Saturday, May 13, 2017

Seasons of Joy

"Wake up! It's Spring.
Trees are tipped in wisps of green.
Let's stretch our legs and run on soft, fresh grass."
~ Seasons of Joy, Claudia Marie Lenart

Published in 2017, Seasons of Joy: Every Day is for Outdoor Play is a children's book written and illustrated by nature enthusiast and fiber artist Claudia Marie Lenart.  The illustrations are finely rendered, colorful, 3-D wool paintings.  I know I would have lingered over these exquisite pictures as a child.  As an adult, I appreciate the many fine, artistic details in this book, as well as the simple yet profound message, to go outside and enjoy the beauty of nature, year-round.

Seasons of Joy is a gorgeous tribute to the four seasons.  It begins with our current season, Spring.  (My iPhoto below really does not do justice to this fine artwork.)


In the book, children will see that each season is special and beautiful.  Seasons of Joy features short, rhyming prose and lovely, soft wool paintings.  This picture book is truly a joy to look at and to read!  It depicts the beauty of the seasons and gently encourages children--and adults--to go outside and enjoy nature. What could be better than that? 


Every Saturday, Booking Mama hosts Kid Konnection, a fun feature that highlights books for children.  Many thanks to Victor from Loving Healing Press for sending me this new children's  book.

Thank you very much for stopping by!  Your comments are welcomed.

Thursday, April 27, 2017

For National Poetry Month: Robert Frost

During a Facetime chat yesterday with my daughter, Angela, she passed a statue of Robert Frost on the campus of Dartmouth College.  I decided at that point that I 'd found my subject for National Poetry Month. Because when I think of poetry, I think of Robert Frost.  He was one of the first poets I studied (to some extent) in school.  I asked Angela to send me a better photo than the screen shots I took during our Facetime, and today she texted me this beautiful photo, taken by her boyfriend, Matt (because she was in lab until 8 PM), of the bronze statue of Robert Frost by sculptor George W. Lundeen. Thank you, Angela and Matt!

Robert Lee Frost (March 26, 1874 – January 29, 1963) was an American poet.  Born in San Francisco, CA, his family moved to Lawrence, MA, after his father died.  He graduated from high school in 1892, and attended Dartmouth for two months (he left college to work to help his family, and later attended Harvard for two years).  Frost felt that his true calling was poetry, and he sold his first poem, "My Butterfly. An Elegy", in 1894.  He married Elinor Miriam White in 1895, in Lawrence, and Frost became a prolific poet, who wrote poetry from his homes in various parts of New England (and later from England). He won four Pulitzer Prizes for poetry, as well as a Congressional Gold Medal in 1960.  Frost was named the poet laureate of Vermont in 1961.

When I think of Robert Frost, the poem that stands out in my mind is "Stopping by Woods on a Snowy Evening" (1922).  Isn't his name, Robert Frost, so perfect for a poet writing about the cold, frosty woods?!  He wrote the poem quickly one morning from his home in Shaftsbury, Vermont, after watching a sunrise, having stayed up all night to work on a long poem, "New Hampshire" (which should maybe be underlined, due to its length).  If you've ever been to New England and have walked in the woods, you'll agree that this poem captures the essence of the woods.  The last stanza is etched in my memory from my schooldays.  Perhaps you remember it as well. 

Stopping by Woods on a Snowy Evening
Whose woods these are I think I know.
His house is in the village, though;
He will not see me stopping here
To watch his woods fill up with snow.

My little horse must think it queer
To stop without a farmhouse near
Between the woods and frozen lake
The darkest evening of the year.

He gives his harness bells a shake
To ask if there is some mistake.
The only other sound's the sweep
Of easy wind and downy flake.

The woods are lovely, dark and deep,
But I have promises to keep,
And miles to go before I sleep,
And miles to go before I sleep.

I've added this post to Savvy Verse & Wit's special Mister Linky for National Poetry Month. Thank you, Serena!

Happy National Poetry Month!  As always, your comments are welcomed.

