Category Archives: Cute as all get-out

Owly Goodness

Hey, did you know one of my favourite, often-unmentioned Harry Potter characters is Pigwidgeon? I was just re-listening to HP 4 last weekend, and the scene when Pig shows up with a letter for Harry at the Dursleys made me remember him. J.K. says he’s a Scops owl. That means he is this cute:


May I ask why we did not see more of Pig in the films? Come on! When something is that high up on the adorable scale, a filmmaker ought to just make the most of it, I’d say.

Actually, come to think of it, I just love owls, period. And anything owly. Like these books:

Little Hoot, by Amy Krouse Rosenthal

Owl Babies, by Martin Waddell

The Owl Who Was Afraid of the Dark, by Jill Tomlinson

Owl Moon, by Jane Yolen

The Owl and the Pussycat, illustrated by Stéphane Jorisch

And this bag:


Made by Lynda Lye (super talented artist gal – check out her blog) and it’s available at littleoddforest on etsy. Only don’t buy it, because I want it. Actually, there are zillions of owly things on etsy. That is scary.

(Adorable owl photo by Brian Scott)

Class of 2k9 Interview: Fran Cannon Slayton


I’m happy to introduce Fran Cannon Slayton, author of When the Whistle Blows, and Class of 2k9 member. Her novel tells the story of Jimmy Cannon, a teenage boy growing up in Rowelsburg, West Virginia in the 1940s. His whole town depends on the railroad, and his dad is the foreman. Jimmy dreams of a life working on the railroad too, but times are changing, and things don’t turn out as he expects. Fran’s book has been getting lots of attention, and she’s here for an interview today. Read on to learn lots more about her wonderful book, what she finds inspiring, and some excellent writing advice too. Welcome Fran! Happy launch day!

Tell us more about how you blended fact, hints of family history and fiction in this book. What was this process like?

My father’s stories had been cooking inside me for a very long time – since my childhood. They were true stories, but because I had not been there – because I had not participated in them – I had to imagine them. The moment you begin imagining, fact starts merging with fiction and wonderful things can happen! Moreover, I had first hand knowledge of the town because of my many, many trips there over the course of my lifetime – so my imagining of the facts was relatively easy to ground in a concrete reality that I had actually experienced.

Many of the individual chapters are based on nuggets of actual fact – things that my dad had either experienced or had heard about when he was growing up. My job was not only to convey those stories in an engaging way, but also to create an overarching story that tied them all together. It was this overarching story that really gave me the opportunity to interweave things that hadn’t actually been a part of the real stories – things like The Society.


I think there’s a real romance about trains, and Jimmy obviously feels this too when he’s growing up. What do you think? What fascinates you about trains?

There is definitely a romance about trains! I trained up and back to BEA this year and felt it again. There is something about seeing the countryside or cityscape move by while dining on a real tablecloth with real cloth napkins that is a throwback to another era – when plastic and cell phones didn’t exist, when people took their time getting from one place to another.

I recently had the wonderful experience of getting to ride in the cab of a real working steam engine. Truly, the entire cab was a work of art. Wood ceilings; deep green and black paint; sturdy iron fixtures; a massive, glowing firebox. It was crafted – not assembled. And the fireman, brakeman and engineer were engaged in work that was as much art as it was knowledge and brawn. There were no computers to rely on to tell you what to do – you had to know. Your life depended on it.

Fran on steam train 765

Your novel really tempts the reader to imagine Jimmy in the future. Where did you see him going next?

If I ever meet you in person I’ll tell you my dad’s chosen path after the diesels came. But I’d like to leave it to the reader’s imagination as to what the fictional Jimmy decides to do.

What appealed to you about structuring the book the way you did, with every chapter taking place on All Hallows’ Eve over a period of 6 years?

As a child, my father told me many stories about his boyhood growing up in Rowlesburg, West Virginia in the 1940s. After I wrote the first chapter of When the Whistle Blows I happened to pick up Rita Dove’s Pulitzer Prize winning Thomas and Beulah, which is a group of poems loosely based on the lives of her grandparents. The poems each reflect individual stories, but the grouping of the poems together also create an overarching story that is greater than the sum of its parts.

After reading just a portion of Dove’s book something clicked inside me. I knew I wanted to do something similar using short stories instead of poems.

While my editor and I talked about the possibility of structuring When the Whistle Blows in a more “regular” format, with days following each other consecutively, I never felt that form was right for this story. Separating the stories by a year allowed me to show more convincingly events that take a long period of time to happen – time for a son to grow in understanding, for a father’s health to decline, for a town to die. Continue reading



Remember I was grousing a few posts back about feeling generally slumpy and wanting a book that would lift my sagging spirits just as well as a slice of Banana Coconut Cake? Well, I found the magic book and I read it and it was delightful. Masterpiece, by Elise Broach is darling. I don’t think I’ve ever called a book “darling” before, but I know that this is exactly the right word for this story. I cannot imagine a child who would not enjoy this one. It seems made for reading aloud (and for lifting spirits), to be enjoyed particularly by sleepy headed kids all tucked up in bed. The story is just complex enough to be satisfying, but is easy to follow, has a cute and imaginative premise and to sweeten the deal, we’ve got some charming ink illustrations by the talented Kelly Murphy.

Masterpiece is the story of Marvin, a beetle who happens to be a gifted artist, and James, an eleven-year-old boy who feels decidedly ordinary. Marvin lives with James, under the Pompaday’s kitchen sink. They may share an apartment, but they have never met, until James receives a pen-and-ink set from his artist father for his birthday and the beetle is inspired to draw the boy a tiny picture. What Marvin produces is incredible – detailed and delicate and very small. James’s family thinks he is the creator of the masterpiece, and as a result, James gets taken to the Metropolitan Museum of Art to take a closer look at the drawings of Albrecht Durer, and to show off his own work to museum experts. Of course, things get complicated as James struggles to hide the truth about the origin of the drawing, and he and Marvin get involved in an art heist scheme that if successful, may bring the friends face-to-face with Durer’s lost drawings.

An intro into the dramatic world of art heists and forgery, a friendship story, and a tidy little mystery, Masterpiece is as fine a piece of work as one of Marvin’s tiny creations. You’ll find gentle humour in Marvin’s relationship with his family and suspense in his escapades in the outside world with James. The friendship rings true, even though the characters can’t communicate conventionally. Broach presents the art history stuff in exactly the right depth for her audience, enough to spark curiosity and make kids feel smart. Think of this as Chasing Vermeer for beginners. Just right.

A few other reviews:

Em’s Bookshelf
Shelf Talker