Author of the Week - Anna Sewell

Anna Sewell would be what the music industry would call a 'One Hit Wonder'. Born in Great Yarmouth, Norfolk, England to a devout Quaker family, Anna had a lot of potential. Her mother Mary Wright Sewell was a successful author of children's books. Anna was basically home schooled, something that was not uncommon in the that time period. Due to her mother's religious and educational convictions, Anna received a very rigorous and thorough education. When she was twelve her family moved to a larger town where Sewell attended school for the first time, exposing her to higher mathematics and foreign languages. At fourteen Anna slipped while walking home from school, injuring her ankles severely. Her father moved the family in 1836 to Brightonin, hoping that the climate would speed her recovery. However, due to mistreatment, Anna was lame for the rest of her life, unable to stand without a crutch or for any length of time. This began her love of horses, for she frequently used horse-drawn carriages for mobility.

As she began to travel more, Anna surrounded herself with authors, writers, poets, and philosophers.

Anna Sewell only published one book, Black Beauty written between 1871 and 1877. During this time her health had begun to decline. She often went to bed so weak she could barely write. She dictated the text to her mother who wrote them on slips of paper and then transcribed them. Anna sold her novel to local publisher Jarrolds for £40 in 1877 at the age of 57. Although now considered a children's book, she originally wrote it for those who worked with horses. The book sales broke publishing records and at the time was considered to be the sixth best selling book in the English language. Anna got to see little of her success. Six months after publishing her book, she passed away.

Today her book is a classic, but what I take from her story is that sometimes an author has such a wonderful story within them that nothing will stop them from getting it out.

Illustrator of the Week - Hennie Haworth

Hennie Haworth live and works in east London, Having studied illustration at Brighton university she now has a client list which includes Penguin, Guardian, Habitat, Urban Outfitters ,Waitrose, and Vodafone, Her work is hand drawn, decorative and very colorful.

Book of the Week - Al Capone Does My Shirts

Al Capone Does my Shirts by Gennifer Choldenko

Recently, there has been a certain amount of push to identify and create autistic characters? This may be due to the growing awareness of autism and its less severe form of Asperger'ssyndrome. I admit, having an Aspie (Asperger's) brother, it drove my thesis on disabilities and controls how I think when I read and reflect on autistic characters in fiction. It should be no surprise that with increased awareness would come a wave of fascination with neurological conditions in literature.

It's easy to see the appeal, the thing that is drawing writers and storytellers. Even those with mild forms of autism can have difficulty expressing themselves, communicating, and acting in a way that would be considered "normal" by society. In essence, they are ripe for the plucking in creating a metaphorical character, one that could mirror ourselves and society.

That is the case with the character of Natalie in Gennifer Choldenkos, Al Capone Does My Shirts. The story centers around the Flanagan family: mother, father, Natalie, and twelve-year-old Moose. The whose family just moved to Alcatraz Island in 1930, where their father works around the clock so that sixteen-year-old Natalie may attend a prestigious and expensive school, one of the first of its kind, that can help children like Natalie. Although they have no label for her condition, today she would be considered as autistic.

Moose Flanagan's view of life depicts the struggle between loving someone and wanting them to go away. He loves his sister, but the way he is complications his life in a way that most twelve-year-olds do not have to deal with. Moose loves this rich setting of Alcatraz, but is lonely as the "okay" sibling. Eventually, it is up to Moose to help Natalie in the way that only a brother and a place called Alcatraz can.

As a book that includes disability, it is not so great. Good for Ms. Choldenko for not having labels, but I'm afraid that Natalie is too much of a metaphor, too much of a stereotype for my liking. For example, Natalie is a math whiz, much like a certain Rainman I recall. She has a collection of buttons because every autistic person collects something, and it has to be something odd but easily obtainable. Baseball cards in the Rainman's case, buttons for Natalie. The most "growing" Natalie does it to learn a limited use of pronouns, the only indication we receive that Natalie may be able to grow and change with help. In the end, Natalie is really afflicted with a serious case of metaphorism - she's a prisoner of her own body - a thematic link to the uniqueness of the island prison and its infamous inhabitants. Honestly though, the family could live in a lighthouse in Maine, or a ranch in Texas, for the the impact the setting has on the action of the story.

Which leads me to a deeper question about autism in fiction. Should writers be held to account for putting a metaphorical spin on a disorder that affects so many real people? Real people's whose lives are anything but a metaphor. And if we use disability or any illness as a metaphor is this any better than Secret Garden in which Colin's illness is a metaphor of his father and who, once things are better in his life, miraculously becomes well? Or Clara in Heidi who starts walking with just a little encouragement from the non-disabled? I think I would rather have a character like Melody from Out of my Mind who is who she is, not a metaphor for someoneelse's life.