Thursday, March 30, 2017

Stranger Than Life

Published in 2014,  Stranger Than Life: Cartoons and Comics 1970-2013 is the first retrospective of work by cartoonist and artist M.K. Brown.  The Foreword by cartoonist Bill Griffith (creator of Zippy the Pinhead) is a checklist of everything he wants in a cartoonist; Brown fits the bill because her work is "funny, but in a knowing, subtle way", has "easy-to-read lettering, full of personality", "deals with absurd, oddball things", uses juxtaposition, "makes the personal universal and the universal personal", "shakes up our perceptions of normality"--and much more.  The Afterword by cartoonist Roz Chast is equally glowing.  She calls Brown "one of the most gifted and observant comic writers and artists around".  The cartoons and comics in Stranger Than Life first appeared in magazines including National Lampoon, Mother Jones, Playboy, The New Yorker, and other publications. The Introduction to this book, written by Brown herself, says that cartooning contains "the lunacy component", which maintains the that humor, truth, or strangeness captured in cartoons will (hopefully) be understood by others.

I couldn't agree more with Griffith, Chast, and Brown, on all counts.  This book is brilliant!  These cartoons are great fun to look at and read, and showcase Brown's tremendous skills as a cartoonist and artist.  (I've seen Brown's work before in magazines such as The New Yorker, but didn't realize she has such a large body of work.)  The peculiarities, oddities, and absurdities of life shine through in cartoons with unusual titles such as Snakes in the Bathroom, Free Glue Sample, Easy Home Auto Repair, It Happened at the Bank, Earl D. Porker, Social Worker, Lost Sweater Dream, Claire's Lunch, and numerous others.  Stranger Than Life is a very funny, eclectic collection of cartoons and comics.  It also serves as a reminder to look for and recognize the humor present in our own lives.

Show, don't tell.  Right?  Or is it show and tell?  Either works in this case.  Here are some photos of various pages and samples of the cartoons in the Stranger Than Life.  Click on the photos to make them larger.

Some of the pictures are in black and white and gray, while others are in full-color.  


This cartoon tickled my fancy. 

With all due respect to my dentist, this comic strip is hilarious.

It's the people in these comics and cartoons who are so captivating.  They steal the show.  Brown's focus is on people; it's on their faces.  (Faces are fascinating; back in my doodling days, I mostly drew funny, cartoon faces.)  The facial expressions of the characters in this book, which include self-portraits of Brown, are simply fantastic!  The artist captures an impressive, wide range of human expressions, loaded with personality and nuance. Brown's faces are silly, sardonic, perplexed, puzzling, strange, and just about everything else, just like the faces we encounter every day.  Take a look! 


 Close-up of the cover



M.K. Brown is featured in some of the cartoons. She is unmistakable.

The back inside cover is a collage.


Many thanks to Serena from Poetic Book Tours for inviting me to participate in this tour, and for providing me with a copy of this remarkable book.  I know I'll enjoy looking at these cartoons and comics again and again.  The humor is very appealing to me.  For additional reviews, please visit the other stops on Poetic Book Tour's tour for Stranger Than Life.

Thanks for reading! Do you also enjoy cartoon and comics? Your comments are always appreciated. 

Thursday, March 2, 2017

Dreaming Sophia: Book Spotlight

é bella! While I don't judge books by their covers, Dreaming Sophia: Because Dreaming is an Art caught my eye, due to its vibrant, colorful cover, which was designed and illustrated by the author, Melissa Muldoon. This author also has a dual-language blog, Studentessa Matta, and a special YouTube channel, to help others who wish to learn to speak Italian and to learn about the culture.

