Wednesday, August 30, 2017

Analyzing Picture Books--Grandmother's Pigeon

I've read most, if not all, of Louise Erdrich’s novels. When I saw that this picture book had been published back in 1996 by Hyperion Books for Children, I scooped it right up. I have to admit, I was surprised she had a title out there that I’d missed.

Large, colorful illustrations by Jim LaMarche land on every page. Facial expressions on the characters, as well as the birds, are captivating.

It’s a beautiful story for ages approximately four to eight (in my humble guesstimation) told by a young girl who describes her strange but loving grandmother, and what Grandma left behind when she headed off for a tour by porpoise. What a thing to have on your bucket list.

The book doesn’t come right out and say that Grandma’s stuffed pigeon is responsible for the three eggs that hatch in her old bedroom, but the eggs had to have come from somewhere. With the magical aura that always surrounded Grandma, it seemed not only possible but logical that she’d have a magical stuffed pigeon.

To avoid spoiling the story, one I know adults will enjoy as well as children, I’ll leave off on the plot there. But I will say that Erdrich’s writing is just as magical as the grandmother and pigeon are in her story.

Out of the usual 32-page spread for picture books, fifteen pages have text. Some pages run anywhere from 75 to 150 words with the picture. I would guess there are around 1,200 words in all, possibly up to 1,500. To my delight, that’s a lot more than some of the 400-word picture books more commonly written today.

Erdrich does an excellent job of throwing in a few “big” words to expand a young reader’s mind, or to give a parent the opportunity to sneak in a little explanation while reading to a child. Words like pensively and ornithologist (bird expert) spring up in the book, along with ectopistes migratorius (passenger pigeons). Then, with a beautiful hand at her craft, she weaves in a little history on how the existence of these pigeons phased out.

I think she needed more words in order to tell the story the way she does. She doesn’t leave all the description to the illustrator. She could simply say “curtains” and let the illustrator decide what the curtains look like. But the author doesn’t do that. She chooses a very specific curtain, curtains made of not just lace, but of Irish lace. She also isn’t shy to tell us that there are “three” eggs in the nest found in Grandmother’s room, whereas nowadays with the illustration showing the same information, the word “three” would be slashed right out of the text. Editors would say, “Don’t waste words on what is already shown in the pictures.”

But I appreciate Erdrich’s style. After all, a picture of a lacy curtain would not tell me that it is specifically Irish lace. The added detail gives a stronger sense of Grandma, so it works. The word three isn’t necessary, but it doesn’t bother me either. In fact, taking the word out throws the beautiful rhythm of the sentence off, so I’m glad she left the word in. Maybe that was the author’s intent. You will never read an Erdrich sentence that isn’t spot on in rhythm. Also, Erdrich may have been pulling on the power of three often used in literature. It’s an effective technique.

My favorite sentence in this book is “White moonlight fell in bands through the kitchen windows and led the way out.”

I’m not going to tell you who’s following the moonlight or why, but isn’t it a lovely sentence?

Get the book.

Grandmother's Pigeon by Louise Erdrich, Jim LaMarche (April 15, 1996) Hardcover

 It’s one you’ll come back to again and again.

Happy Reading!







Wednesday, August 23, 2017



by Margot Livesey

For Readers:

After a couple of chapters into Margot Livesley's latest novel, Mercury, it's easy to lean toward thinking one is reading a murder mystery even though (so far as we know) there's no body. There's only a man trying to understand the lengths to which his wife will go to get what she wants. In this case, a race horse called Mercury.

Donald, an optometrist in suburban Boston, is complacent in his happiness. Rather than examining why his wife quit a paying job to donate her time to a local stable, he takes the passive route and accepts her decision at face value—she likes horses. But as months roll by, he begins trying to piece together the reason for her increasingly strange behavior, and wonders at his own part in creating the fissure that has opened between them.

The novel has a suffocating feel and a chapter-by-chapter escalation of questionable events that beg answers. The story is told from Donald's perspective, which we incrementally discover is actually a log of past events; he possesses all the facts of the story, dangling the carrot in front of our noses.

The novel is well written with a decidedly European flavor. No detail is left unnoticed as we become acquainted with the circumstances, but for this reader, Donald's investigation begins to feel obsessively meticulous, and his self-blame is pitiable. At some point one has to wonder if the wife's position begs more sympathy than seemed appropriate at first. It is perhaps a juncture where the author intended readers to land.

