Wednesday, June 19, 2013

Review: A Monster Calls

My neighborhood has been saddened by the passing of one of our own due to cancer. It prompts me to offer up this remarkable independent reader/young adult title for anyone who has children grappling with the  emotional fallout of such a tragedy. The novella also has deep resonance with adults. The unflinching honesty of the author's perspective and the mythic metaphor used leaves us no where for repressed emotions to hide. Out in the open air our emotional wounds can heal. Repressed inside they fester. This book is about being brave enough to heal what remains.

(Walker Books)
by Patrick Ness 
inspired by an idea from Siobhan Dowd
illustrated by Jim Kay
(trade paperback)  

“You do not write your life with words...You write it with actions. What you think is not important. It is only important what you do.” 

This is dark fiction at its best, the marriage of terrifying imagery with the true fears of the flesh. Grown from an outline by cancer victim and fellow Carneige Medal winner Siobhan Dowd, Patrick Ness weaves a gentle tale of a young teen's journey through his guilt, anger and sorrow as he comes to terms with the real monster in the room, his mother's advancing cancer. 
The monster, the towering green man comes to intrude on the boy's living nightmare insisting on sharing tales with twisted morality in hopes of saving the boy from his own collapse. All the boy needs to do is tell the truth
The monstrous visitor is a wicked, fearful and, yes, funny sage as intent in his mission as he is with destruction. His manifestation allows young Conor to get out of his head and confront himself. What's better when you feel like a monster yourself than to have him hound you in the flesh (or in this case, in the twig).
The book is for all ages so don't let the fact that it is illustrated give you the wrong impression. Jim Kay's work is manic and organic, a wash of grey shadows, images as equally fascinating as they are menacing; a perfect backdrop.
Death, however it is doled out is what links man to man. How we deal with the looming figure and the fallout after it touches our lives is our truth. There are no words for its power over us... or so I thought. With its macabre visitor this book forces us to confront these moments in our lives with more emotional clout than a heartbreaking memoir ever could. Only by having the shadows of our darker, quiet moments actually speak to us, for us, could these authors speak to our battered souls.
Share this book with any family touched by this relentless disease. Everybody knows one or lives in one. This novel is a new classic sure to be a perennial favorite on young adult shelves for lifetimes to come.
THINK: Animated combination of Ness' artwork with image capture directed by Rob Reiner, ghost written by all remembered by a pink ribbon.

Thursday, May 23, 2013

The Few for All

For the men and women and their families 
who because of their sacrifices 
we are free to launch Summertime 
with barbeque, beach and beer. 
As you share a slice of the American dream 
this weekend remember that we are forever in their debt.

The Few for All

For all we take for granted,
for all we’ll never know,
for the promise in our parent’s smiles,
and the price paid to keep it so.

For the men once boys, and grown women,
who answer the call and know not when,
their hopes and schemes and lifelong dreams,
might be put on hold with a solemn, 'til then.

For the courageous few, who in our midst,
know this world as it truly is;
that life is not just the here and now,
fond farewells, fist bumps, whoops and wow;
but that life is all these fleeting things and more;
fragile at best, worth preserving; hence the chore. 

For those who lost their lives in service,
alas, each has won the war of wars,
by giving us all on familiar shores, 
through struggle, strife and immeasurable sorrows, 
a promise fulfilled of more blessed tomorrows.

For the stalwart soldiers, ambassadors of peace,
your actions prove to all the prayers we keep,
of a world where wars need not be fought,
of a world where loved ones need not weep,
these are more than ideals from a gifted state,
but are vows that make our country great.
-S.E. Toon

Friday, April 26, 2013

Story Circle Tale #3

Thanks to all the kiddos who helped craft a story at our Story Circle conducted at the playground at Library Plaza in Marshfield on April 17th in front of Ocean Village Bookstore. Here is the resulting story. Enjoy and keep checking back at for info on the next circle. What is a Story Circle? It is part improvisation, part storytime. Our resident author weaves a story based on the contributions of the attendants. This opens children up to their creative side, enforces positive social skills through participation and gives them a sense of pride and accomplishment when the final product is read and they can say, "I helped make that!"

Prince without a Crown

Once upon a time there was a dog, not your ordinary dog mind you, but a royal dog. You could tell because he wore a crown; that, and he was confined to the Queens lawn. That wasn’t a bad thing because her lawn was always green and manicured. Most of all it was safe.

One morning however the dog, let’s call him Prince, pranced out of the castle to do his royal business in the back end of the Queen’s estate, the only place that wasn’t clover green and lush. It was there, far from the castle, out of eyeshot of all that could see that an arm sheathed in black leather napped the regal pup. It wasn’t a difficult task for the dog  no more than a handful. Now I know what you’re thinking, ‘You should have said that Prince was nabbed’ but he is after all a dog and being such I’m pretty sure you would say napped, as in dog-napped not dog-nabbed but I digress…

No one from the castle saw the dark night, the stormy knight, the Black Napper as he galloped away with the Queen’s Prince. No one save for me. ‘This shall not stand!’ a inner voice braver than my own hollered. My own fear-filled voice called out towards the castle.

I stammered, “G-g-g-guards? GUARDS! Bad Knight. Dog napped! Crown nabbed!” Why anyone would listen to the hollers of a commoner I’ll never know, but yap I did, not as loud as the voice in my head but far louder than Prince as he disappeared past the edge of the forest.

