Monthly Archives: August 2013

Four Book Friday: The MT

Welcome back to Four Book Friday, a continuing series where writers and readers tell us about four books that changed their life! This week’s post comes from the elusive and mysterious MT, sister of mine as well as reader and writer. Here are the four books that changed her life!

Oh hello there. You may know me as “The MT” or the little sister of the Mackenzi Lee, both of which I am. Anywho, here’s my four book Friday:

2Harry Potter (series) by J. K. Rowling – The Harry Potter books were the books of my childhood. I have a very distinct memory of carrying around my yellow bus tape player and listening to the end of the first one on audio book over and over and over… To me, the Harry Potter series are like a close friend who has always been there for me. I read Harry Potter when I’m feeling scared, or stressed or angry, or even when I’m happy. I’ve also been able to make friends through our mutual love of Harry Potter. This series has been a rock in my life and I really don’t know what I would do without it’s characters, white and story.

https://i0.wp.com/d202m5krfqbpi5.cloudfront.net/books/1268924930l/7788995.jpgThe Silver Linings Playbook by Matthew Quick – I don’t even have enough words for how much this book has impacted my life. The Silver Linings Playbook is essentially the journal of a man named Pat who has a very severe bipolar disorder. Although I am not bipolar like Pat, I do suffer from an anxiety disorder and I learned a lot from how Pat deals with his illness. After reading this book, I found myself rethinking how I think and how I deal with my own illness. This book also had the remarkable ability to voice thoughts or events that I have dealt with, but haven’t quite been able to explain or share. Pat’s mind allowed me to express what I wanted to express and helped me change how I deal with things.

The Mark of Athena (The Heroes of Olympus, #3)The Mark of Athena by Rick Riordan – The Percy Jackson series is another one where I feel like all of the main characters are my best friends because I’ve been reading this series since I was quite young. However, I wanted to specifically highlight The Mark Of Athena because I read it at a time in my life when I had been suffering from severe artist’s block. After reading this one, I started drawing again, mainly the characters from the book and my favorite scenes. This book got my drawing again and got me sucked down the fan-art rabbit hole on Tumblr. This event also inspired a theme for my IB Art portfolio, which eventually led my IB diploma.

8071467The Watchmen’s Rattle by Rebecca Costa– Okay, so I actually haven’t read this book all the way through, but in my junior year of high school in English class, all our reading was based around conservation philosophies. This reading unit played a huge role in my choice to study Environmental Studies in college. I chose Costa’s book, because hers was my favorite of the books we read. Her writing and philosophies are brilliant.

The MT also happens to be an awesome artists. Here is some fanart she did for Mark of Athena and Harry Potter.

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When not playing Quidditch, practicing spells, solving cases with Sherlock Holmes, traveling in the TARDIS with the Doctor, the MT can usually be found slaying dragons, fighting monsters, traversing a galaxy far, far away, or saving the world. She attends Utah State University where she studies Environmental Studies. In her spare time, she enjoys drawing, playing music , writing, and being a nerd.

 

 

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in which I read books over the summer

I did a lot of reading this summer. Not as much as I usually do, but still a lot. Here are some short and sweet reviews of the things I read. Because books are the only thing I know how to talk about. 

A Darkness Strange and Lovely (Something Strange and Deadly, #2)Five Stars – books I can’t live without.

A Darkness Strange and Lovely by Susan Dennard – Steampunk zombie killers in 1870s Paris. This book was made for me. A superb sequel to a really stellar debut.

The Lover’s Dictionary by David Levithan – Beautiful and unique. If Camus wrote (500) Days of Summer. The writing is really pretentious, but I eat that stuff up.

The Ocean at the End of the Lane by Neil Gaiman – I didn’t like Neil Gaiman when I was his target audience. Now I’m a die-hard fan, and this is by far my favorite of his books. A beautiful, thoughtful blend of magical realism and reflections on childhood.

Code Name Verity by Elizabeth Wein – Fourth time reading it, first time with the audiobook (which is so stellar!). It gets better every time, and I sob and sob and sob. I will never get over this book.

Millions by Frank Cotrell Boyce – I will never stop loving this book. Read my full review on Nova Ren Suma’s blog!

Harry Potter and the Prisoner of Azkaban by JK Rowling – The best of the Harry Potters. The plotting in this book still blows my mind.

Tell the Wolves I'm HomeFour Stars ­– books I really enjoyed.

Harry Potter and the Goblet of Fire by JK Rowling – Harry Potter is what I think of when I need to cast a patronus.

Divergent by Veroinca Roth – Though you could drive an L train through the plot holes, I was pretty engaged for all five hundred pages.

The Art Forger by B.A. Shapiro – Art history, true crime, and Boston. It did not disappoint.

Bunnicula by James Howe – A book from my childhood. Didn’t realize how many words this book taught me until I read it again as an adult.

Tell the Wolves I’m Home by Carol Rifka Brunt – Award for best title ever. Gorgeous book about art and love and family set against the AIDs epidemic of the 80s.

Graceling by Kristen Cashore – Written by a Simmons grad! The pacing was really slow at times, but when it was good, it was good. Loved the fantasy superheroes concept.

Gone Girl by Gillian Flynn – Holy Mary. This was one of those “It’s ten pm, so I’ll just read a few pages…jk nope, it’s 4 am.” Heart-stopping thriller.

The Beekeeper’s Apprentice by Laurie R. King – Sherlock Holmes in retirement meets a feisty, smart Oxford girl. They team up, and it is magnificent. Mary Russell is my new literary idol.

