The Reading Rainbow

IMG_5485Our house is a book house, where everybody is reading something all the time. And the nice thing about that, aside from the obvious, is that we get book recommendations from each other. Many of the books I’ve read in the past few years have come from these recommendations, and sometimes even a book I’ve read before is brought back to me in a new way when one of the family reads it. This was true of Tiger Rising, by Kate DiCamillo, which a few years ago became the Beautiful Dreamer’s favorite. I had read it long before, and remembered liking it, but Because of Winn Dixie stuck in my memory so much I think I passed over Tiger Rising until, out of curiosity about why my daughter loved it so much, I read it again. I discovered that it’s a small gem, painful and beautiful at once. So I learned something both about the Beautiful Dreamer and about rereading books.

Her older sister, let’s call her the Conductor, introduced me to the lyrical contemporary/historical fiction The World to Come, by Dara Horn,  and the Rocket Scientist brought home several fantasy series I had never heard of before, in addition to pointing me toward a fascinating discussion about philosophy and fantasy that I’m still chewing over. My youngest, the Castle Builder, showed me the hilarious The Name of This Book is Secret series, which changed the entire feel of footnotes for me, probably forever. Then there’s the fun detective novels that Superman reads in alphabetical order.

And today, the Book Princess quoted from a book of poems that reminded me how well words can capture the exact feel of being alive in a specific moment. Here’s the poem she mentioned, from a book called Under the Mesquite by Guadalupe Garcia McCall:

“And the pomegranates,/
like memories, are bittersweet/
as we huddle together,/
remembering just how good/
life used to be” (p.129).

All I can say to that is wow. I think I have some reading to do.

Zebra Forest!

IMG_9599The beginning of an idea is light as a soap bubble, and just as fragile. Look away, and it evaporates. Put it aside for later, and you’ll find it gone. But unlike a soap bubble, if you grab an idea and hold it, it gets firmer. If you work at it, it grows.  A long time ago, I caught one such idea, a daydream that floated up on a long drive, and wrote it down. It took a long time growing. But that weightless, shimmering thing I put out my hand for, and held onto, did find its shape, eventually. Today, Zebra Forest, my first novel, came out. I thought the day would be anticlimactic – after all, the writing is the real adventure. But it turned out I was wrong. My first surprise was a beautiful Zebra Forest sculpture, pictured above, sent to me by my friend, the artist Stan Lebovic. (Check his work out at The second one was a surprise zebra-themed party, put together by my family, most especially my mother and sisters. Lots of fun, as they say, was had by all, but especially by me!

Here’s to blowing  bubbles!

Holocaust Remembrance Day

English: A lit Yom Hashoah candle in a dark ro...

(Photo credit: Wikipedia)

Today is Yom HaShoah, Holocaust Remembrance Day. I lost a large chunk of my extended family in the Holocaust, and when this day comes round each year, I wonder how to keep their memory alive, especially as the people who knew them, survivors and the relatives of the dead, age and die themselves. My answer is a writer’s answer: stories. And so in memory of my family and the millions who died alongside them, I’ll tell one of our family stories today, to keep that memory alive.

My maternal grandmother came from Poland in 1928 as a fourteen year old girl with her mother and twelve year old sister. For six years, they’d been separated from their father, who had gone to make his way in America after being unable to find steady work in Poland and seeing the rise in anti-Semitism there. When my grandmother’s two older brothers were old enough, they followed. At that time, the United States had tough immigration quotas, many of them aimed at keeping Jews from Eastern Europe – in other words, my family – out. So my grandmother sailed to Ellis Island with her mother and sister, having not seen her father since she was about eight years old.

They left behind an extended family – grandparents, uncles, aunts and cousins. The family had lived together in the small town of Krinik, where my great great grandfather ran an inn. My great aunt still talks about her red-headed cousins, how they used to play together, and how she mourned the idea of leaving home to come to the strange New World.

My grandmother’s family settled in New York, and over the next few years, they corresponded with the family they missed back in Europe through letters. My grandmother used to tell me that one of her aunts was an expert seamstress, and when my grandmother made her first dress, and she and her sister both outgrew it, her mother bundled it up and sent it to show her sister in Europe how much my grandmother had learned.

Then came the war, and no more letters came. Only when it was over did the family find out what happened. When the Germans invaded the village, the aunts and uncles and cousins had hidden among neighbors. Adults were in one cellar, children in another. But another neighbor denounced the parents, and the Nazis came for them. As they were being dragged across the town square, their children, seeing, ran out to them. The Nazis forced all of them – parents and children — to dig their own graves, then shot them, every one. Every year my great aunt, the only remaining relative who knew them, lights a candle to remember them still.