Monday, April 29, 2013

Monday Poems: "Curriculum Vitae" -- by Michael Earl Craig

There's a very distinguished-looking older man sitting near me
at the diner. His hair is silver, neatly combed.
His grey suit looks immaculate, a crisp handkerchief
in his chest pocket. A grandfatherly kindness emanates
from him as he eats his eggs. He is from a bygone era,
I'm thinking, as he gets up and turns toward me,
and now I see a large grease stain on his shirt,
which is partially un-tucked, and his belt appears
to be unbuckled. He staggers a bit as he stands,
bumping his chair back with his legs,
[some Billie Holiday, coming from the kitchen]
and glances at me for a second—a few seconds.
A restrained burp slips from his mouth.
He picks up the most gorgeous briefcase I have ever seen
and wields it respectfully, like a sword he has know all his life.


Michael Earl Craig grew up in Dayton, Ohio, and was educated at Ohio Wesleyan University, the University of Montana, and the University of Massachusetts at Amherst. Craig’s poetry collections include Can You Relax in My House (2002), Yes, Master (2006), and Thin Kimono (2010). His work has been included in the anthology Isn’t It Romantic (2004). "Curriculum Vitae" is from a book to be published in 2014. It recently appeared in an article in Montana Quarterly magazine. Michael Earl Craig lives near Livingston, Montana, and works as a farrier. 

Sunday, April 28, 2013

Celebrate Screen-Free Week 2013

This will be the third year that I will be celebrating Screen-Free Week with my family. Sponsored by the Campaign for a Commercial-Free Childhood, Screen-Free Week encourages children, families, schools, and communities to "turn off screens and turn on life."

We've done this to various degrees in previous years, depending on  how many school and work responsibilities that we've had that relied on technology. This year, I hope to make a clean break, steering clear of TV (which we don't own anyway), computers, tablets and electronic readers throughout the week, and only using my cell phone to make voice calls (no text). I will be encouraging my children to stay away from all of the same technology outside of school hours (and may share information about Screen-Free Week with their teachers and encourage them to limit screen time in the classroom to the extent possible as well).

Now that my children are six and nine years old, I admit that I'm looking forward to Screen-Free Week more than they (or my husband) are. But in spite of the challenges, we do find that each year we wind up spending more quality time with each other (and more time reading) when we're unplugged. This year, I hope to involve my children more in household responsibilities and to use more of my own time to play with them as well.

I'll be taking the next seven days off from blogging in honor of Screen-Free Week but will be back at The Write Question with another children's or young adult book review on Tuesday, May 7. I hope you'll join me in celebrating Screen-Free Week 2013 by reading a book with your family. More information about the event can be found at

Random House is also encouraging people to participate in Screen-Free Week this year, and has recruited some children's book authors and illustrators to explain why:

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

Wednesday, April 24, 2013

An Interview with Pam Houston

Stuck in a dead-end relationship, this fearless narrator leaves her metaphorical baggage behind and finds a comfort zone in the air, “feeling safest with one plane ticket in her hand and another in her underwear drawer.” She flies around the world, finding reasons to love life in dozens of far-flung places from Alaska to Bhutan. Along the way she weathers unplanned losses of altitude, air pressure, and landing gear. With the help of a squad of loyal, funny, wise friends and massage therapists, she learns to sort truth from self-deception, self-involvement from self-possession.

At last, having found a new partner “who loves Don DeLillo and the NHL” and a daughter “who needs you to teach her to dive and to laugh at herself” — not to mention two dogs and two horses — “staying home becomes more of an option. Maybe.”

During this week's program, Chérie Newman talks with Pam Houston about her book Contents May Have Shifted, a novel which Houston admits is about 87% true. So why didn't she publish it as a memoir? Newman wants to know. The answer has to do with the public's perception of truth and, of course, publishing industry lawyers.

During this interview, Pam mentions a piece she wrote titled "Corn Maze." Here's a link to that essay:

Find out more about Pam Houston and her books, and listen to the program on the radio or online.

Tuesday, April 23, 2013

Children's Book Review: 'Barnaby the Bedbug Detective' by Catherine Stier

Barnaby the Bedbug Detective
by Catherine Stier
illustrated by Karen Sapp
Albert Whitman & Company, 2013

Barnaby is a small dog in an animal shelter who dreams of being a superhero. He is too energetic and enthusiastic for most families with children, but he's just right for Martha. She promises Barnaby a good home and perhaps, even a special job.

After they get to know each other for a while, Martha takes Barnaby to "bedbug sniffing school." He has a good nose, and is rewarded with a squeaky toy every time he learns to correctly identify "a certain tangy scent."