The Prophet by Kahlil Gibran – So different than what I usually read. Really thoughtful and moving. I could live a hundred years and never understand the world this deeply.

Belle EpoqueThree Stars – Enjoyable but not memorable. Or books that have a fatal flaw. 

Paradise Lost by John Milton – Worked all summer on this one. In the end, even with the guidance of a good friend, it was too hard to figure out what was going on.

Harry Potter and the Chamber of Secrets by JK Rowling – Liked it better than I did when I was ten and terrified of snakes, but this is still my least favorite Potter.

Clockwork by Phillip Pullman – A little novella. Didn’t do much for me as a story, but it was good inspiration for my thesis.

Belle Epoque by Elizabeth Ross – Fantastic premise: ugly girls as beauty foils for the rich in Belle Epoque France. Light and lovely historical.

Legend by Marie Lu – Wanted to love this. Did not. Too many YA clichés—isolated dystopian world that makes no sense, totalitarian government, instalove. Did not live up to the hype.

Peter and the Starcatchers by Dave Berry and Riddley Pearson – Read this as a kid and it was totally unmemorable. Read it again as an adult after seeing the MARVELOUS play based on it. The play outshines the book by far.

Maid of Secrets by Jennifer McGowan – I SO wanted to love this—spies in Queen Elizabeth’s court! But I just never got into it. Too long!

The Woman in White by Wilkie Collins – Interesting Gothic romance. A less cool Wuthering Heights.

In the Shadow of BlackbirdsColonel Roosevelt by Edmund Morris – SO LONG. But I now know a lot about TR.

The Rise of Theodore Roosevelt by Edmund Morris – See above.

Fantastic Mr. Fox by Roald Dahl – Cute, fast read. Very Dahl.

In the Shadow of Blackbirds by Cat Winters – Enjoyable historical fantasy. Different perspective on WWI. All the paranormal elements weren’t quite developed or explained well enough for me, but overall a good read.

The Lightning Thief by Rick Riordan – Decided to see what all the Percy Jackson fuss was about. Turns out it’s about a light, fun book that I really enjoyed.

How I Live Now by Meg Rosoff – Little too weird for me. Could never quite figure out what was going on, but the writing was unique and interesting.

Just One Day by Gayle Forman – I just don’t do YA contemporary well. Though I liked the Europe setting and the girl starting college angle, it didn’t do much for me.

Z: A Novel of Zelda Fitzgerald by Anne Folwer – I’m obsessed with the Fitzgeralds, so I loved the source material. But there was no narrative arc—felt like a weird cross between historical fiction and nonfiction.

Transparent by Natalie Whipple – Cute, quick, and fun. X-Men meets the Godfather but not super deep.

Two Stars – Has a flaw I can’t get past. Usually I don’t finish or skim.

Starstruck

A Wrinkle in Time by Madeline L’Engle – Wish I’d read this as a kid. As an adult, it didn’t do much. And it’s hard to read the original source material of a movement after you’ve read everything that came from it.

Starstruck by Rachel Shukert – I was promised Hollywood glamour in the 40s. What I got was clichéd writing and too many characters. Did not finish.

Sorcery and Cecelia by Patricia C. Wrede, Caroline Stevermer – Jane Austen meets JK Rowling. Really cute, but the letter format made it hard for me to really connect to the stories or characters other than the two main ones.

Chime by Franny Billingsley – So wanted to love this one, but it was too weird. Could not figure out where it was set or what was going on.

Ender’s Game by Orson Scott Card – I think the problem was this book was too built up for me. Too many people loved it, and my expectations were too high. I thought the whole thing was boring, and the “twist ending” did nothing for me.

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Four Book Friday: Rebecca Wells

Welcome back to Four Book Friday, a continuing series where writers and readers tell us about four books that changed their life! This week’s post comes from Rebecca Wells. Rebecca is a bookseller and writer and one of my Simmons girls. Here are the four books that changed her life!

Walk Two MoonsWalk Two Moons by Sharon Creech – If all the books in the world were burning and I could only save one, there is a good chance it would be Walk Two Moons. Is this book perfect in every possible way? No. But it does contain the most perfect depiction of dead-parent grief I have ever read. Salamanca Tree Hiddle’s journey was painfully recognizable to me because I had gone through exactly the same thing. The first time I read Walk Two Moons, my first thought was “How did Sharon Creech know?” (I still don’t have the answer to that question, by the way. Even though I finally met Sharon Creech this year and cried. Twice.) I’ve since read my copy to pieces. The circumstances by which I make my way back to these familiar pages don’t matter — in every encounter, Walk Two Moons makes me feel less alone in the world. And isn’t that what extraordinary books are supposed to do?

