ALA Loot

I try to restrain myself at ALA! Really I do!

But it’s been more than a year since I went to an ALA conference. My self-control is ebbing.

The first night, I picked up 37 books:


The second day, with a trip back to the hotel in the middle to drop off books — I got 42.2 books. I’m calling a Naomi Novik booklet with the beginning of her new book a tenth of a book, and same for a CD sampler from Guys Listen! with excerpts from various audiobooks.


This includes several signed books. Let’s see:

From the graphic novels panel, I got an ARC of Out from Boneville, Tribute Edition, signed by Jeff Smith

Nina in That Makes Me Mad!, a Toon Book by Hilary Knight, signed by Francoise Mouly, editor of Toon Books

A copy of The Shadow Hero signed by Gene Luen Yang

Then from the exhibits yesterday:

The Terrible Two, signed by Mac Barnett and Jory John

Channing O’Banning and the Turquoise Trail, signed by Angela Spady (who was very excited that my son goes to William & Mary, as does her daughter)

Today I got While Beauty Slept, signed by Elizabeth Blackwell, a book I’ve been meaning to read for some time.

Poison Fruit, signed by Jacqueline Carey

An ARC of Dark Debt, signed by Chloe Neill

Ben Franklin’s Big Splash, signed by Barb Rosenstock

And the only books I paid for ($6 each): Infidel and Nomad, signed by Ayaan Hirsi Ali.

Some other books I’m very excited about include:

The third Princess Academy book by Shannon Hale

The sequel to Seraphina by Rachel Hartman

A new book by Jessica Day George

A new Clementine book by Sara Pennypacker

Two books by Clare Dunkle (one with her daughter), which I had already preordered

The Chosen Prince, by Diane Stanley

Nightbird, by Alice Hoffman

A Dangerous Place, by Jacqueline Winspear

And much, much more!

And there’s still a day and a half to go! (Though I also have to figure out a time to ship the books.)

Ayaan Hirsi Ali – Arthur Curley Memorial Lecture at ALA Midwinter Meeting

The last session of the day today was a big auditorium lecture (A conversation with a moderator) with Ayaan Hirsi Ali

Here are my notes:

Ayaan Hirsi Ali
Arthur Curley Memorial Lecture
Moderator: Donna Seaman

She worked in a ThinkTank. Managing immigration in Holland. How much immigration can a welfare state absorb and remain a welfare state?

On 9/11, when she saw the towers fall, she prayed that it was not Muslims who did this.
Was frightened when some Muslim kids were filmed being happy about it.
Holland was trying to pretend that nothing had happened.
A vast march of Muslims saw the attacks as the right way to attack the infidels.
She had to evaluate where she stood on Islam.

Donna Seaman: Talk about when you discovered your first school library.

Hirsi Ali: The institution called a library is why she’s here.

They had Shakespeare, but the hottest copies were Nancy Drews, Hardy Boys, Enid Blyton

The most highly read copies had the end missing, but they were still kept in the library.

That was the seeding of her intellectual life.

What was your education like before that?

We are not Islands. Our communities exercise control.

When she was in Somalia, it was all about the collective — everyone policing her behavior, and everyone else’s behavior.

She moved to Kenya at 10 years old, and she went to school, because her father insisted.

There were no screens. She had “A lot of time to be bored and be evil.”

In hindsight, a little bit of my ethical moral training came from Nancy Drew and Hardy Boys. Also the individualistic way of thinking about things — the basis was laid back then.

For an average student, seeded with extremely limited resources with the ideas of the enlightenment…. shows how important children’s minds are.

If we consciously try to promote the ideas of the enlightenment, we can reach children’s minds.

For her, her writing is more about the message than about the craft. English is her 4th language.

You need the freedom of expression for her message to get out.
She was amazed when she moved to the Netherlands at the freedom of expression.

When the Dutch had a flood, they blamed the government, rather than God!

In the context where she grew up, her questions were clamped down.

After she wrote Infidel, she became famous or infamous, just from telling the story — and she offended the community she grew up in. The collective was not ready to reveal these things to the world.

99% of western society said it was different — but not some of the fundamentalist westerners. Authoritative collectives treat individuals the same way. This is something universal.

She learned from the responses is that there are degrees in which the authoritative collective can inhibit freedom.

Where we are now is going to military means first.

Most Muslims are good people. They are not going to become atheists. In 2010, she thought they should become Christians.

