• Treetop Musings — a Blog about Nature and the Arts

Worlds Away: Creating Fantasies Loyal Readers Love

wildmagic-sns-reissue-coverWhether contemporary, historical, alternate or parallel worlds, steam-punk, time travel, magical realism, or something completely new, fantasies conjure ultimate dream-scapes. Readers love them so much, they re-read original novels, buy sequels, stand in line for autographs, create fan-art, write fan-fiction, & create fan websites. Fantasies inspire movies, beautiful paintings & illustrations. DiscWorld site-including merchandise/art  Pottermore: Harry’s Potter’s world-news/shop/features


by Mary GrandPre –Harry Potter and the Sorcerer’s Stone, Anniversary Ed.


Illust. J. R. R. Tolkien, The Hobbit, 50th Anniversary Ed.



Image from Miyazaki movie, Howl’s Moving Castle, based on novel by Diana Wynne Jones

Original painting by Paul Kidby of Discworld http://www.paulkidby.com/

How do readers become so loyal? Imaginative, believable, fully immersive worlds that feel absolutely real to the reader. These take such time to create, authors often write multiple novels in the same or a related world. The more readers dwell in these worlds, the more real the world becomes, soon it feels like returning to a place you’ve lived in, traveled to, or want to visit! Some worlds continue after the author passes away. Sir Terry Pratchett chose a novelist to write more novels for his disc world series. 




Beautiful cover art by Kinuko Y. Craft www.kycraft.com

  • ALL WORLD ELEMENTS INTERCONNECT IN RATIONAL, REALISTIC WAYS. (theme, time period, setting, characters, flora, fauna, topography, geography, climate, culture etc.).  (i.e., a desert community’s food, cultures, buildings, machinery, transportation, political systems, ‘beings,’ plants, birds, animals & insects, etc.)
  • STRONG CHARACTERS ECHO THEIR WORLD IN SOME WAY: AFTER ALL, THEY LIVE THERE. And the reader needs to feel that the characters belong there. Characters act the way they do because their own psycho-social profiles are impacted by their world.  
  • THE WORLD’S SCIENCE MAKES SENSE. Great video on the science of Discworld:
  •  https://search.yahoo.com/search?ei=UTF-8&fr=crmas&p=sir+terry+pratchett-+disc+world 
  • MAGIC/BACKSTORY SPRINKLED THROUGH THE ACTION, REVEAL WORLD NATURALLY. The reader experiences the story like a movie in his/her mind.

    Illustration by reknowned fantasy artist, Charles Vess www.greenmanpress.com

  • THE IMPACT OF ILLUSTRATORS IS HUGE WHEN ARTWORK IS INCLUDED- Maps also helpful. Short-list of fantasy illustrators below.

I read, write, & love fantasy. If you write fantasy also, the the authors below should be studied as well as read, for in my opinion, they excel at world building!


Favorite World-Builders:

Ms. Tamora Pierce. I CALL MS. PIERCE ‘THE QUEEN OF WORLD BUILDING.’ Her novels also have wonderful characters and plots. Favorites include the Immortals Quartet, beginning with Wild Magic, follow-ups Trickster’s Choice and Trickster’s Queen, and the Beka Cooper TrilogyBeka Cooper: Terrier, etc –set in amazing TortallHer MG/Y/A novels feature diverse characters across color/gender lines. Incredible worlds! Ms. Pierce also offers great advice, book lists, answers to reader questions, & more, on her site: Tamora Pierce

Ms. Diana Wynne Jones, unique, quirky, beautiful worlds. Alas she has passed away, but her books are beloved and inspiring. I love Howl’s Moving Castle (illustration from Miyazaki animated film above).  and The Chronicles of Chrestomanci.  The Diana Wynne Jones Official Fan Site

Sir Terry Pratchett, whose amazing books are set in his discworlds (including novels for adults). In a series for tweens/middle graders/young adults, young witch Tiffany Aching starts her adventures in The Wee Free Men. Having read one, you will embrace discworld’s quirky philosophy, political satire, and humor as so many have.  Terry Pratchett Books

Ms. Shannon Hale – her wonderful novel The Goose Girl an all time favorite- plus her other books set in Bayern and Princess Academy, etc. Her worlds are filled with sensory details that draw the reader in & reflect her main character’s struggles & sensibilities.  Shannon Hale’s Official Website

Ms. J. K. Rowling, whose absolutely wonderful Harry Potter series has inspired countless readers. I will always love the world and characters she has created.  J. K. Rowling

Please note: some authors I mention have also written wonderful novels in other genres/or for adults. 