Snow White, Blood RedSnow White, Blood Red edited by Ellen Datlow and Terri Windling – Books like this make me infinitely grateful that my father exercised no parental control over my reading habits whatsoever. I was probably eleven or twelve when I picked up Snow White, Blood Red at our local Borders (RIP) and asked my father if I could get it. I have no idea what went through his head when he looked at the (fairly mature) cover, but he bought it for me. Snow White, Blood Red may not have begun my love affair with fairy tales, but it was definitely the first book that hooked its claws into my flesh and refused to let go. The stories in this book aren’t the ones you remember from the Disney movies. They’re darker, bloodier, sexier, and utterly captivating. Snow White, Blood Red opened my eyes to the ways in which familiar tales can be twisted and broken to form new wholes — a lesson in writing that I carry with me to this day. I devoured this book and promptly spent the next several months hunting down the other five titles in the series, even the out-of-print ones. (It speaks to how young I was that this was the first encounter I remember having with the idea of “out of print.” What do you mean, I can’t get every book I want?)
Sabriel (Abhorsen,  #1)Sabriel by Garth Nix – I have a hard time saying anything about Sabriel other than SQUEE. The world is captivating, the story compelling, the characters entrancing. There’s a certain air of different-ness in its pages that I’ve since come to associate with Australian authors. But what really drove me to include Sabriel on this list was the romance. Too often I see young adult titles in which the main characters are together because they’re just perfect for each other, and that’s that. In many ways Sabriel is the anti-typical young adult romance. The relationship that is forged is built on complex characters who each have their own agenda. They both have places to go and demons to banish, and the idea that they may end up together is not the primary motivating force behind their actions. Sabriel taught me that there was no law in young adult mandating its romance be bubble gum perfect — instead, its romance is complex, deep, and never obvious.

The Truth About ForeverThe Truth About Forever by Sarah Dessen – …But even though complex is great, sometimes you just feel the need for bubble gum perfect. Sarah Dessen is one of those universally acknowledged Queens of young adult, and for good reason. Sarah Dessen books are familiar, comforting, and identifiable — like a root beer float on a hot summer day, or afternoons spent lazing in a hammock with your best friend. I’ve read most of her work, but the one I return to any time I need a pick-me-up is The Truth About Forever. I completely identified with Macy’s perfectionist-student role, as well as her complicated feelings regarding her father’s death. This book made me want to be Macy, to join a catering company, and to find (and kiss) my very own Wes. I’ve read The Truth About Forever so many times that its spine is now broken, but it never fails to cheer me up and restore some of my faith in the universe.

Rebecca Wells is a California transplant now living on the east coast, where it boggles her mind that it’s possible to cross states in less than a day. She wears many hats, including those of writer, graduate student, and bookseller. You can find some of her other internet musings at http://elephantsontrapezes.blogspot.com, or on Twitter at @rebeccawriting, where she maintains the unpopular opinion that dogs are infinitely superior to cats.

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in which the MT goes to college

When I was twelve years old, my birthday present was new paint, furniture, and carpet in my bedroom. After we cleared all the old furniture out and my dad painted, we had one day between the installation of the carpet and the moving in of the new furniture. And I had an empty, empty room.

So the MT and I did what any two kids would do. We took our Star Wars action figures, separated them between good guys and bad guys on opposite sides of the room, and had the Epic Action Figure Battle of the Century.

It was our longest Star Wars game ever, which is saying a lot. We played for hours. I think my parents actually consented to delay moving in the furniture so we could keep playing1.And towards the end of it all, I remember lying on the floor in the center of the room, me with Anakin and the MT with Yoda, listening to our voices echo against the empty walls and come back to us. And the MT said, “Can we do this forever?”

Piano Recital 018

Look at the little MT and the little Mackenzi Lee.This is probably the cutest we ever were. Also the last time we touched each other.

But we didn’t. The next morning, the new furniture got moved in. The Star Wars game ended. And we didn’t play with the action figures too much after that. I got older, and pretty soon the MT did too. We put the action figures in the basement, and we grew up.

This past week, the MT and I were driving around Cottonwood Heights doing some last minute shopping to prelude her move to Logan, Utah, where she’s going to be starting college on Monday. We were talking about dumb stuff2. But as we drove down Fort Union, I looked over her and all I wanted to say was, “Can we do this forever?”

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The MT is my only sister. There really hasn’t been a time when we weren’t close. For the past eighteen years, I have never been in our house without her. Even when I’ve gone away, I could always count on her being there when I came back, sprawled in the green Lazy boy, sketching with her big blue headphones and her grunge band t-shirts. She would look up at me and say, “Oh, you’re here.” And then go back to her drawing like I’d never left.

But on Saturday, the MT packed her life in our Subaru, and she drove to Logan. And in all likelihood, the MT and I will never be in the same place at the same time again for a summer or a year. The most we’ll have is spotty weeks of vacation and Christmas. We’ll grow up, we’ll move away, we’ll have our own lives separate from each other.

mt and me

This was a while ago. The MT was still a blonde. And those sunglasses died years ago.

It’s very rare in life that we know something is the last time. We don’t know the last time we’re going to see someone or the last time we’re ever going to visit a place. Usually things just disappear without warning. But last week, I was so acutely aware of the fact that the MT and I were living out the last days of our lives thus far.

I was pretty blue about it on Sunday. I kept saying things like, “If the MT were here…”

But I realized sad is the wrong thing to be. Sad is a waste of time, and totally misplaced. Because there are so many amazing and cool things that are about to happen to the MT, and too me too, I suppose, and this is just a step on the path towards them. And it’s funny how sometimes you can’t imagine things changing, but as soon as they do, you can’t imagine ever going back to how they were before. Mostly because it’s just time to be different.

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So here’s to the MT. Here’s to all the things she’s done and a whole new set of adventures ahead of her. Here’s to the things she’ll learn and the people she’ll meet, to the totally wonderful things that will happen to her and the really sucky things too, and to how she’ll deal with them—with grace and courage and kindness. I know she will, because she’s my sister, the only person I know as well as myself, and I know that she is extraordinary.

I don’t always know what to believe in, but I know I believe in her.

