Thursday, April 27, 2017

In The Great Green Room: The Brilliant and Bold Life of Margaret Wise Brown

My narrative runs like this: I fell in love with reading and art with the Little Golden Books and discovered the great classics with Classics Illustrated Comic Books.

Little Golden Books were inexpensive, readily available, and mass produced; that meant even on a meager budget Mom could splurge and buy them for me. I loved the stories and the illustrations and spent many an hour pouring over them.

Margaret Wise Brown wrote books enjoyed by generations of children and parents. Reading In The Great Green Room by Amy Gary I learned about the iconic author of some of my favorite Golden Books and who also wrote our son's beloved baby books Goodnight, Moon and The Runaway Bunny.

Author Amy Gary hit a gold mine when she contacted Margaret's sister and discovered a hidden hoard of unpublished manuscripts left behind after the author's death.

I learned about the influences on Margaret's work based on her daily life. As girls, Margaret and her sister would say goodnight to everything in their bedroom, memorialized in Goodnight, Moon. Their father's library was painted grass green, and she later painted her room green.

Margaret's illustrators incorporated Margaret's world into her books. Clem Hurd based the fireplace in Goodnight, Moon on the one at Margaret's rented NYC writing retreat Cobble Court. Leonard Weisgard's illustrations for Little Island is based on the view from Margaret's Maine retreat, the Only House.

Margaret had a creative mind brimming with outside the box ideas. She revolutionized children's literature and book publishing. Margaret was insistent on putting writing first in her life. She fell in love many times with the men who were unsuitable matches. Margaret's love life was unhappy, and her great loves failed her in the end, including Michael Strange, the beautiful society woman who was a suffragette, poet, and actress. Just when she had met a man whose zest for life matched her own, Margaret unexpectedly died.

I enjoyed learning about the inspiration behind Margaret's books. For instance, Mr. Dog is the story of her own Kerry Blue Terrier, Crispin's Crispian.
The beginning of Mr. Dog by Margaret Wise Brown
illustrated by Garth Williams. From my collection.
The dog's name was inspired by Shakespeare's Henry V:
"And Crispin Crispian shall ne'er go by, From this day to the ending of the world,But we in it shall be remember'd; We few, we happy few, we band of brothers..."
The Golden Egg Book was a larger book giving illustrator Leonard Weisgard lovely space to fill. Margaret brought him a collection of wildflowers to use in the art. He was allergic and the next day his eyes were swollen shut!

The Golden Egg Book by Margaret Wise Brown
illustrated by Leonard Weisgard. From my collection.
I also love Margaret's story Little Pussycat, with pictures by Weisgard. The kitten is so small the garden denizens tower like a forest filled with magical creatures.

My son's favorite Golden Books included Margaret's Things I Like, illustrated by Garth Williams. He was enchanted by the dog on the hill.

Margaret's stories included books that appeal to boys as well as girls. The Train to Timbuctoo, with illustrations by Art Seiden, is a joy to read aloud. 

Margaret's books about men at work include The Little Fat Policeman was written by Margaret and Edith Thacher Hurd, wife of illustrator Clement Hurd who did the art for Runaway Bunny and Goodnight, Moon. Alice and Martin Provensen provided the art for the Policeman. Margaret and Edith also wrote Five Little Firemen and Seven Little Postmen with art by Tibor Gergerly. Their book Two Little Miners was illustrated by Richard Scary--his first book.

Each chapter beings with one of Margaret's verses or songs. There is a lovely section of photographs, notes, index, and sources included. My one complaint about this biography is that I would have loved an index of Margaret's books by year and publisher.

I have written about the Little Golden Books before, celebrating their 75th anniversary, and about the book Everything I Need To Know I Learned From A Little Golden Books by Diane Muldrow.

