The greatest Independence Day party ever

And by Independence Day, I mean the Lithuanian one, of course.


The ultimate expression of Lithuania’s year-long 100th anniversary celebration happened the first week of July in Vilnius, and hardcore LT fan that I am, I was there to see it in person, along with my parents and brother — with a few side trips thrown in, including a selkie-searching mission in Galway, Ireland.  So, if you’re in the mood for some vicarious bookish and historical traveling, follow me to a land of leprechaun houses, 20th-century wizards, bridge-guarding mermaids, and majestic music festivals!

Searching for selkies in Inis Mór

The first stop on the great EuroTrip 2018 was Galway — partly because it’s the setting of one of David Thomson’s seal story hunts in The People of the Sea (reviewed here), and partly because it’s going to be the setting of one of my own writing projects.  Thomson stopped on the island of Inis Meain (Inishmann), the middle of the three Aran Islands, where he heard the stories of the ominous Black Ledge where no seals gather; of the legendary Coneely family turned to seals; and of the fisherman who saves himself from drowning with the help of an axe, a hook, and a knife.

This being our first trip to Galway, we decided to try out the bigger of the three islands, Inis Mór (Inishmore), because it has some of the most famous historical sites, and the tour description suggested good views of a resident seal colony.

Disembarking at the docks of Kilronan, we stopped for a quick coffee at the BayView Restaurant, where we waited for the mini bus to arrive at the nearby Aran Sweater Market.  Soon enough, the bus pulled in and the tour began.  We rolled by rocky fields shaped by retreating glaciers and admired the labyrinth of stone fences built over hundreds of years, the stones staying in place for centuries without mortar or cement.

We stopped first in front of a home whose inhabitants had built a miniature leprechaun house in their front yard.  Apparently, leprechaun houses are an Aran Islands tradition, meant to bring good luck to the household.

Leprechaun House.jpg

Next, we walked through the ruins of the Seven Churches, once one of the biggest monastic and pilgrimage centers on Ireland’s west coast.  There are actually only two churches, but the “Seven” might be a reference to a Roman pilgrimage route that included seven churches.  And amazingly, the cemetery is still active, bearing not only (possibly) the bones of the ancient saints, but also contemporary residents.

But, being as weird and daydreamy as I am, the part that really struck me was the eerie, piercing sound of the cemetery gates as they swung on their rusty hinges.  Definitely good inspiration for a spooky story!

And then…and then…we stopped at a look-out point where you could watch the local seal colony, and we were in luck!  There was a small herd sunning themselves at low tide, chillaxing in the common “banana pose.”


Channeling David Thomson, I asked the bus driver if he knew any good local seal stories, and I was in luck once again, because he’d just heard one on the radio the other day:

A man from Connemara went out one day, set on shooting a seal that had been stealing fish from his nets.  But when he finally came face to face with the animal, the man saw something in its eyes that changed his mind.  He left the seal alone and went home.  Several years passed with no more incident, until one day, the man was out fishing with his friends, and a sudden storm rose up.  The other boats and their inhabitants were quickly lost, but the man had the good fortune to see a seal ahead of him, which led him back to shore.  It was the same seal he’d spared several years ago, returning the favor.

Doesn’t that sound like just the kind of story Thomson would have heard on the islands?  The tour could have ended right then and I would’ve been thrilled with the day.

Nah, just kidding… I was totally looking forward to the final stop at the most famous site, the three-thousand-year-old fort Dun Aonghasa, built at the edge of a 300-foot cliff overlooking the Atlantic Ocean.

It’s a long climb up a winding path to the fort, a path surrounded by fields scattered with mellow cows grazing nonchalantly below the monument.  And then you reach the top of the hill and you’re drawn magnetically to the edge of the cliff, where you can look down at the deadly rocks and waves where only seals and mermaids could survive.  On the one hand, it’s nice that there are no fences and such ruining the view.  On the other hand, holy snap that’s a long fall to your death!

Dun Aonghasa5

Full of inspiration, I made my way back down to the Kilmurvey Craft Village for some honeycomb ice cream, and then boarded the bus for the trip back to Kilronan.

*  *  *  *  *

Wizards and suffragists in Royal Tunbridge Wells

The next stop on our trip was Kent, England, where we spent a day with my cousin Paulius and his family.  Together, we wandered around Royal Tunbridge Wells, whose former resident Edward Bulwer Lytton first penned the phrase “It was a dark and stormy night” in the opening of his novel, Paul Clifford.  He’s also known for “the pen is mightier than the sword” and “the almighty dollar.”

Tunbridge Wells was also home to writers like E. M. Forester, William Makepeace Thackeray, and late-nineteenth-century novelist and suffragist Sarah Grand, who coined the term “the New Woman” to represent herself and other women who broke from the traditional Victorian gender roles.  The kind of woman satirized in cartoons featuring velocipeding maniacs bowling over poor, unsuspecting gentlemen — cartoons which Kate Beaton, in turn, satirized in Step Aside, Pops.

Velocipeding  step aside pops

The Kent area is also famous for Ashdown Forest, inspiration for the Hundred Acre Wood in A. A. Milne’s Winnie the Pooh stories.  We weren’t able to make it to Ashdown itself, but my family did take a beautiful hike through the nearby Speldhurst Wood, where I could equally well imagine Christopher Robin and his friends playing Pooh Sticks and hunting for honey.

And, of course, being in England, it was absolutely my duty to stop into a Waterstones Bookstore for a copy of Harry Potter and the Philosopher’s Stone.  Speaking of which, Happy 20th/21st anniversary to Sorcerer’s Stone/Philosopher’s Stone!  My local library had an amazing Potterfest, complete with Quidditch games in the courtyard and magic shows in the meeting rooms, Honeydukes in the hall and wizard tournaments in the YA wing.  I also attended my very first Wizard Rock concert, featuring Tonks and the Aurors. #yesallwitches

Tonks and the Aurors

Have you attended any good Potter parties this year?  Tell me all about it in the comments!

Meanwhile, onward to the main event!

Posted in festivals, folklore/fairy tales, literary travel, Lithuania, mermaids, music, out-of-book experiences, selkies, writing | 3 Comments

And how’s YOUR summer job? (mermaid edition)

Ah, the summer job.  A classic coming-of-age experience for many teens —  a chance to learn responsibility, gain new skills, and earn some extra clams.  My first job back in high school was, of course, shelving books at my hometown library.  No surprise there, right?

