Allison's Book Bag

Archive for the ‘Romance’ Category

Ever wonder why cats have nine lives? Catatlantis by Anna Starobinets offers one explanation. Good and bad guys dot the landscape of this fun fantasy hailing from Russia. Friendship and romance also mark its chapters. Highly imaginative, Catatlantis is a madcap adventure that kept me enthralled from start to finish.

At first glance, our hero Baguette seems like just another ordinary housecat. He’s well-fed and loved by his human owners. His most outstanding concern is exactly how safe that window ledge on the twelfth floor is. Oh, and whether the slender and striped female neighborhood cat loves him. The family’s dog didn’t understand the allure. Nonetheless, out of respect for the friendship that existed between him and Baguette, the family’s dog agreed to act as a messenger between Baguette and his love. Soon he becomes witness to a marriage proposal, counteracted by a rival suitor, and a challenge. Baguette’s life quickly becomes anything but ordinary, when he travels back in time to find the flowers that once used to allow cats to live nine lives.

The good and bad guys aren’t necessarily whom you’d expect. Yes, the fate of Purriana’s great-great-grandmother lays in Baguette’s paws. But without the help of a spotted cat princess that he encounters in France during his time travels, Baguette might not have discovered the real reason no one can recall what the magical flowers from Catatlantis look like. Just as important to Baguette finding his way back home is a French baker. True, Baguette’s rival suitor is villainous enough to care more about the magical flowers than Purriana. But Baguette finds more than more one bad guy in his jaunts during time such as Trash Man, a sickly yellow-toothed man raised from the dump to defeat Baguette. Just as disturbing are the greedy and arrogant cats that Baguette encounters on the magic island of Catatlantis itself.

At times, Catatlantis is outlandish and even illogical. To travel back in time, Baguette simply stared at a clock and willed time to stop. If time travel were that simple, why hadn’t any other cat performed this trick? On the other hand, Baguette is a descendant of the magic Catlanteans who lived long ago in peace and happiness on the island of Catlantis.  Perhaps this ancestry endowed him with unusual capabilities. Over all, Catatlantis is delightfully weird. Case in point, Purriana’s great-great-grandmother life is not the only one at stake. Should she die in the middle of spring, the whole line of striped cats will die with her.

Author Anna Starobinets is a Russian novelist. Catatlantis is her first children’s book to be translated into English. Referred to as a European classic, Catatlantis should find a home here in America too in the hearts of all lovers of animal stories, folklore, and fantasy.

Stinkwaves Magazine is the brainchild of Tevin and Nicole Hanson.  Tevin is the author of numerous books and short stories. He enjoys skateboarding, reading half a dozen books simultaneously, and chasing his two small children around the house while singing horrendous versions of children’s songs. Nichole is a full-time mom of two children and an avid reader of young adult books. Thanks to Nicole for taking time for this interview, and for sending me a free sample copy of Stinkwaves Magazine.

ALLISON: Why did you start Handersen Publishing?

NICOLE: Handersen Publishing actually started as silly handmade books for friends and family featuring Tevin’s quirky story ideas and art. Then, after reading a few literary magazines, we thought, “Why not start a literary magazine for middle grade and young adult readers?” and Stinkwaves was born. All this time Tevin was trying to go the traditional route for publishing his middle grade books. We finally decided to give self-publishing a try. We started with Hole in the Wall, Mr. Boggarty, and An Evening of Temptation and The Ultimate Sacrifice. When it was time to take on new authors, we immediately started with past Stinkwaves Contributors and became a full-fledged publishing house!

We want Handersen Publishing to be a place where reluctant readers can find a book to connect with, and established readers can find something new to challenge themselves. Each project that we take on has some type of twist to the traditional books in that genre. Some of our books have been labeled bizarro fiction, and we kind of like that title.

ALLISON: How has this venture changed your life?

NICOLE: We are now running Handersen Publishing full time, which is both amazing and exhausting. It’s amazing to be able to work from home and be doing what you love, but it takes a lot of time and energy. Seriously, though, how can you complain when you make books for a living, and get to work with great kids making slime and thumb theatres?