Barnaby is one of the best students in his class, and after he graduates from canine training, he begins to accompany Martha to hotels and movie theaters, dormitories and airplanes, searching for the bedbug smell. One day they are called on to help a family with young children identify what has been causing the itchy bumps that have been appearing on their skin, and Barnaby sees the opportunity to become the hero he's always wanted to be.

Catherine Stier manages to create an engaging children's story out of an unusual topic for children's books. She weaves factual information with a sense of adventure, and Karen Sapp's illustrations depict some interesting dog training methods that would be difficult to explain with words alone.

An afterword and the endpapers provide more factual information about bedbugs (which are, apparently, on the rise, due to the chemicals that were once used to control them being banned), additional resources, and tips for keeping bedbugs out of your home.

Catherine Stier's award-winning books include If I Were President, If I Ran for President, and Bugs in My Hair?! She lives in San Antonio, Texas, with her family. Please visit her at

Karen Sapp received her degree in illustration from Kingston University in London and now works as a freelance illustrator in her hometown of Crawley, England. Her favorite characters are animals, which she paints with her distinctive application of acrylics.
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, April 22, 2013

Monday Poems: "Tonto" -- by Lowell Jaeger

We'd seen Tonto on TV
dismount, kneel,
press an ear to the prairie
and advise The Lone Raner
how many buffalo, how far.

A good trick
every Cub Scout should know,
though the only stampedes in our neighborhood
were occasional locomotives
charging across town.

And we'd been warned about trains.
Kids caught on the trestles,
stepping tie-by-tie
when the big black beast
rounded the bend and trampled them.

We stooped to lay our ears on cold rails, listening
for the clack-clack-clack
of unseen iron horses
pulling rust-buckets loaded
with pulp logs and scrap.

And stood, squinting into the distance
like Tonto,
claiming for sure
angry herds of boxcars
were headed our way.


Lowell Jaeger is a graduate of the Iowa Writers’ Workshop, winner of the Grolier Poetry Peace Prize, and recipient of fellowships from the National Endowment for the Arts and the Montana Arts Council. He is founding editor of Many Voices Press and has taught creative writing at Flathead Valley Community College (Kalispell, Montana) for the past 30 years. Jaeger was awarded the Montana Governor’s Humanities Award for his work in promoting civil civic discourse.

Wednesday, April 17, 2013

An Interview with Emily Danforth

When Cameron Post's parents die suddenly in a car crash, her shocking first thought is relief. Relief they'll never know that, hours earlier, she had been kissing a girl

But that relief doesn't last, and Cam is soon forced to move in with her conservative aunt Ruth and her well-intentioned but hopelessly old-fashioned grandmother. She knows that from this point on, her life will forever be different. Survival in Miles City, Montana, means blending in and leaving well enough alone (as her grandmother might say), and Cam becomes an expert at both

Then Coley Taylor moves to town. Beautiful, pickup-driving Coley is a perfect cowgirl with the perfect boyfriend to match. She and Cam forge an unexpected and intense friendship--one that seems to leave room for something more to emerge. But just as that starts to seem like a real possibility, ultrareligious Aunt Ruth takes drastic action to "fix" her niece, bringing Cam face-to-face with the cost of denying her true self--even if she's not exactly sure who that is

The Miseducation of Cameron Post won the 2012 Montana Book Award.

Find out more about Emily Danforth, and listen to the program, on the radio or online.

Tuesday, April 16, 2013

Children's Book Review: 'Pronghorn Babies!' by Dick Kettlewell

Pronghorn Babies! by Dick Kettlewell
Farcountry Press, 2013

One of the latest in the Babies! series of board books by Farcountry Press, Pronghorn Babies! will keep your infant or toddler engaged with crisp close-up photos of real pronghorn babies and their mothers. The large sparse text on every other page is juxtaposed against a colorful background with squiggly borders and pronghorn prints as decoration.

The rhyming story traces a baby pronghorn's typical day: waking up, running, playing, wrestling, drinking from a creek and then snuggling up for a good night's sleep. This book doesn't present a lot of information about pronghorn biology or habitat, but the rhythmic language and endearing photos are just right for the very young audience that this book is geared towards. And the board book format will hold up well to tossing and teething as well!

Dick Kettlewell has worked in the high plains as a nature photographer for seventeen years. His work has appeared in well-known publications, including Smithsonian Magazine, and the New York Times. He has also published two books about the wildlife and landscapes of the high plains.

