Wednesday, October 28, 2015

A Walk at Bowdoin College

It's hard to work at home when the trees are calling me outside. 

A day of writing merits a walk to Bowdoin College...

...says Scout. 

Rolling in fallen leaves offers a fine view of the sugar maples.

Often we linger to watch the sunset over Hubbard Hall, 
where my husband teaches politics.

Other days we head home for sundowners in our backyard, 
wrapped in fleece and down.

The view from inside isn't too shabby, 
and reading in the tub doesn't feel like work at all.

Wednesday, October 21, 2015

Photo Verse for October

Prose becomes verse on autumnal days.

Trees catch fire, burning brighter than words,

Their golden reds taunting the murky depths.

Maples fireworks explode in clear blue skies.

Pines shadows highlight this deciduous extravagance. 

How can these gaudy colors be natural?

I am no poet, but October engenders such reflections.

Wednesday, October 14, 2015

I Crawl Through It by A.S. King

I Crawl Through It by A.S. King is a surreal young adult novel which satirizes education in the USA. Everyday is a new bomb threat with police dogs sniffing the halls. The principal is literally buried to her neck in paperwork. Teaching is geared only to standardized tests, and a naked man in the bushes is selling letter answers.

"When I was done with makeup exams, I broke all my number two pencils in half so they could feel how I feel every day." -Stanzi

Seeking to escape the chaos/boredom of school, Gustav is building an invisible helicopter to fly to a colony of geniuses. Stanzi, a biology prodigy, can only see the helicopter on Tuesdays (ha!), but she agrees to run away with her secret crush. Stanzi's alcoholic parents won't notice her absence. Her best friend, China, has turned herself inside out, wearing her guts like skin and expressing herself in poetry. Another friend tells only lies, making her hair grow. The unreliable narration alternates among the three girls.
"Your Number Two Pencil Has More Self-Esteem Than I Do." -China
Are you still following me? I Crawl Through It is not an easy book to summarize. This puzzle-cum-novel is built from paradoxes and metaphors with multiple meanings. In my reading, the invisible helicopter represented creative innovation. Only a genius can see what others cannot see or visit a place that few can find. However, King's isolated colony of geniuses is more of a dystopia than a utopia. As Stanzi asks, what's the point of discovering the cure for cancer if you can't save other lives?
"There is no such thing as individuality when one is part of a collective of people who think they're all individuals." 
I Crawl Through It is not for everyone; it was designed for kids who find answers that don't appear on standardized tests. The reader must suspend disbelief to take this book for a spin. Challenging novels like this one aren't usually written for teens, but it's wonderful to find an author who is willing to trust the intelligence and the imagination of younger readers.

A.S King writes in the acknowledgement pages, "Some people don't know if my characters are crazy or if they are experiencing something magical. I think that's an accurate description of how I feel every day."

Reviewer's Disclaimer: Upon my request to Little Brown Books for Young Readers, I received a digital galley through netgalley in exchange for an honest review. This book was released last month and has garnered starred reviews from Publishers' Weekly, School Library Journal, The Horn Book and Booklist. My photo is from Simpson's Point, where I read most of this book. It's too chilly for swimming now but still my favorite destination to bike from home at high tide.

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@Barrie Summy

Wednesday, October 7, 2015

A Vermont Weekend at Bread Loaf

Bread Loaf at Middlebury College in Ripton, Vermont

I've never gone on a writer's retreat. A tiny home office and solitude is all I need. Since my last child left home in September, I now have a surfeit of quiet time. I'm enjoying my productive space, but I miss the sound of kids coming home, telling me about their days, and our protracted family dinners. My husband and I had been counting the days until Middlebury Family Weekend.

By luck of the family housing lottery, I was granted the writer's fantasy of staying at Bread Loaf, the most prestigious/oldest of American literary conferences (but not open to children's authors.) The campus was closed last year for remodeling, and although the floorboards shined under LED lights, Bread Loaf has not lost its Victorian charm. I sipped local cider while reading (Lauren Groff's Fates & Furies) by the fire.

After seeing our room, I could understand why authors and poets compete for time at Bread Loaf. There were two comfortable twin beds and a pair of desks with ergonomic chairs. The twenty rooms on our floor shared two single-sex bathrooms, but I never had to wait for one of the three showers. It felt like being back in college, making new friends (Ada and David) while brushing teeth and chatting in the cafeteria over a hot buffet breakfast. The biggest difference was that everyone was quiet and considerate, except for one woman yakking on her cell phone (who knew that "rustic" could be a swear word?)

This was the view through my screened window. Bread Loaf is located in the Green Mountains National Forest with acres of hiking/ski trails, which we explored on our last morning. All the buildings were painted a butternut squash yellow to fit the autumnal landscape under golden light. Our Brunswick friends, Maria and Conrad, stayed in one of the annex buildings. Our kids went to elementary school together too.

While my husband sat in on Middlebury classes, my son and I hiked up Rattlesnake Cliffs.

The daunting trail name didn't fit the moderately steep four-mile loop past a waterfall (1K feet of elevation.) Rattlesnakes are rare in Vermont, although another hiker warned us of a black bear on the trail.

We didn't see the bear, but we saw plenty of woodpeckers and Silver Lake. The cliff top was an excellent spot for our Noonie's picnic. Colin is planning to return with friends for peak foliage.

Views were spectacular in all directions. Middlebury is in the Champlain valley, ringed by the Great Lake and several mountain ranges. We hiked for 3 1/2 hours, including a leisurely lunch and photo/wildlife stops.

The next day our son took us to Burlington, the biggest city in Vermont (population 40K). We had a delicious lunch at Skinny Pancake, that would be American for sweet and savory crepes. It was worth the half hour long line for the Josh Panda and Nutella & Strawberry crepes. Yum!

After lunch, we strolled along the shore of Lake Champlain, enjoying the 60 degree sunny weather.

From the pier, we watched a sailboat race before a lighthouse and mountains.

The arbored walkways and outdoor cafes reminded me of Quebec. Being Vermont, the busiest store was The Outdoor Gear Exchange. My son had planned a perfect weekend for us. It was hard to leave but easier knowing that our kids are going to a terrific school in a gorgeous location. I'll return in February when our daughter starts Middlebury College after her gap term. Now back to revising my young adult novel...