Wednesday, February 27, 2013

Montana: Real Place, Real People

For the better part of a decade, writer Alan Kesselheim and photographer Thomas Lee collaborated on a series of Montana-based stories for Montana Quarterly magazine. Over the years they met ordinary people with extraordinary life histories. What they found in the spacious landscape under the Big Sky was the human embodiment of inspiration, endurance, triumph, hard work, talent, humor, great schemes and daily heroism. The stories come from unlikely spots on the Montana state map places like Sidney and Park City, Frenchtown and Malta -- places worth loving. They feature people like Elsie Fox and Jerry Cornelia and Richard Stewart, whose lives brim with authenticity and fierce spirit.

The words and images that bloomed out of those encounters wait for you in the pages of Montana: Real Place, Real People.

During this week's program, Chérie Newman talks with Alan Kesselheim and Thomas Lee about how they created this book, and Alan reads part of his essay about Robin Puckett, a self-sufficient woman who has driven the Ryegate highway contract mail route for 28 years.

Find out more about Alan Kesselheim and Thomas Lee, and listen to the program, on the radio or online.

Tuesday, February 26, 2013

Children's Book Review: 'MA! There's Nothing to Do Here' by Barbara Park

MA! There's Nothing to Do Here! 
A Word from Your Baby-in Waiting
by Barbara Park
illustrated by Viviana Garofoli
Random House Children's Books

When I regularly filled in as a host for the Pea Green Boat, I discovered that there are children's songs that are popular with children, but really loved by adults, and children's songs that were popular with adults, but really loved by children. Examples of the former would be “Little Potato” or “Little Chickadee,” whereas an example of the latter would be “The Hampster Dance.”

Barbara Park's new board book, MA! There's Nothing to Do Here! is clearly designed as a novelty book for expecting mothers, but young children (especially soon-to-be siblings) will likely enjoy it, too.

Subtitled A Word from Your Baby-in-Waiting, this story is written from the perspective of a child in utero. It has the rhythm and rhyme of a typical board book for toddlers, but, like the best children's television shows, also includes allusions to popular culture that will keep grown-ups entertained (e.g. “What's a baby to do in a womb with no view?” “And I'm totally bored with this dumb bungee cord.”).

Viviana Garofoli does a good job keeping the illustrations interesting considering that all of the action takes place in a very small contained space. The images of the baby in utero are displayed in different sizes and from different angles. Sometimes the mother's body is also pictured and sometimes it is not. And several illustrations show what the baby wishes s/he were doing, rather than where s/he currently is.

The cartoon images are bright and colorful and easily held the attention of the preschoolers and early elementary school students that I shared this book with. They enjoyed the story more than I expected them to as well. But the real target audience for this book is expectant parents – particularly parents expecting their first child, who will likely be enamored by the notion of their baby communicating with them before s/he is born:
Well, that's it, I guess.
I've got your address.
Kiss Pop for me, please...
And give him a squeeze.
I'll meet him soon, maybe!

Your Baby
Barbara Park is the author of the bestselling, critically acclaimed Junie B. Jones chapter books. Her middle-grade novels, which include Skinnybones, and The Kid in the Red Jacket, have won over 40 children's book awards. She has two grown sons, two small grandsons, and a medium-sized dog. She lives with her husband in Arizona.

Viviana Garofoli graduated in 1995 with a fine arts degree from Escuela Nacional de Bellas Artes Prilidiano Pueyrredón, in her native Argentina, and has since worked as both a fine and commercial artist. Over the last 15 years, she has illustrated more than 20 children's books. She lives in Buenos Aires with her husband and two daughters.

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, blogger, and website developer. Check out more of her book reviews at

Monday, February 25, 2013

Monday Poems: "My Sentence" -- by Dana Levin

—spring wind with its
             train of spoons,
kidney-bean shaped
             pools, Floridian
humus, cicadas with their
             electric appliance hum, cricket
pulse of dusk under
             the pixilate gold of the trees, fall’s
finish, snow’s white
             afterlife, death’s breath
finishing the monologue Phenomena, The Most Beautiful Girl you
             carved the word because you craved the world
*     *     *     *     *

Dana Levin has published three books of poetry: Sky Burial (2011), Wedding Day (2005) and her first book, In the Surgical Theatre (1999), which won the APR/Honickman Award. She is the Russo Endowed Chair in Creative Writing at the University of New Mexico, and also teaches in the Warren Wilson College MFA Program for Writers. She lives in Santa Fe, New Mexico.

