The Sea Spicer

The Sea Spicer
Yours truly

Friday, October 16, 2020


Have you tried making "found poetry"?  Excellent to do with your book club, or as a school assignment, choose a number of words you like from a book you are reading, and see if you can put them together in a new way as a poem. 

 You may find your poem still tends to reflect themes in the book, an interesting consideration for authors on word choice.  Alternatively your poem may turn out to say something other, deeper, darker.   You may also find as I did, to my utter surprise, that even in found poetry, not everyone gets it; there are poets out there even if supplied with others' words, and people who see the world, perhaps, in a more concrete or less verbal fashion, and may struggle a little with the concept.  An alternative assignment, rather than asking your poets to choose words, is to give a passage from which they redact words, black out words with a marker, and then read what words are left.  This also makes something visual to look at, with the black stripes, so has an appeal for the more visual art oriented.  

Please remember to attribute the original author.  I made mine with words from Allison Mills's The Ghost Collector, a juvenile chapter book.  I think a found poem is a nice review of, or plug for, a book.

Here's mine:


                                                        River, shivering

                                                        plastered, soaked

                                                        Water, heavy, dirt.

                                                        Drizzling, gray, sad.



                                                        I don't understand what happened--




                                                        Do you know my name?


Friday, August 28, 2020

Accidental BLM Reading

I’ve been silent because what right have I to speak? I will just share some favorite media with you, as a list, here. The list is "accidental" because we read them anyway, and not just now, because they're great, but if you missed them, I suggest these for BLM reading lists.

Beloved by Nobel prize winner Toni Morrison:

You could read this one by accident.  It instantly draws you in as a ghost story and you won’t be able to sleep until you’ve finished it.  You love the characters first, so you really, really care when you finally hear hints of the details of their horrific histories under slavery, and since.  I thought I knew everything to know, I was familiar with the history, and I had read others by Morrison, but this one changes my life: I look at each human I see differently since this one.  This will resonate with anyone who has considered the effect of trauma on individuals and cultures.

Hair Love by Matthew A. Cherry is a children's picture book loved by everyone who came to the library, with which all families can identify, and which is such a sweet picture of a father and daughter.

Examine The Undefeated by Kwame Alexander for its hopeful, inspiring, empowering kind of poem or song accompanied by gorgeous artwork, --with some spreads hinting at but refusing to name the “unspeakable”,-- culminating in an uplifting book focusing on the ones who triumph notwithstanding. This is a children's picture book appreciated by adults as well.

PBS Race: The Power of an Illusion in three parts, (The Difference Between Us - Part 1; The Story We Tell - Part 2;  The House We Live In - Part 3):

This is a video series designed for educators with complete lesson planning and worksheets.   Learn how the concept of race is a construct, how definitions and identifications have changed through US history, (notable regarding all who identify as people of color, not limited to African American), and be sure not to miss Part 3, an eye opener about what we theoretically know already, but in case you don’t: the hows and whys of the imbalance in real estate ownership in the US, and ensuing housing segregation.  

Grant by Ron Chernow:

Our grade school education was incomplete on the history of Reconstruction, and this is the hole everyone needs to fill.  Chernow's Grant helps.  This is a dense but eminently readable adult history book. (It also inspires me to plan my own grand tour, visiting Civil War battlegrounds.)

Of the "chilling display of racial hatred...the sickening butchery... a grotesque continuation of the Civil War" in the continuing resistance of the secessionists after defeat, General Sheridan reported his revulsion to the white mob's use of weapons against Blacks at a convention at the Mechanics' Institute in New Orleans: a manner so unnecessary & atrocious as to compel me to say it was riot, it was an absolute massacre by the police which was not excelled in murderous cruelty by that of Fort Pillow....[Fort Pillow referred to the "most notorious slaughter of black soldiers during the war."] I believe that at least nine tenths of the casualties were perpetrated by the police & citizens stabbing and smashing in the heads of many who had been already wounded or killed by policemen.