Then Arab Spring happened. She saw crowds of young people demanding freedom.

After they were standing up to despots, they will learn to stand up to the personal despot. Students will start asking questions.

In the Muslim context, it is “You have to obey because Allah says so.”

The question now is, “Who is Allah? Who is Mohammed to tell me what to do?”

Now seeds for reformation are there.

She is seeing young women having a state of dissonance.

Some choose to clear that dissonance by becoming more fundamentalist.

They cocoon themselves by going by the letter.

What gives her hope is those who try to get to the core of the text. We need a new relationship with God.

Librarians are probably the happiest community on the planet because they have time to read.

It helps to remember when Christianity was as intolerant as Islam is now. And remember that those who wanted change were accused of blasphemy.

Remember that with Christianity: That’s how it was. 500 years ago, Christians were easily offended as well.

Librarians can encourage those conversations.

Libraries are a place where you come and reflect. Think of libraries as temples of enlightenment.

People who are vulnerable to terrible ideas need to see competition of ideas at libraries.

We need the courage to say, if I’m in a place to choose between my conscience and the demands of a God, I need to choose my conscience.

Women in Geekdom

Today at ALA Midwinter Meeting in Chicago, I went to a panel called Women in Geekdom. It was excellent, about reaching out to women via libraries.

Here are my notes:

Women in Geekdom

Moderator, Samantha Nelson, from the A. V. Club — talking about Gamers

Tricia Bobeda — Nerdette Podcast – Nerd is not what you love but how much you love it. 50,000 people listen.
All you need to podcast is a computer and a decent microphone.
Interested in librarians podcasting.

Mo Fong – K-12 Education Outreach at Google
The world is changing, and students need access and exposure to learn.
Research: Why women choose computer science: Encouragement and exposure. That’s something librarians do.

Emily Graslie: The Field Museum & The Brain Scoop
Similarities between libraries and museums.

Molly Jane Kremer: Challenger Comics & 
Have won the Eisner’s for best retailer. She reviews comics.
Libraries facilitate collaboration.

Samantha Nelson, Moderator: “Gamers love to talk to other Gamers.” Libraries can be a space for that.

Tricia: Kickstarter is a similar model to Public Radio.
Membership can also be about getting together and sharing ideas.

Mo Fong – There is lots of collaboration in Computer Science, and that works well with libraries.

Emily : Libraries and Museums have the advantage of an exciting physical space. The majority of their community building happens online.
You can invite people to come into the physical space.

Molly Jane: People assume comic fans are antisocial — but they connect with fellow enthusiasts. Libraries can foster that sort of community.

Moderator: Geekdom can seem intimidating. A library can help people get that first exposure.

Mo: Finding out what students already love within their communities and adding those: Arduino lights on shoes!
Video: Made with Code campaign
It has projects kids can do right in the library
Host a Made with Code Party — comes in a box. You’re a facilitator. Minimal cost and equipment.
Only 18% of Computer Science Graduates today are women.
CS First Clubs. Targeted toward middle schoolers. Tied to themes — music art, fashion, games, friends. Clubs we can run.

Tricia: Podcasting is a safe space, like libraries. Not afraid to show themselves as beginners.
If kids can become the teachers, it’s less scary, and it’s empowering.
Get the kids in your community face to face with scientists.

Emily – She has a web series where she continues to ask the amateur questions. Learning together is a unifying thing.
NOT the empty vessel model.
Allowing kids to become an authority is so empowering for them.

Molly Jane: Intimidating when starting out in comics. Libraries are great places to get around that. You just need a kind understanding person to help you figure out what you need to know. Making you feel like you can dive in.

Samantha: A program is only successful if people show up. How do you combat the perceptions as a waste of time?
More brain power used than the game of chess.
How do we make it clear and remove the negative stigmas? How do we explain the social and mental benefits?

Emily: Can go both ways. She hated everything as a teenager — you also need to appeal to the kid.
Associated with the library gives it built-in credibility!
Depends on the age of the kids, too.

Mo: Curious about how we get interest at different ages.
Can there be parallel programming for the parents?
Tricia: Journalists and librarians are conduits for actual understanding.
Street cred to what we do!
Make partnerships so kids can see actual scientists.

Molly Jane: Get comic artists to do signings.

Samantha: Co-programming is good.
Why do you think women are less represented in your groups?
It’s empowering to meet other women interested. Library can be a place where that happens.

