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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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Four Book Friday: Lisa Palin

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 Lisa Palin, one of my fellows at Simmons College and an avid kidlit reader and writer. Here are the four books that changed her life!

https://i1.wp.com/upload.wikimedia.org/wikipedia/en/thumb/1/1a/The_Monster_at_the_End_of_This_Book_Starring_Lovable,_Furry_Old_Grover.jpg/250px-The_Monster_at_the_End_of_This_Book_Starring_Lovable,_Furry_Old_Grover.jpgThe Monster at the End of this Book by Jon Stone – I have crystal clear memories of sitting in my Dad’s lap – long before I could read – and laughing hysterically as he “struggled” to turn the pages after Grover had barricaded them with tape and bricks. As an adult, I can look at this book and say that the story invites participation by the child, escalates in intensity and tension, and then resolves with humor and heart. As a toddler, I just loved it and wanted to read it myself, which is one of the reasons I became a very early reader…and why it makes the list of books that changed my life.

Anne of Green Gables (Anne of Green Gables, #1)

Anne of Green Gables by Lucy Maud Montgomery – I was more of a Diana but desperately wanted to be an Anne. Something about her desperate longing for…everything…resonated with me. As a shy, bookish little girl who craved attention but was afraid to get it, and who would rather not act than make a mistake, I understood desperate longing. Watching Anne struggle to be herself and to be worthy of love, only to learn that they were one and the same, taught me that wishing and wanting are fine, that doing (even with mistakes) is better, and that being me was okay because people who are worthy of me were the ones who would love me for it. It’s the philosophy by which I live my life, and it has served me well. I’m finally an Anne, and I couldn’t be happier.

The Grounding of Group 6


The Grounding of Group 6
by Julian F. Thompson
– I read this book for the first time in junior high in the early 90s. Since no one has ever heard of this book (for shame, all of you!), here is the concept: five teens who don’t get along with their parents arrive at their new boarding school for an orientation camping trip, only to discover that their parents have paid the school to have them assassinated. Yep. That’s what this book is about. Parents assassinating their own kids. Of course, the assassin is a twenty-something nobody who has second thoughts, and then the games really begin. My heart pounds just thinking about it. This book changed my life because before then, the darkest books I had read were about issues like drugs and disease. This sort of realistic but fantastic darkness opened my eyes to a whole new world of storytelling and is part of what led me to writing thrillers.

Harry Potter and the Prisoner of Azkaban (Harry Potter, #3)Harry Potter and the Prizoner of Azkaban by J.K. Rowling – You may have noticed that all of the books on this list are children’s books. It is my field, after all, but I think the causal relationship goes in the other direction: books that changed my life are children’s books, and thus writing children’s books is how I want to change the lives of others. I didn’t always know this, however. Sometime in 2000-ish, shortly after college, I was writing adult fiction. Someone told me to read the Harry Potter books and I was puzzled. They were kids’ books. But I picked up the first one. And the second one. And was duly impressed. Then…then…I read the Prizoner of Azkaban. This book took my breath away. The intricate plotting, the mystery, the emotional punch as Harry learns who was responsible – or so he thinks at the time – for his parents’ death, the raising of the stakes, the way the story pulled details from the first two books and made this plotting thing look so easy (it’s not, trust me)…I was blown away. My attitude towards children’s books, which I had left behind sometime in high school, did a 180. And here I am today.

406302_10151018255409775_427445320_nLisa Palin is a writer, teacher, and a recovering attorney who has trouble sitting still. When not spinning tales or captivating juries, she can be found hiking, drinking IPA, planning a trip to Disney World, or marathoning her latest television obsession. As a RI native, she calls a drinking fountain a bubbler and gives directions based on where things used to be. She currently lives in Cambridge, MA and is not related to the similarly-named Alaskan family. You can check out her occasional updates at LIsaPalin.com and CreativelyUnhinged.com.