The history details the "sadism that was so wanton that men who kneeled and prayed for mercy were killed instantly, while dead bodies were stabbed and mutilated." The mercilessness of the white mob consisting of Confederate veterans, policemen and other locals, was proudly trumpeted in Southern presses, as one man among the mob proclaimed its intentions: "We have fought for four years these god-damned Yankees and sons of bitches in the field, and now we will fight them in the city."

These are some aha moments as we wonder how our nation arrived here.

Would love to hear from you about how you feel about what you are reading!

Monday, August 24, 2020

Words are not Eternal; Finding Truth in Fairy Tales


Interior of a Kitchen, Smithsonian American Art Museum, Given in memory of Eliphalet Fraser Andrews.  CCO.
Lao Tzu teaches that words, once articulated, cannot be eternal.  The words of human language are mere signposts to inner understanding of hints of the truth. 

Writers know that the words from the Muse for which we are conduits will have meaning yet to be discovered by readers.  

I wrote down my own remembered and imagined versions of a few fairy tales because I wanted one little boy to know them.  I discovered, as I usually do in writing, meanings after they were written. In Heart’s Desire I remade three tales with the common theme of a miraculous child discovered and adopted by childless adults.  

“Gingerbread Kid” is just for fun, but sets up the theme:  we are not the Creator of our children, and they are not going to turn out to be mere cookie cutter people of our design and intent!  

“The Flower Fairy Prince and Princess”, from Hans Christian Andersen’s Thumbelina inspiration, dictated its own themes of the challenge in communication and relationship between the big human mother and the tiny flower child, and the tension between the mother’s worry about the child’s safety, and the tiny one’s longing for freedom and discovery.  

Finally “”The Snow Child", inspired by the Russian Snow Maiden, is icy cold, even while she is eager to please and to be the perfect child.  She reminds me of having read about a psychological syndrome in some adopted children, especially related to the eastern European orphaned children who had not been loved early; some are apparently perfectly behaved, but cold and unloving, to their parents’ horror.  She also reminds me of the challenge to parents of children with autism, and the especially sensitive children who cannot bear touch.

The little boy of today's remarks became delighted with the novel experience of  fairy tales being read to him as chapter books at bedtime, instead of merely single story picture books. Now he says, yeah, fairy tales, every night!  

And by the way, at first our little boy assumed that “fairy tales” are stories exclusively about “fairies”, and this made him doubtful.   We explained that fairy tales are just old tales, retold many times and many ways over many years, which may include magic,royalty, transformation, travels, animals, and even ordinary boys and girls.  One may read them for fun, one may find lessons within.

 Rediscover the joy of the many layers of meaning in fairy tales, making them entertaining for all ages.  Find humor, fantasy and adventure for little ones, archetypes and motifs Jungian or Freudian for adults, simple and profound lessons for all. 

On reflection, it seems the Heart's Desire tales, like Hungry Kids, Hansel & Gretel and Jack and the Beans, are my found and adopted children, not so much created but discovered.

Tuesday, July 21, 2020

Why buy easy readers?

Why invest in easy reader books?

I know folks who get a good laugh from comedian Brian Regan’s routine about missing the subtext of four-page baby books (

“The clock.
The big clock.
Tick, tock.
The end.
Twelve dollars.”


Would you assess easy readers this way too? For us adults, once we read a book we are done with
it. There are some we keep on our shelves because they are gorgeous collector items, and some to show off what we read. There are a few we just treasure and even re-read, perhaps annually, perhaps “someday”. Honestly, a book which costs five to twelve dollars which you read once to your kid? Once mastered,--read once-- don’t you want to move on? Wouldn’t it cost you a fortune to maintain a full enough library of easy readers, when your new reader will soon be ripping through and past these?

Well that children's book may not be so interesting to you after the first reading, but it is in fact crucially important to give your newly reading child the opportunity to read and re-read the same books, over and over. It is important that you permit your child to choose the same favorite book from the library, week after week. It is important that you read the same story requested, again and again and again. This is actually how children learn.