Wednesday, February 20, 2013

Marjorie Smith, author of 'Making Up Amelia'

In Making Up Amelia, Montana author Marjorie Smith has created three different characters, in three different decades, who find their fates entangled with the mysterious disappearance of the American flier, Amelia Earhart.

In 1983, an idealistic journalist makes a sentimental journey that turns into an alarming encounter with her past.

In 1967, a civilian employee of the U.S. Navy goes on a weekend visit to friends and discovers a passion for flying and for a certain island bush pilot.

In 1936, a South Dakota teenager accepts a stranger's invitation to see the world, then finds out it comes with a high price.

Their three intertwined stories come to a dramatic conclusion on Guam, the island that likes to say it is "Where America's Day Begins."

Find out more about Marjorie Smith, and listen to the program, on the radio or online.

Tuesday, February 19, 2013

Children's Book Review: 'Have You Seen My New Blue Socks?' by Eve Bunting

Have You Seen My New Blue Socks?
by Eve Bunting
illustrated by Sergio Ruzzier
Clarion Books, 2013

In the tradition of Dr. Seuss comes Eve Bunting's latest book Have You Seen My New Blue Socks, illustrated by Sergio Ruzzier. It is a testament to Bunting's skill as a writer and Ruzzier's engaging illustrations that this book firmly stands on its own two feet (no pun intended) in spite of its read-alike echoes:

     Duck has lost his new blue socks.
     Did he put them in his box?
     He knows he put them somewhere near.
                                                                              How could they simply disappear?

He asks the fox, and the ox if they've seen his socks. He looks for them on the rocks, and then approaches the peacocks, who reveal that duck is wearing his new socks.

Ruzzier sets the story against a muted pastel landscape reminiscent of the southwest and uses the occasional contrast of a white background to draw attention to Duck's expressions as he journeys through the book on his quest to find his lost socks. The indoor scenes are casual and messy, which gives the book a comfortable, lived-in feel.

The first-grade students that I read this story to enjoyed the repetition of sounds, the search for the socks, and the humor in the fact that Duck was wearing them all along (and that they appear to be a little too big for him). Fans of Dr. Seuss (and who isn't?) will enjoy seeing some of the familiar rhythms and rhymes of Fox in Socks presented in a fresh new way.

Eve Bunting is the author of many beloved picture books. She was born in Ireland and lives in Pasadena, California

Sergio Ruzzier has illustrated numerous picture books, some of which he also wrote. Italian by birth, he lives in New York City. He became a member of the Maurice Sendak Fellowship in 2011. 

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, blogger, and website developer. Check out more of her book reviews at

Monday, February 18, 2013

Monday Poem: "The Animal Spell" -- by Zachary Schomburg

Someone once told me that animals are people under spells, and if you fall in love with them the spell will be lifted. I recently fell in love with a black trumpeter swan. I watched her ruffle her neck feathers for hours, watched her peck bugs from her breast. I was sure she would make a beautiful bride, but she was always a black trumpeter swan. I once brushed a horse's hair for 3 straight years until it crumpled into death. The truth is there is no such thing as spells. The world is always as it is, and always as it seems. And love is just our own kind voice that we whisper into our own blood.

*     *     *     *     *

Zachary Schomburg is a surrealist poet whose previous publications have been populated by gorillas in people clothes, jaguars, plagues of hummingbirds, and even Abraham Lincoln. His books include The Man Suit (2007), Scary, No Scary (2009), and Fjords vol 1 (2012).

Schomburg co-edits Octopus Books and lives in Portland, Oregon.

Wednesday, February 13, 2013

Blackfoot Redemption, by William E. Farr

In 1879, a Canadian Blackfoot known as Spopee, or Turtle, shot and killed a white man. Captured as a fugitive, Spopee narrowly escaped execution, instead landing in an insane asylum in Washington, D.C., where he fell silent. Spopee thus "disappeared" for more than thirty years, until a delegation of American Blackfeet discovered him and, aided by the Commissioner of Indian Affairs, exacted a pardon from President Woodrow Wilson. After re-emerging into society like a modern-day Rip Van Winkle, Spopee spent the final year of his life on the Blackfeet Reservation in Montana, in a world that had changed irrevocably from the one he had known before his confinement.