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Four Book Friday: Smatt Read

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 Smatt Read, one of my fellow students at Simmons College who writes whimsical, magical picture books and has a hilarious nickname. Here are the four books that changed his life!

https://i2.wp.com/upload.wikimedia.org/wikipedia/en/6/68/Trumpet_of_the_Swan_Cover.jpegThe Trumpet of the Swan by E.B. White – I decided at a young age to choose a favorite book, that is a permanent favorite book. None of that flavor-of-the-week type stuff. And so I chose The Trumpet of the Swan. However, what makes it a book that changed my life was what happened in the ensuing years. By sticking with it, I made the all important step of wondering why I liked it, really delving into the issue. Though antiquated by today’s standards, it taught me something about being in love. It still breaks me a little to see Louis the Swan trying to impress Serena by holding his writing tablet with the words “I love you” scrawled across it.

Black Like MeBlack Like Me by John Howard Griffin – In early 2004, I was working at Barnes & Noble when a customer started sharing his relationship woes with me. He had proposed to his girlfriend and been turned down based on the issue of race (he was African-American; she was Mexican-American). As befitting a bookstore, the conversation turned to books, and the guy recommended Black Like Me. He insisted that everyone should read the book, especially non-blacks, for its penetrating look at race relations in America. I have since read the book several times and continue to be impressed by its honesty, depth, and raw portrayal of racism.

https://i2.wp.com/www.jeffreysomers.com/blather/MAZE_Manson.pngMAZE by Christopher Manson – I love mazes, and as a kid, I loved Choose Your Own Adventure books. When I stumbled upon this picture book which combined the two ideas, I snatched it up and started to work on it. And work on it. And work on it. I shared this book with a friend, and together we read its pages, navigated its paths, and tried to solve its mysteries. This went on for years. When I was 30, I received an email from my puzzle-solving partner who linked me up to the book’s wiki page. In the twenty or so years since my original purchase, I began to realize I had only scratched the surface. This intriguing picture book fostered a life-long love of mazes, puzzles, and a fondness for games.

https://www.mtholyoke.edu/omc/kidsphil/questions/Littleprince/littleprince_cover_380pixels.jpgThe Little Prince by Antoine De Saint-Exupery – I was a Peace Corps volunteer in Beyla, Guinea, West Africa when my closest Peace Corps neighbor Nils brought a box of books to me. Among a dozen or so fantasy titles, I found two copies of The Little Prince, one in French and one in English. I casually read the first chapter of the English version, just to get a taste, and soon found myself swimming in its language and ideas. What had meant to be a short literary foray turned into several hours of adventure and quiet revelations. His book gave me solace during a confusing and emotional time and made it possible for me to see a little more clearly the beauty there is in life.

ImageSmatt is the pen name of S.Matt Read. He is a writer, inventor, baker, and adventurer. He is best known for The Texas Perimeter Hike, a self-syndicated column and year-long walkabout around the Lone Star state. His current adventure is a children’s literature and writing graduate program at Simmons College. He lives in Somerville, MA with his dog Raisin who he found while walking in Texas.

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Four Book Friday: Krista Van Dolzer

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 Krista Van Dolzer, a writer, blogger, and my mentor from The Writer’s Voice contest. Read on for the four books that have inspired her.

When Mackenzi first asked me to participate in “Four Book Friday,” I was admittedly a little nervous. Four books that changed my life? I could barely think of one. So I wouldn’t say these books literally changed my life so much as they forced me to look at books—and myself—in a whole new way. But I guess that’s life-changing in and of itself!

https://i2.wp.com/ecx.images-amazon.com/images/I/5124nNRapAL.jpgThe Giver by Lois Lowry

I read this book for the first time as an annoying, know-it-all thirteen-year-old. It was the first time I ever had a visceral reaction to a book, and in this case, that reaction was hate. I hated that Jonas was obviously a metaphor for Jesus Christ but lacked some of His more prominent characteristics (such as His perfection). I’d never read a book that featured a Christ figure (at least that I recognized), and it drove me crazy that my friends neither noticed nor cared.

