French Writers From A to Z

My Childhood Public Library Was Located in this Castle

In December 2016, WordPress asked writers, photographers, artists, poets, and business and website owners a simple question: what’s in store for you and your blog/website in 2017?

A few months later, I would offer the same response I did back then.

Through my blog, I open a window on my life spent between two languages and cultures (French and American English).

With this goal in mind I decided to participate once again to the A to Z Challenge.

 

Here is what you can expect to find every day but Sundays for the month of April:

A selection of French authors, a man and a woman, for each letter of the alphabet.

A couple of facts related to this challenge:

1- Here in the US, I don’t find too many French books translated in American English.

The most famous French writers remain Camus with The Stranger and Victor Hugo with Les Misérables. Some Francophiles know the contemporary work of a few authors, Michel Houellbecq, for example. However, the vast majority of Americans see France either as an old country or as a pink-chic land.

2- With the support of Livrophage extraordinaire, a French avid reader I’ve only met through our mutual blogs and our e-mail correspondence, I was convinced to build a list of contemporary French authors.

We decided that this challenge should focus on writers from the 20th century with books published in the 20th and 21st century.

In an interesting way, my French virtual friend devours American literature. Coming up with a list of  French authors from A to Z will be a challenge for her, too.

In a natural way, she decided to write in French while I will write in English. Our posts won’t be translated and won’t alternate regularly between the two languages. They will depend on our knowledge and interest for a specific author.

So…

My hope is that everyone of you will find something, in either language.

After all, this is the life I live every day.

It’s a way of life that carries its own challenges but offers countless surprises. And I love it just the way it is.

I hope you will enjoy this challenge and will stop by once in a while, maybe to refresh your French 🙂 and perhaps to discover a new French writer and fall in love with her/his words.

 

Meanwhile, for everyone dealing today with the spring nor’easter, a photo taken a few years ago along a snowy California trail, also in the spring.

 

Mind and Body in Sync

Winter triggers more negative comments than any other season. People complain about the cold, the rain, the ice, the wind, the short days. But even with these challenges winter can be the perfect time to keep mind and body in sync.

Here are just a few things that make my winter more enjoyable and less stressful.

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READING

I’ve decided to limit my time on social media. Too much can be too much. I’ve always favored reading newspapers to watching the news on TV. Lucky me, my husband feels the same way. But I’ve also stopped reading every article. There is a limit to the information we really need.

All around me schools have started to celebrate kindness and friendship to honor Valentine’s Day. To match the mood I deliberately chose kindhearted books at the library this week.

I picked the picture book When an Elephant Falls in Love by Davide Cali and illustrated by Alice Lotti.

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The story depicts an elephant, doing all the weird, silly things that we all do when in love with someone who doesn’t know our feelings. Watching the elephant eat an entire cheesecake while he wants to be in the best shape for the elephant of his dreams is both funny and touching.

After reading Saving Red, I chose Girls Like Me by Lola St.Vil, another young adult novel in verse that weaves in emails and texts from the two main characters who have nothing in common and yet fall for each other. He is the gorgeous, popular guy (at least in appearance) and she is the girl considered too fat in their typical contemporary high school. She has no confidence (until she understands what really matters).

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These two books remind me that the most beautiful things in life involve love and also happen to those who wait.

WRITING

Always been my way to deal with the world around me. Over the last two weeks I wrote three new picture book manuscripts (now preparing them for submission). Through writing, I remain creative and also grounded.

photo(157)From last summer in Maine. 

MUSIC

Last week, I did a school visit. I included an American and a French songs to my PowerPoint presentation. War and Non, Non Rien N’a Changé are both about the Vietnam War and from 1971, the backdrop and time period of my novel. This is in fact the song War that planted the early seeds of my novel Chronicles From Château Moines. Listening to War reminded me of Non, Non Rien N’a Changé.

edwinstarrWar by Edwin Starr

poppysNon, Non Rien N’a Changé by Les Poppys

I’m happy to confirm that music is a great addition to a school visit. The eighth graders loved it.

photo-45They also loved my pre-Valentine’s day heart-shaped chocolates:)

Today, I selected a few more French and American songs for my upcoming presentations. They are all part of my novel. As I added them to my playlist, I found familiar old French songs that I knew when I was growing up. They have acquired this vintage status that should make me feel old but somehow soothes the world around me.

Music, perhaps even more than any other media, can really transform our mood and bring light when we feel stressed or a little gloomy in the middle of winter.

 

YOGA

I started yoga exactly a year ago. My daughters suggested it, and my husband offered me an eight-class package. I loved the first class so much that the sampling turned into a membership. Although I love challenging exercise, now that I’m the mom of four kids, no longer so little, I listen to the motto: It’s not because the body can that the body should. So I stick to mind body classes and yin yoga with an occasional power class. Where am I a year later?

Besides the expected benefits: more flexibility, lean muscles, balance, better posture, I’ve learned to stop my mind when it starts to wander and in the end gets overstimulated and overwhelmed.

At the beginning of class, most instructors ask us to find an intention and to return to this intention during class when we find ourselves reliving past events or anticipating future events. Staying in the moment, like young children, is the hardest part of being an adult. I always keep my intention very simple. I pick a verb such as FOCUS or LET GO or a word such as PEACE or JOY. Whenever I start to mentally jot down a to-do list, elaborate a plot twist for a story I’m writing, or agonize over my latest manuscript submissions I force my mind to go back to my intention and to breathe. I swear it works. Yoga, especially in the winter when it’s more challenging to hike or work in the yard is a perfect way to relax our body and mind.

photo148Testing yoga a year and a half ago before starting for good

MOVIES

I love going to the movies. It’s a whole different experience to watch a movie in a theater rather than at home. This moment connects us to other people, since we’ve all decided to watch the same movie at the same time at the same place.

La La Land is my number one pick to deflate bad vibes.