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Our relationship in a picture.

Good luck at college, MT. And whatever you do, be good or be good at it.

  1. My dad joined us at one point to be all the bad guys, and pulled what is maybe the sneakiest move in the history of Star Wars action figures. He took this random snowman figure from our doll house and sent him as a representative from the bad guys to parlay with the MT and my good guys. As the snowman walked across no man’s land, he said, “Don’t hurt me! I’m just a snowman!” So the MT and I called a cease fire. Then the snowman whipped out a machine gun and massacred us. Nefarious.
  2. We mostly we communicate in Doctor Who quotes and trivia.
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in which I discuss the thoroughly modern woman

Allow me a moment to muse on female heroines. I am not a bra-burning feminist and my opinions here are pretty mild, so I hope no one runs away.

This past weekend, I went with some friends to see Thoroughly Modern Millie, one of my favorite campy Broadway musicals. I saw this show once when I was around twelve and loved it. The dancing, the flappers, the 20s music—but the thing I really remembered loving was Millie. Twelve year old me loved Millie as a character. Even at twelve, before I understood what sexism felt like, I recognized that Millie was different from most of the women that populated musicals. She was sassy, smart, and brave, and I carried Millie with me for years as a heroine with something to hold onto.

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Millie as played by Sutton Foster on Broadway
Is she not the most gorgeous thing you’ve ever seen!?

So then I saw Thoroughly Modern Millie again this weekend, and it was exactly the same delightful show I remembered. But about halfway through, II found myself thinking, “I don’t remember this show being so much about marriage.” Little me had not registered that Millie, brave and driven as she is, was all the time driving towards finding herself a husband. But as I watched the show, I realized that her goal in no way destroyed my image of her as the feminist icon that I had carried from my tweens. Millie was still, in a lot of ways, everything I wanted to be, despite the fact that marriage is pretty low on my priorities list and I don’t usually associate feminist icons with a strong desire to settle down with a man.

Which got me thinking.

I read a really great article last week called “Why I Hate Strong Female Characters” by Sophia McDougal. Though I don’t agree with everything she says, I liked the main take away, which is that the idea of a Strong Female Character is a damaging one. First because it creates a differentiation between the genders that we are trying to fight. No one every praises a book for having a strong male character, but we say it all the time about women.

The article also pushed back against the idea that a strong female character is one who wears trousers, cuts her hair short, and knows how to fight. So many books and movies today say, “Look! Woman fires a gun! Woman punches snarky man in face! She is strong! She is independent! She is sexy! Aspire to be her!” In my experience, these are the women that usually come off as violent and volatile, but they lack their own drive in life. And when the moment comes for them to actually take a stand and take care of themselves, they fall apart.

Millie doesn’t throw any punches. She doesn’t go into battle. She doesn’t hold a gun. She does bob her hair, but that’s all in pursuit of fashion. What she does do is set her sights on what she wants, move actively towards it, roll with the setbacks that come along the way, and adjust her plan to fit them. And in the end, she recognizes and lets go of her flaws. Which are all things I want to emulate in my own life.

It didn’t matter that she wanted to get married and I don’t. I’ve been laboring for a while under an incorrect idea that a desire to fall in love and get married is a defect in a woman’s character, and I’m trying to let go of that. Millie showed me otherwise. She is an example of a woman who is fine on her own but better with someone else. It doesn’t make her weak. It doesn’t mean she needs a man to complete her. It just means she knows what she wants, and she goes, and she finds it and she gets it. And I freaking love that.

To me, what makes a compelling heroine is a woman who is actively in pursuit of what she wants. Whether that is marriage or a career or a perfect cup of tea, that is what I want in my heroines. A woman who is active in her own life rather than acted upon. Wanting love and marriage does not make a woman weak any more than kicking ass and taking names makes her strong.

That is what I want in my friends, male and female, and in my own life: people who find what they want and they go for it.

And that is about as opinionated as I get. Carry on, and happy Monday.

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Four Book Friday: Tracy Marchini

Welcome back to Four Book Friday, a continuing series where writers and readers tell us about four books that changed their life! This week’s post comes from Tracy Marchini, a former literary agent and current children’s author. Here are the four books that changed her life!
There is a clear disadvantage to being an August child. One, my birthday party was always on days when my friends’ families were squeezing in their last summer vacations. And two, my penchant for August means that so many of the books that I would have chosen for Four Book Friday have already been discussed! (Clearly, Mackenzie and her friends have good taste!) In order to avoid repeats, my four would have to be:
https://i0.wp.com/cdn1.fishpond.com.au/0005/770/521/2013245/4.jpegChatty Chipmunk’s Nutty Day by Suzanne Gruber and Doug Cushman – Though this is an easy reader now, when I was a child it would have been considered a picture book. And I loved it. I loved the repeating refrain (“Chitter, chitter, chatter. I like nuts!”), the artwork and the appearance of a cat (perhaps because I subconsciously knew that I would spend the next eight years of my life begging for one.)  As a child, I did not wonder if the cat would be more interested in the chipmunk than his winter acorn stash. Now – in my wiser, elder years – I think that I probably misunderstood the obviously murderous look on the cat’s face.
 
