Her Right Foot

Shoe size 879? Really? Dave Eggers, writer, and Shawn Harris, illustrator, set an amusing tone to the facts they weave into their words and pictures in Her Right Foot. The book scheduled by Chronicle Books for spring 2018 moved up in the schedule to September 19, 2017 because of the timeliness of this look at the Statue of Liberty, particularly her right foot.

The book, which I read in an advance reading copy from Net Galley, takes turns being inspirational, informational, and humorous. In addition to her shoe size, an example of the humor that laces the book together shows up in the drawing of the men who first assembled the statue in France. They sprawl out on the spikes of her crown as they ponder the absurdity of taking it apart again.

Eggers and Harris give scientific information on the process of oxidation in words and pictures as the statue changes from its original brown to the blue-green patina of today. In a historical tidbit, they tell that Thomas Edison suggested a giant record player inside the statue so it could speak. That was too strange to pursue.

Inspiration comes in pictures and text as they show the welcome given to visitors and immigrants to the United States as the statue waits in the harbor. Even more striking were her broken chains symbolizing freedom from bondage.

Now you may be asking why the emphasis on the right foot. Since I learned a lesson the hard way long ago about giving away the spoiler, I’ll let you find that out for yourself. Eggers and Harris have taken an unusual look at the statue and turned out a book that will make you rush right out and buy one to read to a child. If you don’t have a child in your life, go ahead. You have my permission to buy it for yourself. You won’t be sorry.


Small Stream to Great Canyon

Our tour guide pointed out the small meandering stream as we looked down. “Over eons of time,” he said, “this carved out the Grand Canyon.” My schoolteacher mind immediately traveled to a lesson on persistence.

Well-known writers at conferences seem to compete to claim the highest number of rejections or the most discouraging route to publication, insisting that writers should never give up. But hanging in there and carrying on is not limited to writers. A musician hits many sour notes before much practice produces a soul-stirring concert. Late nights, hard work, and discouraging times precede success for a small business owner. Becoming an athlete requires hours and hours of physical training. Even Edison failed often before that light bulb finally came on.

Last Thursday, the lesson came back to me. At 8:47 AM, an email requested a full manuscript – not exactly an acceptance, but hope that one will follow when the proposed writing has been completed and submitted. At 2:57 PM, a rejection on a different project included words like “charming historical middle grade premise . . . beautiful writing . . . warm-hearted and introspective prose” and then went on to tell what added this email to my stack of rejection letters. 

So what is this writer with a lesson from a small stream to do? I hardly knew whether to laugh or cry.

I held an abbreviated Rejection Pity Party for the second manuscript (just long enough to eat the chocolate I serve myself on such occasions). Then I pulled out my folders and began organizing a rewrite of the first manuscript to give it the highest possibility of acceptance.

Should this rewrite result in another rejection, this small stream will flow on – right after the Rejection Pity Party chocolate – carrying the sand and gravel in the form of regular blogs and a few magazine articles here and there.

For my readers with their own brooks of dreams, I wish you persistence followed by success and lots of chocolate in the pauses between times when you need to throw a pity party.


Sing, Unburied, Sing

Someone commented in a review that Jesmyn Ward’s new book, Sing, Unburied, Sing outshone her other books. Having read those other books, I doubted whether that was possible.

Set in a fictional town in her native Mississippi, the story revolves around a trip. Thirteen-year-old Jojo and toddler Kayla live with their African American grandparents – Pop who centers the family and Mam who is dying of cancer. Kayla clings to Jojo as a parental figure. Pop, who has spent time in the Mississippi State Penitentiary at Parchman, tells Jojo stories to help him learn about life.

When the children’s white father is to be released from Parchman, their drug-addicted mother, who moves in and out of their lives, shows up demanding that they accompany her and her girl friend to the penitentiary for his release. Uninvited guests from the spirit world join them – her long dead brother who shows up to Leonie when she is high on drugs and Richie, a boy prisoner befriended by the grandfather when he was at Parchman who shows up to Jojo. Both spirits recall a past that forms their present. Richie follows them home and forces Jojo to ask hard questions of his grandfather Rivers.

