Kid Lit Review of “Quest” by Aaron Becker


Quest continues the excursion through the imagination that Becker began with his award-winning book Journey. This, too, is a wordless book that features a girl, her new friend from her neighborhood, their magical bird companion, and most importantly, markers with which they can draw new adventures for their enchanted travels.


Again and again, the children have to draw their way out of danger, find the end of a rainbow, and help rescue a captured king.


Becker combines the precision of ink with the soft and dreamy quality of watercolors to create architectural wonders and exotic landscapes that are full of wonder, and lots of fun. A myriad of tiny details ensure that kids will pour over these pages for hours, filling in their own narrative, and maybe dreaming up their own alternative universes.


Evaluation: This book, like Journey, is another delight for the eyes and the mind.

Rating: 4/5

Published by Candlewick Press, 2014

Review of “Resolution” by Robert B. Parker

Note: This review is by my husband Jim.

Robert Parker is well known for his 50+ detective novels featuring Spenser, Jesse Stone, and Sunny Randall. But he is also quite good at creating westerns, which feature his terse and saturnine gun toters, Virgil Cole and Everett Hitch. Resolution, published in 2008, may be the best of the bunch.


This time Hitch, who is looking for work, stumbles upon a job as the “lookout” chair (in today’s parlance, the bouncer) in a somewhat sleazy bar in the newly formed and virtually lawless town of Resolution, somewhere out west. Resolution is small, but control of the town is being hotly contested between Hitch’s employer, Amos Wolfson, and Eamon O’Malley, the owner of a local copper mine.

At first, Hitch is more than capable of handling the local rough stuff alone, but things get dicey when O’Malley hires a couple of well known gunslingers (Cato and Rose) whose formidable reputations precede them. Fortunately for Hitch, his long time buddy Virgil Cole shows up in town to even the odds. The tension escalates as Wolfson and O’Malley each hire additional gunmen. Both bosses turn out to be unscrupulous evil doers, and Cole, Hitch, Cato, and Rose ultimately end up on the same side protecting innocent ranchers from marauding Shoshones and Wolfson’s efforts to steal their land.

In the process of establishing a just society, Cole and Hitch have occasion to muse on the writings of John Locke and Jean Jacques Rousseau (Cole calls him “Russo”) concerning the nature of law and government and whether man is virtuous in “the state of nature.” Parker’s art is demonstrated in the fact that the characters’ philosophical speculations are articulated in incredibly short sentences and with a keen ear for cowboy dialect.

This being a western, the book also features some well-wrought confrontations between violent macho men. A lot of nonverbal intimidation and tough talk precedes most of the violence, which makes it all the more entertaining.

Evaluation: This is a fun read from start to finish, especially if you’re a fan of cowboy westerns.

Portrait of the Reviewer as a Young Cowboy Western Fan

Portrait of the Reviewer as a Young Cowboy Western Fan

Rating: 4/5

Published by G.P. Putnam’s Sons, a member of the Penguin Group, 2008

Review of “A Bowl of Olives: On Food and Memory” by Sara Midda

This is a beautiful paean to food made up of pastel watercolors, photographs, recipes, memories, food trivia, and quotations.


As an example, there is a section on Eggs, which begins with a quotation from Samuel Butler: “A hen is only an egg’s way of making another egg.” The author then tells you about the symbolism of eggs and associated superstitions; a lovely picture showing you eggs in many of its variations (hard-boiled, poached, scrambled, etc.); and an explanation of The Egg Dance, a traditional Easter dance in olden times.

There is information on herbs and greens, fruits, vegetables, spices, jams, guides to setting the table, and having a picnic, inter alia.

This would make a gorgeous gift book, or addition to your kitchen or coffee table to savor when you’re looking for just a soupçon of savory inspiration.

Evaluation: This is another high quality gem from Workman Publishing, which regularly creates the kind of books you want to give or receive as gifts.

Published by Workman Publishing, 2014


wkendcookingThis post will be linked to this Saturday’s Weekend Cooking, hosted by Beth Fish Reads. Weekend Cooking is open to anyone who has any kind of food-related post to share: Book (novel, nonfiction) reviews, cookbook reviews, movie reviews, recipes, random thoughts, gadgets, quotations, photographs. where bloggers share food-related posts. Stop by her blog and see what’s cooking this week!

