Book Review: The Scar Boys by Len Vlahos

The Scar BoysMorris Award Finalist
YALSA’s Morris Award honors the year’s best young adult novel by a debut author. The Morris Award winner for 2014 will be announced at the upcoming ALA 2015 Midwinter Meeting in Chicago.

Harry, whose actual name is Harbinger Robert Francis Jones, didn’t see it coming. Not that he could have done anything about it anyway, since he was a self-described coward. The bullies tied him to a dogwood tree, then left. A storm arose and lightning struck the tree, setting it on fire. By the time his mother found him, Harry had a concussion and severe burns on his head and torso. Harry would later say that he wished the lightning had struck him instead of the tree. That happened when he was only eight. It’s heartbreaking what some little kids have to live with.

Now his mind and body are deeply scarred and Harry flounders. Dr. Kenny suggests he memorize lists to quell his frustrations, starting with the varieties of lightning. Whoa. I had never heard of anvil lightning or some of the others. Harry memorizes many lists as he struggles to cope, until another boy befriends him. Unlike Harry’s disaster, Johnny McKenna’s life is just about perfect. He’s athletic, charismatic, and gets great grades. Johnny suggests a startling idea: they should start a band. So what if they and their friends don’t play instruments? They’ll learn. And what about Harry’s feeling that he’s a freak? He’ll hide behind his music. Oh, and a brimmed hat and sunglasses.

So begins the heart of the story, where a damaged boy with a sardonic outlook lurches past every heartache life tosses at him, persisting through taunts, loneliness, and thwarted crushes on girls, to become part of something bigger. Johnny’s friendship has sprung a miracle. Music generates sparks in Harry’s mind while his guitar and amps send thrilling electric vibes coursing through his body. He plugs into the rock of the 80s and 90s and out flows his own music. And the band goes on a self-made rock tour in a rusted van.

Gradually Harry sees through Johnny, the perfect lead singer, who must always be in control, demanding to be the boss. Johnny takes everything that Harry wants and needs most, especially Cheyenne Belle, their bass player. She’s supposed to be off limits, though apparently not to Johnny.

By age eighteen Harry is no longer a coward. He’s maturing. His relationship to Johnny, which energizes much of the story, begins to polarize as Harry comes into himself. There is one more tragedy for Harry to struggle with, but this time he has the power to channel the outcome.

The author’s personal experience playing with a group called the Woofing Cookies gives an edge of gritty realism to Harry’s band. Over the ten-year span of the story, the characters’ voices ring true and seem to mature along with Harry. Catastrophic events of his difficult life are, unfortunately, believable and the story zooms along at a good clip with an unexpected climax that is ironic and surprising. In an explosive moment when Johnny screams out his own frustration at what has happened, his words metaphorically ricochet around the room…until Johnny realizes how like Harry he really is. Harry is finding his way around his scars.

The masculine vibe of this story – male protagonists, masculine voice, and male author – is direct and refreshing. I’ve just started reading The Martian by Andrew Weir and this voice is similar in its directness and sarcastic attitude. That doesn’t make The Scar Boys a boy book, though. It’s good to peer into another gender’s mind for awhile.

The Scar Boys

by Len Vlahos
Egmont USA.
Young adult, 14-17


Finalist for the William C. Morris Award. The William C. Morris YA Debut Award, first awarded in 2009, honors a debut book published by a first-time author writing for teens and celebrating impressive new voices in young adult literature.

This review also appears here.

Check out the other stops on the Morris Finalist blog tour! Links here.

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The Story of Owen: Dragon Slayer of Trondheim by E.K. Johnston

Post #1: Morris Award Finalist Blog Tour Week
YALSA’s Morris Award honors the year’s best young adult novel by a debut author. The Morris Award winner for 2014 will be announced at the upcoming ALA 2015 Midwinter Meeting in Chicago. Writers’ Rumpus is honored to host a week of posts about the Morris Award Finalists.

Book Review by Joyce Audy Zarins

It seems that carbon-addicted dragons prowl now, as they always have, and our growing dependence on fossil fuel has boosted their numbers. Something must be done, and soon.