In The Great Green Room: The Brilliant and Bold Life of Margaret Wise Brown
Amy Gary
Flatiron Books
ISBN: 978-1-250-06536-0

Wednesday, April 26, 2017

Jane Sassaman's Amazing Art

Jane Sassaman addressing the GLHQ
This month I visited the Great Lakes Heritage Quilters guild to see Jane Sassaman. I have admired her work for many years.
Jane Sassaman Moth and Moons
Jane described her journey as an artist from 1960s psychedelic and pop art influences to Gloria Vanderbilt's use of quilts, to William Morris and the Pre-Raphealites, to Nancy Crow's innovative art. Along the way, she included folk art, Marimekko, and the mid-century revival of the needle arts in embellishing counter culture 'hippie' clothing.

Sassaman was influenced by GloriaVanderbilt's quilted decor
which appeared in Vogue magazine in 1970

A William Morris wallpaper design
You can see the influence on Sassaman's work

Forgotten Garden by Sassaman
shows her thematic use of thorns
Here is my Finnish exchange student sister wearing a Marimekko print in 1970, an oversized poppy.

She talked about the themes she uses in her art, including 'dangerious' insects, the Day of the Dead, skeletons and skulls.
A spider appears at the bottom of Sassaman's quilt Life Totem

Sassman designed a fabric line for Free Spirit. Quilters don't have to applique the milleflores borders Jane loves, they can use the fabric!

Sassaman designs for Free Spirit
Simplified, small sized patterns based on Jane's art were available for purchase along with packs of fabric.

Jane Sassaman's patterns include Summer, right,
a simplified version of her award winning quilt Willow.
 I bought a daffodil design and a fabric pack with pussy willows. The prices were very reasonable.
Jane Sassaman easy applique pattern
Sassaman fabrics from Free Spirit
There was a nice turn out.
Jane is leading several workshops this weekend including one on Broderie Perse using printed fabric to create quilts like the one below--

and a class teaching how to observe plants and visually 'dissect' them to create original designs like Jane's Jack-in-the-Pulpit below--
The Free Spirit fabric line can also be used in pieced quilts as seen in the examples following:
Jane Sassman quilt using her Free Spirit fabric line

Jane Sassman quilt using her Free Spirit Line
 She is a true artist and a wonderful inspiration!

The guild has a free table and I found this wonderful book!

I have completed the top of the pattern I bought.
 The central motif is fused then finished with machine satin stitching.

The fabric kit was generous so there is enough for backing and binding.

Tuesday, April 25, 2017

Anything is Possible by Elizabeth Strout: Hope for the Hopeless

"But this was life! And it was messy!"
After Elizabeth Strout wrote My Name is Lucy Barton she was moved to tell the stories of the hometown characters Lucy and her mother had talked about, resulting in Anything is Possible.

In Strout's prize-winning book Olive Kitteridge each character is touched by Olive; in Anything is Possible it is Lucy Barton who provides the context for each story.

The suffering behind the stories made my heart ache. Poverty, abuse, deep loneliness, and loveless lives have left their marks on these characters. And yet--and yet--their resilience is rewarded with moments of grace, a nod of understanding, friendship offered unexpected--the small gifts that shed a ray of hope that life can be different.

As I was reading Strout I was also reading A Tree Grows in Brooklyn by Betty Smith. I noted similarities between the books: crushing childhood poverty, resilience, and an understanding that being truthful about life isn't pretty.

Lucy's sister Vicky asks Lucy why she doesn't write the truth of what happened to their family. Who'd want to read that story? their brother Pete asks. I would, Vicky replies. I was reminded of a scene from A Tree Grows in Brooklyn where Francie's teacher tells Francie to write pretty stories, not stories about drunkenness and poverty, the stories of Francie's real life. The question always is, do writers tell the truth or 'pretty' life up? Strout has decided that life is messy, and yet, as Pete tells Vicky, we don't turn out so bad in spite of it.

It is Strout's honesty that is unsettling and moving. By entering these character's lives we learn compassion. We walk in their shoes for a while and they become more than a recluse, or a fat lady, or the poor kids who ate from dumpsters.

The best part is the compassion these characters have for each other. Lucy's brother Pete remarks that their mother 'just wasn't made right,' and Lucy agrees but adds, "She had grit. She hung in there."

