Two from the bayou

I recently read alibrarymama’s review of Bayou Magic, by Jewell Parker Rhodes, which she suggests pairing with Kathi Appelt’s The True Blue Scouts of Sugar Man Swamp.  So that’s just what I did.  Both books take place in the Deep South — the former on the Gulf Coast of Louisiana and the latter in southeastern Texas — and both do an excellent job evoking the swampland/bayou setting.  Rhodes uses the first person present tense to slow the pace of the action in a way that matches the pace of life in Bayou Bon Temps, while Appelt uses her unique conversational voice to engage readers with the people and creatures of Sugar Man Swamp.

They also both make my mouth water with their wonderful food descriptions – dewberry syrup, griddle cakes, jambalaya, fried sugar pies…

Bayou MagicJewell Parker Rhodes.  Bayou Magic.  New York: Little, Brown and Company, 2015.

Madison Isabelle Lavalier Johnson is the youngest of five sisters, and it’s her turn to spend a summer with Grandmère in Bayou Bon Temps. At first she’s scared; her sisters warn her about Grandmère’s strange ways and the boringness of a house with no TV. But the bayou turns out to be a wonderful place with fireflies, mermaids, and evening dance parties. And Maddy herself has a certain magic here. But she also has a growing feeling that something awful is going to happen, and the fate of Bayou Bon Temps will be up to her.

I like how Rhodes incorporates Mami Wata, the African water spirit, into Maddy’s family history and the history of the bayou. And I like the message about figuring out who you are and what’s important to you, as well as the environmental discussion. There’s definitely a lean to it, but the story does at least acknowledge that the situation isn’t all black and white.

Bailey grunts as Bear goes.
“Do you hate it?”
“Do and don’t. It’s complicated. Drilling is dangerous. But necessary. If I don’t do it, someone else will. Folks need jobs. World needs oil.” [1]

Kathi Appelt.  The True Blue Scouts of Sugar Man Swamp.  New York: Atheneum, 2013.True Blue Scouts

This is the story of twelve-year-old Chaparral Brayburn and his determination to keep his home, the Sugar Man Swamp, from becoming the Gator World Wrestling Arena and Theme Park. It’s also the story of Bingo and J’miah, raccoon brothers also tasked with protecting the swamp from invaders. And of course there’s the Sugar Man himself, a mythical being from the deepest, darkest part of the swamp, a being on whose bad side you don’t want to be. Nosirree.

I’ve reviewed two other books by Appelt — Keeper and The Underneath — and just like with them, one of my favorite things about True Blue Scouts was the narrative voice:

Well, for one thing, we’re talking about a swamp here, not a greeny-green pasture with gently rolling hills and frolicking lambs. We’re talking about stinging pricker vines and high-pitched clouds of mosquitoes, of thick, humid air that settles around your neck like a shawl; we’re talking alligators and water moccasins, carnivorous pitcher plants and primeval possums with their primeval possum babies. In short, we’re <i>not</i> talking about Central Park. Nosirree. [2]

It’s a classic tale of small business vs. big industrialist schemes, pretty predictable, but in a good way. You know who’s going to win, but it’s still fun to watch exactly how that happens.


[1] Jewell Parker Rhodes. Bayou Magic. Pgs. 184-185.

[2] Kathi Appelt. The True Blue Scouts of Sugar Man Swamp. Pgs. 43-44.

Granddaddy's TurnMichael S. Bandy and Eric Stein.  Granddaddy’s Turn: A Journey to the Ballot Box.  Illus. James E. Ransome.  Somerville, MA: Candlewick Press, 2015.

It’s interesting how timely this story still is, with voting rights being discussed in Congress and in the 2016 presidential campaign.  The book shows how difficult it could be, despite federal laws, to fulfill one’s right to vote if local officials considered the voter “undesirable.”  The final message is that justice does eventually reward the patient.  Now, not everyone will agree that one has to just be passive and patient with injustice; while the afterword discusses the civil rights movement, the story itself doesn’t address the need to fight for laws to change.  Still, the overall tone is hopeful, if also bittersweet.

The Death of the Hat: a Brief History of Poetry in 50 Objects.  Selected by Paul B. Death of the HatJaneczko.  Illus. Chris Raschka.  Somerville, MA: Candlewick Press, 2015.