Here’s my added ‘short list’ of authors who write amazing worlds–and characters. To keep it short, I list only authors I’ve read to date who have written multiple novels set in the same world as the initial one.  

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Additional Favorites: 

Rachel Hartman Seraphina & Shadow Scale Kristin Cashore Graceling Series; Cornelia Funke Inkheart Series;  Scott Westerfeld Leviathan Series; Gail Carson Levine Official Site  Ella Enchanted, Fairest;  Juliet Marillier Wildwood Dancing; Rae Carson – The Girl of Fire and Thorns Trilogy; Robin McKinley Spindle’s End, Rose DaughterJohn Flanagan  Ranger’s Apprentice Series; Grace Lin Where the Mountain Meets the Moon, Starry River of the SkyUrsula K. Le Guin’s Website Earthsea TrilogyChitra Banerjee Divakaruni Conch Bearer Series; Rick Riordan Percy Jackson Series; Patricia C. Wrede Dealing With Dragons -others from The Enchanted Forest Chronicles, Regency Magic Series, Co-written with Caroline Stevermer: beginning with Sorcery and Cecelia, or The Enchanted Chocolate Pot ; Philip  Philip Pullman His Dark Materials Series- The Golden Compass/Northern Lights Kathi Appelt The Underneath, The True Blue Scouts of Sugarman SwampCharles de Lint specifically-Little (Grrl) Lost, The Cats of Tanglewood ForestLloyd Alexander ; J. R. R. Tolkien;  C. S. Lewis; Lewis Carroll ; L. Frank Baum ;  J. M. Barrie  Kenneth Grahame Brian Jacques: The Official Site 

Great Articles on Fantasy Writing-World-Building:

Good Wiki Article on World-Building

Fantasy Worldbuilding Questions By Patricia C. Wrede 

 Writing Fantasy: A Creative Approach to World-Building

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‘Girl on a Branch,’ Illustration by Charles Vess

Favorite Fantasy Illustrators:

Arthur Rackham (passed away but his iconic illustrations have influenced many of today’s artists)

Charles Vess  

Kinuko Y. Craft

Paul Kidby 

Mary GrandPre 

Hayao Miyazaki-animator/illustrator (see also my post on Mr. Miyazaki https://treetopmusings.com/hayao-miyazaki-and-studio-ghibli/ )


Interesting, helpful fantasy writing craft books…

*Here, I mainly focus on authors extremely skilled at world-building, who’ve set multiple novels in the same world. I’m not a fan of the macabre or gruesome, so some authors are not included, good world-building or no. Also, I do not include dystopian novels or science-fiction. Though these also have incredible worlds, I’ll save them for another post.

Posted in 2016, Arthur Rackham, Building Fantastic Fantasy Worlds, Charles Vess, Diana Wynne Jones, Favorite Fantasy Artists, Favorite Fantasy Authors, J. K. Rowling, Kinkuo Y. Craft, Sir Terry Pratchett, Tamora Pierce, Uncategorized, Writing/Craft: World-Building | Leave a comment

Starry Nights, Star-Crossed Lives, & Optimism in the Face of Overwhelming Grief

Starry Night Over the Rhone, by Vincent Van Gogh

Literature and the arts are filled with references to stars and fate. Vincent Van Gogh painted nights blazing with stars. On cloudless nights, stars light our skies, symbolizing beauty, hope–and tragedy. Are we doomed to be star-crossed or are stars our guides? I like to think stars simply symbolize hope when all seems lost. 

Grief is part of being human–though we wish on all the stars in the heavens it was not.  Last year, I lost my father to cancer. He left behind a deep ache in my heart. He played an important role in my life, inspiring me to learn, keep trying and never give up, and seek out the best in others–accepting everyone for who they were without prejudice–all human beings equal in the sight of God. Loss is our fate–and it is never easy. Over time we only hope happy memories can comfort us. But I miss him every day.  

Berkshires Aug 2011 124

Then, this past year, a loss ripped a hole in my heart so wide, taking someone so precious, life will never be the same. My husband and I  lost our only son–our greatest source of joy while alive, and now our greatest source of sorrow. He was just nineteen. The pain is still so fresh and raw–our utter grief and helplessness stark reminders of the fragility of life. But not just any life. His. He filled our world with love and happiness and we loved him with every fiber of our beings. How can we go on living? How can we bear such tragedy? Yet, bear it we must.  