Tricia: The Safety to be As Weird As You Are
When they started Nerdette it was to give women a space.
Libraries can take up the community conversation being dropped by newspapers

Mo: Perception is a problem. What books do you highlight? In history, women were not seen as any less capable with computer science.

Emily: Lots of thoughts in my Mind Palace about women in geekdom
We call the shots on what’s cool.
We don’t have enough positive female role models in these fields.
Take a stance on issues! Highlight women scientists!
You can expand people’s ideas of what games can do.
Games as narrative.
Parents do bristle at things marketed for boys or for girls.
Public librarians: Reach out to the community colleges.
Steer young people to the special programs.
First Robotics programs (free, online).

Tricia: Don’t be apologetic to ask the community for help!

Mo: You only need one person super passionate about things to make things work.

Abrams Book Buzz at ALA Midwinter Meeting


This morning, at ALA Midwinter Meeting, I started off my morning in the Book Buzz Theater for the Abrams Preview of upcoming titles.

Here are my notes:

Abrams Book Buzz
Mac Barnett & Jory John started it off, talking about their new book, The Terrible Two – It’s a book about pranksters.
A kid comes to a new school and wants to be the school prankster, but this school already has a prankster. He must outdo and uncover the other. A book about friendship.
The audience took the prankster’s oath! “amuse the merry” “dismay the dour”


Tom Angleberger
New book: The Rat with the Human Face
Ended the Origami Yoda series last year because the story was ending.
Relaunching the Qwikpik series.
What they are about: A poop fountain, and a rat with a human face — sort of cast as historical fiction. About real kids. Need to find the audience.
New book in the fall: Picture book about a toad McToad Mo’s Tiny Island.
It has every form of toddler-beloved transportation.

Daniel Kirk — You Are Not My Friend, But I Miss You
and The Thing About Spring
A little simpler than his previous books.
Character ended up being a sock monkey (like one he’d stolen as a child).
Favorite toy is stolen — can he get a new friend or not? Be his own best friend?
The Thing About Spring – a character who hates spring and doesn’t want anything to change. Trying to save snow for later.

Andrea Beaty – Rosie Revere Engineer will be going to the International Space Station this fall — Storytime from Space!
Happy Birthday, Madame Chapeau, illus by David Roberts has info about the illustration process.
Fluffy Bunnies 2: The Schnoz of Doom sequel to Attack of the Fluffy Bunnies.
Originally, it was supposed to be about bunnies so cute they make the cats on the internet weep from jealousy. Became six-foot-tall scary bunnies from outer space and their planet is going to be struck by a marshmallow.
Kids save the earth from the enormous fluffy bunnies — until now. It’s a hybrid graphic novel with Dan Santat. Some real science, but utterly stupid.

Ethan Long: Hi! An original board book series.
Profile eyes to make it subdued and unthreatening. 18 words.

USBBY Meeting at ALA Midwinter

I’m at ALA Midwinter Meeting in Chicago. Last night, thanks to a tip from Sarah Flowers, whom I saw in the hotel eating area, I went to a meeting at my hotel of the United States Board on Books for Young People.

This is the 10th year that USBBY has made an Outstanding International Books List. They are books published in the United States, that originated in a different country, and they help American children see other perspectives. This year’s members presented the 2015 titles — They definitely made me want to read them.

Then they had an author speak who has an international perspective. Here are my notes from her talk:

Sabaa Tahir, author of An Ember in the Ashes.
She has family all over the world.

Her personal history: Begins in the Mojave Desert, grew up at Richcrest in a Motel which her parents managed. She knew from an early age that she didn’t belong. People told her parents to go back to where they came from.

She was voiceless. Her Kindergarten teacher didn’t think she could talk.

She escaped to the library. Particularly fantasy novels.

She was a hero and an adventurer when reading.

These characters would have the chance to speak out.

She was working at the Washington Post — reading about the most powerless and voiceless people in the world.

Also about courage, loneliness, love, family.

Intersection of hope & despair. The decisions they make define everything that comes after.

She made the book as authentic as she could — lots of research.

She interviewed modern day warriors to get the souls of her characters.

Talked with an FBI agent who fought gangs in San Jose. Psychological matters a lot more than the physical.

Was told there are people in the police force who should not be in positions of authority.

West Point cadet had a presence.”Duty Honor Country” – not just words, a way of life for him.

