Monthly Archives: June 2019

The Book Whisperer Took a Chance on a Dollar Tree Book


Interested in a fable which promotes “the power of kindness, generosity, compassion, and community”? George Saunders, author, and Lane Smith, illustrator, have teamed up to give readers, old and young, a fable for our times: The Very Persistent Gappers of Frip.

Now, this Dollar Tree find fits the bill for those looking for a little encouragement in a world too often dark and full of grief and bad news. I must admit, too, The Very Persistent Gappers of Frip, 84 pages, is the first Saunders’ book I have read all the way through even though I own copies of his short stories, Tenth of December, and his novel, Lincoln at the Bardo.

Frip is a seaside village; only three families live there: the Romos, the Ronsens, and Capable, a little girl, and her father. Frip’s economy is totally reliant upon goats, their milk and cheese, for its survival. As we know, agricultural communities thrive and decline with the farmers’ success or failure.

The problem the Romos, the Ronsens, and Capable and her father face with their goat economy lies in the persistent gappers, nasty, round, little orange beasts which move by wriggling on their bellies—which, to me, sounds very snake-like except that gappers are round.

The gappers love goats and if left undeterred, the gappers will cause the goats to fall over and stop producing milk. Thus, the town would be left bereft. Every day, the children, Capable, Gilbert and Robert Romo and Beverly and Gloria Ronsen must snag the gappers by brushing them off the goats and into their gapper bags. Then the children empty the bags of gappers into the sea.

The children return to their homes, falling into bed exhausted, and the gappers sink to the bottom of the sea only to wriggle their way back to the shore where they infest the goats once more. Then one of the gappers who has a slightly larger brain than the others declares that they would have less distance to cover if they all converged at Capable’s home because it is closer to the shore than the other two houses.

Thus, all the gappers then infest Capable’s goats, much to her dismay. The Romos and the Ronsens, however, are delighted that they are now safe from gappers. In fact, Bea Romos hires strong men to move her home to the edge of her property closer to the Ronsens’ home and further from Capable’s home. Below, a goat is covered with gappers.


Readers can quickly see where this story is headed. Capable is exhausted all of the time trying to protect her goats so that she and her father can survive. After trying all she can and without success, Capable writes letters to the Romos and the Ronsens asking for their help. Both families tell Capable that she must work harder so she can be safe the way they are. They do not acknowledge that the distance from their homes to the shore is the difference in their good luck and Capable’s bad luck.

In the picture on the left, Capable tries to protect her goats by covering them. On the right, readers see what happens when gappers overwhelm the goats: they fall down and stop giving milk.

In desperation, Capable devises a new plan. Her father is reluctant to go along with her plan because it involves CHANGE! He likes things to stay the same. Still, Capable persists and makes a big change in their lives. Her big change also results in the gappers re-infesting the goats which belong to the Romos and the Ronsens. Now, who is not working hard enough?

Read The Very Persistent Gappers of Frip in order to learn about Capable’s solution to her problem and how she treats the Romos and the Ronsens despite their unkindness to her and her father.

George Saunders graduated from college with a degree in exploration geophysics from the Colorado School of Mines. So how did he become a best-selling writer? While working in Sumatra, he filled his suitcase with books so he could read during his two weeks off work. He worked four weeks and then was off two weeks. After working for a year and a half in the oil fields, he returned home and worked at a number of menial jobs until he read an article in People Magazine which profiled writers Jay McInernry and Raymond Carver. In that article, Saunders learned about an MFA program, so he applied to Syracuse and began studying with Tobias Wolff and Douglas Unger. Saunders maintains a Web site at this link:


Illustrator Lane Smith received a Caldecott Honor award in 2012 for Grandpa Green. Two of my favorite books by Smith include Math Curse and The True Story of the 3 Little Pigs. See more of Smith’s art work and more about him at his Web site:



The Book Whisperer Discovers Another Middle-Grade Winner


Jasmine Warga has written three books: My Heart and Other Black Holes, Here We Are Now, and Other Words For Home. Originally from Cincinnati, Ohio, Warga now lives in Chicago with her husband, two daughters, and dog and a cat. Other Words For Home is her debut novel for middle grade readers. Discover more about Warga from her Web site:

Warga has written a moving story about Jude and her mother who leave Syria, the only home they have known to move to America to live with Uncle Mazin, Jude’s mother’s brother, and his family. Jude is reluctant to leave her father and her brother, Issa behind, but her father knows the family is not safe. He remains to run his store. Issa is involved in activities which worry his parents and Jude, but he feels he must do what he can to restore order to his country.