Set in a small town in present day Ontario, this witty adventure story is told by Siobhan McQuaid, the musically brilliant bard/PR person for young dragon-slayer-in-training Owen Thorskard. Sixteen-year-old “Owen the Weedy” has doubts about his ability to slay the dragons threatening his town, but he was born with a strong sense of duty toward family and community, so he keeps his sword sharp. Through an accident of fate, he and Siobhan meet and share detention on the first day of eleventh grade. During their ensuing encounters with disaster Siobhan sometimes narrates what actually happens. In other accounts, she takes the bard’s role of shaping the telling of events in order to improve the political and socio-economic outcome.

Siobhan also sets the world’s historical record straight, for example explaining the demise of Michigan. Its profusion of lakefront land was prime dragon breeding territory and its abundance of soot-belching factories and hordes of factory workers attracted the marauding beasts. She notes that the Detroit Redwings hockey team logo is a warning to society. Its wheel honors the auto industry, while its wing is a reminder of the dragons that “brought it down.” She clarifies accounts of dragon repulsion in regard to Queen Victoria, the burning of Carthage, and the despoiling of vast swaths of North Africa and the Middle East, sprinkling it all with annotations about the Beatles, Lady Gaga, and Shakespeare. There are also frequent moments of pure irony in her narration. The adult characters, including Owen’s father who has PTSD after a particularly brutal dragon attack in the Middle East, Owen’s quixotic mother, his other parents: Aunt Lottie, who is the most renowned, though now maimed, dragon slayer ever, and her wife Hannah the sword-maker, are well developed, believable, and interesting.

Siobhan explains that the swarming dragons have black blood and two hearts, and “You can’t just hack at a dragon. For starters, its scales are very hard, so if you whack its spine too many times, you’ll end up with a dull sword and your hair on fire.” Good tips to know. Farm animals and occasionally people “flesh out” their diet.

When the dragon population suddenly spikes, Owen, his family of famed dragon slayers, and Siobhan must defend their town, and their lives. Owen’s remarkable friendship (notice I did not say romance, for it isn’t one) with funny, intelligent Siobhan develops toward a dramatic and surprising climax in which something major is lost, generating a true hero.

 About the book design

The designer of the hardcover version of The Story of Owen: Dragon Slayer of Trondheim by E.K. Johnston has left no room for skepticism about the premise, that dragons will soon destroy Trondheim if two special teens don’t slay them. On the cover is a typical high school-er with a broadsword protruding from his backpack, hopefully not skewering his algebra homework. Algebra is not his best subject, after all. Over his shoulder looms a dark, toothy beast whose image relentlessly haunts the edges of the chapter opening pages throughout the book, as if always in the readers’ peripheral vision. Beneath the dust jacket is a fiery orange book with a foil embossed shield bearing the insignia of Siobhan’s French horn.

The interior pages have ample margins and gutter space along with a beautiful traditional serif font for the body text and sans serif for the folios, making this an eminently readable package that echoes the story’s interplay between past and present. This novel will hold up just as well in an e-book format, but Carolrhoda Lab has made the hardcover good to hold.

A sequel to The Story of Owen: Dragon Slayer of Trondheim, titled Prairie Fire, is available for preorder with a March launch date.

StoryofOwen_coversmallTHE STORY OF OWEN
Dragon Slayer of Trondheim
By E. K. Johnston
Carolrhoda Lab. Young adult; ages 12 to 18

Finalist for the William C. Morris Award. The William C. Morris YA Debut Award, first awarded in 2009, honors a debut book published by a first-time author writing for teens and celebrating impressive new voices in young adult literature.

This review also appears at WritersRumpus.

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Sports Books for Girls

W Any Way You Slice ItToday Kristine Carlson Asselin revealed the cover of her debut YA novel, Any Way You Slice It, about Penelope Spaulding, who uses hockey as a great escape from her parents’ restaurant. As her confidence on the ice and her commitment to the Rink Rats and someone named Jake Gomes grows, she finds it harder and harder to keep her passion a secret from her parents, who have other plans for her.

To read more about this book, go to the blog Sporty Girl Books, which smartly highlights MG and YA books about girls who have a passion for sports. This blog is a fantastic resource for anyone who wants to be more than a spectator to life.