But some teens have more unusual part-time jobs.  BookRiot even made a list of YA books featuring unique teen work experiences, from Ren Faire face painter/serving wench to funeral home assistant.  But the most holy-squid-that’s-awesome-sounding job was featured in Like Water, by Rebecca Podos, about a girl whose summer job is performing as a water park mermaid in New Mexico.

What could be more amazing than being paid to play mermaid all day?  As much as I enjoyed working at the library, actually getting to live out my fantasies would’ve been a dream!

little mermaid

Even more awesomely, Like Water isn’t the only book to feature mermaid performers.  Beth Mayall beat Rebecca Podos to it with Mermaid Park, back in 2005, and more recently, David Wiesner and Donna Jo Napoli collaborated on Fish Girl, a graphic novel about an actual mermaid performing at a boardwalk aquarium.

This is not to say that I entirely loved all three books; they do have their issues, but at least the mermaid bits were a ton of fun.

So!  If you feel like taking a break from your own summer jobs to vicariously experience the world of Real Life Mermaids, follow me!

Watch out for mermaid puns…

Posted in family, fantasy, graphic-novels, LGBTQIA, mermaids, re-reads, romantic | 6 Comments

An ode to the Meet Cute: a short story month post

May is Short Story Month, so a few weeks ago, I checked my library catalog for recent(ish) Juv/YA short story collections and discovered these two:

                     Friends   Meet Cute

One is a collection of friendship stories targeted to middle-grade and younger readers, and the other is a collection of romantic stories for teens.  Both feature that delightful rom com trope, the Meet Cute — normally a term reserved for that life-changing moment when you first meet your future lover, but I’ve decided it also applies to that life-changing moment when you meet your future best friend.  It may be the tough girl who pushes you to stand up to a bully, or the guy you saw for just a second on a passing train, or even the person you thought was your mortal enemy.  It may be the start of a lifelong relationship, or one that lasts for just a day, but either way, it’s a moment that changes your destiny.

On that epic(ally cheesy) note, the following are my favorite and least favorite stories.

Friends close-up

Friends.  New York: Scholastic Press, 2005.

Rating:  4.5 out of 5 tin soldiers who are really disguised princes raised by wolves.


  • “Squirrel,” by Ann M. Martin.  The creator of The Baby-Sitters’ Club books certainly knows how to write a good friendship story.  This time, she writes from the perspective of a dog.  Squirrel has spent most of her life as a stray, picked up occasionally by humans, but never for long.  And occasionally she makes another dog friend, but also not for very long.  It’s a lonely life until she finally meets Susan, the one person who might keep Squirrel for good.

The moral of the story:  Some people should not be dog owners, ever.  Martin makes you really feel for Squirrel as she goes from being mistreated and neglected to finally being really cared for by someone who actually cares.  Maybe have a few tissues handy for this one.

  • “Shashikala: A Brief History of Love and Khadi,” by Tanuja Desai Hidier.  It is the spring of 1946 in South Gujarat, India.  Tensions are rising to a fever pitch between those who want independence and those who are loyal to the British government.  Eight-year-old Anand wants to be like his brave older brother, who was arrested for setting fire to a police station.  He wants to help his mother secretly distribute independence flags throughout the town.  But most of all, he wants to be smiled on by Shashikala, the new girl in his neighborhood, whose own brother was killed helping the freedom fighters in Bombay.

Hidier tells a powerful story of India’s fight for independence from a child’s perspective, a child whose personal desires are mixed with the desire to be part of something bigger than himself.  Anand is a very relatable eight-year-old who chases girls and thinks about his favorite treat (milk with crushed almonds) during morning prayers, but he’s also forced to be mature for his age and to think about the social and political divides in his country.  Expect a future review of Hidier’s YA novels, Born Confused and Bombay Blues.

  • “The Wild Prince,” by Brian Selznick.  One day, the unnamed narrator discovers an old tin soldier buried in the weeds in his or her backyard, “the way others before…had discovered Egyptian tombs and sunken ocean liners.”  At first the narrator keeps the soldier to themselves, imagining stories about his battles and adventures, hiding him in their pocket.  Then, another fateful day, they discover a kindred spirit, a boy named Ezra who creates even wilder stories about the soldier.  And together, the narrator and Ezra make the most amazing discovery of all about the soldier-prince’s origins.

These two kids really make me smile, reminding me of Martha and Ivy from Zilpha Keatley Snyder’s The Changeling, making up epic stories in the woods behind their houses, turning everyday discoveries into moments of destiny.  And they remind me of myself — I was the kid with the wild imagination back in grade school, but I didn’t find my own Ezra, someone to really share my love of mermaids and selkies and Faerie, until much later.  It was worth waiting for, though.

  • “Flit,” by Patrick Jennings.  Monroe’s family moves a lot, so he never gets to make friends for long.  The one exception is Flit, Monroe’s imaginary pixie friend who protects him from heartbreak by making snarky comments about any would-be new friends, lest Monroe actually get his hopes up.  But maybe Flit’s protectiveness (or is it possessiveness) is getting a little old, and maybe leaving a place doesn’t have to mean saying goodbye forever.

Flit is really funny, even though he’s totally obnoxious.  He reminds me of Erg the wisecracking doll, from Sarah Porter’s Vassa in the Night — full of snark, but with a deep-down vulnerability.


  • “The Friend Who Changed My Life,” by Pam Muñoz Ryan.  The narrator is the new girl at school, and hasn’t yet figured out all the rules for fitting in.  The wrong hairstyle, the wrong clothes, nose in a book, she immediately attracts the attention of a bully.  But it turns out that mean Theresa has her own insecurities, and maybe she, too, is just looking for a friend.

First of all, the title is way too on the nose.  But this story was actually fine for the most part (though Theresa’s change of attitude seemed pretty abrupt), but it was the ending that really made me roll my eyes.  Not to spoil anything, but the narrator suddenly launches into The Moral of The Story, which is a major case of Telling vs. Showing.  I already watched her learn to stand up for herself while also learning not to be ashamed of her insecurities; I didn’t need the big wrap-up review at the end to tell me all the lessons I’m supposed to have learned from the story.


