Allison's Book Bag


Stepping back but not stepping down

In six years, Allison’s Book Bag has seen a lot of changes. So has my life. And after a lot of conversation with family and a lot of reflection on my part, I’ve decided it’s time to take a step back from this blog.

Those of you who follow my blog will have noticed that in the midst of reviews and personal memes, I’ve started to post more pet-related content. There have monthly reviews of pet books, which I supplemented with some “Inspired By” essays. Once a month, you’ve been introduced to pet articles that I’ve written for a local animal welfare group. And finally, every two weeks, everyone has been hearing stories about our crew of critters known as The Cat Trio and the Solitary Dog.

Writing book reviews and pet articles on a regular basis, along with teaching and enjoying family, has required a bit of juggling act. Now that I’ve recently been invited to start writing press releases this fall for our local animal welfare group, I’ve decided to focus my writing energies on trying to improve the life of pets. For that reason, I”m taking a step back from this blog.

A side benefit is that I might get to enjoy a more diversified reading life. My husband has been asking me for a few years to read adult best sellers with him. Plus, there are some nonfiction books I’ve been piling up for the rainy day that never seems to come. I’ve also just started discovering the pleasure again of browsing magazines! To be honest, it’ll be fun to read again without having a review as an end goal.

Just because I’m taking a step back doesn’t mean I’m shutting down Allison’s Book Bag. After I take the summer off, I’ll pop back occasionally to participate in memes and to share some reading gems with my faithful audience here. I’ve appreciated getting to know many bloggers, readers, and writers though Allison’s Book Bag. So this isn’t farewell.

When August rolls around again, I’ll be at a new school. Near the end of May, I did get assigned my new teaching position. I’ve been to the school to meet the principal. She’s nice. The school is small. It’ll be a new teaching adventure! Which will coincide with a new writing adventure. I’ll be back occasionally to share news of family, school, and other experiences including my reading ones with you.

Thanks for the support. Enjoy the future!

Plotted by Andrew DeGraff combines maps and essays for nineteen publications to create a literary experience. While all but one of the publications referenced are fictional, their mode varies, ranging from Shakespeare’s play Hamlet, Shirley Jackson’s short story The Lottery, and Daniel Defoe’s novel Robinson Crusoe. In addition, while the majority are classics, the intended audience of the publications references isn’t just limited to adults. Plotted is a unique concept, and one that appeals to me as a book nerd. Unfortunately, although I enjoyed the essays, the actual design of Plotted is of mixed quality.

The essays were actually a surprise. From the advertising, I simply expected a collection of maps. Instead each map is prefaced with a page of literary thoughts by Daniel Harmon. The essays aren’t critiques that evaluate the plot, character, and setting of the selected work. Instead Harmon focuses on the central theme of a publication, sharing his thoughts on the relevance of the writing to its time and to our modern society. Despite how the small print detracts from readability, I did highly enjoy all nineteen essays. That said, none of them of themselves are so memorable that I would purchase Plotted simply on their merits.

Narrative of the Life of Frederick Douglas

Narrative of the Life of Frederick Douglas

The maps remain the driving force behind Plotted. At times, the maps remind of why certain classics have endured or, better yet, inspire me to seek out books with which I’m not familiar. My favorite maps are those which accompanied stories about characters who ventured behind the confines of their home and/or town. For example, I appreciated the visuals for Around the World in 80 Days and Watership Down, which brought these travel stories alive in unique ways. I also enjoyed maps which felt more traditional such as the ones for Invisible Man and Narrative of the Life of Frederick Douglas. The first depicted the various buildings wherein the story took place and numbered them. The second contained more lavish illustrations, but essentially took the form of an intricate timeline.

Map for Narrow Fellow in the Grass

Map for Narrow Fellow in the Grass

At other times, DeGraff focuses so intently on taking a creative approach to his maps that I feel more confused than engaged. For example, the ten-page map for Hamlet consists simply of five different drawings of the castle, each with bright squiggly lines that represent “the extent to which Hamlet’s madness effects the rest of the castle”. The same goes for A Christmas Carol, except it’s length has been limited to five pages. Yet at least those did hold a momentary fascination in trying to figure out all the paths, and how they interconnected, and so felt reminiscent of puzzles. My least favorite maps are that of one for Emily Dickinson’s poem A Narrow Fellow in the Grass and Samuel Beckett’s play Waiting for Godot. The latter contains only an abstract drawing of the characters Lucky and Posso and made no sense to me.