Kristine is an SCBWI New England organizer extraordinaire and author of many non-fiction books for teens. Any Way You Slice It will be released by Bloomsbury Spark on April 7, 2015.

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The Book With No Pictures – but much hilarity


My son Carl gave me this remarkable book. Let me tell you about it.

B.J. Novak had an insidious plan. Write a book that begins innocently enough, with a statement hinting at the unusual format for this picturebook…wait…if there are no pictures, is it still a picturebook? It’s shaped like one and has pages, text, a gutter in the middle, a cover that says the title. But Novak is right – there isn’t a single picture.

Then he makes the point that whoever (especially if that person is an adult) is reading this book aloud must say whatever is in the book.

That’s the rule.

Immediately, kid’s eyes twinkle at the thought of what it would be like to have a grown-up read ridiculous stuff and Shazaam! It happens: “Blork.” The first word that begins to make grownups reading aloud be silly in front of kids.

The text says “Wait-what? That doesn’t even mean anything.” Well, perhaps to the author it doesn’t, however in our newspaper the cartoon Thatababy by Paul Trap frequently relies on that word – blork. It’s the sound of a diaper being filled. I’m sure Mr. Novak would approve.

Many extremely silly lines later (“I am a robot monkey”??? “my head is made of blueberry pizza”???and an animal named “Boo Boo Butt”???) the read-aloud person has been humiliated, but is this enough? Oh, no. There is more in store. The reader is coerced into making idolizing comments about the kid. How perfect. And, to make victory even sweeter, there’s a double page spread of weird sounds the adult reader must make out loud. After all, they are written in the book.

That’s the rule.

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Caring for Heron’s Dream

W-20141010_003 BYesterday was a beautiful fall day; perfect for a touch-up on Heron’s Dream. This kinetic sculpture, a collaboration between The Acton-Boxborough Cultural Council, the town of Acton’s NARA Park, Carolyn Wirth, and myself, was installed after the pond froze last winter. The grant process, town approvals and contract negotiations meant that I could not fabricate the sculpture earlier. But no worries, we got it in before Christmas. Now, nearly a year later, it was time to check on the silicone grease at the joints and give the natural “patina” of the steel a coat of Penetrol, a rust inhibitor that also makes the rusting surface look clean and warm.

One of NARA Park's crayfish guarding Heron's Dream.

One of NARA Park’s crayfish guarding Heron’s Dream.

This is a denizen of the pond who thought he could intimidate my companion/helper, Egils. Ferocious, isn’t he? Note the little seeds stuck delicately to the crayfish’s claws (click to enlarge). We don’t usually see many crayfish.  The mud slid right off his body, unlike the way it stuck in squishy globs to everything else.

I wondered if the depth of the water would be an issue, since I am not very tall (understatement) and I wasn’t sure how deep the sediment below would be. But this was a very dry summer and autumn, so October proved to be the ideal time. The tiny pond was surprisingly shallow, so this would be easy. Except for the muck, that is. I relied on my son Eric’s fishing waders, and a pole for balance.

W-20141010_007The closest, shallowest approach was eighteen feet from shore to stone. Two pieces of plywood I brought served as a pathway to stand on. One of them doesn’t show in the picture because it’s submerged in the ooze. The main issue was the mud-viscosity-to-boot-surface ratio. When I stepped directly in, the mud didn’t want to give my boot back. Also the waders are clumsy to walk in, since they’re heavy and too big. But they do give a sort of swash-buckling flavor to my ensemble, don’t you think? Avoidance of falling into that nice organic muck was the main motivation for the plywood. It worked well.

So, I cleaned off and reapplied silicone grease to the kinetic parts, brushed on the Penetrol,  then made my dashing (Ha, ha. More like “slow and careful.”) exit.

What were you doing yesterday?

photos by Egils Zarins

Related articles:

Commission for NARA Park

NARA Park sculpture name


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About Peace

The New York Times Op Docs today offered 45 minutes of beautiful wisdom. Humans can cause peace.

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What Shape Is That Story?

