Review: THE MOST MAGNIFICENT THING by Ashley Spires

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How does something become magnificent? One regular girl and her canine assistant work together to answer this question in Ashley Spires’ book, The Most Magnificent Thing (Kids Can Press).

One day, the girl has a wonderful idea. She is going to make the most MAGNIFICENT thing! She knows just what it will look like. She knows just how it will work. All she has to do is make it, and she makes things all the time. Easy peasy!

But things turn out to be less than easy peasy when one after another, her creations are less than magnificent. This journey through the creative process rings particularly true for me. The idea that failure is a part of learning has become one of the most prominent themes within my classroom. I am forever reminding them that in order to become truly good at something, let alone magnificent, there will be a lot of uncomfortable moments. Moments where you look at the work you’ve poured yourself into and realize, well,  it’s just not that good. But it’s the moment after that counts. That brief second after you know that it isn’t quite right, that you can do better, that the idea you held in your mind didn’t quite manifest itself in the way you had hoped; it is in that second that you have a choice: you can head back to the drawing board, or close the door and quit.

She makes it fuzzy. She makes it long, short, rough, smooth, big, small – one even smells of stinky cheese! But none of them are MAGNIFICENT. Her hard work attracts a few admirers, but they don’t understand. They can’t see the MAGNIFICENT thing that she has in her mind. She gets MAD.

And then, she quits. Is this sounding familiar? We have all been pushed to this point. Frustrated that hard work doesn’t seem to be paying off, and that the road is bumpier than we would like, we quit. It is what happens next that makes The Most Magnificent Thing, truly magnificent. Our regular girl, with the magnificent idea, takes a walk with her canine assistant and stops at each non-magnificent thing. At each stop she discovers one magnificent element which, when all put together, creates a truly MAGNIFICENT thing.

This is the piece I believe we often forget, as teachers, parents, and frankly, as people. The fact that looking at what we have done, whether a success or not, gives us insight into how to shape what we can do. And what can do, can be most magnificent. Ashley Spires captures this perfectly with a charmingly illustrated story of one girl, one dog, and one MAGNIFICENT thing.

You can find your own copy of The Most Magnifient Thing at http://www.kidscanpress.com/us/.

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REVIEW:CLEAR OUT THE STATIC IN YOUR ATTIC-REBECCA BRIDGE & ISLA MCKETTA

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Confession time. I hate the blank page. As a writer, this poses a bit of a problem. Somewhere along the line I picked up the idea that I might write “the wrong thing”. That somehow, my inferior first few words would sully the pristine white of my page past the point of recognition and basically the world would end. Logically I know that a few terribly chosen adjectives will not end life as we know it, but somewhere in the back of my writer’s brain I believe if the words are awful enough…they just might.

Enter CLEAR OUT THE STATIC IN YOUR ATTIC: A Writer’s Guide For Turning Artifacts Into Art  (Write Bloody Publishing).

If the act of calling yourself “a writer” somehow magically meant that every word you typed was always the exact right word in the exact right place, all of your stories were miraculously resolved in the most fulfilling ways, every essay you produced made a very important observation in a very intuitive and breathtaking way, and each poem reverberated with the wisdom and the beauty of every wise and beautiful thing that’s ever existed, well, what fun would it be to call yourself that? Like King Midas, I think you’d soon discover that there’s a downside to having all you touch turn to gold.

That’s because truly great writing is born out of the struggle of producing it.

 

Author’s Rebecca Bridge and Isla McKetta have endeavored to create a collection of over forty different writing exercises designed to “help you develop a relationship with your inner muse.” For me, this translated into simply, a place to start. I decided it wasn’t enough to merely read this book. I would need to try it for myself. And I have to say, the blank page became a little less threatening. Not that has cured every insecurity I hold dear, but it offered an entry point onto the page. It has challenged me as a writer. Forcing me to take my writing in new directions.