It seems no matter how much we love someone, sometimes the stars seem to conspire against us. Bad things happen to good people. Tragedy happens randomly, despite wishes on stars and in spite of love. It is not fate. 

Rather, as John Green’s wonderful novel The Fault in Our Stars says, tragedy may happen not because of any fates but because we are human–and part of being human is not just love, but loss. (see John Green’s Website )  Mr. Green took the title of his novel from a quote in Shakespeare’s play, Julius Caesar. Ambitious nobleman Cassius tries to persuade Brutus that Caesar must be prevented from becoming monarch of Rome for the good of the country, by saying, “The fault, dear Brutus, is not in our stars, but in ourselves, that we are underlings.” (I, ii, 140-141).  But helpless they are not.

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Because I wanted to understand why Mr. Green chose the title, I went to his site. He explained that over time, Shakespeare’s quote had become decontextualized ‘into saying that the fault is not in the stars (i.e. fate/luck/whatever) but in individual people.” Mr. Green went on to say that this was “ridiculous. There is plenty of fault in our stars. The World is a profoundly unjust place in which suffering is unfairly distributed, and in all of my novels but especially this one, I am trying to find ways to live honestly and hopefully in the world without ignoring/denying the universe’s cold and painful indifference to us.” (to read more, go to his site-link above)  I agree. I think we are all trying to make meaning out of life and death. But how do we go on in the face of loss? Do we blame ourselves, our humanity, the stars, random fate? Can faith help us? What will give our lives meaning? How can we make peace with our own fragile humanity?

Shakespeare is a genius with words–in his plays and sonnets, stars symbolize fate, randomness, hope, helplessness and the paradox of human nature. We are born helpless but not forever. Humans can be a force for change and good. Lives can matter, even once lost. And underlings are not always powerless. It is up to us to seek light in the stars, even when our own lives seem at their darkest.

Photo of Helen Keller with her teacher, Anne Sullivan

In Anthony Doerr’s amazing novel, All the Light We Cannot See, young heroine Marie-Laure LeBlanc lives under great stress in the German occupied walled city of Saint-Malo, Breton during World War II. Though blind, Marie-Laure sees clearly the troubles she faces, yet chooses to create her own inner light. Other characters are blinded by the turmoil of war–their choice survival or despair. Young Werner cannot say no to ‘duty’ and ends up serving in the German army, yet has a humanity and kindness that surfaces when least expected. When living in their orphanage before the was begins, Werner and his little sister love listening to a 1930s radio program, (once Werner, a prodigy, fixes the radio), in which a Frenchman talks about science and the ability of the brain to create light in darkness. In a sense, isn’t that what a star does?   Anthony Doerr -Author Site 

Starry Night Bike Path, designed by Studio RooseGaard

In Project Gutenberg: a wonderful resource offering free e-books for use on kindles, nooks, i-pads, i-phones, androids, and more, Project Gutenberg Website  I found the Book of Optimism, by Helen Keller (Written in 1903 and dedicated to her teacher, Anne Sullivan) (Also see: Helen Keller- Wikipedia ) Though born with the ability to see and hear, at nineteen months Helen contracted an illness, perhaps meningitis, that left her deaf and blind. Her challenges were many–yet she grew up to be a beautiful person and talented, thoughtful scholar. Helen Keller conquered her challenges with the help of another optimist, her teacher, Anne Sullivan–who focused not on Helen’s disabilities, but her many gifts.


Helen lived an amazing life, giving much back to the world. In her essay, Ms. Keller mentions Shakespeare, saying he was ‘the prince of optimists. His tragedies are a revelation of moral order. In “Lear” and “Hamlet” there is a looking forward to something better, some one is left at the end of the play to right wrong, restore society and build the state anew.’  In the same essay, Ms. Keller said she believed it was important to bear her ‘faith above every tempest which over-floods it, and to make it a principle in disaster and through affliction.’ Unfortunately, affliction is part of the human condition. It is not the stars, neither does God have a hand in such sad, tragic events. Bad things simply do happen to good people. How can we get past such a bleak fact?  

In The Fault in Our Stars, teens Hazel and Augustus take on their fates in spite of their illnesses, continuing to live in the moment, yet also make plans, even find romance when things seem bleak. It’s no wonder Hazel has fixated on a novel she has read called The Imperial Affliction. She seeks answers, as do we all, on how to deal with illness, or say goodbye.  

