March 23, 2017
Books

Books

Free :: Book :: Stuff

It's book season around here, meaning... Books are going on sale. Lesson plans are being invented. New books are being birthed. Library visits are happening. Stories are being researched. Dogs are given treats for being book promoters. Books are headed to press. Interviews are happening. Blog posts are being written. Proof. I'm writing this blog post all about book stuff. Some of it free!

Goodness. No wonder yesterday all I wanted to do was weed the garden.

Just a few announcements and then I'm back to the weeds!

If you've been wanting to purchase a copy of When God Made You, a little bird told me that tomorrow it will go on sale for a lot of money off. They even sent me a picture as proof!

And speaking of When God Made You. I wrote up some lesson plans that you might want to pass on to teachers and other teachery sorts, who like the book. It's there on the website, but just in case you're hoping for a link, then Voila!

With the launch of The Suitcase (just got my copies today in the mail!) there is a giveaway of two books on Goodreads. The giveaway is taking names until the 27th so pop on over now for your chance to win.

If you are more in the mood to buy the book, then you can get a copy directly from the publisher, or Amazon, or your local bookstore. I'm sure they'd order it for you. Independent bookstore people are simply some of the nicest...

Off to the weeds! Or maybe I'll just go sit by my pretty calla lilies and have a nice hot cup of tea...

Cheers, friends!

 

 

 

 

July 5, 2016
Books

Books

A Book of Questions

Ever heard of the Socratic Method? Neither had I... Till my kids went to a classical elementary school.

Of course I had heard of Socrates--at least there was that, but I graduated with 986 other seniors from a public high school in LA--there wasn't a lot of Latin or Ancient Greece in my world.

But, hey, we aren't too old to learn new things, are we? By way of my children, I learned all about the trivium, about being schooled at a round table through the art of open-ended questioning, digging deeper and deeper into a subject until you pull up the roots of things... 

Somewhere along the way I wrote this book--it started out differently, when my daughter asked about dancing on the moon. And then the story morphed, as most stories do; it took shape, it got silly, and then it found a publisher.

For those of you who have wee little people in your midst, or who know wee little people, why not take a little jump into the Socratic Method? The text is short, and fun, and the illustrations are adorable. Plus...

If you have an e-reader, A Book of Questions is free!

It's better than a giveaway. Since it's a giveaway for Everyone! Here are the details:

 The ebook of A Book of Questions is FREE to download from Amazon on July 7th and 8th. 

It’s already free to anyone who has Kindle Unlimited, and some other book subscription services too. Plus, I think some library systems have it on loan… If you have access to an e-reader, would you download the book and read it to your child?!!! (Or, have your child read it to you! Or, if you don’t have a child, just read it to your dog, or your toast, or your next-door neighbor?) It’s free to you, and I’m trying to figure out if I’m interested in publishing any more of my stories with publishers who target primarily digital markets, so having your support, and maybe hearing your comments at some point would be a huge, enormous, incredible help! Yes?

Here’s some official stuff about A Book of Questions

Every kid has questions. They are also the inventors of VERY interesting answers. In A Book of Questions, kids are led through a pint-sized Socratic exercise in questioning the nature of the universe. Paired with whimsical illustrations, these questions are sure to get kids thinking, and coming up with new questions of their own.

And here is a recent review on Amazon, posted by someone named Lady Lillith! I have no idea who she is…

If you had to get only one book, I would suggest you pick this up for your kids, homeschool, classroom or day care.

This book is one of those books that are filled with amazing illustrations. Each page brings kids to a new experience. Rather then reading a story, this book takes kids on a journey helping build thier brains to think on a much higher level. From basic daily questions to funny and silly questions, the kids and adults can sit and have great conversations.

I am all into getting kids to observe and think. A Book of Questions is a book that offers kids a fun read while thinking.

A Book of Questions is available via:

Amazon ($9.99—paperback)

Amazon (Ebook--free on July 7, 8, and always free for Kindle Unlimited Folk, otherwise it’s $3.99)

Barnes and Noble ($9.99—paperback) 

ibook (Ebook--$3.99)

Read more about A Book of Questions, and why I wrote it, on my website...

Feel free to forward this email along to anyone you think might like a new free children’s book on their e-reader, or who might want to purchase the paperback… Thanks as always for your support of my work, and if you happen to read it, I'd love to hear your thoughts about your experience!