While some prompts in this collection are familiar, all were presented in an original way. Each prompt begins with a short narrative, by one of the authors, giving us the context for the prompt. Then comes the actual writing exercise, followed by an example. This may have been one of the strongest components to CLEAR OUT THE STATIC IN YOUR ATTIC. The examples are creative and inspiring. But I think, if I’m honest, my favorite part is the short section, that follows the example, entitled: Books to Explore. Each prompt comes with its own set of references. More examples of great writing in the style you’re currently trying out.

This resource works. It works for the writer, to give new direction, and new insight for new material. As a reader, I appreciate the references to new and exciting texts. Thank you to Write Bloody Publishing for helping me clear out the static in my attic.

Grab your copy of Clear Out the Static in Your Attic from Write Bloody!

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Review: Willie Claflin-THE LITTLE MOOSE WHO COULDN’T GO TO SLEEP

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Far away in the Northern Piney Woods there lives a storyteller named Maynard Moose. Every full moon in the forest, the animals come from far and near to hear him tell the old Mother Moose Tales, handed down so long ago.

Maynard Moose is back and telling tales in his fourth book entitled, The Little Moose Who Couldn’t Go To Sleep. We are introduced to Little Moose, who just can’t seem  to sleep. Cousin Maynard takes us through every aspect of moose life, starting with Moose Academy where we learn Proper Posture and Woodland Skills and How to Count to Three (as high as a moose can count) and ending with the solution to Little Moose’s problem, counting sheep, three at a time of course.

Illustrator James Stinson, brings the narrative to vivid life through his whimsical illustration of  this bedtime story about bedtimes. Author Willy Claflin (August House) incorporates rich language, much specific to the dialect used by the Aroostook County Mooses of northern Maine, with hilariously familiar characters. Little Moose, herself, may actually be  my own three-year old daughter, in moose form. Her rambling nighttime monologues succeed in developing a character who is lovable and relatable to any parent and child.

“I like my little bankee with the duckie and the zebra!” say Little Moose. “Duckies and Zebras on my bankee-dum-de-dum de-dum…. Huh! I wonder why they have picked duckee and zebra to put on my bankee?

I mean, you could have a elephump and flamingo bankee. That would make a nice bankee-elephump and flamingo bankee… you could have any amunal you would like. You could have…you could have banana and tarantula! ‘Cause I have heard that tarantula like bananas. I wonder if a banana could like a tarantula? Do you think you would have to be a amunal to like something? Or could a fruit or vegetable like something? I wonder that.

The Little Moose Who Couldn’t Go To Sleep is a new favorite book in our house. My own little moose, when curled up in her bankee, loves to hear Maynard Moose tell the story of his favorite cousin and how she finally learned to fall sleep.

You can pick up your own copy through August House!

 

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Review: Amanda Maciel- Tease

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The summer before Sara Wharton’s senior year was supposed to be filled with friends and parties. Instead, Sara finds herself immersed in a world that believes she’s responsible for the death of her classmate, Emma Putnam. Faced with charges of harassment and bullying, Sara has to learn to deal with the consequences of her choices. But is it really Sara’s fault? Sara’s not so sure.

In her debut novel, Tease, Amanda Maciel (Balzer + Bray)  deals with issues facing every high-school student, but she does it in a way we don’t often see.  The issues of bullying and harassment are on the forefront of every student and teacher. With violence in schools being reported on daily, the need to have an open dialogue is essential.  What I hadn’t recognized, until I read Tease, is that every Y.A. novel I have read, presents a similar story: a victim dealing with the, usually unprovoked, hideous mistreatment at the hands of the school bully. The bully falling into a cookie-cutter stereotype, and the innocent victim overcoming diversity to triumph in the end. All of this unfolding through the eyes of the victim. This is not that book.

What Amanda Maciel has done with Tease is the humanization of the bully. She has presented the idea that while yes, tormenting another person is absolutely wrong, the tormentor is in fact human. The issue has more than one side. The idea of black and white leaves out an important part of the narrative. This story is Sara’s story. And Sara isn’t all that sorry about what she’s done.

Everyone thought Emma Putnam was a pain in the ass. We didn’t kill her, but I’m sorry, that doesn’t mean we liked her. And now that everyone’s decided we did kill her, or at least sort of, I think I like her even less than I did when she was alive.

