Wednesday, November 30, 2011

Pretty cool, huh?

It's not often that I see a cheery picture from World War One. But the one chosen for the cover of my next book (to be published by Capstone in early 2012), is pretty darned upbeat for a "war to end all wars" image. See what you think:

Friday, November 25, 2011

Small Persons with Wings

Mellie Turpin has loads of troubles, not the least of which is that until she was midway through kindergarten her best friend was a tiny, winged man named Fidius. Having a tiny winged friend isn’t in and of itself a problem. But when Mellie tries to bring her fairy to school, a) he abandons her and b) her classmates see her as a freakish, fairy obsessed fat kid. Not good.

After her grandfather dies and her father inherits the family inn a few towns away, it seems as though things are looking up for Mellie. Now at last she can forget about her classmates, who un-phased by bully prevention week are still chanting “fairy fat” whenever she’s in earshot. But things don’t work out quite as expected.

The greatest strengths of this novel are the well-drawn and fully realized world of the Small Persons with Wings, or Parvi Pennati, and the breakneck pace of the action. Author  Ellen Booraem keeps the plot twists coming and the fairy magic mostly plausible, unexpected, and always fun.

This would be a great book to pair with Mary Losure’s forthcoming nonfiction title The Fairy Ring, or Elsie and Frances Fool the World ( Candlewick Press, March 2012). It’s a rollicking ride of a book with enough detail about fairies and enough fairy lore to make even a non-believer want to believe.

Small quibble: I was able to easily suspend disbelief when reading about fairies in Small Persons with Wings, but had a harder time believing the school scenes. Had I been wearing the Turpin family’s moonstone ring—which allows the wearer to tell truth from illusion—I might have seen that the school scenes simply weren’t as “true” as the rest of the book.

Friday, November 18, 2011

Through No Fault of My Own

 Coco Irvine is my new hero. She absolutely shines in the pages of Through No Fault of My Own: A Girl’s Diary of Life on Summit Avenue in the Jazz Age (University of Minnesota Press, 2011). The diary, found and introduced by journalist and author Peg Meier, encompasses one year in a girl’s life. It’s 1926, and Coco is nearly 13. But this is no shadowy figure from the past. Coco comes through as real, living and highly unpredictable person.

She has all the problems that seem (and actually are) immense at 13. Early on, Coco recalls how as a child she learned that her real first name was Clothilde: “I have never forgotten this gruesome experience.” In winter, she must wear long underwear—one of her especially “humiliating problems.” Her plan to improve lunch fails when she and her friend are caught trying to carry away all the school’s forks and spoons. (“We were planning to hide them, not steal them and sell them or anything like that…” she writes, “so we would have to go home for lunch until they could afford to buy new ones.”) And in the summer, she takes her tiny rowboat onto the vast waters of White Bear Lake only to caught up in high winds. Her solution—to jump into the lake and tow her boat to shore—doesn’t quite work out as planned. Through no fault of her own.

Coco’s diary is full of mentions of real places that would interest Minnesotans, and the house she lived in on Summit Avenue is now used as the governor’s mansion. But this book will appeal to any reader who, like Coco, has to wear “humiliating” clothes, simultaneously hates and loves her mother, is mostly fascinated but sometimes horrified by boys, has “fiendish” teachers, occasionally and inadvertently tells off-color jokes, and loves to go the movies but thinks Mary Pickford could use a new hairdo (“I bet she’s 25 and still wears curls…”).
A quick and delightful read. A fascinating glimpse of a real girl from the past.

Wednesday, November 9, 2011


A review of Unforgettable by Loretta Ellsworth

After Baxter Green injures his head at the age of three, he has a perfect photographic memory. In fact, he can't forget things--even when he wants to. He'd really like to forget about Dink, his mom's old boyfriend who's just been released from prison. He'd like to forget about how being Memory Boy made him a first-class nerd at his old school, especially when he's trying to start out fresh in Minnesota. But even though having a perfect memory makes it easy for Baxter to ace tests, it doesn't make it any easier for him make friends or figure out how to do the right thing, when Dink tracks him down.

Baxter is a fresh and believable male character. The problem of having a photographic memory is unusual, yet the repercussions (having difficulty fitting in at school; not knowing how to deal with mom's boyfriend) are universal. This character has strong appeal to both male and female readers. Also, the Minnesota setting adds unusual depth. Baxter is drawn into a fight (led by a very attractive fellow student) to make taconite (iron-ore pellet) mining safer for workers and for people in the surrounding community--many of whom are suffering from a rare form of cancer.

Strange but true Minnesota connection: While reading this book, I heard a story on the radio about a new study of mesothelioma, the cancer Baxter's pretty girlfriend is interested in. Without being a spoiler, I can say that Baxter wouldn't be at all surprised.