Jude’s mother is expecting another baby, so the family decides the safest place for Jude, her mom, and the unborn child is America. Uncle Mazin and Aunt Michelle welcome Jude and her mother. Jude’s cousin Sarah, Jude’s age, is not so welcoming even though the family has a large house which easily accommodates the extra family.

Warga’s style of writing Other Words For Home is poetic. Visually, the words on the page look like poetry. This style lends itself to Jude’s first-person narrative because she is describing her feelings and reactions to her new environment along with her fears for her brother and father left in Syria. See the sample below.


Jude experiences the normal feelings of being an outsider. As she becomes better acquainted with her classmates and feels more practiced speaking English, Jude adjusts to her new home. She makes friends with Layla whose parents own a middle east restaurant within walking distance of Uncle Mazin’s home. Layla is a year older than Jude, but they become fast friends.

Jude is also in an ESL class with three other immigrant children: Grace from Korea, Ben from China, and Omar from Somalia. Mrs. Ravenswood, the teacher, is kind and welcoming. Jude recognizes that this ESL class will be important to her even though she already spoke English before arriving in America. Grace, Ben, and Omar become her friends through shared experiences.

Jude takes a leap of faith and auditions for a part in the school play. She wins the part of a feather duster! It is a speaking part while her cousin Sarah is part of the chorus. As part of the audition, Jude has had to give a monologue and sing a song. She immediately chose Whitney Houston’s “I Will Always Love You” as her song because of her loving memories of singing it with Issa, her brother. She thinks to herself, “when I sing it, alone in the upstairs room, staring at those old plaster beige walls that are becoming more and more familiar, I do not feel like I am singing it alone. I hear my brother’s voice in my head, filling in the melody.”

For her monologue, she chooses from Notting Hill, a movie she and her best friend Jasmine loved watching in Syria. Jude picks “the part where [Julia Roberts’] character is explaining that her life has not been as charmed as everyone at the dinner party thinks it has been.”

Other Words For Home is a story for our time. As immigrants come to the US, we need to welcome them, for most of us were immigrants ourselves!





The Book Whisperer Praises a Treasure



Emily Dickinson: Poetry for Kids is illustrated by Christine Davenier and edited by Susan Snively, Ph.D. While the title suggests the book is for kids, I would argue that it is for anyone! Davenier’s beautiful illustrations enhance Dickinson’s spare poems. Certainly, Dickinson’s poem stand on their own, requiring no illustrations, but Davenier has provided a world of color and animals to accompany the poems.


Purchase Emily Dickinson: Poetry for Kids for yourself and another one to give to a child. It is a charming book that you can read over and over, always finding new pleasure in the poems themselves and the illustrations.


Snively has also included definitions for words children might not recognize. They are discreetly placed at the bottom of the page so they do not interfere with the words or the illustrations.

Susan Snively is a Dickinson scholar and has chosen the poems well. The poems she chose are ones children will remember as they continue to read Dickinson. Snively maintains a Web site at


See more of Christine Davenier’s work on her site:

The Book Whisperer Loves Ban This Book!


I am an eclectic reader as I have mentioned before in this blog. In college, I took a course in children’s literature, a library science course where I went to college. Later, I had the opportunity to teach children’s literature in the English Department at MO State, Springfield. I have continued to enjoy reading picture books, chapter books, juvenile books, and YA books ever since. When my children were in school, I tried to read along with them to keep up with what they were learning and enjoying.

Recently, I discovered Ban This Book by Alan Gratz. As an advocate of having the freedom to read books of one’s choice without restriction, I wanted to read Gratz’s book to see what happened. I have always been a voracious reader. When I was a thirteen, I wanted to read a book my mother thought was “too old” for me. My dad, himself a reader, said, “Let her read it. If she doesn’t understand it, then she will put it down. If she does understand it, she is old enough to read it.”