Affliction is not just illness, but the state of being human-the ‘fault in our stars,’ — other words, life –and death. Happiness along with struggles and sadness. No human is immune to suffering. Yet we must create meaning in our lives, just as Hazel and Augustus did. But how can we find meaning in loss when the pain is nearly unbearable? There are no easy answers, but there are memories—good ones. Words–comforting ones. And stars–bright ones. Even in darkness.

Starry Night bicycle path, Holland

Through dark times, Hazel and Augustus cling to each other. Through dark times, Vincent Van Gogh painted starry nights. And stars will shine again for us– if we let them. As Helen Keller said, ‘The struggle of life is one of our greatest blessings. It makes us patient, sensitive, and Godlike. It teaches us that although the world is full of suffering, it is also full of the overcoming of it.’  She had faith, hope, and belief in the ability of the human spirit to be optimistic. I will hold her thoughts close and hope you do the same, no matter what happens.

William Shakespeare, Helen Keller, and Vincent Van Gogh would admire the work of Mr. Green and Mr. Doerr. They would also tell us to look to the stars as guiding lights–but remind us that the path we take is up to us. Maybe one day you will travel to Amsterdam, just as Hazel and Augustus did in John Green’s novel, The Fault in our Stars. Then you may travel on to Eindhoven in the county of Brabant, where Van Gogh was born and raised. Here, you will see this bicycle path designed by Studio RooseGaarde, painted with LED lights to resemble Van Gogh’s painting, Starry Night. See links:  Illuminated Van Gogh Bike Path  (video)  Stunning ‘Starry Night’ inspired bike path opens  (article)

Do not leap into a starless abyss. Let the stars be your guides. But know that no matter what loss you face, you must carry light inside–believing there is always hope for the optimism of the human spirit–just as Helen Keller said, and just as the heroes and heroines of these two novels came to understand. Look to the stars for inspiration, not blame. I look to them for peace and their distant promise that life is ultimately so much more than any individual. The vastness of the universe and of nature may make us feel small, but it also promises infinity, just as our faith does. Though I am not sure why, this gives me a strange sense of comfort. As Marie-Laure knew in All the Light We Cannot See, seeing isn’t believing; believing is seeing. Bringing light into our hearts and minds can guide us, even in the darkest times, towards an understanding that life is worthwhile.  And that, like Hazel in The Fault in our Stars, in spite of everything, or maybe even because of it, we ‘like our choices.’


I write to remind myself in the face of deep personal sadness that in the optimism of the human spirit, love, and happy memories, my father and my son still live. It is not easy, nor do I think it ever will be. Loss is as much a journey as life is.  But I want to remember–I need to remember, that  in the face of tragedy, I will not feel helpless, if I am not hopeless. Stars cross randomly. They are not our enemies. Fate is never fixed. There are terrible,  sorrowful events we must live with. But we can hold those we love like stars. Their light can never be torn away from us but instead, guide us to hope, live, help, and create beauty in our lives and those of others. 

Posted in 2015, Artists-Painters, Favorite Authors, Favorite Movies, Favorite Playwrights -Poets, Inspirational People, Inspirational Quotes, John Green, Looking to the Stars, Uncategorized | Tagged , | Leave a comment

Things of Beauty: Embracing Trees, Leaves, and English Romantic Poet John Keats

Aug Lynch M and C2 (2)     If we’re lucky, we live in the embrace of trees: in nearby forests, parks, backyards, gardens, landscapes, and dreamscapes.

     When young, I drew them, climbed them, and looked for bugs, birds, and tiny creatures among their branches. Their lush greenery still shades me on dreamy days of reading and picnics.

     Summer lures us outside to experience trees in all their wonder, but don’t ignore other seasons. Appearances may change, but, to borrow from Keats, their beauty is a joy forever.


Scene from the film, Bright Star

John Keats (/ˈkiːts/; 31 October 1795 – 23 February 1821) one of my favorite poets, was featured in movie Bright Star, (2009) written & directed by Academy Award winner Jane Campion.  Bright Star, also the title of one of his poems, envisions the three-year romance (1819-1821) of young early 19th century poet John Keats and Fanny Brawne. In early 19th Century England, as the Industrial Revolution was underway, many of the so-called major second generation ‘romantic poets’ such as Keats, Lord Byron, and Percy Bysshe Shelley, idealized nature and classical images in their writing. The film plays with such imagery, featuring trees as inspiration, scenery, and metaphor to celebrate the couple’s love.  http://www.brightstarthemovie.com/movie-trailer  Keats’ poems were not published until the last four years of his life, and most were tepidly received. But after his death he became one of the most beloved English poets. His poems and letters remain some of the most popular and most analysed in English literature. (from Wikipedia)

     In the film, one poem Fanny recites is  A Thing of Beauty. The words seem to echo Keats aspirations and desires. Even when he falls ill, he remains optimistic, his words lighting the way for all who travel that final path, and all who wish to live their lives with meaning. Because of this, and because, I guess, I’m also a romantic, I love this poem. I hope you will, too.