Review of “Unleashed” by David Rosenfelt

This is book #11 of the stand-up comedy/mystery/dog-related legal procedural series featuring lawyer Andy Carpenter and his golden retriever Tara.


Andy hates to work and has enough inherited wealth to avoid it, but somehow cases keep falling into his lap. In this instance, his computer expert Sam asks Andy if he would take a case from Barry Price, the guy who married Sam’s high school sweetheart Denise. Andy says “I’m retired.” But the next day, Price is dead, Denise is arrested, and now Sam begs Andy to help Denise. Against Andy’s better judgment, he finds himself interested and agrees to represent her. The only problem is, everyone he wants to interview about the case ends up dead.

But Andy has some aces in his pocket, including his girlfriend, Laurie, who is an ex-cop, and a group of eager and talented computer hackers who have been taking an IT class with Sam. These aren’t your average computer geeks: as Andy explains, the youngest among them is probably eighty. But they are smart, persistent, and besides, they bake treats.

Before long, even the FBI gets involved. Andy, with his witty repartee disguising a razor-like legal mind, figures out what’s really going on, which is of course nothing like what it initially appeared to be.

Evaluation: This book (which can be read as a standalone) is not quite as funny as some of the others in the series, but it’s still plenty amusing and entertaining. It’s just the thing if you’re looking for a lighter crime novel.

Rating: 3.5/5

Published by Minotaur Books, an imprint of St. Martin’s Press, a part of Macmillan Publishers, 2013

Review of “Amy & Roger’s Epic Detour” by Morgan Matson

It has been three months since Amy Curry, 17, lost her beloved father in a car accident. Amy was driving, and feels like it was all her fault. She now refuses to drive. Her mother has decided to move from California to Connecticut, and left Amy behind to finish out the remaining month of the school year while she sets up the house. Amy is alone at the house, since her twin brother Charlie is now in a drug rehab facility in North Carolina.


Since Amy has to get herself and the car to Connecticut and she won’t drive, her mother enlists the son of an old family friend to drive her. Roger Sullivan, 19, is a freshman in college in Colorado, but needs to get to Philadelphia to spend the summer with his father. When Roger (who is much cuter than Amy remembers) arrives and sees the boring itinerary Amy’s mother has prepared, he seems disappointed. Amy is so relieved he wasn’t disappointed in her that she suggests they just go their own way: “As long as we’re there in four days, does it really matter which way we go?” Roger is delighted, and they set out to see places they always wanted to go.

They also schedule a few stops that have emotional import for them; Amy wants to go places that her father loved, and Roger wants to chase after a girl he likes who broke up with him.

Pretty soon they are off on a fantastic road trip, the details of which are interspersed with mixed media entries from Amy’s scrapbook: notes, doodles, map pages, receipts, playlists, and state trivia. As a result of spending all day and all night together, Amy and Roger get to know each other very well; help each other deal with the heartbreaks they have suffered; and work together to map out plans for better futures.


Evaluation: This is just a wonderful story. Amy’s grief is palpable, but not in a way that drags down the upbeat mood of the story. The road trip details are not only fun and interesting, but will have you salivating to make such a trip yourself. And the friendships made and romance found along the way are just perfect. A great read for all ages!

Rating: 4/5

Published by Simon & Schuster BFYR, an imprint of Simon & Schuster Children’s Publishing Division, 2010


An ALA Top Ten Best Book for Young Readers

Shortlisted for the Waterstone’s Book Prize

A Publisher’s Weekly “Flying Start” book

December 15, 1939 – Atlanta Premiere of “Gone With the Wind”

Today marks the 75th Anniversary of the Atlanta, Georgia premiere of the movie “Gone With The Wind.”

