Fruity Little Poem: Ode to a Key Lime” | A-to-Z NaPoWriMo

Hello, dear readers! I hope, despite the bad rap it tends to get, that your Monday was pleasant. Mine was–I got to spend time shopping with my dad, followed by a book-talk-sushi-date with Jeremiah, topped off with this:

Today’s NaPoWriMo prompt took me far down memory lane–back to high school, to be specific. Upon reading the prompt, I realized I’d already written a poem that matched it perfectly, from a similar assignment in Senior AP English. While I searched for the poem in the archives of my computer, I found many, many pieces of writing, including fiction, poetry, a screenplay, critical essays, memoir-style essays, and more. I even found chapters from the original version of the YA fantasy novel I’m currently working on. (Thank goodness I restarted it anew…) I was shocked to see how much I’d written, not just as a student, but also in my free time, and it’s amazing to me how long it took me to decide to be a professional writer. 😉 I was also grateful to discover the acquisition of my degrees in English and Writing & Publishing was time and money well-spent, considering my vast improvement–though I still catch vestiges of sentimental romanticism creeping into corners of my work from time to time.

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NO! Bad sentimentalism!

Luckily, I found this poem wasn’t sappy–but rather tart. 😉

Today’s prompt is to write a love poem . . . but the object of the poem should be inanimate. You can write a love poem to your favorite pen, the teddy bear you had as a child (and maybe still have), or anything else, so long as it’s not alive!

Ode to a Key Lime
By: Amanda K. Fowler

Bright green:
A color usually associated with jealousy.
But you, little one,
Are more envied than envying.

Exotic in origin;
Nothing commonplace about you.
Divorce yourself from your family,
Take your own name and the equatorial beach house.

Beautiful, perfect fruit;
Bewitch your victims into biting your bitter flesh.
Intoxicating, electrifying;
They can’t stop drinking till your body is drained.

Prima donna of flora,
Grace us with your presence!
We eagerly await your renaissance all year,
Only to have to part after so few months.

Pies, juices, garnishes;
Tart though you may be,
We find a way to glorify you;
For you deserve the honor of kings.

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Down the Rabbit Hole: Lewis Carroll’s Birthday & Wonderland

Happy birthday to Lewis Carroll and Wolfgang Amadeus Mozart, two wonderful artists whose work has been celebrated long past their lifetimes. It’s interesting that two artists I have so much interest in have birthdays on the same day, which I never knew, just like in my last double-artist tribute to Bradbury and Debussy, another author and composer duo. 🙂 However, I have much to say about both artists, so this time, I will split up the birthday posts and just focus on the author for today.

According to The Literature Network: “Charles Lutwidge Dodgson was born on 27 January 1832 at the parsonage in Daresbury, Cheshire County, England…His stories for children remain the most popular, but not only was Carroll a prolific author of highly original fiction he also wrote essays, political pamphlets, short stories, poetry, and mathematical textbooks.”

My relationship with Lewis Carroll over the years has been interesting. Like most people in my generation, I daresay, my first exposure to him was through Disney’s animated Alice in Wonderland movie.

It was…goodish. I watched it several times as a kid, but it was never one of my favorites. My next introduction was during a voluntary lunchtime reading circle (Junior Great Books) in elementary school that Kara, Lindsey, and I did together. We read a long excerpt from the book, but none of us really enjoyed it. It was really, really silly–absurd. And aren’t kids supposed to like absurd things? We were missing something.

Then, a couple of years ago, Disney and Tim Burton came out with a live-action sequel:


I LOVED it! This was everything I thought Alice in Wonderland should be: majestic, sweeping, epic, passionate, dark, soul-searching. The danger and stakes were more real, with the terrifying Jabberwocky brought to life:

And oh, the Strong Female Character that was Alice in a FULL SUIT OF ARMOR…

I loved it so much, in fact, that I decided to give the book another go.
Immediately, I was hit again by the overwhelming absurdity of it all. There really is no better word to describe it. It’s silly, yes, but in such a satirical way that it’s a wonder to me that it’s considered a children’s book at all. I realized I had to read only a few pages at a time at most, because while it was funny, every single word was part of a joke with a two-fold–at the least–meaning. Never before had I read something so dense in humor. I am still stalled partway through Through the Looking Glass, which it seems Disney also incorporated into its animated movie.