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, April 15, 2013

Monday Poems: "Spirit Happy" -- by Michael Revere


thank the beggar
dressed in daisies
offer roses
to a thorn
carry castles
for the queenless
bless the bishop
for his scorn


plant sunflowers
in the morning
leave wild horses
by the sea
gather children
lost to darkness
scorn the lizard
long last free

                                     for Sadie, Chuck, Andy, Sylivia


Michael Revere is a writer, rock drummer, and laborer from Helena, Montana, who has conducted poetry readings and workshops at public venues throughout the U.S. "Spirit Happy" was published in War, Madness, & Love.

Wednesday, April 10, 2013

Craig Lancaster, author of Edward Adrift

It’s been a year of upheaval for Edward Stanton, a forty-two-year-old with Asperger’s syndrome. He’s lost his job. His trusted therapist has retired. His best friends have moved away. And even his nightly ritual of watching Dragnet reruns has been disrupted. All of this change has left Edward, who lives his life on a rigid schedule, completely flummoxed.

But when his friend Donna calls with news that her son Kyle is in trouble, Edward leaves his comfort zone in Billings, Montana, and drives to visit them in Boise, where he discovers Kyle has morphed from a sweet kid into a sullen adolescent. Inspired by dreams of the past, Edward goes against his routine and decides to drive to a small town in Colorado where he once spent a summer with his father—bringing Kyle along as his road trip companion. The two argue about football and music along the way, and amid their misadventures, they meet an eccentric motel owner who just might be the love of Edward’s sheltered life—if only he can let her.

Edward Adrift is Craig Lancaster’s sequel to 600 Hours of Edward.

Find out more about Criaig Lancaster, and listen to the program, on the radio or online.

Tuesday, April 9, 2013

Children's Book Review: 'A Smidgen of Sky' by Dianna Dorisi Winget

A Smidgen of Sky
by Dianna Dorisi Winget
Harcourt Children's Books, 2012

Ten-year old Piper DeLuna is not happy about her mother's upcoming wedding. Piper's dad was a pilot whose plane crashed in a storm about four years ago, but his body was never found, so Piper still holds out hope that he may be alive somewhere. Piper's mom is now engaged to Ben Hutchings, a prison guard, who has a daughter Piper's age.

Unfortunately, Ginger is nothing like Piper. Piper wants to be a pilot, like her dad. Ginger wants to be a professional cheerleader. The girls have an antagonistic relationship, until it occurs to Piper that she may be able to prevent her mother from marrying Ginger's father if she is able to get Ben back together with his estranged first wife, Ginger's mom.

While doing research to hunt down Tina Liman, Piper stumbles upon a “people finder” who offers to help Piper find her father. Piper's plan to foil her mother's wedding plans works better than she expected, but she never could have anticipated the dangerous consequences that result from it.

First-time novelist Dianna Dorisi Winget hits the ground running with A Smidgen of Sky. Piper is a likable  believable character and the situation that she finds herself in escalates organically into a complex and thrilling climax. While the characters do face real danger, the descriptions are respectfully circumspect, making this book appropriate for older elementary school and pre-teen readers.

Dianna Dorisi Winget writes fiction and nonfiction for young readers. She is a lifelong resident of the Pacific Northwest and lives in the mountains of north Idaho with her husband, daughter, and two canine buddies. A Smidgen of Sky is her first novel.

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, April 8, 2013

Monday Poems: "Emergency Brake" -- by Dawn Losinger

The car will roll down the hill
Everything you own is disentangling.
Everything falls to the floor around the corner
into the wall. Through the window, a distortion of plains.

The car will roll down the hill.
Everything you own will betray you, tend towrard victim.
It is best to unload yourself.
It is best to unload as much as possible.
The car is the first to go, a muffled negotiation.

Finally your skull, heavy thing.

dawn lonsinger’s poems and lyric essays have appeared in American Poetry Review, Colorado Review, Black Warrior Review, Crazyhorse, Guernica: A Magazine of Arts & Politics, New Orleans Review, Subtropics, Best New Poets 2010, and elsewhere. She is the recipient of a Fulbright Fellowship, Smartish Pace’s Beullah Rose Poetry Prize, and four Dorothy Sargent Rosenberg Prizes, and holds an MFA from Cornell University and a PhD in Literature and Creative Writing from the University of Utah. "Emergency Brake" was published in her 2013 collection, Whelm.

Wednesday, April 3, 2013

H. Lee Barnes, author of Cold Deck

Jude Helms is a Las Vegas casino dealer who barely survived the deadly MGM fire in 1980. More than two decades later, he’s still dealing, a tired, middle-aged man, divorced, struggling with debt, and trying to be a good father to his children. Then he loses his job and his car is totaled in an accident. When an attractive woman friend offers to help him get another job, Jude is happy to go along. Gradually, he realizes that his new job is part of an elaborate scheme to cheat a casino and that his own fate and that of his children depend on his finding the courage and ingenuity to extricate himself.