At a time when Americans are trying to understand the force behind popularism and the political climate, we are turning to literature to understand the experiences of those who are from different backgrounds. Forget some of the over-marketed best sellers. Read Strout.

I received a free ebook from the publisher through NetGalley in exchange for a fair and unbiased review.

Anything is Possible
Elizabeth Strout
Random House
Publication date: April 25, 2017
$27 hardcover
ISBN: 9780812989403

"Radiant...Class prejudice remains one of Strout's enduring themes along with the complex, fraught bonds of family across the generations...Another powerful examination of painfully human ambiguities and ambivalences--this gifted writer just keeps getting better." Kirkus Reviews

Sunday, April 23, 2017

Everything I Need To Know I Learned in the Twilight Zone

It has forever been thus: so long as men write what they think, then all of the other freedoms--all of them--may remain intact. And it is then that writing becomes a weapon of truth, and article of faith, an act of courage. Rod Serling, January 15, 1968 speech
When I read a review of Everything I Need to Know I Learned in the Twilight Zone: A Fifth Dimension Guide to Life in the local paper I couldn't believe I had missed this book. Here was a book that spoke to what I had long believed: that Rod Serling had taught me my basic values.

I was seven years old in 1959 when Twilight Zone first aired. It became my 'must see' tv show. Over the years I enjoyed the reruns but it was while my son and I watched hours of marathon reruns that I realized that perhaps more than any book or Sunday school class it was Rod Serling who had instructed me in how to live.
Rod Serling
As a kid, I liked the ironic endings, the comeuppances, and just desserts. I thrilled to the eerie and chilled to the scary. The episode that most scared me was The Invaders, told without dialog, about a witchlike old woman whose primitive cabin is invaded by tiny spacemen. They were more frightening because of their diminutive size, for they could creep up unseen. Then came the reveal--the spaceship was from the United States, the menacing spacemen were human and the woman was the alien.
The Invaders
After reading the preview available online I ordered Mark Dawidziak's book and began reading it upon arrival.

Born in a Reform Jewish family in Binghamton, NY, Serling had an ideal childhood but encountered prejudice as he grew up. In 1943 he enlisted and served in the Pacific front as a paratrooper, the roots of his horror of war and hope for humanity. He entered Antioch College, founded by Horace Mann who wrote, "Be ashamed to die until you have won some victory for humanity." After graduation, Serling lived in Cincinnati where he wrote for the radio station, then for television. As he matured, his writing incorporated social commentary, convicted it was "the writer's role to menace the public's conscience."

The Twilight Zone stories are teaching parables. As Anne Serling writes in her forward, her father "truly and deeply cared about all of us." If we have ears to hear, Dawidziak shows us, there are fifty lessons to be gleaned from these stories.

Some of my favorite examples from the book, whose lessons need to be heard again, include:

Divided We Fall, highlighting Serling's script The Monsters are Due on Maple Street. It warns us about mob mentality, fear of people who are 'different', and shows how evil arises from suspicion and division. Many chapters end with a guest lesson; for this chapterMarc Scott Zicree writes, "we can live in a universe of love and compassion, or chaos and destruction. The choice is ours, made every day, every moment, by the actions we conscious or unconsciously take...and you can file that under L for Life Lessons."

Share With Others, gleaned from I Shot An Arrow into the Air, written by Serling. A spaceship crashes into a desert, leaving the astronauts with limited supplies. One man decides he will not share, he will survive at any cost. As the last man alive he learns they had landed on Earth, with civilization just over the hill. Adversity brings out the monster and the best of humanity. Dawidziak connects this lesson to the Flint water crisis and the challenge of providing clean water to everyone in need across the world.

Imagine a Better World, arising from Richard Matheson's script A World Of His Own, a comedic story of a man who can manipulate reality through a dictation machine. Dawidziak notes that the power of imagination is basic to the series, and this episode is a nod to storytellers and dreamers who unlock doors to possibilities.