50 Facts About Mark Twain

As a teenager I just devoured Mark Twain books. I loved The Adventures of Tom Sawyer, A Connecticut Yankee in King Arthur's Court, and the Prince and the Pauper. All of which I read dozens of time each. What a notion that our doppledanger may be royalty and more than that, a prince. So for my entertainment and yours, here are '50 Facts' that you may not know about Mark Twain followed by my favorite Twain quotes:

1. Prior to adopting Mark Twain as his pen name, Clemens wrote under the pen name Thomas Jefferson Snodgrass for three humorous pieces he contributed to The Keokuk Post.

2. On the Mississippi River, 'mark twain' meant 'two fathoms deep.'

3. Twain was very interested in parapsychology.

4. Mark Twain was fond of cats. His boyhood home is rumored to have been shared with as many as 19 cats. As an adult, Twain always kept at least two cats around.

5. Haley's Comet was visible in the sky on the night that Mark Twain was both born and passed away.

6. Clemens encouraged his younger brother, Henry, to get a job as a steamboat pilot as well. Henry was killed when the boiler on board his boat exploded. Clemens claimed to have seen his brother's death in a dream before it happened, sparking an interest in parapsychology.

7. Mark Twain was said to have been working on a ghost story right before his death. No one ever found it for he ordered all his manuscripts burned when he died.

8. Twain was a Thomas Edison manque. Three of his inventions were patented: an automatically self-adjusting vest strap, a history game meant for improving memory, and a self-pasting scrapbook--the only one ever to make him any money.

9. Twain was known for his stance against racism and for supporting the abolition of slavery, but he was oddly prejudiced against Native Americans.

10. He was also critical of organized religion, and very much in favor of labor unions. He also belonged to the Freemasons.

11. Hannibal, Mo. served as the inspiration for the fictional town of St. Petersberg in "The Adventures of Huckleberry Finn."

12. Mark twain has also written about five travelogues which are about the experience of Mark Twain during his visit between Western US and Asia.

13. In 1856, he moved to Cincinnati, where he hatched a plan to travel to South America to collect coca leaves. Instead he decided to work on a steamboat.

14. He was a passenger on the first "luxury cruise" to Europe and the Holy Land, and related the party's misadventures in letters to the New York Tribune and the Herald. He later worked these reports into his first book, The Innocents Abroad, which became an immense success.

15. Twain was a successful lecturer, generating money and fame via speaking tours throughout the United States and Europe.

16. He was a steamboat pilot apprentice on the Mississippi River and eventually earned his pilot's license.

17. Twain was six in a lineup of seven children. Only he and two others (brother Orion and sister Pamela) survived into adulthood.

18. Twain suffered from color blindness.

19. As a child, Twain learned to swim in Hannibal’s dangerous Bear Creek. He witnessed the drowning of two friends in this creek.

20. During the Civil War, Twain formed a Confederate militia known as the "Marion Rangers." The militia disbande

d after approximately two weeks.

21. One of Twain’s biggest literary influences was The Arabian Nights. His later work would often allude to the tales.

22. Twain also greatly admired the poet Robert Browning he later met in 1873.

23. Twain was actually in New Orleans the day that Louisiana declared its succession from the Union.

24. From 1901 until his death in 1910, Twain was vice president of the American Anti-Imperialist League.

25. Twain was known for his anti-slavery views well before they came into fashion. However, some of his work, like Huckleberry Finn, has been termed racist for its use of derogatory terms.

26. His wife’s name was Olivia Langdon and they were married for 34 years.

27. Olivia and Mark had four children: Susy, Langdon, Clara and Jean Clemens.

28. Their son Langdon died of diptheria at the age of 19 months. His daughter Suzy and Jean both died in their 20s. Clemens' surviving daughter, Clara, lived until 1962 and had a daughter of her own who died childless. There are no direct heirs to Clemens surviving today.

29. Twain dined with Germany’s Kaiser Wilhelm II in 1892 while traveling through Europe.

30. Twain's A Connecticut Yankee in King Arthur's Court is considered to be one of the first science fiction books ever published. Twain had a keen interest in science and technology and was a close friend of Dr. Nikola Tesla.