 

 

 

 

April 10, 2016
Books

Books

Recent Reads :: April 2016

The Idiot

Not pictured...By Dostoevesky. It took me a century to read this book, because it was mostly painful... I finished despite the very long conversations the prince and his "friends" were having. Holy smokes--Russians are crazy. They talk a lot and hardly ever DO anything. But the point of the book, the essence of the book, was thought-provoking; the very idea of a man with no guile, a man who is swayed so little by the whims of the world intrigued me. I'm still pondering this one...

Near and Far

Super cool cookbook that my mom purchased for my husband at Christmastime. Minimalist, lovely, yummy ingredients. I'm enjoying the journey of this lovely book, and giving my husband recommendations of what recipes he should try! 

Fasting as a Family

If your family fasts during the year, then this book is a good one to peruse. Lots of useful information, along with recipes. I don't cook much in our home, but it's a great resource and I'm reading it through, page by page.

Laurus

A novel by a Russian historian, following a man from birth to death. Funny, fascinating, full of both joy and sorrow--I'd recommend this book over The Idiot any day!

Wabi-Sabi

Finally, I kind of understand this term! I'm a very visual person, and enjoy the Japanese rural aesthetic. I'll probably read a book about Japanese tea next, knowing me...

The Midnight War of Mateo Martinez

I joined a new writer's group, and a woman in the group, Robin Yardi, just had this book released. I raced to our local bookstore, picked up this copy, and my son and I will be diving into this starting tomorrow!

Becoming a Healing Presence

I read a little bit of this book at a time and let the wise words of Dr. Albert Rossi sink in. Enjoying it immensely.

Other Books:

We just finished A Wrinkle in Time. A classic. The little one and I took turns reading aloud, and it never disappoints. It's such a wonderful book for eliciting lively conversations about a whole variety of themes. We continue to make our way through Abbot Tryphon's Morning Offering; I've read When God Made You about fifty times since February!; we just finished an article in the National Geographic about latex harvesting that was eye-opening, and I picked up one of my son's Timmy Failure books since he flies through them and I wanted to be in on some of the jokes...

 

Enough about me! I'm wondering what's on your shelf that you'd like to recommend. Share, please!

 

 

 

February 24, 2016
Books

Books

Recent Reads :: February 2016

I'm still trying to make time in my busy week to read at least a little each day. I have to carry books everywhere with me to do that, since much of my free time is when I'm away from the house, but it's worth it. Here are some of the books that I've encountered lately.

Where the Red Fern Grows

OK. Most of you know this story from your childhood. Somehow I got through elementary school without reading much at all. I believe I spent most of my time upside down, or on roofs, or in trees--so this was a first time read for me. The little one and I endured the typos (this edition was just packed with typos), discussed what it would be like to live an ultra rural life, I almost threw the book in the trash when the protagonist cut down a giant sycamore to catch a racoon, but the overall themes of the story--of love, of dedication, of self respect won the day. We cried and cried and cried and cried at the end. Seriously, we took turns reading and sobbing...

The Morning Offering

Pretty much every day we incorporate a reading from Abbot Tryphon's devotional book. The entries are short ( a page or less) and thought provoking. These readings are a lovely part of our routine.

And God Came In

While reading Letters to Children, a book filled with notes that C.S. Lewis had written over his life to young people, I came across mention of this book, a biography about Joy Davidman, whom Lewis married in his later years. Her story is like a novel, filled with personality, intrigue, and twists and turns. If you're a Lewis fan, this might be something for you to consider finding...

Becoming a Healing Presence

I'm loving this book, but am only mid-way, so I'm saving my review for next time!

A Year Without Mom

I read a lot of children's literature to keep tabs on what's happening, and I'm attracted to stories that feel a little out of the ordinary.  This fully illustrated short novel gives the reader a glimpse into city life back in the Soviet 90's. It's more pictures than words, and a wonderful invitation into someone else's life, but with plenty of common themes for the reader to hold on to...

A Hundred Dresses

This classic picture book was hard for me to track down at the library, but I finally did it! Maybe one of the most compassionate, most subtle, yet poignant books about bullying that I've ever read. As an editor, I found that I wanted to pull out my red pen in some places, but overall it's well worth the library search and several reads.