Blackfoot Redemption is the riveting account of Spopee's unusual and haunting story. To reconstruct the events of Spopee's life--at first traceable only through bits and pieces of information--William E. Farr conducted exhaustive archival research, digging deeply into government documents and institutional reports to build a coherent and accurate narrative and, through this reconstruction, win back one Indian's life and identity.

In revealing both certainties and ambiguities in Spopee's story, Farr relates a larger story about racial dynamics and prejudice, while poignantly evoking the turbulent final days of the buffalo-hunting Indians before their confinement, loss of freedom, and confusion that came with the wrenching transition to reservation life.

Find out more about William Farr, and hear him talk about Spopee, his arrest and trial, his 34 years of silence, and his presidential pardon during this week's program, on the radio or online.

Tuesday, February 12, 2013

Children's Book Review: 'I Have a Dream' by Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr.

I Have a Dream
by Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr.
paintings by Kadir Nelson
Schwartz & Wade Books, 2012

February is Black History Month and Schwartz & Wade Books (an imprint of Random House Children's Books) has released a stunning picture book tribute to King's “I Have a Dream” speech.

I Have a Dream features some of the more accessible passages of King's call for freedom, making it an appropriate read for even young children. The entire text of the speech is included at the end of the book, and a CD of the official recording from the March on Washington delivered August 28, 1963 is also enclosed.

What makes this book stand out, however, are the larger-than-life illustrations by Kadir Nelson. The cover image of the face of Martin Luther King Jr. set against a backdrop of a blue cloudy sky is one of five portraits of the civil rights hero, some of which span over the two page spread. Other paintings focus on the faces of children, young people, and the audiences that came to see King speak, and several pages feature images of national monuments and the diverse landscapes of America.

Perhaps the most powerful painting is a two-page spread of a black hand clasping a white hand accompanied by the text, “With this faith we will be able to work together, to pray together, to struggle together, to go to jail together, to stand up for freedom together, knowing that we will be free one day.”

While a full understanding of the historical impact of King's “I have a dream” speech is probably beyond the reach of the youngest school children, the first-graders I read this book to were pleased to recognize the names of the states that are mentioned, and enjoyed the repetition of the opening phrase, in addition to being captivated by the remarkable illustrations. Older elementary school children will be able to appreciate even more about this beautiful and well-crafted book.

Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr. (1929-1968) is one of the most important Americans of the twentieth century. He was a clergyman, a writer, an activist, and a leader in the American civil rights movement. His speech "I Have a Dream" became the defining moment in the struggle for civil rights. 

Kadir Nelson is the highly acclaimed and bestselling illustrator of many books for children. He has won two Caldecott Honors, a Robert F. Sibert Medal and a Coretta Scott King Honor Award. Mr. Nelson lives in Los Angeles. Visit him 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, blogger, and website developer. Check out more of her book reviews at

Monday, February 11, 2013

Monday Poems: "The Darker Sooner" -- by Catherine Wing

Then came the darker sooner,
came the later lower.
We were no longer a sweeter-here
happily-ever-after. We were after ever.
We were farther and further.
More was the word we used for harder.
Lost was our standard-bearer.
Our gods were fallen faster,
and fallen larger.
The day was duller, duller
was disaster. Our charge was error.
Instead of leader we had louder,
instead of lover, never. And over this river
broke the winter’s black weather.
*  *  *  *  *

Catherine Wing earned her MFA from the University of Washington. Her publications include the collections Enter Invisible (2005), which was the second title in Sarabande's Woodford Reserve Series in Kentucky Literature and which was nominated for the Los Angeles Times Book Prize, and Gin & Bleach (2012).

Wednesday, February 6, 2013

Charlotte Caldwell, author of 'Visions and Voices'

It began with a dilapidated schoolhouse that Charlotte Caldwell and her husband could see from their window. Then came a neighbor's story about riding her horse, bareback, to a one-room school, which was followed by months of phone calls, emails, research and a series of trips that added 12,000 miles to the family car. Locating one-room schoolhouses in each of Montana's 56 counties, and finding people who attended or taught in them, took a tremendous amount of time and energy. But Caldwell believes Visions and Voices: Montana's One-Room Schoolhouses, the book of photographs and stories she produced, was worth all the effort she put into it.

Why? Because she believes that one-room schoolhouses are important. They hold the stories of our culture, from the arrival of the first non-native families to present-day students who use technology to overcome their isolation. Caldwell's dedication to saving these buildings and stories includes giving 100% of profits to preservation efforts.

Hear Charlotte Caldwell talk about and read from Visions and Voices during this week's program, on the radio or online.