This article is a post I wrote for the fabulous Writers Rumpus blog today, September 30th.

While recently reading John Green’s Looking for Alaska, I was surprised by the shape of the story. I’ll get to that in a minute, but it reminded me of other authors who played with the structure of their narratives.

The most common description of the shape of a picture book plot, let’s say Where the Wild Things Are for example, looks something like this:


Picture book arc – home, adventure / problem solution, home

Picture book arc – home, adventure / problem solution, home

The beginning – Max being naughty in his wolf suit – can be thought of as “home”, then the middle of the story is where the rumpus, adventure, quest, or struggle to resolve the problem happens, and at the end of the story Max returns “home” where his dinner is waiting, still hot. Since he has grown emotionally in the course of the story, the ending in the diagram is depicted as slightly higher than the beginning. Sendak shows this metaphorical growth by having Max’s room fill the entire page, whereas at the beginning there was a white border keeping the room smaller. Max has grown. This is a common arc-ing shape used to show the structure for a picture book story.

Novels for older kids sometimes play with structural shape that’s integral to the story. Bridge to Terabithia by Katherine Paterson, illustrated by Donna Diamond (Newbery award, 1978) takes this shape:


The protagonists reverse roles.


I was either at an SCBWI conference or at a Children’s Literature New England week-long summer conference (I attended one at Harvard and another at MIT), when I heard this explanation. Perhaps it was Jane Langton speaking? – but anyway, this is the plot analysis I heard. Bridge to Terabithia is about a boy and girl, Jesse and Leslie. Notice that both names could be either a girl’s or a boy’s, therefore interchangeable. When the story begins, Jesse is artistic, but shy and feels tormented by the kids around him. Leslie is intelligent and outgoing, though she has just moved to the neighborhood and feels ostracized. Basically, both have a lot in common, but Jesse clearly is the less dominant personality. Leslie has confidence. Jesse’s part of a conversation consists mostly of short one or two word sentences, while Leslie is more talkative and outgoing. Leslie can run faster than Jesse. He lets her take the lead in things. The two create an imaginary place called Terabithia on a real island nearby – a sanctuary from the difficulties of their lives. Leslie helps Jesse feel braver. About mid-story there is a pivotal point where he takes charge in helping Leslie and her father repair Leslie’s house. His conversation from here on becomes somewhat more open. Later, while he is at an art exhibit, Leslie drowns when the rope swing they used to cross the creek to the little island of Terabithia breaks and she falls into the current. He is devastated. As the story ends, Leslie has become the passive one, in her state of death, while Jesse is alive and struggling. Jesse’s little sister May Belle crosses the log bridge over to Terabithia, where Jesse takes on the more dominant role of helping MayBelle. In effect, Jesse and Leslie have changed places. The illustrator perfectly captures this X shape. Her soft pencil drawings show Jesse at the beginning almost always in a passive position. Then in the middle of the book there’s one image that has much stronger contrast. Jesse is holding his hands up in a most active pose. Subsequent images are the subtle grey of the earlier ones, though Jesse is in more dominant or active positions. Donna Diamond has shown the reader where the role reversal between Jesse and Leslie begins by making that image have noticeably more contrast. The author and artist have worked together to draw the plot into an X shape.

A more recent and obvious book with an unusually-shaped plot is Holes by Louis Sachar.


There is a beginning and end, but the story goes full circle. Like a Zen enso.

There is a beginning and end, but the story goes full circle. Like a Zen enso.

So much about this story is round that little explanation is needed. Stanley Yelnats is a palindrome – readable frontwards and backwards – like a circle going round and round. The holes Stanley is to dig are 5 feet wide by 5 feet deep, so you could even imagine them as spherical. The boy who helps him later in the story is named Zero and he is an ancestor of someone Stanley’s ancestor knew. When I was a student at the Museum School an art history professor asked us to write an eight-page paper about an enso – the Zen Buddist meditative symbol that is a circle made from one brush stroke. Stanley’s what-goes-around-comes-around experiences at Camp Green Lake are like an absurdist version of an enso.

