Book Review: The Wall in the Middle of the Book

Wall

As part of my Post-K Summer Reading Boot Camp:
https://sarahleastories.com/2019/06/08/post-k-summer-reading-boot-camp-2019

Take away the painfully obvious reference to Trump’s wall, and what do you have?  A dull story. 

This is another classic case of the message getting in the way of the telling.

The book has a fair amount of negative white space, which is a good thing.  However, what is there isn’t much; The Wall reads like a Dick and Jane basal reader, and the illustrations are ho-hum (or fee-fi-fo-fum).

That said, using the physical structure of the actual book to serve as the brick wall in the middle of the book is clever and the best part of it.

As I read this, I found myself not enjoying the story but rather trying to figure out what the author meant when the large (and typically scary) animals on the other side (who are trying to climb over the wall) freak out over a mouse, instantly making these rotund, exotic animals (who are more or less indigenous to the African continent) less scary.

The missing brick, for me, represented that no matter how good a firewall (or a border wall <cough, cough>) is, there is always a way around it (or under it, etc.).

About halfway through, the little knight is proclaiming how safe his side of the wall is while his side turns more and more treacherous the higher he climbs up the wall.  The animals disappear, and now there is a giant (seemingly scary) ogre on the other side.  However, the boy is so focused on how safe his side is and how unsafe the other side is that he doesn’t notice the dangers on his side until it’s almost too late, and the ogre saves him.

My take?  The water levels rising below the little knight with a shark ready to make a snack out of him represent global warming and Americans involved with child trafficking. 

The other side of the wall is portrayed as downright “fantastic”⁠—where ogres are lifeguards and wild animals are herbivorous and there is only imagined danger.  Apparently, people risk their lives to go to the little knight’s side because it’s so good on their side and not on his, and drug cartels are a myth.  I don’t blame anyone for wanting to escape from that.

The Wall in the Middle of the Book is not a terrible book; it’s not just a terribly interesting one.

Suggested activity: Most every child has an activity table (horizontal surface); let them have a wall (vertical surface) to mess up. Put up a whiteboard wall or paint a chalkboard one.

https://www.goodreads.com/book/show/37969835-the-wall-in-the-middle-of-the-book

Writer’s Digest November Poem-a-Day 2017 Challenge #20. Theme: What I Learned

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What I’ve Learned (so far)

What I learned from Creative Writing is that you don’t take it with the notion of learning how to get published–you take it to learn how to become a better writer so that you will have a better chance of getting published.

What I learned from Computer Concepts… Well, that would be nothing. Nothing at all.

What I learned from Ethics was “The Silver Rule” (or what I call the passive rule, as it concerns not doing something), and that I can Kant.  (I also learned that I love philosophy.)

What I learned from Poetry was that rhyme is limiting (take that, Robert Frost–I play dangerously without a net!), and that a person who wears a “Make America Great Again” hat wants to discuss more than mere poetry. I also learned that with workshopping, it’s wise to abide by the admonition of Cinderella, which is “to have courage and be kind.”

What I learned from English Composition II was how to write a research paper on a subject I knew nothing about (i.e. horses) and that Shakespeare is more fun to discuss than read. (I also learned that ratemyprofessors.com is pretty accurate.)

What I learned from Intermediate College Algebra was that I was not necessarily brilliant, but persistent enough to not allow the fear of algebra keep me from finishing college a second time.

What I learned from Security Awareness (besides finding a cure for insomnia) was that I could go viral (if not bacterial) on YouTube and make lots of money producing cat videos.

What I learned from Contemporary Literature is that a playful syllabus is indicative of a chill professor. (And a chill professor won’t take it personally if you kill him off in one of your stories. He just might laugh!)

What I learned from College Publications, Reporting, and working on the student newspaper is that I can make 24-hour deadlines. I learned that being a humor columnist would be my dream job (as I will never have a passion for reporting “ticker-tape news,” but for what comes after).

What I learned from medical coding classes what that I hate medical coding, but in learning that, I also learned that no education is ever wasted, for it took a wrong turn to get to the right one.

And what’s more, I learned that with a career and a family, it will take me longer to finish my education, but that’s okay, for as my college newspaper adviser says, “No one has ever asked me how long it took to get my Ph.D.”

There is time.

http://www.writersdigest.com/whats-new/2017-november-pad-chapbook-challenge-day-20

 

Journalism Conference Notes

The Not-So-Great Missouri Robbery

So I’m in Dallas at a journalism conference (being not just the copy editor, but also an article writer for the student newspaper); I’ve always believed that a news story lasts a day, but a book lasts long after the writer’s body and soul have separated.  I remember in one of my English composition classes, my professor asked us to name a news story that changed our life; no one spoke up.  He then asked us if we could name a book that did, for which several had answers.

