Wednesday, October 18, 2017

Analyzing Picture Books--CREEPY PAIR OF UNDERWEAR!

A quick study of the picture book written by Aaron Reynolds and illustrated by Caldecott honor winner Peter Brown. This wonderful little gem is published by Simon & Schuster Books for Young Readers.
A short time ago, I posted a brief spiel about turning your negatives into positives. Around the same time, I had attended a writers’ group (of which I’ve been a member for years).
A fellow writer brought up the subject of a picture book she wasn’t crazy about. She said it was too creepy, this book about creepy green underwear. Imagine that––a picture book about underwear.
But the fact that they were creepy, that they glowed, intrigued me. So of course, I read the first few pages on the Amazon “look inside” feature. That’s what convinced me this was a book for my shelf. So I bought a copy.
It just goes to show that one person’s nightmare is another person’s dream. Anyway, I was a little leery I might not like the book after the first few pages. After all, I do trust the judgment of my writing friend. But then there’s that little warped part of me that she probably doesn’t have. The side that thinks glow-in-the-dark underwear would be cool.
And they really are, when you think about it. At least in the context of the book, where the little boy rabbit character is afraid of the dark, and yet trying to act like a big boy. He thought the underwear were awesome during broad daylight at the store. But he wasn’t so crazy about them when they glowed in the dark of his room. A creepy, ghoulish green glow. So he tries repeatedly to get rid of the underwear, but those creepy things keep mysteriously coming back.
That was a cool aspect of the book, but that’s also what I wasn’t sure about it. There is never an explanation as to how these underwear traveled from place to place, but I can see where a little kid would definitely believe it. I couldn’t help but wonder, did some crazy witch cast a spell on them? Or were they underwear left behind from Chucky? How could they just come back by themselves?
I really wanted an explanation to this. Not that I wouldn’t buy into the cursed underwear or magic spells stuff. Of course I would. I just wanted to know what gave these underwear the power to reappear every time the boy got rid of them. They were purchased in a store, not a haunted old castle. A store, so they were made by a manufacturer. So how did the manufacturer make these underwear magical? (Yes, I know I’m over-thinking it, but that’s me.)
Regardless, I’d still recommend the book to anyone for the sheer enjoyment of the story. It’ll make you laugh if you’ve ever been around a child a wee bit afraid of the dark, and yet one who, despite his fear, wanted to act grown up. Maybe that was you, once upon a time.
The thing is, Jasper, the little rabbit, fails again and again to get those creepy underwear out of his life, but he does finally manage it. I’m not going to tell you how. You’ll just have to read the book. Trust me––you’ll love it.
And then as the story goes, once the underwear are gone and Jasper is comfortable back in his plain, white, boring underwear, he goes to bed. In his dark, dark, bedroom. A bit too dark, he thinks. So now he wants the “glowing” underwear back. But it’s too late.
His solution––he goes to the store and makes a major purchase. Now he has oodles of green glowing nightlights all through his room, and so he’s no longer afraid of what might be hiding in the dark. So this little boy turned a negative, creepy underwear, into a positive––a cool night light.

The book runs a couple spreads longer than the standard 32-page picture book, but it’s mostly illustrations, and wonderful ones at that (adorable expressions). My guesstimate is that it’s between 600 and 700 words.
Get the book Creepy Pair of Underwear!  

Happy reading!

Monday, October 16, 2017

We made it through our last show for the year!

It was a very busy craft show, at least in the morning.
Here are a few
items we had displayed. The canvas paintings were taken down early due to downpour after downpour, but it was still a good show. Most other items--coffee boxes and snowman boxes-- are painted with exterior paint and sealed, so a little rainwater was no problem, plus they were under the canopy. With the landscapes hanging on the sidewall, we didn't want to chance rain sneaking down the side.  This first painting is shown without a frame, but you can see it framed on the wall a couple photos down. I guess these landscapes will give me a head start on the next show, and hopefully it won't rain.





Wednesday, October 11, 2017


Rabbit Cake
by Annie Hartnett

For Readers:
After reading Rabbit Cake, you'll wonder how your perspective could have been so narrow. The shining star of the novel is Elvis Babbitt, ten-year-old girl and one third of the survivors grieving the loss of her mom. Eva Babbitt sleepwalked into a river and drowned. 

The Babbitt family was dysfunctional before Eva died, so it's a given that death couldn't make matters any better. Somehow the author, Annie Hartnett, presents their world as gracefully as if they were like anybody else, humanity intact, even as Dad wades through the house wearing his dead wife's bathrobe and her lipstick because, “they remind me of Eva.”