https://i0.wp.com/www.horsebooksplus.com/shop_image/product/28123.jpgA Treasury of Fairy Tales by Lucy Kincaid, Eric Kincaid and Gerry EmbletonThis book broke my young heart. Or more so, the destruction of this book by my younger brother (who, granted, was only four or five), broke my heart. This was the most gorgeous, illustrated collection of fairy tales my eyes had ever seen. Each fairy tale was a page to three pages max, with lush illustrations surrounding the page. I would have compared it to an illuminated manuscript, if I knew what that was at the time and ignored the difference between tri-color printing and painstakingly illustrating individual pages by hand. Even the end papers were lush! But when my brother threw it down the stairs and it snapped in two – with the cover going in one direction and the story of Snow White split right at the climax – it probably was the birth of my desire to never lend books to friends, lest they crack the spine. (I have mostly gotten over this. Depending on the book.)
The Secret of the Old Clock (Nancy Drew, #1)Nancy Drew and ::fill in the blank here:: by Carolyn KeeneI followed Nancy Drew from her days of her vintage, blue 1970’s Mustang convertible to a puffy haired, puffy sleeved Bess in the Nancy Drew Case Files. At night, I would read until the point where Nancy was about to go into a dark room alone, then close the book and tuck it under the bed (not because books were ever censored in my house — it was more of a “Joey throwing Little Women in the freezer” reaction.) Then I’d pick it up again in the morning — Yay, daylight!
To me, Nancy was fearless — the kind of teen I wanted to be. (Though I wondered if she’d really spend that much time with Bess. What did they talk about, really?)
Caveat: This is not to say that Nancy and I would have agreed on all things. There are obvious problems with racism/sexism/classism in the original (and decades of rewritten) Nancy Drews. If the 1980’s were the decade of the superwoman, one could argue that a contemporary Nancy reflected that and that is why my recollection of the series is Nancy as a fearless/do-it-all-to-perfection woman. This, of course, comes with problems of its own. Moving on…
Pride and PrejudicePride and Prejudice by Jane Austen – In college, I did an independent study on Jane Austen’s politics. I had a friend at the time who was also an English major, and he hated Jane Austen with the passion of a thousand burning suns. I tried to convince him that Austen’s novels were actually very smart, sociopolitical commentaries, but to him she was just a silly woman who wrote trashy books.

So one day, I printed out a couple of Jane Austen quotes, and my roommate and I tucked them into various parts of his car, so that he’d have a little Jane Austen with him wherever he went. Fast forward a few days, and I walk into my bedroom and it is covered in thousands of little slips of paper, individually cut into little rectangles that say, “Jane Austen Sucks.” Years after graduation, I still occasionally find one of these papers.

ImageTracy Marchini is a freelance editor and author. She’s worked at a Manhattan literary agency, as a children’s book reviewer and newspaper correspondent. More about her editorial work and her books for children and teens can be found at www.tracymarchini.com. She’s also on Twitter at @TracyMarchini, where she daily fights the urge to tweet pictures of her favorite picture book protagonists — ducks.

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in which I solve a Maurice Sendak mystery

When I was a kid, I wanted to be a detective.

I think every kid goes through this phase at one point, and I remember mine very distinctly. I read detective books. Played detective games1. Had a detective club2.

But I was never good at solving mysteries. Not even the really obvious ones that all my friends claimed they had figured out from page five. I combated this by mostly reading mystery books that were billed as unsolvable, like Westing Game and And Then There Were None, so I didn’t feel so stupid when I couldn’t figure them out.

I’ve always loved mysteries, but real life mysteries are not like books. The clues never appear as conveniently or fit together as neatly as they do in books. And mysteries, contrary to what Nancy Drew led me to believe, do not happen every day.

But this week, I got to solve a real-life mystery. And not just any mystery—a kid lit mystery!

The story of my kid lit mystery begins yesterday morning. I was very grumpy yesterday morning. The hard drive on my work computer died, and thus I couldn’t do any work for a while. The only non-computer assignment I had was one my editor had given me a few days ago: a man had called and asked us to find a song he thinks was maybe in the Friend sometime between now and forty-five years ago, and he didn’t know the title, just the first line3. Seriously. So my job was to go through old copies of the Friend from the sixties and find the song.

I was not looking forward to this job, so I grumpily pulled up a stool in our archives and started grumpily going through copy after copy after copy of vintage Friends.

And then I found this:

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The cover of the November 1969 issue.

And I immediately thought to myself, “That looks a lot like Maurice Sendak art.” And I opened the cover and found this. Image

And then I freaked out. Maurice Sendak, my favorite artists ever, one of my favorite kid lit writers, had done a cover for our little LDS children’s magazine! I immediately ran to tell my editor, who shares my passion for children’s books. We had a moment of surprise and celebration, and then she said, “What else do you know about it?”

Nothing, I said. I didn’t know anything. I didn’t know if the painting was commissioned by the Friend. I didn’t know where it was now. I didn’t know how a Caldecott-winning artist and outspoken atheist had come to do art for a Mormon magazine.

So I decided to solve the mystery of the lost Maurice Sendak painting4.

I started with the Google, and found exactly one other place that the painting appeared: there was a grainy iPhone photo of it accompanying a Sendak obituary. I tweeted the author of the article about it, and he directed me to the Rosenbach Museum, where all Sendak’s art and papers were collected after his death.

The curator at the Rosenbach was very helpful, and emailed me back in minutes. He said:

“I know only a little about that piece, but basically I think you’re correct that Children’s Friend (as it was called at the time) commissioned the art from Sendak.  His usual process was to do an unknown number of doodles or sketches, then compose them in pencil on tracing paper, usually using a light table.  I believe we have this preliminary drawing at the museum.  The “final” artwork…is privately owned in the hands of Sendak collector Justin Schiller.”