National Geographic

We have a subscription from my in-laws for this monthly magazine, and for such a long time we haven't read them. They just pile up. How awful of us! Anyway, I decided to incorporate some reading into every school day, so now we are tearing through articles on walruses, on giant sequoias, on the slow death of our pine forests... It's been fascinating, and though we don't read every single essay or story we are reaching out into the world and learning all sorts of new and fascinating things. Do you have a pile of these magazines in your home, too? My pile is shrinking, since once we've read through an entire issue, we give it away. :)

The Little Way of Ruthie Leming

A book I've long been wanting to read... However, it's waiting for me to finish The Idiot...

Other books I've dug into recently are: The Gospel of JohnWhen God Made You! Ha, I've read that a few times lately... Also, some other really fun picture books (whenever I go to the library, I grab at least five or six of the new picture books and then after I read them I plant them strategically, one at a time, on the couch. They always get read, that way, and sometimes more than once): The Postmouse's Rounds (adorable!), Now and Ben ( a clever story about Ben Franklin's many inventions), Mesmerized (also about Ben Franklin), North Woods Girl (lovely...), and we just started reading aloud A Wrinkle in Time.

Curious what you've been reading! Feel free to let me know in the comments.

 

 

 

January 20, 2016
Books

Books

When God Made You

GAH! It's here...

This new children's book, which I'm SO excited to see in published form, has traveled quite a long journey from idea to publication. Like most illustrated books, it takes a team of people, financial resources, and time for the book to make its way into the hands of a child. Having written this story when my big kids were little, it shows that the publishing world is a lot about patience...

Which is a lovely segue into the reason for this book. I truly wanted to write a story that explored, in a 32-page capsule, how we are all unique, endowed with such different gifts and virtues, such individual preferences--you love pink and are naturally patient, and I am crazy about orange! Why?

There's a little more about the backstory of When God Made You here, plus you can now order a copy HERE! The book is in the warehouse NOW, and why not get a tiny glimse into the actual pages of the book--you know, what it looks like with the words, and how Matt, my friend the art director, did wonders with the fonts and the layout?

Holy smokes. Wasn't expecting it to be ready so soon...

Of course. This book would be nothing without Megan Gilbert. If you know her, you know she's a first-rate artist, a pleasure to work with, and crazy professional. Her depictions of these lovely children that I first portrayed only in words, are outright magical...

My hope for this book is that the kids who read it will understand both their neighbors, and themselves better. That they will have another nudge toward knowing that they were made with a purpose, that they are LOVED just for being who they are. (Even if who they are means having a bird on their head all the time!)

Lastly, if your kids are interested in either writing a profile about themselves, or drawing their own portrait, with your permission we'll be collecting these images to post on the When God Made You facebook page, and maybe on a page here on my own website. And it doesn't just have to be kids! Feel free to send me your own writing or illustration as well!!! I wrote my own. Here goes:

When God made Jane, he found a nice quiet corner, spun her upside down twice, poured her a hot cup of tea, then spoke this riddle: It's fine to spin, and swirl, and dig in the dirt. Enjoy the tea, the words, the adventure, and the sunshine! But only if you seek Me, and speak to Me, will you really find all of You . . .

Cheers, Friends!

December 20, 2015
Books

Books

Recent Reads :: December 20, 2015

More books! It's been a busy reading season for me. That seems to happen when creative juices are flowing. I bypass a lot of visual media when I'm writing, but the consumption of music and books increases. 

Here's a taste of the books that have been on my shelf, in my hands, and hopefully making their way into my brain!

The Penderwicks

Since I homeschool the munchkin, I get to read aloud with him every day! Not such a bad deal, right? We are batting 1000 when it comes to The Penderwicks by Jeanne Birdsall. So far all three of my children have gobbled up these books--even the boys--even though the main characters are Rosalind, Skye, Jane, and Batty. Just goes to show that awesome writing poo-pooh's the supposed boy/girl divide. Even if you don't have kids in your midst, these books are for you.

On Writing

Finally read Stephen King's bestseller, which highlights his early life, his thoughts on writing, and how he continues to crank out one novel after the next. Pretty good stuff in this book, especially for those just getting started, and if you're needing a good dose of colorful language, then have at it!

Franny and Zooey

Why have I never read Catcher in the Rye? I was intrigued by the stories of Franny and Zooey by Salinger. The dialogue is dynamic--so raw, like technicolor, not muted in any way. Thankfully these two pieces are short, because they're exhausting. If you're familiar with the Russian classic The Way of a Pilgrim, you'll be interested to know that it makes quite an unexpected showing in these two stories... 

