Thursday, October 29, 2015

The Widow's Broom

     After reading to children professionally for more than fifteen years, I can say it is fairly seldom that a story actually renders them speechless and wide-eyed with the sublime tension of suspense.  It's all the more remarkable when the story is so subtly told.
     Such is The Widow's Broom by Chris Van Allsburg, which tells the tale of a lonely but kindly country widow named Minna Shaw, who inherits the broom of a witch.  Mr. Van Allsburg pairs his customarily evocative, precise and textured art with a way of conveying emotion and meaning that is sheer elegance, achieving a somber subtly nearly unheard of in picture books.
     Still more appropriate to the approaching holiday, The Widow's Broom balances a sense of the creepy with a deep understanding of what its young audience can handle.  It enthralls with a dreadfulness that turns out to be just dreadful enough to utterly delight.
     A treat of the non-standard variety for your Halloween.  

Thursday, October 22, 2015

Devices and Conventions

     You write a book or two and your work can end up referenced in the strangest, and sometimes, most interesting places.  I just stumbled onto a website called TV Tropes, a wiki that catalogs "devices and conventions that a writer can reasonably rely on as being present in the audience members' minds and expectations."  Sure enough, there's a page for Those That Wake and What We Become.  A synopsis of both books is followed by a list of terms, each connected to specific points and descriptions from one of the novels.  It makes for a study guide or fascinating little abstract analysis; the result, I might add, of someone's seriously in-depth and insightful reading of those two books.  A fun and thoughtful site, and one I'm flattered to be included on.

Thursday, October 15, 2015


     F. Scott Fitzgerald, author of the Great Gatsby among other things, said "Show me a hero and I will write you a tragedy."
     Mr. Fitzgerald may have been referring to the foundations of actual heroism in the world, but we do seem to need our fictional heroes to struggle with pain and anguish.  Even the heroes that inhabit our most heightened realities aren't exempt: all the great superheroes origins are steeped in irrevocably lost homelands and dead loved ones.  For better or for worse, it's this struggle that defines them, just as our struggles define us.  In the end, heroism is in how we struggle.

Thursday, October 8, 2015


     The most satisfying thing about being an educator is seeing a former student achieve well-deserved success.  One of my former graduate students recently posted this piece for the Scholastic blog on a subject close to my heart.  It's nice to know there are such thoughtful and incisive people at the vanguard of this issue.

Thursday, October 1, 2015

Banned Books Week

    As a librarian and educator (not to mention an author), I would be remiss in not noting that we are in the thick of Banned Books Week, which runs through October 3rd.  As a supporter of and writer about comics and graphic novels, I would be remiss in not noting here that the format is often particularly targeted by challenges.  Indeed, the Banned Books Week official website's case study focuses on Persepolis by Marjane Satrapi.

     Banning a book is cutting off an idea and ideas are the primary force in our learning and growth.  It's sometimes easy to say "well, sure, but not that idea.  That one's just trouble.  There are so many others to help us learn and grow."  But it's the notions that seem most uncomfortable, most painful at first that often prove to be the ones we need to become something better than we are, as a person or as a society.
      Something to consider as you take full advantage of the indispensable intellectual freedom we are afforded here by picking up a banned book and seeing what all the fuss is about.