I read the book again as a (slightly) more mature grown-up, and this time, it moved me to tears (probably because I was reading it as a mom). But the thing that really struck me was how this book had engaged me as both a child and an adult, how it had made me feel. In the end, I think that’s the highest compliment I could ever pay a book—that it made me feel something I didn’t expect.

https://i1.wp.com/v4.bradblackman.com/wp-content/uploads/mockingbird1.jpg

To Kill a Mockingbird by Harper Lee

This is another book I read for the first time in junior high, but unlike The Giver, this one instantly landed on my all-time favorites list. I loved the setting and the story and Scout and Boo. Especially Boo. I read this book again as a grown-up, too, and the thing that stood out to me was how little I’d understood it the first time around. I might have loved it as a kid, but I really appreciated it as an adult—and especially as a writer. In fact, I think it’s a shame that we teach this book to younger children as if it’s a children’s book (it’s not), but that’s another post…

 

https://i1.wp.com/groveland.spps.org/uploads/stargirl.jpgStargirl by Jerry Spinelli

I first heard about this book during my first (and only) year of teaching. (For those of you who might be wondering, I taught in a middle school, and no, it wasn’t as bad as you might think.) I saw a lot of students reading it, and something about the cover must have stuck, because when I was walking through the library a year or two later and saw that cover on the shelf, I picked it up. And promptly fell in love. I didn’t spend a ton of time in high school trying to fit in, but Stargirl made me wish I could go back and do it over. I thought I had to be effervescent and exciting to be of any worth in high school, but really, I didn’t have to be. I could have just been myself. Which brings me to my last book…

http://citypaper.com/polopoly_fs/1.1278371!/image/549105954.jpg_gen/derivatives/landscape_804/549105954.jpgQuiet by Susan Cain

I read this book last year, and it completely changed the way I saw myself. In high school, I was outgoing, opinionated, and not afraid to show it. If you’d asked me whether I was an extrovert or an introvert, I would have answered extrovert, no hesitation. But as I grew older—and less interested in impressing my peers—I noticed that I also grew, well, quieter. I was more content to sit and listen and not introduce myself to everyone. For years, I thought that I had lost an essential part of my personality, that I had somehow diminished.

But then I read Quiet, and besides making the point that introverts are of no less worth than extroverts, it also helped me see that not all introverts are shy or slow to speak up in a crowd. As it turned out, I had always been an introvert. (Case in point: I spent hours and hours as a teenager sitting alone at my computer, creating characters and writing stories that no one else would ever read.) I’m just an introvert who’s learned how to act like an extrovert in a society that values it, and it’s okay to go back and forth.

If you haven’t read these books, I highly recommend them, and if you have, I’d love to hear what you thought of them in the comments!

kristaKrista Van Dolzer is a stay-at-home mom by day and a writer by naptime. She holds degrees in Mathematics Education and Economics from Brigham Young University but tries not to talk—or write—like a mathematician. If she’s not typing away on the computer, she’s probably watching college football or wiping someone’s nose. She lives with her husband and three young kids in Mesquite, Nevada, and blogs at Mother. Write. (Repeat.). Her debut novel, THE REGENERATED MAN, a middle grade historical with a dash of science fiction, will be published by G.P. Putnam’s Sons Books for Young Readers (Penguin) in Winter 2015.

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In which I mark a belated anniversary

Yesterday, I got a new phone. Which is good, because the old one was rebelling like a Russian Bolshevik1. It’s newest trick was randomly calling people in my address book. That and not receiving and/or sending most text messages. But it was doing that for a while.

So this morning in the shower while contemplating the life and death of a phone, I realized with a great stab of despair that with this old phone would die my personalized message from Carl Kassell on my voicemail! For shame! I must email Wait Wait…Don’t Tell Me and see if he will record a copy for me, I thought to myself.

Thinking about “Wait, Wait…Don’t Tell Me” made me remember that it was almost a year ago to the day that I started my internship with them. It feels so long ago that I boarded a plane in a mild panic and moved to Chicago, which turned out to be the greatest city in America/maybe anywhere.

I thought about that plane ride, with only my laptop and my diet coke and my anxiety for company, and how I blogged on the plane ride over there. When suddenly it hit me…

I MISSED IT!

I missed my blog’s birthday! I celebrated the dog’s birthday on Saturday, and in all the excitement of that, I totally forgot that Looking for Chicago/Boston turned the big 1 on Sunday! What a terrible blogger to forget my own blog’s birthday. As a childless single young woman, this blog is basically the longest relationship I have ever had. Forgetting its birthday could be cause for a breakup.

Fortunately, my blog is not the vengeful type. So we are going to be celebrating the big anniversary sometime in the upcoming week with a GIVEAWAY2!  Are you excited? You should be. It will probably involve books, and maybe cookies. And when it arrives, you should enter!