Your reader needs multiple opportunities to sound out, say, and hear the same words. Her inner ear is listening and embedding relationships between letters, between words, learning contexts, thinking about vocabulary and how to use and apply those words in other contexts. He is downloading grammar lessons and intuiting spelling rules. He will learn to play with these words.

Your reader needs to build the confidence of gradually reading that story, more and more smoothly,
again and again, until it is a basic on which she can rely, with assurance, to entertain a grandparent or younger sibling.

Yes, your reader is even memorizing the story. You may be dismissive, thinking it is a lazy way out of reading, to merely remember the words which go with the picture hints.

Memorization was once recognized as a valuable skill in education. Thankfully it has been replaced on its altar by critical thinking. Nevertheless memorization is also a tool in your child’s mental facilities. Once, literate people had been trained in memorizing and reciting poetry, Latin, catechism. Once even folks without access to advanced formal education had so learned the richly complex vocabulary to enjoy literature and theater, and to make and understand political arguments.

My daughter talked late as a toddler, but she demanded I read and reread aloud the entire Jungle Book by Kipling. When she did finally talk, she was able to recite it. ( If you don’t know the original Jungle Book stories, read it for the gorgeous music of the language and the fascinating political lessons and issues taught and learned by Bagheera, Baloo and Mowgli. What, then, does one need to know to live within, or without, a civilization?)

When she was able to write, she wrote poetically with a natural, beautiful voice, based on her Jungle Book's silent practice in her head.

Fortunately Kipling bore up to many repeated readings by an adult, without ever boring. Even with children’s picture books and easy readers I am a fussy audience. I want a book to have meaning to a child and not exclusively pathos for the adult, (as is sadly so common in popular children’s books!). And I want the story to have a humorous or sweetly grateful subtext for the adult. Share the laugh, let your child in on the joke! Show your pleasure in their story. Count your blessings aloud together.

Before you know it, your child will surprise you and make you laugh with connections he has learned to make, applying language and ideas from his books to new situations.

The investment in many easy readers from which to choose, for reading and rereading, is not so costly and very worthwhile. As your reader grows in ability, try sharing a box of readers with other families, rotating the stories round and back again, to expand your reader’s opportunities and tastes.

I have these right now with genuine realistic pictures, rather than more CGI graphics, since we are already sickened with so much screen time. To my mind, they are funny. Let me know what you think!
Start a lifelong exploration of the environment. Frog and Polliwog, (toads and tadpoles too)

 For practice with B words and D words, a common mix-up for new readers. Bee Dog on Amazon
A phonics program to help adult teachers support a new reader.  Learn to Read This Summer on Amazon.

Try this sweet, intimate peek into a family kitchen.  Grandpa's Pies

Friday, July 3, 2020

Killing Zombies: The NRA - The Unauthorized History; Train to Busan

Buy on Amazon
How timely is this book?  Celebrate Independence Day with this read.  As folks consider which monuments and institutions to keep, kill or change, let’s continue the current trend to free ourselves of oppressive legacies. Consider the NRA and think how we might preserve its value and protect it from corruption.  Read this book if you love guns, and read it if you don’t. 

Before you read any further, you want to know how I feel about guns.  I am with Alice Bull,  a gifted riflewoman and first woman elected to the NRA’s Board of Directors in 1949:   I “[appreciate] the workings of firearms”.  “I like mechanical things. A finely made gun is like a well-made micrometer. It is a very fine piece of machinery and beautiful to look at.”  Smyth, Frank. The NRA (p. 60). Flatiron Books. Kindle Edition.

And I would like my family to learn to shoot.  People I love, family and friends, have and regularly use or carry guns, for sport, hunting,defense.  I live in a state with strong gun control laws, of which I approve.

And you will want to know who wrote this book. 