Besides the layers of humor, though, I uncovered something else in my adult reading of the book: that those emotional and epic elements I loved so much in the sequel movie were still present in the original, still ripe kernels wrapped in complex prose. It is one case–maybe the ONLY case–where I find the language is in danger of distracting from the story.

However, considering the Alice stories were originally oral, told to entertain some friends’ children during afternoon outings, perhaps the language itself is meant to entertain as much as the story. It seems that children often delight in riddles and tricks, so the turns-of-phrase rampant on each page remind us adults to laugh at the sheer ridiculousness of it all, even if we do recognize deeper commentaries on life and society. The Alice stories continue to be a hallmark of English literature and cinema–spreading to worldwide art–constantly inspiring new books (like the Splintered trilogy, the second of which I listed in my post on the most-anticipated books of January 2014),

Splintered (Splintered, #1)

…movies, TV shows (like ABC’s Once Upon a Time in Wonderland), video games (like American McGee’s Alice), songs, etc. It’s hard to imagine many other texts that have inspired such a creative response. There’s some magic that resonates through the centuries with Carroll’s Alice, and just like we can derive different meanings throughout our own years, surely, we have done the same collectively in our culture. However, if we strip it down, we can still find those basic elements of adventure and wonder that are so exciting to people of any age.

Me as (a more modern) Alice with my (slightly more gentle) Jabberwocky, Chad, for Halloween a few years ago

Novel Publicity Blog Tour: “Silent Words” Review

Hello readers! Today, I have the pleasure of being a Novel Publicity Blog Tour host for author Chantal Fournier’s and illustrator Nicolas Lajeunesse’s new children’s book, Silent Words. It will be my first Novel Publicity review of a children’s book, and I’m excited to share it with you.

TourCoverWelcome to Novel Publicity‘s Review Only Tour for Silent Words by Chantal Fournier (Author) and Nicolas Lajeunesse (Illustrator). Read the reviews and follow along as we introduce you to Zelda and her world of words.

Available NOW on Amazon and Barnes & Noble

ABOUT THE BOOK: Zelda loves to talk. She always asks a million questions and her head is full of words like apple, bunny, cartwheel and dwizzledoodle. But when a sudden storm turns Zelda’s world upside down, all her words go silent. Zelda must embark on a quest across mountains, forests and oceans to find her parents—and her voice.

This moving tale about loss and hope will tug at your heartstrings. Author Chantal Fournier’s poetic storytelling style and illustrator Nicolas Lajeunesse’s evocative artwork combine to create a poignant story in which a child discovers comfort in the power of words.

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My review guidelines: As you know from my first Novel Publicity review, I HATE spoilers as a reader, so as a reviewer, I avoid them as best as possible. As a writer and an editor, I put a lot of value on the language itself used to tell a tale. A 10/10 review for me will be one with an amazing plot, characters I love, and enchanting writing. I can’t get lost in a book without falling under the spell of its words–and the spell will be ineffectual without a great plot to fall into.

With that said, please enjoy my review.

Review

I’ve always been a fan of children’s books. I admire the way they can teach important lessons and themes through a seemingly simple story and just-as-impactful pictures. Sometimes, these lessons are just as important for adults to read (to be reminded of) as children (to be taught). When I heard about this sweet and poignant tale, I jumped at the chance to review it.

I would classify this as a children’s fantasy drama. It was whimsical in the telling with somber themes. I don’t think any child would be too young to enjoy the story, but I do think older children (say, 5 and up) would understand the themes better.

