Thursday, November 29, 2012

Lois Red Elk, author of 'Our Blood Remembers'

A review of Our Blood Remembers, by Lara Shefelbine of the The Herald-News:

A Wolf Point woman who has written for more than 50 years has published a collection of poems in her first book, bringing alive numerous memories of her lifetime, childhood and family experiences on the Fort Peck Reservation.

In the book Our Blood Remembers, Lois Red Elk weaves together a series of anecdotes and thoughts from her lifetime using dazzling, imaginative poetry.

Red Elk, a member of the Sioux Nation and an enrolled member of the Fort Peck Tribes, tells of her childhood spent growing up between Poplar and Wolf Point and the lessons she learned being raised by her father, mother and influential grandmothers.

Not only does the author detail meaningful events of her lifetime, Red Elk also shares some of her favorite Dakota/Lakota words and phrases. Her perspective brings a new light to topics ranging from the importance and significance of family to the exploitation of Native American culture. The content of the poems contained in Our Blood Remembers ranges from the distant past and the old ways to the present and the changes that have occurred with the passage of time.

All in all, Red Elk offers an undisguised look at the Sioux culture that defines her life and encourages us to feel the emotions that run deep in the blood, which truly does remember.

Our Blood Remembers was published by Many Voices Press of Flathead Valley Community College.

Find out more about Lois Red Elk and listen to the program, on the radio or online.

Wednesday, November 28, 2012

Hope Captured, a reader response by Jenni Warren

We all have a residual place inside ourselves that encourages us to cling onto ideals we sometimes refer to as hope. Hope for what tomorrow may bring, hope for forgiveness of a fault, and hope to find enough courage to not give up on hope. Sharma Shields captures the meaning and purpose of hope in her short fiction, “The Last Snow Angel Boy.”

The best stories written tend to spark a light of familiarity in the reader. Stories conjure up feelings of understanding and create “a-ha” moments in the reader that provide them the opportunity to envision their own story working out in front of them on the page. “The Last Snow Angel Boy” was written with a poetic quality that makes it possible, if not easy, for Shield’s readers to plug into the story she has created.

Stories remind us about how we want to live our lives. They remind us of the ideal, the way in which we desire to appear. In “The Last Snow Angel Boy,” Marion and his wife are coping with the reality of their son entering rehab for the fourth time. Marion’s wife found her sanctuary in, a rather large collection of a miniature twinkling snow village that allows her to physically touch and mold the “happiest place on earth.” To Marion, the village represents an unattainable life that with all its glowing lights and painted-on expressions makes a mockery out of the life that is now his reality.

Ironically, such as life itself, the small glimmer of hope that Marion receives is found in the expression of Snow Angel Boy’s face, the face of a “collector’s dream.” As Marion makes an offering of the highly-valued ceramic boy to his son, Snow Angel Boy no longer represents an annoying ideal but rather a symbol of Marion’s hope and love for his valuable son. Sharma Shields demonstrates through Marion that there is significance in tangible hope, the simple kind of hope we can thankfully sustain.
I encourage hopeful readers, as well as stubborn pessimists, to read “The Last Snow Angel Boy.” Shields presentation of discovering unexpected hope in unexpected places is sure to resonate with readers searching for meaning and harmony in their own, very real, stories.


Jenni Warren is currently a student at The University of Montana, Missoula. She will finish her degree in Communication and Psychology this winter and hopes to remain in Montana. A Pacific Northwest native at heart, Jenni developed a passion to explore the beauty of the outdoors. Her passion has inspired her creativity and fuels her “bucket list.” She hopes to one day (but not limited to) sip coffee in Europe, roast marshmallows on a beach in Costa Rica, and search for the ultimate tapas bar in Spain. 

Tuesday, November 27, 2012

Children's Book Review: 'The Adventures of Jo Schmo: Dinos Are Forever' by Greg Trine

The Adventures of Jo Schmo: Dinos are Forever by Greg Trine
illustrated by Frank W. Dormer
Harcourt Children's Books, 2012

Dinos are Forever is the first book in the new series The Adventures of Jo Schmo by Greg Trine which will likely appeal to both girls and boys of upper elementary school age.

Jo is a fourth grader whose grandfather (also named Joe) is a retired sheriff and lives in a shack in her family's backyard. When Jo receives a mysterious package from her uncle George, which contains a superhero cape and an instruction manual, she decides to try her hand at fighting crime as well.