For once, this is an American movie with no gunshots and no violence. Just music. Jazz mostly, but also the music that plays between two people who dream big artistic dreams. My husband found the plot simple. He’s right. But the filming is not. The actors are terrific. Who wouldn’t tap dance with Ryan Gosling and Emma Stone? The movie has been filmed in Los Angeles and close by, in Pasadena, a small architecturally interesting city that I know fairly well, now that my son studies in the vicinity. The ending is not a happy ending and yet it is a happy ending.

And there are these views from the Griffith Observatory in Los Angeles, a place that I also got to enjoy, thanks to my son.

losangelesTaken when I visited the Observatory

SENSORY SURROUNDINGS

Weather permitting, I always take a morning walk in my neighborhood and often a shorter one at night.

In the winter, nature demands more of our attention to appreciate its beauty. I try to focus on the wind playing in my hair, the sun warming my neck, a drizzle kissing my face, a branch brushing my arm, the earth holding me, the air meeting my lungs. A deep gratitude for these natural elements fills me.

I read somewhere that all French women love champagne and chocolate. Truth is I’m not especially fond of them. But I love my perfume. However, this winter I’m using essential oils, too. Another suggestion from one of my daughters; her brother must have been nearby because he offered me an oil diffuser for Christmas. I use it in my small office. Since I’m new to essential oils and love anything lavender I’ve stuck to lavender. And found out that one single drop rubbed inside my wrist and a few poured in the diffuser are enough to trigger calmness. Also just a drop smells like taking a walk through a lavender field.

If you want to learn more about essential oils you should visit Isabelle (French native who also lives in the US) on her website Univers Aroma. So far the information is only available in French, but if you read French you’ll learn which essential oil is best for headaches, inflammation, loss of hair, cleaning your sink disposal, and easing stress. Lavender seems a good choice! But I feel like exploring many more.

 

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How do you keep your mind and body in sync during the winter season?

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Born to Run et Jouer de la Musique

Pendant une semaine cet automne j’ai beaucoup écouté la chanson Streets of Philadelphia. Je lisais un roman où je suivais une adolescente à travers cette ville qui comme tant d’autres présente de multiples facettes. Ecrite par Bruce Springsteen à la demande du réalisateur du film Philadelphia, cette chanson illustre le choix réfléchi d’un artiste qui dès ses débuts aura utilisé la musique pour dépeindre les Etats Unis.

Quiconque écoute Springsteen finit par aimer l’homme derrière les tubes qui sont devenus des morceaux cultes mais aussi derrière les chansons moins populaires, plus difficiles d’accès.

Mon accès personnel a été immédiat et pourtant laborieux, du à ma méconnaissance de l’anglais, des Etats Unis que je découvris de façon littéraire, musicale et cinématographique, des années avant de la vivre physiquement en émigrant. L’Amérique de Springsteen m’était étrangère et pourtant je ressentais sans pouvoir la définir une connexion que je pouvais toucher du bout des doigts et surtout du fond du cœur.

 

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Je viens de célébrer mes 26 ans de vie aux US (je me suis trompée d’une année dans mon billet de décembre, la preuve que le temps passe plus vite encore ici!). L’Amérique de Springsteen est lentement devenue la mienne. Mon ignorance des Etats Unis quand je passais et repassais ses disques, mon dictionnaire ouvert sur mon lit et mon crayon à la main a disparu. Et finalement je comprends ce que je ne pouvais pas alors décrire.

Une langue nous lie à notre pays d’origine, c’est vrai. On garde pour toujours comme une distance entre une langue acquise à l’âge adulte et celle qui a imprégné notre enfance. Mais l’expérience de classe, l’appartenance à une « tribu » transcende les mots.

Je me reconnaissais dans les chansons de Springsteen, même si les trois quarts des mots m’étaient inconnus. Il m’est arrivé aux Etats Unis de rencontrer des gens avec lesquels une relation immédiate s’est tissée malgré nos enfances et adolescences passées à des milliers de kilomètres l’une de l’autre. Simplement parce que nous étions les héritiers d’une même couche sociale, celles de la classe ouvrière française, celle du blue-collar américain.

Il m’était donc impossible de ne pas trouver un écho à mon expérience de vie dans les chansons de Springsteen qui dépeignent des expériences semblables et posent des questions identiques quel que soit notre pays d’origine. Qui affame les plus pauvres d’entre nous ? Pourquoi est-il si difficile de joindre les deux bouts pour certains ? Pourquoi rêver ne reste parfois qu’un mot? Est-ce que rêver est inutile donc ?

J’attendais la sortie des mémoires de Bruce Springsteen avec impatience. Je savais y trouver des réponses. Je savais m’y retrouver un peu aussi. Le livre a dépassé mes espérances.

 

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Springsteen a écrit ses mémoires au cours de sept années avec des moments d’interruption pouvant durer une année. Il dit avoir pris son temps parce qu’il n’avait aucune pression pour les rédiger. Il a écrit à la main, se donnant la possibilité de revenir en arrière jusqu’à ce qu’il puisse trouver le fil conducteur de son histoire.

Ce qui m’a immédiatement marquée est la qualité de l’écriture, précise et souvent percutante, empreinte d’émotions mais jamais sentimentale. Les chapitres sont courts, parfois très courts, comme des chansons. Springsteen leur a d’ailleurs donné un titre, tour à tour drôle, poétique, à l’image de ses chansons.

Plus que le parcours extraordinaire de ce musicien hors du commun le cœur de ce livre reste la poursuite inlassable d’un homme conscient que la tragédie humaine est sa mortalité. Springsteen a eu la chance et la malchance de vouloir très tôt donner un sens à sa vie et d’en connaître l’outil. La musique était sa destinée et serait son salut mais aussi son fardeau puisque sans elle il ne serait rien. Le drame de Springsteen aura été en effet d’être perdu hors de la scène. Conscient de ce vide, il aura cherché jusqu’à l’âge de quarante ans (jusqu’à son histoire d’amour avec Patti Scialfa) comment vivre une vie hors de la route et des concerts, car en effet il insiste que la vie doit toujours dépasser l’art et que sans une vraie vie de famille que l’on construit délibérément, avec courage et sacrifice, nous ne sommes pas grand chose.