Amy Anne Ollinger is in the fourth grade and loves to read. Amy Anne is quiet, studious, and obedient. Readers soon learn that Amy Anne is the older of three girls.  Angelina and Alexis, the younger sisters, have very different interests from Amy Anne. Alexis is obsessed with ballet and she practices in the room she shares with Amy Anne, thus shutting Amy Anne out of the room. Angelina loves ponies and often pretends to be a pony, “galloping on all fours.” She has a room of her own which she spreads with shredded paper to form the paddocks for her horses.

Amy Anne has been carrying a secret from her parents: she tells them she stays after school to participate in a variety of clubs. The truth is she reads in the library until the second bus arrives because she has no quiet place of her own at home. At home, she’s reduced to using the bathroom as her place of escape to read at home, but often, she must leave it too.

One day, Amy Anne does into Shelbourne Elementary Library to check out her favorite book: From the Mixed-Up Files of Mrs. Basil E. Frankweiler by E. L. Konigsburg. Mrs. Jones, the friendly librarian, tells Amy Anne the school board has banned the book and removed it from the library shelves because a parent, Mrs. Spencer, has complained about it. Amy Anne is baffled. What could Mrs. Spencer find offensive in Konigsburg’s book? Amy Anne soon discovers Mrs. Spencer believes the story encourages children to lie and run away from home.


Then much to her horror, Amy Anne learns Mrs. Spencer, “a pillar of our fair community,” has only begun to have books removed from the library. At first the list is limited to Are You There, God? It’s Me, Margaret by Judy Blume, Scary Stories to Tell in the Dark by Alvin Schwartz, Matilda by Roald Dahl, Harriet the Spy by Louise Fitzhugh, Wait Till Helen Comes by Mary Downing Hahn, It’s Perfectly Normal by Robie H. Harris, From the Mixed Up Files of Mrs. Basil E. Frankweiler by E.L. Konigsburg, all of the Junie B. Jones books by Barbara Park, all the Captain Underpants books by Dav Pilkey, The Egypt Game by Zilpha Keatley Snyder, and all the Goosebumps books by R.L. Stine.

But the list continues to grow as Amy Anne discovers when she visits the library and sees Mrs. Jones reluctantly taking more books from the shelves.  Amy Anne gathers her best friend Rebecca Zimmerman and Danny Purcell to form the Banned Books Locker Library (BBLL). Amy Anne, Rebecca, and Danny will acquire the banned books and Amy Anne will check them out to other students from her locker; the BBLL is born.

Of course, readers recognize that this method will work only for a time until a teacher or parent discovers the banned books. However, Amy Anne and her friends are clever. They engage a fifth-grade student who is a whiz with computer graphics to create fake covers for the books. That, too, works for a time. The BBLL group has fun thinking up funny, engaging fake titles, and by this time a few other students have joined the BBLL.

As one might expect, the whole plan come crashing down when Principal (Banana) Banazewski discovers the Banned Books Locker Library. Amy Anne, who has never, ever been in trouble, is suspended for three days! Mr. and Mrs. Ollinger are disappointed in Amy Anne for lying to them about her extracurricular activities and they are upset about her checking out books to others even though they support her desire to stop the banning of books.


Amy Anne sees Trey McBride, Mrs. Spencer’s son, and her arch enemy, carrying a sheaf of forms used to identify books to ban and the forms give Amy Anne an idea. In the process of developing her idea, she learns that she has been mistaken about Trey and he becomes part of the plan along with many other students at Shelbourne Elementary. Read Ban This Book in order to discover the children’s grand plan and to see if it works!

Amy Anne and her friends’ courageous actions will inspire readers. I wanted to cheer at the end of the book.


Learn more about Alan Gratz at his Web site:




The Book Whisperer Reviews a Debut Novel in Advance


When Pival Sengupta is widowed, she makes a life-changing decision to take a trip across the US from NY to CA. Her abusive husband Ram dies unexpectedly, Pival must endure endless visits from Ram’s family and his friends. The tradition is that Pival now must become a vegetarian because she is a widow. Her whole life has been prescribed and controlled by others. Now, as a widow, she can be in charge of her own life. She decides to take the trip across America on her own, but she does engage a tour company run by Ronnie Munshi, the First Class India USA Destination Vacation Tour Company.