That brings me to Looking for Alaska, by the amazing John Green. When Miles Halter arrives at Culver Creek, a boarding school in Alabama, he is dropped into a group of quirky characters – the brilliant, but semi-insane Colonel (aka his roommate), Takumi – a guy of Japanese descent who has a Southern accent, and especially Alaska Young, who is supremely hot, but has a boyfriend. The plot races forward amidst much mayhem, drinking, smoking, and seriously inventive pranks involving half-drownings and fireworks. Miles is addicted to famous last words. Alaska is complex and intelligent – coming on to Miles, then pushing him away, getting drunk with him, then not speaking with him at all. Their friendship deepens, speeding forward, racing blindly on, until an amazing kiss that almost leads to…but no, Alaska suddenly takes off, leaving Miles stupidly drunk. The story abruptly comes to a crashing stop with a spectacular accident in which Alaska drunkenly dies, or kills herself. Miles, the Colonel and Takumi are devastated. And they feel guilty. They shouldn’t have let her go in that inebriated condition. Or did she kill herself? Why would she do that?

Here the story moves logically forward. Then tragedy strikes. The boys veer backward in time.

Here the story moves logically forward. Then tragedy strikes. The boys veer backward in time.

Miles sharply changes direction, and starts looking backwards for clues. One bit at a time they painstakingly reconstruct what transpired, to try to reach an understanding of any culpability they may have had. What really happened to Alaska? The story veers backward, but also upward, like one half of an arrow. By the end of the plot’s trajectory, Miles has learned as much about himself as he has about Alaska. John Green, Louis Sachar, and Katherine Paterson have all used unique story structure, plot devices that are not necessarily evident to the reader.

Have you read other stories whose plots are unusually formatted? If so, what are they and what shape do you see within them?

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Why the Gap?

Marie Rose Audy

Marie Rose Audy

I haven’t posted here since June for a simple reason: coping with a huge storm of sorts that blew my way. My mother had not been so well, so in January a pacemaker was installed. Rehab and all that. Then April 26th she had a stroke. Rehab again, driven by the delusion of optimism. We brought her home to her house on July 1st. She died July 4th.


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Naturalized Diversity

By Joyce Audy Zarins

Naturalized daffodils. Photo:

Naturalized daffodils. Photo:

Like daffodils naturalized in the woods, all Native Americans, immigrants from everywhere in the world, people with various abilities, talents, handicaps, and preferences populate our American nation. We are all in this cross-pollinated garden together. Our stories should reflect that biodiversity.

By “naturalized diversity” I mean that the characters in our books, regardless of the theme or genre, should reflect the diversity embedded in our everyday lives. Publishers definitely should continue to encourage authors who are of various races and cultures to write about what they know. But in general, all writers could consider including in our stories the broad range of people who are our family, friends, and neighbors, or who we see in movies, sports, school. Everywhere around us.

W-Go-Around-DollarNo apology needed for being white – we don’t get to choose – but we are all citizens of this same planet regardless of what we look like or believe in. Both of my parents were born in the USA, but they were French speaking Canadians. My first husband came here from Argentina when he was twelve. His father was a Portuguese-speaking black man from Cape Verde. His mother was half Argentine Spanish, half Quechua. Hence, the name on my early books includes the French Audy followed by the Portuguese dos Santos. When I remarried it was to a man who came here from Latvia when he was eighteen. English is his fourth language – Latvian, German, and Spanish came first (Zarins means “little branch” in Latvian, BTW). My kids look Hispanic (I’ve been asked if I had adopted them. No.), but my son Eric is married to an Icelander, so now I have family members whose names include letters not in our alphabet. My daughter’s father-in-law was born in India. Among my friends are Cubans, Colombians, Brazilians, Japanese, Spaniards, etc. And at the community college in Lowell (an Immigrant City) where I taught for fifteen years, well, let’s just say it was an amazing garden of people. This is my world and the one most children experience, if not in their families, at least in their daily lives. Why shouldn’t books for kids reflect our diversity?

