Book Review: The Rough Patch

Patch

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

I’ve always found it strange when animals have other animals as pets (I’m still getting over Minnie Mouse, a giant rodent, having Figaro the cat as a pet)⁠—just like a fox owning a dog, when dogs generally hunt them down. What’s more, Evan was an odd choice for a fox’s name⁠—I think Mr. Fox would’ve been better. (Generic names worked for The Berenstain Bears.) However, Evan should’ve been a little boy rather than a grown-up fox (or even a grown-up human).

Yes, it just seemed strange for one animal to be practically human but the dog to be just a dog (i.e. like Mickey and Pluto). Disney made it work but Mr. Lies—not so much.

The author did, however, beautifully capture the weather, mood, and time of day with different “filters” and conveyed Evan’s grief perfectly (and heartbreakingly so) in the scene where he sets his paw on his dead dog, their faces turned away from the reader, which lent to the tableau a certain dignity. The lack of background on that page solely was symbolic of how alone Evan felt.

This is the only book I’ve read in this challenge that made me choke up, especially when Evan destroys what he and his dog loved⁠—turning their Garden of Eden into a rough patch of weeds that looked like something out of a Tim Burton movie—hacking his garden to pieces so that nothing good would ever grow there, reflecting the bitter, angry plot that had grown in his heart.

The Rough Patch shows that whatever we choose to nurture will grow. When an ugly vine snakes in under the fence—a vine Evan hopes will choke the life out of his garden—he decides to give it his care, only for it to grow into a prize-winning pumpkin⁠.

The juxtaposition of the cheery bluebirds and the creepy blackbirds, the cartoonish scarecrow and the shrub tree monster, the nourishing vegetables and the fruitless weeds (the last of which, along with pests, were fabled not to exist until after The Fall and death entered the Garden), the joyous sundown vs. the ominous twilight served as an allegory of Genesis, with Death representing Cain, the dog, Abel, and the new pup, Seth. Some might even see the Son of God as the pumpkin (fruit of the “True Vine”) that grows its way into Evan’s garden to finally ripen in his heart.

We know at the end that Evan is ready to make another friend, but I would’ve liked to have seen him plant something over the rough patch where his dog was buried.

What makes this story timeless is the lack of technology depicted—where a fox and a fox’s best friend (in this alternate universe) enjoy outdoor games, gardening, music on the radio, and sweet treats like old-fashioned ice cream cones. However, what kept this book from hitting the 5-star mark was the fox being a little too human and the abrupt ending; it needed an epilogue showing the happily ever after rather than alluding to it.

Suggested activity: I’m a huge fan of frozen vegetables⁠—they’re cheap, healthy, and taste good. They don’t go bad and make great soup additions. However, take a field trip to your local farmer’s market where it’s as much about buying produce as it is about the experience—where you’re able to feel and smell the produce (and sometimes even taste it⁠). Show your child(ren) that good food comes in a rainbow of colors. I often plate a pinwheel shape of different fruits and vegetables, and my daughter loves it.

https://www.goodreads.com/book/show/35887584-the-rough-patch

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Book Review: Blue

Blue

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

The more I read this book, the more I liked it. The keyhole cutouts in the delightful thickness of these pages seemed unnecessary, but my daughter enjoyed locating them; the book’s square shape and the large, simple, bold font is perfection. The lush, sumptuous color—bright but not unnaturally so—so beautifully textured, is stunning. Most of these pages, given the panoramic treatment in double-page spreads that bleed into the spine, would make perfect nursery art: the deep, twilight blue butterflies were like something out of a Technicolor fairy tale, the water shooting out of the garden hose captured the summertime magic of childhood, the granular texture of the snow against the smooth, sable brown of the tree was striking, and the brushstrokes depicting the frothy whitecaps looked so real, I almost expected to feel seafoam.

Simply titled, Blue has a very organic feel—a certain spirituality and harmony with nature (including human nature). It is a childlike, coming-of-age tale.

The concept is rather interesting, for how many unexpected ways can we describe blue using the word blue (i.e. besides light, dark, powder, navy, etc.)? It’s almost like a series of paintings turned into a poem. Everything that was described as blue was connected with an emotion, a state of being, or something gifted to us by the Creator; Laura Vaccaro Seeger totally nailed midnight blue.

Though few words, it tells a story. Each two-word set “maybe blue,” “true blue,” etc., I treated as the title of the story that the pictures painted. Blue is open-ended enough where you can add to the story, but not so open-ended that there is no story. I’m not a fan of wordless picture books (and this was close to it), but the way I felt while “reading” this timeless tale of friendship—the boy growing up while his dog grew old—resonated with me. No preaching, no message—just life—distilled into the most poignant parts.