Researched Ancient Rome – Julio Claudian era. Social stratification based on that. Used Sparta for the academy. Spartans entered at 7 years old.

Her female character must become a slave. Researched what it was like for slaves in everyday life.

Also storytelling research. Saw a Persian storyteller, practicing the ancient art of Nakali — which women aren’t normally allowed to practice. Amazing storyteller — even in Farsi. She used her whole body, and without the language she could still understand the story.

Character names: Each race has its own naming conventions. Each character had a name that fit with them. Elias — a humble Hebrew statement of faith. The names Elias and Alia are supposed to sound like a song when together.

Why she writes:
Writing for her is research, and revision, and frustration. It took her 6 years.
She wanted to tell their story.
In the end, she wrote because of her desire for a voice.

She wants to speak to those who feel they do not have a voice.

ALA Midwinter Meeting – Graphic Novel Author Forum

Yay! I’m at ALA Midwinter Meeting in Chicago. Tonight I’ve got a cozy night in my hotel room, so my plan is to write up my notes from the sessions I’ve attended so far.

First up was an Author Forum featuring authors of Graphic Novels — Cece Bell, Jeff Smith, Francoise Mouly, and Gene Luen Yang.


I’m going to paste my notes below and try to clean them up:

ERT Booklist Author Forum

Cece Bell, Francoise Mouly, Jeff Smith, Gene Luen Yang

Moderator: How did you start with comics?

CB: When she was 7 or 8. Older brother had National Lampoon. Friend had Beano, from England.

Jeff Smith: Peanuts, Pogo, National Lampoon, MAD Magazine — father read it to him.

Francoise – Grew up in France, where comics were ubiquitous. Magazine Pilot, inspired by MAD.

Gene: Started collecting comics in the 5th grade. Marvel 2 in 1 – Mom made him get Superman instead. The bomb dropped in the comic and captured his imagination. Mostly superhero comics were available then. Did find Bone — proved to him that comics don’t only have to be about superheroes.

What does it mean when someone labels your work “All Ages”?
Francoise: “Little Lit” was labeled for All Ages. She realized later that’s not helpful. Labeling provides guidance, because you can’t tell at a glance what level is appropriate.

Jeff Smith: He doesn’t like that term. He was trying to do a newspaper strip — for everyone. He does a children’s book for adults — “That’s all ages.”

Gene, How do you feel when Middle Schoolers are assigned to read your stuff?

Gene: It’s NUTTY! He started American Born Chinese as pamphlets he copied himself. His own son’s class just did it.
Since he deals with racial stereotypes, he does worry that the kids get it. When he sees middle school teachers leading thoughtful discussions about the issues the book raises, that’s the best case.

Jeff: “How can you make comic books boring?”
We shouldn’t talk them out of comic books by assigning it in school!

Cece, feedback about El Deafo?

Cece: Kids like her are so happy about it. A format they can share with their friends. Also adults, to explain what they go through. It has become a manual, as well as a story of friendship.
A manual so people know how to talk to her!
Response from kids and adults without hearing loss has also been wonderful.
Nicest thing: “I am now meeting people who are like me, wearing hearing aids and lip reading.” When she meets people like that, her world implodes.

Francoise: The abstraction of comics helps pull everyone into the character.
Comics are a young medium, and is opening up.

How do you think comics fit into the movement toward diversity in children’s literature?

Gene: In comics, you can’t hide your character’s diversity.
How do we present cultures that are not necessarily mainstream? That we are not necessarily a part of in an authentic way?
Need to find a balance — not running roughshod over other cultures, but not being afraid to include them.
“We have to be willing to tell stories we are uncomfortable telling.”

Francoise: Cartoonists have been killed for their art. Being brave enough to go there!
As visual people, they go with the essence of things.
A cartoonist has not only the ability, but the duty to bring this to the table.
It’s not like they give the answer. But cartoonists tend to gravitate toward wanting to understand things.
“Cartoonists are in the business of communicating their thoughts.”
If a cartoonist doesn’t communicate, it’s on them.
This is a good medium for exploring diversity.
Comics are very intimate — you see the hand of the author.
The sharing of experience, like Cece mentioned — very vivid and intimate.

Jeff – Hand drawn is extra intimate.
The mixture of the word and picture is dangerous and soupy.
About Charlie Hebdo — the power of the cartoon image is tremendous — but this is a whole new level of messed-up-ness.