W-Scratchboard-InventorYes, “our diversity.” Marianne Knowles, crit group W-Scratchboard-Scientistand Writers’ Rumpus blog leader extraordinaire, talks about how many languages she hears spoken daily on the way to her editorial job in Boston. Almitra Clay, one of my critique group buddies, pointed out that “the books I am inclined to write are in made-up cultures” where race is not an issue – they have equal appeal to all audiences. The same is true of books for young kids where the characters are animals – every kid can identify with any animal. And there are many excellent books by diverse authors about their own cultures or religions. Why not broaden the perspective even wider, beyond books “about” a certain culture or race and those that rely on ambiguity?

Let’s challenge ourselves as authors and artists to create books about our own culture, ethnicity and/or religion when we are moved to do so, but to also naturalize the diversity of the people in our stories and images to reflect the beautifully varied society kids and teens experience every day.

Here are some examples.

W Eleanor & Park coverRainbow Rowell’s book Eleanor & Park is a gorgeous love story – okay with some foul-mouthed parts, an abusive step-father, poverty, punk music, and a runaway. The conversations are hilarious and poignant, as are the literary references and the teens’ relationships to friends. Mostly, it’s the best love story I’ve read in like eons. Oh, yeah, the girl is an overweight redhead and the guy is skinny, attractive and half Korean. His Korean War vet father and Korean mother, who just barely speaks English, are the best limned parents in a novel ever. And the two girls who befriend Eleanor are African American. See what I mean? The book isn’t about diversity. The characters simply are diverse.

Anne Sibley O’Brien, who spent part of her childhood living in Asia, does books about various cultures, as well as others that incorporate naturalized diversity. She has some intriguing things to say on the topic, referring to unconscious bias patterns by dominant groups as “White Mind.” She also talks about Harvard’s brain researcher, Mahzarin (whoa – almost Zarins!) Banaji’s intriguing work on implicit bias.

Matt de la Peña writes about characters like himself, also a great strategy and here discusses his take on diversity in books. Mentioned in the article is a comment by Walter Dean Myers: “What I wanted, needed really, was to become an integral and valued part of the mosaic that I saw around me.” It’s that mosaic that we are talking about, only with a different metaphor.

There is a cautionary note from de la Peña, who first focused on the Mexican-American experience, then wrote The Living with a more naturalized diversity approach.  He says, “When you are writing with race as one of the elements of the story, early on, you write about race. As you do more work, the race becomes part of the story and not the story. I think that will be the biggest boost for multicultural literature. But on the flip side, I get worried about people who just make the character black on the outside, but not on the inside.”

Earthmaker's LodgeOkay, so I did a little self-assessment and realized I’d chosen diversity when illustrating a number of books years ago, including The Go-Around Dollar, even though the stories themselves did not specify any race or ethnicity. For Earthmaker’s Lodge by E. Barrie Kavash, I was one of three illustrators and the book was vetted by a panel of Native Americans. I wrote and illustrated two French Canadian books for kids. The current and previous issues of CICADA magazine include I Am Gudrid, a Viking era novella of mine set in Iceland, Greenland, and the new world, so yes, it’s about a culture different from our own. But closer to topic than that, the main character of my most recent novel manuscript has a white mother, African-American father, a Vietnamese best friend and other friends who are white, Hispanic or Asian Indian in a story that is not about diversity. Those characters simply live there and behave like their quirky selves.

So, do we as writers have the power to start a naturalized diversity revolution, or what? Yes, we do. And we should. Because we need diverse books!

Do you create books with naturalized diversity? If not, will you?

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Writers Rumpus Blogiversary

cupcake with candle What is Writers Rumpus? Marianne Knowles, who runs the writers critique groups I belong to, started a blog for children’s book writers and illustrators that is chock full of great information in twice weekly (Tuesdays and Fridays)  by our crit group members  and guest posters. I’ve written a few of these articles myself. One, titled Why thirty-two pages?, apparently had the most hits in a day of any post on that site: 465. Maybe it was a quirk? who knows. Anyway, all of us are committed to sharing info that’s worth people’s time.

Marianne is entirely responsible for Writers Rumpus (and the footnotes), our fantastic forum for children’s book people. Yay Marianne!