From the Early Middle Ages to the Postmodern and Contemporary periods, from Rumi to Basho to Wheatley to Plath, Janeczko gathers together poems about candles and cobwebs, sticks and snowflakes and street lanterns, complemented by Chris Raschka’s fun, vivid watercolor images.  And Janeczko’s Introduction offers a helpful overview of the literary eras included, even acknowledging the collection’s limitations (like the much greater concentration of male and Western voices).

OrpheusYvan Pommaux.  Orpheus in the Underworld.  Trans. Richard Kutner.  New York: TOON Books, 2015 (orig. text 2009).

A semi-comics-style adaptation of the story of Orpheus and Eurydice.  It includes  pronunciation footnotes throughout the story, and at the end is a trading-card-style guide to the major characters, plus an annotated index with even more info on the characters, as well as the places mentioned in the story.  So far, the Toon Graphic Mythologies series includes this book, and Theseus and the Minotaur.

Marie-Sabine Roger and Anne Sol.  Of Course They Do! Boys and Girls Can Do Of Course They DoAnything.  Watertown, MA: Charlesbridge, 2009.

Roger and Sol offer a fantastic rebuttal to gender stereotypes, matching their text with photos of boys dancing and cooking, girls playing sports and working with cars, and more.  I love the cheeky, conversational tone (“Boys don’t dance … What? Of course they do!”) that challenges readers to change their way of thinking about what boys and girls are capable of.

Grandma Lives in a Perfume VillageFang Suzhen and Sonja Danowski.  Grandma Lives In a Perfume Village.  Trans. Huang Xiumin.  New York: NorthSouth Books, 2015 (orig. text 2014).

This is a sad, sweet story that might help children dealing with the death of a loved one.  Xiao Le spends a day helping his grandmother when she is sick.  When she dies, he helps his mother feel better by imagining what Grandma is doing in heaven:

…whenever Xiao Le took a walk with his mom and saw the golden setting sun, a big smile would come onto his face.
“Look, Mom, Grandma is frying an egg in heaven!”
When the moon rose, Xiao Le would exclaim happily, “Look, Mom, Grandma has turned on the light! It’s evening in heaven, too!”

One Wide River To Cross

Barbara Emberley.  One Wide River To Cross.  Illus. Ed Emberley.  Los Angeles: AMMO Books, 2014 (orig. text 1966).

Ed Emberley’s woodcut illustrations match the words of this old folk song, which counts the animals filing into Noah’s Ark (“The animals came in four by four, The hippopotamus blocked the door…”).  There are various versions of the song; the one I grew up with was Raffi’s “Who Built the Ark?”

Abukacha's ShoesTamar Tessler.  Abukacha’s Shoes.  Toronto, Ontario: Groundwood Books, 2015.

Tessler’s aunt used to tell her this folktale about a man named Abukacha, who tries again and again to get rid of his old, worn out shoes.  But somehow the shoes keep coming back!  I love how Tessler mixes in her family’s old photos with her illustrations, creating a humorous effect to match the goofy story.

William Kamkwamba and Bryan Mealer.  The Boy Who Harnessed the Wind.  Illus. Elizabeth Zunon.  New York: Dial Books The Boy Who Harnessed the WindFor Young Readers, 2012.

This is the true story of Kamkwamba, who, when he was fourteen, built an electricity-generating windmill from items found in a junk yard.  The windmill was meant to help irrigate his family’s maize fields when there wasn’t enough rain.  This is one of those stories that makes me think, I will never complain about anything again… because here’s a guy who didn’t just give up when a severe drought decimated his family’s income and he was forced to drop out of school.  He went to the library and taught himself how to build something to fix the problem.

Kamkwamba appeared at a TED conference in 2007, and was interviewed by Jon Stewart on The Daily Show in 2009.

Ladybug Girl and BingoDavid Soman and Jacky Davis.  Ladybug Girl and Bingo.  New York: Dial Books For Young Readers, 2012.

Lulu the Ladybug Girl and her trusty sidekick, Bingo, are on a camping trip with their family.  In the woods, they discover such wonders as a “gnarly old wizard,” a “galloping giant turtle,” lake mermaids and buttercup fairies.  It’s an adorable story about a girl with a big imagination and persevering attitude when things don’t go exactly right.