Letters to Children

by C.S. Lewis. I'm a huge letter-writing fan. I once wrote over 300 letters in a four-month timespan. I'm not sure why this book was housed in the children's section of our library, because it's unlikely a child would be inspired by this collection, but I'm glad I found it. The most beautiful discovery in this small volume was that C.S. Lewis asked the kids he wrote to--to pray for him. I like that.

Brown Girl Dreaming

by Jaqueline Woodson. Such a lovely, lyrical story of the author's childhood, which spun between both North and South. A wonderful middle grade read, and absolutely stuffed with hope.

 

Other books I've read recently are: The Lion and the Mouse by Jerry Pinkney, Nooks and Crannies by Jessica Lawson, Hidden: A Child's Story of the Holocaust by Loic Dauvillier, and I'm just beginning Becoming a Healing Presence. I keep track of the books I read, oftentimes writing mini-reviews (because I have a poor memory for facts and details), on Goodreads.

Would love to know what you're reading right now, even though you're probably baking Christmas breads, scolding the dog for eating another ornament, and wrapping socks--like I am!

October 16, 2015
Books

Books

Recent Reads :: October 16, 2015

Every evening I read. And oftentimes when I hit a low, and need some tea, I'll pick up a book for a half hour in the afternoon... We go to the library about three times a week!

It's essential as a writer and a creator that I am consistently learning new things and experiencing life from a variety of angles. And reading is a big part of my life. Much of my reading comes from my editing job. Lots of submissions--always words around me. Thank goodness it's one of my very favorite things to do!

At home, here's a smattering of what I've been diving into lately.

Moomin Builds a House

We have several of these small Tove Jansson paperbacks now, and they are adorable. The Moomins are some of the silliest creatures around, and in this edition Moomin builds his own house, then gives it away. I buy these books to add to my own collection, that's how strange I am, but I will let my kids read them--if their hands are washed and the ice cream bowl is in the sink.

Kristin Lavransdatter

You can see by the size of the spine that it took me a while to read this modern-day classic. 1300 pages long, it follows the life of one woman, from childhood to death. I still have many thoughts churning in my head about this book--it will take me a long while to digest, but I loved it. I loved traveling back in time (1300's in Norway--I'm on a bit of a Scandinavian kick) and sympathizing with her many decisions, watching her turn from joy, to sorrow, to joy again. This edition, the one translated by Tiina Nunnally, is the one to look for...

The Hobbit

John Ronan and I are taking turns reading through this Tolkien wonder (for the second time). I can't get enough of the way he uses language. And the story's not bad, either! Oh, Bilbo. I do love you and take comfort, knowing you will return to your hobbit hole and your afternoon tea...

Sweet Song

It was the feast of Saint Romanos on October 1st, so this book came out and was passed around! Is it weird that I read my own books?

The Handbook of Natural Plant Dyes and The Brilliant History of the Color in Art

Two books that I'm referring to often as the little one and I continue exploring color together this year. Today is purple cabbage dye, (and the doors are flung open because the house kind of smells stinky) so I'm using a recipe from the natural dye book. Did you know that adding salt to the water will make the dye more blue (cause of the alkaline) and adding vinegar or lemon to the water will make the dye more pink (cause of the acid)? Of course it all makes perfect, logical sense, but it sure is fun to have it happen right in front of you...

Other books I've read recently are: The Life Changing Magic of Tidying Up, Voyage to the Rock, Rules, Anything but Typical, Mockingbird, Jane, the Fox and Me, The 13 Clocks, The Unlikely Pilgrimage of Harold Fry, The Rosie Project, and A Long Walk to Water. I keep track of the books I read, writing mini-reviews because I have a poor memory for details, on Goodreads.

A few upcoming books on my shelf are: Brown Girl Dreaming, Morning Offering, and maybe Franny and Zoey? Still deciding.

Would love to know what you're diving into right now...

July 20, 2015
Books

Books

Soonish :: When God Made You

I know I'm a bit of a simpleton, but I think God had handstands, gardens, bicycles, hot tea, traveling to distant lands, and skeins and skeins of yarn on his mind when he was knitting me together...

Long ago I was pondering this question: What was God thinking when He made me? Not in the sarcastic sense--I'm happy he made me! But how does making someone work, not from a DNA standpoint, but from a Creator/Creation, spiritual viewpoint.