Francoise – The issue feels very close to my heart.

Jeff – Francoise has been choosing the New Yorker covers for 21 years. Controversy!
The image completely shook up the whisper campaign that Obama is a Muslim.

Francoise: You can show in a cartoon in a way that really brings it to the front.
That cover got 20,000 insulting letters.
Cogent remark from Candidate Obama: “After all, what is exactly wrong with representing a Muslim in the White House?” Why is that such a shocking image?
The cartoonist can shine a flashlight on issues: Let’s talk about it! Better than hiding things under the rug.

Moderator: Comics in classrooms?

Jeff: Well, I’d make more money.
Certain pieces of information are more effectively communicated visually.

Gene: Comics in Legos, comics in airplanes. Sequential visuals.
There’s a visceral power to the simplified image.
To put an emotion directly in his reader’s gut, he goes with an image.

Cece: A gateway for kids who have trouble reading to start. Deaf kids are already more visual than verbal, and it gives them a headstart.

Visual Literacy: Do you think championing comics as a way to learn visual literacy pigeonholes them?

Jeff — Visual literacy has *always* been a real form of communication.
More images does not mean it’s dumbed down. Visual literacy is incredibly primal to us. Even though he’s talking, he’s still using his hands. Life is visual!
It’s a form of writing that can be as communicative as any other form.

Francoise: Only in the last 25 years have cartoonists thought of themselves as authors — and only the last 10 years that others have.
Some think pictures replace your imagination.
More like poetry and graphic design – both very distilled forms.
Makes for much more sophisticated readers.
Jeff: Unlike a film — director has made timing decisions, more passive.
Comics, like a book, require you to engage and use your imagination.
You have to make them come alive.
Jeff taught himself how to read with Peanuts.
A real thought in those days was that comics caused illiteracy. Even as a kid, he knew that was ridiculous. He knew he was reading. For him, it was absolutely crucial to his imagination and storytelling.
He used his brain to turn it on and discover these real people in comics.
A real imagination-starter.

Cece — You have to fill in what happens in between panels.

Gene — I don’t think of it as a pigeonhole, but as a foothold.

Francoise — We need a vocabulary to talk about visual media.

Moderator: Making comics is difficult. Why are you doing it?

Cece: “I am a terrible descriptive writer.” Being able to tell the story in pictures is a way to get around that.
Being able to use the speech balloons to show what hearing loss is like is so much more immediate than trying to use words to describe it. Allows the reader to experience it right then and there.

Gene loves comics with a pre-logical love. His storytelling voice is in comics.

Jeff – It is indeed a brutal schedule. But that’s only a part of it. The world goes away in that actual moment when you’re creating. A supreme experience, which he loves — like a drug. I get to go there. “That zen thing is why I do it.”

Francoise – She was groomed to be a surgeon. Realized as a teenager she wasn’t going to do that. It helped that her family wasn’t interested in comics. She studied architecture. Was frustrated that your plans are rarely realized. She met Art Spiegelman in NYC. He courted her by reading her comics. She couldn’t believe there was this world of potential hidden in plain sight. She fell in love with him the same time she fell in love with his medium.

Moderator: If you could recommend two books every library should carry, what would they be?

Gene: Usagi Jimbo (a samurai rabbit) By Stan Sakai.
He does his research, so his has lasted.
Meanwhile, by Jason Shiga. Choose your own adventure — Maze and comic combined.

Francoise: (More comics by women are coming out): Castaway on the Letter A, by Fred

Jeff: Hark a Vagrant
Goliath, by Tom G., also, “You’re All Just Jealous of my Jet Pack.”

Cece: Ed Emberley (to create comics) Anybody can draw with these books!
Moomim books


After this wonderful panel, I was able to get books signed by the authors featured, and then hit the Exhibits! I managed to restrain myself to 37 books that first night. No, that’s not very good self-restraint.

Review of The End of the Suburbs, by Leigh Gallagher

end_of_the_suburbs_largeThe End of the Suburbs

Where the American Dream Is Moving

by Leigh Gallagher
read by Jessica Geffen

Gildan Media, 2013. 7 ½ hours on 7 compact discs.

I checked out this book because I’ve been interested in the topic ever since I read Suburban Nation, by Andres Duany, Elizabeth Plater-Zyberk, and Jeff Speck. That book was more about how America should change – this book is more about how America is changing.