Mr. Smyth is a gun owner (“a Glock 19, an Austrian-designed 9mm semiautomatic pistol.  This is a tactical, high-capacity weapon…”) and NRA member.  He is an independent investigative journalist, specializing in armed conflict; a former arms trafficking investigator, and the CEO of a US based firm which offers training for hostile environments. He was captured and imprisoned in Iraq with fellow journalists, one of whom was executed.  He has written for publications including Wall Street Journal, New York Times, Village Voice, New Republic, The Nation, Harvard International Review, International Herald Tribune, Chicago Reader, Texas Observer, Economist, Christian Science Monitor and the US Holocaust Memorial Museum.  He has  testified before the US House and Senate and the Helsinki Commission.  Smyth has worked all over the world in dangerous environments including the Gulf War, Colombia, Beirut/Lebanon, El Salvador, Guatemala, and has written on Africa and central Asia. 

In other words, no Elmer Fudd here.  I can’t wait for the movie. 

Know that “unauthorized”, here, does not mean the book is invented.  Smyth has exhaustively researched the tale, including the NRA’s own buried publications such as the collector’s editions of American Rifleman. 

Here’s why you, proud gun owning American hunters and sport shooters and home defenders, my family and friends, will love and learn from this book.

The NRA has noble, patriotic origins and a long,  proud and fascinating history.   Members can be proud of its history but they do not know the history, because evidently the current power-gripping elite of the organization have locked away this history in some kind of  vault, or erased it, depriving current members and gun owners of its own institutional knowledge.  As happens around the world in tiresome repetition, the tactic of preserving ignorance in the rank and file of an organization protects its elite, maintaining the power of the controlling individuals and enabling their financial abuses at organizational expense to line their own pockets.  

Hence, the “unauthorized” nature of this recounting. 

The NRA was initially founded  in New York after the Civil War.  Union Army officers concluded the standing armies of the USA needed to learn sharp shooting, after their terrible experience fighting  the confederacy, and in preparation for foreign wars in Europe. Its principal purpose for over a hundred years was to support the armed forces of the United States.

The organization  propagated rifle shooting sporting matches against teams around the world.  WWI vindicated the founders’ aims.  At the 1920 Olympic Games the US was on top of the world in most  team shooting events.

The NRA conducted competitions for soldiers and police from across the country, trained railroad mail clerks, Boy Scouts and the 4-H.  Senior ranks of the organization consisted of decorated military officers who made better riflery a national goal.  It maintained  standards for marksmanship through training and competition, working with every branch of military service and the national guards, and subsidized by federal funds.  

In addition to the NRA’s century of patriotic service, the organization promoted “hunter conservation”, promoting environmentally sound policies in the interest of hunters and sportsmen, and ethical practices in the hunting of animals. 

One remarkable aspect of the history is the NRA’s historic support of reasonable degrees of gun control.  Given the rise of organized crime and gangland violence in the 20s and 30s, the NRA acknowledged the need for regulations of the sale and use of firearms, including the need for a registry of sales.  The NRA endorsed a bill aiming to restrict and tax machine guns, and ban sawed off shotguns and silencers, which became law in 1934.  In 1937 it argued that only trained police should handle the Smith and Wesson Magnum.  The NRA had never promoted the arming of ordinary citizenry at a police level of firepower. 

In 1968, the era of tragic assassinations, the NRA Executive Vice President (the traditional position of power within the organization) urged the passage of the new gun control law to curb mail-order sales, and all sales to juveniles, convicts, and individuals adjudicated mentally unsound, and which stopped the import of surplus military weapons. 

Power changes within the organization mirrored the culture wars of the 70s.  The NRA leadership shakeup resulted in the accession to power of a murder convict upon his release after appeal.   Harlon (name spelling changed after prison) Carter had also been Chief of the Border Patrol in Texas.  His right hand man was Neal Knox, who with his wife was a “gun buff”.  

The times saw the slaughter of police officers in New York City with cheap “Saturday night specials”, handguns purchased legally out of state and illegally brought across state lines.  The NRA leadership saw the threat of handgun regulation coming and saw the need to rally unified support from hunters, competitive shooters, sport shooters, and those concerned with self-defense. 