Trees at Longwood Gardens, in PA


A thing of beauty is a joy for ever: Its loveliness increases; it will never Pass into nothingness; but still will keep A bower quiet for us, and a sleep Full of sweet dreams, and health, and quiet breathing. Therefore, on every morrow, are we wreathing A flowery band to bind us to the earth, Spite of despondence, of the inhuman dearth Of noble natures, of the gloomy days, Of all the unhealthy and o’er-darkn’d ways Made for our searching: yes, in spite of all, Some shape of beauty moves away the pall From our dark spirits. Such the sun, the moon, Trees old and young, sprouting a shady boon For simple sheep; and such are daffodils With the green world they live in; and clear rills That for themselves a cooling covert make ‘Gainst the hot season; the mid-forest brake, Rich with a sprinkling of fair musk-rose blooms: And such too is the grandeur of the dooms We have imagined for the mighty dead; An endless fountain of immortal drink, Pouring unto us from the heaven’s brink.



Pictures from the film, Bright Star

Bright Star, the film, is filled with star-crossed romance, trees, flowers, the rural English landscape, country life, Regency fashion, music, and poetry. And though their future was star-crossed, during their courtship, Fanny was young Keats’ ‘bright star’. Their love endured in Keats’ beautiful, sensual poems– words he entwined with love and nature imagery into a shining whole.

Read Keats–hopefully sitting under, or even in, a tree. I read his work in college and still admire him to this day.

And if you haven’t already, watch this gorgeous, incandescent film!


About the Poet:



Trailer-Info- Bright Star, the film:



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Scene from the film, Bright Star

Posted in 2014, Favorite Movies, Favorite Poets, Film, Inspirational Quotes, John Keats, Literature, Summer, Trees, Uncategorized | 1 Response

Inspirational Quote – Forests

I hear the wind among the trees
Playing the celestial symphonies;
I see the branches downward bent,
Like keys of some great instrument.

~Henry Wadsworth Longfellow

Whispering Pines Hammock - Copy (2)
Pine Bough ‘Hammock’
at Whispering Pines Writers’ Retreat, March 2014
Posted in 2014, Inspirational Quotes, Nature Musings | Tagged , , | Leave a comment

Walking in Winter Wonderlands . . .



When frosted windows, frigid air, and a flurry of snowflakes signal winter, I want to hibernate– Drink tea, read, and write by a cozy fire.IMAG0007 - Copy

But the more I hibernate, the more restless I get. A card on my bulletin board quotes Franz Kafka:  ‘You do not need to leave your room. Remain sitting at your table and listen. Do not even listen, simply wait. Do not even wait, be quite still and solitary. The world will freely offer itself to you to be unmasked, it has no choice. It will roll in ecstasy at your feet.’ 432


Ducks in Neighbor’s Pond, by my sister Amy Conley http://www.amyconleymusic.com


View of Our Neighbor’s Duckpond

In today’s plugged-in, digital world, I long for stillness, so creative thoughts, or just a sense of peace, fill the silence as a snowfall fills a hushed forest.

But being inside too much makes me feel trapped. I don’t always look forward to going out into the cold, and may think I’m happier in the warm. But I must be outside, using all five senses, to experience winter’s magic and feel alive on this earth.




Winter’s wonderlands offer real beauty.  If we sit in in our rooms, Mr. Kafka says the world will ‘freely offer itself’ to be revealed.



But the world doesn’t only reveal itself inside; it can ‘roll in ecstasy at our feet’ just as easily outside.

Cousins; Stream Below Our Yard, by my sister, Amy Conley, http://www.amyconleymusic.com

And when our boots sink into soft drifts or crunch on a sparkling crust of snow, our thoughts will kaleidoscope into brilliance as beautiful as any snowflake.

These wonderful middle-grade reads  (grades 4-8 but older teens/adults will also love) will have you loving winter as much as any other season–if not more! So, happy reading, happy writing, and happy winter! Some never get to experience it. Some say less is more. But if there’s snow where you are, try to enjoy its beauty before it melts away.