The book from which this movie was derived was, and remains, one of the most widely read and influential books of modern times, and the movie is considered to be one of the greatest ever made. It therefore contributes to many people’s impressions of what slavery was “really” like, and adds a soft, romanticized mint-julep-y glow to notions about life on a southern plantation before the Civil War. It is also profoundly racist. Not only is this movie and the book that inspired it a total misrepresentation of the facts, but examining how the Antebellum South, the Civil War, and Reconstruction are remembered is critical to understanding the social and political situation in today’s United States.

The Antebellum South:  Just one big party, if you were white….

The Antebellum South: Just one big party, if you were white….

The book’s author Margaret Mitchell was no abolitionist. She called black men “apes,” and indeed, in a famous scene that takes place during Reconstruction late in the movie, she portrays Scarlett as being attacked by “…a squat black negro with shoulders and chest like a gorilla. … so close that she could smell the rank odor of him” as he tried to rape her.

Still, you object, weren’t there quite lovable slaves on Scarlett’s plantation? You may be thinking of Mammy, who Mitchell describes as looking “sad with the uncomprehending sadness of a monkey’s face.”

Scarlett with "Mammy"

Scarlett with “Mammy”

Then there was Scarlett’s loyal farmhand, the slave Big Sam, who, Mitchell writes, when he saw Scarlett after the Civil War was over:

…his watermelon-pink tongue lapped out, his whole body wiggled, and his joyful contortions were as ludicrous as the gambolings of a mastiff.”

The book and movie would have you believe that slaves – docile and loyal, sided with their Southern masters and hated and feared the Yankees. In fact, however, thousands of slaves – those who could, at any rate, abandoned their masters at the first opportunity and fled to the north. They also volunteered to serve in the Union Army, and by war’s end according to historian Eric Foner, some 180,000 had done so, over one-fifth of the adult male black population of the U.S. below the age of forty-five. There was an excellent reason why Southerners were afraid to educate and/or arm their slaves. Surely if owners treated them so benevolently, this would not have been an issue, and the owners knew that.

Following the Civil War, Southerners were still not reconciled to freedom for blacks, and fought back in every violent and nefarious way they could. Blacks in the South experienced a progressive narrowing of options. The Ku Klux Klan, along with supposed law enforcement officials and judges, all conspired to keep blacks in de facto servitude to whites. (See, for example, the book Slavery By Another Name by Douglas A. Blackmon, which shows you how, long past the time of the Civil War, slavery was actually still alive and well in the South in all but name, with active support of the state and federal governments. Laws defining very petty crimes, such as against “loitering,” were used liberally to convict black men, who thereby became a source of involuntary labor, much of it quite punitive. Among those making use of the resultant convict lease system were railroads, mining and lumber companies, and planters, with the arresting and convicting authorities kept happy with kickbacks.)

Black convict labor, 1930's

Black convict labor, 1930’s

The rewriting of history helped perpetuate this web of oppression, and the popular acceptance of the slavery system as halcyon helped alleviate any guilt or doubts anyone might have had, had they even known what was happening with blacks. Gone With the Wind was seminal to this revisionism.

The climate on the film set wasn’t as bad as the book’s dialogue, but it wasn’t great either. MGM had ‘whites only’ and ‘blacks only’ signs on the bathrooms during the shooting, until a group of black performers threatened a work slowdown. Individual cars were sent each day to pick up the white performers, but all of the black actors had to carpool to the studio. The film’s producer, David O. Selznick, did not honor a promise to NAACP leader Walter White to hire a black consultant for the film, because he suspected (undoubtedly correctly) that such a person might want to make changes to the content of the film.

Not just Hollywood:  Lancaster, Ohio, 1938; photo by Ben Shahn

Not just Hollywood: Lancaster, Ohio, 1938; photo by Ben Shahn

And then there was the Premiere. One million people came to Atlanta for it, held at the Loew’s Grand Theatre, on December 15, 1939, this day in history. It marked the climax of three days of festivities hosted by Atlanta Mayor William B. Hartsfield, which included a parade, receptions, thousands of Confederate flags and a costume ball. Eurith D. Rivers, the governor of Georgia, declared December 15 a state holiday. Alas, the black actors could not attend the premiere, because Georgia’s Jim Crow laws prevented them from sitting with the white members of the cast. (To his credit, Clark Gable threatened to boycott the event, but Hattie McDaniel, who eventually won an Oscar for her portrayal of Mammy, convinced him to attend.)