With her dog, Raymond, as a sidekick, Jo creates a hideout and invents a Schmomobile then sets off about the business of catching bank robbers and saving the day. Her crime-stopping adventures become more challenging when a mad scientist sets out to bring dinosaurs from the Museum of Natural History to life to do evil in the city.

Trine cleverly plays on cliches and stereotypes throughout the story. Not only are the main character and her grandfather named Jo(e) Schmo, but Jo's best friends at school are Tom, Dick, and Harry. The mad scientist is named Dr. Dastardly and frequently says, "Mwah-ha-ha" both to call his assistant Pete and as an expression of joy (which can be confusing to Pete).

Jo's dog Raymond, for some reason, drools uncontrollably every time his superhero cape is put on, and chases his tail "at such superhero speed" that it drills holes in the backyard, which Jo and her grandfather fill with water and use as jacuzzis. This random and outlandish humor is spot-on for elementary school students, who will be carried along by the story and pulled in by Frank W. Dormer's simple but entertaining black and white comic strip-like illustrations throughout. Parents will also enjoy the allusions to superheros that they remember from their childhood, so this would be a fun read for the whole family.

Greg Trine lives in his hideout in California, where he has been saving the world since the seventh grade.  When he is not ridding the world of devious and sinister bad guys, he is either trying to invent a new flavor of ice cream—his last one was Rainbow Trout Ripple—or writing funny books.

Renée Vaillancourt McGrath has worked at Montana Public Radio as a program host since 2002. Her background is in librarianship and she currently works as a freelance editor and website designer and developer. Check out more of her book reviews at

Monday, November 26, 2012

Monday Poems: "A Message from the Wanderer" -- by William Stafford

Today outside your prison I stand
and rattle my walking stick: Prisoners, listen;
you have relatives outside. And there are
thousands of ways to escape.

Years ago I bent my skill to keep my
cell locked, had chains smuggled to me in pies,
and shouted my plans to jailers;
but always new plans occured to me,
or the new heavy locks bent hinges off,
or some stupid jailer would forget
and leave the keys.

Inside, I dreamed of constellations—
those feeding creatures outlined by stars,
their skeletons a darkness between jewels,
heroes that exist only where they are not.

Thus freedom always came nibbling my thought,
just as—often, in light, on the open hills—
you can pass an antelope and not know
and look back, and then—even before you see—
there is something wrong about the grass.
And then you see.

That’s the way everything in the world is waiting.

Now—these few more words, and then I’m
gone: Tell everyone just to remember
their names, and remind others, later, when we
find each other. Tell the little ones
to cry and then go to sleep, curled up
where they can. And if any of us get lost,
if any of us cannot come all the way—
remember: there will come a time when
all we have said and all we have hoped
will be all right.

There will be that form in the grass.

*     *     *     *     *

Poet William Stafford (1914-1993) served as the 20th poet laureate consultant to the U.S. Library of Congress (1970) as well as the poet laureate for the state of Oregon for nearly two decades (1975-93). He published his first major poetry collection—Traveling through the Dark—at the age of 48. That collection won the National Book Award for Poetry in 1963. The above poem is published in the collection The Way It Is: New and Selected Poems.

Wednesday, November 21, 2012

Jim Robbins, author of 'The Man Who Planted Trees'

Twenty years ago, David Milarch, a northern Michigan nurseryman with a penchant for hard living, had a vision: angels came to tell him that the earth was in trouble. Its trees were dying, and without them, human life was in jeopardy. The solution, they told him, was to clone the champion trees of the world — the largest, the hardiest, the ones that had survived millennia and were most resilient to climate change—and create a kind of Noah’s ark of tree genetics. Without knowing if the message had any basis in science, or why he’d been chosen for this task, Milarch began his mission of cloning the world’s great trees. Many scientists and tree experts told him it couldn’t be done, but, twenty years later, his team has successfully cloned some of the world’s oldest trees—among them giant redwoods and sequoias. They have also grown seedlings from the oldest tree in the world, the bristlecone pine Methuselah.

When New York Times journalist Jim Robbins came upon Milarch’s story, he was fascinated but had his doubts. Yet over several years, listening to Milarch and talking to scientists, he came to realize that there is so much we do not yet know about trees: how they die, how they communicate, the myriad crucial ways they filter water and air and otherwise support life on Earth. It became clear that as the planet changes, trees and forest are essential to assuring its survival. The Man Who Planted Trees is both a fascinating investigation into the world of trees and the inspiring story of one man’s quest to help save the planet. This book’s hopeful message of what one man can accomplish against all odds is also a lesson about how each of us has the ability to make a difference.