Well-drawn individuals, both living and dead, and complex relationships are placed in a setting that becomes another character in the story. Jesmyn Ward’s way with words makes for a book that lingers when put aside between chapters and long after the last page is finished.

A doubter no longer, I agree this is her best book yet. In an interview, she said it took three years to finish – three years well spent.



Q & A

Since I frequently think the Q & A is the best part of a presentation, I’m doing both parts today for my blog.

Mississippi Book Festival 2017 hosted a display of the original art from Ezra Jack Keats’s The Snowy Day from the archives of the de Grummond Children’s Literature Collection at the University of Southern Mississippi. Curator Ellen Ruffin asked me. “Would you be willing to take a turn minding the paintings, passing out brochures, and answering questions?” She didn’t have to ask me twice!

Here are some of the most frequently asked questions during my turn on duty and my answers.

Q: You mean Keats was not black? (The brochure had his picture which destroyed a common assumption that only a black author would put a black child in The Snowy Day and its sequels, especially in 1960.)

A: Keats was Jewish. He saw children outside his Brooklyn window from many different cultures and thought they should be represented in books. When asked why he put a black child in his first children’s book, The Snowy Day, he always gave the same answer, “Because he should have been there all along.”

Q: Are these copies of his art?

A. I invited them to look closer at this point and see the lines of the paper collages that he had glued together to form the art. These were not copies but the original paintings he did for the book and are housed with the original paintings for his other children’s books in the de Grummond Children’s Literature Collection.

Q. Are they ever all exhibited at one time?

A. That would take more space than one is likely to find. There have been large traveling exhibits with much of his work in several museums in the United States and several years ago in Japan. Other examples of his work are rotated in the de Grummond exhibit room at the Cook Library at the University of Southern Mississippi.  

Q. Was he from Mississippi?

A. No, he grew up in Brooklyn and lived there all his life except for almost a year in Paris where he studied painting and a stint in Tampa, Florida during World War II in the Army.

Q. Then how did his art get here?

A. In 1980, he came to the University of Southern Mississippi to receive their annual medallion at the children’s book festival given to a children’s author or illustrator who has made a significant contribution to children’s literature. He and the librarians formed a solid friendship that eventually led to placement of his archives in the de Grummond where they would be valued, cared for, and shared with researchers and children’s book lovers.



The books I like best set a really good story, or maybe two, in an authentic time in history. Glow by Megan E. Bryant, with its book birthday today on September 1, is just such a book. Chapters rotate between two teenaged girls. Julie’s story is told in narrative in the present day while Lydia’s tale is in letters to her soldier. Not only does Megan shift between the two girls with different styles of story, their distinctive voices in the telling reflect the period in which they live.

Present day Julie has relationship issues with a father who has abandoned the family, a mother who needs her college money for debt rescue, a friend whose continuing plans for college inspire envy, and maybe a boyfriend. These become peripheral when Julie finds some mysterious art in a secondhand store that glows in the dark revealing an entirely different painting. She begins a trek to find out where and how it was produced and who the “LG” might be who signed these and other paintings she locates in her search. It is almost too late before she realizes the paintings themselves are placing her in great danger.

Lydia, in the alternating chapters, tells her story in the letters she writes to Walter beginning on September 5, 1917. She and her two sisters become caught up in the excitement of making glow-in-the-dark watches. The reader will see where this is going long before Lydia does and will want to yell out words of caution.   

Like many books listed for young adults, this one captures the attention of an adult reader as well. The Author’s Note at the end gives a good capsule of the history behind the novel. For a more detailed historical account, I recommend a paired reading with The Radium Girls: The Dark Story of America’s Shining Women by Kate Moore, which I reviewed on this blog on May 12, 2017.