As loyal readers know, I’m a teacher and my school year just ended a week ago (long school year + lots of snow days!). That combined with my dad’s passing meant that it’s been a while since I had time to dive back into my writing and it sure feels good! So without further ado, I bring you a new crop of picture book reviews. The books I chose represent five new works which I’ve been dying to read, mostly by authors I know through social media. They’re all pretty wonderful, so enjoy!
This weekend we held the memorial services for my Dad, Frank Manzer, who died last week after many years of ill health. I know this blog is usually about the craft of writing and language, but writing is also about memories and emotion. So I thought I would share the words I delivered at his service yesterday, because my Dad taught me a lot about the craft of writing, both explicitly, and by giving me a childhood filled with the kinds of experiences which have provided a lifetime of writing material:
When I was a little girl and we visited “Gramp Manzer,” my Dad’s dad, he was always sitting in a chair being gruff and quiet. I heard stories about how active he had been– he was a “good man, once,” people joked, but it was hard to believe of someone so frail. Meanwhile “MY DADDY” was a Paul Bunyan of a man (though much shorter), who could do anything. Years later, at the end of his life, I knew my own dad had become that same frail man to his grandchildren. So there are a few things I’d like you to remember about my Daddy– some things you might not know about him if you just knew him as a grumpy old man sitting in a chair watching Gunsmoke and the Red Sox. (Cause he certainly was that, too!)
Being both a language teacher and a writer, I’m thrilled about the momentum of the #WeNeedDiverseBooks and #ownvoices movements. Just as kids deserve to see themselves on the page, we all deserve to learn about new experiences, foods, and ways of interacting with the world! That’s why most of us grew to love reading in the first place.
The tricky bit is writing about a culture in a way that makes those within that culture feel validated without alienating others. How? Read on…
‘If you want your children to be intelligent, read them fairy tales. If you want them to be more intelligent, read them more fairy tales.’ – Albert Einstein
I’m taking a slight departure from picture book reviews today to talk about fairy tales. As a German teacher, and former college professor, I’ve spent a lot of time with fairy tales — teaching the history of the Grimm brothers and their collection of the folk tales handed down in oral tradition as well as the literary fairy tales of the Romantic movement with their intricate tales of madness. Then of course, there are the Disney adaptations with all the blood and violence stripped out, and the marvelous modern re-tellings which turn expected norms on their ears and put familiar characters in diverse new settings.
I read aloud to my kids every night and we’ve done Harry Potter, Narnia, Percy Jackson and many other series, but I thought I’d take a break and pull my “Complete Grimm’s Fairy Tales” off the shelf. The boys appreciate hearing a story from start to finish in one night (another perk of picture books!) and I’m ashamed to admit I never read the boys many fairy tales when they were little. We’re avoiding the old standby tales like Snow White and Cinderella (even though the original Grimm versions are much more exciting and bloody) in favor for a few of the obscure ones I discovered in graduate school and often use in my teaching.
So come with me and explore a few stories which deserve way more attention than they’ve been given by “mainstream media:”
My son is turning 9 today, March 12th! He knows his mom is a writer and I’ve dragged him through the children’s section of enough libraries and bookstores for him to develop a bit of an appreciation for picture books. He was excited when I told him I was featuring HIS choices in my picture book reviews today. So, we are taking a departure from my normal rule of keeping the book reviews current and I present for you five of my son’s very favorites! (like me, he has WAY more than five favorites, but some of them I’ve already reviewed, so we settled on these). Instead of MY favorite part, I will include my SON’s favorite part of the book.
Life has been busy at the Schreibenfreude house: I’m a coach for my school’s Speech & Debate team which has recently wrapped up a very successful season, winning awards at States and qualifying two students for Nationals, my kids (and the ones I teach) have been busy with school projects, and if that weren’t enough, we’re currently looking to get a dog– which has taken up a good bit of research time that’s normally spent researching my writing! On the bright side, this is school vacation week here in Maine, and that means more time for writing and reading picture books! Let’s go!
So, writers: ever get the feeling that it’s pointless to write because surely everything worth writing has already been written? Do you ever get a feeling of existential dread in bookstores or libraries (which are supposed to be such heavenly and inspiring places) wondering why you should write, because there are already enough books on those shelves to last a lifetime? Just me?