Breadcrumbs, by Anne Ursu 

( www.anneursu.com

(This contemporary re-imagining of Hans Christian Anderson’s classic tale, The Snow Queen, is an atmospheric fable that will reel you in from the first paragraph, one of my favorite openings, ever.)DSC_0022

‘It snowed right before Jack stopped talking to Hazel, fluffy white flakes big enough to show their crystal architecture, like perfect geometric poems. It was the sort of snow that transforms the world around it into a different kind of place. You know what it’s like–when you wake up to find everything white and soft and quiet, when you run outside and your breath suddenly appears before you in a smoky poof, when you wonder for a moment if the world in which you woke up is not the same one that you went to bed in the night before. Things like that happen, at least in the stories you read. It was the sort of snowfall that, if there were any magic to be had in the world, would make it come out.

And magic did come out.’


Feathers, by Jacqueline Woodson  ( www.jacquelinewoodson.com )

(Snow is white, gray, old, and new. But as in Frannie’s favorite poem, (and mine), hope is the thing with feathers. And in Feathers, snow is poetry, metaphor–and in Ms. Woodson’s poetic narrative set in 1960s New York City, it is beautiful.)

 ‘His coming into the classroom that morning was the only new thing. Everything else was the same way it’d always been. The snow coming down.  Ms. Johnson looking out the window, then after a moment, nodding. The class cheering because she was going to let us go out into the schoolyard at lunchtime.

It had been that way for days and days.

And then, just before the lunch bell rang, he walked into our classroom.

Stepped through that door white and softly as the snow.’

East, by Edith Pattou ( www.edithpattou.com )

(Beauty and the Beast meets East O’ the Sun and West O’ the Moon in a journey warm and cold, with a bear and alone, encounters with strange wonders, and an end more unexpected than you might think.)DSC_0019

‘”Daughter,” she said, “I do not want to lose you. I have always tried to keep you close. But you must go with the white bear.”

“Eugenia!” I shouted.

“You will use all your wits and your east practicality. And you will not be lost to us, not forever. I know it.” She took Rose’s hand as she spoke.

Rose was pale. She stood. Then she deliberately removed her hand from Eugenia’s and stepped away from her.

“‘East’?” Rose whispered. “‘East’ . . . ” she said again, louder, shaking her head. “No, not ‘east,’ Mother. North.” And her last word filled the room.

Then the white bear was at the door. And before any of us could move, Rose had crossed to him. She reached behind a large wooden trunk that stood by the door and drew out a small knapsack. She must have hidden it there earlier.

“I will go with you,” Rose said to he bear, and I watched, unbelieving, as the animals’ great paws flashed and Rose was suddenly astride the bear’s back as if he were some enormous horse.

The white bear turned and disappeared through the doorway.

Neddy let out a cry and ran after them, grabbing his coat as he went.

I started after them as well, but Eugenia blocked my way.

“She must go. It is her direction. Her choice.”

I looked back at Eugenia. Then looked from her to the empty doorway. I had lost everything I held dear. And there would be no reclaiming it.’

The Watsons Go To Birmingham–1963, by Christopher Paul Curtis ( www.nobodybutcurtis.com )

(As geese migrate to escape the cold, so a family moves south–though perhaps for other reasons. Terrific storytelling, warm family humor, but also loss, heartbreak, and the compelling need to make noise and bring about positive changes in human rights. This novel packs a gut-wrenching punch near the end, but love of family and a determination to work for change and keep hope alive shine through all. Obviously, an important read during the winter because of Dr. Martin Luther King Day and Black History Month in February. But this is not just for February–this is an amazing, all-year-round read. (I also highly recommend How Long ’til Black Future Month, an amazing collection of stories by N. K. Jemisin). How can you not read Mr. Curtis’ novel, or any of his other amazing novels, actually, after reading these opening paragraphs!? Awesome book.)DSC_0023

‘It was one of those super-duper-cold Saturdays. One of those days that when you breathed out your breath kind of hung frozen in the air like a hunk of smoke and you could walk along and look exactly like a train blowing out big, fat, white puffs of smoke.

It was so cold that if you were stupid enough to go outside your eyes would automatically blink a thousand times all by themselves, probably so the juice inside of them wouldn’t freeze up. It was so cold that if you spit, the slob would be an ice cube before it hit the ground. It was about a zillion degrees below zero.’