Last week, my mom, my brother, and I flew to San Francisco for five days.  Now, this post is not going to be about high-brow literary tourism; it’s about my own most recent reading experiences, and to me, San Francisco is home of books like Seanan McGuire’s October Daye series and Sarah Porter’s The Twice Lost.

Lost Voices3  Golden Gate1

One of the places I definitely wanted to check out was the Japanese Tea Gardens in Golden Gate Park, where Toby visits her friend Lily the undine.

Tea Gardens  Koi

The Moon Bridge is the gateway into Lily's knowe.

The Moon Bridge is the gateway into Lily’s knowe.

On Saturday, we met up with my cousin Daiva, who drove us to Half Moon Bay, home of Connor and Elizabeth’s selkie clan.

Half Moon Bay  Half Moon Bay2

Ok, so I did also visit the famous City Lights Bookstore and Vesuvio Cafe/bar, frequent haunt of Beat Generation poets like Jack Kerouac and Allen Ginsberg.

City LightsVesuvio CafeVesuvio4

From the former, I got myself Patricia Monaghan’s Encyclopedia of Goddesses & Heroines.  From the latter, a Pyrat Punch.  This was a fantastic week.

Goddesses & Heroines

A.C.H. Smith. Jim Henson’s Labyrinth: the Novelization. Los Angeles: Archaia, 2014.

After years of sighing at the $40+ copies of the out-of-print Labyrinth novelization, I was thrilled to hear about the newly released hardcover edition (for just $20!). And for the most part, it was awesome! A.C.H. Smith did a fine job fleshing out the story with Sarah’s thought processes and evolving ability to think from other people’s points of view instead of just her own.

Sarah steeled herself to approach closely. She felt its warm breath on her face as she stood beside the beast and twisted herself down from the waist to get a look at it the right way up. What she saw surprised her. The great mouth that had looked so grim, with its turned-down corners, had actually been, of course, smiling sweetly at her. Gosh, she reflected, it must often be like that for poor Toby, when people lean over him from the pillow of his crib. [1]

What I feel more uncomfortable about is the way Smith portrayed the Fireys. With lines like, “Well, that ain’t no problem”… and “Holy Mo!”… and “Why, shoot. We ain’t that wild”… and “Ain’t we a-showin’ you a good time?”… is anyone else reminded a bit of the Dumbo crows? In the movie, the Fireys were fun dancing Muppets, but in the book they’re portrayed as uneducated hooligans – “just crazy good-timers, out of their skulls.” [2]

One other thing I didn’t like was the lesson Sarah took from the ballroom scene – that “[s]omehow, it had all been her fault. Those men who pawed her, Jareth trying so rudely to force a kiss upon her—had she been truly innocent, they would not have behaved like that toward her, would they?” [3] Sure, blame the victim of sexual harassment, because she must’ve somehow deserved it.

Other than those two problems, the book stands pretty well by itself as a fairy tale coming-of-age quest. And after the story itself, we get to see some of Brian Froud’s goblin illustrations and bits of Jim Henson’s journal, where he plotted his initial concepts for the movie – like a scene he imagined with a king and jester trapped in a cage, held by a “large Buddha type figure.” How neat would that have been?


[1] Pg. 99

[2] Pg. 118

[3] Pg. 163

Betsy Cornwell.  Tides.  Boston: Clarion, 2013.

Noah and Lo Gallagher are spending the summer with their grandmother, Dolores, on the Isles of Shoals.  Noah is there for a marine biology internship, while Lo hopes to spend the time drawing and painting — and hopefully ending her struggle with bulimia.  What they don’t expect is to get involved with a local pod of selkies searching for a lost child.

I found out about Tides from the Gay YA master list for books with bisexual characters — in this case, Dolores, who was once married to Noah and Lo’s grandfather, but now lives with her selkie sweetheart, Maebh.  I like how Cornwell draws a parallel between Dolores’ experiences and classic selkie folklore.