The Queen’s guards must have heard the urgency in my howling for they charged out of the castle in pursuit of the Black Napper and the royal pooch. They chased them hill and dale, swoosh past the low lying trees, ca-splash through the not-so-shallow stream and ba-doom in and out of the pothole in the middle of the forest road.

The Napper cackled though his black metal helmet. “Moo har, har, I have indeed done it! I have nabbed (he obviously didn’t know the correct word for his nefarious actions either) Yes, nabbed the royal…”

He lifted his arm that cradled the pooch only to find just the smallest of crowns, not a hair of the dog to be found under his flapping dark and stormy cape. With the guards closing in he had to keep retreating into the dark of the forest and tend to the now un-napped later.

A crownless dog ran down the meadow that hugged the path to a quant village bordered by waves of heather that grew so high that all one would see was Prince’s perky tail if one chose to look. No one did for there was no one in the village to come to the dog’s rescue. Prince yapped in the village square but not even the echo of his bark replied. Sitting in the center of the abandoned village he felt all kinds of alone. First he had been stripped of his regal crown and now he had no subjects to bark orders at. No stone wall protected him from the outside world. He looked side to side. Nothing. Prince looked down preparing to let out a whimper that no one would hear. He stopped mid-whimp, more of a mew really, when he realized that without his crown his load had been lightened. Carrying the weight of royalty with him his whole life Prince never before knew what freedom felt like. His head felt as light as a balloon. He felt, well, free. He ran back to the forest path his body cutting through heather like a feather slices sky.

He came to the edge of the path; to the left the Queen and hers castle, to the right the Black Napper with the guards on his tail. Prince sat down to ponder a second time. His less-heavy head turned from side to side and back again. He panted as he pondered. We all have crowns be us canine or kid. It was true since the top of everyone’s head was indeed a crown. Prince scratched at some fleas which were aplenty in the meadow. If we all have crowns we all have a royal duty to one another whether one’s crown was encrusted with jewels or just hair. With that thought Prince stopped his slobbering panting and swallowed. The little pup knew what he had to do. Rising slowly and with purpose, his little chest puffed up, his slight shoulders broad, Prince journeyed toward the dark and stormy knight who had nabbed his crown (I’m sure of it now, you nap a dog, you nab a crown… whatever.).
His fear had been replaced with freedom, now freedom was replaced with bravery. Prince’s stride was close to a strut as the forest seemed to swallow him whole. It was his royal duty to his people just as it is everyone’s to stand up to that which they fear.

It was not long before he caught up with the guards or should I say the guards caught up with him as they retreated back out of the pitch of the forest. They past Prince and retreated to the Queen’s castle, a whirlwind of hooves, dust and desperation.

When the dust cloud cleared something black against the black of the forest shifted. Prince could hear the gold of his crown as it clanked against the horse bridle as the Napper neared. The knight painted bad straddled his matching steed. More darkness shifted behind him. White, bony arms and legs shuffled and clattered in the dark. It was the Black Napper’s army of ghouls; let’s call them hench-zombies for lack of a better name, flanking him on both sides. They were skeletons actually, not exactly the monster of choice when confronting a cur. A dog would just assume claim a bone for his own, gnaw away until bored, then bury the bones back in the ground where they had arisen. They were poor excuses for zombies now that you think about it, no bellies at all. Even if they were hungry their munching would be futile. O.K. they were definitely not zombies, not the best ghoul for the job but they were definitely hench.

Prince barked as dogs are wont to do, just like panting and scratching fleas. It wasn’t fear-filled or a my-dinner-bowl-is-empty yammer, it was a warning. Even with the threat in his growl what could a dog no larger than a good-sized house cat do to back up such a bark. Royal or not, he had only one option. He ran… home. It’s O.K. He didn’t chicken out. If he did he would have ba-cawed. Prince you see had a plan.

The Dark Napper would have caught the dog with the tail between his legs in short order if it wasn’t for the knight’s rattling lackeys who’s all out attack was nothing more than a shamble. Slow but sure, the bumbling horde followed Prince to the Queen’s castle. The drawbridge was down awaiting his return. Prince crossed the bridge as fast as his little legs would carry him. Despite his urgency the guards were unable to raise the gate before the Black Napper and his white hench-bones arrived.
Prince barked. It was an order now not a warning. From behind him a legion of commoners, the good folk of the village filed out of the castle to confront the evil.  The Napper’s horse reared and the crown fell between Prince and the Dark One. Another bark and the townspeople pushed to either side. The long shadow of the queen neared. The Napper’s henchmen cowered, bones chattering against bones in nervous rhythm. The Napper’s horse turned to run throwing the knight alongside the crown. His army returned to dust. The Queen’s shadow neared. Another bark and it was the Dark Napper’s turn to howl. He lumbered to his feet and ran disappearing in a whirl of ash as he cleared the bridge. The remnants of the banished evil fell from the sky like tears of coal.

The Queen ever so gracefully went to the side of Prince. With her snout she retrieved the crown. A few strikes of her paw straightened the bedazzled crown on the one we all possess. The village cheered, “Good Queenie!” The coat of her collie coat around her neck glistened like ermine, each hair danced on air. The townspeople applauded their miniscule hero, no longer a mutt but their one true Prince. From that day forth whenever the townspeople bid one another a good knight it was in reference to him.

From that day forth everyday was a dog day and a dog day was always a good day in the kingdom where everyone wore a crown.