An Invisible Thread: Action Beyond Thought

“Excuse me lady, do you have any spare change? I am hungry.”

When Laura Schroff first met Maurice on a New York City street corner, she had no idea that she was standing on the brink of an incredible and unlikely friendship that would inevitably change both their lives. As one lunch at McDonald’s with Maurice turns into two, then into a weekly occurrence that is fast growing into an inexplicable connection, Laura learns heart-wrenching details about Maurice’s horrific childhood and journey's into a friendship that has spanned over three decades.

When I lived in Boston, I can't tell you how many homeless people I walked past every day. They became like part of the scenery, only sticking out if one of the crazier ones screamed at himself in the subway or held the door open for you in hopes of some change in return. I never saw children begging, at least not that I remember, which disturbs me because I wonder if perhaps I did and I ignored them as many of us do. Laura Schroff did too. She admits it. But then she stopped because something drew her to one little boy on a street corner.

An Invisible Thread reminded me of that small link we have with humanity. It reminded me that the things we take for granted like brown bag lunches, Christmas presents, and dining rooms, are some of the things that other children crave desperately. I read articles about politicians and policy makers every day who are constantly asking how do we clean up the streets, lower crime, get people off of welfare. I think some of those answers lie within the pages of this book. It is about showing children that the vicious cycle they are stuck in, the lies they are being told daily, does not have to be their life.

Maurice could have easily become a drug dealer or an addict. I would even say that if a woman had not stopped on that street corner and come into his life, he probably would have been one or both. But how many children out there are like Maurice? Good kids who have never met anyone with a real job before, whose lives have been one welfare motel to another.

So my charge to you, my dear readers, is to open your eyes and look for ways in which you can be a good example for a child. In Maurice's words, "Kids like us know about this stuff, but we are always on the outside looking in." Perhaps this year you can open your heart and life to someone.

For suggestion on ways that you can help children in your community check out these links:

Boys & Girls Clubs of America


Big Brothers Big Sisters

Also, check out local schools, Urban ministries, and Literacy centers for places where you can volunteer. It may be only a few hours out of your week, but the difference you can make in someone's life is beyond huge. In case you need a reminder though, read An Invisible Thread.

An Invisible Thread - Laura Schroff, Valerie Salembier & Alex Tresniowski

A Year in Review 2012

Books That Made Me Laugh Out Loud

We're In a Book (An Elephant and Piggie book) by Mo Willems

Goodnight iPad: A Parody For the Next Generation by Ann Droyd (hehe)

Aliens on Vacation by Clete Barrett Smith

New-To-Me Series That On One Hand I'm Glad To Have Found, But On The Other, I'm Seriously Horrified That I'd Missed Out On Until Now:

Game of Thrones by George R.R. Martin

Sequel Happiness:

The Death Cure by James Dashner

A Conspiracy of Kings by Megan Whalen Turner

Stoner & Spaz II by Ron Koertge

In the Belly of the Bloodhound by L.A. Meyer

Book That Made Me Crave Food:

Raspberries by Jay O'Callahan

Most Enjoyable Bad Book:

Clementine by Sarah Pennypacker

Forgettable Plot Saved By a Fresh, Honest Voice:

Liesel & Po by Lauren Oliver

Book(s) I Was Most Surprised By:

The Kneebone Boy by Ellen Potter

Tuesdays at the Castle by Jessica Day George

Made of Pure Awesome:

Tuesdays at the Castle

Amanda & Her Alligator by Mo Willems

Across the Universe by Beth Revis

Best Book Hidden Under the Worst Cover:

Pride an Prejudice and Zombies by Seth Grahame-Smith

More Adorable Than Sparkling Puppies:

Tuesdays at the Castle

YA Book Most Likely to be Loved By Adults More Than Actual YAs:

Uglies by Scott Westerfeld

Biggest Disappointment:

Mockingjay by Suzanne Collins

Books that Invoked Irrationally Violent Emotions in me:

Empty by Suzanne Weyn

Books I Loved For Their Imperfect Heroines:

Graceling by Kristine Cashore

Valiant by Holly Black

Best Book For Wimpy Kid Lovers:

Middle School: The Worst Years of My Life by James Patterson and Chris Tebbets

Best Vampire Book For Twilight-Haters:

Valiant by Holly Black

Favorite Roadtrip Book:

Ranger's Ransom by Emily Diamand

In the Belly of the Bloodhound by L.A. Meyer

Best Action/Adventure Book:

Miss Peregrine's Home for Peculiar Children by Ransom Riggs

The Death Cure by James Dashner

Books that were weird just to be weird:

Unwind by Neal Shusterman

The Green Futures of Tycho by William Sleator

Dormia by Jake Halpern

Sci-fi's that made me think there is still a future for this genre (future, get it):

Across the Universe by Beth Revis

Girl Parts by John Cusick

Raider's Ransom by Emily Diamend

A Small Free Kiss in the Dark by Glenda Millard

Books I lent out to people multiple times:

Miss Peregrine's Home for Peculiar Children by Ransom Riggs

Jumper by Steven Gould

The Maze Runner by James Dashner

Worst Book of the Year:

Sapphique by Catherine Fisher

Have a question about this list. Wonder why I loved or hated a book? Leave a comment...let's discuss.