It’s a really sweet collection of friendship stories from well-known writers like Ann M. Martin, Brian Selznick, Meg Cabot, and David Levithan.  I highly recommend this for a quick, feel-good read.

Next:  Teen rom-com adventures

Posted in LGBTQIA, romantic, short stories | 2 Comments

A soundchronicity walk for Lithuania

First, a shout-out to Lithuania’s entry to the 2018 Eurovision Song Contest:

In honor of the 100th independence anniversary, the Lithuanian NGO Music Export Fund has compiled a Spotify playlist of 100 songs from 1918 to the present, from the classical work of M. K. Čiurlonis to the 2016 smash hit, “Lithuanian History Rap.”

In my own way, I’ve decided to celebrate Lithuania 100 by taking a soundchronicity walk with that playlist.

Gareth E. Rees coined the term “soundchronicity walk” in Marshland: Dreams and Nightmares On the Edge of London (reviewed here).  In his Appendix, Rees describes his space-time-sound experiments, in which he uses music “as a tool of engagement with [the] landscape,” the sounds of his playlist blending with the sounds of the city and the marshes.  Rees recommends using ambient, experimental, basically wordless music “that has space between the beats and melodies,” and the Lithuania 100 playlist certainly has a few of those, but I’m also game for trying to experience nature against a backdrop of the classical, pop and rock songs in the playlist.

For my landscape, I’ve chosen to walk part of Fort Wayne’s River Greenway paths, starting at Swinney Park in the west and walking south along the St. Mary’s river.  I set my playlist on shuffle and begin.

Magic on the River St. Mary

Walking under the Jefferson St. bridge in Swinney Park, gazing at the splashy graffiti and wondering if the gathering gloom overhead is going to erupt in rain showers soon, I listen to the electronic strains of “Have You Ever Had a Dream.”  The pounding heartbeat (drums), the shrill sound like a dial tone, and the digitized chanting blend with the wind-like rush of cars over the bridge, the dull roar of machinery from the old buildings across the river, and the flow of the river itself.


It all feels more epic with the electronica in the background, like I’m walking through a video game, like the river and the trees and the wooden walkways are all a simulated landscape leading me to some boss battle with the semis rumbling overhead.

I leave the Greenway path for a bit, exploring the neighborhood around Brooklyn Ave. as the Greek bouzouki-like strings that open Virgis Stakėnas’ “Kelelis Tolimas” (A Distant Road/Those Were the Days) transport me now to old Europe.

As I pass by churches and gas stations, I am simultaneously walking through an old Lithuanian village, taking a long road through the country, stopping to share some wine with a friendly officer, passing by gypsy caravans, the days flowing by like rivers, trusting my steed to carry me home.

Stakėnas’ voice also takes me back to those long-ago car trips with my family, traveling from Wisconsin to Ohio to visit my grandparents, listening to cassettes of the very-similarly-voiced Vytautas Kernagis and his subversive anti-Soviet songs disguised as humorous tunes about potato beetles.  Those were the days, indeed!

The grey sky remains dry for now, and I find my way back to the river trail as the hesitant, staccato sounds of “Commentum for Violoncello and Piano” dance around police sirens and bird calls, and my journey feels more eerie now, taking me through a lonely wood, past a fallen bone-white tree sinking into the river, the wooden walkway creaking like old bones under my feet.  I pass by an odd statement…

Rainbow Locks

…that oddly fits the plocky piano notes.  What do you think it means?

The trail then loops around the Foster Park Golf Course as distant thunder begins to rumble and a distant chainsaw roars to life, blending with the digital percussion and warped, zipper sounds and sitar strains of “Glasswalk,” which transition to the after-school calls of teenagers walking home through the nearby neighborhood, punctuating the staircase-climbing notes and chants of Damn, what’s this? in “Signature V5.”

Finally, I pass through a memorial garden as I loop back northward, wind-rustled cherry blossoms and clouds of tiny moths like sea mist matching the many moods of the ocean as portrayed by Čiurlonis in “Jūra (The Sea).”

The piece moves through quiet, contemplative moments, swelling to majestic cymbals crashing like waves against the Baltic shore, storm clouds gathering and tossing ships like toys in the Curonian Lagoon.  Overhead, my own sky has finally released a light rain, and the pattering of drops on my umbrella, and the rushing river of cars on the road, lead my mind to the coast, the Midwestern St. Mary’s river somehow emptying out into the distant sea.

I make my way back under the Jefferson St. bridge, and back into Swinney Park, vowing to try another soundchronicity walk in the future, maybe this time by bike, and without the constant stops to make note of the song titles.

I’ll leave you with another shout-out, this time to the greatest Eurovision entry ever, from 2006.  😆

Posted in historical, Lithuania, music, out-of-book experiences | 4 Comments

The comics update: Mystical planets, skateboarding ninjas, and Azzazian warrior queens

Another Free Comic Book Day come and gone.  Fort Wayne has several great comics shops, as well as an amazing downtown library, so I definitely wasn’t lacking in places to hit up for free comics.  The library even had special events for kids — a superhero scavenger hunt, cape and domino mask making stations, and superhero visits.

My comic reading habits this year have been mostly going back to old favorites.  Linda Medley is still working on Volume 3 of Castle Waiting, and Kate Beaton is taking a break from the Hark! A Vagrant! comics to write a graphic novel, so I’ve been returning regularly to the volumes I already have for my feminist fairy tale and historical parody fix.

I’ve also finally finished up the America Chavez solo series, having taken a few months’ break after Issue #6 because the story arcs were kind of bugging me…


It felt like every conflict the writers introduced was solved too quickly and easily.  Unlike Ms. Marvel, where story arcs last for at least four episodes each, or Young Avengers, which took 15 issues to complete its story arc, the conflicts in America 1-6 usually took just two issues to resolve.  Cyborgs attack Sotomayor University?  Just a quick zzzzapp! and they’re gone!  Those adorable pre-teens from Planet Maltixa turn out to be an evil guerilla group that kidnaps America’s ex-girlfriend?  Never mind; they basically just invited her over for a Buffy marathon.  An old girlfriend is forced to betray America to an evil organization that wants to pit them against each other in a boxing-match-to-the-death?  Just call in Deus Ex Madrimar!

