350 for 50

350 fo 50_2017Ladies and gentlemen, it is with great pleasure that I announce the winners of our annual 350 for 50 writing contest! Each writer was challenged to compose a short, 350-word story that included the sentence, “The taste was strange, but not unexpected.” Winners from each of our 3 age categories enjoyed a $50 shopping spree at Labyrinth, our local bookstore. Congratulations to this year’s authors!


A BOWL FULL OF WORDS
By Maia Ionescu, age 9

a bowl full of words artwork by aliisa lee

Penelope always bought lunch at school. She was unhappy about it and wished that her mom made food for her instead. Sometimes she saw that kids who brought lunch from home had a sandwich or a piece of cucumber cut into heart shapes, and then she felt jealous. Her parents were always too much in a hurry to make lunch for her. So Penelope would always go to the cafeteria with a sad face.

But on the last day of school, things changed. At lunchtime, instead of the usual white trays, everyone got a silver bowl. From inside each bowl came a faint noise as if a lot of people were whispering at the same time. Penelope peeked inside her bowl and saw a small heap of words. They were: probably, splendid, licorice, freckles, memory, pharaoh, brave, loneliness, merry-go-round, and admiration. They all came in different sizes and colors. Loneliness was small and grey, brave – big and vermillion, and merry-go-round – multicolored. The words smelled good too, especially licorice and admiration.

Penelope saw that other kids had already started eating, so she picked a word from the top of the pile – memory. She paused to look and listen. There was a faraway voice repeating the word memory. The first m was vivid teal, and rest of the letters were getting lighter and paler so that the y was soft blue and almost invisible. She took a bite. The taste was strange, but not unexpected. Just like its colors, lively at first, memory burst into a strong flavor (it tasted like the strawberry shortcake that her mom made one weekend), and then it started to fade until Penelope could hardly taste anything. It felt like chewing a Juicy Fruit or forgetting a memory from a long time ago. The word probably tasted uncertain, and Penelope almost choked on pharaoh (she missed that word in the Spelling Bee). After finishing up the words, there was an announcement that a new cook, the famous Lexi Plume, had been hired. Penelope couldn’t wait to find out what she would eat for lunch in fifth grade!


the legend of sir raleigh artwork by aliisa lee

THE LEGEND OF SIR RALEIGH
By Kevin Feinstein, age 11

He heard a vulture screech and watched the leaves as they blew through the forest all around him. Raleigh Christopher pulled his rapier from his sheath, eyes trained on the opponent standing before him. They circled each other. He cried out and the duel commenced. The vulture screeched again but not as loudly as the blades clashing. They fought viciously but eventually one man fell. The fallen man weakly raised his head and watched Raleigh vanish.

The man Raleigh had beaten was the “Right Hand Man” of Lord Clarke who Raleigh had sought for months. Three nights earlier he had spotted the villain at a tavern on the way to Gedwell Castle. After a long hike through green meadows and damp swamps, Raleigh finally arrived outside Gedwell. A trumpeter accompanied him to set the dramatic tone.

“Cue the dramatic music, George II!” Raleigh commanded his trumpeter.  Raleigh jumped upon his horse, and George II onto his donkey. Approaching the gates of the castle, a guard shouted “HALT!” with a haughty sense of authority.

“I am Sir Raleigh Christopher the Eighty Fifth!” announced Raleigh, proud of his heritage. The guard sneered, but was about to regret it, THUMP!! Raleigh charged, kicking down the door and dispatched the guard with his sword! Suddenly he spied Lord Clarke.

“IT IS I! RALEIGH CHRISTOPHER!”

“Hey! I’m not the sword type, how about we settle this with a classic ruse – the poisoned drink!?”

“Alright! I brought my own.” announced Raleigh, producing his own bottle.

“But who shall drink first?”

“We shall play tic-tac-toe to decide!” Raleigh cried! Clarke was very bad at tic-tac-toe, not knowing the rules. Raleigh won but his chivalrous nature compelled him to let Clarke pick first. Clarke agonized and finally chose. Raleigh picked up his glass and they drank.

“The taste was strange, but not unexpected!” blurted Clarke, “I have won!” Raleigh laughed. “Whats so funny?” he asked.

“This is just normal water!” Raleigh laughed. Clarke looked confused. “I poisoned your drink three nights ago!” said Raleigh.

“That’s why it…” Clarke thumped onto the ground.

Raleigh left, his mission over.


the kite flyers artwork by aliisa lee

THE KITE FLYERS
By Annie Wei, age 14

Miraculously, my cardboard and tinfoil kite had stayed in the air longer than Binh’s, whose kite was quite a work of art, strung with silk ribbons. It looked gorgeous on the wooden display table in front of our school, but out of place, sitting with the background of our shabby middle school.  It had all the wonderful shades of greens and blues, and shone so brightly when the sun lit on it. Mine resembled a flying shoe.

But of course, everything about Binh’s family was out of place in our rural neighborhood, for they were the only Vietnamese family for miles around.
When I walked up to him after the competition, he was sitting on the battered up tire swing hanging in front of the school. I was holding the sorry looking kite I had fashioned, its tinfoil wings flapping in the slight breeze.

“Your kite is amazing.” I stood in front of him while he stared at his shoes. “It stayed in the air for such a long time.”“

Binh looked up at me, his dark eyes wide and questioning.

“Sorry?” His accent distorted the word, and I realized he didn’t understand me.

I raised my kite above my head, and waited until a sudden gust of wind swept it from my hands. As it rose, I smiled at him and said, “Your kite,” gesturing at his which was laying on the ground. Binh stood there for a brief moment, hesitating, watching my kite flutter like a butterfly, then threw his up in a woosh of blue and green.