That said, I like to believe some newspaper articles mean something to someone (besides the writer), so I try to write them with that in mind.

My parents saved every article I was ever mentioned in, which I’ve scrapbooked.  Some articles do stand the test of time, if for no other reason than a person’s name is mentioned.

*

The above article, written in May of 1981, for the Daily American Republic of Poplar Bluff, Missouri, wasn’t very well-written.  But, like a snapshot, it captured a memory (one my parents would rather forget, I’m sure); I have an interest in it, because my mom was pregnant with me when she and my dad were robbed at gunpoint.  (But that’s another story for another day.)

I’m glad my parents kept this little write-up, for thirty-six years later, it gave me the idea I needed for the personal essay/narrative category I entered in this year’s college writing contest, entitled, “It Happened One Night in Poplar Bluff.”

*

So I’ve been poring over college newspapers from all over the country, and it’s amazing how much I learn from them.  My head is so full of ideas, it’s hard to take it all in.  I’ve also been attending different speaker sessions, and am supposed to leave with ten takeaways.  (I already have quadruple that because I pay attention and take notes–it’s as easy as that.)  What’s interesting isn’t so much what they say, but how what they say sparks ideas.  I’ve been outputting so much lately, it was time to get some sauce for my noodle.

I’m learning about layout and design (not my strong point because I’m already in front of a screen enough), photography (again, not my forte, unless it’s taking pictures of my daughter or pretty things I’ve baked), and that’s because I don’t have a very good camera; I don’t have the proper tools.  It’s like trying to bake with a crappy oven.

For now, I really like being a copy editor.  I feel like I’m the finishing touch fairy, and one great piece of advice I got when we got our paper critiqued was that with copy editing, “the eye is good for catching grammar, the ear, for content.”  Read everything you write out loud, because your eyes will fill in the blanks.

*

I was in Dallas with one of my fellow journalists yesterday when President Trump came to town.  Downtown Dallas is like the city of rose gold, a veritable concrete jungle; I stood out there in the dry, Texas heat for almost two hours among protesters and beating drums, with cops surrounding us (that I don’t mind–I felt much safer), as well as the local news gal in her royal blue dress and flip-flops.  All this we did, just to catch a flash of what we thought to be the car President Trump was in disappear into what we assumed to be an underground garage.  I was thinking, I am so not this kind of reporter.  I am such a columnist!

Being a weekly humor columnist would be my dream job.  It’s hard to know what you want, not knowing quite how to get it, but I know I will always be doing what I love, and that is writing, no matter what job I get (whether it be copy-editing or medical whatever).

*

Even though I’m not cut out to be an editor-in-chief (I don’t want it badly enough) or a hard news journalist (I prefer a little more creativity and not “just the facts, ma’am”), I am learning how to become a better writer by writing all kinds of stories–from volunteer columns to book and restaurant reviews to human interest stories.  That said, the only type of article I’ve yet to write is a sports piece–the thought of which makes me cringe, because I loathe sports.

However, if ever there’s another Intramural Archery session I can cover, I’ll make that the one sports story of my life.

Once, and done.

A Time to Share: Reflections on one stop of my writing journey

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Being a guest blogger for https://getconnectdad.com/ has been a wonderful experience.  I was intrigued by the “52 Traits” we want to instill in our children; writing about them in poetic form has helped me explore such abstracts on a deeper level:  https://sarahleastories.com/get-connected-dad-my-contributions/

I’m a natural born storyteller, and I’ve found that my poems tend to be narratives with strategically-placed line breaks.  With the exception of children’s nursery rhymes, I find myself veering away from rhyme.  I like to say “metaphor is the new rhyme.”

I’ve finally become comfortable sharing my poetry in front of an audience.  My life motto has become “Aw, what the hell?”  I’ve always regretted the times I could’ve read and didn’t, but never the times I did, even if it didn’t go as well as I would’ve liked.

For example, one of my English professors told our class that my short story, “The Punch Drunk Potluck” (about what happens when a prospective member of the Church spikes the punch and brings pot brownies) was supposed to be humorous.  I was thinking, Oh, my god, don’t tell them that.  If they don’t laugh, I’ll be so embarrassed.