Fill Your Life With Something Other Than Hate is a reoccurring theme in Twilight Zone, including one of my personal favorites, Two, written by Montgomery Pittman. In a post-war, empty world, one lone female and one lone man survive; they are from opposing armies, distrustful and full of hate. The episode is without dialog, for the two do not share a common language. They have a choice: to carry on the war or to assume their common humanity and lay down arms. He also lists Two under Everybody Needs Somebody Sometime.

Payback is a...Or, What Goes Around Comes Around, is another theme shared by many episodes. This was a favorite saying of a neighbor many years ago, meant as consolation while rejected by a petty community. Serling hated fascism; in his script Deaths-head Revisited, a Nazi visiting Dachau enjoys memories of his time there--until he is put on trial by the ghosts of the dead.

Serling ends the show saying, "All the Dachaus must remain standing. The Dachaus, the Belsens, the Buchenwalds, the Auschwitzs, all of them. They must remain standing because they are a monument to a moment in time when some men decided to turn the Earth into a graveyard. Into it they shoveled all of their reason, their logic, their knowledge, but worst of all, their conscience. And the moment we forget this, the moment we cease to be haunted by its remembrance, then we become the gravediggers."

My heart ached reading this, for I fear we are forgetting.

Don't Be A Bully also is a message found in over a half dozen episodes, wish fulfillment stories where bullies get their just desserts. The Guest Lesson is from Scott Skelton who wrote, "As I got older...the series' strong ethical undercurrents surfaced in my consciousness: its indignant stance on social injustice, its rage at the too often petty nature of our species--prejudice, mob rule, the ever-present threat of fascism, the shadow of superstition and ignorance that has, throughout history, halted the progress of our species. From these bite-sized morality plays I drew an unshakable belief in the basic dignity of man--that despite our individual mistakes, our foibles, our follies, and our general bad behavior, we all have a right to respect, to a collective esteem based on the actions and sacrifices of a few of our more noble representatives."

The Civilization That Does Not Value the Printed Word and the Individual is Not Civilized. The Obsolete Man by Serling has a librarian as the hero, a man who clings to his outlawed, obsolete, books, standing up to totalitarian authorities by announcing, "I am nothing more than a reminder to you that you cannot destroy truth by burning pages." Serling's closing narrative states, "Any state, any entity, any ideology that fails to recognize the worth, the dignity, the rights of man, that state is obsolete."

These don't even include some of my favorite episodes, including Time Enough at Last (Nobody Said Life Was Fair/Be Careful What You Wish For); those with Jack Klugman, including A Passage for Trumpet, the lesson being Follow Your Passion); Kick the Can (You're Only Truly Old When You Decide You're Old); and Nothing in the Dark (Death, Where is Thy Sting). Nothing in the Dark has Robert Redford as a gentle and kind Mr. Death, an image that stuck with me.

I could go on, but instead, I will advise you to just read the book.

Thank you, Mr. Serling. And Thank you, Mr. Dawidziak, for confirming that I learned my values in The Twilight Zone.

Saturday, April 22, 2017

Golden Bats and Pink Pigeons by Gerald Durrell: Saving Paradise

Golden Bats and Pink Pigeons: A Journey to the Flora and Fauna of a Unique Island is the entertaining story of Gerald Durrell's experience on Mauritius in the Indian Ocean where he collected rare specimens for his animal sanctuary. The Dodo had already vanished from the island and by the 1970s many more species were going the way of the Dodo.

Durrell's tales are entertaining and funny. His description of the Jak fruit as "an obscene green fruit, covered with knobs and looking rather like the corpse of a Martian baby" sent me into hysterics. My husband and I had just seen one at Kroger two days before I read this description. The Jak was meant to lure the Golden Bats and had a pungent smell "vaguely reminiscent of a putrefying body." And the produce man told us it tasted like "Juicy Fruit" gum. Glad we were not tempted.

After several delays, which involved Durrell's team eating the bat fruit before it spoiled and buying more, the team finally landed on Rodriguez island. That evening the mosquitoes attacked. "I'm rather glad we came really, I would hate to think of all these mosquitoes going hungry," remarked one of the party. "Yes it's a form of conservation, really," Durrell replied.