To Justin Schiller’s website!

He replied this morning:

“I purchased the original watercolor for “The Children’s Friend” magazine (as it was then called) directly from the artist in early 1970.  All I can recall was that Maurice told me at the time he had a friend associated with the magazine who asked him to illustrate a cover design.  I do not recall the name of the friend ever being mentioned.”

Dead end, it would seem! But I had to know who on staff of the Friend had known Maurice Sendak! What ties did he have to my weird little Church. So I took a different approach.

One of the many strange things about the LDS Church is that they really keep tabs on their members. Not like CCTV or hidden camera tabs or anything creepy like that, but they know where you are and what you are doing and how to contact you at all times through pretty comprehensive membership records5. The benefit of this is that I was able to take the staff names from the table of contents in the November 1969 Friend and send them to our secretary, who was able to get me their records. Turns out they were almost all dead. But I had their posterity’s phone numbers and addresses. So I swallowed my crippling fear of talking on the phone to strangers6 and began to call.

I called probably ten people. No one knew anything about their parent’s work with the Friend, and less about a connection with Sendak. I was starting to despair. Perhaps I just would never know the origin story.

Then I got a phone call on my lunch break today from a man in Virginia. “You left a message for me,” he said. “About the Friend.”

I told him my problem. “I’m trying to find out who on the Friend staff would have known Maurice Sendak,” I explained. “Do you have any idea?”

And he said simply, “It was my mom.”

So here is the story. It’s maybe not novel worthy, or really that dramatic at all, but I solved it. I followed the trail of clues and I found my answers7.

In the 1960s, Gladys Daines was the managing editor of the Children’s Friend. In 1962, she had bought herself a copy of Where the Wild Things Are and fallen in love with its boxy, whimsical art. So, bold as brass, she called up Maurice Sendak and asked to visit him. She flew to his house in New York and they had a good chat and hit it off. She then asked if he’d be willing to do some art for the Children’s Friend. Apparently, he was more than happy to do it. They collaborated on the initial ideas, he sent her sketches, she approved them, and then in November 1969, the cover was published. Though at the time the Friend kept most of the art they commissioned, Sendak kept his painting because he was such a prominent illustrator. He sold it a few years later to collector Justin Schiller, who owns it today. The sketches Sendak sent to Gladys are in the Rosenbach.

And this is now featured prominently on my desk.

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My first real mystery—solved. Ten year old me would be so proud, and current me is ecstatic.

  1. Which did not work, because I was both creator of the mystery and solver of it.
  2. Which did not work because there were no mysteries in my neighborhood, though books led me to believe that if I had the intention of being a detective, mysterious things would start happening. Children’s lit lied to me.
  3. This is not the mystery I solved. Just FYI.
  4. Not technically lost. I sort of hoped it would be, and I would have to crawl through the bowels of the Church Office Building, fight some corrupt art dealer, and then eventually would have a write up in the paper after the painting was recovered with my photo under the word “CHILDREN’S LIT HERO.” None of those things happened.
  5. Don’t think too hard about this or it all starts to feel vaguely 1984.
  6. FOR SENDAK! *raises sword and charges into battle*
  7. You really do get a rush from detecting. This must be how Sherlock Holmes feels all the time!
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in which I complete an A to Z Survey

I said I wasn’t going to blog this month, but usually I lie and this is one of those times. Mostly because I saw this adorable A to Z book survey on one of my favorite book review blogs, A Reader of Fictions, and originated by Jamie at The Perpetual Page Turner, both of which are awesome book review blogs. I had to play because it just looked too fun. Also, procrastination, and it’s easier to do this while watching Doctor Who than actually work on my novel.

A to Z Book Survey

Author You’ve Read the Most Books From:
I’ve read everything John Green has ever written, including his zombie novella. I think there’s probably an author with more books I’ve read, but John Green was the first author that I went out of my way to read his canon.

Best Sequel Ever:
Days of Blood and Starlight by Laini Taylor is the first that comes to mind. Also Behemoth by Scott Westerfeld, sequel to Leviathan.

Currently Reading:
Tell the Wolves I’m Home by Carol Rifka Brunt; The Rise of Theodore Roosevelt by Edmund Morris; Paradise Lost by John Milton

Drink of Choice While Reading:
Diet Coke. Ask me a hard one.

E-reader or Physical Book?
Physical book. Do not own an e-reader. Will not own an e-reader until there are no physical books left. Which, according to Doctor Who, is never.

Fictional Character You Probably Would Have Actually Dated in High School:
Augustus Waters from The Fault in Our Stars. Oh. My. Yes.

Glad You Gave This Book a Chance:
The Lightning Thief by Rick Riordan and Graceling by Kristen Cashore were two books I avoided for a while simply because of how popular they were, and I generally find that those mass market, six-figure deals aren’t quite to my taste–I usually need a little more depth. But I ended up really liking both of them.

Hidden Gem Book:
The first one I thought of was Major Pettigrew’s Last Stand by Helen Simonson. It is a quietly beautiful and brilliant little book.

Important Moment in Your Reading Life:
Reading the Jedi Apprentice series as a kid with my dad (really); Reading and being obsessed with The Thief Lord in middle school; Finding a bookish, ordinary girl who learns to stand up for herself in Jane Eyre; Reading Stargirl the summer before my senior year of college and remembering how much I loved children’s books; Reading Daughter of Smoke and Bone by Laini Taylor and Imaginary Girls by Nova Ren Suma back to back, and then immediately applying for my MFA because they taught me not all YA is vampires. Mostly, it is beautiful, thoughtful, and creative.