Le mémoire de Springsteen est bien sur un régal pour quiconque aime sa musique mais aussi pour tous ceux et celles qui ne peuvent vivre sans créativité.

Les passages sur la création de certaines chansons, par exemple Born to Run, or bien encore la conception d’un album, illustrent de nombreux points communs avec la créativité littéraire. Le moment où une idée effleure l’esprit, s’installe dans la tête et petit à petit se développe jusqu’à ce qu’il soit impossible de ne pas la réaliser. Et c’est là où l’on découvre un Springsteen relativement inconnu : un bourreau de travail, un musicien qui honore ses musiciens mais n’oublie jamais qu’il est le leader de son groupe.

On découvre donc des amitiés remises en question, revécues et souvent suffisamment fortes pour résister aux désaccords et au temps. Le E Street band en est un parfait exemple.

Et puis on découvre un Springsteen qui ne touchera jamais au tabac ni à la drogue, davantage par peur de mourir que pour la dépendance. Un Springsteen mentalement fragile qui connaitra plusieurs moments de dépression suffisamment sérieux pour envisager une thérapie et un traitement médical. Conscient des dégâts que sa relation, ou plutôt son absence de relation, avec son père en est la raison, Springsteen ne fuira cependant jamais ce père grand buveur et fumeur, souffrant de problèmes mentaux qui seront diagnostiqués trop tardivement. Ce père représente la figure masculine, machiste des années 50, muré dans son silence car convaincu que parler et dévoiler ses sentiments est un signe de faiblesse. Pour ses petits-enfants il laissera craquer sa carapace que Springsteen lui aussi ne craquera d’ailleurs qu’en aimant Patti Scialfa, qui inlassablement le forcera à ouvrir les portes sur l’intimité du cœur, celle sans laquelle une relation ne pourra jamais être complète.

Les fans craqueront pour les planches photos en noir et blanc. Springsteen bébé. Petit garçon. Ado. Et pour le Springsteen des pochettes de disques, celui qui a séduit la France (et les françaises!) album après album. Et puis il y a des photos de sa famille. Une photo du mariage de ses parents. Une histoire d’amour étrange que Springsteen ne comprendra jamais. Il reconnaît devoir bien plus à sa mère que sa première guitare. Il l’aime et respectera son choix de suivre son mari du New Jersey en Californie, laissant un Springsteen de 15 ans derrière avec sa sœur de quelques années son ainée et quelques membres de leur famille. Photos de ses trois enfants (ils ont l’âge des miens) et de Patti Scialfa, musicienne elle aussi et faisant partie du E Street band bien des années avant leur mariage.

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Le choix de la musique que nous écoutons, des chanteurs, des groupes et des musiciens que nous respectons et admirons n’est pas un hasard. La musique est sans doute le plus universel mode de communication qui lie les êtres humains. Mais il y a des raisons précises derrière nos choix musicaux. Nous répondons à quelque chose, ancré au plus profond de nous. Nos raisons sont d’abord personnelles avant d’être universelles. Springsteen a d’abord questionné les raisons pour lesquelles la classe moyenne ouvrière américaine s’appauvrissait en voyant son père, ses voisins et plus tard sa sœur ainée et son mari affronter la réalité humiliante de la perte d’emploi avant de les traduire en musique.

Springsteen n’est pas politiquement aussi engagé que d’autres musiciens et il le reconnaît. Mais rester depuis plusieurs dizaines d’années obsédé par les rêves et les échecs de l’Amérique, ne cesser de les dépeindre à travers une musique qui résonne au-delà de la langue dans laquelle il écrit, être le chantre de cette Amérique et rester le porte parole du blue-collar n’est-il pas un engagement digne de respect ?

Le 11 septembre 2001, alors que Springsteen reprenait ses enfants à l’école, un parent d’élèves a baissé la vitre de sa voiture et a crié, « Bruce ! On a besoin de toi ! »

On connaît la réponse sublime à cette requête.

A mon tour de vous supplier, Monsieur Bruce Springsteen.

 

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P.S. Ces deux citations de John Irving font écho au credo de Bruce Springsteen :

« If you are lucky enough to find a way of life you love, you have to find the courage to live it. »

« You’ve got to get obsessed and stay obsessed. »

Saving Red (and Us)

Last night I finished a book that I would have reviewed regardless of the presidential inauguration.

But.

The story sounds even more relevant today.

Saving Red is a young adult novel written in verse by Sonya Sones, the awarded author of five other novels, also in verse. Sonya Sones is particularly proud to be on the American Library Association’s list of the Most Frequently Challenged Authors of the 21st century.

I’ve rarely read a 440 page-long book as fast as I swallowed Saving Red.

That’s one of the perks of reading a novel in verse and why they are popular among reluctant readers. But don’t be fooled. Writing short sentences with such a smooth poetic beat is not an easy task.

Besides it is not the form of the novel that stirred me. Although when I was finished, I realized that no other form would have carried the story from beginning to end with equal seamless perfection.

The reason I fell for the novel is the theme or I should say the themes.

Set in Santa Monica, California, a place known for its stunning location along the Pacific Ocean and for being home to some to the most expensive real estate in the US, the novel takes us on a less sunny walk across town.

If you’ve ever been to Santa Monica you’ve seen homeless men and women of all ages, particularly on the stretch along the ocean, right across gorgeous hotels and merely a block away from “regular” people.

This is an audacious choice of setting from a writer. We’d rather think of homeless people living away from beauty. It is not unique to Santa Monica, by the way. San Francisco has also an important homeless population who lives close to Union Square, also home to expensive hotels and retail.