In response to this questioning, I did what I like to do when I'm trying to work something out; I wrote a children's book. First, it started by trying to imagine what collection of thoughts, things, gifts, colors, elements, etc... went into the making of my own children. I wrote this about Madeleine (whom I nicknamed Brigid) when she was about seven:

When God made Brigid, He gathered cheeriness and fireworks and pink fizzy candy, then trapped them in a silken purse. For three long days He shook the purse and added one by one a speck of dirt, a quiet sphere of blue, and a seed from the tallest climbing tree. Then God placed the purse across Brigid’s shoulders, breathed His sweet breath onto Brigid’s tiny toes, and said,

Brigid, dance.

What I love about this profile is how accurate it still rings, and yet how Madeleine, now 18, has also outgrown some of the imagery. I am not God--I can not foresee her road, nor know her as completely as He can. Only He could write her story perfectly.

And yet, how lovely to seek to know each other. To see each person reflected by way of one's choices, preferences, gifts, and talents.

When God Made You is a children's picture book--to be published by Ancient Faith Publishing in early 2016. Megan Gilbert is the illustrator, and the image above is a small cropping of the cover art. I am SO excited about this book. I foresee lots of school visits, asking kids to reflect on who they are, and why they're so beautifully unique. I foresee conversations between children and those grownups reading to them--about what makes them special, about what makes them THEM! And I have my own work to do. I've only written the profiles of my older two children, and even though it won't be in the book, I need to get working on a paragraph that best describes my littlest. 

Why don't you join me, and think about those around you that you know and love. I'd love to read your words, and celebrate with you the uniqueness of those in your lives...

 

July 14, 2015
Books

Books

The Mystery of Art

We are all artists. We all cook, decorate, organize, write, hum, and fold. And some of us knit and sew, draw and paint, garden and build.

We all create.

I've been pondering this passage from A Mystery of Art quite a lot lately:

The most important work of an artist is not what he or she creates. It is in the work of being created by the grace of God. The primary focus of the artist is the working out of his salvation. What the artist creates or produces in terms of works of art is always secondary to becoming a work of art in reality. The spiritual artist continually repents his ambition and becomes the poem...

Becoming... 

Becoming a poem. 

Some days my poem is all scattered words, and haste, and shallow phrases. But on those days when I really pray--those days when everything I do is prayer? It's on those days when that poem transforms and becomes all beauty...

 

 

 

 

January 30, 2015
Books

Books

Brigid

Few saint stories have grabbed me like the one of Brigid. She was bold, fearless, confident, adventurous, compassionate... She loved her mother. She tended cows. She sang to her pantry. She traveled and created communities, and brought people together, all in the name of Christ. I would like to be like her...

Her feast day is February 1st (so soon!), and on the eve before--we Meyers always celebrate by weaving crosses and making Irish food. This year we are spending our Saturday driving up the coast to look at puppies, and then we will return to drink some Irish ale and eat shepherd's pie. I've already gathered pine needles for weaving. Won't you join me in celebrating? 

If you don't yet have a copy of The Life of Saint Brigid, it's pretty cool that Ancient Faith Publishing is now offering her story as an e-book. If you have an e-reader, and a wee little child, well... !!!

 

Irish Rune of Hospitality

I saw a stranger yestreen;

I put food in the eating place,

drink in the drinking place,

music in the listening place,

and in the name of the Triune

he blessed myself and my house,

my cattle and my dear ones, and the lark said in her song

often, often, often,

goes the Christ is the stranger's guise,

often, often, often,

goes the Christ in the stranger's guise.

Saint Brigid, pray to God for us...

December 1, 2014
Books

Books

December Book Giveaway

It's December, friends! We've been Adventing it up these last two weeks here at the Meyer home, but doesn't it seem more like the Christmas season once December arrives and the turkey has been put in the past? 

So... my lovely publisher gave me the permission to give away three sets of my two latest books this one time. In case I'm confusing you, since I like to get carried away with words, it means that three different people will win a copy of both Sweet Song and The Hidden Garden!

Sheesh, I want to enter.

Just leave your name in the comments below, with a comment about anything you like, including where I can find a miniature labradoodle come the new year that won't cost me $2000!!!

And in case you don't know much about either of these two books--here's a short recap.