The ending — no spoilers — felt a bit too easily accomplished; I’ll just say that it’s one of those situations where the adults too easily allow the kids to confront a dangerous situation all by themselves.  One other random thing — it was a little confusing when Cornwell kept referring to Dolores as “Gemm.”  I’m guessing that’s Noah and Lo’s word for “grandma,” but I would’ve liked at least a brief explanation.

Overall, though, it’s a lovely selkie story.

~ ~ ~

Noelle Stevenson.  Nimona.  New York: HarperTeen, 2015.Nimona

A graphic novel from the creator of Lumberjanes. Lord Ballister Blackheart is a former knight turned supervillain in a kingdom that’s half medieval, half futuristic. Nimona is his new teenage shapeshifting sidekick with a dark past. Sir Ambrosius Goldenloin is the fancy-pants darling of the Institution of Law Enforcement & Heroics. It’s a story full of sword-fights, science, dragons, corrupt government shenanigans, and random sharks! It’s goofy, dark, and slightly meta.

~ ~ ~

Aimee Friedman.  Sea Change.  New York: Point, 2009.

I’m going to haiku this one…

Science-minded girl
Visits island where legends
Start to turn her head.

Miranda Merchant’s estranged grandmother dies, leaving her and her mother an estate on Selkie Island, off the coast of Georgia.  Miranda thinks they’re just going to clean out and sell the house, but the lore and locals start to weave their spell, especially when Miranda meets a strange boy on Siren Beach.  I personally would’ve liked more emphasis on the mer-lore than on the summer romances, but it was an enjoyable summer read overall.

Month of Shorts

May was Short Story Month, so over the past few weeks, in addition to sampling a few anthologies, I decided to tackle all of Seanan McGuire’s Toby stories/novellas.  Some highlights:

HomeImprovementUndeadEd“Through This House” — in between Late Eclipses and One Salt Sea, Toby enters the abandoned knowe of Goldengreen for the first time since solving Evening Winterrose’s murder.  But the knowe isn’t exactly welcoming to its new countess — found in the anthology Home Improvement: Undead Edition (subtitle: “Tales of haunted home repair and surreal estates”).  Certainly a unique premise for a short story collection, and it’s not just the typical house ghosts.  There are Buddhist spirits monitoring an ancient cave’s restoration, wizards installing home security systems, vampires (Charlaine Harris is one of the editors), and more.

“Rat-catcher” and “Forbid the Sea” — First is the short, bittersweet account of Tybalt’s rise to the RatCatcherthrone in Londinium’s Court of Fogbound Cats.  The second story is set ten years later, when the lonely king takes an impromptu vacation and meets a traveling selkie named Dylan.  But as we’ve seen throughout the Daye series, relationships with selkies seem fated to end in heartbreak.  It’s stories like these that show the best of McGuire’s style, much more subtle than in the Toby novels (as fun as those are).

FantasticAliceFantastic Alice, ed. Margaret Weis.  Wonderland meets the “real” world.  Modern folk find their problems answered either by visits from Lewis Carroll’s characters, or by being transported to Wonderland themselves.  Picture the Cheshire Cat as an apartment guard animal, or a Cheshire-esque con artist in Hollywood.  I only read the first few stories before the general tone got a bit too gloomy for my taste.  Note: contains mature themes/situations.

“Never Shines the Sun” and “The Fixed Stars” — two Luidaeg stories.  The first shows Annie’s firstNeverShinestheSun encounter with the child October Daye, before Toby’s first Choice.  The second is set many hundreds of years in the past, during a battle between the merlins and the Firstborn.  I would’ve liked more from the latter — more background, more info on who/what the merlins are and how they fit into McGuire’s Faerie.  And I would’ve liked to actually see Oberon, Titania, and/or Maeve first-hand.

Did you participate in Short Story Month?  What were some of your favorites?

Viva la Alice!

NowI'llTellYouEverythingPhyllis Reynolds Naylor.  Now I’ll Tell You Everything.  New York: Atheneum, 2013.

This was a pretty ambitious project for Naylor, creating a final book that covers not just a couple of months, but forty years.  I can see how that would get mixed reviews (as far as I’ve seen on Goodreads, anyway), some people saying it felt like Naylor rushed through Alice’s experiences.  Considering the length of the book, I was glad for the fast pace, and felt it balanced well between skimming through certain parts of Alice’s life vs. spending more time on other parts.  I also thought it balanced well between new material and nostalgic reminders of the previous books, the latter especially in the final chapter.