And it’s mostly good news, I think. Cities are attracting young people, and even outside the city, new construction is designed to be more walkable, more urbanized.

I thought my own 26-year-old son was the only young person in the country living without a driver’s license, but it turns out that’s a trend. He lives near the center of Portland and rides public transportation. And more and more Millennials are opting for car-free living.

Baby Boomers are ageing, and don’t necessarily want to own a house and yard any more, and the next generation doesn’t necessarily want to buy what they’re leaving. Long commutes have lost their luster, and more and more people are looking for lifestyle changes that don’t necessarily fit with the suburbs.

The book is somewhat repetitive and seemed a bit longer than it needed to be. The narrator has a voice that sounds like a teenager, which seemed a little bit of an odd choice. Most of all, it felt ironic to listen to it as I drove through construction, taking almost an hour to get home from work.

The author did convince me that times are changing, that more people are moving to the cities, and that new construction is going to be designed to be walkable.

But she honestly didn’t convince me that the suburbs are really ending any time soon. When I was looking to buy in the suburbs of Washington, DC, I found it’s still true that the most affordable properties are further out. Places like Gainesville, Virginia, are now centers of new construction.

But I do think they’re building that new construction to a different model than the one that went before. They are going to look very different from what Baby Boomers think of when you use the word “suburb.” There are lots of townhomes and condominiums available. As stated in the book, developers brag that they are building walkable neighborhoods. So they’re outside the big city, but you’ll still find urbanized neighborhoods, places with a community feel and a town center. Can that be a bad thing?

It will be interesting to see how these trends play out.

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Source: This review is based on a library audiobook from Fairfax County Public Library.

Disclaimer: I am a professional librarian, but I maintain my website and blogs on my own time. The views expressed are solely my own, and in no way represent the official views of my employer or of any committee or group of which I am part.

Review of Library Mascot Cage Match, by Bill Barnes & Gene Ambaum

library_mascot_cage_match_largeLibrary Mascot Cage Match

An Unshelved Collection

by Bill Barnes & Gene Ambaum

Overdue Media, Seattle, 2005. 120 pages.
Starred Review

We recently had a Library Staff Day, and Bill Barnes and Gene Ambaum spoke, and we each received a copy of one of their books. I have seen Unshelved online, but I had forgotten just how funny their cartoons are.

Unshelved is set in Mallville Public Library. The comic is written so that even non-librarians will find it funny. However, we librarians? We think it’s hilarious. At last the world is having some of their misperceptions about libraries cleared up!

My favorite strip from this book is one they highlighted in their session. You see people running around the library, and a customer saying “I thought libraries were supposed to be quiet!” Dewey (the teen librarian) says, “You have what we call ‘The Misperception.’”

Another good series is where a customer is advocating for a vote to close the library to “save” taxpayer money. The librarians help him prepare his case and his materials. At the end, he asks, “What is this, the Twilight Zone???” Dewey says, “No, a library. We don’t have to like you to help you.”

This book also includes, in the center, a full-color graphic novelette, “Empire County Strikes Back,” when a high-tech bookmobile from a neighboring county tries to take over their customers and close their library. There’s a lovely scene at the end where Dewey explains all that librarians do for their community, which technology can never replace.

It’s time to take sides. Are you going to be seduced by the lure of high technology or are you going to support your local public library the way we support you?

I need to take another look at this webcomic. Time to sign up for those daily emails – and order more of the books.

Buy from

Find this review on Sonderbooks at:

Disclosure: I am an Amazon Affiliate, and will earn a small percentage if you order a book on Amazon after clicking through from my site.

Source: This review is based on a library book from Fairfax County Public Library.

Disclaimer: I am a professional librarian, but I maintain my website and blogs on my own time. The views expressed are solely my own, and in no way represent the official views of my employer or of any committee or group of which I am part.

Review of The Yarn Whisperer, by Clara Parkes

yarn_whisperer_largeThe Yarn Whisperer

My Unexpected Life in Knitting

by Clara Parkes

STC Craft, a Melanie Falick Book (Abrams), New York, 2013. 160 pages.
Starred Review

This book would be an ideal gift for any knitter who also enjoys musings about life (like me). Clara Parkes takes experiences and techniques from her life in knitting, and applies the ideas to life.

For example, she talks about how a steek is like a divorce or other big cuts of life.