While there was never a threat to the right of Americans to their firearms for these purposes, the only way to prevent the splintering of interests within the organization was, cynically, to make gun owners believe the government was coming for their guns, all their guns. 

[This reminds me so much of the way some in the right wing used to manipulate the religious right over abortion, family values, and law and order, in order to use the support of this base to shore up a front for protecting its own financial and political interests.]

And finally the fascinating character, the contemporary power at the NRA, Wayne LaPierre, started out as a lobbyist for the organization and ultimately became the power in the organization.  Prior to his role within the NRA, LaPierre had successfully twice avoided the draft during the Vietnamese war, and worked as a volunteer for the presidential campaign of Democrat George McGovern.  He had also worked as a legislative aide in Virginia for a Democrat. 

The change of the guard within the NRA resulted in new leadership of people known as “slob hunters”, who hunted baited waterfowl, shot crows, hunted deer with big handguns, and who shamelessly portrayed the NRA on TV hunting marsh hens from a motorboat under power, in violation of game laws and the NRA’s hunting code of ethics.  It lobbied for the sale at discount to its members of surplus military weapons. 

By 2002 the organization was concealing its financial influence in elections and in Supreme Court amicus briefs. 

The book details the NRA response to the litany of mass shootings with which we are too familiar today, promoting more guns. 

The mission of the NRA seems to have devolved from its original patriotism and service, with the purpose of defending America,  to a lobby benefiting the gun manufacture industry and the interest of some private individuals in turning guns directly against the U.S. government, this last arising right out of white supremacist militia movements. 

Similar to today’s hijacking of the news for divisive, outrageous speech as a diversion from issues which need close attendance, the loud, angry and celebrity face of the NRA garners its members’ and the nation’s attention.  Tellingly, while LaPierre makes personal millions, the NRA’s annual financial report, which had always been published annually for its members, has disappeared from publication. 

Hence, the “unauthorized” nature of this book.

President Reagan, himself the victim of an assassination attempt, publicly and vocally broke with the NRA in the 90’s in his support for the Brady Bill.  His position was  consistent with the now buried from sight NRA tradition:  “I do not believe in taking away the right of the citizen for sporting, for hunting and so forth, or for home defense.  But I do believe that an AK-47, a machine gun, is not a sporting weapon or needed for defense of a home.”

The book contains plenty to make me feel frustrated and depressed about the issue.  Too bad, I could so easily love a gun. But as to the NRA, like so many of our institutions which I want to love as an American, its membership is tarnished by the hollow greed and perverted values of its leadership.

And more Zombies

Another depressing popular culture entertainment can be zombie movies.  After the fine original Night of the Living Dead, my family tried viewing the sequel,--the one set in the mall?  We became uncomfortable.  We decided that the whole zombie trend feels, maybe, like just an excuse to shoot at human beings. 

We felt differently viewing Train to Busan.  What was different about this zombies-on-a-train movie?

The good guys didn’t have guns--until the cliffhanger moment of truth at the end of the movie, when the last survivors faced the military protectors with their guns.

There was lots of zombie fighting and sufficient gore.  There was awe-inspiring courage as the dads and boyfriend engaged in hand to hand combat and sacrifice to defend their families/date, respectively. They also learned to leverage their courage and strength with strategies to outwit their virus-transformed foes. 

Why was I okay with the war against these zombies, who had been their friends, relatives and fellow passengers before the contagious disease which turned them into flesh-eating zombie enemies?  (Timely movie!) 

I can’t pretend pacifism, as I love war movies.  I love--heroes.  In Busan, The combat sans firepower felt like the knights and vikings at war, like Lord of the Rings.  Appreciating a fine firearm should be like appreciating a good sword.  The weapon is an extension of the man. Busan gave us perhaps more flesh in the game, less long range blood spattering machine gun power. 

Like Alice Bull from Smyth’s NRA, in appreciating a fine weapon, “I don’t love it because it goes boom.”

Friday, May 29, 2020

Fairy Tales Make Kids Smarter

Buy Hungry Kids by June Seas on Amazon

Fairy Tales Make Kids Smarter

I wanted to invite you to read my new retelling of two very old “fairy tales”, Jack and the Beanstalk, and Hansel and Gretel.   

Einstein reportedly recommended to parents that to produce  intelligent, scientifically inclined children, read them fairy tales; and then read more fairy tales!

I’m not sure I understand the link to science; it must be for fairy tales’ exercise of the imagination.

As a librarian I shied away from the dark fairy tales for story times, fearing the grim tales would sound much too dark uttered aloud in front of parents. I found few satisfying fairy tale substitutes.  Most of the new fairy tale retellings of traditional tales, for the younger set,  twist the characters and plots into gruelingly hilarious modern updates with feisty children. 

 The young adult retellings are very long and the heroines self absorbed and introspective, as designed for teens.

The parents who bring the children to the library for story time are so young!  and of a generation which seemed to miss out on the old fairy tales.  Many of these adults, those educated in American schools, seem not to intimately know the old tales, (avoided alike in their time,  by their parents and teachers, for their darkness).   The parents may be merely remotely acquainted with television horror franchises sourced from the tales, or the Disney versions which were advertised specifically during the years of their childhood or their children’s coming of Disney age.  There were no favorite written versions from the parents’ childhoods.

I discovered these tales are not so trite or too often repeated after all.  

The people hungry for educational advantage, many immigrant families, homeschoolers, and families preparing for the Ivies, did come to the library looking for the traditional fairy tales, and took them home by the armful.  Perhaps they were doing scholarly examination of the tales, essays considering the gender roles, the generational duties, the archetypes in common across cultures.  Perhaps they wanted their children to have a strong foundation in the  currency of the old tales’ idioms in English. ( I just read an article in the Wall Street Journal warning against killing the goose that lays the golden eggs.)

Darkness, Light and Health

And they are wonderful stories beloved by children!  

I wanted to retell Jack for my kindergarten nephew because he doesn't know it , but he picks up,  rephrases and plays with  idioms,  testing his understanding of  the meanings of our language.    I enjoyed imagining why Jack makes the decisions he does, and I found the story funny.   My Jack ended up a story largely about mothers of sons, so the giant has a mother rather than a wife, and is a great boy perhaps very like Jack.  

As a child, I was fascinated with the Gingerbread Castle in Hamburg, NJ and could return again and again, when I was really too old a child.   I loved climbing the stairs for the Hansel and Gretel story to the oven where, I think, the witch’s feet were sticking out?

The violence in both these stories was a challenge in remaking them. In the June Seas retelling, the dread of too-literal violence is skimmed over in both stories; a guiding adult can steer speculation regarding what end, exactly, is feared by the children, to some other end.  They are certainly both stories about many hungers with dire consequences.

The witch and the oven were a challenge.  Notwithstanding Gingerbread Castle, the witch and the oven was never the most interesting part of the story to me. (The thrill of the castle was the steps leading up to what you knew would be up there!  Just as the thrill of the tale is the leading-up-to the finale.)  I feared the story might have played a part in historic persecutions. But remember a line from Taika Waititi’s film JoJo Rabbit:  one of the children, near the end, notices that every side in the war similarly propagandizes that its enemy eats children.  As far as I have found the horror is a timeless and universal archetype, as is redemption by children.

The witch of this retelling is more of a magic creation, like her house, than a person.  
The best event in Hansel and Gretel, for children, must be the candy cottage.  The fearsome and fascinatingly dark part of Hansel and Gretel, for me, was always  the neglect and abandonment of the children by their parents, in the face of want and hunger.  I feel like this was always the thorn which made the story sticky.  Another facet making the story unpopular in a day of self-consciously broken and blended families (I say self-consciously because families were always broken and reformed, though perhaps by death rather than choice),  is the blame of the stepmother/mother.   The truth in this June Seas tale is the linking of the stepmother and the witch’s magic, the hunger of all parties, and the distraction of the father and the children by the tempting candy. 