Stay tuned.

  1. See, that history degree wasn’t a total waste.
  2. A giveaway, you say? What sort of giveaway3?
  3. A super mega awesome foxy hot giveaway.
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in which I illustrate Harry Potter

I am not an artist.

I have always wanted to be an artist, but I possess no skills in this particular area. And my sister, the MT, does, which has always been intimidating. If we hung my paintings next to hers in the house…well, let’s just say there would be a clear winner. It would be like hanging your five year old’s drawings up beside a Van Gough. The MT is a very good artist.

Another of the MT’s many talents is the ability to read aloud and change her voice. This most likely stems from early exposure to the Harry Potter audiobooks and their fabulous narrator, Jim Dale. When the MT was little, she used to toddle around the house with her Sesame Street tape player in tow, listening to Harry Potter on repeat. It wasn’t a long jump to go from listening to imitating.

When I arrived home last month, I discovered that my family had started a new tradition in my absence: every night they gather and the MT reads aloud from Harry Potter in the tradition of her idol, Mr. Dale. It is most excellent, and fortunately they were just starting Chamber of Secrets when I arrived.

Aside from not being an artist, there is another thing I am not very good at, and that is sitting still and listening1. I loved hearing the MT read, but gosh darnit sitting still is hard! I knew I had to find some way to entertain myself while MT was reading, but it had to be something that I could still listen to the story while I did it.

So, on a random impulse, I started drawing one night2. I drew what the MT was reading us in Chamber of Secrets3. I used to do this when I was a kid and my dad would read aloud to me, and after a few chapters, I started really enjoying it. My family enjoyed it too…mostly for the comedic value.

I am fortunate enough to live in a home where my mother puts up with my shenanigans and my father doesn’t say much, so when, in an overacted show of pride in my first drawing, I slapped it on the wall with some tape, it got left there. I hung every subsequent picture beside it, resulting in a wall of our entryway being covered in Chamber of Secrets art that looks like it was drawn by a demented seven year old.

Last night we finished the book. I hung my last picture on the wall, surveyed my handiwork, and realized that I have never been so proud of anything in my entire life4. So what better to do with something I am insanely proud of than share it with the virtual world?

And so, I present to you, alternate chapter art for Harry Potter and the Chamber of Secrets by Mackenzi Lee. Watch out, Mary Grand-Pre. You have been dethroned.

  1. If you have ever had a conversation with me, you may notice that I am perpetually fiddling or doodling or journaling. Seriously. Can’t just listen. Too hard.
  2. Again, and I cannot put too fine a point on this: I am not an artist.
  3. My primary medium being sharpies and one erasable pen.
  4. This is an exaggeration. But not by much.
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The first drawing. Before I decided I was drawing chapter by chapter. So chapter 1 has no art.

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I am absurdly proud of that photographer.

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ignore the incorrect number

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the MT loves Dean Thomas in this one. She also says Mrs. Norris looks like a werewolf. So her opinion is invalid.

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this was voted family favorite.

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This lettering is my greatest achievement to date.

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My original drawing for this chapter was panned. I was forced to redo it, and I am much happier with this one.

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My father and the MT maintain it looks like Aragog is carrying eggs on his back. THEY ARE HIS EYES. Obviously.

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“You shouldn’t have drawn his eyes! Now we’re going to be petrified if we look at it!!!” -The MT, in a panic

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Just to clarify, I drew Harry’s thumb on the wrong side of his hand. He is not, contrary to what my dad says, flipping Lucius Malfoy the bird. This is family-friendly artwork.

Which one was your favorite? Or were they all too beautiful for words? Tell me in comments!

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in which I celebrate world book night

Happy World Book Night, everybody!

Today, on the birthday of Miguel Cervantes and William Shakespeare, thousands of people all over the country and across the pond are giving out free copies of twenty-five outstanding books by twenty-five outstanding authors, graciously provided by the organization World Book Night America. I’ve spent the day handing out copies of Looking for Alaska by John Green1. Not sure how many of the people who I gave books to will actually read the books I give them, but still. I enjoy spreading the gift of reading.

Yesterday, in honor of World Book Day, I got to meet Neil Gaiman. This was a big, star-struck moment for me, because he is basically a literary god2. I was surprisingly coherent as he signed my book—we talked about children’s lit and Doctor Who.