I laughed as his kite did a couple somersaults as it was released in the air; then it seemed to dance, curving and floating gracefully. The sight was so strange. A cardboard and tinfoil kite flying next to a blue-green silk one.  Binh laughed too, and when the kites came down, he reached into his pocket and pulled out a small neatly wrapped package.

“Banh Gio,” he said, offering it to me. “Eat.”  I unwrapped it. The taste was strange but not unexpected.


Artwork by Aliisa Lee

Worlds at His Fingertips

worlds at his fingertips artwork by keenu haleBoats float on the stars, a scarecrow waltzes with crows, a magic wand transforms a snowman, a box bursts with enthusiastic jazz musicians. These are the images and worlds created by talented local artist, Keenu Hale. Today, I’m going to sing his praises.

artist keenu haleFor several years, Keenu has been a welcome guest at Cotsen Critix, our literary society for kids ages 9-12 (you also might recall hearing about him and his awesome cartooning skills at our How to Train Your Dragon event). A few facts about Keenu: he won his first drawing contest at 18 months; he is an artist with autism; he was featured in a television interview for the AttachAvi Autism Foundation in 2016; he generously gives his time to children’s hospitals, autism fundraisers, and art festivals; he is currently an animation major at the School of Visual Arts in NYC. In short, Keenu totally rocks.

jazz musicians by keenu hale

Keenu’s draws inspiration from Jim Henson and Tim Burton. Jim Henson for his odd, slapstick humor, and Tim Burton for his dark, somewhat creepy worlds. You can see how he blends both perfectly.

class photo with frame artwork by keenu haleheadless horseman artwork by keenu halegoats artwork by keenu halesnowman artwork by keenu haleKeenu has hundreds of original characters and story lines. Take, for example, his debut comic book, Life in the Suburbs. In the story, a human boy named Timmy lives with his non-human scarecrow family. While Burlap and Cotton (his parents), are happy to live on the farm, Timmy wants to live in the suburbs. But as Timmy and his siblings Lacy and Jinko learn, moving in and fitting in are two very different things! The comic is charming, funny, and really nicely paced.

life in the suburbs by keenu haleKeenu also collaborated with his cousin to produce Queen, You Are Beautiful! It follows the life of Queen, a young girl who must deal with bullies and discover her inner beauty.

queen you are beautiful artwork by keenu hale queen image 2 artwork by keenu halequeen image 3 artwork by keenu haleWhen Keenu visits our library, we always start with an interview and a viewing of his vast portfolio. Then he does a drawing exercise with the kids. At the very end of the workshop, Keenu makes custom freehand drawings of whatever characters the kids can think of. He does each drawing in minutes. It’s amazing. Here are just a few from his last visit (including one of his own characters, Rosemary):

quick characters by keenu hale


Many thanks to Keenu for allowing us to share his art! All images courtesy of the artist.

From Arwen to Zombie

from arwen to zombieGet into character with a little bit of stage magic! This winter, we hosted a fantastic hands-on (or arguably, a face-on) workshop about how actors use makeup to transform themselves into a character. The workshop was expertly and enthusiastically taught by Jenny Scudder from Youth Stages, a local arts-in-education organization.

Jenny began the workshop by sharing visual examples of literary characters – Queen of Hearts, Arwen, Tin Man, Scarecrow, Wicked Witch of the West, Dracula, Frankenstein, Count Olaf, and a few Cats from the musical of the same name (you might recall that Cats is based on poems by T.S. Eliot). There were also zombies, which might have been a stretch unless you consider Pride and Prejudice and Zombies? The Walking Dead graphic novel?

Here’s Jenny, taking the kids through examples of all the characters:

jenny scudder, youth stages 1Next, Jenny discussed how, in addition to makeup, actors can also use their voices, gestures, costumes, props, and sets to bring their characters to life. She described what stage makeup is (big, bold, and expressive) and what it isn’t (it’s not meant for close-up photography like a fashion shoot). As she was lecturing, Jenny was effortlessly applying her own stage makeup, which was Grizabella from Cats.

jenny scudder, youth stages 2Jenny also talked about the names of the different brushes, and techniques for application. Finally, she brought out some latex scars and gashes she had prepared in advance. My forearm became the test subject for a massive latex scar, some red base makeup, a loaded stipple brush, and some fake blood. Here I am, modeling the finished product in my usual subtle way.

scar demoFinally, it was time to turn the artists loose on the makeup! There was plenty of it. Jars, palettes, sponges, pencils, brushes…the works!

makeupJenny divided the kids into pairs so each pair would have someone to assist with the application of his/her makeup. I really liked this because it meant that the kids weren’t sitting passively, having their faces done by adults. They were actively involved in the whole process.

applying makeup

However, Jenny, Katie, and I did jump in to help. For awhile, I was running the “soon to be bloody flaps of skin” corner of the room.

Ready to see some results? Even though there was quite a bit of smiling and laughing, I did encourage the kids to try to stay “in character” while I was photographing them. I’ll begin with Arwen, who you saw at the beginning of the post:

We had no less than 3 Queens of Hearts…

As well as 3 Cheshire Cats.

A pair of Vampires…

Rum Tum Tugga from Cats

The Wicked Witch of the West…

And a quartet of zombies. I told them to give me their best undead look…

Do you recognize the zombie on the far left from the beginning of the blog? The funny thing was, we never planned to photograph her with her hood up. As it turned out, she had to walk home from the program in full makeup. In order to not freak anyone out, she pulled her hood up. It looked so fantastic, I had to take a photograph!