Here is my personal connection to Dreaming Sophia, which I hope to read, and all things Italian. Some of you may already know that I'm part Italian. My grandfather, Luigi, was from Sardinia.  He immigrated to Ellis Island, lived in NY, got married, and worked hard (he did something with boats at NY Harbor, I believe).  Grandpa was a gifted, ambidextrous musician who played the lute (and perhaps other instruments as well), and his eyes changed color.  He was fascinated by geography and was quite knowledgeable.  Perhaps because I was a skinny kid, he used to explain to me that there are three basic body types, ectomorph, endomorph, and mesomorph.  While I was growing up, Grandpa would bring our family the most delicious bread (and cheese) from a special Italian shop, which was probably the best I've ever tasted.  My mother, Lita Anna Maria, was proud of her Italian heritage (her homemade lasagna was world-class), and I am, too.  I'd love to travel to Italy in the future!

Below is more information about Dreaming Sophia, which was published in 2016, and author Melissa Muldoon.

Book Description:

Dreaming Sophia is a magical look into Italy, language, art, and culture. It is a story about turning dreams into reality and learning to walk the fine line between fact and fantasy. When tragedy strikes, Sophia finds herself alone in the world, without direction and fearful of loving again. With only her vivid imagination to guide her, she begins a journey that will take her from the vineyards in Sonoma, California to a grad school in Philadelphia and, eventually, to Italy: Florence, Lucca, Rome, Verona, Venice, and Val d’Orcia.

​Through dreamlike encounters, Sophia meets Italian personalities—princes, poets, duchesses, artists, and film stars— who give her advice to help put her life back together. Following a path that takes her from grief to joy, she discovers the source of her creativity and learns to love again, turning her dreams into reality.

“Italy is the answer.”

Buy the Book: 

Amazon – print
Amazon / Kindle – ebook
Create Space
I-tunes – Apple Store-ebook
Barnes & Noble – ebook

Author's Bio:

Melissa Muldoon is the Studentessa Matta-the crazy linguist! In Italian, "matta" means "crazy" or "impassioned". Melissa has a B.A. in fine arts, art history and European history from Knox College, a liberal arts college in Galesburg, Illinois, as well as a master's degree in art history from the University of Illinois at Champaign-Urbana. She has also studied painting and art history in Florence.

Melissa promotes the study of Italian language and culture through her dual-language blog, Studentessa Matta ( Melissa began the Matta blog to improve her command of the language and to connect with other language learners. It has since grown to include a podcast, "Tutti Matti per l'Italiano" and the Studentessa Matta YouTube channel. Melissa also created Matta Italian Language Immersion Tours, which she co-leads with Italian partners in Italy.

Dreaming Sophia is Melissa's first novel.  It is a fanciful look at art history and Italian language and culture, but it is also the culmination of personal stories and insights resulting from her experiences living in Italy, as well as her involvement and familiarity with the Italian language, painting, and art history.

As a student, Melissa lived in Florence with an Italian family. She studied art history and painting and took beginner Italian classes. When she returned home, she threw away her Italian dictionary, assuming she'd never need it again but after launching a successful design career and starting a family, she realized something was missing in her life. That "thing" was the connection she had made with Italy and the friends who live there.  Living in Florence was indeed a life-changing event! Wanting to reconnect with Italy, she decided to start learning the language again from scratch. As if indeed possessed by an Italian muse, she bought a new Italian dictionary and began her journey to fluency-a path that has led her back to Italy many times and enriched her life in countless ways.

Now, many dictionaries and grammar books later, she dedicates her time to promoting Italian language studies, further travels in Italy, and sharing her stories and insights about Italy with others. When Melissa is not traveling in Italy, she lives in the San Francisco Bay Area. She is married and has three boys and two beagles.

Melissa designed and illustrated the cover art for Dreaming Sophia. She also designed the Dreaming Sophia website and created the character illustrations that can be found in the book and on the Dreaming Sophia websites.