How could Sara not be sorry?  This question is asked throughout the novel. The answer is fairly straightforward. While Sara knows that she has done some things she shouldn’t have, Emma, the victim. isn’t an angel either.

The cold smacks me in the face as soon as I step outside, and I still have my shoes in my hand, so my feet go numb almost immediately. And then the wind is in my eyes, which fill with tears before I can even blink. So at first, I’m not actually sure that I’m seeing what I’m seeing. But I am, I’m seeing it. At the other end of the balcony, leaning against the wall and totally oblivious that they’re not alone, are Dylan and Emma. I blink. Once, twice, but they don’t disappear. And they don’t stop kissing.

This novel addresses a fundamental issue I think is often overlooked in the reality of bullying; the victim is not perfect. Perfection isn’t a prerequisite and the underlying problems are often complex. To confront the  realities of bullying we need to begin looking at the entire context.Tease does just that.   Amanda Maciel offers up a provocative novel that delves into a familiar subject with an honest voice .

Review: NO MATTER THE WRECKAGE by Sarah Kay

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Review: Sarah Kay-NO MATTER THE WRECKAGE

The Poetry Question

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Enchanting. Honest. Humble. Uplifting. Delightful. Courageous. Finding just one word to encapsulate that which Sarah Kay brings to her debut collection is like choosing my favorite star in the night sky. Already familiar with poems such as “B” and “Private Parts”, I was delighted to delve into No Matter The Wreckage (Write Bloody Publishing). From the first verse, Sarah invites us to witness the journey of  a woman,  filled with joyous vulnerability and a quirky strength, endeavoring to discover her place in a world guilty of throwing the occasional egg.

Sarah paints beautifully honest moments in such as “Ghost Ship”,

Oh, Brother. No matter your wreckage.

There will be someone to find you beautiful,

despite the cruddy metal. Your ruin is not to be hidden

behind paint and canvas. Let them see the cracks.

Someone will come to sing into these empty spaces.

Their voice will echo off your insides…

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Courage: Daring Poems for Gutsy Girls

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Review: COURAGE: DARING POEMS FOR GUTSY GIRLS

The Poetry Question

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Review by Courtney Myers

As I looked at piles of chapbooks spread across the coffee table, ripe for review, I couldn’t help but pluck this one from the bunch. Being a gutsy girl myself, the title demanded my attention almost as much as the featured authors did. Honestly, you had me at Patricia Smith, Andrea Gibson, and Sarah Kay.

Just as the title suggests, Courage: Daring Poems for Gutsy Girls (Write Bloody Books), offers up a collection of poems that touch upon every awkward, unlovely, hilarious, touching, beautiful and, most importantly, courageous moment of the teenage experience.  As editors Karen Finneyfrock, Rachel McKibbens, and Mindy Nettifee, so perfectly state in their introduction:

We can’t control the world teenage girls will inhabit and participate in creating. But if we could give them one charm to tuck into their pockets, it would be courage. So, lieu of a sword, or a yellow…

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REVIEW: ANNELYSE GELMAN-EVERYONE I LOVE IS A STRANGER TO SOMEONE

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Did you know I also do poetry reviews? My newest love comes from Annelyse Gelman. You’ve got to read, EVERYONE I LOVE IS A STRANGER TO SOMEONE.

The Poetry Question

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Annelyse Gelman is a woman I’d love to get to know over a glass or, let’s be honest,  a bottle, of red wine.  Humor weaves itself through this collection of poetry and intertwines with a raw sense of self in a way that can only be described as fascinating, and leaves me wondering how one poet can present such range of styles in a single body of work. And more importantly, be so damn good at it.

My introduction to Annelyse began with the poem, “Ars, Poetica”, in which she writes,

                            Hello,

my name is Annelyse. I have

chrysalized myself in the liberal arts

and now emerge, grotesque

insect, able to do nothing

but talk about everything.

True to her word, Annelyse does talk about everything. Her use of language, from the simplistic to the obscure, challenged my…

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