Although a one-time perusal of Plotted will no doubt suffice me, I applaud DeGraff as an artist. He undertook the challenge of interpreting favorite publications through the unique medium of maps. May all of us as readers and visionaries always elect to explore the literary world in new and unusual ways.

My rating? Read it: Borrow from your library or a friend. It’s worth your time.

How would you rate this book?

Illustration from Andrew DeGraff, <br> Used with permission.

Illustration from Andrew DeGraff,
Used with permission.

Andrew DeGraff is a freelance illustrator and artist. Born and raised in New York, he graduated from Pratt Institute’s Communications Design program with a focus in Illustration in 2001. DeGraff has worked as an illustrator for many clients and his gallery work has been shown in various places across North America. He returned to Pratt to teach illustration from 2009 – 2014. Tomorrow I’ll review his published first book, Plotted: A Literary Atlas from Zest Books. Save the date: June 2! Thanks to DeGraff for agreeing to an interview and to Zest Books for the Advanced Reader Copy of Plotted.

ALLISON: Have you always wanted to be an artist? Why or why not?

ANDREW: Pretty much. As a kid I thought I might be a historian, maybe a writer, and even had the obligatory passing fancy of pursuing marine biology. I think the truth is that those fields often came with the best illustrations. I wanted to be the guy painting battle scenes, book covers, and sharks and coral reefs.

ALLISON: Who influenced your decision?

ANDREW: I was really lucky to have some other artists in the family, and I think my parents knew I’d be an artist even before I did and encouraged me. I had a lot of great art teachers along the way as well.

ALLISON: What has been your favorite illustration project?

ANDREW: I’d really have to say Plotted was my favorite. I’ve always loved literature, and outside of your school years, it’s hard to have the time to dive into a novel and pick it apart over a few weeks. One of my favorite things about illustration is the chance to do research and each novel or story from Plotted required really reading up on the time period and looking for historical and visual reference. It was a very intense experience, and consumed my life for almost a full calendar year.

ALLISON: What city has your art taken you that you most remember?

ANDREW: I went to Pratt in Brooklyn. Being from the country in rural upstate, the city was intimidating. But it’s a place I’ve always wanted to keep coming back to with my sketchbook. The Met, the Staten Island Ferry, the Domino Sugar Factory – it’s just a great place to draw. The other place is LA. I have to admit, I was a little snobby as someone who had adopted NY as a home in thinking that LA was just a sprawling mess. It is, but I’ve had the opportunity to travel to LA for my gallery shows, and I’ve really come to love the city. The color, the people. It’s the other side of the American coastal coin and it’s just weird and wonderful as its darker east coast cousin.

ALLISON: How did you come up with idea for Plotted?

ANDREW: I had been creating plot maps of movies for a few years for those shows in LA at Gallery1988. I’d always loved maps, and I loved the idea of mapping narratives. The movie maps were developed as a way to illustrate an entire film without showing the characters, and instead relying on the scene and the interactions to retell the story. Plotted was really an extension of that thinking.

ALLISON: Why did this project interest you?

ANDREW: My Mom is a teacher, and I grew up in a house of avid readers. I saw it as a chance to be an ambassador for some incredible books that changed my life. Plus it was a chance to take an illustrative crack at some great works of literature that illustrators I love had taken on in the past. Anytime you get to play around with Huck Finn, Moby Dick, and Robinson Crusoe – you don’t pass that up.

ALLISON: Why did you approach Zest?

ANDREW: I’d thought a lot about mapping novels. The problem was length – the movie maps are generally 100hr-250hr pieces to create for a two and half hour film. The thought of mapping a 350 page novel was just to big to take on as an unsupported project. It was my co-creative-conspirator at Zest Dan Harmon who approached me about doing the book. It was really the opportunity to tackle mapping novels I’d been waiting for. He had seen the movie maps and wondered if I was interested in doing novels – it felt like kismet.

ALLISON: How has your life changed now that you have a published book?

ANDREW: It’s been really great. As an illustrator who has spent most of his career doing editorial work for magazines creating pieces that accompany writing, it’s really nice to have done something that sort of flips that status and the images are the centerpiece. I’ve always gotten a kick out seeing something I did in Sports Illustrated, or the New York Times on newsstands – but books are just so much more substantial and permanent. I think anyone who gets a book published – novel, children’s book, cook book – gets a real sense of accomplishment. You make books because you love them, and what better way to honor them than to make one yourself. Plus it’s really helped to enlarge my following and get me other freelance jobs, as well as a lot of map requests.