It was sweet that the boy (now a young man who had yet to befriend another dog) met his true love through their love of dogs—her dog actually seems to choose him first, as if it sensed another dog lover, leading (or rather, dragging) her to her destiny.

My daughter liked this one, and I enjoyed reading it to her. Blue is the kind of book I read when I want not just to make a memory but a connection. If there was a complete set on all the colors, I would buy everyone one of these books.

Suggested activity: Numbers, letters, shapes, and colors are some of the earliest building blocks of learning. When I was a child, getting Crayola’s 64-count with the built-in sharpener was something quite magical. Try having your child come up with naming their own colors (they don’t have to be blue; I was always intrigued by names like periwinkle and lavender; if your child is older, you can come up with double adjectives, like mascarpone-white or tiramisu-tan. Someone has to come up with all of those names, after all. For a field trip, go to a paint store and get a handful of paint sample cards (which I’ve used to make Christmas cards: https://onelittleproject.com/paint-chip-christmas-cards/). And take time out to visit the author’s website. It’s gorgeous! https://studiolvs.com/

https://www.goodreads.com/book/show/37534395-blue

#Fiction Friday: #Novelines from the Book

mormoni

Burgundies, navy blues, & hunter greens had been replaced with shades of cream, ecru, & chartreuse. It was as if the royal richness that was David had been replaced with the plainness & blandess of Mother.

Modern art that looked like shards of broken glass & felled raindrops had been replaced with several of Greg Olsen’s paintings, & the place began to more resemble a Mormon temple than a museum.

Mother had put off the natural woman to put on the spiritual; in her eyes, the 2 entities could not co-exist, for one would always rule over the other.

The Church cautioned against forbidden fruit, yet they dangled it in front of me, tied up in the most attractive packaging.

I had never heard David thank God for anything before, save that night in the hospital, & I wondered, if, in his own way, he was changing, too.

The sky was pitch-black, the clouds that floated across it a grayish purple, sailing past as if I was in a time machine, watching the many moons go by. It was cool, but not cold, yet I felt a chill, a foreboding, as I approached the house.

The Schafer home reminded me of the Cleavers’ house in “Leave it to Beaver.” The hedges surrounding the front porch had all had a crew cut, whereas ours grew like wild ferns. Our home on Harrington Court made me think of an aging Southern belle.

Though the new elders were polite, they were distant, & weren’t the friends we had known in Elders Johnson & Roberts.

When Sister Corbin & Sister Kyle left the area, we received one piece of correspondence from each–a wedding invite & a postcard of a broken engagement. It was the last we had ever heard from them.

Elder Johnson still said hello to what he referred to as “the new Dalton family” through the grapevine, or the grapes of wrath known as the elders. Wariness had replaced openness with them, at least towards us, despite Mother & David’s morally married state. I only hoped Elder Johnson would still think of us once he got back home.

My 1000th blog post! Then & Now

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Sarah Lea Stories was born in the blogosphere as sarahleastories@wordpress.com, eventually graduating to https://sarahleastories.com/

My first blog post was published on October 24, 2013:  https://sarahleastories.com/2013/10/24/the-treasury-of-the-sara-madre/.  I was a new mom, practically a newlywed, and hadn’t even started college yet. 

Since 2013, SLS has gone through many incarnations.  I was actually pretentious enough, once upon a time, to call myself The Populist Poetess; now I’m The Post-It Poet, bridging brevity with gender neutrality (I still prefer the terms actress and sculptress, but no one uses poetess).  Now, my concentration is on getting my B.A. in Creative Writing in three years (or less) and editing everything I’ve written thus far.

*

It’s rather serendipitous that my 1000th blog post would fall on this day–as I finally made it to the local writer’s group I belong to–reconnecting (outside of Facebook and one-on-one chats over lunch or coffee) with friends I’ve known since before I started this blog (and making a new one).  It’s been at least two years since I’ve attended a meeting.  Throughout the months, perhaps even years, I’ve sort of kept up with the group through the monthly group emails, not realizing how much I’d missed it, missed them, till I went back today.

I’d gotten acquainted with the group through a Facebook political page in 2012 (the page’s administrator was a local woman).  No dues, only kind critiques were required.  It was perfect.

I always learn something from each of the members, who generally share their news and a piece they’ve written; sometimes we do a writing exercise.  This month’s prompt was to create a Twitter account for a deceased person (their handle, bio, and maybe even a web address), which became homework.  I’m not on Twitter anymore (it’s so impersonal, and there’s a lot of ugliness), but I love fun, short challenges like this.