31. In 1867 Twain developed a serious enjoyment of billiards. He enjoyed the game for the rest of his life.

32. After his short stint in the Civil War, Twain moved to Nevada and worked as a miner.

33. In 1868 Twain met Harriet Beecher Stowe.

34. Twain gave Anne Sullivan the label “miracle worker” for her work with Helen Keller.

35. Bermuda was the last foreign locale Twain visited before he died.

36. Twain’s first important work was The Celebrated Jumping Frog of Calaveras County, originally published in the New York Saturday Press on November 18, 1865. The only reason it was published there was because his story arrived too late to be included in a book that Artemus Ward was compiling, featuring sketches of the wild American West.

37. The character of Huckleberry Finn was modeled after Twain's boyhood friend Tom Blankenship. "He was ignorant, unwashed, insufficiently fed; but he had as good a heart as ever any boy had," Twain wrote of Blankenship in his autobiography. "His liberties were totally unrestricted. He was the only really independent person—boy or man—in the community, and by consequence he was tra

nquilly and continuously happy and envied by the rest of us. And as his society was forbidden us by our parents the prohibition trebled and quadrupled its value, and therefore we sought and got more of his society than any other boy's."

38. Twain's father died of pneumonia when Mark was 12. At 13 he began working for his brother Orion as an apprentice printer. It was here that he discovered a love for writing.

39. Twain first donned his famous white suit in 1906, when he appeared before Congress to testify about copyright law. On what may have been a slow news day, the New York Times carried a headline the ne

xt day proclaiming "Mark Twain in White Amuses Congressmen." He wore a white suit from then on, arguing that "light-colored clothing is more pleasing to the eye and enlivens the spirit." He called it his "dontcareadam suit," because he didn't care a damn what he looked like when he wore it.

40. Twain had no problem ridiculing and attacking those he didn't like. One of his most famous literary targets was James Fenimore Cooper, who he wrote about in his essay, "Fenimore Cooper's Literary Offenses".

41. Twain's wife Livy Clemens disliked his habit of swearing, and he tried to keep it from her. One day when he was dressing alone, he realized that his shirt was missing a button and went off on a blue streak. To his horror, he realized that his wife was listening behind the door. In her prim voice, she repeated his words to him as a reprimand.

42. Twain received an honorary doctorate from Oxford University in 1907.

43. Twain often made bad investments, which resulted in serious financial problems.

44. William Faulkner called him “the father of American literature”.

45. One of Mark Twains closest friends were Henry Rogers.

46. Twain was a redhead in his youth.

47. The classical huckleberry finn has the honor of being as the fifth often challenged book by american library association.

48. Mark Twain did not graduate elementary school.

49. It was Mark twain who first used the fingerprinting evidence to solve a crime in one of his fictional novels, “Life on the Mississippi”.

50. Mark Twain died of a heart attack April 21st 1910, in Redding Connecticut.


"A person who won't read has no advantage over one who can't read."

"Action speaks louder than words but not nearly as often."

"Age is an issue of mind over matter. If you don't mind, it doesn't matter."

"All generalizations are false, including this one."

"'Classic.' A book which people praise and don't read."

"Climate is what we expect,weather is what we get."

"Giving up smoking is the easiest thing in the world. I know because I've done it thousands of times."

"Let us live so that when we come to die even the undertaker will be sorry."

"My books are like water; those of the great geniuses are wine. (Fortunately) everybody drinks water."

"Substitute "damn" every time you're inclined to write "very"; your editor will delete it and the writing will be just as it should be."

"When your friends begin to flatter you on how young you look, it's a sure sign you're getting old."

"Wrinkles should merely indicate where smiles have been."

Illustrator of the Week - Sujean Rim

As with all things, I needed a short vacation from this blog. Not that it is problematic in any way, but simply because, after two years of consistent postings, I needed a sabbatical, even if it was for only one week. So here we are again.

Sujean Rim is a native New Yorker. She began her career studying fashion design at Parsons School of Design. After school, she found herself studying shoe design and accessories for large companies. Sujeann has been working for years in the fashion and illustrating industries working for everyone from Tiffanys to Simon & Schuster to Marie Claire. It is no surprise that with a background like this, Sujean would illustrate and write Birdie's Big-girl Shoes, a whole collection of shoes that this budding fashionista can strut about in.


Wordle: war

From A fun little thing having to do with the book I cam currently writing.

Author of the Week - James Dashner

James Dashner was born in 1973 in Georgia. He attended Brigham Young University. Dashner is most well-known for his children's fantasy series including the The 13th Reality and the Jimmy Fincher Saga. Dashner's series. Dashner describes his career as stepping stones. His first book in the Jimmy Fincher Saga was very small with only a little exposure in a very small regional area. Then 13th Reality came out and it was a little bigger, and that led to him getting an agent which then led him to Random House. His newest book is The Maze Runner, set to be a trilogy, is a young adult action packed sci-fi, that I have reviewed previously and loved. Dashner currently lives and writes in the Rocky Mountains in Utah with his wife and four children. And what to my wondering eyes should appear, but a blog run by Dashner. I love blogs.