DSC_0021The Lion, The Witch, and the Wardrobe, Book 1, Chronicles of Narnia, by C. S. Lewis  ( www.cslewis.com )

(You’ll be searching your closets for a magic door into the perilous gloriousness of a Narnian winter.  It doesn’t hurt that when the going gets tough, a warm and cozy retreat appears.)

‘A minute later, they came out under the open sky, … and found themselves looking down on a fine sight. … Above the dam there was what ought to have been a deep pool but was now of course a level floor of dark green ice. And below the dam, much lower, was more ice, but instead of being smooth this was all frozen into the foamy and wavy shapes in which the water had been rushing along at the very moment the frost came. And where the water had been trickling over and spurting through the dam there was now a glittering wall of icicles, as if the side of the dam had been covered all over with flowers and wreaths and festoons of the purest sugar. And out in the middle, and partly on top of the dam, was a funny little house shaped rather like an enormous bee-hive and from a hole in the roof smoke was going up, so that when you saw it (especially if you were hungry) you at once thought of cooking and became hungrier than you were before.’


Our Backyard


Posted in 2014, Anne Ursu, C. S. Lewis, Christopher Paul Curtis, Edith Pattou, Favorite Authors, Great Books, Jacqueline Woodson, Uncategorized, Winter | Tagged , , , | Leave a comment

Ode to Autumn, Country Fairs, and Charlotte’s Web


Each October, I visit the Topsfield Fair. Fairs are wondrous, tying us in with traditions and our agricultural roots. Adorable bunnies, cavies (guinea pigs), chicks, sheep, piglets, and dignified llamas, cows, and horses abound.DSC_1045

We cheer on the pig races,DSC_1032 ride the ferris wheel, admire the prize-winning pumpkin, and visit the cozy bee building with its hives, candle-making, and honey. Our son plays games and goes on fair rides with friends now, but I fondly recall our times shared when he was young.

Along with nature walks and local farms, such fairs are ‘real-life’ connections to E. B. White’s classic, beautiful book, Charlotte’s Web, which I re-read every autumn.  I also re-watch the warm, funny movie, featuring Dakota Fanning as Fern and fantastic voice-overs by stellar actors and actresses, along with a screen adaptation whose scriptwriters really ‘got it right.’  You have to love talking animals, perhaps. But isn’t literature filled with brilliant stories that use animals as stand-ins for humans?

The question is, what compels me to do these things every autumn? For the sake of tradition? Perhaps.  But mostly because they remind me of the cycles of nature, life, and the meaning of friendship. They also soothe the anxiety that creeps in every year around this time.images from Charlotte's Web 003

September, not January, has always felt like the new year to me: new beginnings, new schools, classes, and, with the change in weather, a certain melancholy, a drawing in, preparing for changes in light and weather, and wondering about life in general. What’s my purpose–where am I going? September was the time to ‘figure it all out.’ Would I make friends in my new classes and/or schools? Why did I struggle in some classes? Should I try some new activity, hobby or sport? What made a good friend–a true friend–anyway?

The answers lie in Charlotte’s Web I’ll always be grateful to E.B. White, whose books made such a positive impact on my life and love of reading. Just like in Charlotte’s Web, life changes as seasons change. We become sad when we lose people we love. Charlotte's_Web_2006images from Charlotte's Web 016

Things can seem sad in general when there is less daylight. Colder, darker days settle in, causing self-doubt.  Yes, we may look forward to cozy fires or hot cider or chocolate to warm us, or holiday gatherings, or that magical first snow as a snowflake melts on your tongue in the bright white of a peaceful landscape. But winter also reminds us of our own mortality–and those who’ve left us. Charlotte, a humble spider, has only a short time on this earth. But she fills it with wonder, purpose, friendship–and love. A sweet pig named Wilbur is her inspiration, as she is his.

images from Charlotte's Web 010In a passage quoted from Chapter 21: Last Day, Wilbur says:  

“Why did you do all this for me?” he asked. “I didn’t deserve it. I’ve never done anything for you.”

“You have been my true friend,” replied Charlotte. “That in itself is a trememdous thing.”