Saturday Snapshot invites bloggers to share photos. On January 14, I wrote: “My Nanny Hunter died this morning of pneumonia. She’s my last living grandparent. My other grandparents died before I moved to Nebraska…. Nanny and Poppy Hunter were my dad’s parents and lived in Ontario.”

My husband and I didn’t get to attend the funeral, but earlier this month we did get to attend the burial. What follows are some photos and details about our trip to and from Ontario, as well as about the burial itself. I’ve also included some candid family photos too.

The first decision Andy and I had to make is whether to drive or fly. Driving would take longer but cost less and allow us to see more sites. And so drive we did! Adventure began in Michigan, where we saw three juvenile sandhill cranes crossing the highway. We also encountered snow flurries and even woke up to ice on our car windshield. Perhaps, the only expected event, was getting to see a ship being put into a lock across the road from where we stayed at in Michigan. We’d picked The Long Ships Motel with the hope that we’d see this very sight! Unfortunately, at the time, we didn’t get to really appreciate the monumental event due to the cold. The ship we saw was the Paul R. Tregurtha. At 1,013.5 feet long, it’s apparently the largest vessel on the Great Lakes.

After we crossed the border into Ontario, we looked forward to spending time with family. Besides attending my Nan’s burial, there were special sights we wanted to share. We visited the grave of my dad’s mom in Blind River, as well as a church where his father has pastored. (My dad’s mom died when he was a youth. Nanny Hunter was his step-mom and the only grandmother on my dad’s side that I knew.) Later on our trip, we drove to the lakefront house where my grandparents had stayed during their senior ministry years. The sight brought back fond memories and all of us spent time in reflective thought.

We also shared some unexpected sights. During an evening walk, we saw Canadian geese on the roof of the hotel where we stayed and then later at the back of some restaurants. And, en route to the lakefront, we saw our first porcupine in the wild.

On Monday, May 16, we attended the burial of my Nanny Hunter. It was on Manitoulin Island, which is located on Lake Huron, the largest freshwater lake island in the world. A long-time friend of my grandparents spoke and shared memories, especially about how much my Nan liked to host. At the grave was a bouquet with Scrabble tiles. A friend of Nan’s had made it for the burial, in memory of how much Nan enjoyed this game. Next, the pastor talked. After that, pallbearers lowered her coffin into a grave. Family placed roses on the coffin. Hugs were exchanged. Then everyone headed to the local church. A spread of sandwiches, fruits and vegetables, and sweets awaited.

The next day, Andy and I said our goodbyes. Then we headed back to the Midwest. Along the way, we stopped in Ontario to pick up Canadian maple syrup. We bought 8.5 liters of maple syrup: 4 liters for us, 4 are Andy’s dad, and .5 for a friend. And, of course, we couldn’t resist purchasing cheese (and souvenirs!) in Wisconsin. And, on May 18, we arrived home to return to the “real” world.:-)

Saturday Snapshot #77: I’ll Miss You Nan


My Muse Monday is a fun meme where writers can meet other like-minded writers and share what they’ve been working on and how the week has gone for them. I’ve decided for this meme to post a monthly summary of my local writing group’s meetings.

During a bakery outing with my husband, we came across Gratitude Bakery, which hosts not only delightful sweets but also open mike night. Immediately, I thought this might make a great outing for our writing group. And it was! For May, our group got together simply to relax and socialize. Three of us are teachers. That means we spent the bulk of May taking care of end-of-school-year duties and had little time to write. At our visit to Gratitude Bakery, we snacked on chocolate, listened to music, and updated one another on news.

One lady in our group has received responses from agents. Nothing positive, but at least they’re acknowledgments. A lot of places don’t even reply anymore to submissions. Another lady is still working on and submitting her rhyming picture books. And a third lady now has six chapters written in her novel. That’s substantial progress! As for me, I’ve decided to mostly stick with writing blog posts for Lincoln Animal Ambassadors for the immediate future. I might also try to turn some of those into magazine articles. If I do, I’ll ask the ladies in my group for advice.

Please check back later in the week for some news involving my job status and this blog. Enjoy the summer!

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Summer Months

I'm taking the summer off from reviewing to just read for pleasure. Check back in September for news and reviews!



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