ALLISON: Why both books and a magazine?

NICOLE: It just kind of worked out that way for us, and I’m glad it did. We have met some amazing talent through Stinkwaves. And each of our authors was originally published there.

ALLISON: What skills—business or otherwise–does each bring to Handersen Publishing?

NICOLE: Books are where we have found the most success. Unfortunately, Stinkwaves has had a hard time finding readers, it’s a great little magazine, and we’ve been lucky to get some great submissions, but we’re finding that a lot of readers aren’t super familiar with what a literary magazine is, especially when it is for a middle grade and young adult audience. Anytime we get it into kids’ hands, though, they really like it and seem to connect with the stories and poetry.

ALLISON: How involved is your family with Henderson Publishing? *Who is in your family?

NICOLE: We are definitely a family business. Our two kids Elinore (6) and Gordon (4) are the inspiration for most everything we do. They encourage us to stay young and think young. They are also great helpers when it comes to creating art or setting up for an event. Our daughter Elinore is also great to have in an audience. She has a fabulous laugh that inspires other kids to get involved with the show and have fun!

ALLISON: What other activities do you and your family enjoy besides Handersen Publishing?

NICOLE: Right now, it seems like our lives revolve around books, but it’s what we all love. Whether it’s finding the perfect book (or twenty) together at the library, snuggle time reading, or watching a movie that was based on a book, book time is the best time! We also have a lot of fun with art, jumping on the trampoline, or spending time together at the park.

ALLISON: Share one success story.

NICOLE: We recently booked our first paid gig for a reading event. We’ve done a lot of donated time events, but it was very exciting that an organization found value in what we do, and invited us to come and work with their kids. It was also a TON of fun!

ALLISON: Share a major challenge and how you overcame it.

NICOLE: The publishing industry, itself, is a major challenge. Navigating libraries, bookstores, online marketing, websites, social media . . . the list goes on and on. We overcome this one step at a time. We currently have four authors from the UK and Ireland, and it’s a challenge learning another regions rules and processes, but we are working on it, one step at a time.

ALLISON: What are your future dreams—for Handersen Publishing or personal?

NICOLE: We want Handersen to be successful so that we can share literacy and the importance of books and reading. There are a lot of communities that struggle to have the necessary resources to encourage kids to read. If we can succeed we will have more resources to share, whether it’s actual books or events that connect kids with books and authors.

ALLISON: Where can those who live in the area find you?

NICOLE: Our books are for sale online both through our website (free shipping) and on Amazon (they even qualify for FREE PRIME shipping). We are also season vendors at the Haymarket and the Fallbrook Farmers Markets in Lincoln, Nebraska, and you can find us at craft fairs and other events throughout the year. Also, Indigo Bridge (Lincoln, NE), Francie and Finch (Lincoln, NE), Chapters Books and Gifts (Seward, NE), and The Bookworm (Omaha, NE) all carry Handersen Publishing titles.

Isn’t Stinkwaves a deliciously fun name for a young people’s magazine? I hold in my hands an 80+ page literary magazine packed with stories, poems, and artwork by contributors of all ages. With its wide range of genres—from adventure and fantasy to scary and silly–the magazine will appeal to young people and adults.

The Spring Issue hosts an eclectic collection of writings. To start, there’s a how-to article on writing and an interview with an author. My favorite story is The Prize to be Won. Think the movie Mission Impossible and mice. That’s all I’m going to tell you! Other top contenders are: The Caterpillar mixes fantasy with reality as it tells the tale of a man whose life would be perfect except he must ride the bus, and then one day he meets a caterpillar who forever changes the course of his life; The Winter of the River is a love story about two young people who discover a new world at the end of the river, but that new world takes them on two different paths; and A Wish for Stolie weaves humor into a tale of a dump ranger who unleashes a genie from a bottle, only to potentially lose his chance a wish when his friend falls into a ravine.

