Imagination Celebration 2015

Have you ever heard of Imagination Celebration? Every year libraries, museums and other venues in Orange County collaborate to present a month of free or low-cost arts & cultural events for families. 2015 is the 30th year of the festival! It is running from April 11 to May 24; you can find listings for the events at . Stop in your local branch of OC Public Libraries to see displays of children's art and to find out more about scheduled programs.

You may also want to check out these picture books that celebrate the power of imagination:

My Garden by Kevin Henkes. A small girl enjoys weeding and watering in her mother's garden, but she can't help imagining what her ideal garden would be like.  Jellybeans would grow on bushes and the air would be full of birds and butterflies. Henkes' pastel-hued, blue-outlined illustrations make the improbable seem plausible.

Jeremy draws a monster by Peter McCarty. Stay-at-home Jeremy spends his days drawing. When he creates a very large blue monster (who comes to life), he is taken aback by its neverending demands, starting with "Draw me a sandwich. I'm hungry!" Jeremy must be very clever to get rid of the monster for good.

Big Plans by Bob Shea. We first meet our narrator seated in the corner of his classroom, saying "SOON... the entire world will know of my big plans." (If you read the writing on the blackboard, you may get an inkling why he was sent there, i.e. "What I say does not go.") Not satisfied with dominating the business world, the brash young fellow even imagines that the U.S. President steps aside due to the force of his ambitious personality.
Ludicrous fun. 


Free yourself. Have the courage.

A.S. King’s latest novel is Glory O’Brien’s History of the Future. Glory O'Brien, along with her friend, gains the ability to see people's pasts and futures. From these transmissions, as Glory refers to the visions, she learns that in the near future women’s rights will vanish, sparking a Civil War and throwing the country into disorder. The disturbing visions start just as Glory is about to graduate from high school, reminding her she has no idea what to do with her life.
Glory lost her mother to suicide at age four so her fears lead her to question whether that will be her future also. Her father is no comfort, lost in his grief, he has not moved forward with his life since the suicide. Her friend, Ellie, lives on a commune across the street and is too absorbed in her own problems and unhappiness to offer any support. Glory turns to her mother’s photo developing darkroom for answers; there she finds a hidden sketchbook titled Why People Take Pictures. The photos in the portfolio help her to piece together the puzzle of her family’s history and the transmissions help to make some sense of her own unclear future.

This book is not a fast read, but King manages to take Glory and the reader on a contemplative journey about where we come from, who we are and where we are going.


U.S. Civil War Sesquicentennial: Women Played Crucial Roles Too

Even though history was one of my undergraduate majors, I am embarrassed to say that I have read little in the field since finishing college.  However, one day several weeks ago at my library I came across a recent history audiobook which looked so intriguing that I could not resist it.  The audiobook was Karen Abbott’s recent Liar,Temptress, Soldier, Spy: Four Women Undercover in the Civil War.   At OC Public Libraries we also have the book in print format.

Abbott’s fascinating book is a work of nonfiction, based on diary and journal entries, newspaper articles, official records and other primary sources of the Civil War time period.  She tells the personal stories of four women -- two Unionists and two Confederates -- who each took part in the war in a significant way.  She alternates between their stories, describing the progress of the war from start to finish. 

One of the women whom Abbott discusses is Belle Boyd, still a teenager when she decides to enter the war in support of her strong belief in the Confederacy.  This decision is partly galvanized by the rough handling of her mother by a Union soldier one day.  Belle defends her by shooting the offending soldier, shortly starting her wartime career as a spy and courier.  The other young woman in Abbot’s account is Sarah Emma Edmonds, a Canadian by birth, who had begun dressing as a man some years before the war in order to avoid being married off to an older neighbor.  Emma enlists in the Union Army as a soldier, serving as a medical assistant, spy and courier.