There’s a way to do it right, without pain. We work a series of steps called a steek, so that the stitches are prepared for what’s coming and can absorb the shock, heal without any scars, and even thrive in their new environment.

Another chapter is called “Stitch Traffic,” and talks about how stitches travel:

But some patterns do wild things. When you move those stacked stitches around, split them up and swap them over and under one another, force sudden merges and yields, driving becomes much more interesting. Your roads sprout new lanes, fork off in different directions, pass through busy rotaries. They can be detoured by giant bobble boulders, blasted with yarnover potholes, or forced into sudden dead ends….

Cables are the knitter’s version of highway overpasses and tunnels guiding lanes of stitches on their merry way…. Wide cables are like L. A. freeways, their beautiful maze of overpasses and off-ramps leading every stitch home. Occasionally traffic will snarl from a jackknifed big-rig, a mis-twisted cable. You’ll send in a wrecker to unravel the whole thing – or maybe use the Jaws of Life to cut an outside strand and reknit your way back in.

Her chapter on the Kitchener stitch and seamless connecting of all kinds begins by telling about the Knitter’s Handshake:

Two hands go in for the grab-and-shake, but at the last minute, they veer to the closest sleeve or band and grab it instead, while we ask, “Did you knit this?” Our eyes immediately scan the fabric for seams and joins, cast-on edges and edgings. We can’t help it, we’re wired to look for imperfections. A proper seam garners respect and admiration, even envy. Hastily worked, jagged, or lumpy lines are like scars – we know it’s impolite to ask how they got there, but we can’t stop staring.

I like “The Dropped Stitch” chapter so much, I’m going to quote from it at length:

Yarns are like people. Some have abandonment issues. They don’t do well when stood up. They look at the empty chair. They check their watches and realize what’s happened, and they panic. Glancing around, they see happily secure stitches just out of grasp, mocking, sneering, like teenagers in a cafeteria. They look up for the reassuring arms of the next row, but they see only air….

But not all yarns respond in this way. Some stand their ground, not the least bit unnerved by their disconnection or solitude. Their stitches can sit suspended for hours, days, years even. They bring their own books. They write letters home. They nod to passersby, reach out to pet strangers’ dogs, completely confident that eventually someone will notice their absence and come back to pick them up. “Oh, hello there,” they finally greet the returning needle, sliding in quickly and putting on their seat belt. “Nice to see you again.”

What makes a yarn react to abandonment the way it does? Why do some people crumble when faced with that empty chair, while others take it in stride? Does it all boil down to confidence – spunk, determination, security in one’s self and one’s own place in the world? Ironically, the most opulent and imperial yarns – the ones with slick and glossy surfaces that glide past their neighbors without so much as a how-do-you-do – tend to slink out the emergency exit the fastest.

Whether it’s from vanity or perhaps shyness, these slippery silks and smooth worsteds seem to have fewer deep and abiding connections. They look so beautiful in the skein. Their smooth and dense construction may help them last longer in the world. But what kind of life do they have? They’re so intent on holding it together that they rarely relax, let their hair down a little, get to know their neighbors. They sit upright in their fabric, arms held in to preserve their personal space. Knit them too loosely and sunlight will stream in between each stitch; too tight, and the stitches will quickly get grumpy and stiff from the forced intimacy. They expect life to go a certain way….

But those yarns with outgoing personalities – the ones formed from a noisy and jubilant community of lofty, crimpy fibers that are always in one another’s business – those yarns come together in times of trouble. Each stitch, even the tormented teenager who just wants a little privacy now and then, fundamentally supports the others. They willingly expand and contract to fill whatever space you give them. Need to add three more place settings for dinner? No problem, they smile, we can stretch the meal. And when the needle suddenly disappears and leaves a stitch stranded, the others reach out instinctively, “We’ve got your back,” they say, and they mean it….

Depending on where you go, these rugged-seeming woolen-spun yarns may not be sitting at the popular kids’ table. In fact, they’re more likely to be sitting in smaller groups outside, on the grass, under a quiet tree. But you know what? When push comes to shove comes to slipped needle and dangling stitch, when a chair is empty that’s supposed to have someone sitting in it, those are the yarns that will always wait for you. They are loyal to a fault, forgiving and secure in their own twist and tenacity. You want them on your side.

She talks about how yarn stashes are like gardens, casting on represents beginnings, and swatching is “the knitter’s equivalent of sight-reading.” There are all sorts of connections to knitting from the mind of someone who loves knitting and loves life.