The Spring Issue also boasts a colorful cover and multiple illustrations. The latter are all submitted and, as such, vary in their style and quality. A duck drawing looks computer generated, a robot forms a perfect stencil, a flower drawing resembles those found in adult coloring books, an alligator emerges from a watercolor background, and much of the remaining artwork is either line drawn or painted. The most adorable are the bear sketches accompanying a poem entitled “I’m my own best friend” and the most striking is that of an ink-drawn city landscape. If they don’t already have one, many of the contributors should have a promising art career.

My one concern about the magazine is its hefty price of $20 for two issues. My circle of writing friends immediately put that worry to rest. The ladies (who are also parents) enjoyed the magazine and reassured me that families who want quality reading for their teenagers will not be deterred by the price.

In today’s market, with many print publications folding, relatively young publishing companies need to stand out to compete. The content of Stinkwaves is quirkier than the norm, which should have high appeal to its adolescent audience. In addition, editors have selected submissions from authors of various experience levels and from all around the world, ensuring both a fun and quality read for readers of all ages. Bravo to Henderson Publishing!

Reyna Grande is the author of The Distance Between Us, a novel about family. Born in Mexico, Reyna was two years old when her father left for the United States to find work.  Her mother followed her father two years later, leaving Reyna and her siblings behind in Mexico. When Reyna was ten, she and her siblings entered the U.S. with their father as undocumented immigrants. Reyna become the first person in her family to graduate from college and today she is well-known speaker and author. To find out more, check out my interview.

ALLISON: Tell readers something about yourself that they won’t learn from reading The Distance Between Us.

REYNA: I love gardening. I especially like creating butterfly gardens. My daughter and I raised monarch butterflies for a while and it was the most amazing experience. I think every child should have a chance to witness the transformation of a butterfly with their own eyes. It’s powerful. One of my favorite quotes, that I actually have framed and hanging on my wall, is: “Just when the caterpillar thought the world was over, it became a butterfly.” It inspires me.

ALLISON: You were born in Mexico. What is a favorite memory from Mexico?

REYNA: One of my favorite memories that I didn’t write about in the book is the time when I went on a pilgrimage with my grandmother, Abuelita Chinta. We went with the group from our local church. The procession walked to the churches in nine different towns. It was long and tiring to walk there, especially since I was only eight years old, but the people at every town would welcome us with a delicious meal cooked over an open fire. I can still taste those meals–pork in green chile sauce, rice, beans, and hot oatmeal drinks we call atole served with a piece of sweet bread. The pilgrimage was one of those times when we ate very well! I went there to pray for my mother’s return. I don’t think my prayers were answered, but at least I still have the memory of the food I ate.

ALLISON: When you returned to Mexico, you found yourself almost a stranger. Have you taken your children to Mexico? What has been their experience?

REYNA: I take my children almost every year because I want them to know the place where I came from, so that they can have at least a small connection to the place and the family I have there. I hope that by seeing the poverty I came from will help them appreciate what I’ve been able to give them in the U.S. They enjoy going to my hometown but they also complain about the lack of luxuries that they are used to here–like running water!  Over there, they have to boil their bath water on the stove, then put it in a bucket and throw the water on themselves with a small container. On the other hand, they very much love the food that my aunt cooks for them and they like the freedom that children have over there–such as being able to walk around the neighborhood, to go to the store by themselves, to play in the street with other children, things that here in the U.S. children don’t get to do because parents tend to be over-protective and their isn’t as much a sense of community as there is in Mexico.

ALLISON: You concluded in your memoir that despite the strain immigration put on your family, the hardship was worth it. What would you tell young people about overcoming challenges?

REYNA: I would tell them to do everything they can to overcome those challenges because otherwise, their lives would get worse instead of better. If you find yourself in a hole, try to climb out of it–you do that by making the right choices. Focus on school, on your dreams, on your future. If you make bad choices out of desperation, you only dig yourself deeper.  Remember, things don’t always have to be that way–they can get better, they can change. You just have to keep focused, stay strong, and above all, don’t lose hope.

ALLISON: You gave a special tribute to a teacher who changed your life. Have there been other mentors in your life? If so, what has been their influence?