Some say the story feels like fanfiction, with Alice & co. living predictable lives, everyone finding the job he or she wanted, or that suits them best, no one suffering any horrible tragedies…it’s an overall feel-good story, which was fine with me.  It did start to drag on towards the end, and although I liked most of the last chapter, the bit at the very end felt way too cliche (you’ll have to see my Goodreads review for more spoilers details).

For what it was trying to do, I’d say the book did a nice job.  And I totally want someone to create a three-part bar like The Voyage/Temptation/Source, because that really would make an awesome bachelor/ette party spot.

. . . . .

My other Alice reviews:

Incredibly Alice
Alice on Board
My Top 10 Childhood Book Series

I hope everyone enjoyed Free Comic Book Day yesterday!  My brother and I hit three different spots, each getting +/- eight comics by the end.  My haul included:

Avatar: The Last Airbender (plus Plants vs. Zombies and Bandette), by Dark Horse Comics:  Three short one-shots in which Toph and Ty Lee visit the circus, a mad scientist alien creature builds a devious new invention, and a plucky young bandit plans an epic movie theater heist.

Boom! Studios’ Ten Year Celebration – 2015 Free Comic Book Day Special:  A collection of ten stories, including such titles as Labyrinth, Adventure Time, Peanuts, and Lumberjanes.  Of course I loved the Labyrinth story, “Wisdom & Idioms,” which features the classic comedy stylings of the Wiseman and his snarky bird hat thing.  I also really liked Mouse Guard: “Service to Seyan,” a sort of fairy tale about a grand afterlife city “where warriors of renown go to rest.”

Steampunk Goldilocks, by Rod Espinosa and Antarctic Press:  a really goofy adaptation in which sisters Goldi and Muffi (Miss Muffett) are called by their employer, the Dark Queen, to complete a heist at a bear-guarded bunker.  Here’s a brief interview of Espinosa by the FCBD crew.  I’m definitely curious about his other Steampunk Fables, like The Snow Queen and Red Riding Hood.

Excerpts from Super Mutant Magic Academy, by Jillian Tamaki, printed by Drawn & Quarterly.  Just last week, I read Etelka Lehoczky’s NPR review, which describes SMMA as a kind of parody of Harry Potter.  There are students with cat ears, lizard heads, invisibility powers, and of course Instagram accounts, engaging in such adventures as dueling bake sales, prom dress criticism, and gym class sexism recognition. StepAsidePops

Sharing the same book as SMMA are excerpts from Step Aside, Pops, Kate Beaton’s forthcoming Hark! A Vagrant! collection (to be released Sept. 2015).  Behold! The Mulder family plans to attend an Austen-esque X-Files ball…Julius Caesar plans his March wardrobe…the brutal “Black Prince” Edward is oddly remembered as “the Flower of English Chivalry”…and more historical/artistic/pop-culture shenanigans!

Cleopatra in Space, by Mike Maihack.  Graphix and Scholastic Press.  Excerpt from Book One: Target Practice.  Teenage Cleopatra VII accidentally sets off a time machine that sends her into the distant future, where she’s met by a group of talking cats that run a research and military defense pyramid during an interplanetary war.  It’s cute and intriguing, though the whole “You’re our prophesied teen savior!” thing has gotten old.

BBC’s Doctor Who:  Three one-shot adventures featuring Doctors 12, 11, and 10, respectively.  Here be electrically charged quartz planets, evil comic book viruses, and giant mud monsters in the laundry room!Flight Primer

Image Comics’ Flight Primer: An intro to the Flight collections (which I’ve reviewed more in-depth here), featuring two stories by Kazu Kibuishi and Jake Parker, respectively.  A guy and his faithful dog build their first airplane and hope for a non-disastrous maiden voyage.  A bird and a robot become best friends and have adorable adventures until winter arrives. GrimmFairyTales comics

Zenescope’s Grimm Fairy Tales Halloween Special: Containing a very grim adaptation of W. W. Jacobs’ “The Monkey’s Paw.”  Three unsuspecting trick-or-treaters enter the haunted house of a scantily clad witch (apparently the friend of one kid’s mom), who tells them the further-twisted story of “The Monkey’s Paw.”  Yeah, this one was a bit too grim and twisted for me.ChocolateFrog

There was also a free mini-comic preview of the upcoming TNT show, The Last Ship.  You know, one of those killer-virus-pandemic stories.  Ooh, and one of the shops was selling Harry Potter Chocolate Frogs!

