June Musings // Loneliness and Wars Within & Without

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Pressed flowers gathered in my backyard, inspired by Emily Dickinson’s Herbarium

The book is not about the war in Ukraine; it is about war as a common disease of the world. It tells children how important it is to not be afraid, to be strong, to stay together with your friends and your people, and to keep hope…

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“So much happens inside each one of us. Inside. Within ourselves. There’s an entire cosmos in there. But we barely pay any attention to it. We’re all too busy with the surface, the external stuff… Loneliness is freedom.”

Svetlana Alexeivich, Secondhand Time, 2016

“Hundreds of thousands of people sit in front of their televisions and listen to them like they’re hypnotized. It’s a drug! The terrifying loneliness… the sense of abandonment…. Everyone is terribly lonely.”

Svetlana Alexeivich, Secondhand Time, 2016

“What prepares men for totalitarian domination in the non-totalitarian world is the fact that loneliness, once a borderline experience usually suffered in certain marginal social conditions like old age, has become an everyday experience of the evergrowing masses of our century….
“…. Organized loneliness is considerably more dangerous than the unorganized impotence of all those who are ruled by the tyrannical and arbitrary will of a single man. Its danger is that it threatens to ravage the world as we know it–a world which everywhere seems to have come to an end–before a new beginning rising from this end has had time to assert itself.”

Hannah Arendt, The Origins of Totalitarianism, 1979

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“To have no one to blame but yourself is to have no one. It’s the worst fate.”

Sofia Samatar, “Meet Me in Iram,”  Tender: Stories, 2017.

“People talked about loneliness as if it were something alive and it could get you. But loneliness is something dead, it’s deadness. Lonely people are slowly dying people. SO ALONE I WISH I WAS DEAD, I once wrote in a notebook, but it wasn’t true. I wished I was alive.”

Sofia Samatar, “Request for an Extension on the Clarity,” Tender: Stories, 2017.

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I fear me this—is Loneliness—
The Maker of the soul
It’s Caverns and it’s Corridors
Illuminate—or seal—

Emily Dickinson, from #777, found in “Catherine Barnett on Emily Dickinson,” Poetry Society of America

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“The experience of certain feelings can seem particularly pregnant with desire for resolution: loneliness, boredom, anxiety. Unless we can relax with these feelings, it’s very hard to stay in the middle when we experience them. We want victory or defeat, praise or blame. For example, if somebody abandons us, we don’t want to be with that raw discomfort. Instead, we conjure up a familiar identity of ourselves as a hapless victim. Or maybe we avoid the rawness by acting out and righteously telling the person how messed up he or she is. We automatically want to cover over the pain in one way or another, identifying with victory or victimhood.”

Pema Chödrön, “Six Kinds of Loneliness,” Lions Roar, 15 May 2017

 

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New Year, New Books

One thing that gives me hope for a good 2017 is that there are SO MANY wonderful books arriving in the coming year. Here are a few picture books that I am particularly excited about (so far), one for each of the first three months of the year.

January

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A Greyhound, A Groundhog by Emily Jenkins, illustrated by Chris Appelhans

Combine delicious, tongue-tying wordplay with gorgeous yet goofy illustrations, and you have my absolute favorite book so far of 2017. My review is here. And this one comes out on Tuesday, 1/3–HOORAY!

Ages 3+

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February

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Tony by Ed Galing, illustrated by Erin E. Stead

It would be very, very difficult for me to not love a story illustrated by Erin E. Stead, but the story behind this one gives it an extra specialness. On his blog, Philip Stead gave the origin story of Tony, and I guarantee if you read it you will find yourself a little misty-eyed. I think for 2017 we should all remember “that there are beautiful things happening in the world that go unnoticed.” And start noticing them–this book is a good start. My review is here.

Ages 3+

Out February 7th.

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March

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Bird, Balloon, Bear by Il Sung Na

This one’s for all those shy kindred spirits out there–may you find this lovely book helps you find the courage to find and cultivate friendships with those who are kind, loving, and understanding. My review is here.

Ages 2+

Out March 14th.

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Favorites of 2016: Or, Ten Picture Books That Got Me Through This Topsy-Turvy Year

It has been a YEAR. Our country and world seem infinitely more fractured and fraught than it did at the beginning of 2016. But more often than not, books have been the bright lights in the dark for me. I remember reading Frog & Toad as a kindergartener while my classmates and I huddled in the hallway for a tornado warning–it is one of the first reading memories I have, and it was the first time I realized that reading could bring comfort and carry me away from the abyss of anxiety.
The following are ten of my favorite picture books of 2016 for countering the abyss and empowering young readers with imagination, attention, kindness, empathy, and humor.

bearwhowasntthere_final.jpegThe Bear Who Wasn’t There: And the Fabulous Forest by Oren Lavie, illustrated by Wolf Erlbruch

A book to encourage readers to question everything–even who they are–and to expand their imagination. Plus, who wouldn’t want a friend like Turtle Taxi to help us find our way home? (Ages 6+)

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thejourney_final.jpegThe Journey by Francesca Sanna

A book to help some readers see a world that isn’t always so safe and sound, a world that many people they know or have yet to meet have experienced. Other readers might find their own story in these pages. My review is here. (Ages 4+)

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bestfrints_finalBest Frints in the Whole Universe by Antoinette Portis

A book to show readers that though “best frints” might sometimes “use their teef and not their words” to solve problems (like a shmackled sposship), a little taypo and  twire and a spewdriver and more than a little camaraderie can go a long way. Also, laughter always helps. (Ages 3+)

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whengreenbecomestomatoes_finalWhen Green Becomes Tomatoes: Poems for All Seasons by Julie Fogliano, pictures by Julie Morstad

A book to guide readers gently and beautifully through the seasons, from tasting the sunshine in summer berries to appreciating the magical stillness of a snowy day. (Ages 6+)

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archiesnufflekins_final.jpegArchie Snufflekins Oliver Valentine Cupcake Tiberius Cat by Katie Harnett

A book to help readers appreciate good, old-fashioned human-to-human interaction and how it builds a community, one person at a time. We all belong here. My full review is here. (Ages 4+)

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whatcoloristhewind_finalWhat Color is the Wind? by Anne Herbauts

A book to give readers a sensory experience unlike any other they can get from a book (except The Black Book of Colors). This gloriously meditative and inventive book is meant to be touched as much as it is meant to be read, from cover to cover. (Ages 5+)

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samsoninthesnow_finalSamson in the Snow by Philip C. Stead

A book to improve any reader’s bad days. I’ve lauded this book over and over, and though it was hard to choose between the two books Stead published this year (I still love you, Ideas Are All Around), this one was a clear winner for me. It’s great for reading aloud and reading alone, in tough times and good times. My review is here. (Ages 4+)

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deadbird_finalThe Dead Bird by Margaret Wise Brown, pictures by Christian Robinson

A book to show readers that beauty can be found in unexpected places, even in death. This one is the perfect combination of frank and gentle, and is a perfect introduction to understanding the circle of life. (Ages 4+)

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soundofsilence_finalThe Sound of Silence by Katrina Goldsaito, illustrated by Julia Kuo

A book to help readers learn how to listen around the sounds to find the silence. In world filled with so much noise, it is essential to have the skills to listen carefully. (Ages 5+)

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storyteller_finalThe Storyteller by Evan Turk

And finally, a book to celebrate the power of stories to bring people together and stop destructive forces. We need those truth-filled stories more than ever right now. (Ages 6+)

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On Kindness in Dark Times

“There are three ways to ultimate success:
The first way is to be kind.
The second way is to be kind.
The third way is to be kind.”

-Mister Rogers


I’ll not mince words here: I supported and voted for Hillary Clinton because she was, to me, the only (and historically the most) qualified candidate. She had devoted her entire adult life to serving others. And above all else, she showed incredible poise and compassion in the face of some of the vilest hatred and bigotry. And yes, she is a woman who almost had that ultimate glass ceiling shattered.

I was heartbroken by the results of the election. But I know that despair does nothing for anyone. It’s paralyzing. And I know that all the hand-wringing, saftey-pin wearing, and blog post writing is not going to help. That’s why I’m pledging to hold my elected officials responsible–keep calling them, keep writing them. And to keep donating to and volunteering with causes that are on the side of justice and equality.

On Thursdays at Avid Bookshop, I do storytime, and this week’s was so poignant. I read books on belonging and acceptance. And as I looked at all of those little faces, I felt a little spark of hope.

Yesterday, I got an email from the Clinton campaign, reminding me that one of the ways I can keep up the good work is to “promote love and kindness where [I] live.” And today, World Kindness Day, seems an apt time to share a few of my favorite children’s books that promote love and kindness. You can bet I’ll be recommending these at the shop, hoping that the kids who read these will grow into adults full of empathy, compassion, and love for one another.


Last Stop on Market Street by Matt de la Peña, pictures by Christian Robinson

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This one is my always-favorite for finding magic in the everyday–a key to being kind. Every person has a gift and a story, and like Nana, we just need to find “the beautiful where [others] never even [think] to look.”

My review.

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Miss Rumphius by Barbara Cooney

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The message throughout the book that “you must do something to make the world more beautiful” is a clarion call. And it is all the more urgent now.

My review.

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Samson in the Snow by Philip C. Stead

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This is one of the books I read for storytime this week. From the dedication “to anyone who is having a bad day” to Samson’s decision that it is “better to walk than to worry,” the deliberate acts of kindness that fill this book had me nearly weeping. Honestly, pick up any book written by Stead, and you’ll find kindness, friendship, and gentleness within–it was hard to pick a favorite, but this one has my heart right now.

My review.

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Zen Ties by Jon J Muth

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Sometimes being kind to those who have a tough exterior can reveal a light within–leading to unexpected friendships. Let Stillwater show you the way.

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Grandfather Gandhi by Arun Gandhi & Bethany Hegedus, illustrated by Evan Turk

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When anger has its reigns on us, it is destructive. But if we can learn to transform it into compassion, we can bring light into the world. A necessary book for these dark times–and you can take a pledge to “Live Your Life as Light.”

My review.

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The Moomins and the Great Flood by Tove Jansson

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This one in particular, but really–the entire Moomin series is full of inclusiveness and little kindnesses. From author Kyo Maclear’s blog:

The Moomins and the Great Flood may be a story about a terrible disaster but it is also a story about the formation of an extended family where misfits and orphans are always welcome, where ‘making kin and making kind,’ in the sense Donna Haraway has proposed, can ‘stretch the imagination and can change the story.’

“….If there is a ‘take-away’ from the Moomin stories it is that closed system thinking cannot help us. Rather than retreat into a private world of grief or flummoxed passivity, we need to find ways of treating our  vulnerability as an open window. Faced with ecological disasters, brutal wars, and the threat of destruction looming over the future of their world, the Moomins practice an insistent openness. We must too.”

See more of her comments about this book and it’s relevance to the times here.

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On Seeing and Loving the Little Things

Autumn, for me, has always been a time of quiet reflection and introspection. Summer is full of the loud and lush: crickets chirp throughout the night, cicadas rattle in the trees, and bees buzz through the brightest-colored flowers. Autumn has a beautiful taciturnity about it–the chilly wind quiets the dinny hum of summer, making beatific birdsong and crunching of leaves stand out all the more. I come to appreciate the Little Things more easily in the autumn: the way a maple leaf gracefully drifts to the ground, the way the sunbeams filter through treetops on a misty morning, or the quiet scuttle of a cheeky chipmunk dashing back to its burrow. This season invites me to “feel the welcome of small particulars” that Marilyn Nelson describes so perfectly in the poem below.

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Roxanne Steed. Autumn Morning at J. Alden Weir Farm. 2013. Oil on Belgian linen.

Step out of the frame again, and be
enveloped in birdsong and dapple.
Feel the welcome of small particulars:
the grove beside that boulder,
the white horse tied in front of that barn.
With eyes made tender, see
those elms, from shadows on the grass
to the highest leaves’ shimmer.

With your friends, lovers, family, stride
across this chromatic broken brushwork.
Sit a minute at the granite picnic table
with the artist’s daughters, dressed in summer white.
You can daub this earth, so lyric, so gentle,
from the limited palette of your own love right now.
Any place you care for can hold an easel.
Everything around you is beautiful plein aire.

-Marilyn Nelson, from Weir Farm (source)

Of Flowers and Friendship

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Samson in the Snow by Philip C. Stead

“A common flower, a weed that no one sees… But for us, a noble thing, the dandelion.” Thus is the humble dandelion beatified in Ray Bradbury’s Dandelion Wine. In Philip C. Stead’s Samson in the Snow, Samson, a lone wooly mammoth, tends his dandelion patch with a level of care and attention that suggests he feels a similar way about these tiny bursts of sunshine. He is waiting for a friend, you see. But for now, the flowers are his sole company.

Then, a little red bird visits him (is that you, friend of Ruby?) and asks to take some flowers for her friend who “is having a bad day,” and whose “favorite color is yellow.” Samson tenderly gathers a few flowers for her to take, sees her on her way, then falls asleep, dreaming of “the color yellow.”

He wakes to white all over, as a blizzard has befallen the previously summery landscape. Samson is worried about the little red bird being caught in the storm–so worried, in fact, that he goes in search of her. I don’t want to give too much away, but suffice it to say Samson ends up with two more friends than he had before.

Philip Stead creates stories of friendship that gently nudge open your heart, filling it with warmth, magic, and inspiration. Each book of his is transformative to its readers. Dedicated to “anyone who is having a bad day,” Samson is a picture book that will definitely transform readers (and probably their days, too). Stead’s consistently innovative and expressive art (a combination of monoprint, pastels, etc.) is on display here, rendered in a limited palette of blues, greys, and browns with bright splashes of yellow (of course) and red. That final spread, showing Samson and his new friends after the storm has passed? Pure happiness, put on the page. Stead’s pacing here is also particularly poignant, as wordless spreads inform readers about the little red bird’s distress as Samson searches for her.

Reading this book is like receiving a lovingly-gathered bunch of flowers from a dear friend. It is brimming with kindness, heart, and comfort. It should be read over and over and over. For those children who understand what it is to be lonely, to yearn for friendship, this book will be exactly what they need–a gentle, touching reminder that friends can be found where you least expect them.

Ages 4-8.

On shelves today!

Published by Macmillan Children’s Publishing Group

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Time, Turtles

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All the time that isn’t felt by the heart is as lost as a rainbow to a blind man or a birdsong to a deaf one. Unfortunately, there are many deaf and blind hearts that don’t feel anything, even though they continue to beat.

In a quiet, quaint town, little orphan Momo lives in the ruins of an amphitheater and spends most of her time playing with the other children. She has a particular, seemingly magical gift: She listens really, really well. She patiently hears all that is said and unsaid, revealing the truth beneath everyone’s miscommunications or rash outbursts. For this reason she is often turned to by village inhabitants as a confidant and mediator. Though Momo lives in poverty, she is rich in friends, who make sure she is taken care of. Her closest friends are Guido the Guide, a tour guide whose gift is in telling wholly absorbing stories; and Beppo Streetsweeper, who truly understands the meaning of enjoying the present moment. But something dark is afoot, as townspeople, and even Momo’s closest friends, are entrapped by the Men in Grey, who essentially hypnotize people into “saving time.” The truth is that these Grey men are stealing people’s time, leaving them in a frustrated, frenzied loop of trying to save more and more time as more and more slips away from them. Sound familiar?

Momo might have been written 43 ago, but the truths it reveals about the way in which we value time and busyness resonates just as clearly in 2016, if not more, than it did in 1973. It’s as if the Men in Grey have triumphed over us all, as we urge our world to move faster; keep us busy and occupied. To open Momo is to pause and listen (as deeply as Momo does) to another way–the way of patience, play, and process. The gorgeously-wrought story begs the question, “How do you want to spend your time?” Zwirner’s translation of Ende’s classic tale is rich with magic, humor, and a fresh lyrical quality that is perfectly complimented by Dzama’s elegantly simple illustrations. This book will appeal to any reader who enjoys walking the fine line between fantasy and reality–especially those who love Astrid Lindgren, Ottfried Preussler, and Ende’s The Neverending Story.

Favorite Character: Cassiopeia, a turtle who communicates with Momo via words on her shell and can see precisely a half-hour into the future. Yes, really.

Ages 11 & up.

Available now; paperback edition will be available in August from McSweeney’s!

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