REYNA: I had another teacher at UC, Santa Cruz who was very important to me. Her name is Marta Navarro, a Spanish and Chicano Literature teacher, and one of the nicest people I’ve ever met. She–like my former teacher that I write about in the book–also encouraged me to keep writing. She introduced me to more Latino authors, and she was always available to talk whenever I needed someone to listen. I’m still in touch with her too, and she even came to my wedding!

ALLISON: The Distance Between Us is based on your adult memoir. What process was involved in rewriting it for young people?

REYNA: I didn’t want to water down the story for young readers so I did my best to stay true to the original. Mostly what I did was to put the book on a diet–meaning–I trimmed off all the extra stuff, details, backstory, inner thoughts, and only left what was essential. I cut out about 100 pages. I took out my  crazy uncle, and also some details about my love life that was inappropriate for young readers.

But by cutting 100 pages, it gave me some room to expand on things that young readers would find interesting, such as the border crossing. In the original, my border crossing is only one chapter long. In the young reader’s version, it is three chapters. I added more details so that young readers could really have a chance to experience that moment in my life that was very traumatic but also life-changing.

ALLISON: You’re open in your memoir about both the highs and lows of your family’s life. What has been the reaction of your family to your memoir?

REYNA: My siblings have been very supportive of my writing and they really loved the book. My mother didn’t read much of it because she said it was too painful. My father passed away before the book was published. My aunts from the Grande side got mad at me for writing about how mean my evil grandmother had been. But, that is how she was, and I wrote the truth of my experience living under her roof. I don’t feel guilty about what I wrote, and I understand that since she’s dead, my aunts would rather I had honored her memory by writing more positive things–but unfortunately, I had nothing positive to write about because all my memories of her are unpleasant and painful. Writing memoir is very tricky because you are writing about your family and they might never speak to you again if they don’t like what you wrote! Ultimately, if you write memoir, you have write your truth and no one else’s. You aren’t writing to please anyone. You are writing so that you can heal from the wounds of your experience.

ALLISON: You wrote The Distance Between Us to provide an awareness. What would like people who are not immigrants to understand? What books would you recommend a person starting out in their awareness of diversity to read?

REYNA: I would like for non-immigrants to remember where they came from. Everyone here–except for native Americans–came from somewhere. Perhaps it was a great-grandparent or grandparent who immigrated, who went through the trauma and heartbreak that new immigrants go through. If people honor the memories of those who came before them–their ancestors–I think it will make them more compassionate and understanding towards new immigrants. The U.S. has a history of discrimination against specific immigrant groups. Even those who managed to assimilate very well into American culture (like the Irish) at one point or another were heavily discriminated. I think it’s time that we accept that we are a multi-cultural society. We have people from all over the world who live here, and that is a beautiful thing!

Recommended Reading:

1) Hope and Other Dangerous Pursuits by Laila Lalami

2) The Buddha in the Attic by Julie Otsuka

3) Broken Paradise by Cecilia Samartin

4) Farewell to Manzanar by Jeanne Wakatsuki Houston

5) A Cup of Water Under My Bed by Daisy Hernandez

6) Tell Me How it Ends by Valeria Luiselli

The 2017 National Ambassador for Children’s Literature is Gene Lune Yang. A requirement for each ambassador is to have a platform, and Yang’s is “Reading Without Walls”. Yang challenges readers to:

  1. Read a book about a character who doesn’t look like you or live like you.
  2. Read a book about a topic you don’t know much about.
  3. Read a book in a format that you don’t normally read for fun.

With these criteria in mind, I’ve decided to post roundups once a month on the theme of diversity. I’m starting with picture books about the immigration experience.