What were some of your favorite FCBD finds this year?

Edit 07/08/15:  A longer version of this review can now be found over at Sappho’s Torque.

Fangirl, by Rainbow Rowell. New York: St. Martin’s Griffin, 2013.

Ah, the fascinating world of fandom.  I first discovered in early high school, when I was searching for evidence that I wasn’t the only fan of Jim Henson’s Labyrinth, nor the only Sarah/Jareth shipper (and of course I wasn’t.  By any long shot in the universe).  I started posting my own fics around junior year, when I was deeply engulfed in the Harry Potter world, as well as in Jean Auel’s Earth’s Children series.  Nothing on the level of Carry On, Simon, of course.

And then, in May of 2012, I discovered BBC’s Sherlock and fell head over heels for Johnlock.  Reading the “excerpts” from Cath’s Simon/Baz stories has definitely made me nostalgic for those early days in the Sherlock-dom, and had me jonesing for a re-read of my favorite five.

Rainbow Rowell gets it.  She gets the joy of expanding and exploring areas of a ‘verse where the original authors/creators haven’t gone, or don’t wish to go.  She also sees why some people might have problems with fanfiction — though, the jacket-flap exaggerates re: Cath’s professor’s attitude.  She never disparages fanfiction as a whole/its right to exist.  She just doesn’t like students turning in fanfiction for assignments (if I was a creative writing instructor, though, I would’ve made that clear in my syllabus, so there’d be no confusion later).

Rowell also gets how overwhelming college life + things back home + your own evolving sense of self can get.  So much so that, about halfway through, she started to hit a bit too close to home; it’s lucky the story was compelling enough to keep me going after a short break, and of course it’s a credit to Rowell for creating such relatable characters.

P.S. I totally want to know what Simon Snow and the Selkies Four is about.  Who are these four selkies??

P.S.2.  OMG Rowell is actually going to publish a Carry On book, which will actually be about Simon and Baz!  Sweet!

Pure Dead Magic

Back in September, on one of my last days in Wisconsin, I wandered up the street to the Little Free Library and discovered a tattered copy of Pure Dead Magic, by Debi Gliori.  Since I’d recently donated an item, by local LFL rules, the book was mine to keep.

Meet the Strega-Borgia family, who live in the Castle Strega-Schloss on the shores of Lochnagargoyle, just outside the Scottish town of Auchenlochtermuchty.  Baci is an amateur witch with, so far, more enthusiasm than ability.  Her husband, Luciano, is just trying to hold things together at Strega-Schloss (and steer clear of his notorious relatives back in Italy).  Twelve-year-old Titus and ten-year-old Pandora are determined to disabuse their latest visitor of the notion that she could be their new nanny.  Not-yet-two-year-old Damp thinks said visitor is quite lovely, actually.  And Flora McLachlan is much more savvy and helpful than any of the Strega-Borgias yet know.

There are also three mythical beasts, a moat-guarding crocodile, a pregnant pet rat, a sassy lipstick-wearing spider, and a cryogenically-preserved ancestor affectionately called Strega Nonna.

There are currently six books in the Pure Dead series, and I’ve just finished the third.  These stories are admittedly full of gross-out humor and some events that require a healthy set of suspension-of-disbelief goggles.  But they’re also funny and clever, and in the third book (Pure Dead Brilliant), baby Damp is obsessed with fairy tales at the same time as she’s developing her own magical abilities, which leads to some seriously adorable mishaps.  I didn’t as much appreciate the portrayal of overweight people as either odious villains or horrifying visions of the future; as I’ve mentioned before, it’s pure dead cliché at best, and not the kind of attitude I’d want to pass along to younger readers.

Otherwise, it’s a harmlessly goofy series that combines myth, cybermagic, a dash of history. and (in Book 2) some real estate intrigue.