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that is Neil Gaiman, and that is me.

He also said something wonderful during the Q&A, when I asked him how he approached writing children’s lit differently than writing adult lit. He said something to the effect of how he takes writing kid lit much more seriously than he takes writing adult lit, because of how immediate the possibility is that a children’s book will change someone’s life. When you write kidlit, you are writing stories that children are going to be carrying with them for literally the rest of their lives. It will always be stored somewhere inside of them, and a part of them that influences who they are. Children are so moldable, and the books they read have the potential to help them create person they are going to become.

All the while he was answering, I nodded and smiled while he answered, pretended like I was totally cool with the fact that NEIL GAIMAN was answering MY QUESTION and looking me RIGHT IN THE EYE. But really, I thought his answer was brilliant, and it reminded me of the following quotation. Which I found yesterday. On tumblr.

“They are not just simple kids’ books. They are stories that we are continuing to read even today. They’re stories that we remember years later, even when other stories fade from our memories. They’re stories we will never forget, and for good reason! They’re stories that helped shape our childhoods, through well thought-out writing, imaginative drawings and endearing morals…Maybe these “simple kids’ books” are far more adult than you give them credit for. And…years from now when kids AND adults will still be reading these “simple kids’ books.” Good art doesn’t come from focus groups and statistics. It comes from people who share how they see things in their own unique way.”

I love being part of this community of book creating and giving children books that will change them. I hope you all take a moment to think back on your favorite books as a child, and celebrate how they made you what you are today3.

Happy World Book Night, all. Now sit down and READ!

  1. While this is my least favorite of the John Green novels, even the least of John Green is excellent.
  2. He is also, as I learned last night, incredibly kind and humble. Which just makes him all the more awesome.
  3. Even if it’s in a negative way, like the fact that I still have stress dreams where I’m trapped in the cover of a Goosebumps novel. I never read Goosebumps, because the covers were too scary, but they still scared the crap out of me when I saw them displayed at the library. I was a very impressionable child.
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in which I lead a barricade revolution

So you might have heard about this new movie that’s out right now. It’s about Wolverine and a prostitute and a lot of people who are so sad all they can do is sing their emotions.

Brace yourselves, because I’m about to drop a knowledge bomb on you here: That movie is actually based on a Broadway musical.

I know. I KNOW. And that Broadway musical is actually based on a book, too, but that’s one level deeper into this movie-inception than I want to go.

So this musical called Les Miserableshas always been one of my very, very favorites. I can recite literally every word of the score. Even the weird bits in the middle where they’re sing-talking. Call me a cliché, but I really passionately love this show and everything it espouses.

The first time I saw Les Miserables, I was about ten years old, because I was raised by parents who believed in exposing us early to things that were way beyond our maturity level1. I actually remember the production fairly well, or, more accurately, I remember how it made me feel. I remember saying to my dad at intermission, “This is so great! It looks like everybody’s going to end up happy.” And he snorted and said, “Just wait.” I remember crying at the end. Then the lights came up and there was the MT, four years younger than me, sobbing her little heart out. Theater gets you where you live.

But the thing I remember most about this production is Eponine. Not the actress—I don’t actually remember a thing about her. But the character. At ten, I had yet to experience my first unrequited love, the quest that makes Eponine the everywoman2. But there was something about her that I related to at a very basic level—even at ten years old, I understood this idea of wanting impossible things. And ever since then, I have latched onto Eponine. When I was in my theater days and people would ask me what my “dream role” was3, I always said Eponine. Though I have the musical talent of a goldfish, I was dying to stand on stage in my oversized trench coat, belting On My Own. I did it plenty of times alone in my bedroom, for practice4.  For me, Eponine was always my girl because she was so relatable. In the scope of the play, it can be hard to relate to prostitutes and escaped convicts, but there is something so simple about what Eponine wants that we all understand it: she just wants the man she loves to love her back. And I loved her for that.

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Eponine and Marius done by the incredible Tealin, whose art you should really check out (and can do so, by clicking on the image)

Then last summer I went with my family to see Les Miserables at our very favorite place, the Utah Shakespearean Festival. I was excited, ready to cheer for my emotional doppelganger, Eponine.