                

Sweet Song is a Christmas story! Really, it is. It's about a miracle that happened to Saint Romanos on the eve of the Nativity feast! This book should be included in your Christmas reading for your kids. Saint Romanos is an amazing role model of humility, faith and gentleness. I just love how dedicated he was to Christ, and then how he used his talents to bless the world a hundred times over with his music.

The Hidden Garden is an every-day, all-the-time story. It's a story that I literally need to read every single week, because it inspires me to be a much better human, and to constantly, always, open my heart to love--to love others and to love Christ! This is one of those stories that was written despite me--and is loved by both children and adults.

(I like my other books, too, but they aren't in the giveaway!)

Hoping to hear from you. Feel free to share this post with your friends, and don't forget to buy books this holiday season for the little people in your lives. They don't have to be my books, but having a shelf full of treasured stories is such a gift to a child. 

I'll be picking three winners on Wednesday, December 10th.

The winners are: Rebekah Johnson, Christine Dr., and Rebeca! 

Cheers!

 

 

September 22, 2014
Books

Books

Sweet Song Giveaway Winners

...And the three winners are:

Therese, who wrote about her daughter beginning children's chorus. So fun. 

Janet S, who is hoping to pass Sweet Song along to a friend's godson.

And Kh Leslee, who wants to read the book to the children at her church! October 1st--coming up!

Awesome.

(I love this spread of Saint Romanos enjoying the empty, early morning church...)

For those of you who didn't win. I'm sorry. 

I will be signing copies of several of my books, especially Sweet Song, at an upcoming liturgical arts festival here in Santa Barbara. You will find me both on Friday, October 17th from 3-5 pm, and on Saturday, the 18th at 2pm in the hall.  

Also, from now until the second week of December, I am happy to sign books and mail them to those looking for a gift for the holidays or some other occasion. If you're interested, send me an email at jane@janegmeyer dot com. All books (The Hidden Garden, Sweet Song, The Man and the Vine, and The Woman and the Wheat) are priced at $20 each, which includes media mail shipping to anywhere in the US. If you're abroad, then we'll figure out a fair shipping price together. The Life of Saint Brigid is currently unavailable.

Wishing you all a wonderful week! Thanks so much for helping me launch this new blog; a place where I hope we can learn and share together.

jane

September 17, 2014
Books

Books

Sweet Song Giveaway

Why NOT launch this new blog with a giveaway? I'm already excited about the three new kiddos, or families of kiddos, who will get a glimpse into the world of Romanos the Melodist.

You see, Saint Roman is not really an everyday name. And yet?

He is so awesome! Just look at him running down the streets of Constantinople like a capital S Superhero...

I wrote Sweet Song to expose people to this amazing person of the past, whose life was defined by humility, prayer, grace, and an incredible miracle that changed the course of his life. It changed the course of our lives too...

Beauty always benefits everyone.

Check out one of the hymns he wrote, that is still sung (movingly, by Pat Tsagalakis) in churches today. 

And take a virtual tour of the Hagia Sophia, one of the two churches where Saint Romanos served as a deacon way back in the 500's. 

I've always wanted to travel to Turkey, especially after spending a year with several Turk students who exuded joy and broke out in song at the most random times! Having never been there, I was studying the geography recently of the ancient city of Constantinople--now Istanbul--which is divided by the Bosphorus Strait. This body of water is the only link between the Black Sea and the Mediterranean, so you can imagine the politics, war, and intrigue that have surrounded that place for centuries. Istanbul is unique, with its Asian side, and European side. I do hope to visit someday.

The feast day of Saint Romanos is right around the corner. On October 1st!

If you'd like to enter the giveaway, simply subscribe to my new blog (!!!), and then enter a comment on this post. I'll be choosing the three winners this Sunday, just in time to mail the books and have them to you before October 1. You can learn a bit more about Sweet Song, the illustrator, and its making, here.

This giveaway is for anyone, anywhere, but if you live abroad, the book may not make it to you by his feast day, since I'll be sending it to you by bicycle :)

Cheers, friends!

May 20, 2010
Books

Books

Sarcasm in Today's Picture Books

With a four-year-old in the house, there's a lot of laughter that fits into our day. He runs in circles and falls down from being too dizzy; we all laugh. It starts to rain on us as we dash into the grocery store, and we giggle at the raindrops on our cheeks and chins. At dinnertime, my daughter stabs her fork at a grape and it flies off the plate; we all grin, then double over in hysterics when she falls out of her chair as she reaches for the runaway... Simple humor is a healthy part of our days and keeps us from taking ourselves too seriously. We enjoy being a silly family.