In The Matchbox Diary by Paul Fleischman, a grandfather invites his granddaughter to pick an item from his library for him and he’ll tell its story. She picks a matchbox diary. The rest of Fleischman’s picture book reveals the assorted items inside the matchbook diary and their significance. For example, an olive pit reminds the grandfather of Italy, where life was hard, and he’d suck on an olive pit to help with his hunger. The photo is of his father, who like many Italians moved to America to earn money to send back to their poverty-stricken families back home. A hairpin served as a reminder of the dreams his family had. They believed America had streets of gold, and that the mother would soon wear big hats like the other wealthy women. My least favorite part of The Matchbox Diary is the style. I often couldn’t tell who the speaker was. In addition, in writing the story as a dialogue exchange, Fleischman sometimes left out transitions that would have made the context clear. My favorite part of The Matchbox Diary are the detailed illustrations. The watercolor paintings look like old photographs. You can read more about the inspiration behind The Matchbox Diary here.

When Jessie Came Across the Sea by Amy Hest tells of Jessie and her grandmother, who live in a poor unnamed village in Eastern Europe. One day the rabbi, who teaches the community’s young people to read, shares the news that his brother has died and left him a ticket to America. The rabbi doesn’t feel that he can leave his people, and so he gives the ticket to Jessie. He tells her she can live with the rabbi’s brother’s widow in New York. On the ship that takes Jessie to America, immigrants swapped stories of their dreams of America, with its streets of gold and land of plenty. Upon arriving in America, Jessie discovered that instead there were too many people and too much traffic. But she also learned to read, made a living sewing beautiful garments, and found a beau. When Jessie Came Across the Sea is a sweet story about love and bravery, both it and The Matchbox Diary lack the nuances more often found in books written by those with personal immigrant experience. Similar to The Matchbox Diary, my favorite part of When Jessie Came Across the Sea are the panoramic watercolor paintings.

The funny thing is, the moment I am in one country, I am homesick for the other.–Grandfather’s Journey

In Grandfather’s Journey by Allen Say, the narrator described the conflict one feels by being from two countries. The story started out being about his grandfather, who left his home in Japan to see the world. He explored North America by train, riverboat, and foot. Deserts amazed him, and endless farm fields reminded him of the ocean he had crossed. Factories and skyscrapers bewildered and excited him. He marveled at mountains and rivers. For a long time, the grandfather longed to see new places, but then eventually he wished to see his homeland again. He settled back in Japan with his wife and they had a daughter. She gave birth to a son, the narrator of the story. The grandfather always told him tales of California, and one day the narrator visited California for himself. Grandfather’s Journey is a poignant story with lavish illustrations. I related to the grandfather’s sense of adventure, and to the narrator’s longing for his two homes.

Hannah is My Name by Belle Yang is about a Chinese family who emigrate to the United States and try to assimilate while waiting for the arrival of their green cards. The family wants to become Americans more than anything in the world. Why? Because in America one is free. Yet becoming American isn’t easy if one is born elsewhere. The first thing they needed to do was find an economical place to live. The next thing they needed to do was file papers and hope that the government accepted their applications. Without those papers, the family can’t work. But without work, they can’t pay bills. Naturally then, the parents get jobs. While they live in fear of capture, Hannah learns English in school. My own immigration experience as a Canadian was much easier, and sometimes I even forget that I too was a foreigner. Yet I faced enough hurdles with paperwork, and anxiety over whether my visa would get renewed, that I can sympathize with the struggles of the family.

Yang concludes his “Reading Without Walls” challenge by encouraging readers to take a photo of themselves and their books and post to social media. In doing so, he says, readers will inspire others. Will you join me over the next year in reading books that take you outside your comfort zone?

 


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Summer Reviews

Books can take connect us with strangers, take us to unique places, and introduce us to new ideas. They can also offer hope in a chaotic world. And so I must share what I read!

Each week, I’ll introduce you to religious books, Advanced Reader Copies, animal books, or diversity books. Some I’ll review as singles and others as part of round-ups. Just ahead, there will be reviews of:

  • Joni: The unforgettable story of a young woman’s struggle against quadriplegia & depression by Joni Eareckson
  • The True Story of the World’s Most Beloved Animal Sanctuary by Samantha Glen
  • Brothers in hope : the story of the Lost Boys of Sudan–refugees by Mary Williams
  • The Inner Life of Cats by Thomas McNamee

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