  – – – * * * * * * * – – –

Life in the barn is gritty. It’s a greedy rat scavenging for scraps. It’s prejudice against a spider. It’s a girl who wants to save a pig from a pig’s usual fate. It’s also warmth, and hope, even in winter–and all the way on into spring. It’s a spider who, beautiful in Wilbur’s eyes, touches lives. And a pig who appreciates a true friend. It’s living, and all that entails, including worry, messiness, death, and mourning. But it’s noticing those moments of happiness, wonder, and grace–and holding onto them when they come, that’s important.  We must hoard these memories in our hearts as Templeton the rat hoards each precious find. Because they are what will get us through the falling leaves and cold, dark days that living on this earth tosses our way.DSC_0527

Images fr Charlotte's Web 001








http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Charlotte’s_Web (2006_film))


Please Note: All Charlotte’s Web book images taken from my personal copy of the 50th Anniversary Retrospective Edition of Charlotte’s Web, published 2002, Harper Collins Publishers, Text copyright © renewed 1980 by E.B. White; Illustrations copyright © renewed by Estate of Garth Williams, Colorizations copyright © 2002 by Estate of Garth Williams.

Posted in 2013, Autumn, E. B. White, Favorite Authors, Favorite Movies, Nature Musings | Tagged , , , , , | Leave a comment

Inspirational Quote – Walking

086‘I have walked myself into my best thoughts, and I know of no thought so burdensome that one cannot walk away from it.’ Soren Kierkegaard

Posted in 2013, Inspirational Quotes | Comments closed

Amazing Art & Animation: Hayao Miyazaki and Studio Ghibli


Image from My Neighbor Totoro


Image from Kiki’s Delivery Service

Image from Ponyo

Image from Ponyo

Mr. Hayao Miyazaki has hugely influenced my mural painting and writing. A superb world-builder, he creates wonderful stories and splendidly unique, detailed landscapes in a kaleidescope of colors. He’s guided his team to create animals and creatures using nature and mythology in a mix at once real and otherworldly. I’m sure many viewers of his films wish they could live in his worlds–or at least, vacation there! The genius that is Hayao Miyazaki has inspired me to create my own worlds.

A native of Japan, Mr. Hayao Miyazaki is a supremely talented and inspiring film director, animator, manga artist, producer and screenwriter. In his fifty-plus year career, he’s earned international praise for his films, created by Studio Ghibli which he founded with Isao Takahata. His film success is compared with Walt Disney. Mr. Miyazaki and Studio Ghibli have produced 18 feature films. His award-winning films  are so beautiful—and for all ages. His wonderful screenplays blend humor and adventure with themes on family, home, and parent-child relationships; loss; greed and how we reconcile nature versus technology; war and how it affects us; ecology; and heroic quests for self-identity. His films have achieved commercial success and critical acclaim, earning Studio Ghibli the reputation of being the pre-eminent anime film studio in Japan.

One of his films, Spirited Away, a quirky visual feast about a little girl who has to rescue her parents from a witch, won the Academy Award for Best Animated Film in 2003.

Some of my favorites are Kiki’s Delivery Service, My Neighbor Totoro, Ponyo, and Howl’s Moving Castle, adapted from the book of the same name by Diana Wynne Jones, but I love them all.

 Recently, Studio Ghibli released a new film: From Up on Poppy Hill, set during 1964, in which teens try to save their clubhouse from being taken down as their city prepares for the Tokyo Olympics, directed by Miyazaki’s son, Goro Miyazaki. In the last year many of the films were re-released as Blue Ray DVDs.

Unfortunately, Mr. Miyazaki announced he will soon retire, following his latest film, The Wind Rises, a fictionalized biography of Jiro Horikishi, who designed Japanese fighter planes during World War II–a film which is scenic and lovely but has received some criticism as a screenplay. The Wind Rises premiered at the Venice Film Festival in early September, 2013. I do not believe an official retirement date has been set. Though Mr. Miyazaki will be hugely missed,  he has left a great legacy, influencing many talented individuals who will continue making wonderful films in the Studio Ghibli tradition, I am sure.

I’ve found no official website, but there’s a good fan site with list of films, news, and now also a site for the new Ghibli Museum in Mitaka, Japan! I am a huge fan of Mr. Miyazaki and his legacy of art and films has inspired my own writing and art. In a Ghibli film, the real is made to seem magical, and the magical made real. The landscapes are unforgettable and beautiful–their colors brilliant, their variety of flora and fauna endless. If you haven’t seen one yet, do so as soon as you can. Each Ghibli film casts such an enchanting spell, you might find yourself wishing to enter one of those lovely worlds and never leave.

Image from Howl’s Moving Castle

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Image from Howl’s Moving Castle


Posted in 2013, Artists-Animation, Artists-Illustration | 1 Response