Cold Deck is the exciting story of an ordinary man who finds himself in extraordinary circumstances. Moving from Las Vegas’s mean streets to the insider’s world of casino workers, this is a story of survival set against the greed, fears, and glitz of Sin City.

Find out more about H. Lee Barnes, and listen to the program, on the radio or online.

Tuesday, April 2, 2013

Children's Book Review: 'Dodsworth in Tokyo' by Tim Egan

Dodsworth in Tokyo by Tim Egan
Houghton Mifflin Books for Children, 2013

Dodsworth and the duck continue their world travel adventures in Dodsworth in Tokyo. Dodsworth teaches the duck to bow to greet people and how to say “thank you” in Japanese. They visit the Tokyo Tower and the Imperial Palace and see a girl playing with a kendama (wooden toy) in Yoyogi Park.

Duck manages to be well-behaved in the park (where he recovers the toy that the girl has left behind) and at a sushi restaurant (which he likes because he doesn't have to wear shoes). But he bumps into a rickshaw in Shibuya, falls into a pond in the East Gardens (which is a problem, because he can't swim) and knocks over a tray of wagashi (dessert) in their hotel room.

He attracts the most attention when he bumps into some people carrying a shrine during the Sanja Festival. Everything goes silent as the crowd eyes him disapprovingly, but peace is restored when the duck reveals that he was hurrying through the crowd to return the kendama to the little girl who lost it.

As with Tim Egan's other books, all of the characters are animals, dressed as people. The illustrations are brightly painted cartoons which help to elucidate the Japanese customs and venues described in the text.

Written in four chapters, this book is a little long for a read-aloud in one sitting, but would work just fine in segments for bedtime reading. The first-graders that I shared it with laughed at duck's clumsiness and enjoyed watching him eat sushi and playing the park, but did ask to take a break to read another book between chapter three and chapter four.

Overall, the Dodsworth books provide a fun general introduction to travel in foreign countries for young children and their families.

Tim Egan is the author and illustrator of several offbeat and humorous tales for children. Born in New Jersey, Tim moved to California to attend the Art Center College of Design in Pasadena, California. He still lives in southern California with his wife, Ann, and their two sons. To learn more about Tim Egan, visit his Web site 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, April 1, 2013

Monday Poems: "Manifesto" -- by Joe Wilkins

In April, I believe only in lilac, dogwood, and wisteria—such sudden-
    ness and color, indecency and mess, always opening and opening,
    and fading and falling away.

When I walk a city street, say, Louisville, or Tacoma, and there is the
    stink of creosote and iron and fried fish, I believe in creosote and
    iron and fried fish.

That day the sky was brass and rust, that day I drove twelve hours
    straight and still didn’t make it out of Texas, that day I finally
    pulled over at a roadside grocery ninety miles from nowhere, on
    that day I believed above all things in cold beer.

One night when I was seventeen, Melissa pulled me into the lit skirt of
    a streetlight as the first snow began to fall and kissed me on the mouth, and
    I believed in love.

Near Ash Flat, Arkansas, along the banks of the Strawberry River, our
    first cross country road trip and the farthest south either of us had
    ever been, my twenty year old brother chased fireflies for hours.

When the half-light fades from blue to further blue, and the lake goes
    stone dark, and I have caught nothing all day, I believe, always, in
    one last cast.

One night when I was nineteen, Melissa called to tell me that she wasn’t
    sure why but anyway it was over, and I believed in love.

The cold evening in Birmingham, lost near the steel years, radio spit-
    ting static, I just kept driving.

I those first days after my father died, when my mother sat moon-
    faced at the kitchen table for hours, I’d wake my little brother and
    slick an iron skillet with bacon grease and fry eggs.

Leaving Spokane, everything I could possibly call mine crammed into
    a short-box Chevy pickup, I believed in open windows and
    wind and her dark hair in the wind.

One night when I was twenty-seven, I watched a man in a bar on the
    south side of Billings, Montana, dry his eyes with his shirt sleeve
    and kiss the back of his own hand, and I believed in love.

And here at my desk this morning, staring out the window down the
    gravel alley, I believe in sunlight and silver leaves, the carved bark of
    cottonwoods, all those hearts and arrows.

Joe Wilkins was raised on the high plains of eastern Montana and now lives in northern Iowa. His poems, essays, and stories have appeared in The Georgia Review, The Southern Review, Harvard Review, Ecotone, The Sun Orion, and Slate, among other magazines and literary journals."Manifesto" was published in his 2012 collection of poems, Notes from the Journey Westward.