None of these mini arcs lasted long enough to make a compelling story, and when I heard the series as a whole was canceled after Issue 12, I wasn’t really surprised.

But then.

America v2

Then America Vol. 2 (Issues 7-12)  appeared at my local library, and I decided to give it a chance.  And right away, they hooked me with America’s full origin story involving a mystical planet born from the love affair between two ancient goddesses, and a demon enemy that drove America’s ancestors from their home and has now returned for a re-match, oh and apparently those cyborgs and the evil Midas corporation were all connected after all under another enemy we met in Young Avengers, who is also set on attacking America’s home planet, and all this is going to take more than just two episodes to resolve.  Much better, right?

America v2a
Dang, Exterminatrix is scaring me more than those skeletal planet-eating demons!

Buuut then.

Aaaand then, after that awesome six-issue build-up, and an admittedly awesome motorcycle battle with Exterminatrix, America just has to ask the evil pink genocidal planet-eating demons nicely to please make peace with the people of Planeta Fuertona, and a decades-long conflict is over in a flash.

Yup, this calls for a Merida glare.

So, that was America Chavez’s first solo series.  A lot of build-up and a few fun moments lead to an eye-rollingly rushed end.  But, who knows?  Maybe Rivera et al. will try again in the future, and I’ll be willing to see where America’s story goes.

So, now what?  While I wait for more Castle Waiting and Hark! A Vagrant!, I’ve been having a much better time with Ms. Marvel (The Inventor returned for a re-match!  Bruno returned from Wakanda!  There’s a new mean girl at school and reformed concern troll Zoe might kind of maybe have a crush on her!) and Free Comic Book Day has given me a few new stories to consider.

All-Summer-LongAll Summer Long, by Hope Larson (as excerpted in FCBD’s Comics Friends Forever), is apparently one of those the-summer-everything-changed coming-of-age stories about a thirteen-year-old girl named Bina who tries to figure out what to do with herself while her possibly-estranged best friend is away at soccer camp, and ends up spending more and more time rocking out with his older sister.  I’m really hoping this is going to turn into a f/f summer romance, personally.

Street Angel, by Jim Rugg and Brian Maruca, is about a homeless Street Angel's Dogskateboarding teen ninja who spends her days battling fellow ninjas, as well as “drugs, nepotism, and pre-algebra,” and also saves a lost dog from a local gang.  I’m already a big fan of the stark, graffiti-like art style, with its flashy fonts and bright colors, and I may be down for some forthcoming adventures working as an office temp at a ninja tech corporation, besides dealing with girl gangs, superheroes, and a lunch lady from WWI.

Malika2And then there’s the Malika series, by Roye Okupe, which takes place in a fifteenth-century West African kingdom ruled by a warrior queen who fights internal rebels as well as an external superpower known as the Ming Dynasty.  The FCBD episode was unfortunately sold out by the time I got to the comics shop, so I hit up my library’s hoopla account for Issues 1-4 instead, and was intrigued enough to sign up for updates.   Fun Fact:  the five provinces of the Azzazian Empire are inspired by real historical West African kingdoms and ethnic groups like the Bornu, the Dahomey, and the Nupe.

*  *  *  *  *

What about you, La La Landers?  Which of this year’s free comics have hooked you on new stories?  Any other comics or graphic novels you’d like to give a shout-out to?

Posted in comics, fantasy, folklore/fairy tales, graphic-novels | 4 Comments

“Spring has come again already” – Lithuanian poetry through the ages

My Lithuanian Year continues as I delve into more of the Baltic nation’s literary history.  For National Poetry Month, I’ve decided to research five of Lithuania’s best-known poets, from the nineteenth century to the present.  From the age of the Tsars, through Soviet occupation, to Independence, Lithuanian poetry has evolved through a variety of literary and socio-political movements — classical, Romantic, lyric, expressionist, futurist, postmodern, religious, secular, mythological, realistic, overtly political, more subtle and Symbolic, etc.

The very first Lithuanian poem was published in 1818 — Metai (The Seasons), by Kristijonas Donelaitis (1714 – 1780), a Lutheran pastor who grew up in the Prussian territory of Lithuania Minor.  Donelaitis studied classical literature and Lutheran



theology at the University of Königsberg.  He wrote several poems in German, as well as six Lithuanian fables, but Metai is considered his major work, written and rewritten over many years.

Metai is organized into four sections:  The Joys of Spring, The Toils of Summer, Autumn’s Riches, and The Cares of Winter.  The poem deals with daily village life and the interaction between peasants and their wealthier neighbors.  At the time that Donelaitis was writing, Lithuania was a feudal society, with serfs living under wealthy landlords.  Donelaitis speaks of the two classes as equals, both with their virtues and flaws, and he encourages his readers to live more in tune with the natural world, criticizing the fancier, “foolish” fashions of the day.

Here is an excerpt from The Toils of Summer, translated into English by Clark Mills:

So, too, with our cheerful birds — it was the same.
Calls of cuckoo, warblings of the nightingale,
What the skylarks, paired in flight, played and invented,
All are ending, or have now completely ended.
Living creatures, many, who began as nestlings,
Fathers lost, and mothers, now must feed themselves,
In their warblings echoing the parents’ voices.
So at once the world’s almost as if renewed.
I, an old man, see these marvels and exclaim,
Sighing with a woeful wonderment and sorrow:
Oh, how empty are the labors of our age!
As Saint David tells us, we are fragile beings;
Like the flowers in the fields, we grow and blossom.
Each man at his birth is like a simple bud —
First his blossom will unfold and open out,
Then, his flowering over and himself divested,

He brings forth his fruits that end his time alloted.
This, exactly this, happens to all us wretches.
We, peasant and landlord, in the cradle whining,
Show so faintly in the bud our life to come!
Later, with the time already here to blossom,
One, foppishly skipping like a gentleman,
And another, scurrying like a peasant boor,
Waste their days of youth away in foolish frolic.
Yet, already, as the beard begins to grow,
And as each must turn his hand to earnest labor,
Ah, how soon our foolish childlike fancies fade!

