books, books about books, bookshelves, bookstores, bookworm, fantasy genre, HarperVia, Louise Heal Kawai, Sosuke Natsukawa, The Cat Who Saved Books, Yuko Shimizu

Tiger the Tabby

There I was perusing the bookstore shelves, when this cover caught my eye.

I wasn’t planning on buying any books, as my to be read list was already overwhelming. I figured I’d just take a photo to remember the title. After wandering the rest of the store and taking a few more photos of future tbr titles, I circled back and found myself face to cover with the above book. It was meant to come home with me. You can’t argue with that kind of feeling. Well you can, but I didn’t want to, so I carried the book to the register happy to be bringing home a new friend.

No, I didn’t start reading right it away. Well, to be honest I did read a few pages, but that’s all, as I had to finish the book I was in the middle of first. Once I’d finished The Last Cuentista, I eagerly gazed at the cover of The Cat Who Saved Books. The illustration by Yuko Shimuzu made me feel as if I’d somehow already entered the atmosphere of Natsuki Books the secondhand bookstore in the tale.

The story’s protagonist, Rintaro Natsuki, is a hikikomori who has just lost his grandfather and inherited the secondhand bookshop. Soon after, a talking cat who quotes The Little Prince and offers Zen philosophy enters the store requesting his help and Rintaro is drawn into the first of four labyrinths (a reference to the myth of Theseus and the Minotaur) through which he journeys toward his own self-discovery. His grandfather’s words, ‘Books are very powerful’ will serve him on his journey and will, along the way, gain a broader meaning for him and, as was my experience, for the reader who embarks on the journey with Rintaro.

There are a number of poignant passages I’m tempted to type out just to share with you, but I think it’d be better if you find them on your own. Let me know when you do. I’d love to discuss them.

As for me, I’m about 25% through the book for the second time around and Rintaro’s soon to be heading toward the second labyrinth.

Let me know if you take a chance on The Cat Who Saved Books and what you think about it.

books, books about books, children's books, hope, IBBY, Jella Lepman, Kathy Stinson, Kids Can Press, Marie Lafrance, Munro Leaf, Robert Lawson, The Story of Ferdinand

Gratitude for Those Whose Shoulders We Can Stand On

On this weekend following Thanksgiving, my thoughts are full of the many relationships, joys, memories I’m grateful for.

In this spirit I’d like to share a story about a woman, Jella Lepman, who cherished and shared the gift of books. She is someone to whom the world can be grateful for. The picture book The Lady with the Books-A Story Inspired by the Remarkable Work of Jella Lepman, written by Kathy Stinson, illustrated by Marie Lafrance, and published by Kids Can Press, tells her tale.

Jella Lepman fled Germany in 1939 to escape the oppression of Hitler’s Nazi Government. In 1945 she returned to Germany. Her job upon returning was to help the children of Germany return to their lives which had been so disrupted by war.

Jella believed books were as important to the childrens’ development as food, and so she created and found housing for an exhibition of books for children. She wrote letters to twenty countries to explain her idea and ask for donations. Nineteen of the countries responded immediately. Belgium, being twice invaded by Germany, was reluctant. Still, Jella didn’t give up. She wrote asking them to reconsider, explaining that books from around the world could help children feel connected to each other and that they were the best hope for preventing another war. To that, Belgium responded generously.

In 1946 Jella’s exhibition traveled. It reached four cities across Germany: Munich, Sttutgart, Frankfurt and Berlin. At the exhibitions Jella saw how much the children who visited wanted to take a book home. She decided to translate one book, that had been previously banned under Hitler, into German and have 30,000 copies printed. That book was The Story of Ferdinand, by Munro Leaf and illustrated by Robert Lawson. Every child at the Berlin exhibit took home a copy.

Later, Eleanor Roosevelt encouraged Americans to become involved and to donate to Jella’s efforts. Through those donations the International Youth Library was established. In 1949 it opened in a small mansion in Munich, and in 1983 it was moved to Munich’s Blutenberg Castle.

The “Book Castle” now holds the largest international collection of children books in the world. Jella’s inspiration was also instrumental in the development of IBBY (International Board on Books for Young People).

IBBY continues to be active in helping children, especially those whose lives have been disrupted by war, civil disorder and natural disasters, believe in the possibility of a better future. A portion of the proceeds of the sale of The Lady with the Books goes to IBBY’s Children’s Crisis Fund.

books, books about books, characters, children's books, Don Quixote, illustration, imagination, Margarita Engle, Miguel's Brave Knight, Raul Colon, reviews, Sancho Panza, writing journey

An Ingenious Gentleman

Last week I finished Don Quixote, by Miguel Cervantes. I had read it in Spanish class back in high school, but at that time I was so intent on deciphering the language that I didn’t absorb the content. This time reading it through I was overwhelmed by the story.

If you haven’t read it, Don Quixote is divided into two parts. The first in which Don Quixote’s most well known scenes are played out. He battles windmills he perceives as giants and sheep he takes as an advancing enemy army. To Don Quixote’s eyes the most mundane everyday thing becomes extraordinary. Simple rustic inns are seen as castles to him.

His friend and steadfast companion, Sancho Panza is at first impressed with Don Quixote’s knowledge of and devotion to knight-errantry. As time goes by, Sancho’s view teeter-totters on a seesaw of cynicism and rationalization, and yet he maintains his loyalty to Don Quixote. No longer bonded only by their roles of a knight-errant and his squire, they have developed into good friends, who have become such in spite of and more so because of their acknowledged differences.

In the second part of the book, poor Don Quixote is often duped, and his noble perceptions are used against him. Don Quixote’s imagination makes his world and the world of the reader grander, more poetical and ever full of possibilities. I found it heartbreaking when he was played the fool by characters who thought they knew better the reality of the world.