We’re a diverse group–writing everything from magazine nonfiction to children’s books to blog posts to creative writing.   Today, I read a piece I’m submitting to Shutterfly for a $500 gift card contest, writing from the perspective of the giver rather than the receiver.  

It was just so good to be able to share something in my own voice.

Every book I’ve created through Shutterfly has had special significance, and I don’t just give them to anyone.  So many hours, I’d be in the Writing Lab with its giant monitors, perfecting them, reading them aloud where no one would hear me.  That Lab was where I spent most of my lunches for the several months I worked at the college after graduation. 

I am practically the unofficial brand ambassador for Shutterfly and am finalizing my ninth and tenth book through the site.  

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Writing is what I want to do more than anything else, and if it’s in technical writing, so be it.  It is still writing and every experience I have, whether it be writing press releases, biographies for an event program, articles for a newspaper, etc., it all helps me become a better writer.  Even when I worked for my alma mater’s Writing Lab, I learned so much.  It was one of the best jobs I’ve ever had.

Practicality is what compelled me to major in Health Information Technology, but the only class I enjoyed (and I enjoyed it quite a lot) was Medical Terminology.  I still have a medical dictionary one of my professors gave me, but beyond that, it was excruciatingly painful to sit through those courses.  About halfway through the program, I realized I liked the idea of wearing scrubs and working evenings (not being an early morning person) in a big hospital more than I would like the work.  I could write about those things, but I could never be those things.  

I am finally pursuing what I’ve always wanted to do full-time.  I’ve never been much of a risk taker, and I am blessed to be able to do that now.  It just took four years of surviving, of barely making it financially, to get to that point.  

That said, no matter where life takes me careerwise, I will always blog at least twice weekly; I’ve learned a lot through blogging process:  how to schedule posts in advance, increase my SEO (by using key words), and add share buttons for Facebook, LinkedIn, et cetera–all basic but useful things.  Now if WordPress would just put more attractive ads on my page (without me having to pay to take them off), that would be the cats.

As I prepare for uni, I realize I’ve been writing so much that I haven’t been taking the time to edit anything, including my Southern Gothic horror novel, which I “advertise” on Fiction Fridays:  https://sarahleastories.com/category/fiction-fridays/.

While in school, I’m going to read a lot more nonfiction (about writing), finalize my book, and wrap up all my unfinished writing projects–not to mention all the writing I’ll be doing for class.  I have the prolific thing down; I just need the perfecting, the polish.   

My biggest advice to other bloggers is that you need readers who aren’t writers–people who won’t expect anything in return except great content.  Keep cranking it out, but always bank your marketable works to submit for paying opportunities.  That is why I only post poetry (i.e. my streams of consciousness with line breaks), book reviews, and the occasional personal essay (by the time most of my essays got published, it would be old news)–never chapters of my novel, short stories, or any portion of my children’s nursery rhyme collection, which I plan on hiring a student to illustrate (same goes for my book cover).  

 By the time I reach my 2000th post, I want to have:

  • Finished editing my novel, Because of Mindy Wiley, and have it ready to publish:  https://sarahleastories.com/because-of-mindy-wiley/
  • Finished my second collection of children’s nursery rhymes, Golden Plates and Silver Spoons
  • Been published in the print (or online) edition of The Saturday Evening Post
  • Making a good living writing (or where writing is part of the job) 
  • Graphically designing all my blog post images myself, eliminating the need for stock photos (and using my own photos whenever possible).  I became aware of just how awful stock photography was (not the quality of the image but the lack of originality on my part) when I saw an image I’d used for one of my posts elsewhere (in three different places)
  • Read at least 100 books on writing (and reviewed them)
  • And, most importantly, developed a lifelong love of books in my daughter–she already requests “Punch and Judy” every night, which is a delight

And, by my 2000th post, I will have graduated from college a second time.  For a while, I had considered being a polysomnographer (my dad has sleep apnea) or doing something with hearing aids (I have unilateral hearing loss), but being honest with myself and true to myself led me on the path that I should’ve taken all those years ago.

Writerly and Grammarly,
Sarah Richards, Class of 2022

Book Review: Dreamers

Dreamers

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

This is a case where the author’s personal story was more compelling than the one she wrote.  As for the illustrations, there is something very spiritual and surreal about them–the kinaesthetics reminded me of the frescoes of Michelangelo, the angles and bold color scheme, of Picasso.  However, I didn’t understand the significance of the skirt made of colorful feathers that seemed to defy gravity, the meaning of the people with the protests signs, or the symbolism of the eyeball in the strawberry.  It is a rare talent to be able to tell stories with words and pictures, but Morales should just stick with drawing because this was a poem trying to be a story.