Pival makes an unusual request for a female companion to accompany her and the tour guide, so Ronnie engages Rebecca Greenbaum, an aspiring actress, as Mrs. Sengupta’s companion. Rebecca who constantly struggles to pay rent sees the trip as a way to earn some money and spend some time thinking about her life and where she needs to go.

Satya, the guide, is from Bangladesh. He got the job with Munshi under false pretenses and continues to beat himself up for betraying his friend Ravi who was to have the job. What Satya does not know about landmarks, he makes up as he goes along, so he is certainly resourceful.

In America For Beginners, three strangers, Mrs. Sengupta, Rebecca, and Satya, set off across the US. Along the way, they learn about themselves and each other.

Complications in the story come from the fact that Mrs. Sengupta’s plan has not been the tour itself, but is using it as a means to an end: finding her son. Ram had told Pival their son Rahl has died of a heart attack in CA where he was studying. Pival does not know if Ram lied to her because Ram had already cut ties with their son when he announced he was gay. Pival’s plan now is to arrive in CA and find out exactly what happened to Rahl. If he is dead, she will take his ashes and then kill herself.

Interspersed with the story of the travelers, readers also discover a bit more about Ronnie Munshi and his wife Anita. Their marriage is difficult; she calls him Big Nose. I am not so sure that is an affectionate term.

Another story that Leah Franqui weaves into America For Beginners is between Jake and Bhim. Jake falls head over heels in love with Bhim the first time they meet. Bhim, for his part, loves Jake, but is reluctant to commit to a relationship.

Readers must piece the three stories together as the tale and the trip unfold. Of course, readers are also learning more and more about Pival, Rebecca, and Satya. The whole story is compelling. Readers will be especially interested in Pival’s story of being held back by Ram throughout their marriage. Only with Ram’s death can Pival begin to discover who she is and what to do with herself.

Franqui includes funny moments on the tour as readers see Mrs. Sengupta’s reaction to the cities, especially New Orleans and Las Vegas. She also learns about vast cultural differences when Rebecca describes a visit to New Orleans with an ex-boyfriend. Mrs. Sengupta is amazed that the two traveled together and stayed in the same hotel room.

In putting these people of vast differences together, Franqui has written a captivating story that involves travel and a quest. What will Pival do when she arrives in CA? Unbeknownst to Satya and Rebecca, the whole trip has been leading up to quite a showdown.

Leah Franqui maintains a Web site at where readers can learn about her and read her blog. Franqui is from Philadelphia and now lives in Mumbai most of the time. A graduate of Yale, Franqui spent a year out of college traveling and working in various places across the world. In 2014, she received her MA in Dramatic Writing from NYU-Tisch. During that time, she met her husband who is an Indian screenwriter. America For Beginners is her debut novel.

I received an advance copy of America for Beginners from



The Book Whisperer Recommends


Today’s blog takes a little different turn in reminding readers about some recent recommendations.

According to Fernando Pessoa, “Literature is the most agreeable way of ignoring life.” If you are looking for some ways to ignore the current life we are living, the Book Whisperer has some inviting suggestions for you.


If you would like to escape to a small town in Australia in the 1960s, pick up The Bookshop of the Broken Hearted by Robert Hillman. Tom Hope, a farmer, feels blissfully happy with his wife Trudy and his farm. Unfortunately, Trudy has not taken well to being a farmer’s wife, and she leaves Tom. When she returns some months later, she tells Tom she is pregnant with another man’s child, but Tom, the bighearted man he is, tells her he will take care of her and will love the child as his own. Of course, readers know that Trudy has left once and so she is unlikely to be content on the farm. The story moves from Trudy’s second departure with her leaving Peter, her son, in Tom’s loving care and Tom’s meeting Hannah Babel. Hannah, a Hungarian Jew, is a survivor of Auschwitz seeking a new life in Australia. Hillman includes a love story, but The Bookshop of the Broken Hearted is not a romance. Life is not all moonlight and roses for Tom and Hannah, but they do find they can build a life together despite the blows they have taken.