While reading the book, a friend shared with me the picture book Miguel’s Brave Knight- Young Cervantes and His Dream of Don Quixote. Poems written by Margarita Engle and Illustrations by Raul Colon.

There is so much to recommend in this book. From Margarita Engle’s dedication, “No giant or dragon is bigger or stronger than the human imagination,” to Raul Colon’s illustrations and Ms. Engle’s poems that convey the timeline of Miguel Cervantes’ learning years, as well as his emotional growth. Through her poems she takes the reader on Miguel’s Cervantes’ writers journey to the point where his dreams, and his imagination allow him, as she writes in the poem titled Imagination, to work toward telling the tale of his brave knight who will set out boldly to right all of the wrongs of this wonderful but terribly mixed up world. I hope you get a chance to enjoy both of these beautiful books.

Angie Rooker, books, books about books, bookstores, children's books, Discworld, Dragons, Terry Pratchett, The Colour of Magic, Three Musketeers

Reading Anything Good?

This week I’ve finished Alexander Dumas’ The Three Musketeers, Terry Pratchett’s Colour of Magic, Oliver Jeffers’ Lost and Found, Roseanne Thong’s Round is a Mooncake, and Ellen Walsh’s Mouse Shapes (one of my students is working on shape identification). I’ve also started, and on this rainy Sunday made a good dent in Susan Wigg’s The Lost and Found Bookshop.

In the movie You’ve Got Mail, the main character Kathleen Kelly’s reporter boyfriend, Frank Navasky says, “You are what you read.”

Hmmm . . . Well three of the books of the books I’ve recently read are about adventure. Some of the characters wanted adventure, like Twoflower and D’Artangan, but some like Rincewind just found themselves in one. Me, adventurous? No, definitely not, especially not on a disc held up by a turtle, but I did enjoy going along for the ride. So, I guess Frank was wrong.

In my TBR pile I have a mystery, When the Crawdad’s Sing, by Delia Owens and Dragon, by Angie Rooker. Mysteries and dragon’s have, and I imagine will always be a big book draw for me.

It’s funny how reading one book leads you to another one. I read The Count of Monte Cristo, by Alexander Dumas, which I thoroughly enjoyed, and then I received The Three Musketeers for my birthday. I was reading Terry Prachett’s A Slip of the Key Board, which led me to start the disc world series; one book down and forty odd more to go, although I plan to detour and read The Amazing Maurice and his Educated Rats. With a title like that its begging to be read. At least, I think so.

Is there anyone else drawn to titles with the word bookshop, or literary society in it?

Here are a few I own. Any recommendations?

I’ve always wondered what it would be like to have my own bookshop. I admire those brave souls who have opened their own independent bookshops, as its not an incredibly lucrative or consistent business. But still . . . anyway, for now I’ll live vicariously and read about bookshops and the people who own them, adventures on a disc held up by a turtle, mysteries and dragons.

What are you reading? What drew you to reading that book? I’m curious to know.

amwriting, books, books about books, children's books, children's writing, creativity, early chapter books, Gordon Dickson, imagination, imagination, Jane Yolen, new project, Oliver Jeffers, picture book manuscripts, Terry Pratchett, wip, work in progress

Falling into Story

While thinking about what to write for this week’s blog post, I went looking for Writing Magic by Gail Carson Levine but found the book Take Joy- A writer’s guide to loving the craft, written by Jane Yolen. The book isn’t meant to be read chapter to chapter, you could if you’re so inclined; I wasn’t.

 I began at chapter three, “The Mystery that is Writing”, which is about how or why stories might blossom in our minds. Ms. Yolen wrote that she created a novelette based upon her children’s constant complaint of “it isn’t fair,” though in order for that story to come to fruition it had to wait until her children were grown-up.

Oliver Jeffers mentions on the back jacket flap of the book, Lost and Found that the premise for the book came from his childhood memory of being lost and not knowing where he was supposed to be until he’d read the label on the back of his shirt.

The story itself is about a penguin who turns up on the doorstep of a little boy, and the boy’s misguided effort to get the penguin back home. The story came from a memory but morphed into something with an altogether different perspective. Pretty cool—right?

Jane Yolen described fiction as reality surprised. And I think it was, Terry Pratchett, who said in not so many words but much better than I, that stories come from looking at a familiar thing from a slightly different angle.

This got me to thinking about the stories I’ve written. Some I know exactly what memory or memories caused them to be born. One that I thought had come to me on its own accord, did on second look reveal that it came from: a favorite movie of mine; the inventiveness of one of my daughters, who never fails to have big ideas and Spoon, the baby box turtle we rescued from under our garage door.

The story I’m presently working on also has its foundations set in history. My eldest daughter loved dinosaurs and walruses as a child. Walruses are not the go-to animal for most children and that in itself begs a story. When I originally started the story I kept trying to tell both the little girl and the walrus’ story in verse which proved difficult to say the least. Then I took the perspective of the little girl, still it was a no go, but just the other day I asked the walrus what he thought, not out loud mind you; I already get strange looks; his answers led me to the beginnings of a story in prose.

Moscow, RUSSIAN FEDERATION: A little girl looks at a walrus in a pool of Moscow’s zoo, 17 May 2006. AFP PHOTO FEDOR SAVINTSEV (Photo credit should read FEDOR SAVINTSEV/AFP via Getty Images)

Said walrus still has to dance his way out of the trouble he’s gotten himself into. He’ll figure it out; I have faith in him, and I can’t wait to see how he does it.

“Fall through the words into the story.” Gordon Dickson