Bucket List Book: TO KILL A MOCKINGBIRD

MockingbirdCoverbySarahJColemanYou might think our fourth KEM GEM, Pulitzer Prize-winning To Kill A Mockingbird  (TKAM), is too obvious to recommend, but you’d be surprised how many people haven’t read the  Harper Lee classic. I’m ashamed to admit, I was one of the late bloomers.  It wasn’t on my radar when I was a teen. Then, later, I’d assumed that the story was no longer relevant to my life.

Don’t make the same mistake. We’re highlighting TKAM so others don’t deprive themselves of this life-changing reading experience. Here’s the KEM GEM torch. Pass it on. Go to our KEM GEM recommendation page first, submit a comment, then come back to this home page post.

IT’S A LOVE STORY

TOKILLAMOCKINGBIRDThis book–a love story of sorts, between the misunderstood and their defenders–so enthralled me, I immediately rented and devoured the movie. Then, for dessert, I watched every second of extra footage and commentary, feverishly taking notes in hopes that some word would stick in my brain and unleash the Harper Lee in me.

Sadly, no startling metamorphosis occurred, but Harper Lee gained a die-hard fan and admirer. Other writers may have exceptional stories to tell, but I can’t think of a more exceptional storyteller. One can see Lee’s influence in other written-for-adult, court room drama masterpieces; for instance, John Grisham’s A Time to Kill and Aaron Sorkin’s A Few Good Men. In fact, I’m certain Matthew McConaughey studied Peck’s Atticus before playing Jake Tyler Brigance in A Time to Kill, the movie.

to-kill-a-mockingbird-trailer-title-cardAtticusFinchAtticusandScoutIf you’ve read the book, I highly recommend watching the movie as well. (But, always read the book first.)  You’ll see why Gregory Peck’s performance gained him the honor of the American Film Institute’s #1 hero in 100 yearsAnd you’ll marvel that Mary Badham (Miss Jean Louise Finch) had no acting experience prior to her starring performance.
Random facts about To Kill a Mockingbird

  • In a 2006 survey of librarians, To Kill a Mockingbird ranked first in their list of books you should read before you die.
  • TKAM is loosely autobiographical. Nelle Harper Lee DillofTKAMfashioned  Atticus after her own attorney father.
  • Mr. Lee unsuccessfully defended a black father and son accused of a murder;  rendering him unable to save them from execution by hanging.
  • The book character, Dill, (Charles Baker Harris), was inspired by Harper Lee’s neighbor and best friend, Scout-Mockingbird_lTruman Capote (Truman
    Streckfus Persons).
  • Harper Lee served as research assistant for Truman Capote’s best-selling novel In Cold Blood.
  • Scout Finch continues to rank as one of America’s favorite movie tomboys.
  • Lee received support to write TKAM through the generosity HarperLeeand encouragement of bene-
    factors, Michael and Joy Brown.
  • The 1960′s novel, translated in 40 different languages, has over 30 million copies in circulation.
  • Harper Lee loved the TKAM screenplay–a testament to her humility.
  • Miss Lee once threw her manuscript out a window–proof that she was, in fact, human.

My favorite movie line: “Miss Jean Louise, stand up. Your father’s passing.” ~ Reverend Sykes

My biggest surprise: the young Robert Duvall.

Please, join the conversation. Share your TKAM and other KEM GEM thoughts and insights with us in the COMMENTS section (in 1-150 words). We’ll post a new book recommendation on the 15th of every month, so come and visit often. We’re excited to become better writers with you! If you’re new to KEM GEMS, learn more about our children’s book recommendation project via the KEM GEM tab.

 KEM GEMS

ON DECK (Posted on the 15th)

If you enjoyed this morning’s lunar eclipse, you will love our June KEM GEM.

Sugar-coated Love

TeddyBearCarWith children, the quality of an “I love you” often depends upon how much sugar we say it with. My mom passed this world eight years ago, yet the smell of molasses cookies still pulls me beside her at the kitchen counter; me standing on a chair, sneaking fingers full of batter. Nothing makes me miss her more.

Last evening we promised to bring dessert  for Sunday dinner with our daughter, son-in-law, and four grand-children. I saw these cute candy racecars on Facebook, and cooking only required a tiny double boiler of chocolate.

TeddyBearCars

At their house my grandkids tried to break us with hugs and kisses and cute sentences:

“Why awe you washing my wacetwack, Gwamma?”

“You’ll see.”

“Gwamma, can I see the dessewt? I can keep a secwet.”

“You’ll see.”

“Papa, I bet the dessewt you and Gwamma made is weawwy, weawwy good.”

