I Did It Again

Some weeks ago, I scanned the shelves of the nearest public library branch (a practice that has become more or less routine since my “enforced retirement” this past summer). One of the titles that caught my attention, upon perusal of the blurb and cover picture, looked promising enough that I decided to check it out. As the most recently-published volume in a series was also among my borrowed books, this new addition waited patiently for me to finish it before receiving my full attention.

It was worth the wait. The Orphan Queen by Jodi Meadows grabs readers on the first page and doesn’t let go. We meet Wilhemina, a princess whose kingdom, Aecor, was conquered by The Indigo Kingdom ten years before. Her parents were killed in the invasion, so Wilhemina and other orphans are living in an abandoned castle and plotting the return of Aecor’s rightful monarch to the throne. Toward this end, the princess-in-hiding infiltrates the Indigo Kingdom’s palace to gain information that will help in their quest. Wilhemina’s sojourn under the nose of the very king who ordered her parents’ deaths tests her powers of self-control. What’s more, her ability to perform magic, an activity forbidden for a hundred years because of wraith, a poisonous substance produced by its practice, is a secret she keeps from even her best friend–and only uses when her life is on the line. When things come to a head, and a surprise disclosure reveals the identity of Black Knife (a vigilante who spends his nights defending the helpless), Wilhemina must deal with her conflicting emotions concerning him and those with whom she has lived and struggled for a decade.

When I completed this blockbuster, I was devastated. Not because the conclusion was a disappointment, but because the cliffhanger ending left me wondering about the possibilities. (An aside: I was even intrigued by the author’s list of acknowledgements; she includes the Creator among those to whom she is indebted. As are we all.) Then I discovered that Jodi Meadows’ novel is the first of a two-volume set. Now I have another test of patience: waiting three months until the April 5 publication of The Mirror Queen. Add to that the concluding volume, alluded to above, of the Unwanted series, scheduled to be available April 12, and the interval seems interminably long.

There is one remedy: head back to the library in search of another literary gem while I wait.

 

Creations

After I penned my recent post about the blockbuster Unwanted series by Lisa McMann, I began thinking. Not about the books’ quality–they are high on my list of must-reads–but about one aspect of the story.

Those who have delved into the series know of Mr. Today’s ability to bring inanimate statues and other objects to life and imbue them with wisdom and courage (among other virtuous characteristics) and personality. Since I don’t wish to add a spoiler alert to this post, I won’t  go into details.

What started me thinking was the capacity to create living creatures. These creations are not robots with personality (a la Star Wars) or modified humans (like in Marissa Meyer’s Lunar Chronicles series). The products of Mr. Today’s magical ability are living, thinking, feeling people and animals. While it is far from me to find anything wrong with any author using imagination the way Lisa McMann and so many others do to create fantastic yet believable worlds and those who inhabit them, the creations in our real world are no less amazing.

Take the giraffe, for instance. The tallest land animal’s neck has the same number of vertebrae as a human’s; and, thanks to a powerful heart, this critter does not faint from a lack of oxygen-rich blood reaching the brain. Speaking of big animals, blue whales (Earth’s largest creature) lives on a much smaller one: the tiny, two-inch-long krill. The list of amazing-but-real residents of our planet goes on and on.

At the next opportunity, take a walk outside–or visit a zoo, aquarium, or botanic garden–and marvel in the animals and plants the Creator has placed on our planet. You can’t help but be amazed.

 

 

 

 

The Unwanteds

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In the dreary land of Quill, intelligence is prized and creativity is frowned upon. More than that, those “caught” in any artistic activity–drawing, singing, and the like–are labelled “Unwanted” and scheduled for elimination the year they turn thirteen.  No one questions or protests the practice; in fact, no one questions anything in Quill.

So it is that Aaron and Alex Stowe, identical twin brothers, know what is in store. Smart, conforming Aaron discovers that, as a Wanted, a university education and a bright future are his. On the same day, Alex (who has known his fate for three years) boards a bus to meet his doom. As his family turns away, already forgetting about the “embarrassing” son, the Unwanteds travel one last time through the walled-in, barbed-wire-ceilinged land. When the bus arrives at its sinister, frightening destination, the young people are ushered through a gate. Alex and his companions, resigned to their fate, are in for a number of surprises. The Lake of Boiling Oil (where their lives will supposedly end) transforms into a peaceful sea; the cracked concrete gives way to grass, flowers, and trees; an ugly shack becomes a magnificent mansion; and a brightly-robed gentleman emerges and greets the shocked teens. “I am Marcus Today. Welcome to Artimé. Tell me, children, how does it feel to be eliminated?”