I don’t know for you, but I’m never at ease when I pass a homeless person. Regardless of the reason that has pushed this human being to live on the street, I cannot ignore the harsh fact that at night this person will still be on the street, while I’ll be eating and sleeping in my home. It makes me uncomfortable, upset, sad, and ashamed. Especially when this man or woman is obviously mentally unstable. And we all know that many homeless people struggle with mental health issues.

Saving Red brings together two girls who have no reason to meet.

Molly is almost fifteen years old and must log four more hours of community service for her school semester. And she has one night to do that. I remember my own kids going through this task that resembled mission impossible.

So this is to reach this crucial deadline that Molly is out one night with 250 other volunteers, a clipboard, a tally sheet and a pen in hand, to help the city of Santa Monica take its annual homeless count.

During this cold December night, spent on the streets, in the parks, and along the Pacific Ocean, Molly and her loyal and adorable service dog Pixel will catch a first sight of Red, a redhead mentally ill homeless girl barely older than Molly.

Molly is immediately and irreversibly changed by this brief encounter that stirs many more feelings that she wishes for.

Because of course Molly is not only a teen girl who has to beat a school deadline. Between the walls of her house lingers the inexplicable sad absence of her beloved five years older brother and soldier Noah who vanished almost a year ago on New Year’s Eve, shortly after his return from Afghanistan.

Since he left, Molly’s house has ceased to be a home. Her mother smokes pot all day long while watching the Home Shopping Network and buying anything and everything. Her lawyer father spends as much time as possible at the office.

Inside her bone-depressing house, on the first night of Hanukkah, Molly decides to get Red home by Christmas Eve. She has ten days to make this happen.

Along this fast-paced mission Molly will save more than Red.

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Now you’ll ask me: Why is this book particularly relevant today?

Raise your hand if you don’t have a pre-existing condition(s)?

Raise your hand if you don’t live with someone with pre-existing condition(s)?

Raise your hand if you don’t know someone with pre-existing condition(s)?

Exactly.

As the threat to repeal the ACA gets chillingly more real today, the long list of pre-existing conditions that would cut so many of us from getting reasonably priced health care coverage and ultimately shut us from coverage at all fills my head and heart to the brim.

Saving Red tackles one of the least comfortable health issue of our modern world and several other serious matters. By doing that the book reaches to the bottom of our conscience and pushes us to confront what we’d rather not see.

Rest assured, Sonya Sones, Saving Red just secured your name on the American Library Association’s list of the Most Frequently Challenged Authors of the upcoming years.

 

P.S. A few more things I love in the novel:

  • The title of each brief chapter reads as part of the chapter.
  • Pixel acts as a real character and young readers who have a pet know that a dog or a cat can be a true friend in good and no-so good moments.
  • The humor despite the seriousness of the topic (s).
  • The approchable and yet thoughtfully chosen language.
  • The too adorable Cristo, the boy who falls for Molly and vice versa.
  • The lovely way the author describes first love. Young teens will understand that these strong weird new feelings are perfectly normal. The emotions will echo older readers’ own experience. And much older readers (like myself) will feel their legs give way and their hearts trip at the evocation of these unforgettable sensations when we fall in love for the first time.

 

 

 

20170109_085143This is a photo of the lake in front of our little summer Maine place, courtesy of a neighbor, one of the few year-round residents.

 

Multicultural Children’s Book Day

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January 27th will mark the fourth anniversary of Multicultural Children’s Book Day 2017. Valarie Budayr from Jump into a Book and Mia Wenjen from Pragmatic Mom are the founders of the event. Their mission is to raise awareness on the ongoing need to include children’s books that celebrate diversity in home and school bookshelves while also working diligently to get more of these types of books into the hands of young readers, parents and educators. Despite census data that shows 37% of the US population consists of people of color, only 10% of children’s books published have diversity content.

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As a maman/mom who brought up her four children six thousands miles away from her homeland, between two languages and cultures, I’ve always been drawn to multicultural books. Sharing the rich diversity of our planet through its settings and people has always been crucial to me. Such literature opens children’s minds and helps them embrace humanity, regardless of countries of origin, ethnicities, languages, and religions.

This is why I’m happy to participate to Multicultural Children’s Book Day for the second time in a row. A few weeks ago two authors sent me their books for review. Each reviewer is asked to provide a fair and honest evaluation of the books.

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Captain Mama’s Surprise/ La Sorpresa de Capitán Mamá

Written by Graciela Tiscareño-Sato Illustrated by Linda Lens

Published by Gracefully Global Group

Sometimes we don’t pay attention to the writer or illustrator behind the picture book. Unless this is a very established author or illustrator. After all, what matters is the story, right?

But Captain Mama’s Surprise/ La Sorpresa de Capitán Mamá is a different kind of book and knowing about the author matters.

Graciela Tiscareño-Sato is a woman, Hispanic and a Veteran. She is the author of the series Captain Mama and the founder of Gracefully Global, LLC, and the 2014 White House Champion of Change, Women Veteran Leader recipient. Wow!

Book Front Cover Art

Captain Mama’s Surprise/ La Sorpresa de Capitán Mamá is told from the perspective of Marco, a second grader. The young readers follow him and his classmates as they go on an Air Force base field trip where Marco’s mama works as the navigator on an aerial refueling tanker.

Every task on the tanker is explained through casual dialogues between the children and the crewmembers (I liked it that it is a coed team and also multiethnic). And since I had no idea that such a thing as an aerial refueling tanker existed I also learned a lot myself.

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The picture book is longer than a typical picture book and the pages are sometimes a little too crowded, mostly due to the fact that the text appears in English and Spanish, which is also an asset.

The physical quality is also less appealing than a traditionally published picture book. However the positive “message” of the story largely compensates.

Three elements make this picture book really special:

  • Lack of similar books on the topic written by a Hispanic Veteran woman.
  • Completely bilingual.
  • Final pages with an English/Spanish glossary, a list of educational resources and their websites, and a hands-on art/engineering project with different options depending of the children’s age.