Would you like a trip to Turkey, but without the dangers of current travel there? Selahattin Demirtaş, a Turkish lawyer and activist, has written Dawn, a book of short stories. Demirtaş is currently in prison as an enemy of the state of Turkey. The stories are raw and differ widely from one another. They depict people in terrible situations and yet also show their spirit to survive and overcome. Demirtaş wrote the stories from his jail cell and managed to get them out of the prison to be published. Dawn is a book worth reading.


What about a trip to England and Denmark? Meet me at the Museum, Anne Youngson’s debut novel written in the form of letters between two strangers, will certainly engage readers. Tina Hapgood is a lonely British farmer’s wife. Her children are grown and her husband is distant. She and her long-time friend Bella always planned to go to Denmark to see the Tollund Man. In middle school, they learned of The Bog People, a book about the Tollund Man. As so often happens, they both married, had children, and first one thing and then another has kept them from fulfilling their promise to each other. Then Bella dies of cancer, leaving Tina thinking about what might have been. On impulse, Tina writes a letter to Professor Glob, who wrote The Bog People, and sends it to the museum which houses the Tollund Man. The professor has died, but Anders Larsen, the curator of the museum, responds to Tina’s letter. Thus, a correspondence begins between them. As the letters continue, Tina and Anders open up about themselves and their lives. Meet me at the Museum is a delightful book.


And now for something completely different, an imaginary journey: This Moose Belongs to ME by Oliver Jeffers takes readers on a picture-book journey. Jeffers is a talented artist who draws realistic landscapes with Wilfred, a young boy, and Marcel, a moose, drawn in child-like fashion against the realistic landscapes. The result is a delight for the eye. And the story is fun too. Wilfred learns a good lesson about owning a moose—or not owning a moose.

The Book Whisperer is Smitten


Often, I read about a book and immediately request the book from the library. If it takes some time for the book to become available, I sometimes forget why I found the description so intriguing. That is not the case with The Bookshop of the Broken Hearted by Robert Hillman.

The title could fool one into thinking the book is a romance. It is not. It is a story of loss, love, and reclamation.

When the story opens in 1964, Tom Hope is married to Trudy. Tom is happy and unaware of Trudy’s growing discontent that finally manifests itself in her disappearing from their farm home in central Victoria, Australia. The nearby town is Hometown. Tom begins making a list of all the things he can do to prove to Trudy that he loves her and will make her life better when she returns. He feels certain she will return.

On his list, he writes picnics, pets cat budgie!!, light fire kitchen first thing!!, and tell her about good things she does like when she doesn’t burn the sausages. As he thinks of more and more ways to improve himself for Trudy, he writes them down. Soon, the list is six notebook pages long.

Meanwhile, Tom must see to the work on the farm. He has a flock of sheep, milk cows, and an apple orchard. On a farm, the farmer gets up early and works hard all day. Clearly, farm wife is not the job that Trudy found fulfilling.

Then one day in a pouring rain, Trudy is back. Tom feels overjoyed. He treats her tenderly and is prepared to sleep on the couch to let her have her space, but she wants him to sleep with her. Tom even shows her his six pages of ways he plans to improve to show her how much he loves her.

The next morning, though, Trudy drops a bombshell: she is pregnant with another man’s child. After processing the news, Tom says it does not matter and that he will be the baby’s father. Trudy agrees to stay, but she continues to be moody and depressed throughout the pregnancy. When the baby boy is born, Tom and Trudy name him Peter. Trudy exhibits no maternal feelings and rarely wishes to hold Peter.

Tom becomes the primary caretaker and Peter quickly learns to turn to Tom when he needs something, even from early infancy. That bond continues to grow. When Peter is three, Trudy tells Tom that she must go; she cannot live buried on a farm, so off she goes, leaving Peter with Tom.

Then three years later, Trudy returns to take Peter away. Both Tom and Peter are heartbroken, but Trudy is the boy’s mother and Tom has no hold since he is not the child’s biological father. Tom has worked out a good arrangement of taking care of Peter when still getting all the farm chores done and keeping Peter safe. The two develop a deep bond of love.