Find out more about Jim Robbins and listen to the program, on the radio or online.

Tuesday, November 20, 2012

Children's Book Review: 'Paul Bunyan and Babe the Blue Ox: The Great Pancake Adventure' by Matt Luckhurst

Paul Bunyan and Babe the Blue Ox: The Great Pancake Adventure by Matt Luckhurst
Abrams Books for Young Readers, 2012

Author/illustrator Matt Luckhurst does a wonderful job of bringing some of the Paul Bunyan legends to life in this book which combines text with art in a manner slightly reminiscent of web site infographics.  The illustrations on each page are large and brightly-colored, with words that weave through and around them and are sometimes incorporated into the images themselves.

This retelling uses Paul Bunyan's (and his blue ox Babe's) love of pancakes as an anchor for the story, as the pair travel across the country on many adventures. They help clean up a road spill when a truck dumps a load of flour into the river (which forms pancake batter that is subsequently cooked by the sun). Their words freeze in their mouths as they travel through the old land of lakes near Minnesota. They attempt to level the ground in the west with pancake batter (which, when melted by the sun, forms the Rocky Mountains). And they create the Grand Canyon when Babe digs his heels into the ground while trying to chase an errant pancake along the Colorado River. In the end, the pair grows sick from eating too many pancakes, and returns home to eat the over-sized vegetables Bunyan's mother grows in her garden.

The moral of the story is in no way heavy-handed as it blends seamlessly with the tall-tale tone of the narrative. The third grade class I read this book to was mesmerized by the larger-than-life story and colorful illustrations. The students commented on the way the text was incorporated into the images and found the outrageous exaggerations to be entertaining. With accessible words and images, this book would probably appeal to a wide range of elementary school students.

Click here to see a video about the book.

Matt Luckhurst first heard of the tales of Paul Bunyan and Babe the Blue Ox as a child growing up on Vancouver Island, British Columbia, Canada. A graduate of the MFA design program at the School of Visual Arts, Matt lives in New York City and works in the areas of design, illustration, and video.

Renée Vaillancourt McGrath has worked at Montana Public Radio as a program host since 2002. Her background is in librarianship and she currently works as a freelance editor and website designer and developer. Check out more of her book reviews at

Monday, November 19, 2012

Monday Poems: "The Potato Eaters" -- by Leonard E. Nathan

Sometimes, the naked taste of potato
reminds me of being poor.

The first bites are gratitude,
the rest, contented boredom.

The little kitchen still flickers
like a candle-lit room in a folktale.

Never again was my father so angry,
my mother so still as she set the table,

or I so much at home.

*     *     *     *     *

Leonard E. Nathan (1924-2007) was a poet, critic and professor emeritus of rhetoric at the University of California at Berkeley. His poetry collections include Returning Your Call (1975) which was nominated for a National Book Award; Carrying On: New and Selected Poems (1985), Diary of a Left-Handed Bird Watcher (1998); Tears of the Old Magician (2003), and Ragged Sonnets (2008).

Friday, November 16, 2012

William J. Cobb, author of 'The Bird Saviors'

When a dust storm engulfs her Colorado town and pink snow blankets the streets, a heartbreaking decision faces Ruby Cole, a girl who counts birds: She must abandon her baby or give in to her father, whom she nicknames Lord God, and marry a man more than twice her age who already has two wives. She chooses to run, which sets in motion an interlocking series of actions and reactions, upending the lives of an equestrian police officer, pawnshop riffraff, a disabled war vet, Nuisance Animal destroyers, and a grieving ornithologist--a field biologist studies the decline of bird populations. All the while, a growing criminal enterprise moves from cattle rustling to kidnapping to hijacking fuel tankers and murder as events spin out of control,.

Set in a time of economic turmoil, virus fears, climate change, fundamentalist cults and illegal immigrant hardship, The Bird Saviors is a visionary story of defiance, anger, and compassion, in which a young woman ultimately struggles to free herself from her domineering father, to raise her daughter in the chaos of the New West, and to become something greater herself.

Find out more about William J. Cobb and listen to the program, on the radio or online.


Tuesday, November 13, 2012

Children's Book Reviews: 'Buffalo Bird Girl' and 'Black Elk's Vision' - by S. D. Nelson

Buffalo Bird Girl: A Hidatsa Story by S.D. Nelson
Abrams Books for Young Readers, 2012

Black Elk's Vision: A Lakota Story by S.D. Nelson
Abrams Books for Young Readers, 2010

Abrams Books for Young Readers has recently published Buffalo Bird Girl: A Hidatsa Story retold by S. D. Nelson. This first person account of the childhood of a woman named Waheenee follows the same format as S.D. Nelson's Black Elk's Vision: A Lakota Story, which was published by Abrams in 2010.