I read it a chapter per day, and consistently got things to smile about and some food for thought. All lovers of yarn will find something to love about this book.

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Source: This review is based on a library book from Fairfax County Public Library.

Disclaimer: I am a professional librarian, but I maintain my website and blogs on my own time. The views expressed are solely my own, and in no way represent the official views of my employer or of any committee or group of which I am part.

Review of You Can Heal Your Heart, by Louise Hay and David Kessler

you_can_heal_your_heart_largeYou Can Heal Your Heart

Finding Peace After a Breakup, Divorce, or Death

by Louise L. Hay and David Kessler

Hay House, Carlsbad, California, 2014. 182 pages.
Starred Review

I picked up this book because I like Louise Hay’s work, and of course can always use more healing after my divorce. I also recently broke up with a boyfriend for the first time in my life. We’d only been dating two months, but still, this was new to me.

David Kessler I hadn’t heard of before, but he is an expert on grief and loss, so he brings solid credentials to the book. I think of Louise Hay as New Age-y. She focuses mainly on the power of affirmations, which I have some skepticism about. However, they take a solid look at your self-talk after loss and help you reframe your thinking and choose to see the positive. And Christians will find nothing to fault here. They may want to substitute “God” where Louise Hay uses “the Universe,” but everything else I think they can agree with.

In the Introduction, the authors explain how they’re trying to help:

A broken heart is also an open heart. Whatever the circumstances, when you love someone and your time together ends, you will naturally feel pain. The pain of losing a person you love is part of life, part of this journey, but suffering doesn’t have to be. Although it’s natural to forget your power after you lose a loved one, the truth is that after a breakup, divorce, or death, there remains an ability within you to create a new reality.

Let’s be clear here: We’re asking you to change your thinking after a loss occurs – not to avoid the pain of grief, but to keep moving through it. We want your thoughts to live in a place where you remember your loved one only with love, not with sadness or regret. Even after the worst breakup, the meanest divorce, and the most tragic death, it is possible to achieve this over time. That doesn’t mean that you deny or run away from the pain. Instead, you let yourself experience it and then allow a new life to unfold – one where you hold the love dear, not the sorrow.

The three main areas they focus on are helping you feel your feelings, allowing old wounds to come up for healing, and changing distorted thinking about relationships, love, and life.

Here’s a paragraph from the chapter that most interested me, on divorce:

Grief is a time of mourning all that has been lost – the dreams that have been shattered, and the loss of hope for the marriage you thought you were going to always have. However, when you can arrive at sweet acceptance that what has happened did actually happen, you will find that grief is also a time of renewal, rebuilding and reforming. You now have the opportunity to create yourself anew. Who will you be after the divorce? Don’t just leave a void for others and your past to fill and define you. Choose who you want to be. This is a new chapter, and you have the opportunity to start again. If you’re thinking, It’s too late for me to start again, just know that that is only a thought – and one that isn’t true. If you’re still residing on the planet, it’s never too late for you to start over.

I did like that, after the chapters on break-ups, divorce, and death, there was a chapter on the death of a pet, and then a chapter on other losses, such as job loss or miscarriages. Here’s a paragraph from the chapter “Honoring Pet Loss”:

The reality is that grief from pet loss is not as easily fixed as some would have us believe. It’s hard to live in grief that’s judged as unworthy. Grief is about love, and our animal companions often show us some of the most unconditional love we could ever experience. How often, despite our best efforts, do we absorb some of society’s judgments and think, I shouldn’t be grieving this much? Yet when we let these thoughts in, we betray our genuine feelings.

This is a gentle, hopeful and encouraging book which reminds you that a broken heart is also an open heart.

Let your thinking manifest hope to your sorrow. Choose your thoughts wisely. Be kind to yourself, and reflect on the loss with love. If you’re grieving the death of a loved one, remember how you loved them when they were present; know that you can continue loving them in their absence. You can go from grief to peace.

Buy from

Find this review on Sonderbooks at:

Disclosure: I am an Amazon Affiliate, and will earn a small percentage if you order a book on Amazon after clicking through from my site.

Source: This review is based on a library book from Fairfax County Public Library.

Disclaimer: I am a professional librarian, but I maintain my website and blogs on my own time. The views expressed are solely my own, and in no way represent the official views of my employer or of any committee or group of which I am part.