Source:  Lituanus: Lithuanian Quarterly Journal of Arts and Sciences, Spring 1964

Next:  Maironis, poet-prophet of national rebirth

Posted in folklore/fairy tales, LGBTQIA, Lithuania, poetry, romantic, Scholarly Musings | 4 Comments

“Stink bugs are temporary. Love is forever.”

As I mentioned the one other time I got political on this blog…I don’t usually get political on this blog.  I usually keep La La Land and Washington very separate.  But once in a while, a thing happens that deserves mention, a thing that directly relates to the values of La La Land and the messages we want to share with the world.

That thing is this book.

Marlon Bundo

Jill Twiss.  A Day in the Life of Marlon Bundo.  San Francisco: Chronicle Books, 2018.

Rating:  5 out of 5 tiny carrots that aren’t ready to grow up and be lunches yet.

Yes, it’s partly a political parody that explicitly mentions Vice President Mike Pence by name and says he “isn’t very fun,” but it’s also just a lovely children’s book about two bunnies who fall in love and fight prejudice to be together.

You see, as former Daily Show correspondent John Oliver explains in this segment from Last Week Tonight (warning: some very salty language), Vice President Mike Pence has not been a friend to the LGBT community.  As governor of Indiana, he signed a law making it legal for Indiana businesses to discriminate against LGBT people.  As a member of Congress, he actually opposed anti-discrimination bills.  He’s argued against LGBT people serving in the military.  His views on conversion therapy are, at best, unclear.

So, when Mr. Pence and his family wrote a book about their bunny, Marlon Bundo, in which Bundo teaches children about the awesome job the vice president is doing (and one of the stops on the Bundo book tour is at an organization that promotes conversion therapy), John Oliver and his team decided to tell their own story (just in time for Easter, too!) about bunnies doing their civic duty to promote love and equality and respect for people’s differences.  And they’re donating the proceeds to the Trevor Project and AIDS United.

Now, to be fair, I did read the original Marlon Bundo book, and it was a nice lesson on what the vice president does on a daily basis, and the watercolor illustrations were pretty.

Marlon Bundo1

But it’s not very kid-friendly.  Honestly, it does make the vice president sound Very Boring.  Sure, it tries to reel kids in with a big bunny on the cover, but Marlon Bundo barely features in the rest of the illustrations.  They focus more on the D.C. buildings and landscapes, with the titular bunny shrunken and relegated to the background.

And the story itself focuses on such dry, technical aspects of the vice president’s day.  How many little kids would really care that the vice president gets his morning coffee from the Naval Enlisted Aides, or that his second office is in the Eisenhower Executive Office Building (or “EEOB,” as Marlon Bundo adorably calls it), or that he has a painting by T. C. Steele?  Sure, it’s important for kids to learn about how their government works, but you have to present it in a way they’ll relate to.  And no, it’s not enough to try to dress it up in rhyming verse.  All a kid is going to see is:

Blah blah blah blah
Blah blah blah motorcade.
Blah blah blah blah
Blah blah blah Aides.

You know what kids do relate to?  Feeling different, and wanting to be treated fairly, and knowing who you really like spending time with.  And you know what little kids want to see in a book about a bunny?  BUNNIES.

Better Bundo

Adding more friendly animal characters also helps, and you get extra points for giving them funny names like Scooter (a turtle) and Pumpernickel (a badger) and Dill Prickle (a hedgehog) and Mr. Paws (a very good dog).

This is what kids are going to respond to.  These are the kinds of lessons we need to be teaching them — that our differences make us special and worthwhile, and that we don’t need to let mean stinkbugs make all the rules.

This book should definitely be added to lists of the best LGBT picture books.  Now, go and get yourself a copy of the Better Bundo Book! 😀


Posted in favorites, humor, LGBTQIA, news, opinion, picture books | 11 Comments

Love, Simon vs. the Homo Sapiens Agenda

Book Nerd Problems 1

Book Rating:  4.95 out of 5 magical worlds where everything is made of Oreos.

Movie Rating:  4.5 out of 5 kisses on the Ferris Wheel

So, yeah, Simon the book is sweet and adorable and heartwarming, and the movie, though it has a few adaptation-related issues, is one I’d be willing to see again.  Maybe even buy myself a DVD copy.

Things I especially liked (in the book):


  • The bully isn’t a cliche — he’s not a jock or the Most Popular Guy In School.  He’s a goofy nerd who kind of grows on you, even though he’s being a total jerk.


  • You know what else has apparently grown on me?  The present-tense p.o.v. in non-
    Hunger-Games books.  Honestly, I didn’t even notice it until about a quarter of the way through the book.  The story hooked me that well.  Or maybe it only works in first-person stories, I don’t know.  I just know it was not at all the usual turn-off it is in other books.


  • The story has good messages, but it’s not messagey.  And it’s uplifting, but it’s not a Utopia; it still acknowledges the real problems LGBT teens have to deal with, even in more progressive places like Atlanta.


  • That one college guy in the bar.  He is totally the classiest.  When he finds out Simon is underage, he’s all, Oh, no, I respect you way too much to keep flirting with you. I’m just gonna take you back to your friends so they can get you home safe.  THE CLASSIEST.


  • Did I mention how romantic and sweet and mushy-in-a-good-way this book is?  Simon and “Blue” are the sweetest!


Things I especially liked (in the movie):

Love Simon

  • That scene where Simon imagines what it would be like if straight people had to come out to their parents, and their parents reacted with the same drama.  It’s freaking hilarious.


  • The Ferris Wheel kiss was THE LOVELIEST THING EVER.


  • Jennifer Garner was wonderful.  I thought they were going to typecast her as the eye-rollingly goofy/awkward mom, but she felt really natural and sincere.  Her big speech about how much she loves Simon exactly as he is made me a bit teary-eyed, tbh.


  • Random thing is random, but I actually clapped out loud when Simon listed David Bowie and Bing Crosby’s “Little Drummer Boy” as one of the greatest Christmas songs ever.  Fifty points to the house of your choice, Simon, for your impeccable taste.


  • SPOILERS AHEAD.  Skip to the next section if you haven’t read the book.

    Ok, this one was almost a huge turn-off.  They almost spoiled the Blue reveal within the first twenty minutes, but then they totally saved themselves by making it a fake-out.  As in, Simon thinks he figures out who Blue is, but then sees the guy kissing a girl, so he has to keep guessing throughout the movie, until the end, when he realizes his first guess was right after all.