At the premiere, from left:  Vivian Leigh, Clark Gable, Margaret Mitchell, David O. Selznick and Olivia de Havilland

At the premiere, from left: Vivian Leigh, Clark Gable, Margaret Mitchell, David O. Selznick and Olivia de Havilland

Nor could black moviegoers attend, at least not in the South. As the Pittsburgh Courier’s Atlanta correspondent opined in its December 23, 1939 edition, “Negro reaction to Margaret Mitchell’s Gone With the Wind will have to wait until the film comes North.”

But blacks were reacting, nevertheless. As The Root reports:

Black folks picketed from coast to coast. Some unions urged boycotts. In Chicago, the Defender called for “a mass protest” and in an editorial observed: ‘Gone With the Wind is propaganda, pure propaganda, crude propaganda. It is anti-Negro propaganda of the most vicious character. It is un-American propaganda. It is subversive.’ In Philadelphia the president of the National Baptist Convention Inc. condemned the film as a ‘disgrace.’”

African-American attorney civil rights crusader William L. Patterson excoriated the film in “The Chicago Defender” on January 6, 1940:

It has lied about the Civil War period shamelessly. It has distorted and twisted the history of an era… “Gone With the Wind” has glorified slavery. …[It] has martyred the southern plantation owner. In martyring this relic of barbarism [it] not only ‘morally justifies’ the slave breeding pen and the degradation of Negro womanhood and manhood, it has scorned upon and desecrated the love that democratic white America has for freedom and truth.”

To portray the relationship between masters and slaves as benign was as patently absurd as the recent claim by a member of a Colorado school board that slavery was given up by the South “voluntarily.” Are we to believe that the rape of young black girls by their white masters and the regular beatings of slaves were voluntary or benign acts as well?

Moreover, in 1939, the Ku Klux Klan was still quite active; just one month before the release of the movie, 8000 Klansman marched in Atlanta! Jim Crow laws in the South prevented blacks from enjoying the same rights as whites, and Southern senators in Congress continued to block the passage of a federal anti-lynching law, saying it “encroached on state sovereignty.”

Ku Klux Klan rally in Tampa, FL,  Jan. 30, 1939. (AP Photo)

Ku Klux Klan rally in Tampa, FL, Jan. 30, 1939. (AP Photo)

Perhaps the best way to memorialize the premiere of this movie is to devote some time to thinking about why the book and movie remain so popular, and what might be done to mitigate the effects of their mis-history.

Review of “Daily Zen Doodles” by Meera Lee Patel


This collection of “365 tangle creations for inspiration, relaxation, and mindfulness” stands out from other interactive art books by virtue of the thought-provoking and often uplifting quotations that accompany each picture.

pg 229.jpg

So what are zentangles? An “official” Zentangle is an abstract drawing created on 3.5 inch square tiles, done in black ink on white paper.

pg 228.jpg

Zentangling has become a widespread practice: you can find instructional videos about it, newsletters, blogs, pinterest pages showing completed zentangles, pattern pages, and so on. Like doodling, one is encouraged to let lines and shapes emerge without planning ahead. [Unlike doodling, however, Zentangling has “theory” and “approach.” Nevertheless, it can be adapted as the more flexible “Zendoodling.”] All you need is a sharpie or marker of some kind, and you’re good to go. Or you can use colored pencils, these being perfectly acceptable for zendoodling rather than zentangling…. The practice is supposed to be efficacious for meditation and stress reduction, as well as increasing inner focus.

pg 183.jpg

The pictures in this book are actually just “starting off points” – you fill them in, expanding them or enhancing them or whatever appeals to you. As the author and illustrator explains: “Each page is an invitation to sketch, relax, focus, and reach toward inner peace.”

pg 182.jpg

Evaluation: For those who want more than just a doodle book, and more than just a collection of inspirational sayings, this compendium gives you both. It would make an excellent gift, especially for the many people who doodle while on the phone!

Published by Ulysses Press, 2014


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