Even though “Punch” won first place in the college’s annual literary contest, they didn’t laugh.  That said, I was a bit uncomfortable (I’m sure I was breaking out in hives) during the reading (it was, after all, a super silly story), but I did it, and afterwards, a few people came up to me and told me how great it was.  (People may not always laugh, but that doesn’t mean they didn’t think it was funny; I don’t laugh at every joke I hear on “Cheers”).  One even asked for a copy.

The girl who asked for a copy used to be a member of the FLDS Church (her father had four wives), and so she understood all the nuances of my piece.  I’ve found that of all the different kinds of writing I do, I enjoy writing my humor pieces the most.  Even though I wouldn’t consider myself a funny gal (more just witty), I keep in mind that Lucille Ball was very serious in real life.

Out of the nine readers at the poetry reading at my college, I was the only one who read anything humorous  (“Hanging from the Family Tree”).  I like to say “a little subtlety and a little levity goes a long way.”  When offered the chance to read again, I read a serious poem (one I would describe as “hauntingly beautiful”), but everyone loved the first.  My inspiration for that one?  My family:  The gift that keeps on regifting.  (I was even asked to perform an encore the next day at the office.)

I’d worn my white snood; I decided that would be my schtick.  (When I used to color my hair red, I thought “The Lady in Red” had a nice ring to it; I would wear all red, down to my shoes.)  Since I had to stop coloring my hair when I was expecting (only to find I had gray hairs), I had to ditch that notion, at least during my child-bearing years.  (And have you ever tried finding red shoes?  Especially in a size 10?)

That night of the reading (taking a piece of advice one of the other students in my poetry class gave), I opened with a joke I’d overheard in the English department:

Q:  What does the Secret Service shout when they see a bullet coming towards the President?

A:  Donald!  Duck!

That icebreaker helped dispel almost all my self-consciousness.

My advice:  Don’t overthink it.  Just go for it.

 

 

Poem-a-Day Writer’s Digest Challenge #9. Theme: Call Me (Blank)

Call Me When

Call me in four years when
maybe we can be friends again;
or better yet, call me in eight,
when the Presidential deck,
rather than being reshuffled,
has been replaced,
for how strong is the animosity that
transmits like static electricity
amongst the winners,
the losers, the lost,
and those who remain
in half-mast shock.

2016 November PAD Chapbook Challenge: Day 9

Writer’s Digest Wednesday Poetry Prompt #359, Theme: Uncontrollable

Terry F.

The Voices told him not to take his medication;
they were like angels, God, & demons.
Did he speak in tongues or gibberish?
Had the veil that had been placed over his mind at birth been torn—
the veil the Saints of Latter Days spoke of—
allowed the spirits to slip through and torment him—
extremely frightening and incredibly real?

The drink allowed him the Quiet,
the drugs, the Peace.
He did not know who he was—
either dosed or without the Anti’s.

Was he the man who rambled about invisible hands
stealing his thoughts while he slept?
Or the man who stripped down his cardboard walls
so that he could run away from the Unholy Ghosts
that were his constant companions?
Was he the man who could laugh with the little child
who had tried to practice witchcraft on him—
the little child who had led him astray?
Or was he the man who no longer believed
that the Spirit of Donald Trump or Bill Gates
watched him through the walls that became separate particles?

His parents had passed on an inheritance
that stripped him of his autonomy,
for he was either controlled from the inside
through little chemical rockets,
or from the outside by the cat and canary scrubs.

Code Gray was called,
and he was once again being pulled,
flushed through the bowels
of the bathroom-tiled basement.

Wednesday Poetry Prompts: 359

Writer’s Digest Wednesday Poetry Prompt #355, Theme: Cravings

Airing Network Grievances

Bloomberg isn’t running for President after all.
Will Biden run for President?
Will Romney run on a third-term ticket?
Classic stock market speculation.
It isn’t news if it doesn’t bring in the ratings.

The manufactured feud between
Megyn Kelly and Donald Trump
has ended in a kissy-face one-on-one.
Since when did bar-hopping attire
become the cable news anchor look?

A celebrity has died.
Not exercising is bad for you.
O’Reilly has written another book.

Another celebrity has died.
Five days later,
we’ll stop hearing about it.

“Breaking News” has become
“The Boy Who Cried Wolf”.

Through the haze of punditry,
and over the babble-bobble of the talking heads,
I begin to have cravings for real news,
but, like a gold miner of yore (or ore),
I must sift through the infotainment—
many times on fast-forward—
to find the nuggets of truth
that have been crushed to dust.

Wednesday Poetry Prompts: 355