Both books are accounts of the lives of Native Americans in the late 19th to early 20th centuries just before the Euro-American invasion. They are gorgeously illustrated by Nelson and include many archival photos of tribal people from the period in which the story is set as well as images of reconstructions of Native American artifacts and dwellings. Each story is told from the perspective of a real historical figure and describes what life was like for them when they were growing up on the Great Plains.

Buffalo Bird Girl's narrative describes how her tribe's dwellings and tools were made, what type of food they ate and how they acquired and prepared it, and how her people felt a spiritual connection to all living things. She tells of how the Hidatsa traded with friendly tribes and white fur traders, and fought against their enemies (interestingly, the Hidatsa and Lakota were warring tribes).

Buffalo Bird Girl considered herself to be “a happy, contented Indian girl,” and remembers her childhood as the happiest time of her life. She talks of making dolls and playing games with other girls (while the boys shot arrows, wrestled, and raced horses). The girls and women harnessed dogs to haul firewood, dried corn and other vegetables to last throughout the winter, and colored their cheeks with ochre and buffalo fat for dances and celebrations.

Black Elk's story focuses on a vision he had during a childhood illness which leads to his leadership role in his tribe as the U.S. Government moves in to the Great Plains killing buffallo and fighting the Lakota and Cheyenne nations. Custer's encounter with Crazy Horse is described in heartbreaking detail. In 1886, Black Elk and Sitting Bull join Buffalo Bill Cody's Wild West show and perform as Indians in New York and London.

Both stories contain at least one violent war scene, which include shootings and scalpings. And both end with the encroachment of Euro-Americans on the native lifestyle. Black Elk's story also includes some disturbing photos of U.S. Soldiers burying Indian corpses in a common grave after the Battle of Wounded Knee and concludes with the Lakota being moved to the Pine Ridge Reservation.

Following the first-person accounts, each book contains a fairly lengthy Author's Note and a Timeline which provides more historical information about the cultures portrayed in the stories. S.D. Nelson is a member of the Standing Rock Sioux/Lakota tribe of the Dakotas and grew up in a family that maintained many traditional ways, so several of his own childhood experiences mirrored those described in the stories.

The first-person account makes history more accessible for young readers, although I wonder about the target audience for these books. Some of the content is too mature for elementary school students, but the picture book format will likely put off young adults. The books might appeal to advanced middle school students, or to teachers who could choose to read selections to younger students. They would also be appropriate for adult early-readers since the historical accounts and documents will appeal to people of all ages.

S.D. Nelson is a member of the Standing Rock Sioux tribe of the Dakotas. He is the author of a number of children's books. His artwork also appears on book jackets, greeting cards, and CD covers, and his paintings are held in private and public collections. He lives in Flagstaff, Arizona. Visit him online at

Renée Vaillancourt McGrath has worked at Montana Public Radio as a program host since 2002. Her background is in librarianship and she currently works as a freelance editor and website designer and developer. Check out more of her book reviews at

Monday, November 12, 2012

Monday Poems: "The Hurt Locker" -- by Brian Turner

Nothing but hurt left here.
Nothing but bullets and pain
and the bled-out slumping
and all the fucks and goddamns
and Jesus Christs of the wounded.
Nothing left here but the hurt.

Believe it when you see it.
Believe it when a twelve-year-old
rolls a grenade into the room.
Or when a sniper punches a hole
deep into someone’s skull.
Believe it when four men
step from a taxicab in Mosul
to shower the street in brass
and fire. Open the hurt locker
and see what there is of knives
and teeth. Open the hurt locker and learn
how rough men come hunting for souls.

*     *     *     *     *

(NB: The phrase "the hurt locker" is a military colloquialism for being injured or in trouble.)

Poet Brian Turner earned an MFA from the University of Oregon before serving for seven years in the U.S. Army. Beginning in 2003, he was an infantry team leader for a year in Iraq with the 3rd Stryker Brigade Combat Team, 2nd Infantry Division. 

His debut collection, in which the above poem appears, is Here, Bullet, which won the 2005 Beatrice Hawley Award. His 2010 collection Phantom Noise was shortlisted for the T.S. Eliot prize. He is currently director of the low-residency MFA program at Sierra Nevada College at Lake Tahoe.