Things that bugged me (in the movie):

  • They thin-washed Leah.  Not cool.


  • They made the Blue reveal a big public thing, when in the book, Simon made a point to ask Blue privately about meeting in person, so as not to force him to come out to everyone before he was ready.  Then again, I do get that the more dramatic reveal fits a rom-com, and it is really nice to see a gay couple get that much positive attention — even excitement — from their classmates, and ok, it did work as a nice counter-point to the Homecoming Game scene, so maybe I’ll give it a pass.


  • SPOILERS AHEAD…..  The cheesy vice principal was mostly added for extra comic relief, which would have been fine (I totally laughed out loud when he pulled his hat over his eyes during Martin’s disastrous Homecoming game performance), except when his jokes come off as awkwardly homophobic.  Like when he at first seems to be really concerned about Simon’s well-being after the Creeksecrets outing, only to make a point that, “Woah, just so we’re clear, when I said we had a lot in common, I didn’t mean that.” Or when he assumes that Simon and Ethan are a couple because they’re the only out gay people at school.


  • This is a minor thing, but why did they change Simon’s G-mail username?  Did they not get the rights to use Elliott Smith’s lyrics?  Or did they not want to bother explaining what hourtohour.notetonote means, so they went with the more generic frommywindow?


The only thing I’d change (in the book):

I would have made it a little more clear that, even though it’s definitely not Simon’s jam, cross-dressing is totally normal and acceptable as long as you’re doing it in a respectful way (i.e. understanding that gender is a spectrum, and there’s nothing crazy or weird about someone with traditionally masculine traits wearing traditionally feminine clothing), and nothing to get squicked out about.  I get the feeling that the book was trying to make the point that, hey, not all gay people are into things like cross-dressing, and also maybe pointing out that “gender-bending” as a Spirit Week activity tends to be done in a disrespectful way, but it just wasn’t entirely clear.



Simon the book is wonderful, and, issues aside, Love, Simon is a pretty awesome movie.  The fact that we finally have an LGBT-teen-starring romantic comedy from a major film studio is, of course, amazing, and makes me hopeful we’ll see more LGBT YA book adaptations.  Seven Tears at High Tide the Movie, plz!  Let’s add America Chavez to the Marvel Cinematic Universe!

What about you, La La Landers?  What LGBT YA’s would you like to see adapted into movies?



Posted in adaptations, favorites, humor, LGBTQIA, movies, romantic | Tagged | 4 Comments

Tales from the land of the Nemunas

Back in 2013, I wrote a post on some of my favorite Lithuanian children’s stories.  Today, in honor of the March 11, 1990 re-establishment of Lithuanian independence (Yep, Lithuania actually has two independence days! 😀 ), which re-asserted the Declaration of Independence from 1918, I’d like to share some (mostly) newer collections of folk and fairy tales I’ve gathered in recent years.

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Graziausios Vaikystes Pasakos
Ramutė Prapiestienė, ed.
The Loveliest Childhood Tales
Vilnius: Alma littera, 2013

My grandmother brought this book back from her last trip to Lithuania in 2014.  It’s a collection of not only classic Lithuanian tales, but also Grimm’s and other fairy tales translated into Lithuanian.  The best part is the artwork by Rimantas Juškaitis — bright, expressive illustrations of laughing rabbits, dancing storks, and nine-headed dragons.  My favorite illustration is of a girl and her magic cow, in the story “Karvė Verpėja” (The Thread-Spinning Cow).


It’s a Cinderella story in which a girl is mistreated by her stepmother, who gives her the impossible task of perfectly spinning flax without a spinning wheel.  A cow comes out of the field and offers to help, if the girl will just put the flax on her horns.  That evening, the cow returns with the flax all spun into thread.  Of course the stepmother finds out the girl’s secret and kills the cow, but before she does, the cow tells the girl to bury the first drop of blood in the earth where it falls, and bury the rest of the blood in the garden.  Where the first drop of blood fell, a well appears that serves only wine, and where the rest of the blood was buried, a magic apple tree grows.  Of course a prince passes by and only the orphan girl can serve him the wine and apples, and he takes her away to live happily ever after with him.

If this story sounds familiar, you might have read the Grimms’ tale “One Eye, Two Eyes, and Three Eyes,” in which only the mistreated two-eyed sister is able to pick the golden apples from a magic tree that grows from the remains of her magic goat, and is thus chosen by a passing knight for his bride.  The motif of the magic cow is also found in other stories, like the Chinese “Beauty and Pock-Face,” the Ethiopian “Magic Cow,” and the Serbian “Pepelyouga.”

Other fun stories in the collection include “The Orphan Elenytė and Joniukas the Sheep,”Kiskis
in which a girl has to save her brother from an evil witch after he drinks water from a sheep’s footprint and turns into a sheep himself; “Perkūnas and the Grand Duke’s Daughter,” in which a young woman marries the god of thunder, a story with elements of “Cupid and Psyche” and “East of the Sun, West of the Moon”; and “The Sky is Falling!” in which a skittish cat sends the whole forest into a panic with news that the sky is falling, when it was really a cabbage leaf that fell on its tail.

Honestly, my favorite part of that last one is the funny rhyming name each character gets — the fox is Lapė snapė, the rabbit is Kiškis tiškis, the bear is Meška pleška, the wolf is Vilke pilke…

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This next collection I found in my grandmother’s home library, an anthology of old Lithuanian folk tales called “Tales From the Land of the Nemunas” (the Nemunas is the largest river in Lithuania, originating in Belarus and flowing through Lithuania into the Baltic Sea).

Vaidotas Aukstaitis 2010 07 29
Petras Cvirka
Tales from the Land of the Nemunas
Vilnius: Vyturys, 1988

Like with the former collection, half the fun of reading these stories is seeing the wild illustrations — these ones by Algirdas Steponavičius.  These are earthy, abstract, Picasso-like drawings of wild animals and people bonded with nature:


The stories are mostly animal tales, reflecting the forest-filled landscape of Lithuania, but also tales of humans and their daily antics.  They also reflect the socio-political climate of the time when the stories were created, and how the Lithuanian storytellers felt about their foreign neighbors.  In one story, a man from Žemaitija tricks a German by selling him a “magical” letter-carrying rabbit, a “doctor” fox that can make hens lay more eggs, and a “magical” hat that can get you free meals at any tavern.  Of course these “magical” items don’t work, and the Lithuanian ends up making a fool out of the German.

Other stories use anthropomorphic animals to reflect aspects of human life, like the tale of a rabbit steward who housesits at a wolf’s farm while he’s away, only to let in a wild, IMG_E2665partying fox and her family who overstay their welcome.  In another story, a rabbit invites several other animals over to celebrate the christening of his children.  The wolf tries to make off with the baby rabbits, but the other animals beat him up, and from then on, no one invites wolves into their homes.  Still another story humanizes Nature itself, depicting the Sun, Moon and Wind in an argument over which of them should be invited to sit at the place of honor at a man’s table.

These are stories of hard-working (and hard-scheming 😉 ) people who really live off the land, depending on the fields and forests and their creatures for their livelihoods.  These are stories of people who are one with the environment, seeing themselves in the animals and elements that surrounded them, seeing their fellow creatures as fellow people rather than merely tools or prey.

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Finally, I bought the following two books during my own trip to Lithuania in 2009.  One is the legend of how the capitol city of Vilnius was established:

Vilniaus Legenda
Dainius Juozėnas
The Legend of Vilnius

Vilnius: Alma littera, 2007

Hundreds of years ago, in the sacred region where the Vilnia river meets the Neris, the Grand Duke Gediminas and his hunting party followed a great bull.  It took until nightfall to take down the bull, and by then it was too late to return home, so the grand duke made camp in the region known as Šventaragio Slėnis (the Holy Horn Valley).  That night, the grand duke dreamed of a great iron wolf that stood at the top of the forested hill and howled with the voice of a hundred wolves.

The next morning, Gediminas called on the great oracle Lizdeika to interpret the dream.  Lizdeika told him the wolf represented a great tower that must be built on that hill, and the hundred-wolf howl represented a mighty city that would become the nation’s capital.


Setting is very important in this story, both physical and historical, as the main story of Grand Duke Gediminas and his prophetic dream is prefaced by a history of the landscape as it developed from the Ice Ages to the Medieval era, glaciers carving out the holy hills and valleys, the lakes and rivers.  The hill and valley at the crossroads of the Vilnia and Neris rivers became a sacred place where the ancient pagans built their shrine of standing stones to the Lithuanian gods, where great leaders were buried, where priestesses sang their ritual songs.  It was there that Gediminas’ advisor Lizdeika was found as a baby in an eagles’ nest, in the branches of a great oak tree, and grew into a wise oracle and even sorcerer who could read the land and sky, foretell the future, and interpret dreams.

This is one of my favorite interpretations of the Vilnius legend, as it stretches beyond the main story to show the physical, historical, and mythological contexts of Gediminas’ dream.

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The other book is a literally a fairy tale, the story of a beautiful green-eyed fairy who helps a young woman save her fiancé, kidnapped by an invading army.  Like The Legend of Vilnius, this one is heavy on setting, painting a vivid, sacred picture of the landscape and its importance to the people who live there.

Marija Baranauskienė
The Fairy
Vilnius: Džiugas, 1998

The Fairy takes place in the northeastern highlands region of lakes, a region of gods and fairies that, hundreds of years later, would become the first of Lithuania’s national parks.  So important were the nature gods and folk heroes to the people that they named their children after them — the heroine is named after Austėja, the bee goddess, and her lover is named Ažuolas — perhaps after the son of Eglė, Queen of Serpents, who became the first of Lithuania’s great oak trees?

Ažuolas and Austėja are their community’s power couple, as perfect as a pair of doves, and as is the custom in that region, they take a trip together to a sacred pond in the middle of a lake island where fairies cast their spells, sing their songs, and tend their babies in the magic lily cradles.  Beneath a nine-branched linden tree, Ažuolas and Austėja profess their love to one another and pray to the goddess Laima to smile down on them.IMG_E2669

But soon after their return to the mainland, before they can complete their marriage ceremony, a foreign army invades the land, kidnapping the young women, including Austėja, and taking Ažuolas prisoner when he fights to set her free.

In order to save her lover, Austėja will need to complete an impossible, forbidden task, a sin against the fairies.  It seems all hope is lost, but the fairies and the surrounding lake spirits have their own plans for how to save the land from the invading army.

This is truly a lovely ode to the Lithuanian mythology and landscape, a new fairy tale to explain the history of the region that would become Aukštaitija National Park.

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What about you, Postcardians?  What are some of your favorite legends and fairy tales from your own cultural heritage?  What do those stories say about the people and landscape that inspired them?

Today, I’ll leave you with another rendition of the Lithuanian national anthem, set against a backdrop of Lithuanian rivers, lakes, and forests:

Posted in folklore/fairy tales, Lithuania, picture books | 5 Comments

An ode to the books I Did Not Finish (Juv/YA edition)

In the past eight years, I’ve reviewed plenty of amazing books, less-than-amazing books, really-kind-of-terrible books, and just-plain-meh books.  The reading experience has been a mixed bag of awesomeness and problems, but there was always something in each book that kept me going, whether it was the likable-enough characters, the plot that hooked me, or the world-building that made me want to stay in that setting just a little while longer.

But an inevitable part of any reader’s life is the DNF pile — the books they simply Did Not Finish.  The books that were so ridiculous, or so problematic, or so put-down-able, that you simply can’t stubborn your way through them.  Normally, I don’t give those books a second thought after I’ve returned them to the library or sold them back to Half Price, but you know what?  It’s time to give a shout out to my DNF pile.

These are my Top 5 Juv/YA DNFs, in order of how far in I got before giving up.


Moon Girl

Moongirl and Devil Dinosaur, Vol. 1: BFF, by Amy Reeder, Brandon Montclare, and Natacha Bustos.  I first met Lunella Lafayette, a.k.a. Moon Girl, in Issue 2 of America.  She was a 9-year-old genius who travelled to universities to give lectures about personal greatness and universal systems with her dinosaur sidekick.  Of course I wanted to know more about her!