The key to feeding fun desserts to kids without freaking their parents is to keep the sweet stuff secret until after the kids eat their healthy food. Sugar will not make the zucchini go down. Especially if it’s staring you in the face.

The key to making kids think you’re cooler than you really are: presentation. At the very least, you’ll think you’re cooler than you really are.

The one with the green tires approaching the bridge is speeding.

The one with the green tires approaching the bridge is speeding. We ate him first.

This was the bottom of the batch. We had lots more colors and cooler presentation, but I forgot to take pictures.

This was the bottom of the batch. We had lots more colors and cooler presentation, but I forgot to take pictures.

“That’s why you washed my wacetwack!”

Social media helps us think more creatively than our parents because of that collaborative dynamic. We can capitalize on others’ innovations and brilliance.

For a fun summer activity, my granddaughters and I made Rice Krispie Paintbrushes. I wish this photograph did them justice. We used more colors of the rainbow. But, you get the idea.

ReindeerandMolassesCookies

Even reindeer like Grandma’s Molasses Cookies.

For Christmas, we made Reindeer Cookies. Paintbrushes and Santa’s helpers came to our families compliments of Pinterest pins which led me to the original blog posts that provided instructions.

I’ve already purchased the Peeps for my Easter project. (I don’t have to worry about my secret being out of the bag, because my grandkids don’t read my blog.)

PeepEasterCake

This photograph came from http://cakecentral.com/.

Funny, though–even after the extra attention to flamboyance and detail, the first dessert to disappear at any family function are Grandma’s Molasses Cookies. There’s something about that traditional smell of love.Grandmas Molasses Cookies

Green Bananas

Our church will host a Green Fair this Saturday to share ideas on how to live lives respectful to our environment. My parents, who married during the Depression Era, were green long before it became fashionable. They taught me that wasting was akin to stealing nourishment from a dying orphan. So, a recent epiphany on how to save aging bananas eased my orphan-killing guilt and made me feel like a better person.

FrozenBananasOldWayWe bought bananas every week, but often discarded those that over ripened. I tried resuscitating them like my mom taught me, putting over ripe ones in the freezer until I baked banana bread. But our crowded freezer protests by throwing hard food on our insteps. And  there’s only so much banana bread you can make before you 1.) can’t stand the sight or smell of banana bread, 2.) your weigh scale starts smoking, and 3.) your friends can’t stand the sight or smell of banana bread.

A food dehydrator might have been an option, but we don’t have the cupboard space for more kitchen appliances. Plus, I can eat just one banana chip.

FrozenBananasNew&ImprovedWayOne day it occurred to me that grapes taste good frozen, why not bananas? So, when our bananas reached the mm-mm good-to-banana-bread-ingredient teetering point, I peeled them, put them in a freezer safe bag, and froze them. It was life changing! They are perfect on cereal and ice cream; in smoothies and chocolate; and in baking–for those days we will surely crave banana bread again. * And banana bread tastes better with fresher bananas.

FrozenBananasinCerealAlso, studies prove that a good breakfast can enhance one’s productivity and overall health. Better bananas = a better breakfast. Hence, a better breakfast = better writing (or stock trading, or rocket building–whatever you’re doing). Freezing bananas reaps these great benefits:

  • less shopping time
  • smaller eco footprint
  • sweeter smelling garbage
  • more grocery savings
  • healthier eating

If you’re saying, “Duh! I’ve frozen bananas forever,” I wish you would have told my mom. You could have saved us both a lot of starving-children-in-Bangladesh shame.

Flour’s Famous Banana Bread reigns as our favorite banana bread recipe. One batch makes six small loaves or two big. The smaller ones allow for freezing more of the batch for company. You can get the small aluminum pans right in the baking section of your grocery store. Reuse the pans to stay ecosystem friendly.

The recipe is idiot-proof. I know from experience. I tend to mix the ingredients out-of-order and the bread still comes out great. They must taste even more amazing when you read the instructions first. 

Bananas! Bananas! Go green bananas!

It’s BINK & GOLLIE Time

BINK & GOLLIE

Check out our third KEM GEM, Bink & Gollie, written by Kate DiCamillo and Alison McGheeillustrated by Tony Fucile, and winner of the 2011 Theodor Seuss Geisel Award.

If you’re new to KEM GEMS, they are monthly book recommendations by three friends whose initials just happen to start with K, E, and M. We developed this discover-and-share exercise to grow as children’s book creators.  As a team we’ve committed to read, read, read. Then we compare notes about writing and illustrative styles, trends, points of view, plots, arcs, characters, voice, creativity, timelessness, cohesiveness, and skill.

