A Reading Rumpus

It’s been a reading rumpus here.

The other day I spent a good long time at my local AMAZING library (Curtis Memorial Library) with our incredible Youth Services Librarians and my Goodreads TBR list. Of course my eyes are way bigger than my metaphorical reading stomach can handle. The mathematical equation of my relationship with library books looks like this:

Check out time allowed – my reading speed = not enough time for everything I took.

Sometimes that doesn’t matter because truthfully, there’s nothing like the feeling of walking out of the library with a massive pile of books and more on the way from Interlibrary Loan (A Psalm for Lost Girls by Katie Bayerl).

After the library, I finally (how did it get to be August) excavated my patio chaise lounge from the back of the garage (still haven’t gotten to my bike *covers head in shame*), dusted off the cobwebs, and set it in the Maine sunshine to read.

The picture book haul was excellent. For me, Little Fox in the Forest by Stephanie Graegin (Random House Kids) was a delight. It is wordless and uses sequential art and framing as in a graphic novel. Reminiscent of the Wizard of Oz, the blue-grey monochromatic palette gives way to full color as the main characters travel from the real to the fantasy world through an topiary archway.  I was “reading” the book to my man-children and they were frustrated with my narration of the silent story. (Mom. We can see what’s happening.) Perhaps the book is best for consuming on one’s own or allowing the child to tell you what is happening.

My review of Towers Falling by Jewell Parker Rhodes on Goodreads. More to come. I will renew books if necessary by golly.

Escape
by Anna E. Jordan

Consuming story
The pile never shrinks
More hours in the day please

 

 

 

Books that kept me up past midnight.

As usual, things are busy here at Creative Chaos. The job with Islandport Press that I spoke about here, became a permanent part-time position. My new title is “Editor & Special Projects,” which means that each day comes with new surprises. I love the dynamic nature of my position as well as the creative and collaborative problem solving that goes on every day. I’ve feeling very lucky.

I also feel lucky to be amongst books every day. It often means that there is just one more book to put on my virtual To Be Read pile. (You can see all 403 of them here.)

Most of my reading happens at night once I’ve pulled up the covers and turned on my bedside lamp. It’s a chance to push aside the virtual, plugged-in world for a literary one. Usually I’m asleep after a few pages (sometimes with my glasses still on and the book slipping to the floor) so the reading is slow going. Sometimes, however, a story takes hold of me, and I am transported to those flashlight-under-the-covers moments I had as a child.

Recently, two books made me feel that I absolutely had to finish the story before sleeping.

51h1vdouv6l-_sx324_bo1204203200_The War that Saved My Life by Kimberly Brubaker Bradley

From Goodreads: Nine-year-old Ada has never left her one-room apartment. Her mother is too humiliated by Ada’s twisted foot to let her outside. So when her little brother Jamie is shipped out of London to escape the war, Ada doesn’t waste a minute—she sneaks out to join him.

My take: I was so moved by Ada’s story, her strength, her heart, her head. Brubaker Bradley is an amazing storyteller who isn’t protective of her characters and we are the better for it. All the female characters are unique and strong (and flawed) in their own way. An argument could be made that even Ada’s despicable mother shows strength against impoverished conditions in the only way she knows how. In addition to well-realized characters, we also get treated to beautiful but spare description of the English countryside.

5138jx-gesl-_sx331_bo1204203200_ Wrecked by Maria Padian

From Goodreads: When Jenny accuses Jordan of rape, Haley and Richard are pushed to opposite sides of the school’s investigation. Now conflicting versions of the story may make bringing the truth to light nearly impossible—especially when reputations, relationships, and whole futures are riding on the verdict.

My take: Told expertly in alternating close 3rd person POV Richard and Haley meet, and become close while linked to a investigation for sexual assault at fictional McCallum college. Because neither of them are the victim or the aggressor, the reader gets a wider view of the issue of sexual assault on campus. Whether the character is a hippie, math whiz, bio geek, athlete, Dean, or parent the issue is complex and inextricably linked to narrative. This is an excellent book for starting conversations about sexual assault on campus. It’s one that will keep you turning pages until the story is complete.

What books should I add to my TBR list that keep you up reading?

Join me on Thursday when I interview Ernie D’Elia, cover illustrator of the Five Stones Trilogy. The Kinfolk, the conclusion of the #5stonesbooks, launches Tuesday, October 25th and the blog tour is going on all week long.

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Book Review Wednesday: Into the Dim

From Goodreads:

When fragile, sixteen-year-old Hope Walton loses her mom to an earthquake overseas, her secluded world crumbles. Agreeing to spend the summer in Scotland, Hope discovers that her mother was more than a brilliant academic, but also a member of a secret society of time travelers. Trapped in the twelfth century in the age of Eleanor of Aquitaine, Hope has seventy-two hours to rescue her mother and get back to their own time. Along the way, her path collides with that of a mysterious boy who could be vital to her mission . . . or the key to Hope’s undoing. Addictive, romantic, and rich with historical detail, Into the Dim is an Outlander for teens.


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Okay. With a pitch like that, how could I say no? I immediately grabbed a NetGalley copy of Janet B. Taylor’s debut YA novel, INTO THE DIM which pubbed at March 1st.

Our main character Hope has a photographic memory and a mysterious past. Taylor does a wonderful job showing how this seemingly positive trait is also a huge challenge for Hope and integrates both the positive and negative into the plot. In cinematographic style, Taylor uses glowing green overlays of maps and routes, symbols, pages, and pictures to help Hope on her journey in a time that is not her own.

I fell into the writing and the story and found it as addictive as the summary states.

As the inept fan buzzed overhead, a quick, darting movement caught my eye. A small bird flitted among the rafters. Trapped. I knew exactly how it felt. (Chapter 1)

I burrowed between the sheets, praying sleep would erase the dread that slithered over my skin. (Chapter 11)

Bridal shades of moonlight and snow. (Chapter 40)

There were a few moments of cliché emotion, “drained–a wrung sponge left to dry on the sink,” and a little bit of cheese, “There comes a moment in every person’s life when fate wheels on the head of a pin and changes their destiny forever,” but Taylor’s apt use of a ticking clock propelled this reader through page after page. Too, in the middle of what could have been derivative, Taylor sets this time travel/historical apart by delving into more serious issues including antisemitism, the abuse of women, and women and power.

The love interest, Bran, felt a little too perfect (“drafted by an architect”) for me despite his “crooked canine” (tooth). Still, the origin of their love is a suspenseful reveal that lasts the whole the book.

From the first chapter I was hooked. Hope’s mission to save her mother and a focus on the scientific made me think of A WRINKLE IN TIME while the puzzles, symbols, and rivals for an artifact reminded me a little of DA VINCI CODE. Whatever comp title you love, INTO THE DIM is a fun YA read!

 

Summer Reading Rocks!

I’ve tried all summer to pull away from the lure of the screen: lap top, desk top, and iPhone. Instead, I spent July teaching horseback riding, taking kids on creek hikes, picking berries, singing and more as a camp counselor at Eagle’s Nest Camp (a camp that I went to as a child and counseled at during my 20’s). June and August were dedicated to my client MaineShare as I helped them coordinate the MaineShare Fair an event that will take place next week (September 9th) in Portland, Maine.

I’ve spent a fair bit of time out on the Androscoggin River rowing and coaching others. Eagles, herons and leaping fish were a gift as I glided over some amazingly smooth water. I slipped my middle grade work in progress into sunny summer slivers of time thinking deeply and working on a revision that amplifies desire, conflict and tension.

Even with all this incredible activity I made time to read. I embraced audio books with the amazing FREE audio book summer reading program at SYNC. These books filled the time on the long drive from Maine to North Carolina and back. And without Facebook, I had plenty of time to sink into a book at night. At the beginning of the year, I’d challenged myself to read 26 books thinking that one every other week would be great, but I’ve already exceeded that goal. Now I’ve increased that goal to 40 (but really I’m hoping for 52).

I have a number of adult and poetry books on my list for fall but I’m super excited about Melanie Crowder’s next (her 3rd) novel A Nearer Moon that launches next week, and Meg Wiviott’s debut novel Paper Hearts that launches TODAY!

      

Congrats to Meg and Melanie!

Now on with my summer reading list! (Books are listed in the order I read them starting in June.)

MONSTER, Walter Dean Myers (audio book). This is an amazing full cast presentation with an extra from the author explaining his research process and his interviews with numerous incarcerated young men. Highly recommended.

BUDDHA BOY, Kathe Koja (audio book). Bullying and acceptance.

MATERIAL GIRLS, Elaine Dimopoulos (eGalley from Net Galley). More on this in a later post. Highly recommended.

CIRCUS MIRANDUS, Cassie Beasley. Gentle, loving, and magical to its core, this book is the one you want to read aloud to your students this school year. It will draw your too-big-for-read-aloud-books back to your embrace. (Evidence: my 6 foot 2 inch high school sophomore beside me nightly.) Highly recommended.

THE ADVENTURES OF BEEKLE: THE UNIMAGINARY FRIEND, Dan Santat. Caldecott winner 2015.

EL DEAFO, Cece Bell. Newbery Honor. I was especially interested in this because my major was ASL in college. I wanted to see how Bell handled the Deaf community. The book is about the main character’s struggles to fit in with her Hearing family and mainstream life even though her mother is eager to have her learn ASL. By the end of the book, her interest is piqued and I got the feeling that had the book gone on the girl may have explored the Deaf Community more. There is an excellent author’s note about the spectrum of culture and language in the Deaf Community. Highly recommended.

BROWN GIRL DREAMING, Jacqueline Woodson. What can I say about this memoir in verse that hasn’t already been said? The book won the National Book Award Winner, Coretta Scott King Award, Newbery Honor, an NAACP Image Award, and is featured on many many lists. Highly recommended.

CROWS & CARDS, Joseph Helgerson (audio book). A fun recording that harkens back to pre-Civil War days, river boat scoundrels, and Mark Twain language and humor.

THE CROSSOVER, Alexander Kwame. Newbery Winner 2015.

THE SKIN I’M IN, Sharon Flake. I picked this middle grade up at a library book sale and so glad I did. First pubbed in 1998, if you loved JUMPED by Rita Williams-Garcia you’ll be engaged by Maleeka’s struggle to love herself. Highly Recommended.

STORY OF A GIRL, Sara Zarr. A quiet YA novel that digs deeply into self acceptance, family and forgiveness.

Book Review Wednesday: Strange Sweet Song by Adi Rule

Over the last month or so, I’ve been able to make room in my life for reading. It has been so satisfying and fun to attack my TBR pile. STRANGE SWEET SONG has been calling to me since last summer when the author and fellow VCFA Alum, sweet Adi Rule, signed my book. Once I picked it up a few weeks ago, there were no breaks for cheese sandwiches. I’ll even admit that my children had to eat cereal for dinner one night because I could not tear myself away.

Strange Sweet Song

I was immediately hooked by the world of Dunhammond Conservatory (DC), a school for elite musicians that backs up against a mountain inhabited mystery, murder, and magic. Soprano, Sing da Navelli, is not only elite in her skill but she has an almost-royal music bloodline. Her mother is famous not only for her diva attitude and operatic achievements as a soprano, but also for the way she died on stage playing the role of Angelique in the opera by the same name. Sing’s doting father is a famous composer and big donor to the DC.

Sing’s bears the weight of her mother’s personality and larger than life last roll. While Sing is good at what she does, she isn’t great. Is she only at DC because of her lineage and her father’s contributions to the school? Sing struggles both to prove herself and to re-become the girl who loved singing for the joy of it. Who is the best person to help her find that joy–the handsome accompanist, Ryan or the odd apprentice Nathan Daysmoor?

Intertwined with Sing’s story is the story of the opera Angelique, written at DC, that tells the fantastical tale of a beast called the Felix that inhabits the mountain behind the school. Sing is driven to find out if the Felix is fact or fairytale. Is it true that its sadness and resentment leads it to tear out the throat of all who encounter it? Is it true that if your sadness touches the heart of the Felix it will grant you a wish? And those odd things on campus… are they the doing of the Felix?

These questions keep the story moving at a clip so it’s hard to slow yourself down to appreciate Adi Rule’s beautiful writing–but you must.The music scenes are so lovely even an opera averse reader will be mesmerized. I was especially impressed by the seamless weaving of plots and subplots: Sing’s journey to be the singer she wants to be, the fantasy/horror/magical realism of the Felix, the opera, and the story of the mysterious apprentice, Nathan Daysmoor.

I found Sing’s friend Zhin a little too convenient at times, and Lori Pinkerton and Ryan a little cliché but other more rounded characters far and away made up for them. Sing is sometimes unlikeable but just when we are about to lose faith in her, she opens in a way that allows us to hear her true voice and humanity sing.

So much of Young Adult is– how do I become the person I want to be–the person I am–while dealing with the expectations of parents, family, community, culture and society. Who am I? Where do I fit? I know that I gravitate to this category of books in my reading and writing because I am still defining my own path as well. Adi Rule develops this theme in all of the interwoven story threads in a lyrical must read. Brava!

We Have a Winner: #roomiesbook

On Friday I posted about the new YA collaboration from Sara Zarr and Tara Altebrando, ROOMIES. The giveaway from LB Kids and Creative Chaos gets one lucky reader a signed-by-the-authors copy of the book and the chance at a prize packed shower caddy. I let my dog Lucy do the honors of choosing the winner from the three commenters: bn100, Shelby, and Courtney. Here are the results!

Turns out bn100 won ROOMIES on another blog (go buy a power ball ticket lucky one) so according to Lucy, Shelby is our new winner!

GIVEAWAY! #roomiesbook by Sara Zarr/Tara Altebrando @lbkids

Roomies

Thanks to LB Teen and NetGalley for the eARC.

When I enrolled at Vermont College of Fine Arts for my MFA I had already had my share of roommates. I had a freshman roommate that was driven, neat, and not interested in staying up past 9pm; I had a “study abroad” roommate at Gallaudet University who was super patient with me as I learned American Sign Language; I had a Three Is Company (one guy, one other girl) experience in my senior apartment and I’m still friends with them today. But at VCFA, well, the roommate gods were looking out for me. That’s where I met talented, amazing author Melanie Crowder.

Melanie and I hit it off immediately. We had similar hopes and fears. We leaned on each other to get through the demanding writing program and now, almost three years after our degree, we still vid chat regularly, share life events, and are each other’s biggest fans.

In ROOMIES, by Sara Zarr and Tara Altebrando, Elizabeth (EB) and Lauren are about as different as two roommates could be. Elizabeth is an only child raised by a single mom looking forward to a roommate and a new friend. Lauren fantasizes about having a single where she can leave the chaos of her five brothers and sisters (one set of twins). The two authors give Elizabeth and Lauren completely unique voices and shift seamlessly from one to the other through back and forth emails. Like rolling out a new poster for a dorm wall where you only see a bit of the picture at one time, they keep the reader engaged by slowly revealing backstory. 

Kirkus agrees:

“The main characters’ back stories are engaging, and the large supporting cast of friends and family members are well-developed and integral to the girls’ growth….The novel’s deeply embedded theme of transition will have tremendous appeal for any teenager coping with change.” (Kirkus ). – See more at LB Teen.

AND NOW…THE MOMENT YOU’VE BEEN WAITING FOR,

THE GIVEAWAY!

LB Teen is hosting a ROOMIES “Win One for You and Your Reader” campaign/sweepstakes.  Sara and Tara’s first store appearance is on Sunday, January 12th (see below), to celebrate, they are giving away a Roomie survival kit/gift pack including earplugs, home spa essentials, a signed copy of the book, a special note from the authors, and other fun things—all packed in a shower caddy. One for me and one for you! (Edited to add: US Address only please)

Here’s the scoop:

LB Kids is giving me, a copy of ROOMIES to give to one Creative Chaos reader.

You can earn two entries:

1. Share this blog post on Twitter or Facebook. Make sure you tag me @annawritedraw or Anna Boll (Facebook) so I know you’ve done it.

2. Show me some cyber-love by leaving a comment. I’d love to know about a crazy roommate adventure or your roomie pet peeve.

On Monday the 13th, I’ll put your names in a hat and draw a winner with the help of Lucy (the best dog roomie ever!) That person wins the book.

IMG_1278BUT THAT’S NOT ALL!!!

LB KIDS is going to put my name in a sweepstakes and if I win, I’ll put all the original entries (including the person who won the book) into the hat again and we both have a chance at the Roomie survival kit (including earplugs, home spa essentials, a signed copy of the book, a special note from the authors, and other fun things—all packed in a shower caddy.) One for me and one of you. LOVE.

Here are Sara and Tara’s confirmed tour dates. Go see them. I’ve met Sara and she’s awesome. I look forward to meeting Tara one day and totally wish I was closer to one of these places!

  • January 12, 2014 – New York, NY: McNally Jackson [venue link]
  • January 15, 2014 – Salt Lake City, UT: The King’s English [venue link]
  • January 16, 2014 – Provo, UT: Provo Library [venue link]
  • February 4, 2014 – San Francisco, CA: Books Inc, Opera Plaza [venue link]
  • February 5, 2015 – Petaluma, CA: Copperfield’s Books [venue link]

Good luck!

Ahoy! Magic Marks the Spot is a beaut!

Shiver me timbers! Is it International Talk Like A Pirate Day already? Indeed, Mateys, indeed! Which means it’s time to pull up a barrel and get ready for some of the best middle grade storytelling I’ve seen since Ruthie Bluetooth drank a wee too much grog.


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Caroline Carlson’s debut middle grade novel Magic Marks the Spot is the first in The Very Nearly Honorable League of Pirates trilogy and I’ll be counting my blessings about that. The action packed adventure is funny and engaging. Caroline’s characters jump off the page and pull you into their watery surroundings. She makes use of her amazing knowledge of the English language (I know. She’s proofread my manuscripts.) to create a send-up of High Society norms and expectations. Main character Hilary, challenges what it means to be a lady, a pirate, and a friend and for that, I admire her. My favorite quote from the book: “Running away and pursuing one’s dream was quite a piratical thing to do.”

Caroline embraces the silly pirate genre but sets it in a world of magic whose rules are well-defined. Letters, articles, excerpts from the Official Very Nearly Honorable Pirate League Guide, and A Young Lady’s Guide to Augustan Society further the plot, provide comic relief and give readers a deeper understanding of the world. The design of the book is incredible. Deckled edges give the book the old world feel. Add to that unique stationary and handwriting for each character, and of course–– a map. According to my children, “If it has a map, it has to be good.” I can tell you that I held 12 children from 8 to 14 in rapt attention as I read the beginning aloud this weekend. As I finish the book, I’m happy to say that there be twists and turns aplenty.

Hilary Westfield has always dreamed of being a pirate. She can tread water for thirty-seven minutes. She can tie a knot faster than a fleet of sailors, and she already owns a rather pointy sword. There’s only one problem: The Very Nearly Honorable League of Pirates refuses to let any girl join their ranks of scourges and scallywags.

But Hilary is not the kind of girl to take no for answer. To escape a life of petticoats and politeness at her stuffy finishing school, Hilary sets out in search of her own seaworthy adventure, where she gets swept up in a madcap quest involving a map without an X, a magical treasure that likely doesn’t exist, a talking gargoyle, a crew of misfit scallywags, and the most treacherous—and unexpected—villain on the High Seas.

Caroline is another graduate of (NO– not Miss Pimm’s Finishing School for Delicate Ladies) Vermont College of Fine Arts and their Writing for Children and Young Adults program. I’m happy to call her my mate in the League of Extraordinary Cheese Sandwiches– pirates each and every one. And so, with that in mind, I unfurled me sails and boarded me land cruiser (The Concord Coach & Commuter Rail)

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to Wellesley Bookstore and Caroline’s launch last Thursday. 

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(She might look like a Miss Pimm’s girl but she be pirate through and through.)

Where I helped tote in grog and vittles with Caroline’s mom.

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(Caroline’s mom might look like a Governess but she can throw around the orders like the most vicious scallywag on the high seas.)

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She be makin’ fine sweets though, eh?

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When the place was packed to the crow’s nest with family and friends, Allison, who runs a tight ship, introduced Caroline, captain of the evening.

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Caroline read the grab-you-with-her-hook beginning of the book then told about the process of writing and publishing. It was no pleasure cruise even for an experienced sailor like herself.

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Good thing that Wellesley Books had plenty of stock because the lines were long for Magic Marks the Spot.

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Happily, plenty of VCFA mateys came along to celebrate! Congratulations, Caroline.

Book Review Wednesday: Brotherhood by A.B. Westrick

September started with a sprint that included sending my oldest to his first year of high school, both kids auditioning for school productions, my husband off to a full-time masters program and me trying to turn around edits on a manuscript.  It is only now, that I’m finding time to update Creative Chaos. Thanks for your patience.

If you are anything like me, amazing fall releases are pushing your “professional books” budget to the limit. I’ll be posting about two over the next two days!

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Last Thursday was the book birthday of A.B. Westrick’s, BROTHERHOOD. I was lucky enough to receive and advanced readers copy of the book from the author. From the website:

The year is 1867, and Richmond, Virginia, lies in ruins. By day fourteen-year-old Shadrach apprentices with a tailor and sneaks off for reading lessons with Rachel, a freed slave, at her school for African-American children. By night he follows his older brother to the meetings of a brotherhood, newly formed to support Confederate widows and grieving families like his. As the true murderous mission of the brotherhood—now known as the Ku Klux Klan—emerges, Shad is trapped between his pledge to them and what he knows is right. In this unflinching view of the bitter animosity that stemmed from economic and social upheaval in the South during the period of Reconstruction, it’s clear that the Civil War has ended, but the conflict isn’t over.

Shadrach is caught between being a boy and a man. He is caught between the needs of his family and his own needs for self-actualization. He is caught between his allegiance to old ways and his desire to be educated, and forge a new world. He is caught between hating others and being able to live with himself.

This in-between place is the place of the Young Adult and A.B. Westrick writes it beautifully. I felt her characters and their conflicts deeply. My empathy for Shadrach fought with my own sense of right and wrong.

The setting, despite its grit and tension, is beautiful. Geographical details coupled with vernacular and emotions of the period bring the reader squarely into 1867 Richmond. The reader clearly experiences the “tensions ordinary, impoverished, and poorly educated white Southerners might have felt during the period of Reconstruction,” as A.B. Westrick writes in her author’s note.

I urge teachers to add this book to their Civil War & Reconstruction units. Will there be hard questions and difficult discussions? YES! But this is the purpose of good literature.

Book Review Wednesday: Rain! by Linda Ashman

On Friday, I’ll be hosting Melanie Crowder debut author of PARCHED (which just received the silver Parent’s Choice Award), so… all this week I’m posting about water.


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In Maine it’s been water, water everywhere! The rain is coming down in sheets and buckets, and cats and dogs BUT, because I just finished Linda Ashman’s, RAIN! I didn’t let the wet weather get me down. I took Lucy dog for a very wet walk, jumped in puddles and sang. My positive attitude helped me enjoy the moment; coming home to a warm cup of tea and great book felt great too.


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From the Houghton Mifflin Harcourt website:

One rainy day in the city, an eager little boy exclaims, “Rain!” Across town a grumpy man grumbles, “Rain.” In this endearing picture book, a rainy-day cityscape comes to life in vibrant, cut-paper-style artwork. The boy in his green frog hat splashes in puddles—“Hoppy, hoppy, hoppy!”—while the old man curses the “dang puddles.” Can the boy’s natural exuberance (and perhaps a cookie) cheer up the grouchy gentleman and turn the day around?

This very simple picture book (only 78 words) has a wealth of emotional literacy learning opportunities for young children. The illustrations, cut paper by Christian Robinson, are deceivingly simple and delightful. Robinsons framing techniques do a great job of conveying the parallel stories of the grumpy man and the optimistic child.

If you’d like a copy of the book, Linda is currently running a Goodreads giveaway that ends on June 28th.