Readers will either be a bit impatient, or they'll really get into the intricacies of why people act the way they do. It's a fine suspense and an even better character study from that standpoint, and there actually is, eventually, the commitment of a crime.

Reviewed by Sue Ellis!

HarperCollins Publishers, 2016
ISBN: 978-0-06-243750-1

ISBN: 978-0-06-265372-7 (BAM Signed Editions)

Buy the book! Mercury, at Amazon

For Writers:

The book is written in first person limited, a venue that allows the main character, Donald, to tell the story through his perspective only. The viewpoints of the other characters must be prized from his descriptions and opinions, or through dialogue. It's an effective way to highlight the main character's inner turmoil and for readers to judge whether his opinions seem valid.

Friday, August 18, 2017

A Crazy, Scary Summer

I had planned on posting weekly blog articles throughout the summer. A few would be book reviews by Sue’s Reviews. She’s not behind––I am. (I’ll be posting a review soon.)
To say it’s been a crazy summer is an understatement. I’ve been gone a lot, as my sister and my very best friend have been stricken with cancer. I spend as much time as I can with them, yet still come home and work in serious catch-up mode to prepare for the craft and art shows we had already signed up for. I also managed to squeeze in taking the grandkids to swimming lessons and to a couple summer fairs, but not without some serious help from my husband.

Even with his help, I have to admit, this summer I have felt rushed through the family activities. Like I’m watching the calendar for swimming lessons to end so I can hurry back to the hospital, just in case good goes bad. Needless to say, I got as far behind on work and crafts as I have my blog and other commitments.
I don’t regret it. I want to spend as much time with these two special people as I can, though I am no way writing them off as doomed. They both have positive attitudes, and they are fighting for their lives. A lot of people are praying for them, including me. My sister Helen had surgery for her cancer, and we thought she was good to go. No sign of cancer for months. Then it came back with a vengeance. But she’s pretty stubborn (runs in the family), and she’s showing everyone just how tough she really is. Take that, cancer!

She lives a four-hour drive from me, but my husband is an understanding sweetie and has taken me to visit her. Even when I’m not at her side, we continue our morning coffee ritual via phone, something we’ve been doing for years. We laugh together, and we pray together. We hope together.
My friend Betty was diagnosed with bone and breast cancer June 29, and she was hospitalized. Prior to that I had stayed at her house a few days. She was having problems getting in and out of bed. A sore back, it seemed. Maybe too much gardening, we thought. Now we know what the problem was. Anyway, she has since had surgery that involved inserting two rods in her spine for support. Her entire spine was filled with cancer.

Since then, with cheers from her daughter, me, and other friends, Betty has learned to walk with a walker and already can manage the length of a city block. She’s improving every day and making new friends in the facility that has become her temporary home. I’m glad she has people who enjoy visiting and playing cards every day. She has always been a very social person, and people gravitate toward her because of it. The nurses and doctors have all been very supportive, as well as astonished at how strong Betty is. She eats three full meals a day and hasn’t lost any weight.
I’ve been very fortunate that I’ve been able to spend time with my sister and with Betty during their journeys.

For four years Betty and I had been shop neighbors. My tiny sewing and alternations/craft shop was right behind her large store. We live in a small town, so I often put a note on my door during lunch break –“At Betty’s if you need me.” We had coffee together every day, Tuesday through Saturday those years. Once we closed our shops (Betty retired and I went into nearly full-time writing), we continued our coffee visits. We’ve been there for each other for ten years now.
I am missing the routines of both my coffee partners, but we’ve made new routines. I still see them, and we still share coffee and laughs.

I may not get around to visiting all of your blogs, and I do miss that part of my life, but please know I will return once my sister and friend are back to their old selves.
It’s a scary thing, because though we look toward the positive, there’s no way a person can have someone with cancer in his or her life and not have the tormenting fear of losing that special someone. I try not to look in that direction. But bad news happens. I recently lost a classmate to cancer. She will be missed. We were friends back in school, and though we haven’t kept up with each other the way friends should, I have thought of her often and will continue to remember her with fond memories. Here’s to you, Brenda! :-)

Any prayers you want to pass this way will be appreciated, and I hope to get back to visiting blogs soon. Until then, please accept my apologies for my absence.