Out of our reading lists, each selected four books (12 in all), providing us with three books in each genre (picture book, chapter book, middle grade, and young adult) to write about and recommend for the year. All three of us must agree that a book is a GEM before it can rise to the top. Learn more about how this originated via the KEM GEM tab.

Please, join the conversation. Share your thoughts with us in the COMMENTS section (in 1-150 words). We’ll post a new book recommendation on the 15th of every month, so come and visit often. We’re excited to become better writers with you!

KEM GEMS

ON DECK (Posted on the 15th)

Petburbia

Melissa Aromel BlackIf you love pets and art, you’ll love writer and illustrator Melissa “Artomel” Black. She has created an innovative and fun illustration challenge called the Petburbia project.

Here’s how Melissa describes Petburbia:

“I’m embarking on a year-long journey to meet, paint, and post pictures of amazing pets. The 2014 Petburbia project centers around Twin Cities suburbs. Who knows what kinds of pet and people personalities I’ll meet this year, or where 2015 will take me next.”

Rascals
Melissa’s latest Petburbia model, a wascally wabbit named Rascals.

Melissa pampers her featured pets and their owners. She travels to the homes of selected pets, interacts with each furry friend, takes loads of pictures, and even offers owners the first option to buy her painting of their pet for a nominal fee. And there’s absolutely no obligation or strings attached.

She just gave me this update:

I recently attended the Twin Cities Pet Expo and met a wonderful variety of pets. Half of my weeks are filled, leaving just 26 slots open.

My driving concept for this project is to find and paint animals with amazing personalities and unique stories.

Dogs are easier to meet, because they go out and about, but I’d love to meet and paint a few more cats. I also am looking for a horse, a ferret, a chinchilla or any other unusual pets with great stories.

As an artist, I’m really enjoying the challenge of turning water and paint into the silky ears of a spaniel or the fluffy coat of a puppy. Soon I’ll be tackling feathers and tortoise scales, so keep watching the blog!

If you are a Twin Cities MN area resident whose pet has star potential, send your information via the contact form on the lower right of Melissa’s Petburbia page. Hurry before her calendar is full!

Alice Herz Sommer-The Lady in Number Six

“I think I am in my last days but it doesn’t really matter because I have had such a beautiful life. And life is beautiful, love is beautiful, nature and music are beautiful. Everything we experience is a gift, a present we should cherish and pass on to those we love.”
~Alice Herz Sommer

Today ash crosses adorn foreheads. They serve as a reminder that Easter is coming. Lent literally means “spring”, a season of preparation. The reflective 40 days ahead offer a prime opportunity for growth.

As we enter this growing season, Alice Herz Sommer’s preparation and waiting is over. She’s reached her “harvest” day. The 110-year-old pianist will go down in history as the last living Nazi Holocaust survivor. Yet, she was one of the world’s most joyful, hopeful, and “Lenten” souls.

Alice Herz Sommer says that music saved her life. Maybe her saving grace wasn’t the music, but her capacity to hear it.

THELADYINNUMBERSIXThis Lenten season, my preparation will be less about what I give up and more about who I want to become. In Alice Herz Sommer I’ve found a modern-day mentor.

Read more about The Lady in Number Six here.

Free Train Rides For Writers

All Aboard!

Check this out:
Inside Amtrak’s (Absolutely Awesome) Plan to Give Free Rides to Writers.

TrainView

Amtrak developed  ”writer’s residencies”–free round trip train rides for writers to write. The Wire blog post by Ben Cosman says it all started with a twitter conversation that Zach Seward started, “I wish Amtrak had residencies for writers.” Jessica Gross took the ball and ran with it. ”How much momentum do we have to gain for this to become real, @Amtrak?”

Amtrak responded, “We’d need a test run. You two up for a trip to Chicago and back?”

TrainThis is a perfect public relations opportunity for Amtrak. They have one small no-brainer requirement of their writing guests–to write about their experience on social media and to agree to a company blog interview at the end of the excursion.

Jessica Gross, the first “writer in residency”, wrote “Writing the Lakeshore Limited” in the Paris Review.

TrainAdventure

It’s not free, but it’s priceless. Osceola & St. Croix Valley Railway offers train rides from May through October. Click on the photo for the Minnesota Transportation Museum website.

Amtrak Social Media Director Julia Quinn said that Amtrak is open to offering residencies to writers with a variety of writing back-grounds, focusing on those with a strong social media presence.

You can’t actually sign up for this, yet.

Amtrak is working out the details. But competition will be fierce. So, if you want a writer’s seat, tweet. That’s how this train ride got started.