Ear Worms

Okay, they’re not really worms – just the name for that song that goes around and around and around in your head – at least until you get another song to take its place.

Six years old, I walked a quarter mile down the country road to school. Playing in my head, I heard, “London Bridge is falling down, falling down, falling down . . .”

Grade school summers found me building a playhouse under a spreading apple tree. Amusement came with the lyrics, “It rained all night the day I left. The weather it was dry. . . Susannah, don’t you cry.”

In junior high, I watched recess athletes from the sidelines wishing I was home with a book. Passing time in my head, I heard, “Oh, do you remember Sweet Betsy from Pike who crossed the wide prairie with her brother Ike . . . ” (Turns out it was her lover Ike, but it had been cleaned up for junior high consumption.)

A high school nerd, I eschewed Elvis and his hound dog, preferring the Glee Club number Mrs. Doxey taught. The bittersweet mood playing in my head matched my own, “In the still of the night, as I gaze from my window. . . ”

A ninety-mile-a-day commute as I finished my last two years of college at Ole Miss brought “On the road again, just can’t wait to get on the road again . . . ” Technically, I wasn’t that excited, but what do you do when song lyrics accompany the hum of tires?

In adulthood, the ear worms have usually lingered after choir practice, following the seasons of Christmas, Lent, Easter, and ordinary time. “Lord, listen to your children praying, Lord send your spirit . . . ”

Is this phenomenon heredity or contagious? I watch my five-year-old grandson color his picture at the counter and carefully write B-E-N-J-A-M-I-N on the bottom, humming all the while. “There was a farmer had a dog and Bingo . . . ”

I think I’ll wait until he’s a bit older to tell him he has an ear worm.


Full Curl

The promise of a mystery set in Banff National Park overcame my hesitancy of reading a book by an unknown debut author. We had visited both Banff and the counterpart United States Rockies in recent years. I relished a vicarious return and took a chance that the new Canadian author from a Canadian publisher would be a good storyteller. Consequently, I clicked “request” on the offer from Net Galley to read Full Curl by Dave Butler (no relation).

The intrigue lasts from beginning to end as park warden Jenny Willson (yes, with two “l’s”) almost catches the poachers who are hunting wildlife in Banff National Park only to miss them. The ante rises for her and the perpetrators as murder and drug dealing incorporate into the crime mix. Then there are the bureaucrats who are reluctant to join the chase because they don’t take a woman warden too seriously. Obviously, they don’t know Jenny Willson well.  

Dave Butler portrays the park skillfully and beautifully in the narrative without calling attention to his descriptions but giving the reader a sense of being present in the park. No doubt this ability comes from his internalizing the area during his day job as a forester and biologist near the Rocky Mountains in British Columbia.

Caution for the debut author was completely unnecessary. In fact, I was pleased to see the notation on the cover, in the front, and in the back of the book “a Jenny Willson mystery, Book 1.” Since my pleasure reading genre is a good mystery, I think I’ll be seeing Jenny Willson – with two “l’s” – again.


Trying Not to Butt In

I couldn’t help but overhear as I straightened up during my volunteer time in the children’s book area at the Oak Grove Public Library’s big sale yesterday. The mother said to her son, who was happily browsing the books, something to the effect that he needed to stop looking at the ones with pictures and find some that had a lot of words to read.

Oh, my! Oh, my! I could scarcely restrain myself. Such sacrilege – and in Children’s Picture Book Month! But, as Mama would say, “She didn’t know me from Adam’s house cat and hadn’t asked my advice.”

You haven’t asked either, but you are reading my blog so here goes. One is never too old for picture books! I’m very grateful that I still get them sometimes for Christmas, Mother’s Day, or my birthday.

My difficulty is choosing which to read as I honor Picture Book Month:

  • Do I read Jerry Pinckney’s beautifully illustrated Aesop’s fable The Lion and The Mouse, which technically can’t be read since it only has a few animal sounds for words.
  • Do I read The Nutcracker, illustrated by Susan Jeffers – one of my favorites, that I got for my birthday (along with tickets to see local production)?
  • Do I read Judith Viorst’s Alexander and the Terrible, Horrible, No Good, Very Bad Day since I still get those now and then?
  • Maybe I’ll take time to peruse A Child of Books from another birthday that has far more intricate things to see than any kid has the knowledge or attention span to appreciate.
  • And let’s not forget that Thanksgiving is coming which calls for Pat Zietlow Miller’s Sharing the Bread: An Old-Fashioned Thanksgiving Story.