But Eponine came on stage…and she sang all the same songs she usually sang. And did the same things she always does. And died the way she always does. Because this is a play, and things don’t really change much. But I didn’t feel it. It wasn’t the actress—she was splendid. And it wasn’t Eponine. It was me. Because I wasn’t interested in Eponine anymore. I was absolutely fixated on Enjolras.

This is the moment where you all say, “Who!?”

Enjolras is Marius’s best friend and leader of the doomed barricade revolution. The guy in the gold sparkly vest5. Enjolras, a character whose name I didn’t know until probably my fifth viewing of the show and didn’t know how to pronounce for several more after that6, was suddenly so much more interesting than Eponine, or anyone on stage for that matter. Because he didn’t just pine like Eponine does. He didn’t sulk in the background and sing about how sad he was. He took control of his own life, and the lives of the people around him who were floating along with their fates. He charged forward. He thrust the flag in the air from atop the barricade. He is a rebel with a cause.

And just like that, Eponine was gone, and there was Enjolras.

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This is Enjolras. Aside from being awesome, he has great hair.

I had a similar experience with Jane Eyre, which remains my all-time favorite book. When I read it for the first time as a junior in high school, I thought it was so romantic. Rich, handsome man falls for plain, poor girl because she is intelligent and witty. The greatest love story ever told, in my little sixteen year old brain. And I still think that part of it is great. But as I read Jane Eyre for the ninety third time recently, I started to see things about it that my mind had glossed over in the past. Like the fact that Rochester basically mentally abuses Jane for the entire novel, and lies to her, and asks her to compromise all her moral standards for him. And at first she says no, but then she says yes. Which I’m really not okay with. And though I still value Jane for its literary merit and realize we have to read it as a novel of its time, I’ve lost a bit of my attraction to the story of a woman who gives herself so easily and so completely to a man.

What am I saying? I’m saying that we are never aware of ourselves growing up and growing old. We can’t see it happen—one morning, we just look in the mirror and wonder who the person staring back at us is. And so for me, the greatest indicator of my own descent into adulthood comes in the form of the evolution of my tastes. And I’m happy with my choices if they have led me to be attracted to characters in literature who do not compromise, and who move actively in the direction of their own dreams. It makes me think that maybe, I too, have a shot at doing something awesome. Either that, or I will die at a barricade. Which is actually a pretty epic way to go.     

 

  1. Almost every swear word I know, I learned from Les Miserables. That’s parenting for ya.
  2. I’m fairly certain even women in stable, committed relationships frequently say, “I am just like Eponine!”
  3. No one actually asked that much. I just sort of volunteered this information a lot.
  4. This happened last night.
  5. And, in this production, totally awesome gauntlets.
  6. In spite of what my dad thinks, it’s not En-Rolls.
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in which the oscars are announced

Happy Oscar Weekend! My favorite weekend of the year! 25% because movies, 75% because making fun of beautiful people in ridiculous clothes.

Every year, between nomination announcement and Oscar Sunday, I try to see all the best picture nominees. I am never successful. But I always try. This year, I got to 6/9, and two of them I did not see because I was taking a moral high ground. If you have ever wondered what it’s like to be inside my head while watching an Oscar-nominated movie, this is the post for you! And so, please turn off all cell phones, get your popcorn ready, and …

Let’s Go to the Movies with Mackenzi Lee  

Silver Lining’s Playbook

crazier

Me: I hope they don’t get together.
Me: They probably will but I hope they don’t.
Me: I know every other woman in this theater is looking at Bradley Cooper, but I cannot take my eyes off Jennifer Lawrence.
Me: She is crazy and I love her.
Me: She is stunning.
Me: She is perfect.
Me: Jennifer Lawrence.
Me: Be my friend.
Me: I literally remember nothing about this movie except Jennifer Lawrence.
Me: And I think there was some ballroom dancing at one point.
Me: And he threw a book out the window.
Me: Oh drat they got together.
Me: I have no confidence in a relationship with two people that unstable.
Me: But Jennifer Lawrence.

Les Miserables

eddie derp

I was going to use serious photos or posters from all the movies. Then I found this Eddie Redmayne derp picture and it was all downhill from there. 