(Spirited Away Japanese director Hayao Miyazaki, makes me think of these stories, too. In Spirited Away, a child’s family  has to relocate for a parent’s career.   On the way they discover an abandoned amusement park, where  the little girl is separated from her parents who are lured to a food trough where they are turned into pigs.  Like Hansel and Gretel, the parents’ gluttony and greed negatively transform the child’s life.   The tale includes a witch who enslaves the girl as labor, and  a monster which tries to eat, engulf, all.   The film bears repeated viewings as a classic. ) 

G. K. Chesterton told us that fairy tales are true; that the tales do not produce fear in children because children already know about evil.  They know that dragons exist; fairy tales teach that dragons can be defeated.  

Neil Gaiman refers to G.K. Chesterton and explains his own predilection for fairy tales: “Even when all is darkest, you can think your way out of trouble. “

Joyce Carol Oates talks about the profound effect on her childhood of Lewis Carroll’s Alice in Wonderland.  She notes that Alice faced some very unpleasant people and frightening situations, though Alice never behaved as a hysterical little girl but rather as a reasoning person.  

As in all the best childhood tales, Jack, Hansel and Gretel think and act independently, reasoning out their options.   Fairy tales affirm.  

Language and Chapter Reading

I  met many grandparents, parents and teachers searching for the right first chapter books to read aloud.  They wanted to introduce to their littlest children the joy of returning to a story developing night after night.  They wanted a tale they found sufficiently linguistically interesting to read themselves, with multiple levels of understanding for their multi-age families or classrooms.  The hunt for the right first chapter books often ended with the old books rather than any new ones.    

Some children were reading their first juvenile chapter books on their own but wanted a story they could ultimately complete in the check-out period, rather than having the thick book of too many chapters waiting for them, (I know, I have those on my bedside table for years, too).  

Hungry Kids’ chapters can be read aloud, with interruptions for discussion and pictures, in about 10 minutes each, and are limited to just several chapters in each tale.  We aim to please.

Once the children are middle grade readers, note their continuing fascination with the mythology stories, (Rick Riordan) and stories involving magic and good and evil (Harry Potter).  

When I was little, even after I was too old for picture books, I would check out some beautifully illustrated fairy tale ballet books, the same ones again and again, because they were so beautiful, Swan Lake, Sleeping Beauty.  I was reminded of this when a grandmother and teacher, selecting books for a granddaughter, strolled the aisles and told me, “well, she really likes beautiful things…” She explained that she meant, in language and subject, the elevated rather than the vulgar.  

The youngest children can learn vocabulary on a much higher level than is commonly assumed, so I refrain from talking down to children.  To preserve the feeling of a centuries old and told aloud tale, the language is both somewhat formal, to maintain the feeling of a gift from olden times, and intimate with the reader, in storyteller fashion.   I strive to elevate.  

June Seas has reimagined these classic fairy tales in time for the Collaborative Library Summer Program reading theme, “Imagine Your Story”. Many libraries remain closed, but you may still want to incorporate old and new fairy tales into your reading for pleasure and for learning. I hope you will find the language and stories a beautiful thing.   

Saturday, February 15, 2020

Hot Shot!

My current gig is Children's Librarian at a small town public library.  As such I am responsible for the young adult section and also a witness to the circulation of adult novels, most popularly romances and mysteries or spy novels.   

Many current novels are intended to be mirrors of experience for today’s youth, set in urban settings with upsetting plots, and the children are often caretakers of the adults.   Even the ones which include fantasy and escapism work in family or neighborhood evils.  Of course it is important to reflect all of our youth in the stories available to them.  However I sometimes long to share the experience of books I loved as a child, where the de rigueur death or absence of the parents was merely the device by which the children acquired the independence to conduct their own adventures.  The hard times were the context for the development of character through action, and not the definition of the character.  