The author’s love of libraries was evident–including the names/book covers of her favorite books was a stroke was perfect.  The magic of libraries seemed to be the major theme of the story rather than the angst of resettling in a foreign country in which there is a language barrier. 

There was no juxtaposition between the author’s birth country and her adopted one; a little compare and contrast (like she did in the back of the book), as well as a more narrative storytelling style, would’ve added much more context to the pictures. 

In short, the story did not do the pictures justice. 

Morales was spot-on in making the point that when you are able to communicate in the primary language of the country you are living in, you can make your voice heard.  People just won’t listen (they won’t take the time to) if they don’t understand you. That is why literacy–not just in speaking but in reading and writing–is so important.  As for the Spanish words scattered in random places, I wish the definitions had been included. Having to look them up separately (or on my phone while reading) would’ve disrupted the flow of the story.

I’m glad the author made a distinction about what the word “dreamer” meant to her, though because of how the word is used today, I would’ve probably used another title. 

The “extras” were better than the story, such as the list of other books the author found inspiring, as well as how she did the art (sometimes, the process is more interesting than the product).  However, her immigration story was the only part of this book that I found interesting; I thought it wonderful that she included actual names. What a delight that would be to be one of the people mentioned as having made such a difference in someone’s life.  I can only imagine how hard it is coming to a country where you don’t know the language (the language you are working hard to learn) and how relieving it would be to know that you had a friend you could trust–a friend who knew that language who could not only help you learn it but a friend who would watch out for you.

Ultimately, this story did not hold my daughter’s attention; so many children’s books are written only for the adults who choose to read to their children.  This, to me, was one of them.

Btw, I think if you’re going to give a book less than three stars, it would be nice if you would at least tell the author why in a civil way.  Otherwise, it comes across as mean-spirited.

Suggested activity:  Find a wall-sized world map, and, using pins (or tiny stickers), start pinning locations where the books you’re reading are published.  (The Fox on the Swing– earlier in this summer reading challenge–was published in Lithuania.)  Let your child pick a place; just fill your map with pins.  

https://www.goodreads.com/book/show/39651067-dreamers

Book Review: Jerome by Heart

Jerome

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

When I saw the cover, I was not excited to see what was inside because the illustration was terrible. Why is the city all coated in an orange dust like the post-apocalyptic world of WALL-E?

Though I know boys often hero-worship other boys who happen to be charismatic (not merely polite to their parents), it just came across as creepy.

Then there were these quotes:

“Dad’s voice is like sharp fish bones in my hot chocolate.”

“I forget my mom and dad.
I think only about Jerome.”

“From now on, every day is for Jerome.”

“…feel protected by Jerome’s two eyes.”

And how does Jerome hide his eyes in his shoelaces?

Raphael talks about how Jerome doesn’t play rough. Isn’t it normal for boys to roughhouse rather than hold hands? Girls hold hands, boys roughhouse.

His mom concedes that Jerome is charming, but that’s not good enough for Raphael; he’s upset that she doesn’t seem to notice how warm his smile is.

Raphael’s parents sounded like they were sick of hearing about Jerome (other goodreads reviewers mentioned that Jerome may have been imaginary, which I don’t doubt), probably because they believed their son was obsessed with him. Their son comes across as the kind of boy who, when he gets older, will kill his parents so he can be with Jerome.

This book was not a sweet story of friendship but of one boy consumed with another. Jerome has other friends but Raphael doesn’t seem to. A lot of children have best friends, but this took it to a whole new level.

I generally come up with a suggested, coordinating activity, but I never want to see this book again. I’ve tried finding an appropriate book on friendship between boys but so many of the books on friendship are about animals or use inanimate objects as the main characters, so I am open to suggestions.

https://www.goodreads.com/book/show/36283196-jerome-by-heart

#Micropoetry Monday: #Thanatology

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She spent part of her holiday
scrapbooking her memories,
knowing
there would be more of them;
the other she spent
memorializing another’s memories,
knowing
there wouldn’t be
any more of them,
yet both books
were a celebration of life
& the people who lived it.

The friends she’d had during the best of times
were her friends for a season,
& were wonderful in their time,
but the friends who were there for her
during the worst of times
were her friends for all seasons—
sunbeams that warmed the grieving rain.

She put smiley-faced notes in her children’s lunch bags,
left lovey-dovey Post-Its for her husband on the kitchen counter,
& texted silly jokes to her mother when she couldn’t reach her.
She left a paper trail that stretched for miles,
so that when she was suddenly gone,
her family was left to pick up the scraps
that couldn’t even begin to tell the story
of how much they’d meant to her.