Connect with the Author:   Website  ~ Twitter ~ Facebook ~ YouTube ~ Pinterest

Author Melissa Muldoon with actress Sophia Loren

Warm thanks to Laura from Italy Book Tours for inviting me to be a part of this tour.  For more spotlights of this book as well as some giveaways, please visit Italy Book Tours' other stops for Dreaming Sophia

Saturday, February 11, 2017

Three Picture Books for Children

In this post I'm featuring three children's books from Loving Healing Press. The first book, My Brother Is Special: A Cerebral Palsy Story, written and illustrated by Murray Stenton, is a brightly colored picture book narrated by Carter, the younger brother of 10-year-old Ethan, who has cerebral palsy.  Published in 2017, this book is dedicated to the late Jewel Kats, an author and disability advocate. My Brother is Special defines and presents cerebral palsy in a manner that children will understand. Told from the perspective of a child, in rhyming couplets, Carter describes Ethan in terms of the differences between them, and the things his brother can't do:

"I know my ABCs, numbers, and how to take a turn. Not Ethan, words, numbers and directions are hard for him to learn."
~ My Brother is Special, Murray Stenton

Fantastic pictures and words show that Carter is messy, whereas Ethan is neat.  Carter is a picky eater, but Ethan likes broccoli, etc.  Carter also mentions some of Ethan's strengths, such as his ability to listen to a song and quickly figure out the beat, and that Ethan is super friendly at school.  Most importantly, Carter says that he loves his brother, and would not "trade him for another".  I enjoyed reading this book, and know that My Brother is Special would be a terrific choice of book for children (5 - 8 years) who have a sibling with cerebral palsy, or a different disability.  The author's hope is that siblings of children with disabilities will know that they are not alone. The book is based on the author's young family; they are pictured in the back of the book, and are captured well in the illustrations.  I learned a few things about cerebral palsy, and am determined to learn more.  At the back of the book there's additional information about cerebral palsy, and some helpful websites are listed.

Published in 2016, Jenny and Her Dog Both Fight Cancer: A Tale of Chemotherapy and Caring by author Jewel Kats, illustrated with beautiful 3-D wool paintings by Claudia Marie Lenart, is a picture book about a young girl, Jenny, who is being treated for stomach cancer, who learns that her dog, Dolly, has lung cancer.  Jenny "cannot believe her ears", and becomes angry and upset when she learns that Dolly, too, has cancer.  This book depicts the feelings of a child undergoing chemotherapy who then learns that her dog will also need chemotherapy.  In this book, Jenny feels her feelings, expresses (most) of them, and then decides that she will help Dolly by attending her dog's weekly chemotherapy sessions, and by spending a lot of time with Dolly, who's always been a loyal and devoted dog.

Jenny and Her Dog Both Fight Cancer is a sensitive and touching book that will help children who are dealing with cancer in some way.  Both the author and the illustrator lost dogs to cancer, so the book seems true to life and has the right amount of detail for young readers.  In the story, Jenny notices the changes in her dog, such as Dolly's loss of energy and appetite, and her desire for more sleep, and so she's extra loving to her dog.  The illustrations are soft sculptures made from wool and other natural fibers which are soothing to look at.  Children and adults alike will greatly enjoy these gentle, "soft focus" illustrations.  This  picture book is an excellent choice for children (6 - 9 years), and I highly recommend it for young readers and their families.

Prince Preemie A Tale of a Tiny Puppy Who Arrives Early

Prince Preemie: A Tale of a Tiny Puppy Who Arrives Earlyis another picture book for children (ages 4 - 7) by Jewel Kats (published posthumously in 2017), with 3-D wool paintings by Claudia Marie LenartIt is simply adorable.  This sweet picture book tells the story of the King and Queen, who are expecting their first baby, Prince Puppy.  But the pup arrives early, before his crown is built.  Oh, oh--tongues begin to wag!

Prince Preemie features magical illustrations which give this book a wonderful, fairy tale like appearance. The dog characters throughout the book are fun and child-friendly, and add to the unique appeal of this story.  Reading this book together would be a super way for parents to discuss their own feelings and experiences with a preemie child.  

Both of these books by Jewel Kats and Claudia Marie Lenart are cute, but they also deal with serious issues, in a child-appropriate manner.


Each Saturday, Booking Mama hosts Kid Konnection, a fun feature that highlights notable books for children.  Many thanks to Victor from Loving Healing Press for sending me these outstanding books for children. Thank you for reading! I welcome your comments.