Illustrated by Linda Lens (I love how she’s able to bring real-life expressions to the different characters) the 42 pages book is best suited for K to 3rd graders.

good-night-captain-mama-300dpi-rez-cover-artFirst Book in the Series

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I Know How to Bonjour

Written by Susanne Aspley Illustrated by Lucas Richards

Translated by Laurence Gallarato

Published by McKnight Artist Fellowships

One of the events coordinators approached me to review an additional book for Multicultural Children’s Book Day and of course when I read the title I could only say Oui.

I Know How to Bonjour is a great title. In an interesting way the author Susanne Aspley shares some common points with Graciela Tiscareño-Sato. She is also a woman Veteran and has traveled the world. I encourage you to visit her website. She is genuinely convinced that learning an additional language (or even more) is an asset for our children. It would be hard for me to disagree. Her book conveys a heartfelt message: learning a foreign language exemplifies how human beings are more similar than different, even though they speak another language. It’s another belief that I share.

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The first part of I Know How to Bonjour takes the young reader along a little girl’s first day in French immersion school. The back cover says kindergarten but nothing hints to the grade in the story. Some words are in fact quite complex, whether in English or French for a young child (stratosphere and troposphere, for example). Also the illustrator depicts the child as a little girl through the entire book, but the translation hints as a boy (French words have gender, thus adjectives too).

The little girl is meeting her new teacher who speaks French and although the child doesn’t understand what’s going on, she’s excited to learn something different. I can also testify that it is true: children are curious about the world around them and foreign words and sounds fascinate them. Even if they found me funny when I sang weird-sounding French songs, my kids’ American friends asked for more. Less self-conscious and more daring than adults young children will mimic native speakers with exceptional ability.

The second part of the book is a little confusing as the little girl reports her mom’s thoughts on the benefits of learning a foreign language. I found the wording a little too adult for a children’s book. I would have preferred staying in the child’s point of view.

The last part includes a drawing, a game, a guide on pronunciation and a French English glossary.

The drawing is cute since the child can draw his/her teacher in a picture frame.

The game is a “draw the line between a picture and a word,” always a hit with young children.

The How to Pronounce Bonjour and other French Words guide is misleading. It is in fact a list of French sounds with English examples. It would have been a good idea to add the pronunciation of the words the little girl hears on that first day of school.

The glossary shows some inconsistencies and some words are misspelled. Which unfortunately is the case through the entire book.

As much as I was excited by the theme and the title and was eager to review the book, I cannot lie: the quality of the English text, written in rhyming verses, is superior to the French translation. I spotted several misspelled words, missing accents, grammatical errors and inconsistencies within the story and the glossary.

The product itself (artwork, paper, font, formatting, colors…) is pleasant, but these mistakes spoil a good idea and an author’s genuine goal.

The artwork is from Lucas Richards. He works at a small design firm in Minneapolis, Minnesota.

The translation is from Laurence Gallarato.

I Know How to Bonjour is part of three books in the Series I Know How to Books. I Know How to Ni-hao (bilingual book for children learning Chinese) and I Know How to Hola (bilingual book for children learning Spanish).

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The following information covers all you need to know about Multicultural Children’s Book Day 2017.

Some amazing sponsors ( a mix of editors and authors) are helping to the success of the event.

Platinium Sponsors:  ScholasticBarefoot Books and Broccoli

Other Medallion Level Sponsors include Author Carole P. RomanAudrey Press, Candlewick Press, Fathers Incorporated, KidLitTVCapstone Young Readers, ChildsPlayUsa, Author Gayle SwiftWisdom Tales PressLee& Low BooksThe Pack-n-Go GirlsLive Oak MediaAuthor Charlotte Riggle, Chronicle Books and Pomelo Books

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The Multicultural Children’s Book Day CoHost Team is working at spreading the word.

Free material is also available for Parents and Educators:

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Kindness Classrooms Kits for Homeschoolers, Organizations, Librarians and Educators

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It Still Feels Like Christmas

When the holiday season is over in the US and trees have been dismounted and packed in the attic or discarded along the sidewalk, the festivities are not yet over in France. Or for some French people I know who live in the States.

Okay, our decorations and seasonal china are stored away, our lights are down, and our tree is partially down, too.

 

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But for one sweet day it still feels like Christmas in my French American kitchen.

 

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Today is Ephiphany, celebrated twelve days after Christmas. In a number of countries the day marks the end of the season while for others it is the pre-Lenten celebrations of Mardi Gras/Carnival. I already wrote about this celebration and its meaning, here, here and also here. In case you want to refresh your memory!

In France the celebration lasts for more than a day. I know…

Some people always find great excuses to eat more dessert. Why did I move away already?

In fact, many French bakeries and pastry shops display their galettes des rois or kings’ cakes around Christmas time and will sell them until the end of January.

I’ve always celebrated here in the States. With various levels of success, I must admit.

For several years now I’ve stuck to one recipe. Since it comes from a children’s magazine, it’s super easy and solid. But one of my goals for 2017 (not resolution, remember) is to try as many new desserts as possible.

Better start now, right?

So for my 2017 galette des rois I thought I would add a handful of crushed pistachios to the almonds to make the paste. Pistachios are a big part of my life now, so this small tweak would be my French American signature.

I got the idea as I read David Lebovitz’s yummy blog. He is American but lives in Paris. I know…

But when I searched my pantry, no pistachios. I got some in my stocking, so someone must have raided the pantry during the holidays. So I stuck to my old recipe.

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No pistachios but…

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I found the little porcelain token in my slice. We call it fève in French, from the old tradition to fold a bean in the pastry dough. This makes me queen until tomorrow morning. And my husband king, by default.

La Galette des Rois has also been one of my kids’ favorite French desserts. The cake used to be too small for their appetite.

Now of course, the cake is too big for one meal.

 

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But the leftovers will still feel like Christmas… tomorrow morning.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

A Few Discoveries Made Over the Last Days of 2016 and Early Days of 2017

In the Resolutions series, WordPress asked writers, artists, photographers, poets, and business and website owners: what’s in store for you — and your site — in 2017?

The results have been published in three parts. Part One on December 27. Part Two on December 28. Part Three on January 3.

Here are a few blogs that I have particularly enjoyed. I wanted to introduce them to you since you’ve been part of my blogging life last year and for a much longer time for some of you. In fact, you should peak at all the blogs since I’m sure there is one for you.

Too often I meet people who are negative and even pessimistic about the state of the world. True, 2016 has been a pretty tough year, here in the USA, but also across Europe and the Middle East. It would be easy to loose faith in humanity. And yet…

I discovered Sonya Huber’s blog filled with humor and wit on serious and sometimes very serious topics and I spent an hour browsing through her categories and “liking” several posts. Her list of publications is impressive and her book about Hillary Clinton sounds really interesting. Sonya is teaching, so her blog is more academic than most blogs around and that’s precisely why I liked what I read. Smart and thought-provoking.

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I was moved when I read that Emily Austin, an American mother who blogs about parenting wrote that her 2017 goal is to find out how other parents deal with love and inclusion in a country that doesn’t seem to take love and inclusion very seriously. My children aren’t “children” anymore and I trust them to go on with their lives. However, I remain a maman/mom/mother and will always share other parents’ worries, dedication, and thoughtfulness regarding our kids. If you have young children (Emily’s daughter is four) you will love this blog.

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I took a hike (a real hike) with Kelly Heapy and Drew Robinson. I fell for their personal stories behind these awesome hikes and of course I could only LOVE Robinson’s posts about the John Muir trail and Havasu Falls because I’ve hiked these trails too. Such natural beauty surrounds us. What a shame to forget that nature is there for us to comfort us, to show us that we belong to an incredible physical world that should unite us.

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Artists fascinate me. I cannot draw, paint and sculpt, so I love seeing the work of people who can express their feelings through visual arts. Art has no frontiers and tugs at us regarless of our ethnicities, our cultures, nationalities and religions. I fell for the work of Somali Roy, a Somali woman who lives in Singapore and calls herself a vignettist, from the French word vignette. Her artwork is exquisite and her artistic goal is lovely: pay attention to life’s ordinary moments. I so agree with their importance.

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I started to write when I was a little girl living in France because of the poems we had to learn by heart and recite every day at school. That seems like a strange way to learn. I’m not that old! In any case, learning by heart Baudelaire, Rimbaud, Apollinaire, Paul Eluard and Verlaine, to list only a few, opened my feelings. Big time. Poetry, more than any other form of writing, mandates a perfect knowledge of the language. Every word counts. So if I still write occasional poems in French I’ve never tried in English, a second language learned during adulthood. But I find poets’ blogs particularly interesting. If you love poetry, you’ll like the work of Robert Okaji and Maggy Liu.

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My little happy discovery is the Kitchen’s Garden blog, written somewhere in rural Illinois.

In The Ocean at the End of the Lane Neil Gaiman wrote, “Childhood memories are sometimes covered and obscured beneath the things that come later, like childhood toys forgotten at the bottom of a crammed adult closet, but they are never lost for good.”

It is no doubt because of my childhood spent in rural Normandy that Cecila’s Gunther’s blog tugged at me.

I didn’t grow up on a farm but respect and admire the people who work the land, especially the young men and women who farm with genuine reverence for the environment.

My family home was small but came with a large backyard, where we kept a goat left behind by the previous tenants when my parents moved in shortly after my birth. And we raised rabbits not bunnies (to my American-born children’s horror) and a couple of sheep (for the same horrific reason).

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A path that runs minutes away from my mother’s home in Normandy.

French Memories

The garden my father took care of until he died.

When I visited the Kitchen Garden I fell for the Cast. (I love the way Cecilia calls the animals living on her farm!)

My heart stalled when I saw Marcel’s pic and my memory’s gates flew wide-open.

When I was between ten and eleven years old, our ewe delivered two lambs. My papa who grew up on a farm as a kid and worked there during his early youth knew a lot about animals and had delivered calves, foals and lambs.

I had asked him to wake me when our ewe would deliver. He did. Then he sent me back to bed but stayed behind, suspecting that another lamb was on its way. Indeed, another lamb was born, a while later. But the ewe had already welcomed the first baby and ignored the second. My papa cleaned the lamb and knew that we would have to feed it or it wouldn’t make it. That’s how my sister and I got the chance to have our own baby, many years before having our own human children. I adored this little lamb that would gallop toward me as soon as I showed up in the pen where his mother and sibling lived too. If the mother had disregarded the lamb at its birth now the three of them lived in total peace and harmony, even though one of them drank its milk from a bottle and licked our hands like a pet.

As I watched Marcel’s lovely face (the smile on this lamb’s face!) my fingers remembered my lamb’s sandpapery tongue and the greesy sensation left after I ran them through its wooly coat. The smell of my lamb’s sweat that passed through its wool smelled unlike anything I had ever smelled until then. The correct word to describe this “greasy thing” is suint. Amazingly, the word is identical in French, although pronounced differently, and it also came back to me with the photo.

That’s the power of memory. That’s also the power of reading. When I read, wonderful things happen. I either connect with the author’s similar experiences. Or I don’t. In both cases, however, I feel. A sense of belonging through common situations or a sense of curiosity through unknown experiences fills me with gratitude for my human fellows who write about their lives on our amazing planet.

This is how a little lamb forgotten at the bottom of my crammed adult closet just showed up in my living room.

I wish you all a year filled with discoveries.

Small or big they are what make life purposeful and fun, exciting and beautiful.

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This is my last dessert of 2016. A French Strawberry Charlotte with a Strawberry Coulis on the side. (The Coulis is not on the photo)

This dessert remains my kids’ favorite dessert.