Trudy tells Tom she has found Jesus and that now Peter must be with her. Just how much loss can Tom withstand? And, of course, Peter, too, suffers from being taken from Tom. Trudy may love Peter, but she has hitherto not shown him any affection, much less motherly love.

Again, Tom finds himself alone. Then one day when he returns home from working, he discovers two notes, one under the front door and one under the back door. The notes are the same and they are from Hannah Babel, a Hungarian Jew who has moved to Australia to create a new life for herself by giving music lessons and by opening a bookshop in Hometown.

Hannah needs Tom’s help in welding a sign over the bookshop she is opening in Hometown. Tom has seen Hannah in Hometown, but he has not spoken with her. He goes to the bookshop and agrees to fix the sign and even agrees to build some additional bookshelves for the store.

Hannah is unlike anyone else that Tom has ever met; at forty-five, she is ten years older than he. Still, both feel an attraction between them. As Tom continues to help Hannah ready the bookshop for opening, their relationship deepens and they are spending nights together.

Sometimes, though, Hannah withdraws, not physically, but emotionally, leaving Tom baffled about what he might have done or how he might help her return to herself. Readers begin receiving the back story when chapters shift from the present to 1944 and learn that Hannah along with her husband Leon and their young son Michael have been swept up in the Nazi’s relocation plan for Jewish people.

The little family ends up at Auschwitz where Hannah and Michael are separated from Leon. In a split second when she dozes on standing on her feet, Hannah loses Michael as well. From then on, she feels haunted by her losses. Readers continue to learn more and more about the struggle Hannah has in Auschwitz and later when the Germans abandon camp ahead of the Russian soldiers’ arrival.

Hannah, a natural leader, takes eighty women who have survived thus far and they strike out to find safety and food, for they are starving. Along the way, many of the women die. In the end, only three of them survive.

When Hannah and Tom marry, all of Hometown comes to the wedding. The other women of the town cook food for the reception and Tom’s two sisters come to help.

The bookshop is in Hometown and Hannah still gives music lessons as well, but she and Tom live on the farm. Hannah still experiences those unexpected periods of depression when she withdraws from Tom. Given his experience with Trudy, Tom becomes wary at those times and struggles to know what to do to keep Hannah safe.

Peter runs away from the Jesus camp and finds his way back to Tom. Unfortunately, Tom feels he must return Peter to Trudy at the camp, so he does. Tom and Peter both wish life could be otherwise. Now, though, thrown into the mix is Hannah who does not want Peter to live with her and Tom. The loss of her own Michael is too great for her to bear.

Of course, Tom and Hannah must encounter a number of other challenges. Running a bookshop in a small, rural town is not easy. Obviously, a farm requires constant care, too.

How will the story turn out? Does Hannah overcome her nightmares? Can Peter come back to the farm to live with Tom, the only father he has known? If he does, what will happen to Trudy? And should readers care about her?

The Bookshop of the Broken Hearted is an engaging novel and provides a moving story. I read it all in one day.

Read more about Robert Hillman and his work at this link:

The Book Whisperer Reviews an Advance Copy!



After receiving an advance copy of Things You Save in a Fire by Katherine Center, I did some research on Center herself since I had not read her previous books. Watch this TEDXBEND Talk,, as Katherine Center explains not only that “We Need to Teach Boys to Read Stories About Girls,” but also that “stories can save you because stories are not just entertainment; they’re not just something we do in the margins of our lives as a break from reality. Stories help us construct our framework for understanding reality.”

Things You Save in a Fire will be on sale 13 August 2019. I am delighted to have received an advance copy. Once I picked the book up, I hardly put it down. I wanted to see how Cassie Halwell, a strong female who has cut herself off from emotions since she was sixteen, would handle the massive changes in her life. Those changes start in the early pages of Things You Save in a Fire.

Cassie is a firefighter in Austen, TX. She has succeeded far beyond her stature would lead people to think. Because of her grit and determination, she meets and exceeds the physical demands of her job as firefighter and paramedic. She trains relentlessly, both physically and mentally. She passes her lieutenant’s exam on the first try and with very high marks.


But one thing now stands in her way in Texas. In receiving an award, Cassie attacks city councilman Heath Thompson on the platform during the ceremony when he hands her the award and simultaneously grabs her butt. What readers do not know is that there is history between Cassie and Heath, but they need to read the whole story to discover that history.