Slightly older than Boyd and Edmonds is Elizabeth Van Lew, a wealthy woman living in the Confederate capital of Richmond, but a staunch Unionist herself.  An abolitionist, she becomes very adept at passing coded messages and obtaining information about troop movements, which she then passes on to Union command through her associates. One of her more well-known associates is her servant, Mary Elizabeth Bowser.  Also in Van Lew’s age range is the also wealthy Rose O’Neal Greenhow, a Confederate supporter who passes coded messages and engages in romantic relationships with various men at least partly in order to obtain information about Union military plans.  Greenhow also undertakes a diplomatic mission to Europe on behalf of the Confederacy, as does Boyd.

Abbott has really achieved something special with Liar, Temptress, Soldier, Spy… because while it is chock full of accurate information taken straight from Civil War-era documents, it reads with the easy flow of a novel.  There is suspense too in this work, as we wonder what will become of our four heroines at critical moments, whether it is Van Lew allowing Confederate soldiers to inspect her house while Union soldier prison escapees hide behind a bedroom door, or it is Edmonds at the point of possibly revealing to her best military friend that she is actually a woman.  

Abbott also gives one a sense of the distinct personalities of these four capable and quick-thinking women.  Additionally the reader learns much about how the Civil War was actually fought on the ground, the challenging lives of soldiers and everyday life during the time period in general.  In the audio version, Karen White gives an extremely expressive reading, providing varied voices for characters both male and female, and even changing pitch to indicate direct quotes.  I very highly recommend this book to adults and older teens who are seeking an absorbing look at the U.S. Civil War through the lens of the female experience.


Great Ongoing Comic Series for Adults

Saga, created by Brian K. Vaughan and Fiona Staples, is a space fantasy comic series about two star-crossed lovers, Alana (with wings) and Marko (with horns). Alana comes from Landfall, a technologically advanced planet populated with winged people and sentient robots with television screens for heads. Marko is from Wreath, Landfall’s moon, whose horned people use magic. Their cultures, and the cultures of other worlds they have sucked into their conflict, are viciously at war with each other. Nonetheless, Alana and Marko have fallen in love despite pressure from the entire galaxy to be apart. All they want is peace enough to raise their newborn child (with wings and horns); unfortunately, however far they run, violent conflict follows.

Brian K. Vaughan (also writer of Y: The Last Man) writes well-plotted and witty comics. I find myself needing to read the next issue immediately after finishing the last one! And despite the heaviness of the story elements (war, child slavery, violence, class conflict), it never feels unnecessarily weighed down. All the characters have believable and complicated motivations; even people you think were evil in a previous issue might end up surprising you. Saga is beautifully illustrated by Fiona Staples, who is able to effectively communicate character emotions, something I really appreciate in comics. She’s also able to evoke strong emotional responses with her detailed and artistic work. Though the explicitness of the<b series isn’t for everyone, it is one of the best comics out published right now. The first volume of the trade paperback won the 2013 Hugo Award for Best Graphic Story. In 2014, it won the Eisner for Best Painter/Multimedia Artist, Best Writer, and Best Continuing Series. I recommend it for fans of Star Wars, Joss Whedon, Neil Gaiman and older Doctor Who fans.

Chew is an action/adventure comedy created by John Layman and Rob Guillory. Like many comics, the people of Chew have special powers; however, there’s a twist: they are all food related. Tony Chu, our protagonist, is a cibopath. He is able to psychically know what happened to something or someone – all he has to do is eat part of it (or him, or her). Thankfully, he’s also a cop so his powers are put to good use (well, sometimes). He’s challenged by contemptuous villains, terrible conspiracies, and a moody teenage daughter.

Dark, off-the-wall comedy fills the pages of this comic. For example, chicken has been outlawed due to a bird flu epidemic that killed 23 million Americans, making the FDA the United States’ most powerful government agency. The characters, however, behave much in the same way as we do, even if they are mnemcibarians who are able to cook a meal you will never forget or voresophs, who become smarter the more they eat. Even while battling crazy egg cults and a so-called “vampire,” Tony Chu also has to help raise his daughter Olive, deal with not-so-perfect siblings, and manage a new relationship. Wordplay is a particular favorite of the writer and artist. If a pun can be made in dialog or somewhere in the background art, it shall be made. I recommend it to people who like Futurama, Monty Python, and Pulp Fiction.