Older sister Lizzie sleepwalks (it runs in families) and worries Elvis with her penchant for eating things that are not food. And Lizzie has taken possession of her mother's favorite cake pan, setting a goal of baking 1000 rabbit cakes for a Guinness World Record. Dad rents extra freezer space in town.
The task of herding the family through eighteen months of healing (per a school counselor's guideline) seems to be left to Elvis, a girl whose habits most resemble normal—if you don't count her detective work into her mom's illicit affairs, or her fascination with the naked mole rat, the longest living rodent. 

There's a lot of healing to be found in this brave and goodhearted novel, and along the way you'll pick up on a little zoology—a win/win. One caveat: Rabbit Cake is most appropriate for adults.

Reviewed by Sue Ellis.

Tin House Books
ISBN 978-1-9410-4056-0

For Writers:
You can't not love this book. My gut feeling is that the author is capable of writing with great kindness. Pair that with a talent for keeping the story on its edge, page after page. It's hard not to read it in one sitting. Just lovely, intelligent, and perceptive stuff, all of it, and funny to boot.

Monday, October 2, 2017


The simple phrase, Turn your negatives into positives, is advice most of us have heard many times, and for good reason. It’s excellent advice to use toward any goal or aspect of your life––painting, writing, snowplowing, self-esteem stuff, marriage, or parenthood.

For instance, when you drop a brush slathered in the darkest paint on your palette (think burnt umber, a deep brown), and it lands on a still wet cerulean blue canvas, don’t panic. Just tell yourself, Now I know exactly where my tall tree will be.

In another direction, if you think you’re coming up shy meeting your writing goals, try this out––I’m so glad I didn’t manage to write a single sentence today, because it’s good to let yesterday’s work simmer in my brain before I go further. I’m grateful that I’ve been blessed with willpower.

Find something good to say no matter the situation, even when you glimpse a side view of yourself in a mirror. Handle it like this: “Oh good. My stomach finally sticks out further than my rear does. My butt doesn’t look so big anymore.”

Parenting and marriage are other areas of life that little negatives like to sneak into. If they do, try these on for size: 

Oh great, my kids won’t get out of bed for school. Those sweet little darlings have given me the task of pulling the blankets off of them and screaming into their ears. It’s nice to feel needed.

Oh look, hubby left his soda cans and popcorn bowls on the coffee table again. I thought I’d have to wake up to an empty house today, but he’s managed to fill it quite well.

Sometimes you just have to fake it until you make it. Life hits us with boring, difficult, or time-sucking obligations. You might simply wake up in a crappy mood for no reason at all, and how do you get anything done like that? 

That’s when you need to trick yourself. Stroke your imagination with affirmative statements until you believe them. Trust me––it works.

If you’re at a grueling get-together, smile and act like you’re having a great time. Fake it to the max. After a while, you’ll enjoy faking it so much that your mood will actually shift and you won’t be faking anymore.

So, on those days that you wake up and it looks like a perfect day to go sailing, shopping, or riding––anything to take you away from your duties––talk to yourself: “What a wonderful day to get to work. To sweat and ache. I’m so blessed.” Then remember, fake it until you make it.

Happy day!

Wednesday, September 20, 2017


The Refugees

by Viet Thanh Nguyen

I noticed on the book's cover that author Viet Thanh Nguyen was the recipient of a 2016 Pulitzer Prize for his novel, The Sympathizer. I hesitated, thinking maybe I ought to start with that one, but the book in my hands, The Refugees, promised short stories written over the past twenty years, and I wanted to see how the author's style might have changed over time. 

For Readers: 
Once I began to read, it quickly became apparent that Nguyen has a firm grip on his craft. It's easy to become immersed in his stories, and easy to get pulled into the whole Vietnam thing; to my own memories of the war and its aftermath—boat people and places of refuge like Hawaii's Little Saigon. 

It turns out my perceptions were lacking, however. There actually isn't a place where a person who has lost his homeland can ever again feel part of the mainstream. It's a fact driven home in the eight touching stories that portray the lives of the refugees who fled Vietnam.

The stories are rich with vivid and complicated characters and situations that will break your heart with complexity and inevitability. Perhaps my favorite story is, “I'd Love You to Want Me,” about an old Vietnamese couple living in America. The husband has developed dementia to the point that he began to confuse his wife’s name with that of a lover he knew pre-war. He's not the sort of man to torment his wife, so it's only possible for her to lay blame on the circumstances that brought them together. Her devotion to her husband is unfaltering, even as her heart is breaking and even as she struggles to physically handle the work involved in being his caretaker.

The Refugees is a fine study on the aftermath of war, a book I'd recommend to anyone.
Reviewed by Sue Ellis.

Published by Grove Atlantic
ISBN 978-0--8021-2639-9
Buy it here: The Refugees, Amazon

For Writers:
The author was born in Vietnam and raised in America, and he obviously writes what he knows. His prose is so intelligently done, so perceptive and unobtrusively insistent that we get his viewpoint. That's where his strength lies, I think, in his humanity and capability to portray real people under duress.