The list could go on. Fortunately, November has thirty days, and who knows, I may cheat and read some in December or even July.

I wish I had thought faster this morning. I would love to have reminded the mother, who had the best of intentions, that before her son had teeth she only let him eat soft foods like mashed potatoes. But when he became capable of chowing down on steak, she didn’t take the wonderful buttery mashed potatoes away - just encouraged him to enjoy them together.



Words hovered in my head waiting to go on paper. I’d even been encouraged to put them together and send them. I began eagerly, but then the butterflies beckoned.

Last week, a swarm of Gulf Fritillaries enticed me to frolic with them, perhaps in gratitude. Their early stages advanced from the dot of a yellow egg laid on a leaf, through a series of ever larger bundles of black spikes, to obese orange caterpillars as they stripped my Passion Flower vines to nothing by stems. (Not to worry, the vines rise from the dead as surely as a Phoenix, and they are already putting on new leaves.) Joining the Fritillaries were Monarchs, Painted Ladies, ordinary Sulphurs, grand Spicebush Swallowtails, and scores of little brown butterflies with various markings to whom I have not been introduced. On this cool crisp October morning they seemed to call, “Come outside to play.”

A quote from Robert Herrick of long ago (1591-1674) came to mind as he advised the young virgins to “Gather ye rosebuds while ye may,” for the “same flower that smiles today, tomorrow will be dying.” Last week’s first cool crisp October morning foreshadowed the coming of winter when butterflies would be migrating if not dying. The days for playing in the yard among the smiling butterflies grew as short as those of the rosebuds.

Still the manuscript waited. It would not write itself. Torn between the few butterfly days and the need to write words, I did what I had to do. I took turns and combined the two. While I worked in the yard outside amongst the flying friends, I thought about the next part of the story. When I came inside to write the next part of the story, I watched the butterflies out my window. I’m guessing it’s what my role model, Eudora Welty, would have done. 

I wrote this blog last week on the day of my temptation, and I’m glad I followed my urge to the yard. A cold front blew in over the weekend, and those butterflies took themselves to a warmer playground. The manuscript is still a work in progress. 


Salt to the Sea

“Guilt is a hunter.

          My conscience mocked me, picking fights like a petulant child.

          It’s all your fault, the voice whispered.”

So begins Salt to the Sea in the voice of Joana, yet another gripping historical fiction novel by Rita Sepetys that draws on her own family’s history. As she did in Between Shades of Gray, Rita draws on her Lithuanian family history to revisit the real happening of the worst maritime disaster in history. Nine thousand passengers, most of them refugees, drowned when the German ocean liner Wilhelm Gustloff sank in 1945. Her father’s cousin missed the disaster only because she was unable to board on that fateful day. That cousin suggested that Rita write the book. Others told her it was forgotten history and not worth bothering.

I’m glad Rita ignored the negative voices. Three main characters, Joana, Emelia, and Florien tell their stories of trying to make the ship that will take them to safety ahead of the Soviet advance with a fourth Nazi naval soldier named Alfred telling his own unreliable story as he tries to obtain status with the German regime. The story switches among each of their voices. In the first chapter of each, they find a different hunter. For Florein, fate is the hunter, for Emilie, it is shame, and for Alfred, if is fear. Backstories and secrets; setting; and well-drawn secondary characters, including a shoemaker who can deduce people’s story by their shoes, add to the tension even before the ship goes down. Tough decisions that weigh personal safety against the needs of the group proliferate, with the reader drawn into a desire to help make the choices.

I’m not alone in my praise for this book since it also won the 2017 CILIP Carnegie Medal, given in honor of Andrew Carnegie, for an outstanding children’s book; the 2017 Mid-South Division Crystal Kite Award and the 2017 Golden Kite Award for the Society of Children’s Book Writers and Illustrators, the last two being the only awards judged by peers in the field.

I’m left with one puzzle, how soon can I expect another Rita Sepetys book?