The world: The world was enchanting. The pictures were extraordinary–beautiful and expressive. They made the world a character, in and of itself. The pictures matched the words perfectly, so that I felt they really worked together. The fantasy was whimsical in a symbolic way, almost like a dream. However, I would have liked a little more world-building–even just one page more–before the conflict began. It was hard to know what was at stake for the characters without more set-up, and it was hard to know just how out-of-the-ordinary all the fantastical events were for the characters.

The characters: Zelda, the main character, was charming. Her inquisitive, loving, passionate nature made her lovable. Her impulsive tendency was believable and a lesson itself. I also liked Zelda’s grandmother, who represented more than a traditional grandmother in the story, with her wisdom and nurturing. I would have liked to see Zelda’s parents more fleshed-out, but there wasn’t much room in the story for that.

The plot: Very interesting. It was a fantastical adventure, almost metaphysical, yet imaginable with the description and pictures. I was impressed with the treatment of serious themes like loss, disability, and courage–it was done realistically and with respect, also good framing for children. The ending was heart-breaking and heart-warming at the same time, with a nugget of a moral that kids could walk away with. However, I would’ve liked more of a wrap-up conclusion at the end. It kind of ended in a bit of a hanging way, leaving the reader feeling a little loss himself/herself–which may have been the very point. I wanted to see the main character grow more definitively. I had a lot of questions, but then when you really think about it, if you take away the fantasy, you have the answers already. I get the sense this is something children inherently understand, and we stupid adults over-analyze it. 😉

The language: The language was very good, and any writer or logophile (word-lover), young or old will enjoy the rhetoric. The tempering of lots of words, even made-up words, in the beginning, with less words, and even no words later on in the story, was very effective in portraying the story and character’s journey. I think this is generally a category many children’s books fall short in, but this book highlighted it, which was especially important, as it related to the plot.

Review: 8/10. Beautiful. This book will stay with me for a long time. I hope to see more from this author-illustrator team–they make an inspiring story-telling team.

CHECK OUT THE TRAILER!

ABOUT THE AUTHORS

TogetherChantal Fournier (Author)

Originally from a small-ish city not too far from Montreal, I now live in Toronto, Canada, after a long stint on the beautiful Canadian West Coast, where I taught French to university students.

Silent Words, the story of a girl floating on a peculiar cloud, is my debut book. It is the fruit of a long collaboration with my artistic husband, Nicolas.

Nicolas Lajeunesse (Illustrator)

As the son of a sculptor and the grandson of a painter, art has always been a part of my life. After studying filmmaking in Montreal and working with my father for a few years, I left my French-Canadian roots and headed for the West Coast, where I discovered digital arts.

I live in Toronto, Canada, with my wife and family.
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I hope you enjoyed the review, readers–and enjoy the rest of your weekend! Try to stay warm–snow is blowing through much of the U.S.A. this weekend. Maybe, if you look close enough, you’ll see some of Zelda’s words blowing around, too. 😉

Summer Heat

Hello readers! It certainly feels like summer around here. Whenever anyone would ask me as a kid what my favorite season was, my answer, without hesitation, was summer. It wasn’t because it meant a break from school (I actually liked school, surprise surprise). It was because everything was ripe for adventure. Even as a kid, I knew when temperatures rise–weather, tempers, passions–that’s when things happen.

For my sister and me, those adventures usually consisted of running through a sprinkler, chasing an ice cream truck, or paddling down the Amazon River (a.k.a. pushing each other in a wagon around in circles in our basement–the person in front steered). It looked something like this:

Boating down the Amazon River. (Posted by RayEindhoven)

But as adults, it seems like we get less opportunities to be so carefree and celebrate the heat. We can’t exactly kick off our high heels and bolt out of our offices in pursuit of frozen desserts. Running through sprinklers on the way to work might result in a soggy, unprofessional day, with things we don’t have to worry about as kids.

In "Seinfeld," Elaine inadvertently gets sprayed by a sidewalk hose and gets the wrong kind of attention

In “Seinfeld,” Elaine inadvertently gets sprayed by a sidewalk hose and gets the wrong kind of attention.

Another thing we have to worry about as adults is our hair–or we’re supposed to, anyway. For ladies with thick, frizzy hair, like me, it’s almost pointless to style your hair in the summer. Just twenty minutes outside in humid air inspires great creativity by your locks, and they usually each have their own idea of how to behave.

Selfies in the summer = sunny frizz

Selfies in the summer = sunny frizz

But if hair can have creativity, so can we. It almost seems like the older we get, the less “license” we have to carefree summer days. What would be an exciting announcement as a child: “It’s hot outside!!!” has turned into complaints of “It’s hot outside.” I caught myself being guilty of this, especially on the day of the unfortunate selfie above, and I had to remind myself to enjoy the heat while it lasts. There’s no other season when everything is so alive; wildlife sounds are around-the-clock, from morning larks to moonlight crickets. All the flowers are in bloom, bursting forth with every color imaginable, better than a painting. Last summer, we had a terrible drought, but this year, it seems like all the plants are making up for lost time, partying twice as hard. Lots of our trees and flowers are already on their second bloom, which is unusual but certainly a lovely surprise.

One of the most recent fun thing I got to do outside was to have lunch with my dad when he visited me at work. I think this is one of the best parts of his being retired. 🙂

OPB and me having lunch outside of MJ

Other really fun outdoors-eating opportunities were the barbecue my mom did for Independence Day and a picnic at the Morton Arboretum when we saw the Chicago Symphony Orchestra’s Tchaikovsky concert. We used to eat outside all the time as kids, and but I usually forget how much fun it is till there’s an occasion for it. It’s wonderful to experience nature all around you like that–definitely more interesting than TV!

Another annual hallmark of summer for me is the Anderson’s Bookshop Sidewalk Sale. It’s one of my very favorite times of the year! I think they do a fantastic job of selecting excellent books for their shelves. I really appreciate how they give their customers a chance to purchase some copies that might have gotten slightly bent on the shelves, rather than throwing them away. Since it fell on a day where I had to work, I made sure to bring extra-comfy shoes with me in the car because I knew I’d be perusing for hours! Here is my Tweet of the event, in case you didn’t see it earlier on my sidebar. You can follow me on Twitter by clicking the widget on the right. If you don’t have a Twitter account, you can still get my Tweets texted to you by texting this message (inside the quotation marks) to 40404: “Follow @Amanda_K_Fowler”. I post to my Twitter and Facebook Page more often than my blog, for the simple fact that those mediums are more conducive to quick pictures and updates than the lengthy posts typical of a blog. You can also follow my Facebook Page on the right sidebar widget or by clicking here.

Tweet: My wallet is lighter, but I’m many #books richer & a whole lot happier after my FAVORITE event all year! @AndersonsBkshp sidewalk sale

I realized that summer is still my favorite month, and I’ve resolved to be more open to being inspired by it. I actually wrote two haiku earlier this week about summer, and I’d like to share them. Which do you like better–or do you think they belong together?

Damp air clings to all;
Full blossoms turn to the sun.
Feel: the breath of life.

All is gold and haze:
Light stretches on forever.
Earth is loud with life.

Haiku aren’t really supposed to use much punctuation, but it’s really hard for me to leave it out. 😉 Haiku is a poetry form that originated in Japan, and it is famous for short, poignant illustration of a moment, especially in nature. The Americanized breakdown of the lines is the standard 5-7-5 syllables rule for the lines, but the origin is more complex. This website does a good job of instruction and explanation.

While we’re talking about summer fun, I’d like to make a mention on safety for our pets. It’s pretty easy for us as humans to find ways to find ways to keep cool and have fun in the sun. For our furry friends, it’s less easy, and I think it’s important for us to remember to help them when possible. My parents just came up with this contraption for Oreo, when he’s out on his play area.

