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Winding Oak's Bookology Magazine

Tag Archives | Minneapolis

Theater: “The Story of Crow Boy”

 

Story of Crow Boy Bruce Silcox Minneapolis Star Tribune

In the Heart of the Beast play In the Heart of the Beast, photo credit: Bruce Silcox, Minneapolis StarTribune

There are several excellent, insightful reviews of The Story of Crow Boy, on stage February 18-28, 2016, at Minneapolis’ (MN) In the Heart of the Beast Puppet and Mask Theatre. Links to these reviews are below, and I won’t restate their content here except to reiterate that the work tells the story of the Caldecott Honor (1956) book Crow Boy‘s author and illustrator, Taro Yashima (the pen name of Atsushi Iwamatsu).

Crow Boy, Taro YashimaWhat I do wish to remark upon in this literary venue is the genesis of this show, a seed planted decades ago through the pages of a picture book into the creative, brilliant, inspired mind and spirit of a teenaged Sandy Spieler (one of the founders of In the Heart of the Beast Puppet and Mask Theatre, and its artistic director since 1976). The book eventually brought Spieler to the larger story of its author/illustrator, which she and her amazing collaborators bring to joyful, painful, piercing, and ultimately hopeful life on the stage.

Take heed and take heart, those of you who are makers of books for the young. Your stories matter, these works of first Art you create for children through text and through pictures. Write and draw truth and joy and friendship and power and overcoming and the exquisite natural world and human experience. Your stories burrow and blossom in still-malleable young minds; they are busy nurturing roots of strength and purpose and hope and transformation long after you have turned your own attention toward other tales.97

If you are able to attend the Heart of the Beast show, please know that there are some extremely intense and soul searing segments in the work, documenting portions of this world’s evil history that must be remembered. The staging expands our understanding of atrocities as they affect individuals and families, even though we can’t possibly comprehend the true magnitude of loss and devastation behind those flashes with which we are presented. The show is definitely not for children. (The theatre’s publicity states that the “show is recommended for age 11 and older.”)

The intricate interplay of puppetry, projections, masks, human actors, and music in the show is seamless, inspired and often magical. Small moments such as the book-loving boy puppet Taro snuggling to sleep literally between the covers of a book, and later launching into a brief moment of flight from his perch on the pages will transfix any bibliophile’s heart.

The Story of Crow BoyThe program notes cite Taro Yashima’s dedication “against all odds, to a tenacious belief in the ability of art to transform the world.” Certainly Art that is made especially for children—and actually for children—does have this capacity, since children are the ones who may be able to ultimately transform this world. Thank you, children’s book makers, for giving them seeds of inspiration and strength through your books.

At Heart of the Beast, a Children’s Book Grows Up” by Euan Kerr, Minnesota Public Radio News

Crow Boy Takes Flight at Heart of the Beast,” by Graydon Roye, Minneapolis Star Tribune

Heart of the Beast Puppet Theater Takes Flight with Crow Boy,” by Chris Hewitt, St. Paul Pioneer Press

HOBT’s Much Anticipated The Story of Crow Boy on Stage Feb 18-28,” press release, Phillips West News

A description of the play from In the Heart of the Beast’s website:

The Story of Crow Boy explores the intriguing life story of Taro Yashima who wrestled with human brutality, racial discrimination, and the ravages of WWII to build work of social conscience, compassionate insight, poetic visual form, and ultimately—of joy. Yashima reminds us what it means to be human, and offers understanding into the complexities of cultural survival. This production draws on his autobiographical and fictional books including the Caldecott Honor Award-winning Crow Boy (1956) about a young boy who learns to sing the “voices of crows” in defiance of his years of being bullied.

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Lisa Bullard: My Not-So-Overnight Success

ShoesEarly on, when people would ask my kid self what I wanted to be when I grew up, I’d answer “Shoe Salesperson.” But then I discovered that feet sometimes smell, and I moved on to a different dream: Book Writer.

I could invent a great story and tell you that I crafted a long-term plan to realize my dream. But instead, this is a tale of false starts and misdirected wanderings. Perhaps you’ll find it inspiring if you’ve made missteps on the way to capturing your own dream!

I wrote all the time as a kid—songs, stories, poems, comic strips. But I didn’t believe that anyone would pay me to do something I loved so much. And my first several jobs didn’t serve as models for fulfilling work: babysitter, fast food employee, cardboard box maker, school janitor.

That meant my expectations for the world of work, even after graduating from college, weren’t all that high. With no clear ambition other than “it would be great to get a job that didn’t involve scraping gum off desks”—a key feature of the school janitor job—I moved to Minneapolis, rented a drafty apartment with my cousin, and took on a series of uninspiring temp jobs. I wrote in my spare time, but my efforts went no further than my file cabinet.

Insurance FormsThen one day I arrived home from my position as Forms Clerk (temporary) at an insurance company to find the first heat bill had arrived. It totaled over $800. And the insurance company had just offered me a job. That is the “carefully plotted” career trajectory that resulted in my position as Chief Forms Clerk (permanent)! But despite this meteoric rise, and my willingness to work very hard, I found I didn’t enjoy sorting forms. I started visiting the human resources department for guidance, and a very kind woman took me under her wing. She gave me a barrage of career assessment tests, then looked me in the eyes and said, “Lisa, I don’t think there IS a job in insurance that will make you happy.”

That HR person did me two great services. First, her notion that happiness might be a valid factor in job selection was a revelation to me. And second, she knew of the Denver Publishing Institute—an intensive summer course focusing on book publishing—and she recommended that I consider attending. A few months later I moved on from the world of insurance and attended the Denver program.