Me: So every shot is of the actor’s face really far to one side of the frame…
Me: So many close ups.
Me: So much crying.
Me: Ugh. Hathaway.
Me: …Hathaway is the least of this movie’s problems.
Me: Is Russell Crowe on Valium?
Me: These musical monologues really don’t work well on film.
Me: Eddie Redmayne.
Me: Freckles. Freckles. Freckles.
Me: Oh hi Enjolras.
Me: Handsome…handsome…handsome….
Me: I freaking love the barricade boys #nameofmynextband
Me: Why did we unnecessarily rewrite so many lyrics?
Me: Aw. Enjolras.
Me: Everyone is crying but me…
Me: Seriously, did you not realize going into this that THEY ALL DIE?
Me: I wanted so badly to enjoy this.
Me: And I didn’t.

Beasts of the Southern Wild

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Me: She’s cute.
Me: She’s not wearing any pants.
Me: Okay storm…
Me: Okay ice bergs and cavemen…
Me: ….okay bored…
Me: Where are your parents!?!?
Me: She’s cute.
Me: She’s cute.
Me: Bored.
Me: Fast forward…

Lincoln

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Me: I think my grandpa was Abraham Lincoln in another life.
Me: Or maybe Daniel Day-Lewis.
Me: He’s very good at playing very tall.
Me: I miss my Civil War days.
Me: Pretend I did not just say that, and don’t make me explain it.
Me: Oh hey there JGL.
Me: Oh hey there JGL in Union blue.
Me: I love Lee Pace as a southern gentleman.
Me: Keep it together, Mary Todd!
Me: This is like the American answer to Amazing Grace.
Me: I kind of love this movie.
Me: DON’T GO TO THE THEATER! THIS IS THE ONLY TIME I WILL EVER SAY THAT!

Argo

argo fuck yourself

Me: Heh…the seventies.
Me: Lose the gold chain, Affleck.
Me: I love this I love this I love this.
Me: Oh gosh I love this.
Me: Ben Affleck, you basically have one face this whole movie.
Me: I love movies about movies and movies about history. Basically, this is a dream team for me.
Me: Oh no you do not put those shredded face pictures back together.
Me: Okay, here we go.
Me: *stress crying*
Me: *stress crying*
Me: *stress crying*
Me: I have no fingernails left to chew.
Me: I am basically eating my fingers.
Me: Oh gosh, oh gosh, oh gosh
Me: OH GOSH!
Me: I KNOW HOW THIS MOVIE ENDS AND I’M STILL PANICKING!
Me: YES!!!!!!!!!
Me: *relieved crying*

Amour

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Me: French.
Me: French.
Me: French.
Me: I really not do well with subtitled movies.
Me: …I think that was nice.
Me: But I don’t want to read my movies. That’s what books are for.

Life of Pi

Did not see. Because the AMC stopped showing it and didn’t tell me. Maybe this informational Pi chart will help.

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Django Unchained

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Did not see. Because nudity.

Zero Dark Thirty

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Did not see. Because torture.

And, to bring us home, here are my picks for the awards that I care about.

Best Picture: Argo
Best Director: Steven Spielberg for Lincoln
Best Actor: Daniel Day-Lewis for Lincoln
Best Actress: Jennifer Lawrence for Silver Linings Playbook
Best Supporting Actress: (ugh) The Hathaway for Les Miz
Best Supporting Actor: Tommy Lee Jones for Lincoln
Best Adapted Screenplay: Argo
Best Original Screenplay: Django Unchained
Best Animated film: Brave
Best Costumes: Anna Karenina
Best original Song: Skyfall
Best Effects: Life of Pi 

Happy Oscars, all! Please leave your own picks/movie thoughts in comments!

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in which I make Valentines

Happy Anna Howard Shaw Day everybody!

Also known as Valentine’s Day.

Also known as “Of course you’re still single, take a look at yourself” day.

Also known as Thursday.

If you’re still looking for that special card for that special someone, allow me to submit the following ideas, inspired by my favorite fictional couples, and designed by me. Feel free to print off and distribute at your leisure.

It should be noted, I have zero artistic or graphic design skills of any kind. Food for thought.

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And then there’s sad Voldemort. Who has no Valentine. But not for lack of trying. Image

Happy V-day, all. Make it a good one.

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