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The Whistler at Sanctuary Arts

The Whistler - Egils Zarins photoW-Whistler2-Sanctuary

Today we installed The Whistler (painted steel, 101″ x 18″ x 18″) at the wonderful Sanctuary Arts in Eliot, Maine. Christopher Gowell is an amazing woman who has collected a vibrant community of artists who take and teach workshops and live life creatively. Josh and Lauren run a foundry there too. And every summer there are sculptures – and chickens – sprinkled around the grounds for everyone to enjoy. On June 21st there will be an iron pour and tintype event as a benefit for a young boy who has a rare form of cancer. Go, and enjoy.

 Egils Zarins photo

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Nara Park sculpture name


Usually I name my sculptures myself, but there’s a first time for everything. During a celebration bash that was held June 1 at Nara Park in Acton, MA, a kinetic sculpture that I built, based on a design by Carolyn Wirth, was dedicated. The Acton-Boxborough Cultural Council, a division of the Massachusetts Cultural Council, which commissioned the sculpture, ran a naming contest in local schools. A kindergartener won the naming rights. His name is Calvin Miller and he chose Heron’s Dream “because the heron stands still while the other animals zip around him.” Calvin was given a citation from the State House and when I asked him if he felt famous, he said, “Yes, I do!”

Here is a link to photos taken by Egils showing Calvin, Senator Jaimie Eldridge, State Representative Cory Atkins, the wonderful Blanchard Brass Ensemble and the Cultural Council. Barbara Eastabrook, Christie Rampton, and all of the members of the Acton/Boxborough Cultural Council did a fabulous job of considering everyone – even a kinetic sculpture craft activity for the kids – at beautiful Nara Park.

Here is a link to my earlier post when the sculpture was installed in December. And a post showing another kinetic sculpture Carolyn and I did in Concord, MA.

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International #MuseumDay

My brother Tom is in Boston for six weeks while undergoing radiation treatments and today Egils and I went with him to the Museum of Fine Arts. We were there from about 10:45 until 4:30 when we had to stop before our heads would explode. We started with the gorgeous quilt exhibit that demonstrates so much about color and individualism. Here is one example that shows the intriguing things that can be done with only diamond and hexagon shapes and a solid instinct about color. MFA-quiltEric, my son who lives in Akureyri, Iceland, saw this post and realized – so that’s why the museum and galleries here were having openings this weekend! He pointed out an artist whose work he likes. Margeir Dire Sigurdsson. I agree.

Margeir Dire

Margeir Dire

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Last day of school


The last day of the semester…and for me the last semester, too. For the past fifteen years I’ve been teaching in the Art Department at Middlesex Community College, in Bedford and Lowell, MA. Standing among eighteen new students in each class and encouraging them through fifteen weeks of growth has been an awesome experience. I especially like the Lowell campus because the student body in that immigrant city is like a slice of the world. In the Drawing II class that just ended yesterday, there was an international program student from Kenya, a boy who came here from Costa Rica a few years ago, and first generation kids of Puerto Rican, Dominican, and Cambodian descent along with kids whose families have been here longer. Some wrestle with language, one with a severe health issue, and others who are seriously talented. I try to lead them into unknown territory and they see good things happen. Sometimes visual firestorms break out and we all enjoy the glow.

Dynnaro You - glazed ceramic. photo by Egils Zarins

Dynnaro You – glazed ceramic. photo by Egils Zarins

One student, Dynnaro You, will transfer to Mass. College of Art in the fall. He aspires to be the next Hayao Miyazaki, which might very well happen. Dynnaro gave me a ceramic tea light holder he had made earlier that is reminiscent of a Chinese house. I am honored by this gesture.

I will miss each of the Britanies, the Dynnaros, the Leangs, and the Hanh Les I’ve interacted with over these fifteen years. The fireworks that happen when someone figures out something about themselves, and the world, is wonderful to watch.

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W-Turkish-picturebookIn support of the wave of demands for diversity in children’s books that went viral on social media – #WeNeedDiverseBooks – today, read this Publisher’s Weekly article. It seems so obvious that every person on this planet is a citizen of this world and part of one big, messy, beautiful family. I won’t apologize for being white, but rather share a few of the books from other cultures I have been collecting.I’ll post more after the NESCBWI conference. These books do not answer the need for diversity in children’s books here in the USA, but it does seem that “times may be a-changing.”