An Arctic Thriller with a Twist

Forty Days Without Shadow is a fast-paced murder mystery spanning everything from indigenous rights to geological exploration to the care and feeding of reindeer. (Yes, reindeer!) While the Norwegian village of Kautokeino prepares for the first sliver of sunlight in forty days, a thief breaks into the local museum and steals a priceless Sami drum. Tensions between the indigenous Sami population and the largely Scandinavian government are already running high, and the situation is further complicated when a Sami reindeer herder is found murdered.

As members of the Reindeer Police unit, veteran officer Klemet Nango and his rookie partner Nina Nansen usually spend their days resolving border disputes among reindeer herders. A Sami man who grew up in Kautokeino, Klemet knows most of the locals and helps newcomer Nina understand the town’s idiosyncrasies. When the pair is drawn into the murder investigation, they soon find themselves forced to navigate the tricky politics between Sami activists and government officials, while also avoiding a mysterious geologist who knows more than he’s letting on.

Author Olivier Truc offers a compelling look at Sami life and culture, and is able to use Nina’s newness to Kautokeino as a valid reason for Klemet to explain local customs and beliefs. Originally published in French as Le Dernier Lapon (“The Last Sami”), the novel is as much an anthropological examination of Sami culture as it is a thrilling mystery. It’s easy to see why this international bestseller has won twenty awards, including the 42d Prix du Mystère de la Critique (Best French Crime Novel of the year for 2013).

Fans of Scandinavian noir such as Smilla’s Sense of Snow, The Girl with the Dragon Tattoo, and Henning Mankell's Wallander series would likely enjoy this page-turner.


Literary Orange 2015: Leila Howland's Nantucket Blue

One of the authors who will be on our “Young Adult: Oh, the Drama!” panel at OC Public Libraries’ Literary Orange author festival on April 11th is Leila Howland.   She is the author of Nantucket Blue and Nantucket Red, two young adult novels for older teens, as well as the soon-to-be widely released middle grade novel, The Forget-Me-Not Summer

I just finished reading Nantucket Blue and absolutely enjoyed it!  Don’t let the dreamy cover image of a loving embrace on the shore fool you.  While romance is definitely key to this story, this is just one theme of an insightful realistic fiction novel.

Seventeen-year-old Cricket Thompson feels strongly that she needs to get away from her Providence, Rhode Island home for the summer.  She needs an adventure.  When her invitation to spend the summer on Nantucket Island with her best friend, Jules, falls through due to the sudden death of Jules’ mother, Cricket decides she will go to Nantucket on her own.  She finds a job at an island inn, working alongside a friendly and frank Irish girl who helps fill the gap left by the now distant and somewhat rude Jules. 

On Cricket’s days off she visits the beach, reading her mother’s teen diary – which she didn’t realize was written inside a volume of Emily Dickinson’s poetry, Cricket’s assigned summer reading -- regarding her own time in Nantucket years ago.  The diary introduces an astonished Cricket to her once daring and crazy-in-love mom.  Cricket herself begins spending a lot of time with Jules’ brother Zack, surprised and delighted by their strong attraction.  They keep their budding relationship a secret, however, due to the tension between the two girls.  And Cricket would love nothing more than a relief of this tension and a return to her former closeness with Jules.     

Cricket is a conscientious and thoughtful teen, but as happens to all of us, before the summer is over she has said and done a couple things she can’t “un-say” or undo.  She has to decide how to handle these situations: just let them go and lie low, or bravely make amends and face the consequences of her actions.

Nantucket Blue is a highly readable novel which focuses on the challenges of friendship, the joy of a healthy first love and the transition into young adulthood.  An important facet of this transition which the novel highlights is deciding how one will attempt to resolve interpersonal conflict and cultivate a sense of self-worth.

I’d recommend Nantucket Blue to fans of Sara Zarr and Tara Altebrando’s Roomies and other teen fiction which combines a great slice-of-life story involving friendship and dating with enough depth to show us something about human nature.   

Cricket’s further adventures are detailed in Nantucket Blue's sequel, Nantucket Red.

Please join us at Literary Orange to hear from Leila Howland and many other authors!