Raspberries: For the Love of Audio Books

Raspberries by Jay O'Callahan
Illustrated by Will Moses

Despite much pleading and begging, our home was television free for years. This meant that several times a week, our little flock of children would traipse up to the local public library and check out a stack of books that had to be hauled back home via our red Radio Flyer. There were some particular favorites that we checked out over and over. Dinotopia, Ruth's Bake Shop, and one audio cassette featuring a couple of folk tales. Among those folk tales was a story called Raspberries by Jay O'Callahan.

The story is simple, a kindly egg farmer helps a young girl who gives him magic raspberry seeds. Whenever someone eats said raspberries they lift into the air and uncontrollably shout, Rasssssppppbberrrieees!

This of course means that whenever someone says the word Raspberries in my house, someone uncontrollably sing out, Rasssssppppbberrrieees! So you can imagine my excitement as I opened my Christmas present this year to discover one very beautiful brand picture book of Raspberries, with the audio book included. My dad's eyes beamed as I unwrapped it and I feel bad for him because he had to keep it a secret for over a month.

Nostalgia aside, this is a wonderful story, told by a great storyteller, and the new picture book's folk art fits perfectly with the stories motif.

Favorite Christmas Picture Books

The Soldier's Night Before Christmas
by Christine Ford
Illustrated by Trish Holland

Snowmen at Christmas
by Caralyn Buehner
Illustrated by Michael Beuhner

The Night Before Christmas by Robert Sabuda

A Pukeko in a Ponga Tree: A New Zealand Twelve Days of Christmas by Kingi Ihaka
Illustrated by Dick Frizzell

The Nutcracker by E.T.A. Hoffman
Illustrated by Maurice Sendak

Mole Family Christmas by Russell Hogan
Illustrated by Lillian Hoban

It's Christmas David by David Shannon

The Best Christmas Pageant Ever by Barbara Robinson
Illustrated by Laura Cornell

Finally, a piece of my favorite Christmas movie, Santa Claus: The Movie. No this is not the Tim Allen one, but when I was a kid, I thought it was magical. I continued to watch it far past when I quit believing in Santa. I still root for the reindeer as they try to perform the super duper looper.

Finding Ethnicity in the Christmas Story

I need a little help from you, my dear readers. Although many of you remain silent, leaving few comments, I know you are out there because well...let's be honest I can see everyone who visits my blog. So I know there are many of you. Normally, I consider myself rather good at google searching, but with this particular subject I am coming up short so I call upon your expertise.

Recently, a customer came into the store looking for a book on the First Christmas, with one caveat, she wanted Jesus and by extension, his family, to look like they were actually Middle Eastern. "Of course, right this way," I said to the nice white lady with her adopted Ethiopian child in tow. (she informed me that this one of the reasons for looking for such a book on the way to the children's department) But what to my wondering eyes should appear....but a mass of First Christmas books with a very white, or at best, slightly tan baby Jesus. To be fair, this isn't the middle ages so luckily I did not see any blond Jesus' and Mary, Joseph, and the shepherds seem to be wearing historically accurate clothing for the most part. But I don't think I could categorize a single one of them as middle eastern looking in any way shape or form. So I apologized to the customer and still bothered by this, came home and began to look for this picture book for surely it exists. So far I have found one book that I think fits this description, at least from the cover art. This saddens me greatly. In the 21st century why is it that Jesus is still, for the most part, white? Is there a sub-genre of books that I am just not finding? Help me dear readers for I know you are out there. Are there First Christmas/Nativity stories in which the illustrations reflect historical accuracy as well as ethnicity?

Back to the Classics

Sometimes I get tired of all this new fangled stuff. Not that books written today aren't written well, but sometimes I yearn for that classic lingo, the overly detailed paragraphs, and the lyrical way in which words jump from the page. I have spent the past few years reading new book after new book often feeling guilty when I want to re-read a classic (or something classic to me) because I know that this blog is sitting here and my readers want new books. Perhaps it is time to go back to the classics though, help children re-discover the magic of Peter Pan and The Secret Garden. The beauty of Heidi or adventure in The Enchanted Castle.

As an author, I am constantly told how important beginnings are, how you must find that perfect hook that will grab the reader and make them want to read the next sentence and paragraph and page. However, the classics defy this logic, which frankly makes me happy. You mean kids can read books that don't begin with some hook that defies logic? So here are the openings to some of my favorite classics, which are fantastic and I have read in the past few weeks.

The Secret Garden by Frances Hodgson Burnett

When Mary Lennox was sent to Misselthwaite Manor to live with her uncle everybody said she was the most disagreeable-looking child ever seen. It was true, too. She had a little thin face and a little thin body, thin light hair and a sour expression. Her hair was yellow, and her face was yellow because she had been born in India and had always been ill in one way or another. Her father had held a position under the English Government and had always been busy and ill himself, and her mother had been a great beauty who cared only to go to parties and amuse herself with gay people. She had not wanted a little girl at all, and when Mary was born she handed her over to the care of an Ayah, who was made to understand that if she wished to please the Mem Sahib she must keep the child out of sight as much as possible. So when she was a sickly, fretful, ugly little baby she was kept out of the way, and when she became a sickly, fretful, toddling thing she was kept out of the way also. She never remembered seeing familiarly anything but the dark faces of her Ayah and the other native servants, and as they always obeyed her and gave her her own way in everything, because the Mem Sahib would be angry if she was disturbed by her crying, by the time she was six years old she was as tyrannical and selfish a little pig as ever lived. The young English governess who came to teach her to read and write disliked her so much that she gave up her place in three months, and when other governesses came to try to fill it they always went away in a shorter time than the first one. So if Mary had not chosen to really want to know how to read books she would never have learned her letters at all.

Peter Pan by J.M. Barrie

All children, except one, grow up. They soon know that they will grow up, and the way Wendy knew was this. One day when she was two years old she was playing in a garden, and she plucked another flower and ran with it to her mother. I suppose she must have looked rather delightful, for Mrs. Darling put her hand to her heart and cried, "Oh, why can't you remain like this for ever!" This was all that passed between them on the subject, but henceforth Wendy knew that she must grow up. You always know after you are two. Two is the beginning of the end.

Heidi by Johanna Spyri

From the pleasantly situated old town of Mayenfeld a footpath leads up through shady green meadows to the foot of the mountains, which, as they gaze down on the valley, present a solemn and majestic aspect. Any one who follows it will soon catch the pungent fragrance of grassy pasture lands, for the footpath goes up straight and steep to the Alps.

The Enchanted Castle by E. Nesbit

There were three of them Jerry, Jimmy, and Kathleen. Of course, Jerry's name was Gerald, and not Jeremiah, whatever you may think; and Jimmy's name was James; and Kathleen was never called by her name at all, but Cathy, or Catty, or Puss Cat, when her brothers were pleased with her, and Scratch Cat when they were not pleased. And they were at school in a little town in the West of England the boys at one school, of course, and the girl at another, because the sensible habit of having boys and girls at the same school is not yet as common as I hope it will be some day. They used to see each other on Saturdays and Sundays at the house of a kind maiden lady; but it was one of those houses where it is impossible to play. You know the kind of house, don't you? There is a sort of a something about that kind of house that makes you hardly able even to talk to each other when you are left alone, and playing seems unnatural and affected. So they looked forward to the holidays, when they should all go home and be together all day long, in a house where playing was natural and conversation possible, and where the Hampshire forests and fields were full of interesting things to do and see. Their Cousin Betty was to be there too, and there were plans. Betty's school broke up before theirs, and so she got to the Hampshire home first, and the moment she got there she began to have measles, so that my three couldn't go home at all. You may imagine their feelings. The thought of seven weeks at Miss Hervey's was not to be borne, and all three wrote home and said so. This astonished their parents very much, because they had always thought it was so nice for the children to have dear Miss Hervey's to go to. However, they were "jolly decent about it , as Jerry said, and after a lot of letters and telegrams, it was arranged that the boys should go and stay at Kathleen's school, where there were now no girls left and no mistresses except the French one.

Anne of Green Gables by L.M. Montgomery

Mrs. Rachel Lynde lived just where the Avonlea main road dipped down into a little hollow, fringed with alders and ladies' eardrops and traversed by a brook that had its source away back in the woods of the old Cuthbert place; it was reputed to be an intricate, headlong brook in its earlier course through those woods, with dark secrets of pool and cascade; but by the time it reached Lynde's Hollow it was a quiet, well-conducted little stream, for not even a brook could run past Mrs. Rachel Lynde's door without due regard for decency and decorum; it probably was conscious that Mrs. Rachel was sitting at her window, keeping a sharp eye on everything that passed, from brooks and children up, and that if she noticed anything odd or out of place she would never rest until she had ferreted out the whys and wherefores thereof.

illustrated by:

Anne McCaffrey: A Life Worth Reading

Once I reached the age where I could read to myself, my mother rarely read to me, especially not long chapter books. I don't remember how old I was when my she brought Dragonsong into my bedroom one night, but I remember the remarkable feeling when a mother and daughter share something magical. For us, it was a book. She went on to read me Dragonsinger and Dragondrums.

By then I was hooked. I quickly gobbled up characters and series like Acorna, The Ship Who Sang, Doona, Freedom, and my favorite, The Talents series of which Pegasus in Flight is by far one of my favorite sci-fi books of all time. It hasn't made many of my lists on here because it is typically considered an adult book, although I venture to say it is YA as all the main characters in it are teens. I did notice that occasionally Anne McCaffrey wrote some rather strange books, my least favorite being The Crystal Singer.

Even so, Anne McCaffrey has become a staple in the sci-fi and fantasy community, creating worlds that mothers want to pass on to their daughters. As Benjamin Franklin once said, "If you would no be forgotten as soon as you are dead either write things worth reading or do things worth writing." Anne, you did just that. She will forever be in my heart and on my bookshelf.

NPR and the 50th Anniversary of The Phantom Tollbooth

This month NPR has chosen The Phantom Tollbooth as their Kids Book Club Pick, in celebration of its 50th Anniversary. Young readers can read along, listening throughout the month to various essays about the book by many people including the author himself, Norton Juster. Once read, young listeners are encouraged to send questions to NPR, some of which will be asked to the author during an interview. This is only the second book that NPR has picked for their new book club, but I simply love the idea of engaging their listeners. Check out this link, send in a question, and listen in.

The Phantom Tollbooth 50th Anniversary Edition - Norton Juster & Jules Feiffer

Tuesdays at the Castle Book Review

Jacket Flap: Tuesdays at Castle Glower are Princess Celie's favorite days. That's because on Tuesdays the castle adds a new room, a turret, or sometimes even an entire wing. No one ever knows what the castle will do next, and no one-other than Celie, that is-takes the time to map out the new additions. But when King and Queen Glower are ambushed and their fate is unknown, it's up to Celie, with her secret knowledge of the castle's never-ending twists and turns, to protect their home and save their kingdom.

I was in search of a nice fluffy middle grade book to give me a break from some of the heavier stuff I have been reading lately. After reading the jacket flap and judging the book by its cover, I decided Tuesdays at the Castle would be just that. I was pleasantly surprised to find that this was a story of political intrigue and danger, just light enough for a young reader though. When the King, Queen, and one of Celie's brothers are attacked in an ambush, her brother Rolf is in line to become King, but the three Glower children aren't so sure that their parents are dead. This is furthered by the actions of the Council who obviously don't want Rolf to become King, or at the very least want to control him. They will do anything, even threaten the lives of the two princesses.

Princess Celie is a wonderful and precocious character, the kind of kid I would like to think I was and who many children want to be. She is quick thinking and willing to do anything to help save her family and the castle.

Perhaps the most interesting character though was the castle itself. A castle that is literally alive, bowing to the needs of those who live within, kicking people out who it doesn't like, moving rooms closer or further to where they need to be, despite the frustrations of those who live within. The castle notices and feels and thinks and perhaps has some prescient abilities.

I thought this was a rather delightful read, one that I didn't want to stop reading. It's perfect for those who love fairy tales, adventure, and everything else in between.

On My Nightstand

I think I having a small bout of ADD because I can't seem to finish a book but I have been rather good about starting them. Let's assume that I somehow manage to stop beginning the books and actually finish one, then you can expect to see reviews for these books very soon. Or not since some of them are adult books, but sometimes I just have to get my autobiography on.

The Scrapbook of Frankie Pratt - Caroline Preston

Drama - John Lithgow

A Game of Thrones - George R. R. Martin

Wildwood - Colin Meloy & Carson Ellis

Size Matters Not - Warwick Davis
Mississippi Jack: Bloody Jack #5 (Unabridged) - L. A. Meyer

Death Cure Book Review

The Death Cure by James Dashner

Thomas is tired of the lies from Wicked, so when the opportunity for the Gladers to get their memories back arises, he knows there is a catch. Escaping to Denver, Thomas must finally face the reality of the Flare, the disease that is ravaging strangers and friends alike. With the clock ticking and the world dying, Thomas must finally face Wicked and the lies.