Tuesday, January 31, 2017

Twenty-Four Shadows

When Tanya J. Peterson contacted me about reading her new novel, published in 2016, Twenty-Four Shadows, I suspected that I'd become absorbed in another intense story.  I've read other books by this very gifted author and educator, namely, Losing Elizabeth (2012) Leave of Absence (2013), and My Life in a Nutshell (2014), and each has kept me riveted.

Set in Portland, Oregon, Twenty-Four Shadows is written in the third person but focuses on the life of Isaac Bittman, his wife, Reese, and their 5-year-old son, Dominic.  Max, the Bittman family's good friend, and his 10-month-old daughter, Elise, are also important characters in the story.  A young and devoted husband and father, Isaac suffers from recurring, debilitating headaches, and his memory lapses and bizarre behavior are getting harder to conceal from others.  Early in the book, he exhibits out-of-control, out-of-character, angry behavior toward Max's wife, Gretchen. A bit later, Reese catches him puffing on cigarettes in the garage (even though he's a non-smoker).  Shortly after this, Isaac loses his job--because he's missed too many days of work--and then goes missing for a while.  This marks a turning point in the story: Isaac's mental illness has begun to affect the entire family.

"Isaac felt sick. What had he done?  What stupid thing did he do to get himself into this mess and hurt everyone so much?"
Twenty-Four Shadows, Tanya J. Peterson
Twenty-Four Shadows realistically depicts the thoughts of a caring but confused man who suffers from a mysterious, difficult, and daunting mental illness.  Gradually in this book, readers meet some of Isaac's "shadows" or alters.  He has twenty-four of them, male and female, young and old, with distinct personalities.  Isaac learns that he has a specific mental illness called dissociative identity disorder (DID). I found this book to be exceptional because it depicts the life of a man afflicted by DID, and features his alters--June, Isaiah, Ishmael, Alton, Archer, Jake, and others--as characters with unique voices, traits, and coping skills (some are protective, like June, while others are destructive and cause self-harm, which is rather frightening).  I've never read a book like this before!  It gave me a better understanding of how mental illness could affect a person and his or her family.  The characters are wonderfully drawn and complex; I rooted for Isaac (and his alters), Reese, Max, Dominic, and Elise.  I felt a great deal of empathy for these characters, who were going through difficult times, each in their own way.  Reese is a helpful, supportive, and loving wife, and Isaac loves Reese and Dominic deeply, but finds it harder to love himself (in fact, he's filled with self-loathing).

Twenty-Four Shadows is genuinely fascinating; it's emotional and impactful as well. It  makes you think about how difficult this mental illness would be to live with.  Fortunately, though, there is treatment available. In the book, Isaac goes to a DID specialty program at the Columbia Health and Healing Center, where he gets help from Dr. Charlie and Susanna Horton, a psychologist.  Previously, Isaac had always blamed and berated himself for his bad feelings; now he will learn how to deal with his illness (which was caused by a childhood trauma), including the voices he hears in his head, and his alters. There is hope for Isaac and his family, and for others afflicted by this disorder.

Twenty-Four Shadows held my attention from start to finish.  Peterson is a wonderful, skillful writer who brings her characters to life in a seemingly effortless manner.   I highly recommend this well-written and hopeful novel.  Twenty-Four Shadows is completely compelling.

Special thanks to the author for graciously sending me a copy of her new novel.
Thanks for reading!  Comments are welcomed, as always.

Sunday, January 1, 2017

First Book of the Year 2017

I will begin the new reading year with a Japanese novel, The Housekeeper and the Professor by Yoko Ogawa, a book that my daughter, Jasmine, recommended to me.  I've been meaning to read it for a while now, and I've kept it on the top of a stack of books in my room as a reminder.  (I couldn't resist reading a few pages of it on New Year's Eve.)

This is the third time I've participated in The First Book of the Year, hosted by Sheila from Book Journey.  What is your first book of 2017?

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