And a Happy New Year!

We asked writers, photographers, artists, poets, and business and website owners: what’s in store for you — and your site — in 2017? In this first post of our Resolutions series, members of the WordPress.com community share their goals for the new year.

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We are nearing the end of the year. For most of us it is a bittersweet moment. Regrets?  Anticipation?

I already shared on my blog that I used to make resolutions for the New Year.  When our children were little my husband and I created a tradition that left its marks since at least two of our daughters are still writing down New Year’s resolutions or goals as they say.

Back then we used to write our “resolutions/goals” that we would seal in separate envelops. On New Year’s Eve we would open our personal envelop and burn its contents. A clean slate for the upcoming year.

Sometimes I was disappointed when I opened my envelope. Maybe I had set the bar too high? Maybe it was better to have dreams more than resolutions/goals?

Whatever the reason my decision to stop writing down anything on New Year’s Eve marked the children’ departure for college.

Not making formal resolutions doesn’t mean living every day with no purpose.

This very short post published on Discover will tell you what I intend to do with my blog in 2017.

Thank you, Cheri Lucas Rowlands for inviting me to participate to this WordPress event. I am humbled to find myself among people who have definitely set the bar high.

To each of you, WordPress bloggers who read me and talk to me through my posts, thank you for your visits and comments and Happy New Year 2017!

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This dessert exemplifies a slice of my life. A traditional French Bûche de Noël with its American trimmimgs.

You’re Welcome

Today marks the twenty-fifth anniversary of my departure from France.

I flew alone from Paris to San Francisco, via Boston, with my baby daughter and pregnant with her sister, to rejoin my husband.

I had no idea that Americans hung socks for Christmas.

 

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In fact, I had no idea at all about the USA.

Recently, I found myself traveling back to those first years, when everything was unknown, mine to discover. No assumptions. No judgment. No English, really. Just observation. With my eyes and mind and heart. For the last month and a half, I’ve deliberately tried to return to this state of mind to decipher once again the mysteries of my vast adoptive country. I’ve stopped reading too much news, favoring observation. I am now part of this strange land where I also hang socks for Christmas.

And I still have the goose bumps (and not the hen’s bumps anymore) when someone tells me, “You’re welcome.”

Among the countless American expressions I’ve learned and made mine, this one makes the top list.

And I wish and hope and want that anyone, anyone who makes it to this place I now call home will always be able to choose the same one.

 

A Book In Everyone’s Stocking

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For once my husband and I have tackled our Christmas decorations right after Thanksgiving. It used to surprise me to see lights and trees up so early in the season. Remember that I come from a place where people still decorate their trees days or hours before Christmas. I suppose I’ve become a true American. Or just have a little bit more time on my hands than I ever had. Just saying that the house is ready for the return of the college kids.

 

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Meanwhile, I count the days until the stampede in the stairs gives a happy vibe to the quieter house, until the sink welcomes dirty mugs and plates, until the garbage can overflows, until books and board games crowd the dining table, definitely too big for two grown-ups.

Until then I’ve compiled a list of a few books that I’ve really loved in 2016. Not all of them were published in 2016, but all of them can make great gifts for that special reader you know.

In France, we leave our best pair of shoes under the tree on Christmas Eve. In the morning this is where we find the gifts we’ve asked to the Père Noël. For some reason, at my home, our Père Noël seems to love bookshops very much. Even if stockings have been added to our shoes.

 

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Still Life With Tornado

A.S. King

For Young Adults

I need to contain myself with this book, because in the category favorite authors A.S. King is my Mount Everest. And if writers were to be compared to explorers she would be the one who goes where nobody ever went. In each of her novels she’s a daring explorer of teenagers’ emotions and real life experiences and never misses her target. I encourage parents to read her work because you’ll feel a teenager again and you will probably understand your teenager better.

I fell for her work when I fell for Vera Dietz, the protagonist of Please, Ignore Vera Dietz, which earned her a Printz Honor among tons of other awards. Every single one of her novels has been noticed. And more.

When I thought she could hardly do any better after her novel I Crawl Through It, she did it again.

In Still Life With Tornado, A.S. King treats of the hard topic of domestic abuse and violence and of its devastating lasting impact on children and teens.

I’m not a book reviewer and I hate to read a detailed synopsis before reading a novel. So I won’t reveal too much about this outstanding novel.

Sixteen-year-old Sarah is losing it. She can no longer draw, while art was natural to her. Something bad happened at school to her big art project that was so cool she was the one who should have won the big award. And something even bigger is happening at home for quite a long time between her parents. And what happened to her older brother who left six years ago after a family trip to a cheap resort somewhere in Mexico?

Sarah is really lost and quits going to school for a while. I cried and smiled, too, as I followed her heartbreaking but also heart lifting journey through the streets of Philadelphia. I even played Bruce Springsteen’s song as I read.

A.S. King is known for her unique use of magical elements in her story telling. In Still Life With Tornado, Sarah has “visions” of herself when she was ten and when she’s in her twenties and then forty. It’s the forty-year-old Sarah who gives the necessary dose of hope to the novel. At forty, Sarah has lived long enough to know who she is and has found her rhythm ago. And her art.

Because this novel is also about art. The art of creating art, the kind we see in museums, but also the art of just living our lives. As heart wrenching as they can be sometimes, they are also beautiful and deserve our attention.

 

The Red Umbrella

Christiana Diaz Gonzalez

For 10 years old and above

It’s 1961 in Cuba. Two years after the communist revolution fourteen-year-old Lucia still leads a carefree life, shared between the beach, parties, and boys. But the day the soldiers arrive in her small town, she’s forced to face certain truths about her family, friends and country. As the revolution’s impact becomes more obvious and dangerous, Lucia’s parents make the hard decision to send her and her younger brother to the United States while they will remain in Cuba.