As the truth dawns on the Unwanteds, the young people discover that what began as a nightmare has become a marvelous reality beyond their (heretofore forbidden) wildest imaginations. They join an untold number of predecessors and meet older siblings and friends. The new arrivals’ fondest wishes are theirs for the asking. Nothing is off limits, with one exception: they must not return to Quill or contact anyone there; to do so is to risk exposing everyone and causing the wonderful world of  Artimé to be destroyed.

So begins a magical tale. Alex and his fellow Unwanteds learn, for the first time, to laugh, feel, and love. However, the undercurrent of danger lurks below the surface. Will Mr. Today, the mage who created Artimé and all its fantastic creatures–the wise winged stone cheetah Simber, talking blackboards with personality in every room that are sources of vital information, the flying tortoise Jim, and more–succeed in keeping the residents of the land (and the land itself) safe?

Share this treasure with older kids and young teens. And don’t be surprised if, like me, you find yourself enamored of the world of Artimé. Readers cannot help but share in the dreams and feelings of her residents. Those who dwell on both sides of the magical land’s gate are fully-drawn personalities, and many things and people are not what they seem.

Join Alex, Aaron, and everyone in their worlds on a journey of adventure and discovery. Enjoy the ride: and be ready for the magnificent conclusion to Lisa McMann’s seven-volume masterpiece due to reach book and library shelves in April, 2016.

Marigolds Aplenty!

Readers may recall past posts about the tenacious and often surprising marigolds that add a touch of beauty to our front yard. Every spring (or summer, if I’m getting a late start) I arm myself with seeds from a previous year’s blooms and my trusty spade and go to work. Even though our neighborhood birds must be watching and, as soon as I am out of sight, invite their friends and relatives for a feast, they always leave at least a few uneaten. (And, when it comes to this project, I always have more seeds and a lot of patience–or is it determination that the avian diners won’t leave me marigoldless?)

This year was no exception. On Marigold Day, I planted more seeds that I cared to count, lovingly covered them with soil, and provided the new plantings with a generous helping of water. As usual, the feathered feasters enjoyed their repast–and fewer than a dozen baby marigolds made an appearance. Wondering why our local birds seem to target our yard more in recent years, I rejoiced when the hardy survivors presented us with blossoms. But the joy was short-lived. A gardener who has worked for us on a number of occasions came to practice his craft–and PULLED UP MY MARIGOLDS! His reasons made no sense, but the deed was done. As summer was on the wane, it appeared that we would have no marigolds to grace our yard this autumn. We would not have the pleasure of seeing flowers bloom into December and provide us with seeds to be planted as soon as four months down the road.

However, the marigolds had other ideas. Autumn was in full swing when my husband and I noticed tiny seedlings that looked tantalizingly familiar growing in a neat row.  First two, then three, then four, then five. Did we dare hope for flowers? We dared. And were rewarded.

marigolds1As November is on the wane, it looks like we’ll have December marigolds after all–and a generous supply of seeds with which to plant the next generation of these marvelous plants.

Speaking of November, I would indeed be remiss if I neglected to mention a special commemoration that occurs this month. This has nothing to do with harvest celebrations or turkeys (unless we are thinking about books on these topics). Picture Book Month celebrates this vital literary form and those who create these treasures.

Crunch is a food-loving guinea pig. When the roly-poly rodent meets a friendly–and hungry–mouse named Cheddar and refuses to share his food with the newcomer, the little fellow sadly leaves. Crunch finishes his meal and, plagued by fears of what might befall the mouse, begins a fruitless search for Cheddar. The sorrowful guinea pig returns home where, to his surprise, a full-tummied Cheddar is enjoying a carrot. The very satisfying ending to a delectable story makes Crunch! a picture book that deserves to be shared again and again.

To quote myself: “If a picture is worth a thousand words, a picture book is priceless.”

 

 

 

 

 

Newbies and Goodies

Even though I am officially retired, the urge to read–and share–books is as strong as ever. It helps that on occasion, a publisher will send copies of newly- and soon-to-be-published titles for me to review. The latest batch contains some gems for the picture-book crowd that beg to be shared. So, without further ado…

The Seasons series by Ailie Busby

Each volume in this delightful tribute to the seasons begins with a common refrain, for example, “I know it’s spring when…I hear the birds singing when I wake up. It makes me feel like singing too!” Smiling, rosy-cheeked children discover the pleasures of each time of year. Whether the youngsters meet baby animals, frolic in a pool, find acorns, or romp through the snow, readers and listeners will share their enthusiasm. Language gems abound: “Funny bugs buzz and butterflies flutter by.” “We’re eating sandwiches in the sand…and sand in our sandwiches!” The author’s bright, colorful illustrations are full of details kids will enjoy pointing out. A pesonal note: When my 2 1/2-year-old grandson, a budding literary critic, saw these books, he brought me the whole pile–and had a marvelous time identifying familiar objects and providing appropriate sound effects. He gives the series five stars.