After reading Mockingjay, I'll admit I am a little jaded on these sci-fi dystopian trilogies. Never mind that everything is a trilogy these days and endings are already a difficult thing to write. Even so, I had high hopes for this series, confident that Dashner knew where he was going.

I will do my best not to ruin the ending, but I can't promise anything, therefore, read on at your own risk.

The ending was quite satisfying. As is traditional with young adult literature, Dashner offers hope, a chance for a future despite the bleakness and death that proceeded it. Unlike Mockingjay, Death Cure didn't end with a happily ever after or a marriage or a ridiculous epilogue. There was too much pain and death and suffering for that to happen though and Dashner didn't fall prey to that overused literary device.

As usual there were a few elements that I wish had been explained more fully. For example: Thomas never gets his memories back, which was fine, but it also meant that we never learn of his past. Worse, although some of the other Gladers do get theirs back, we still don't learn much about the past. Perhaps this would have slowed down the pacing of the plot which was rolling and quick, but on the other hand, I desperately wanted to know more. Also, I wanted to understand the motivations of Wicked, Thomas included. What led them to believe that torture was the way to cure a disease? It was the one thing that made no sense to me. Lastly, how is the rest of the world dealing with The Flare. Are there true disease free places or is it everywhere?

It was nice to see more of this unraveling world, to glimpse firsthand how The Flare affects the mind and soul. Although the goals are still the same, find a cure, defeat wicked, the adventure felt new. Better yet, Dashner is not afraid to get his character's hands dirty. There is no end to the death and destruction and let me warn you, if you haven't read it already, no character is safe. This is probably my favorite part in regards to this book, the complete understanding that not everyone can survive such chaos and a good author knows when to let their characters go.

The Project Book Review

The Project by Brian Falkner

It was an innocent prank involving a toilet seat and the most boring book in the world, The Last of the Mohicans. For punishment, Luke and Tommy have to write a paper and during their research they stumble across a book that makes The Last of the Mohicans look really exciting. But it's not what the book is about but rather what secrets it contains. Luke and Tommy may have just stumbled across a secret that is centuries in the making and could very well change the course of history.

In the same vein as Brain Jack and Tomorrow Code, Falkner weaves together a story that is a bit science fiction, a little bromance, and a lot action adventure. Faulkner has a real knack for plot, weaving together one adventure after another and taking turns that you never saw coming. The Project goes from a sleepy Iowa town to a terrible flood to a kidnapping and then to Germany--during World War II. The constant movement makes the book a quick read despite its 288 pages.

Because Falkner cannot let go of his roots, Luke is of course, a Kiwi (New Zealander for those not familiar). However, this story felt more honest and true than Brain Jack did in that regard. Now, I don't know where all Falkner has lived in the US, but it is obvious that he Iowa really made an impact on him when he was living there and the insertion of the floods was clever.

One of my criticisms would have to be that Tommy and Luke were far too much alike. I often forgot which of the characters was supposed to be the "smart" one. Which one was the gadget guru. Especially since once kid would pull something out of his backpack and then the other one would use it and it was occasionally confusing. Also, I'm just wondering if there really are kids out there using the phrase "Sweet as"? It isn't a big deal except I thought it sounded goofy and I really hope that the author made it up because I don't know how I feel about living in a world where "Sweet as" as an actual sentence.

Falkner's biggest strength though is his endings. A lot of authors, like Suzanne Collins, have disappointed me time and again with their too-good-to-be-true endings or just an inability to bring the story home. Falkner has never had this problem and The Project is no exception. I still say Tomorrow Code is his best book thus far, but The Project is better than a lot of books out there.

Yet again, I prefer the international cover to the boring US cover.

Books my Nephew Loves

My Nephew is only two so his favorite books are rather small, but I do so love that the last time he visited me one of the first things he said to me was, "Hi, Aunt Benus (V is a very difficult letter to pronounce). Read a book?"

New and Noteworthy by Hamline University Faculty

As is my custom and in an effort never to offend those whom I revere, I do not review books written by those who were once my advisors and teachers. Keeping in this tradition, I thought the very least I could do was provide you, my readers, with some of the newest books by some authors who I think are fantastic both in their writing and as people.

Okay for Now - Gary D. Schmidt

Frozen Stiff - Mary Logue

Breadcrumbs by Anne Ursu

Breadcrumbs - Anne Ursu & Erin Mcguire