Friday, October 08, 2010

BECAUSE OF WINN-DIXIE, by Kate DeCamillo, review by Susan Major-Tingey


BECAUSE OF WINN-DIXIE, by Kate DeCamillo, review by Susan Major-Tingey

Move the brothers Grimm aside, skip over saccharine rhymes and put another check in the column under realistic children’s literature to represent the well-crafted style of author Kate DiCamillo. Her first book, Because of Winn-Dixie, has been awarded numerous accolades, including the coveted Newbury Book Honor and it was the inspiration for the successful movie by the same name.

Because of Winn-Dixie came to my attention when it was first released. I was browsing in a library, chatting with a librarian who recommended it as the new book that was popular with children, parents, and teachers. She said it was flying off the shelf because not only was it witty and endearing, but also it dealt with important issues like sorrow and loss without being too sad. And if that were not enough, the author has taken care to feature characters from different backgrounds and social standings without being judgmental -- an enormous plus.

Between the hard covers (which are child-friendly at 5 ½” by 7 ¼”) ten-year-old Opal goes to the supermarket for macaroni and cheese and ends up saving a mangy hound from the pound. Opals was ready for something to love and the skinny, balding, limping, smelly intruder seemed just right to her when he skids to a stop and smiles right at her. It helps that she can read his facial expressions and body language so she always knows what he is thinking. She reasons that the imperfect dog probably is just like everyone else in the world.

This story helps readers see people and animals as complex, multi-faceted individuals with weaknesses and strengths. It addresses issues that children can relate to and apply to their lives. For instance, Opal calls her father Daddy, but most of the time she thinks of him as a distracted man dedicated to his work. She describes him as a turtle that does a lot of thinking but does not relate well to the world.

All of the characters in Because of Winn-Dixie are imperfect and that’s okay because the way they deal with predicaments impacts their lives and alters relationships. One of the characters even says that she has made mistakes on the way to learning some of the most important things.

Sometimes the characters handle difficulties in a roundabout way, but it is their different responses that reveal their thoughts and feelings, their personalities, that special part of them that makes them unique. It is to the author’s credit that readers come away with empathy, wondering how they would feel in similar situations.

Opal is afraid to ask questions about her mother, who left them when she was three, but she faces her fear and finds it is not as hard as she thought. The bonus is that she realizes there are plusses to her positive action that she did not anticipate.

Opal and Winn-Dixie find that people of all ages, even people with very different backgrounds and reputations can get together to enjoy a party where Dump Punch is served and the youngest attendee contributes to the festivities by decorating the yard with pictures of dogs she had cut out of magazines. That sounds like my kind of party.

Title: Because of Winn-Dixie, Author: Kate DiCamillo, $15.99
Reviewed by Susan Major-Tingey, September 2010,
Proofread and edited by Heather Campbell
Pages: 182, ISBN #978-0-7636-0776-0, first edition 2000
Candlewick Press, 99 Dover Street, Somerville, MA 02144

Wednesday, October 06, 2010

Review of HIGH COUNTRY, chapbook by Arthur Winfield Knight

Review of HIGH COUNTRY, chapbook by Arthur Winfield Knight, Presa:S:Press, Box 792, Rockford, Michigan 49341,, 32 pages, cover art by Ronnie M. Lane, $6.00.

By Barbara Bialick

I’m so glad I have a copy of Mr. Knight’s HIGH COUNTRY. I can stash it away with my favorite poetry “refer to” books. You should grab one, too, and try to figure out how he could present such perfect, narrow poems, only 20 lines or more, story teller vignettes that keep his clear voice of the historian, artist and observer of Nevada and California always fitting that guy in the picture wearing a cowboy hat and a big, snide smile.

This chapbook is the author’s first collection of poetry in ten years. But just to pick it up and check the compliments on the back of the book and to stare at that mystical green cactus on the cover, it starts you out with positive feelings before even reading it.
He’s apparently an expert who’s published more than 3,000 poems, short stories, and film reviews that “chronicle life in the old and contemporary west” that have been translated into Chinese, French, German, Italian, Japanese and more. His bio claims “Knight’s poetry remains one of the most distinctive voices of his generation” in the small press. (He was born in 1937).

The book opens as he and his wife Kit have just moved from California to Nevada. How could you not want to read a poem called “THE WHOREHOUSES AND THE CHOCOLATE FACTORY.” He writes, “We’ve driven past them/for thirty years, but it’s different now./We moved from California to Nevada/two weeks ago. Everything’s different./Slot machines are everywhere: in grocery stores, gas stations, whorehouses, chocolate factories,/Laundromats and strip joints…/and the owner of Casino West/runs ten thousand head of cattle…”

One of my favorite poems is THE TUMBLEWEEDS. He took some of that rural Nevada plant and mailed it to an American West buff in England. The post office charged eleven fifty and stamped it “Fragile”. Two weeks later the English man said it was tumbling well in his back garden. The poem concludes: “it’s stamped all over FRAGILE,/but it’s Tough as Old Boots,/and has been bouncing across the desert/for Donkey’s Years./What’s wrong with those people/at the post office?”

Some the other poem titles include, MORGAN FREEMAN COMES TO SACRAMENTO, BIBLE THUMPERS, WYATT EARP, CROP DUSTERS, DUELING PIZZAS, and WEED HEIGHTS, NEVADA. The only problem is it’s just a little chapbook. On the other hand, that’s part of its magic. Read it fast and realize that now as even an easterner you sort of get something of the flavor of the American West from a western point of view

Sunday, October 03, 2010

Moments Around the Campfire With a Vietnam Vet

Moments Around The Campfire

With a Vietnam Vet

Thom Brucie

Cervena Barva Press

2010 $7.00


Brucie introduces the reader to what appears to be a ghost,

poems hidden in script, wrapped in a worn out leather satchel,

a gift which many still try to brush aside as a 'then thing.' The

reader is brought into the presence of verse, given an opportunity

to receive what is given, or to reject what was:

…"Harold liked to watch

the war across the bay,

tracers arching under the moon like

the 4th of July,

reflecting orange along the tongues

of the waves

in rhythm to the sounds of gunburst.

It calmed him down.

Sometimes he'd doze a little

and wake up before sunrise

and pick up

right where he left off."

The poems stark realities carry the veteran's voice deep into what

'surpasses,' why we expect a soldier to fight without an understanding

of the actuality of meanings and all the many ways to lose:

"There was a kid from Spokane named Quincy.

He went to church and didn't cuss.

He loved his girlfriend named Alice

since high school.

He stayed away from the whorehouses,

but he would drink a beer

sometimes on a real hot night.

When his "Dear John" letter arrived,

he cried.

He asked for emergency leave,

but nobody gets leave for love,

so he took an R&R to Hawaii

and got on a commercial plane in Honolulu

headed for Seattle.

He figured if he could talk to Alice

he could fix everything,

but the Mps arrested him before

he got out of the airport.

They put him in the stockade for six months

and later sent him back to Da Nang

for another tour.

By the time he got home,

Alice had two daughters and a station wagon."

Each lasting story works as part of a unit, bringing the same conclusions;

coming back from disastrous 'situations' is daunting, is life altering:


…"The explosion flung his body in a somersault,

and a piece of angle from the frame stuck in his forehead

like a piece of glass might penetrate a piece of soft wood.

When he hit the tree, the impact broke his hip

and the recoil broke his jaw.

He felt pretty bad when he passed out."

…"They flew him back to the states in a commercial airplane

which landed in Oakland

on a day some protesters were demonstrating.

One of them threw a rubber filled with urine

at Mark,

and when it hit him, it broke

covering his face and jacket.

One of the other protesters called to him,

"welcome him, baby killer."

Tightly wrapped in clean narratives, Brucie records: "the hissing, acid

steam of monsoons…"

This is the best chapbook of the year 2010. It cuts close to the bone

with healing portraits of a real war and peace; stark, sharp, shadows…

and within the shadows of each poem is forgiveness. Bravo…Thank You

Welcome Home.


Irene Koronas

Poetry Editor:

Wilderness House Literary Review


Ibbetson Street Press