Illustrator of the Week - Mary Blair

Mary Blair was born in 1911 as Mary Robinson in McAlester, oklahoma. As a small child her parents moved them to Texas and then California. She attended San Jose State College and won a scholarship to the renowned Chouinard Art Institute in Los Angeles. In 1934 she married another artist, Lee Everett Blair who was only 20 days older than herself. After college both Blairs began to work in the animation industry, joining the Ib Iwerks studio. Lee was the one who started working for Walt Disney studios first where he was joined by his wife in 1940. She worked briefly on art for Dumbo and an early version of Lady and the Tramp. However, it wasn't until she traveled with Walt and Lillian Disney to South Africa on an artist's research tour that she really started her career with Disney. Mary and Lee did the concept art for Saludos Amigos and the Three Baballeros, with which mary was credited as the art supervisor. After that Mary went on to work as the concept artist and color stylist for Cinderella, Alice in Wonderland, Songs of the South, and Peter Pan. Mary left Disney after the completion of Peter Pan and worked as a freelance artist, illustrating for Golden Books. Her books included Baby's House, I Can Fly, and Little Golden Book of Verses. Mary was also the art designer for It's a Small World and created the mural at the Tomorrowland Promenade.

Book of the Week - The Astonishing Life of Octavian Nothing

The Astonishing Life of Ocatvian Nothing, Traitor to the Nation Volume 1: The Pox Party by M.T. Anderson

Anderson has a marvelous ear for language. It's quite plain that he enjoys creating and manipulating language to fit the different kinds of books he writes, and never once does he talk down to his readers. He assumes that the discerning and intelligent reader will understand his books and Octavian Nothing is no different.

The novel is set in 1760's in Boston, where Octavian and his mother - a West African princess - live at the Novanglian College of Lucidity, reminding me a lot of the college in Gulliver's Travels. It soon becomes clear that Octavian and his mother are not treated kindly out of any respect, but rather for science, they are in fact guineau pigs for these mens desire to understand and classify blacks. Octavian is taught to play violin, Latin, Greek, science, medicine, mathematics. His excrement and food intake are tallied and weighed. It takes Octavian a few years to realize that despite all the wonderful clothes and food, he is nothing more than a slave, a fact that becomes apparent when he dares defy their financier of the college.

Despite Octavian’s genuine desire to prove his abilities, the results of this experiment have of course been predetermined by the prejudices of the experimenters (whose conclusions about the inferiority of the African echo beliefs held by real historical figures like David Hume and Thomas Jefferson, as Anderson points out in an afterword).

Anderson perfectly captures the narrative style of an 18th-century book, with all the English vanacular of the time period. Sentences like, "How doth all that seeks to rise burn itself to nothing," and "She [my mother] hearkened little to the insinuations of flattery or the curtseys of obsequiousness, but returned all idle, pretty chatter on its own coin," are enough to make any writer swoon. The violence, which was also very accurate, was sometimes too intense even for this reader.

One of the most disturbing sections concerns the “pox party” of the subtitle, in which a select group of New England notables accept the college’s invitation to undergo inoculation against the smallpox raging through the colonies — a house party that will include games of whist and dancing, and “a glass jar full of contaminate matter from the pox-sores of the dead.” Such parties were popular at the time, despite the risk of disfigurement or death.

As a child, Octavian says, he was taught the importance of observation: “precise in notation, acute in investigation and rational in inference.” These lessons could be grim — for example, when the men of the college pet a dog and then drown it to see how long it takes to die, or feed alley cats and then drop them from a scaffold to determine “the height from which cats no longer catch themselves, but shatter.” Octavian’s own battle between rage and reason is resolved on the side of reason, possibly at some cost to the reader’s ability to identify with him.

Despite all this though, I found that the story languished under such heavy words. The beginning was so slow that I found myself beginning again, twice, in order to fully grasp the story. The fancy language was not difficult to understand but it does require the reader to slow down, possibly even look up a word or two in the dictionary when necessary. There were many times in the book where I wondered where when the story would actually begin. The Pox Party subplot does begin until halfway through the book. Some may argue that the backstory was necessary, however I find myself confused as to why we needed nearly 180 pages to set up this character and his life, when I understood completely by page 50. Don't get me wrong, the book was beautifully done, but I feel some of the story may have been lost amidst the precision of language and Anderson's dedication to make the story as historically accurate as possible.