Just Finished:
Divergent by Veronica Roth. I went in expecting to hate it. And though I could drive an L Train through the plot holes in it and almost threw it across the room a few times because ohmygosh can all these stupid YA clichés please die already, I was absurdly engaged for all 500 pages.
Also, Ocean at the End of the Lane by Neil Gaiman. Which made me sob uncontrollably on my lunch break.

Kinds of Books You Won’t Read:
I’ll read most anything. Don’t really go for bodice rippers or the 50 Shades of Grey types, but I’ve got favorite books in every genre.

Longest Book You’ve Read:
Gone With the Wind clocking in at 1037 pages. This is a big deal for me, since I usually don’t read books that are longer than 400 pages. I like short things.

Major Book Hangover Because Of:
The Night Cirucs by Erin Morgenstern gave me book hangover for almost all of Christmas break last year. So did Something Strange and Deadly by Susan Denard, which was the book that snapped me out of my Night Circus hangover and then immediately plunged me into another.

Number of Bookcases You Own:
Just one in my apartment in Boston, but it is crammed slammed jammed full.

One Book You Have Read Multiple Times:
Only one? I revisit a lot of books. I read Code Name Verity three times this year. I reread One Day by David Nicholls every few months, because I start to miss the main characters like I would miss friends.

Preferred Place to Read:
Anywhere with a book.

Reading Regret:
I don’t think I regret reading anything. Every book is a lesson for a writer, either as a good thing or bad. I do regret how I used to feel the need to finish every book. I spent a lot of time reading things I didn’t like. I also regret not remembering until I was in college that reading could be more than torture inflicted by teachers.

Series You Started and Need to Finish:
I never finished Series of Unfortunate Events. Not sure I feel the need to finish it though. I don’t usually read series. It has to be a five star book for me to pick up the second one.

Three of Your All-Time Favorite Books:
Code Name Verity by Elizabeth Wein; Where the Wild Things Are by Maurice Sendak; Jane Eyre by Charlotte Bronte

Unapologetic Fangirl for:
Code Name Verity. As most book-related things, this is turning into an exercise of how many times I can mention Code Name Verity in one post.

Very Excited for This Release More Than All the Others:
Rose Under Fire by Elizabeth Wein; Stoker and Holmes by Colleen Gleason; Ruin and Rising by Leigh Bardugo. Wait, are these upcoming releases, or releases ever? Because I basically had a slow-motion meltdown waiting for Days of Blood and Starlight, and I’m going through it again waiting for Dreams of Gods and Monsters.

Worst Bookish Habit:
Skimming. Grad school turned me into a terrible skimmer. I’m bored—I skim. And I inevitably miss things and have to go back and no time is saved at all.

X Marks the Spot (Start at the top left of your shelf and pick the 27th book):
Ah but all my books are in Boston! Okay, using my shelf at my parent’s house where I keep all my lesser favorites and duplicate copies: Journey to the River Sea by Eva Ibbottson. Aw I forgot I love that book…

Your Latest Book Purchase:
Transparent by Natalie Whipple

ZZZ-Snatcher Book (Last Book That Kept You Up Way Late):
Gone Girl by Gillian Flynn. It was one of those, “Gotta work tomorrow, so I’ll just read a few pages…JK nope, it’s 4 am.”
And then this was me all the next day at work…

WORTH IT!

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in which I reflect upon the little Shakespeare company that could

Like most of my stories, this one begins with a children’s lit reference:

This is the story of the little theater company that could.

Four years ago, the summer before I went to Europe, I was bored. Like bored out of my mind. Hated my job, all my friends were on missions or in school or just living elsewhere for various reasons and I was chomping at the bit to get out of Utah and into the big wide world.

So I naturally did what every bored nineteen year old does: I started a Shakespeare company.

I did not know what I was doing. I cannot emphasize that enough. I had directed like a play and a half before. I am not a scholar of Shakespeare or acting. I just love them both dearly. But the previous year, I’d done some work with Logan Youth Shakespeare Co, an amazing theater company in Logan, Utah, that puts on full-length Shakespeare with actors ages 8 to 181. I was so inspired working with them and seeing what the director had made out of nothing that I wanted to do more of that.

So, armed with nothing but my usual ridiculous passion for absurd things and a desire to do something way beyond my skill level, I started to put together a show.

When I went to post the audition notice on a local theater website, one of the mandatory boxes you had to fill in was “Company Name.” I had no company. This was literally me and my backyard and a public domain script copied off the internet. Then I had this train of thought:

“We’re doing Shakespeare…my favorite Shakespeare quote is “We are such stuff as dreams are made on”…we’re doing the Tempest…and that quote is from the Tempest…” And then I typed “Such Stuff Productions” in the box and posted the audition notice.

Three months later, the strangest and most awesome group of people ever, most of them under 182, put on a production of “The Tempest” in an outdoor amphitheater, and it was one of the best experiences I’ve ever had.

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The next summer, upon my return from England, I found myself again bored and again wanting to do something that required great passion and mild insanity. So again, I posted an audition notice, this time for “Coriolanus,” one of Shakespeare’s more obscure plays, and signed it Such Stuff Productions. That year, our cast was all under 213 and I have honestly never worked with a better group of people in my life.