I think it may be time for the return of the Western.  You know all those cowboy movies which seemed like they might be boring, grizzled men and cinched women in black and white TV reruns when we were kids?  Well maybe you haven’t read the novels.  Finding myself working side by side with young Republicans years ago, I was referred by fans to the books of Louis L’Amour.  I joke that every Libertarian needs one to carry around.  They are easy, compelling reads, transport one to the wide open, (though, being picaresque stories, the scenery and geography changes).  Something called the Official Louis L’Amour Website refers to Adventure in the Great American Tradition, and displays this quotation:

"One day I was speeding along at the typewriter, and my daughter - who was a child at the time - asked me, "Daddy, why are you writing so fast?" And I replied, "Because I want to see how the story turns out!"                                              . . . Louis L'Amour”

The same could be said about the reading experience of course. 

Richard Vadim’s Hot Shot is  a fast, compelling Western read.  The hot shot is a girl who calls herself Sam, and her story opens with her having to run from home to escape her father.  As one of the Harvey Weinstein accusers explained of her own experience, Sam chooses not to define herself as a victim based on the perpetrator’s actions.  Sam has surely been affected, in her discomfort with display of her adolescent womanhood, but we don’t share internal deliberation over the incident other than her “anguish” :  “Was her mother even aware?  She hoped not.” If her mother did know, she was complicit or failed to protect.  If her mother truly doesn’t know, she is spared her own guilt and anguish.  Sam  is on the move, taking action to create her own future, even if there are times she chooses to just drift or doze with her horse for company.    

Sam meets a number of trustworthy adults, strong women and men, who aid her in her growing up away from her parents.  Sam is respectful in accepting guidance and help from older people, while retaining her own decision making power and choice.  She experiences a number of romantic attachments with young men who respond to her pursuit, a boyhood fishing buddy, the young man who provides her access to guns, the stranger who knows how to cure rattlesnake bite; and fends off, with wit and violence, a series of men who pursue her or hers with foul intention.  She ultimately makes a life choice which was perhaps shocking for the time.  

How and why is it Western?  A friend once offered a very reasonable explanation for the red state/blue state division in the U.S.A., when it comes to perspective on government and on guns.  In densely populated urban areas we pay for and have more government services.  When there’s miles and hours between you and the law, you are left to your own resourcefulness.  

To quote Sheriff Longmire in the series based on the mystery novels by Craig Johnson,  why didn’t he call 9-1-1 for an ambulance?  “I am 9-1-1.”

A quick look at the other “Hot Shot” books for sale out there implies that a hot shot is typically male, with the exception possibly of Susan Elizabeth Phillips’s woman in a corporate man’s world.   There’s a whole other context around women of the old western frontier.  Don’t forget, in this 100th Anniversary year of suffrage, that women’s right to vote started out West, the first state being Wyoming, and only gradually and last reached the East Coast.  

Sam explains in Hot Shot, when she looks for coaching and practice in shooting, “Well, seems to me, women are more likely to need guns than men.”  And that is the argument which the (grant you, correct minded)  gun control interest group too often neglects:  guns can be viewed as the equalizer for the defense of one confronted by superior size or might--especially for one with the talents of a quick draw, sharp eye and steady hand, and preference for peace.  

Being that this novel is a Western, disclosure: there are confrontations and plot involving the original American Peoples, which are well researched and as tactful as possible with due regard to the period setting, nevertheless, one anticipates controversy over the inclusion of indigenous characters by a white writer.  

There are also horses, gun fights, the wide open horizon, and medicine.  As usual with a Vadim work the best storytelling is in the writer’s nailing of the dialect and conversations of the people, the old doc, the frontier marm, the hotelier, the youthful flirtations and kidding, the soldier, the lawman, the ranchers and the bad guys.  Hot Shot is an appropriate, fun and unique coming-of-age story for young adults and will be a fresh taste for those experienced readers who may want a brief change from city and suburban romances and mysteries.  

Yes, I do know the author personally.  Hot Shot is available here