The novel is perhaps more relevant now than it was when published in 2010. With the recent passing of Fidel Castro, discussions about the reasons for the revolution, his legacy and his impact on Cuba are re-opening, in Cuba and in the US.

In this novel Christina Diaz Gonzales deals with separation, culture shock, homesickness and identity. These themes can talk to young readers interested in history and social studies and to the many children who have left their homeland. And to anyone who likes a good read, because this book reads as a great adventure, too.

I didn’t know of the Operation Peter Pan or Pedro Pan until I heard one of the children sent from Cuba to the US speak in California, a few years ago. Now an old man, he described the shock of leaving his family, his hometown, and native country for the unknown US but also of his gratitude for the chance he had to leave Cuba, despite the fact that he never saw his family again.

Last year I met the author of The Red Umbrella. She told me that she used some elements of her own Cuban family’s story to write the novel. Makes it even more moving.

 

Simon Versus the Homo Sapiens Agenda

By Becky Albertalli

For Young Adults

One of my very, very favorites this year, I already spoke about it in this post.

Sixteen-year-old Simon is simply so adorable that I kept wondering if Becky Albertalli knew him or if she was such a talented writer that she could describe the adolescent heart and angst with such accuracy.

Simon is gay but not very openly gay. Until an email falls into the wrong hands and threatens to bring his secret into the spotlight. The rest is yours to discover…

With a set of characters as credible and as loveable as Simon, the novel is fresh, funny and filled with heart. It represents with respect and sincerity a typical contemporary American high school.

 

Big Magic

Creative Living Beyond Fear

By Elizabeth Gilbert

No Age Limit

Okay, I must admit that I didn’t read Eat, Pray, Love the book that put Elizabeth Gilbert on her pedestal and brought her millions of readers. The reason is very simple: when the book came out ten years ago I was very busy taking care of my young family. So I wasn’t exactly in the mood to follow a woman on her existentialist journey. Mine was quite mundane back then.

But.

I just read Big Magic published in 2015 and I loved it. A friend of mine recommended it to me as I was receiving what we call between writers “positive rejections.” All of us at some point wonder why we still write. Or why we still paint. Or make music.

Well, says Gilbert, it’s a choice and a good choice, according to her, because creativity is what makes life more interesting and meaningful. Even if we never reach fame and make money out of it.

Although some nuggets of wisdom make sense to anyone who makes some kind of art, Gilbert’s unique sense of wonder and conversational voice won me over.

Divided in six parts titled Courage, Enchantment, Permission, Persistence, Trust and Divinity, all parts divided into short chapters with evocative titles, the book reads as easily as a fun novel.

Filled with true examples from her creative life, Gilbert wrote a book that gives us the permission and even urges us to create what we want, when we want, the way we want. Liberating.

Also inspiring to follow this renowned author’s journey as she still embraces creativity as if it were new to her.

Big Magic is the perfect gift for this creative person in your life or for the one who wonders where to start being creative. The answer for Gilbert is simple. Start making things. Now. This is what being creative means.

As for me the book has reignited my desire to revise this story that I like and want to make as good as possible.

 

Draw the Line

By Laurent Linn

For Young Adults

Emmy Award-Winning puppet designer and builder in Jim Henson’s Muppet Workshop, among other accomplishments, Laurent Linn wrote and illustrated a different kind of contemporary novel, mostly due to his black and white illustrations that represent the dream life and real life of sixteen-year-old Adrian Piper.

Set in Texas, the novel explores his life as a sci fi geek, as a young artist fascinated by the Renaissance art and as a young gay. Not an easy combo in Adrian’s conservative environment.

So Adrian prefers drawing and crafting his own imaginary world through his superhero Graphite and avoiding the regular high school crowd. To the exception of his two best friends Audrey and Trent (love them!), Adrian hides from everyone the fact that he’s gay.

Until a hate crime changes his world and challenges him. Is it the time to stop being invisible? When do you must draw the line? Adrian may draw superheroes in the secret of his bedroom will he act like one in the face of hate crime and brutal meanness?

I always admire visual art artists and Laurent Linn’s talent adds a great dimension to a novel that tells of a serious topic in a nonconventional way. I found Adrian’s voice honest, realistic and moving. The conversations with his friends Audrey and Trent, also misfits in their own ways, are funny smart and right on target.

Even though the novel centers on a gay teenager, the story will speak to any teen who is bullied for one or another reason. And will challenge anyone facing any hard situation when you’ve got to decide if you stand up or not.

Due to the numbers of illustrated pages the book is thicker than most YA novels but the blend of writing and black and white illustrations makes it unique and a great gift.

 

Maybe a Fox

By Kathie Appelt and Alison McGhee

From 10 to 14 years old

I’m always attracted to stories where siblings play an important role. Maybe even more when sisters are the protagonists.

Maybe a Fox is an unusual novel that blends fantastic elements to real life. Sylvie and Jules are best friends more than sisters. Sylvie is the oldest, the only one who remembers of their mom who died years ago. Sylvie is also a very fast runner. When she runs to the river where their father forbids his daughters to go to throw a wish rock just before the school bus comes on a snowy morning, Sylvie runs so fast that no one sees what happens. When no one ever sees Slyvie again Jules’s world shatters. Yet she refuses to believe that her sister is gone forever.

And there is the female fox cub, the only one in the litter who senses danger, but is too young to know exactly what she senses.
When Jules believes one last wish rock for Sylvie needs to be thrown into the river, the human and animal worlds collide.
Written in the alternate voices of Jules and the fox cub, Award-winning authors Kathy Appelt and Alison McGhee offer a gorgeous tale of a family’s heartbreak that still manages to bring hope.

Because of the topic of loss and the importance of nature the novel reminded me of the timeless Bridge to Terabithia written by Katherine Paterson in 1977.

 

 

Whether we celebrate Christmas or not, whether we celebrate another celebration, religious or not, the month of December is a time for peace and compassion.

I wish you all a beautiful month.

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