Unfortunately, Vol. 1 of Lunella’s own comic series was just a mess.  The story was all over the place, Lunella’s motivations for not wanting to be an Inhuman and for suddenly changing her mind about letting the dinosaur tag along were too hazy, and the time-travelling caveman gang was beyond cliche, with their “Ooga booga” talk (oh, and apparently they’re like the Flintstones, living at the same freaking time as the dinosaurs.  Because that’s great science).

I actually almost made it to the end with this one; I got to around chapter 5 of 6 before I did a final eye-roll and gave up.



Egg and Spoon

Egg and Spoon, by Gregory Maguire.  I feel like, in theory, this story should have hooked me much more, especially with its focus on Eastern European folklore, but also the meta comments by the narrator, and if nothing else, because of Baba Yaga.  Maguire writes a really funny, sassy, apparently-time-traveling Baba Yaga who says things like “Yummers” and “You’re not going to drink the Kool-Aid?” and calls her feline familiar Mewster, and sleeps on a pink-ruffled princess canopy bed covered in heart-shaped pillows with phrases like BE MINE, VALENTINE, and ET TU, BRUTE?  How awesome is this lady??  How could I not get through a whole book just on her merits??

But the story itself moved sooo slowly in Part One, and even after the action picked up in Part Two, it just didn’t hold my attention for long.  I really didn’t care about the Elena/Ekaterina twin switch plot, and I’d find myself constantly putting the book down and delaying picking it back up.  I did kind of want to know how everything would end, but not enough, and I certainly wasn’t willing to slog through several hundred more pages to find out.  One awesome side character just isn’t enough to carry a 500-page story when none of the other characters — not even the protagonists — make me care enough to stick with them.



Love Stargirl

Love, Stargirl, by Jerry Spinelli.  Sequels are a hit-or-miss venture to begin with, especially if the original book or movie was so awesome.  I know Stargirl could be considered a Manic Pixie Dream Girl in the original book, and I feel like a bad feminist for saying this, but I actually liked that mysteriousness about her, that magical, cosmic quality.  Not that she was a total MPDG, though — she wasn’t just there for Leo’s benefit.  She was there to shake the whole of Mica Area High School to its core.  Having a boyfriend was a nice perk, but it wasn’t the main goal of her life.

Now, this DNF was a little while longer ago, so my memories of it are a little hazy, but what I do remember is Stargirl spending her days pining over Leo after moving to…was it Pennsylvania?  She was very secretive about where exactly she moved to, and only slipped up once in her narration.  And when she’s not pining over Leo or starting to fall for a different boy — a bad boy, oooh! — yeah, she still does some Stargirl-ish things, but nothing as outrageous as in the original book.  It seems MAHS rocked Stargirl to her core, too, making her a little less bold and a little more normal.  Which shouldn’t be such a bad thing at all — it should be a good thing to see the human, relatable side of an MPDG, shouldn’t it?

But Stargirl was really something special in the previous book, and I kind of didn’t want to see Spinelli “normalize” her.  I wanted her to remain a mystery after she left MAHS for the world beyond.  I made it about halfway through Love, Stargirl, before I decided I’d rather stick with my memories of the original.



Graveyard Book

The Graveyard Book, by Neil Gaiman.  Guys, I want to like Neil Gaiman more.   I want to like everything he writes.  I loved his treatment of folklore and mythology in the Sandman comics, and his twist on Snow White and Sleeping Beauty in The Sleeper and the Spindle, and his work in the Windling/Datlow anthologies.  I know Gaiman can tell a fantastic story, and The Graveyard Book certainly doesn’t lack in unique characters or setting or events.  So, what was it that failed to really hook me?  Why couldn’t I get more than five chapters in?

Honestly, this DNF is the hardest for me to explain, because there’s nothing technically wrong with the book, nothing I can point to and say, This is a flaw.  The characters are interesting enough — I especially liked Silas, this creepy Dracula-like figure who’s, nevertheless, a really loving guardian for the protagonist — and the setting of the graveyard/nature reserve is both beautiful and spooky, so you’d think I’d enjoy spending 320 pages with them.

Maybe it was the too-episodic nature of the story.  What works in a series of comics or a collection of short stories doesn’t always work as well for me in a novel.  There is an overarching plot re: the man who killed Nobody’s family and is still looking to finish the job, but it’s constantly put on the back burner, behind the various minor adventures Bod has in the graveyard.  It just doesn’t feel like he’s in any real danger from that main antagonist, or that his smaller adventures really fit into that overarching plot.

I could be wrong, of course; if I could push myself to keep reading, I could find out that Bod’s trip to the ghouls’ city, his attempt to get a gravestone for Liza, and his learning of the Danse Macabre somehow prepare him to fight the man Jack, but I’m just not getting that sense at this point.  After five long chapters, I want to feel like a novel is building toward something really threatening or important, and I just didn’t get that sense from The Graveyard Book so far.  Again, this is all completely subjective and other fans of Gaiman could think I’m completely nuts.  I kind of think I’m nuts.  Maybe I’ll give Graveyard another chance in the future, but right now, like with Egg and Spoon, I find myself putting it down too often and not picking it back up fast enough.



Between Shades

Between Shades of Grey, by Ruta Sepetys.  This one is really personal.  I’ve read Holocaust stories and other difficult subjects before.  I know it’s really important to learn about the grim moments in history, if we’re to prevent them from happening again.  But this book just hit too close to home.  My whole life, I’ve been hearing stories about the Soviet occupation of Lithuania, and the thousands of Lithuanians shipped off in cattle cars to Sibiras — to Siberian prison camps where they would be either worked to death or freeze to death.  My great-grandparents were on the list to be shipped off because they were teachers — intellectuals — and they had to escape with my grandmother and her sister to Germany to avoid the Soviet officers coming to their home.

Reading this book, I could too easily imagine Soviet soldiers barging into my own house, holding my own parents at gunpoint, trying to separate my own little brother from us.  After less than thirty pages, I just couldn’t read any more.  Someday, I’ll try again, because it’s important to know.  But not just yet.

.  .  .  .  .

What about you, Postcardians?  What are some of your most memorable DNFs?  What does it take to really turn you off from a book?  Have you read any of the ones I mentioned above, and think I should give them another chance?

For more DNF shout outs, see my Top 6 Adult DNFs at Same Story.

Posted in comics, fantasy, folklore/fairy tales, historical, Lithuania | 2 Comments