The party contended with other invasions as well, by giant land snails that invaded their tent and ate their food and baby Shearwaters that invaded their beds.

The descriptions of Mauritius's flora, fauna, and coral reefs are vivid and gorgeous. My favorite chapter was The Enchanted World on the coral reefs. The writing is evocative and lovely as Durrell describes experiencing the overwhelming life and color of the reef. You understand his enchantment.

As I read this chapter I experienced a tightness in the pit of my stomach, fearful that these teeming reefs are dying like reefs all over the world. I checked it out. The reef is suffering from higher temperature water due to El Nino events and is also impacted by a billion tourists a year and the agricultural runoff from the island.

Mother Earth is losing her children from human impact and climate change. Durrell strove to save species from extinction. I am glad to have read his memoir and learned about his work.

I thank the publisher for the free ebook through NetGalley in exchange for a fair and unbiased review.

Read about Durrell's Zoo on Jersey

Mauritian Wildlife Foundation to see the flora and fauna discussed in the book

News report on the coral reef

Golden Bats and Pink Pigeons
Gerald Durrell
Open Road Media
ISBN: 9781504042833

Thursday, April 20, 2017

Nick and Jake: A Literary-Historical Smash Up

Nick and Jake: An Epistolary Novel by Jonathan Richards and Tad Richards mixes literary figures with historical persons.

In 1953 Nick Carraway, one-hit wonder novelist and Assistant Undersecretary of State for European Affairs, becomes friends with Jake Barnes, expatriate veteran and newsman with a conscience.

America is embroiled in a Cold War and a nuclear arms race, with Vietnam emerging as the central playing field. The CIA is interfering with foreign governments. On the homefront, McCarthy's witch hunt for Reds is peaking and the CIA is spying on Americans.

CIA maverick Robert Cohn's nephew Robert is Senator McCarthy's top aide and is on a book burning tour of American government libraries in Europe.

True Blue Nick is losing his rose-tinted view of the homeland and is finally starting that second novel. Jake's war wound may be reversible thanks to cutting-edge surgery developed when Dr. Hamburger turned George into Christine Jorgensen.

I had great fun identifying the references. Nick (from The Great Gatsby) and Jake (from The Sun Also Rises) are products of the 1920s, watching a younger generation dismantle the world they fought to preserve. Readers meet a host of other characters ranging from schoolyard bully Bill (William) Buckley, CIA director Allen Dulles, neo-conservative pioneer Irving Kristol, collaborator Maurice Chevalier, TV director Jimmie Dodd (host of Mickey Mouse Club), and Ronnie Gilchrist, a young singer mistaken for The Weavers' Ronnie Gilbert.

The novel is a fun jaunt, but also a provocative reminder of America's past sins. It connects the dots between choices made in 1953 that created problems that impact us to this day--like the destabilization of the Middle East. And it is a timely reminder and warning not to repeat the past.

I received a free ebook from the publisher through NetGalley in exchange for a fair and unbiased review.

Nick and Jake: An Epistolary Novel
Jonathan Richards and Tad Richards
Open Road Media
ISBN: 9781611458282

Wednesday, April 19, 2017

My Large-Block Quilt Top

I found Large-Block Quilts by Victoria Eapen on sale locally this past week and bought it.
Large Block Quilts
 I loved the pieced pinwheel quilt, Spin Patch, below.

I decided to use fabric I had in my stash to try out the pattern.

The construction is interesting. A giant 24 1/2" x 25" block made of pieced squares is layered with the solid fabric, sewn on the diagonal, and cut in half to create two parts of the pinwheel block. The borders are not the same width, giving it an interesting off center, modern look.

The instructions were great to follow.
 It is awfully wrinkled laying on the floor.
Now I know how the pattern works I want to make it again, this time with a gray background as in the original.
Sharing the top to my weekly quilt group--you can see how BIG it is
The pattern makes a quilt 65 1/2" x 65 1/2". Perhaps I will enlarge the borders to bed size when I make it again.