CockroachPerhaps the most important thing I learned there is that publishing houses are money-making enterprises. Publishing is a creative industry full of people dedicated to books and the written word, but it’s also a tough business. Very few people get rich off of books. Day after day at the Institute, publishing professionals came in to share the realities of working in the industry, and they’d all conclude by saying, “If you want to work really hard, make almost no money, and live in a roach-infested apartment in New York, this is the field for you!”

I was willing to take on everything other than the roaches. Fortunately I discovered there was a booming publishing industry in Minnesota, so I flew back home and began my sixteen-year career as a publishing employee. I worked with a lot of amazing people, both co-workers and writers, building relationships I still value highly. I reveled in being able to do work I was passionate about, despite the fact that the warning about low pay proved all too true.

Not Enough Beds!Towards the end of those sixteen years, I celebrated a life-changing event: my first book was published. I believe it finally happened partly because I had continued to refine my writing skills, partly because I had learned what makes a book concept salable, and partly because I had built important connections in the industry. I am the opposite of an overnight success: it took me fourteen years working in publishing to get published myself!

Later, with another book in the wings, I decided to shift my focus from publishing employee to writer, and I started officially calling myself a Children’s Book Writer—a job I am proud to have now celebrated through many years and ninety books. I still don’t make very much money. I still work really hard. Sometimes I even get bored. But I love that I’m actually living my dream, and nobody expects me to scrape gum off desks.

I’m thinking that’s not too shabby for a little girl who once dreamed of selling shoes.

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Laughter and Grief

by Vicki Palmquist

Dragons in the WatersThere are books we remember all of our lives, even if we can’t remember the details. Sometimes we can’t even remember the story, but we remember the characters and how they made us feel. We recall being transported into the pages of the book, seeing what the characters see, hearing what they hear, and understanding the time and spaces and breathing in and out of the characters. Do we become those characters, at least for a little while, at least until we move on to the next book? Is this why we can remember them long after we’ve finished the book?

This column is called Reading Ahead because I’m one of those people others revile: I read the end of the book before I’ve progressed to that point in the story. I read straight through for as long as I can stand it and then I have to know how the story ends. I tell myself that I do this because then I can observe the writing and how the author weaves the ending into the book long before the last pages. That’s partially true. But I also admit that the tension becomes unbearable for me.

When I find a book that is so delicious that I don’t want to know the end until its proper time, then I know that I am reading a book whose characters will live on in me. Their cells move from the pages of the book into my arms and shoulders, heading straight to my mind and my heart.

The Wednesday WarsFor me, those books are The Riddlemaster of Hed by Patricia McKillip, The Lord of the Rings by J.R.R. Tolkien (but not The Hobbit), The Wizard of Earthsea by Ursula K. LeGuin, The Dark is Rising by Susan Cooper, Dragons in the Waters and Arm of the Starfish by Madeleine L’Engle, and every one of the Deep Valley books written by Maud Hart Lovelace. 

There are some newer books that haven’t yet been tested by time. I could feel that I was absorbing The Wednesday Wars by Gary D. Schmidt and Catch You Later, Traitor by Avi and Absolutely, Truly by Heather Vogel Frederick.  There are many, many other books that I admire and enjoy reading but I don’t feel them becoming a part of me in quite the same way.

I suspect that you have a short list of books that make you feel like this. They are an unforgettable part of you.

Isabelle Day Refuses to Die of a Broken HeartI’ve just finished reading Isabelle Day Refuses to Die of a Broken Heart by Jane St. Anthony (University of Minnesota Press). It is a funny and absorbing book about learning to deal with grief. That’s a place I’ve lived for the last four years in a way I hadn’t experienced before. When my mother died, my all-my-life friend, an essential part of me was transformed into something else. I don’t yet know what that is.

Isabelle Day is learning about this, too. Her father, her pal, her funny man, her let-me-show-you-the-delights-of-life-kid parent has died shortly before the book begins. Her mother is in the throes of grief, pulled inward, not communicating well. Isabelle and her mother have moved from Milwaukee, where close friends and a familiar house stand strong, to Minneapolis, where Isabelle’s mom grew up. They are living upstairs in a duplex owned by two elderly sisters who immediately share friendship and food and wisdom with Isabelle, something she’s feeling too prickly to accept. There are new friends whom Isabelle doesn’t trust to be true.

But for anyone who has experienced grief, this book will reach out and touch you gently, softly, letting you know that others understand what you are feeling. Isabelle comes to understand that she doesn’t have to feel alone … the world is waiting to be experienced in other, new ways.

It’s a beautifully written book in that the words fit together in lovely, sometimes surprising, sometimes startling ways. There is great care taken with the story and the characters. And yet the unexpected is always around the corner. Isabelle is a complex person. She does not act predictably. There is no sense of “woe is me” in this book. There’s a whole class of what I call “whiny books” (mostly adult) and this isn’t one of them. This book is filled with life, wonder, humor, and mostly understanding.

Isabelle and Grace and Margaret, Miss Flora and Miss Dora, they are all a part of me now. When I am feeling sad and missing the people I have lost, I will re-read this book because I know it will provide healing. And I can laugh … it’s been hard to do that. Thank you, Jane.

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Keystones of the Stone Arch Bridge

Keystones of the Stone Arch Bridge

In downtown Minneapolis, Minnesota, spanning the Mississippi River, there is a “Stone Arch Bridge” that resembles a roman viaduct with its 23 arches. Built at a time when Minneapolis was a primary grain-milling and wood-producing center for the United States, Empire Builder James J. Hill wanted the bridge built to help his railroad reach the […]

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