The Jar of Happiness by Ailsa Burrows

Meg is a little girl with a grand idea. She mixes the right ingredients together to create a jar of happiness. With the taste of chocolate ice cream, apple juice and sunshine, and the smell of warm cookies and the ocean, Meg’s creation is bright and colorful. Wherever the little girl goes, the jar of happiness goes. With it, Meg raises the spirits of her down-in-the-dumps friend Zoe and makes her ailing Oma feel better. She even lets her brother Leon use it.

However, one morning, Meg’s jar of happiness is missing from its shelf. The distraught little girl looks everywhere (even in the unlikeliest of places like under her cat’s tail!), but it is nowhere to be found. An unhappy Meg goes to see Zoe and Oma, who teach her new ways of making happiness. And Leon shows her the ability of happy thoughts to “scare away gloomy feelings, bad smells and even monsters.”

What a treasure this book is. Ailsa Burrows teaches a marvelous lesson: how one child can make a positive difference in the lives of others, and how those she touches give back happiness when she needs it most. The talented British author’s vibrant, imaginative illustrations bring Meg’s story to life. Endearing details like the band of stuffed animals accompanying Meg with their musical instruments are priceless. This story, like Meg’s jar, is sure to spread joy wherever it is read. As her tale concludes, “By the end of the day, Meg still hadn’t found her jar…but she had found plenty of happiness.” Pair this book with Stand Tall, Molly Lou Melon and Have Fun, Molly Lou Melon by Patty Lovell for more kid-inspired ways to make a difference in the lives of others.

November is Picture Book Month! Celebrate by sharing these with the children in your life.

You can take the librarian out of the library, but you can’t take the library out of the librarian.

The End of a Chapter, Part 2

Almost six weeks have passed since I began what I refer to as my enforced retirement.  As happens every summer to most of us, the time has passed quickly. The calendar suddenly says August; late summer is descending as quickly as the temperature (for a time, at least) is rising. Many people are planning end-of-season getaways. In a number of locales, kids are on the verge of returning to school or are already back in the classroom.

In the past, my husband and I also took a vacation or treated ourselves to an overnight stay before the season changed once more. We contemplated doing the same again this year, but then the realization hit: for the first time in more than two decades, there is no necessity to be back at work the day after Labor Day. A September trip became a possibility. While it is a cause of celebration, there is a sense of the bittersweet. Despite my relief that the decision—the only right one—has been made, I will not be joining colleagues at my or other schools as they plan another academic year. The world I have known for nearly a quarter of a century is moving on, and I am no longer a part of it. There is no more sharing literary treasures with young people, no more encouraging children to think creatively and critically about books they have read, no more leading stimulating class discussions, no more choosing reading materials to enhance the quality of the collection, no more conducting schoolwide activities promoting a love of reading and showcasing young peoples’ writing and artistic talents.

However, there is another way of looking at things. While this part of my life is at an end, it leaves room for a new opening. This is the season when Jews the world over look back at the past year and, more importantly, look ahead to the one about to begin. It is a time for reflection, for thinking about what we have done in the past and considering how to do and be better in the future. Even though (in the northern hemisphere, at least) summer is ending and autumn waits in the wings, it is a season for a new beginning. As the leaves change from green and show their true colors (made possible by the absence of chlorophyll), we humans can focus on our true colors—what makes us who we are without outside trappings.

The possibilities are endless.

The End of a Chapter

It was a move I’ve been contemplating for some time. Since the news became official last fall that the school which had been my professional home for more than 23 years was relocating (but no one knew where), my future there waxed uncertain. As the academic year progressed, and I reached the age at which I could receive Social Security retirement benefits, I (privately) made the decision to say farewell before summer arrived. Even though there was no confirmation, I learned that the new location might not have space for a library. Rather than discover at school year’s end that this was true–and as there was no library, there would be no need for a librarian–the wisdom of closing this chapter in my life became more apparent.

So, on a lovely spring day, I informed an administrator of my decision. If it was any consolation, as the school made preparations for the Big Move, my fears were realized. The library books, except those that we pulled for use by teachers in their classrooms, were to be put into long-term storage until such a time as more spacious accommodations might be found.

Am I sad? Definitely. Sad for what was and is no more. Sad that thousands of wonderful books will sit in boxes for an indeterminate span of time. Sad that this is how almost 24 years of being part of the school ends.

Yet it is true that time heals all wounds. While my days seem a bit empty now, I am already planning how to fill them. So even though this chapter (or, in the words of a dear friend and right-hand-lady, this book) is at an end, I am not one to dwell very long on a just-completed story. There is always another tale waiting to be read.

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