more about it.) However, this novel also tops the list of ALL of the top ten banned or challenged books of 2014.

Why is it challenged/banned? The ALA, (American Library Association) provides the following reasons:”anti-family, cultural insensitivity, drugs/alcohol/smoking, gambling, offensive language, sex education, sexually explicit, unsuited for age group, violence. Additional reasons: “depictions of bullying”.

Hmmmm  – everything teenagers are facing in everyday life nowadays.

But don’t take my word for it – please read more on the ALA’s page on banned and challenged books, how they come up with their determinations, and many more links, including the top hundred most challenged book by decade. This is fascinating reading to me because I am always amazed that in a country which so strongly defends freedom of speech, we want to burn those words when they’re written down.

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Cover-Ada-4Blog2What I’ve learned from my friends who’ve been published is that there is no end to the things one can – and sometimes must – do to promote one’s own books. What I learned of not too long ago is what’s called a blog tour. My friend Laurie – or perhaps her main character, Ada – is on one now, and next week, I’ll be a stop on the tour. Who knew?

Laurie Wallmark‘s debut picture book, Ada Byron Lovelace and the Thinking Machine is set for release October 13th, but her blog tour began on September 12th and continues through early November. Each week Laurie does interviews, writes about her book, writing in general, and more. It’s a job in and of itself!

She and Ada will be stopping by Still A Dreamer on Friday, October 2nd, so I hope you’ll pop in for a very interesting interview, and some additional information about this fascinating young woman who created the first computer program.

Artwork for the picture book was done by the very talented April Chu, and is phenomenal. I might be able to give you a peek at that, too.

See you soon!

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I could use a vacation about now. How about you? I don’t see one on the horizon for awhile, so I guess I’ll be content with the occasional day trip and travels with authors who take me places I’ve never been and/or long to be.

 

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The Outermost House is a narrative about the year Henry Beston spent on Cape Cod in 1925. His intention was to spend two weeks, but “The fortnight ending, I lingered on, and as the year lengthened into autumn, the beauty and mystery of this earth and outer sea so possessed and held me that I could not go.”

OutermostHouse-HBeston2I visited Cape Cod several times when I was younger, and I loved it. Even though I grew up with fairly easy access to the many beautiful shore spots in New Jersey, there was something different about Cape Cod … even the air. A vacation for me could easily be living near the ocean, sitting peacefully, maybe reading, maybe just watching the tides. The ocean is immensely restorative – her rhythms, her colors, her moods. Nothing really needs to be said when you sit by her side. But I would like the option to enjoy this as a relatively solitary activity most of the time, i.e., not accompanied by the noise, activity and intrusion of beachgoers. And so I will be turning back the clock and enjoying the unspoiled magnificence of nature in this spot on Cape Cod.

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Henry Beston and The Outermost House actually came to my attention at least 15 years ago through a magnificent quote from his book:

“We need another and a wiser and perhaps a more mystical concept of animals. Remote from universal nature and living by complicated artifice, man in civilization surveys the creature through the glass of his knowledge and sees thereby a feather magnified and the whole image in distortion. We patronize them for their incompleteness, for their tragic fate for having taken form so far below ourselves. And therein do we err. For the animal shall not be measured by man. In a world older and more complete than ours, they move finished and complete, gifted with the extension of the senses we have lost or never attained, living by voices we shall never hear. They are not brethren, they are not underlings: they are other nations, caught with ourselves in the net of life and time, fellow prisoners of the splendour and travail of the earth.”

And that’s another reason I’m joining Henry in Cape Cod.

 

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Summer’s a great time to read – it doesn’t matter if you’re on the front porch or in the A/C, if it’s in the cool morning or squeezing it in for a half-hour before you turn out the light – it just seems that time must be made to read. So what are you reading? And how do you decide what to read?

OneCrazySummer-RWGarcia2I find that friends often have great suggestions, especially if they’re involved in children’s books, too. One friend, getting her MFA in Writing for Children and Young Adults, comes up with great suggestions because she’s reading like a fiend while getting her degree, as does another who does constant research for her own writing in picture books. Of course, I always come across fabulous finds at our huge annual county book sale, but let’s not forget one other source …

Our humble librarians. The local librarian in my little town is a wealth of information, and by now, she also knows me well enough to make some wonderful suggestions as well, especially in KidLit. Awhile back, she had mentioned how much she enjoyed the first middle-grade book of a trilogy by Rita Williams-Garcia, One Crazy Summer. It’s about 3 girls who live in Brooklyn traveling out to Oakland, CA to meet their mother who left them 7 years earlier. I hadn’t realized initially that this is historical fiction, and the story takes place when the p.s.BeEleven-RGWilliams2Black Panthers were active in CA, as was their mother. It’s a fascinating tale that takes place when I was well aware of all the goings-on at that time, the assassination of President Kennedy, Martin Luther King, Jr, Bobby Kennedy, the Vietnam war, etc. But what really brought the story to life is Garcia’s three main characters, Delphine, Vonetta and Fern. They are so real; it’s no wonder Ms. Garcia-Williams won so many awards, including a Newbery Honor Award.

So endearing and engrossing are these sisters, that I brought back the first book, and walked right out with the second, p.s. Be Eleven, advice given to Delphine by her mother at the end of each letter she sends her, (Delphine being the oldest.) The author doesn’t shy away from big topics and now the girls, back in Brooklyn, are trying to understand what’s happened to Uncle Darnell who’s returned from Vietnam, not the Uncle D. they knew just 15 months ago. Family plays a big part in these stories and Big Ma, raised in the South, has her own ideas about raising the girls, as does Pa, but then the girls must also deal with him introducing a new lady friend and getting married. It’s real life, and all shared through the eyes of these three wonderfully drawn young  girls.

I’ve just put in a request to get the third book in the trilogy, Gone Crazy in Alabama, through inter-library loan, but meanwhile, have jumped into an adult novel, recommended by yet another friend and avid reader, Defending Jacob.

It’s summer – are you reading?

 

 

 

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Sunlight in Spring Forest, Bavaria, Germany

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