But lately I've been noticing that children's picture book writers are going beyond the simple humor that little ones seem to most enjoy, and heading down the windy road of satire and sarcasm. My four-year-old and I visit the library each and every Tuesday, and the first books we pick are from the just purchased/new-to-the-library stack; I like the fresh, crispy pages that are still smudge free, and it's fun, from an author's perspective, to see what today's editors are working on.

Feeling a bit perplexed by some of the recent books we've encountered, I did some research on the use of sarcasm in children. After several days of poking my head into a variety of studies, the conclusion seems simple, and apparently undebated. Small children do not understand, use, or appreciate sarcasm. One psychologist, Penny Pexman who has conducted research in this field at the University of Calgary, writes, \"Our study suggests that five-year-olds are beginning to understand the simplest form of sarcasm and are getting better at it, but still by the age of eight they really don't find it funny...\"

It appears that the age range of when children understand, and use this form of humor is the one aspect that is debated. Some studies state that children as young as three show signs of understanding sarcasm, yet other researchers claim that it isn't until adolescence that the full force of sarcasm can be reached. I can personally attest to the fact that both my 13 and 15-year-olds have sarcasm completely figured out, but my four-year-old—and the other preschoolers that I hang out with? Not a chance.

Sarcasm is a sophisticated form of humor. The word \"sarcasm\" is derived from the ancient Greek, meaning \"to tear flesh, gnash the teeth, speak bitterly.\" Merriam-Webster defines it this way: \"a sharp and often satirical or ironic utterance designed to cut or give pain.\" A study done in 1978 by Sigelman and Davis describes sarcasm beautifully.

Sarcasm is a language behavior that occurs when speakers' intentions differ from their actual verbal messages. That is, a speaker thinks or believes one way, but says something different. Typically, a sarcastic speaker cues their true intent with nonverbal behaviors such as rolling eyes, shrugging, smirking, a sneering voice, or other features that say, \"I do not mean what I say.\" Adults hear the message and see the nonverbal cues that contradict that message and realize the speaker is being sarcastic. Adults have learned to believe nonverbal cues over verbal cues when the two cues conflict.

So, the broad question I'm grappling with is: Why are editors pursuing this form of humor for picture books? I can understand the use of snarky language when it comes to easy readers, or middle grade novels, but picture books that are meant for toddlers through 8-year-olds? I'm baffled...

Instead of singling out books that have struck a questioning chord with me, I'd like to mention two examples of newly released picture books that, in my mind, really work humor-wise for young readers.

Too Purpley! by Jean Reidy, illustrated by Genevieve Leloup. This is a really silly, illustrative feast for the eyes about the various forms of dress one can choose (too purpley, too fancy, too polka-dotty...). What makes this book so fun, even for a little boy, is the young girl's companion, a pet turtle that is continually making funny faces or looking ridiculous. Kids get the visual humor in this book, that it's pretty silly to dress up a turtle in fancy or feathery clothes, or for a girl to wear an outfit that has stripes going in every direction possible. This is the perfect book for a 2 to 4-year-old girl who loves, loves, loves to dress up.

Waiting for Winter by Sebastian Meschenmoser is one of my favorite new books on the market. The artwork is superb, most pages being pencil drawings that are subtle and soft and whimsical, but the text is not subtle, it's even a bit boisterous, with a fair amount of exclamation points and outlandishness. The combination works and when the characters who have never seen a snowflake before try to figure out what one might look like, the humor unfolds, and... I just love it.

Some of my favorite funny books are now modern classics. Cynthia Rylant's Mr. Putter and Tabby books are wonderful for giggles; I just love the story when Mr. Putter is zinging pears with a slingshot over his home and onto Mrs. Teaberry's lawn. Felicia Bond also wrote a very funny picture book, titled Tumble Bumble. There's really no plot line, just a lot of fun... And there's always Dr. Seuss and his over-the-top characters and their stories...

Anyway, my guess is that the newly released picture books that have a fair amount of sarcasm in the text will probably gain some attention from adult readers, but I'm doubtful that a four or five-year-old would give these books a five star review. But, you never know what might strike a chord in the mind of a little reader. I was astonished recently when my adventurous, very boyish, machine-loving, Tom Sawyer-like child discovered Mousie Love. A romantic tale ALL about two mice falling in love... He “loves” it. Go figure...