World of Books #1

World of Books #2

World of Books #3



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Finding Your Other Markets

W-book-art-2This article also appears at While your book is percolating in your mind, in revisions or sketches, or under the scrutiny of your crit group buddies, you can explore ways to build your publishing credentials. Magazines and other media can be valuable, shorter-term ways to get your work seen.

Here’s a more-or-less “out there” example that’s pretty cool. Michelle Clay, a new member of one of my critique groups, won second place recently for her work of 3 minute future fiction in a contest run by Wisconsin Public Radio. As part of the stations’ “To the Best of our Knowledge” programming, they ran the sci-fi challenge “Imagining Possible Worlds,” looking for submissions set in the near future, using plausible science, and 500-600 words long. They received over 750 submissions. Not only was Michelle’s story Food Production posted as a winner on the station’s website, they also had it produced as a short radio play.  Go here to read her story – number three on the list – and see what intriguing literary company she’s sharing space with (including Junot Diaz!). Then you can click “listen” to hear her flash fiction in 3D audio. Be advised that this story is not for the squeamish, but it’s tightly written, believable, and puts a subversive twist on a current Read More »

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NESCBWI 14: Terrific Conference, Going Fast!

Registration for the Society of Children’s Book Writers and Illustrators New England regional conference opened today at 10:00 AM. Already two thirds of the slots are full. If you plan to attend, what are you waiting for? If you are a writer or illustrator of books for children and young adults, this conference will stimulate and inspire you.

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About: 26 Letters, Infinite Possibilities

Godfrey Sykes alphabet

Godfrey Sykes alphabet

Have you ever considered that all of the books written in English in libraries, bookstores, on e-readers and in your own home are really only comprised of 26 letters arranged in different ways? Our alphabet is an amazingly simple set of symbols. And what writers do with them is magic.

This morning I posted an article about this  on the writersrumpus blog. You can read the post here.

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Commission for Nara Park

W-Nara-Park 2

It wasn’t snowing when we installed this sculpture  in Nara Park, but the little pond was frozen. This commission from the Acton-Boxborough Cultural Council was a collaboration between designer Carolyn Wirth and my construction of the sculpture at my studio. Members of the Cultural Council chose the site, which is just perfect for this wind kinetic sculpture. Shawn, a town employee, donned waders to slog across the pond to bolt in the base, but the ice held so he just slid out there like he does this every day.

The five animals: heron, raven, swallow, frog, and sunfish were cut with my plasma cutter and I used mild steel to fabricate the sculpture, so by spring it should be a nice, naturally weathering color. I am grateful that the Cultural Council and the town of Acton, through support from the Massachusetts Cultural Council, gave me this opportunity. Hopefully the people who come to the park will enjoy the sculpture this winter and for years to come.



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Review: Little Chicken’s Big Christmas

Little Chicken's Big Christmas This simple story with bright, clean artwork will appeal to any very young child impatient for Christmas to arrive. But is Little Chicken anxious for the reason you think? Or does Little Chicken have a plan to make someone else happy? The hints begin on the title page and continue under Little Chicken’s funny, egg-shaped bed. Mama Chicken and Little Chicken go do holidays things. They see Santa, but Little Chicken holds onto Mama Chicken’s spindly legs at first, then gradually gets braver. All Little Chicken wants is for Christmas to arrive. But not yet, Little Chicken. Mama hangs lights on their egg-shaped house. It’s not Christmas yet. They have cookies by the egg-shaped fireplace. Still not Christmas. Finally, Christmas arrives and Little Chicken has a surprise for someone! The story comes full circle with a clever punchline that will make your young one laugh. By Katie Davis and Jerry Davis, this book is being launched as a follow-up to Little Chicken’s Big Day. The artwork in the review copy is reminiscent of James Marshall’s droll George and Martha books, but with amped up, solid color. Interestingly, the authors have skipped any reference to Little Chicken’s gender, so any young child truly can identify with this intrepid, loving character.

Freebies from Katie! Get your printable Little Chicken bookmarks and coloring pages.

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