The day after the award ceremony, Captain Harris calls Cassie into her office. Cassie knows she will be reprimanded for her actions the night before. However, Captain Harris begins with the news about Cassie’s stellar performance on the lieutenant’s exam: “It might surprise you to hear, then, that not only did you pass, you got the number one score in the entire city. You scored two points below me.”

Captain Harris tells Cassie that “you’ve been on the city’s radar ever since that feature the Statesman did on you last summer, but that test score clinched it.” Harris explains that Cassie would have made an excellent spokesperson and example for the city’s fire department. That is, until last night when Cassie attacked Councilman Thompson.

Harris tells Cassie that if she lies low for a year or more, perhaps she can regain the status she has lost. At that point, Cassie says she is moving to Rockport, MA, to live with and help her estranged mother for a year. Both Captain Harris and Cassie hope that she can return to Austen following that year or perhaps two years away.

Captain Harris makes phone calls to fire stations in the Rockport area and secures a place for Cassie as a firefighter and paramedic in the small town of Lillian. The Lillian Fire Station is losing two firefighting brothers who are retiring together and moving to Florida.

Before Cassie leaves Austen, Captain Harris demands that Cassie take notes on her advice. Harris starts with “don’t wear makeup, perfume, or lady-scented deodorant.” From there, she continues with a great many other don’ts.  Cassie realizes that Captain Harris started in the fire department thirty years earlier, so the advice she is giving Cassie has been hard won. Most of the advice boils down to “make them [fellow firefighters] less aware I’m a girl.”

Other complications in the story include the estrangement between Cassie and her mother. Diana, Cassie’s mother, left the little family on Cassie’s sixteenth birthday. She leaves to marry another man, Wallace. Cassie’s hurt over her mother’s departure has consumed Cassie ever since. The fact that another significant event takes place on that sixteenth birthday adds to Cassie’s reserve and inability to forgive her mother.

Diana has called asking Cassie to give up the job which Cassie loves and is good at and to move to Rockport, MA, where Cassie has never been. Diana says she has lost sight in one eye and needs help navigating the stairs in her home along with help in daily living.

Naturally, at first, Cassie refuses her mother’s request. Even when her dad calls and tells Cassie that she must move to Rockport and help her mother, Cassie is reluctant. Then the unfortunate incident at the award ceremony sends Cassie away so she can repair her reputation and return to Austen. In one last effort to keep Cassie in Austen, Captain Harris requests that Cassie apologize to Councilman Thompson. Cassie absolutely refuses. I was very proud of Cassie for refusing to apologize when she is clearly not the person who is wrong—although bashing Thompson over the head with the award trophy could have been handled differently. It was the heat of the moment and the previous history that kicks in with Cassie then.

Lillian Fire Department is small and has hitherto been all males. The old hands do not take kindly to having a woman in their midst, totally disregarding the fact that Cassie is better than many of them at their jobs. Some of them have let themselves get out of shape. Cassie must fight prejudice on her own. She has to be tougher, stronger, and more resilient than her male counterparts. She has to prove herself every day.

Center has written a story about a strong woman who has to hide her femininity in order to compete in a male-dominated world. She must change herself in order to be accepted. Over the course of the story, Cassie finds both acceptance and the ability to change herself. She learns about forgiveness and human connections, both of which she has kept at bay for ten years since she was sixteen.


Katherine Center is funny and engaging. Just watch the TEDXBEND Talk mentioned above, or watch the other videos on her Web site: Center infuses Things You Save in a Fire with her own sense of humor. Center has written seven novels. The fourth one, The Lost Husband, is being made into a feature film.



The Book Whisperer Enjoys a Picture Book


Oliver Jeffers was born in Belfast, Northern Ireland, but he currently makes his home in Brooklyn, NY. His picture books have been translated into more than forty languages. For his children’s books, he has received a New York Times Best Illustrated Children’s Book Award along with an Irish Book Award and a United Kingdom Literary Association Award. He exhibits his original art at the Brooklyn Museum in NY, the Irish Museum of Modern Art in Dublin, and the National Portrait Gallery in London. Discover more delightful information about Jeffers and his work at his Web site:

Oliver Jeffers has written and illustrated a number of children’s books including the following: The Day the Crayons Quit, Here We Are, Once There Was a Boy, and Stuck.