Oreo drinking water from his new water bottle stand.

Oreo drinking water from his new water bottle stand.

He seems to love it! He does drink a lot more when it’s hot outside. He’s so polite that he won’t “wheek” or make any sound when he’s thirsty; he simply stands on the edge of his play area and looks at the water bottle until it’s convenient enough for you to notice him. As I’m sure you can imagine, this is adorable, but we wanted to make sure he could access water whenever he needs, even if we’re busy enough that we don’t notice him for a little bit. This contraption is inexpensive and really safe: two milk crates fastened by wire ties, with the water bottle’s spring wire-tied around the grate. This is the water bottle we use. We love it, because it’s glass, so we don’t have to worry about toxins from plastic, and it’s really easy to clean with hot water and dish soap. It’s really important for guinea pigs to be in temperatures in the range of 68-77° F; it’s very easy for them to get heat stroke, because they don’t sweat or pant. Other ways to keep them cool are to put a plate or tile in the fridge or freezer overnight and then put it in the guinea’s living/play area. The guinea then can lie down on top of it to cool off. Another idea is to wrap a frozen water bottle in a towel and put it in the living/play area for piggies to snuggle up against. I know these ideas also work for rabbits and chinchillas. Luckily, our guineas have never had trouble from the heat, but since it’s such a serious problem that can happen very quickly, I like to share tips with people when I can.

I’d also like to share a bit of news from the Book World. Remember my post about #bookgate? Far from calming down, the controversy is still heated–to the point that Library Director Deb Lissak will be leaving the library, a mutual decision between her and the Board of Directors. The library has promised to be more candid about its weeding process. While open meetings have been held, patrons’ feelings are mixed about the future of the library. Updated stats show that nearly 10,000 nonfiction books were removed before the weeding was stopped, approximating 32% of the affected sections before the weeding was stopped. Luckily, at least 259 boxes are going to be returned by Better World Books, but the fate of books sent to other places is still unknown. The News-Gazette posted a good update on July 12, if you’d like to read about it.

Echoing Urbana, the Highland Park, MI Renaissance High School has a bookgate of its own going on. Residents of the area found much of the 10,000-piece collection of books, films, and other materials from the African American History section of the school library in school dumpsters. Some of the materials were rare and irreplaceable, and luckily, residents, including historian Paul Lee, were able to rescue about 1000 of the books. Donald Weatherspoon, the city’s Emergency Manager, has said the purge was a mistake, but that the school could not afford to house such a large collection. Andre Davis, vice president and secretary of that school board, has since stepped down from the post in protest, announcing his disagreement with Weatherspoon’s management. The salvaged materials are going to be donated to museums and libraries. Please read Detroit Free Press’s article for more information.

Another big announcement came earlier this week when Random House and Penguin Publishers merged. The “Big 6” is now the “Big 5.” Feelings are mixed on this one, too. As a reader, I’m not sure if we’ll be impacted very much. The two different publishing companies seemed to publish very different content, and as long as they can still maintain that array, I think readers will be happy. There are lots of predictions all over the web about whether or not this is a doomsday for modern literature, but honestly, I think it’s much too early to know. Plus, you know me; I like to think “jelly-side-up.” 😉 I think there’s a good chance things will be much the same as usual. To read about the merger, I recommend Publishers Weekly’s article.

Another bookish announcement is more personal. I have been selected by Novel Publicity & Co. to participate in some blog tours for different books. This means I will be posting my honest reviews of those books right here, on my blog. They’ll be on the home page, but you’ll also be able to access them under the “Reviews: Books” pull-down on my top menu. I’ll still be posting about my own life and writing, too; you just might start seeing some more posts. The two books I have on my plate at the moment are from the fantasy genre, with a possible third that is also fantasy.

I hope you enjoy the rest of your weekend, as well as the rest of your summer! Remember to go enjoy the heat, whether that involves a Good Humor bar, smelling flowers, or avoiding hoses. 😉