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It is a remarkable thing to look across a stage and see twenty-something young people looking back at you with total trust and total dedication and know that they would probably walk with you to the ends of the earth if you asked them to. They were also, as a group, incredibly giving. Giving of their time, their talents, their message to the audience that came to see them.

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And my, but the audience came. Our same little amphitheater was packed for four scorching nights in August. The show turned into one of the most perfect experiences of my life, the untouchable sort that you whisper when you talk about and cry for no reason when you think about.

And then the next summer…I moved to Chicago. And though Such Stuff Productions was finished.

But then two lovely young friends of mine picked up where I left off. That summer, they staged As You Like It, with the same spirit that had hoisted Tempest and Corio: young people who are passionate and enthusiastic and just want to give. I wasn’t able to see it, as I was in Chicago, but this summer I was able to see their production of Merry Wives of Windsor. And the whole time I watched it, I just felt so freaking proud.

I am so proud of every single member of that company for continuing the tradition of Such Stuff Productions, which is making something out of nothing and then giving it away again. It is about inspiring people to be artistic and creative, about learning to work together as students, artists, and friends, and share the things we love with others. I am so grateful to the people who believed in my original dream for this company and have worked so hard to not just keep it alive, but grow it and make it better.

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To the company of Merry Wives of Windsor—what a treat it was to see you all on Thursday night! Thank you for continuing to share your passion and the passion of this company with others. I respect you so much, and I am so grateful you have kept this company alive. Thank you from the bottom of my heart, and never stop doing what you love!

You can like Such Stuff Productions on Facebook, and you probably should, since they are awesome. If you didn’t get that already. 

  1. I didn’t realize it at the time, but my career path feeding into children’s lit was a direct result of my work with LYS.
  2. And one over 70. And one who had never been on stage before. And several who didn’t know who Shakespeare was.
  3. With one glaring exception—our villain was played by a 30-something carpenter who had never acted, only read Shakespeare in middle school, and was totally outstanding on stage.
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Four Book Friday: Mariah Manley

Welcome back to Four Book Friday, a continuing series where writers and readers tell us about four books that changed their life! This week’s post comes from Mariah Manley, an aspiring children’s librarian and all-around ray of sunshine through the bleak Boston winters. Here are the four books that changed her life!

How Green Was My ValleyHow Green Was My Valley by Richard LlewellynHiraeth, a Welsh word with no direct English translation, is a sort of nostalgia, longing, sadness, sweetness, and yearning for a home from the past. When I read this book for the first time the earnest, poetic prose left me with hiraeth for Wales—a place I had never been. So I studied Welsh, a beautiful yet dying language, and I devoured books on Wales’ turbulent but oft forgotten history. Eventually, my passion for Wales flew me across a continent and an ocean to the place itself. For two transcendental months, I saw everything Llewellyn wrote. How Green Was My Valley made me a polyglot, a historian, and a world traveler.

The Grapes of Wrath

 

The Grapes of Wrath by John Steinbeck – I read this book in high school and it is the first book I remember hating—a loathing-with-my-whole-soul kind of hating. Yet, I’m indebted to this book because it changed how I think about Literature and helped me to develop some sharp critical thinking skills. Specifically, my extreme visceral reaction to Steinbeck’s novel forced me to analyze my own opinions and called into question the validity of the Literary Canon. Karen Hess’s Out of the Dust accomplishes many of the same things as The Grapes of Wrath yet it isn’t part of the canon because it is written for middle grade children and teenagers. This didn’t (doesn’t) make any sense to me and I felt courageous disagreeing with academia, my teacher, and even some of my closest friends.  Due to this experience and others that followed after, today I feel confident in myself as a reader and a critic. So here is a begrudging thanks to the worst novel ever.

Fanny's DreamFanny’s Dream by Caralyn and Mark BuehnerAfter watching too many Rom Coms and reading too many fairy tales, it’s easy to slip into a girly daydream about epic love, grand adventure, and world fame. But then Fanny’s Dream enters my mind and I realize that is not what I want at all.  My mom read this picture book to me when I was a little girl because it was one of her favorites—probably for the same reason I love it now. Daydreams are nice but like farm girl Fanny all I really need is a life full of hard-work, laughter, resilience, love, and someone to do my least favorite chore (vacuuming). If my fairy godmother does turn up one day I want to be able to turn her offer down because I love my life as it is. Fanny’s Dream taught me an ordinary life is a beautiful life.

https://d202m5krfqbpi5.cloudfront.net/books/1309211597l/522471.jpgHope Was Here by Joan BauerFanny’s Dream taught me an ordinary life is more than enough, but Hope Was Here taught me that you can always be extraordinary. This novel, as its title may suggest, is empowering—teenagers literally change their small-town world! Like Hope, recognize the thing you are good at (whether that be waitressing, writing, making speeches, listening, baking pie, or whistling) and use that talent to the best of your ability to help other people around you. Everyone is flawed and everyone carries a burden, but flawed people banding together in a single cause are capable of great things. I believe in the power of community because of Hope Was Here.

ImageMariah Manley is a graduate student at Simmons College studying Library Science and Children’s Literature. When she grows up she wants to be a children’s librarian and peddle Mackenzi Lee’s best-selling novels. All authors should want to be her friend. Although Mariah is a bit of a social media dunce she does occasionally put out some good, bookish stuff on mariahmanley.tumblr.com or you can talk to her on Twitter @MariahManley.

Want more Four Book Friday? Here are more posts in the series:

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