In This Moose Belongs to ME, Jeffers explores the issue of ownership of something bigger than one’s self. Wilfred says he owns a moose and names the moose Marcel. Wilfred also develops a large number of rules for Marcel to follow.

Of course, being a moose, Marcel is not inclined to follow all the rules, at least not all the time or not always when Wilfred expects him to do so. This obstinate behavior on Marcel’s part annoys Wilfred, so he tries to cope with Marcel’s recalcitrance.

Then, as Wilfred and Marcel are out and about, they encounter a little, old lady who calls Marcel by the name Rodrigo! Wilfred is appalled. Marcel is the moose’s name, and Marcel belongs to Wilfred.

The difficulty stems from the fact that Marcel/Rodrigo does not belong to anyone. Thus Wilfred learns a valuable lesson about rigid rules and about sharing. Once Wilfred realizes that Marcel/Rodrigo is not a possession, the two reach a compromise of allowing each to go his own way and to remain friends.

This Moose Belongs to ME is a visual delight. Wilfred and Marcel/Rodrigo are drawn as if by a child’s hand. Then the background in each double-page spread forms a beautiful landscape of mountains, streams, and trees. The muted colors on some pages engage the senses as the readers take in each passage. Then vivid color will strike the readers’ eyes as Wilfred and Marcel/Rodrigo continue their adventures.


The Book Whisperer Examines a Book on Writing


I was totally unfamiliar with Alice Mattison until I read about The Kite and the String: How to Write With Spontaneity and Control—And Live to Tell the Tale.” The title alone should intrigue writers and would-be writers as well as readers who enjoy learning about the process of writing those beloved stories.

I opened The Kite and the String to the “Introduction: Excuse Me, Don’t We Know Each Other?” That title added to my interest. The first two paragraphs are engaging:

“Maybe you’re that woman in the corner of the coffee shop. You’re gazing over the lid of a laptop, then typing fast, then gazing again. Or possibly you’re that man with the narrow-ruled notebook, writing fat paragraphs in black ink…. And I? I’m the woman with messy gray hair who’s at risk of spilling her coffee down your neck, because she can’t help glancing over your shoulder to get a glimpse of what you’re writing. Is it, perhaps, a story? Is it a novel? A memoir?”

Mattison goes on to explain that The Kite and the String is not a how-to manual. Instead, she says it “describes one woman’s way of thinking about writing.”

Mattison has divided The Kite and the String into five parts. Within those five parts, she has included a variety of chapters. She includes chapters titled “Imagine,” “Let Happenings Happen,” “Become Someone Else,” and “Revising Our Thought Bubbles.”

My favorite chapter is “What Killed the Queen? and Other Uncertainties That Keep a Reader Reading.” Mattison reminds her readers, “we don’t write well without touching on painful subjects, and many of us need to write for a long time before those painful thoughts emerge from wherever we ordinarily hide them.”

Throughout The Kite and the String, Mattison uses examples from other novelists to illustrate the points she is making. This technique allows her readers then to research further for themselves by referring to those books and authors.

In “Revising Our Thought Bubbles,” Mattison gives advice about showing one’s writing. She explains that a writing workshop she attended for thirteen years with poets Jane Kenyon and Joyce Peseroff “made me dare to be a writer.” She goes on to say that “it’s possible to show your writing, cautiously, to people who aren’t writers and to learn from them.”  She emphasizes the word cautiously if showing the writing to non-writers. The writing workshops provide a much-needed service then because they consist of other writers.

Mattison is forthright in her teaching. She says, “Cherish the readers who offer more praise than you deserve, but find others as well—which may be more difficult.”

In the end, Mattison tells writers “be ambitious, in the best sense. Write—write first drafts—when you’re sleepy and stupid, receptive and vulnerable…. Take outrageous risks, and then have the patience and humility to fix your work.”


Mattison has published six novels, four collections of short stories, and a collection of poems. She has received a number of awards. She currently teaches in the MFA program at Bennington College. Learn more about Mattison and her work at her site: