Friday, February 27, 2009

The New Jane Brocket!


Ripping Things to Do: The Best Games and Ideas from Children's Books, the follow-up to the much loved Cherry Cake and Ginger Beer, is coming in July 2009!

Tuesday, February 24, 2009

Sita Sings the Blues

I'm so excited to hear the Sita Sings the Blues, an animated jazz-infused retelling of the Ramayana, will air on PBS on March 7th. You can keep up with the latest at director Nina Paley's blog.

Everyone is Some Kind of a Freak: Half Life by Shelley Jackson

halflife Imagine you're a conjoined twin, two souls in one body. What if she was bold while you were shy? What if he inherited the family fortune while you were left a pauper?

What if she had gone to sleep and never woke up?

Nora lives in San Francisco, a happy bastion of Twofers and Togetherists who throw Twin Pride parades and run Twin bookstores, petition for Twin-souled representation in government and even yet shy from the attacks of less open-minded souls. Nora's twin, Blanche, has not made a movement nor word in years, and her sister plots to make herself a singleton--a highly dangerous and illegal move. When word comes of an experimental surgery in England, Nora runs off to London, encountering strange collections, an old lover with a collection of postmodern adult toys, a mysterious doctor and an all-too-welcoming post-Twofer cult. Not to mention that all this time, comatose Blanche may just be waking from her years of slumber....

Shelley Jackson's Half Life is darkly funny and poignant, a modern fable set against the dusty, radioactive badlands of Nevada, urban bohemia of San Francisco, and murky corners and phantasmagorical museums of London. For our edification, Nora has included the contents of her Siamese Twin Reference Manual. From the twins' conception (their showgirl mother fell in love with a man who carried an heirloom dollhouse to her show) to Nora's friends (counting Audrey, who claims to be a conjoined twin in a singleton's body and Trey, duplicitous and hysterical), everything in this novel has an off-kilter bent. Jackson's inventiveness is never twee; she balances singing taxidermy with smart humor and scholarly ruminations on the concept of self--not to mention truly funny sendups of modern identity politics. I can't count the times I found myself chuckling at an all too familiar dig at manifestos, consciousness-raising, or the picking-apart of language.

Later, when we were bigger, it was Hurricane Norbla that stooped over the dollhouse, arms undulant twin tornados, and swept it up. We whirled it until our legs felt all cloudy, and then bumped it tipsily down a south-western version of Oz, where baby horny toads were tucked tightly into bed so they couldn't escape and wept bloody tears, and beetles taped on top of piano stools consoled them. Sometimes we left stray bits of furniture behind--a delicate chair on an ant den, a tiny candelabra. On a walk we once saw something glinting in a pack rat's nest and waded carefully into the brush to see what it was. It was a tiny silver tea set. We decided to let the pack rat keep it, imagining a pack rat family sitting down to elevenses around it.

Jackson's prose marries the decayed fabulism of Angela Carter with Tom Robbin's irreverent reverence of the odd, especially when Nora reminisces about her childhood in the desert with the wildlife, the dollhouse, and their Amazon Granny for company. While the last part of the novel veers into some very esoteric territory, I still recommend  Half Life for those who love their magical realism arch, bold, and satirical.

*Shelley Jackson's home on the web includes Skin, a novel told in tattoos and The Doll Games, an exhaustive excavation of imaginary play


*Sycamore and June, the World's Prettiest Twins, come with a pug, Chinese fans, and thought bubbles. Find them at Amanda Atkins in a Canary Forest.

*Colette Cascione paints the most sensual, delicately surreal portraits. Her women have worlds in their hearts, wings in their bustles, and dreams of butterflies. Not one to browse at work; nudes abound.

*Dame Darcy creates the wonderful comic Meatcake, a baroquely gothic fantasy where conjoined twins plot, mermaids curse, and heroine Richard Dirt gets herself into any number of scrapes. I can't wait to read Gasoline, her apocalyptic rock'n'roll eco-pagan fairy tale.

*Walter Potter was famous for creating enormous taxidermy tableaux. They're endearing and unnerving all at once. Nora visits the former Potter Museum in Half Life.

*Daisy and Violet Hilton were jazz-age performers, now best known for their appearance in Todd Browning's Freaks.

*the dollings are sweetly melancholy dollies with a story, handmade with love. Among the twins are Alli and Illa, Vera and Vella, and Dusa and Duska

Monday, February 23, 2009

Bitchin' Kitchen: I think I'm in love. With pasta.


There's a primal part of my brain that responds to beautiful, irreverent women who raid John Water's kitchen to bring you a laugh, some carbs, and happy warm feelings of being amongst your tribe. Nadia G. serves up Italian-ish recipes with sass, wit, and a couple gallons of olive oil on her webshow, Bitchin' Kitchen.

Got a problem? She'll slap your (metaphorical) ass and feed you. (It's like going home again.) Hit the appletinis too hard last night? Try the Rehab Ravioli.  Meeting the girl's (or boy's) parentals for the first time? Go for Impress the Inlaws Gorgonzola Farfalle Pasta. Need your leafy greens? Try Garlic-Roasted Brussels Sprouts.

If you can't handle her gesticulations, we can never meet in person. Just a warning. Buon appetito, i meie amici!

Oh--and don't forget the cookbook!

Saturday, February 21, 2009

The Chelsea Whistle: A Memoir by Michelle Tea


Previous to reading The Chelsea Whistle, I'd attempted a memoir by a smothered-but-privileged writer. This history of Tea's youth soared where that failed.

It's all those adjectives given to books that end up written by a mom in the midwest--raw, gritty, real, hopeful--but this one's real. It's the brutality of childhood that we all experience, the confusion of adolescence, the disillusionment of young adulthood. It's climbing into a forbidden creek and seeking validation from a psychic teahouse in Boston, neon costumes and pop-punk anthems that give you a glimpse of a world beyond Chelsea, a string of loser boyfriends before convincing yourself that you've fallen in love with the most beautiful flapper-girl-artist ever, a bad high at the first Lollapalooza, rejecting and then uniting with your sister over shared abuse. The end has been construed as depressing by some, but it's not, when you realize this is only the beginning of her life in print. (It continues with The Passionate Mistakes and Intricate Corruption of One Girl in America, Rent Girl,  and Valencia).

So beautiful and ugly that it hurts, Tea's memoir is for those who want a true slice of life, a coming-of-age of a queer feminist force of nature.

*The Chelsea Whistle Excerpt on GoogleBooks

*Michelle Tea's Myspace

*Sister Spit: The Next Generation hits the road April 2009 with a whole new all-girl lineup of zinesters, fashion plates, novelists, performance artists, slam poets and fancy scribblers. A vanload of magnificent underground female brilliance, blazing across the USA and into your town! The latest in a tradition of rowdy, raucous literary adventure stretching all the way back to 1997! Come and meet your new favorite performers! I am so excited I can barely stand it--and look, an axolotl in the banner.

*The Michelle Tea Shrine, with a little help from The Wayback Machine

Friday, February 20, 2009

Gorgeous Glistening Creatures: Mermaids on Parade by Melanie Hope Greenberg

mermaidsonparade Once a year when vacation starts I march in a parade to celebrate the opening of the ocean during the summer solstice...

A historical parade, a ceremony to welcome the summer, fruit thrown to the sea and men in beards and beads dancing in the street: clearly, the stuff of a picture book. Welcome to the Coney Island Mermaid Parade, a no-longer-so-debauched-but-every-bit-as-decadent festival where one little mermaid in training's dream comes true.  11

In front of us are Brooklyn's East River Mermaids. They bring their own music. I get chills down my spine each time they spin and twirl and dance and whirl.

Greenberg's art is childlike, expressive, and incredibly colorful. Mermaids on Parade truly captures the carnival-like atmosphere, artistic ingenuity, and endless diversity of New York City's boho crowd. Tourists with cameras capture contortionists with spangled tights who dance to music by flute players in tutus while rose-bedecked pirates kick up their heels and green-haired girls hula hoop. It's a crazy ride, anchored by the decidedly urban background of Coney Island. You'll find something new every time you join this little mermaid for a glorious day at the parade--and perhaps be inspired to join her!

*Melanie Hope Greenberg's website offers her workshops, book info, and illustrations

*Mermaids on Parade is her blog about the creative process behind picture book making. Quote: "It takes a community to create a picture book!" (Bonus: She loves libraries too, and knows a thing or two about New York City magic.)


*The 2009 Coney Island Mermaid Parade is on June 20th--save the date!

*Weeki Wachee is Florida's only City of Live Mermaids. Roadside America reports.

*Space Mermaid is jewelry mermaids. With a lot of dosh. It's clay charms and silver-dipped shells and coral and zebras and rainbows, but with a simple, ethereal aesthetic. Glow in the Dark Stars interviewed its creator, Stephanie Carbone.

*Kim Antieu is head priestess of The Church of Old Mermaids, a novel and sanctuary for artsy types.

Myla Alvarez, novice, walks into the Sonoran desert near Tucson, Arizona and begins telling stories about the Old Mermaids who were washed ashore onto the New Desert when the Old Sea dried up. In this mystical new world, they lived, created, and walked in beauty...

*Mermaid's Song, by Alida Van Gores, is the Seanan McGuire-approved quintessential mermaid novel. I'm currently tracking down a copy for myself!

*Acension: The Water Trilogy Book 1 is another title I'm hunting for. This may have just started a mermaid kick!

Wednesday, February 18, 2009

Upcoming Reads!

Inspired by Lisa May of Look at that Book, I've flung wide the doors of my wishlist to share some books that I'm very much looking forward to in the near future.

conventcover2small The Convent of the Pure

Sara M. Harvey, April 1st

Secrets and illusions abound in a decaying convent wrapped in dark magic and scented with blood. Portia came to the convent with the ghost of Imogen, the lover she failed to protect in life. Now, the spell casting caste wants to make sure that neither she nor her spirit ever leave.

Portia's ignorance of her own power may be even more deadly than those who conspire against her as she fights to fulfill her sworn duty to protect humankind in a battle against dark illusions and painful realities.


Fabulous Doodles

Nellie Ryan, May 25th

From beautiful doodles to fabulous ones, Nellie Ryan’s fancy illustrations decorate each page and beckon girls young and old to join in! “Fill the page with butterflies.” “What is she daydreaming about?” “Customize my snowboard.” “Design her tutu.” The prompts exercise imaginations to be limitless, like every fantastic dream!



Geektastic: Stories from the Nerd Herd

Holly Black and Cecil Castellucci, August 1st

Acclaimed authors Holly Black (Ironside)and Cecil Castellucci (Boy Proof) have united in geekdom to edit short stories from some of the best selling and most promising geeks in young adult literature: M.T. Anderson, Libba Bray, Cassandra Clare, Tracy Lynn, Cynthia and Greg Leitich Smith, David Levithan, Kelly Link, Barry Lyga, Wendy Mass, Garth Nix, Scott Westerfield, Lisa Yee, and Sara Zarr.

With illustrated interstitials from comic book artists Hope Larson and Bryan Lee O'Malley, Geektastic covers all things geeky, from Klingons and Jedi Knights to fan fiction, theater geeks, and cosplayers. Whether you're a former, current, or future geek, or if you just want to get in touch with your inner geek, Geektastic will help you get your geek on!



Catherynne M. Valente, February 24th

Between life and death, dreaming and waking, at the train stop beyond the end of the world is the city of Palimpsest. To get there is a miracle, a mystery, a gift, and a curse—a voyage permitted only to those who’ve always believed there’s another world than the one that meets the eye. Those fated to make the passage are marked forever by a map of that wondrous city tattooed on their flesh after a single orgasmic night. To this kingdom of ghost trains, lion-priests, living kanji, and cream-filled canals come four travelers: Oleg, a New York locksmith; the beekeeper November; Ludovico, a binder of rare books; and a young Japanese woman named Sei. They’ve each lost something important—a wife, a lover, a sister, a direction in life—and what they will find in Palimpsest is more than they could ever imagine.

                                                                                                                                    shelfsiscoverylittler Shelf Discovery: Teen Classics We Never Stopped Reading

Lizzie Skurnick, July 21st

SHELF DISCOVERY [based on the beloved Fine Lines column]  is forthcoming from HarperCollins in [July] of 2009. With bonus reviews by Laura Lippman, Meg Cabot, Cecily von Ziegesar, Jennifer Weiner, Tayari Jones, Margo Rabb, and Anna Holmes; classic cover art; and peerless insight into our teeny teeny brains, SHELF DISCOVERY is a love letter to the teen classics we never stopped reading.

Tuesday, February 17, 2009

Happy Second Anniversary, LSL!

1. Those who visit LSL at its blogger home have seen the new temporary header. For those none so fortunate, see above! Ain't she cute? I wish my hair looked that good

2. Leaving Shangri-L.A. celebrated its second anniversary on the 13th. I can't believe it's been two years! The very first book I reviewed was The Van Gogh Cafe; isn't it crazy how much things change, but how much they remain the same?

3. A LJ comrade and I had a chat about bloggers, and she mentioned that she does not trust blog reviews in general because they are uniformly positive as a response to free swag. As such, I thought it might be a nice idea to explain the whys and wherefores of LSL.

The reason all of my reviews are positive is simple: I only review books that I love. Work and school keep me so busy that I'd rather spend time working up a post on a book I truly adored. All titles are purchased or checked out by me--although I admit that I have a few good sources for cheap books.

Criteria for review is a little more ephemeral. The books featured at LSL are chosen for something that will appeal to a Francesca Lia Block fan, but that something will vary from book to book. Qualifying criteria can include a quirky protagonist, decadent details, art and love as powers of healing, feminism, queer friendliness, magic, wonder, and really good shoes. I can't always put a finger to it--but I know it when I see it!

Sunday, February 15, 2009

Delicious, Just Delicious: Dear Julia by Amy Bronwen Zemser


 Lucida put on an apron...Then she chopped a slice of bread into ten pieces, all the while gazing into a camera and tossing her hair so abruptly that her director's hat fell off. Then, as part of a tap dance, she half sang, half spoke the words: "An Apple Charlene is one of the finest examples of French Cuisinart known to man. Since the dawn of the gorilla, prehistoric man has eaten Bavarian crèmes while flambeing the famous Molotov Cocktails." She pirouetted around the island counter, picked up the knife, and whacked at another slice of bread. She beamed and winked at the camera lens. She held a piece of bread underneath her chin as a final pose.

Elaine sighed. "You posses such natural gifts," she said," Only a true master of the stage could achieve such subtlety.

The words "modern fairytale" get tossed around a lot in Book Bloglandia, and usually mean that the fairies have piercings and the heroine defeats goblins with a letter opener or filking prowess.

Dear Julia, by Amy Bronwen Zemser, is the first book I've read that feels like a fairytale, but has absolutely no magic whatsoever--unless you count Elaine's preternatural gift for the art of French cookery. Our heroine dreams of becoming a master chef like her heroine Julia Child. Her congresswoman mother, who dreams of passing the Equal Rights Amendment, wants her to go to attend the family college and join the crusade. Elaine goes blithely on teaching her 5 brothers to cook and writing letters to Julia Child (which she never mails), but her world is turned topsy-turvy by the introduction of Lucida Sans--a girl whose gift is find out what gifts she lacks.

When the New Paltz Festival on the Green is shaken up by a disastrous performance of Romeo and Juliet, Elaine and Lucida become fast friends. Lucida's "rotten fig" of a boyfriend must be brought to justice. In their calamitous attempts at vengeance, they discover a contest that could rocket both girls to local stardom. Through slapstick sibling moments, dangerous spy missions, uncooperative Ducks A L'Orange and dreaded college interviews, Elaine perseveres and finds a way to achieve her impossible dream.

The narrative has a fable-esque quality I can't put my finger on, but draws you into the town of New Paltz and into the thick of its slightly odd inhabitants. Zemser has a gift for writing physical comedy, and many scenes were truly laugh-out-loud, sometimes at the expense of poor Lucida. However, she also evokes truth empathy for the characters and their friendship; Lucida is quirky but so generous and sweet that she endears herself to the reader, and Elaine is serious but not stoic or (worse) boring.

The Hamilton siblings are a motley bunch, and I especially enjoyed gender obscurist Chris, who steals Elaine's nightgowns and tells off his mother for letting him apply to women's college while forbidding Elaine. Lucida's moms were a nicely sympathetic, and I liked how they cheered both girls. While French cookery is a bit beyond my tastes, Zemser does convey the passion Elaine feels for the art and how it's become so much a part of her.

"Yes, I have an idea, but I can't do it alone. I need your help." Lucida opened a packet of sugar and added it to the ketchip in between the scalloped potato slice. Elaine opened a small jar of capers and spooned a few over the salmon flower so they fell over the petals.

"Croton wants to be as famous as much as I do," Lucida said,"...and I am going to beat him so good he'll never forget it."

Elaine sliced a cucumber lengthwise into paper-thin sheets, stacked them on top of one another, and diced the mound into little cubes. She drizzled olive oil over the dice and added some feta-cheese squares from another contained. She withdrew a baguette from her bag.

A heroine, a sublimely silly companion, a quest, a truly nasty villain, a meditation on modern feminism and the joy of cooking and even a surprise Deus Ex Machina--such is the stuff of fairy tales.  Dear Julia is a wonderful novel for those whose home is the hearth or the stage, who love slapstick and family drama, and anyone who wants a good foodie novel where dreams come true and life is--well--delicious!


*Linzer owls, terrarium cupcakes, and the best chocolate chip cookies in the world are the work of Bitterbutton

*AnnatheRed is known for her crazy-detailed geeky bentos, but sometimes she posts simple treats like these 1-Up Mushrooms

*Clare Crespo is the queen of whimsical cooking. On her blog, she shows off her treats, such as these Henna Hand cookies for a friend working on a one-man musical about India

*Need vintage cupcake toppers, edible glitter, or polka-dotted pastry suitcases? Bake it Pretty has the cutest cookwear, ingredients, and decorations ever. 

*The Muddy Cup, Elaine and Lucida's haven in Dear Julia, is a very real and very good coffee shop. There's even a Cup in my hometown!

*The Post-Punk Kitchen started out as a real cable-access cooking show and propelled Isa Chandra Moskowitz to vegan cooking stardom. Its blog will keep you up with the latest--including this Latchkey Lime Pie.

Clare Crespo shows off her stop-motion skills in Yummyfun Kooking. Those of you familiar with my picture book--that's what Amandine's show is like.

Friday, February 13, 2009

The Knit Would Still be Hers: Chicks With Sticks (Knit Two Together) by Elizabeth Lenhard

knit2together She decided if she couldn't fight the angst, she might as well join it in the blogosphere. She plopped herself into her desk chair, opened her laptop, and began surfing. She hit a few of her usuals: the American in Paris who always bragged about the antique knitting needles and precious Euro-yarn she found romantic flea markets; the Indiana spinning guru with the grotesquely fat cat (pictured daily); the comic artist who catalogued her life in daily stick drawings...

Oh La La had spent the previous afternoon finishing a delicate bolero jacket in a chic cafe. The spin guru had had a birthday party and photographed her cat in a goofy party hat. The comic artist drew and ice cream outing and called it Simple Pleasures.

So unsatisfying, Scottie complained in her sleepy mind...Is it too much to ask for just one broken heart?

Oh, Ms. Lenhard, you know us bloggers too well.

In Chicks With Sticks (Knit Two Together), Scottie's gone boy-crazy and it's driving the Chicks up a wall. When a cute artsy boy from NYC moves into her building, she can't believe her luck--not to mention the plum opportunity when his fashion-designer mom commissions knitted lace for her eccentric creations. While they bond over crazy artist moms and their even crazier private school, sugary snacks and classic films, the Chicks unravel boy issues of their own. Amanda's formerly nerdy-cute college boyfriend is turning into a major dumbass, Bella's sworn off dudes--and finds herself swarmed by them. And Tay? Her nice guy John is suddenly Clingy McClingerson, down to joining their stitch'n'bitch. Will the Chicks survive Yarncon, debutant training, utterly grody non-frat frat parties, secret blogs, the blissful highs and nauseating lows of teenage lurve? Course they will! The fun is reading about it.

Next to my blogging buds Carey and Lisa, Elizabeth Lenhard is the person I'd want to show me around Chicago; she does for the Windy City what Francesca Lia Block's done for Los Angeles. Scottie's narration highlights little details others would miss: odd statues, a perfect day atop bread-factory-come-artist's-loft, the prerequisites of an indie coffee shop, and the sights and smells of YarnCon:

Scottie couldn't stop gasping in delight as they began strolling through the fray...At the next tent were jars of adorable stitch markers snazzed up with glass beads, tiny rubber animals, and fuzzy pom-pom creatures--as cute as candy.

There were giant displays of knitting bags, books, needles, and themed T-shirts. People strode around, nibbling chicken satay skewered on knitting needles and giant cookies iced to look like yarn balls. There were gray-haired ladies wearing cardigans, middle-aged mom types, and other teenagers in knitted tanks, badass ribbed wristbands, and bits of yarn woven into their hair.

I enjoyed becoming better acquainted  with the chicks. Amanda's vulnerable side counters her perfect-girl veneer, and it gives her a certain gravitas that makes what could be a totally annoying character really sweet and likeable. Likewise, I adored seeing Bella cut loose and get angry; even manic pixie dream girls can go nuts and avenge their friends every once in a while. Tay continues to be a shining beacon to hetero gender-nonconformists. I think it's great that Lenhard wrote a butchy straight girl with an endearing tender side; some people forget that gender obscurism is open to all shades of the spectrum. Scottie's lovahboy Beck seems like a decent kid, and I really sympathized with his desire to make interesting friends and have a life outside the boyfriend-girlfriend thing.  His love scenes with Scottie are the stuff of teenage dreams: breakfast picnics, nights at an arthouse theater, and smooching in the elevator. He's cute. He can stay.

It took a second reading for this novel to agree with me; initially I was slightly annoyed with all the boy-craziness. Maybe it's the season, or maybe I realized that if I had gone to one of the Seven Sisters instead of Big Catholic East Coast Library School, I would have done just as much pining over anyone with cute hair and a nose ring.  I could totally relate to Scottie's all-encompassing crushy obsession, but also appreciated the words of wisdom from Amanda's punky, free-forming mentor Regan:

"I've seen this happen a million times. A girl falls in love for the first time and loses it. She forgets about her friends. She becomes all about him. What's he's interested in. What he wants to do. Where he wants to go and when he wants to go there. And when the inevitable break-up happens--because what else can such an intense relationship do but crash and burn?--the girl's left all alone. Take my advice, girlfriend. Don't let it happen to you."

Lesson for the day? Boys come and girls go, but your art and your heart are what matter in the end--so treat 'em right. For knitting nuts and teen-nostalgia-seekers, Chicks With Sticks (Knit Two Together) is a fab addition to your shelves.

*Elizabeth Lenhard's website has lots of cool extras for CWS fans. Here's a fun excerpt posted to her blog, with cupcakes and novelty yarn in


*Unsatisfied with the shades on your Local Yarn Stores's shelves? Dye your own with Kool-Aid and revel in the fruity scent and chemically-enhanced colors.

*Gooseflesh crochets wunderkammer-worthy sea life from pre-loved wool and plastic bags.

*I plugged MochiMochi's free patterns in the last post, but her main blog is great, too--posts about other handicrafts and the best of cute and subversive stuffed things, like Bittersweet's Kiwi.

*These vegan knitty cupcakes help me make the blogger's weekly cupcake quota.

*Though I usually shy from linking retail sites, I can't resist passing off COLORBOMB Creation's etsy shop. They have a great sense of humor--yarns named Poop de Peeps and Cheesy Poofs--and sweet kits for embellishing your own handspun. Follow the proprietress's yarn adventures at Velma's World.

*This is a chick wearing a knitted cuff. It is too cute for words.

Wednesday, February 11, 2009

Celebrate Angstgiving in Crafty Style

Hearts, flowers, smooching couples all over my must be St. Emo's Day again. I'm a happy bachelorette who plans to live the day up ice skating and girl-bar-hopping with her friends, but I know some of you readers may have waited for last minute to get started on your S.O.'s gift. Oops! Well, no worries, because here are the creme de la Stumbleupon for last minute crafty gifts, none needing more than a trip to your local Crafty Emporium (with maybe a side trip to the grocery store). If you're a single lady like me, why not surprise the treasured confidant in whom you confide your true insecurities and share dating horror stories? They deserve your love too!


1. Does she drag you into every toy shop on your route and giggle over little things? Win her heart (and attention span) with Not Martha's Surprise Balls.

2. Does she want to drag you out on V-Day for yet ANOTHER Anonymous Protest? Before you don your masks and hand out the confetti, surprise her with a Flying Spaghetti Monster Necklace.

3. The bookish sort? Bookmark Books. Seriously, these are the cutest and most useful things for the obsessive reader. Half a dozen with a fresh pick from her wishlist, and she'll be singing your praises on her book blog.

4. If she favors polkadots, Cupcakes Take the Cake, and handmade body products from chichi shops in the city, make her a set of Cupcake Bath Bombs. Cue comments about being good enough to eat.

5. Knitty and fond of knicknacks? MochiMochi has free patterns for cute little love monsters and tiny hearts to show your love for a chick with sticks.

6. Prefer something colorful and edible that screams "I came out yesterday"? Rainbow cupcakes. Psychedelically delicious.

Tuesday, February 10, 2009

Stories for Everyone But You


Illustration by Anne Anderson, from Grandma's Graphics

My fab buddy and writing-partner Beatrix Cottonpants recently decided to collect her fractured fables, fairy and folk tales for, pleasure...of the 'net at large at her new blog Stories for Everyone But You. Surely you've heard of "The Boy Who Cried Hippie"? Or "Little Someone-or-Other in the Pinstripe Fedora"? "Rabunzel the Rabbit Girl"? No? Then hop over, curl up with your laptop in front of a roaring fire and savor your childhood favorites as you don't remember them.

Have a tiny excerpt from one of my favorites, "Hansel and Gretel, Creepiest Twins Ever":

The twins heard none of that conversation. What they did overhear, however, was the conversation their parents had the very next night, the one where they agreed to go for a drive the next day, kick the kids out of the car, and abandon them. And so, when they were told the next day that they were going on a road trip, they smiled and said nothing. When their father pretended to be lost, they fretted and said nothing. And when they were asked to get out of the car and look for directions, they complied and said nothing.

Once they were out of the car, however, Hansel explained to his sister that the whole time, he’d been dropping crumbs from the window, to make a trail they could follow back. Gretel exclaimed that she, too, had done the same thing, and that with two trails to follow, they’d certainly make it home again.

Except…when they reached the road, they were greeted with a terrible sight. There were no crumbs! In the distance, they could make out shapes on the road and soon discovered a veritable trail of dead birds. Oh! The poor things must have stopped to eat the crumbs, and been killed for their troubles. The most unfortunate thing, however, was that many of the birds had obviously made off with their food, so there was not even a trail of dead birds to follow home.

Hansel and Gretel wandered for some time, lost and hungry. One day, though, they stumbled upon something amazing. A house made of candy! Even though neither was fond of candy (they preferred beefy jerky and salted crackers), they attacked the house like children who had not eaten in several hours.

Monday, February 9, 2009

Her Knitting Was Already a Part of Her: Chicks with Sticks (It's a Purl Thing) by Elizabeth Lenhard


 Scottie sighed contentedly and sank deeper into her seat. The noise of all the girls' needles didn't exactly make music, but they coexisted comfortably. Tay's click-swishes were almost violent, tugging and snapping loudly. Bella's stitches were feather whispers. Amanda's flowed in fits and starts, faltering when she overthought it and recommencing when she took a deep breath and put her trust in her fingers.

And Scottie's own knitting music? That was like asking her what her face looked like when she wasn't looking in the mirror. Her knitting was already a part of her. She felt like she knew it as well as she knew her own body. But like her body, it had its own mysterious side.

Take your four-girls-with-a-schtick novel and tie it up with some funky rainbow homespun, and you've got Chicks with Sticks (It's a Purl Thing). Scottie's grieving the death of her favorite aunt, Amanda struggles with a learning disability whose existence threatens her social standing, Bella's having an identity crisis, and Tay just wants some stability. All are drawn to KnitWit, a haven of sunset colored furniture, knitting-crazed regulars, and Alice, curly-haired mentor to aspiring fiber artists who guides knitters to their perfect yarn. Though knitting looks like the magic answer to all of their problems, things fall apart in the way of clever YA novels, and Scottie is left questioning her new-found talent and friends. Will all the threads come together so she can enjoy both as she did in the past? Of course, it's YA--but some of the answers may surprise you.

I adored the Chicago spun by Lenhard and its slightly off-kilter inhabitants. Her writing is witty and colorful, with a knack for short but punchy description and scene-setting details. Knitwit is a haven that makes me want to pick up a pair of needles and join in:

Scottie found herself in a room dominated by a giant, round table laden with yarn. Skeins and hanks of the stuff spilled out of bowls and buckets and boxes. There was yarn that looked like cobwebs. Like eyelashes. Like paper. Fuzzy balls of undyed wool squished together like a family of sleeping hamsters. Yarn as deeply red as cherry juice. Yarn as translucently blue as watercolor painted on a pure-white page.

An reader described the series as "Betsy-Tacy for the Oughties," and I couldn't agree more. There's a comfortable feeling to the girl's little circle that even their real-world issues can't tear asunder--without minimalizing the real feelings of loss and fear. I loved Scottie's casual quirkiness and the real growth and change in her family, Amanda's insecurity and budding talent for fashion design, Bella's gregariousness (kudos to Lenhard for not writing another creepy antisocial homeschooled teen--one gets the feeling Bella would be the happy sort  no matter how she was educated) and the fact that the girls are so progressive that they can go from teasing Tay about John or Jocelyn without an after-school-special-moment in between. And the knitting? Oh, it's delightful, and I'm a paper artist--project descriptions and yarn porn abounds, and the book finishes up with four projects for the readers. This one's a joy for any crafty reader--and Elizabeth, please write a series for us paper crafters!

*Elizabeth Lenhard's official website has tons of info about the series, a Which Chick are You? quiz, a knit-along message board, and her blog--with lots of author interviews, photos of her cute daughters, and the tantalizing hint of a new book!


*Knitty: the haven of all things knitted on the web. Unbelievable free patterns at all skill levels and gorgeous art direction

*Thomasina's Guide to Geeky Knitting breaks patterns down by scientific discipline; the infamous Knitty Uterus is under Anatomy, while a set of cute little nautilids comes under Paleontology.

*Not one for sickeningly cute amigarumi or yet another fuzzy scarf? AntiCraft offers bacon tiaras, wire-knitted beaded pasties, and crocheted headwear for opheliacs.

*Grrl+Dog runs with scissors, colors outside the lines and barks with her own voice. She commits random acts of guerilla knitting and other mixed up media. She is growing old disgracefully while attempting to bake the perfect cup cake. She loves to dance, collect pink plastic and dead things. She's a dedicated guerilla knitting blogger, and I love her posts!

*The Yarn Museum serves up galleries of handspun so beautiful that I get twitchy knitty fingers just looking at them. I totally need a scarf with peacock feathers woven in, right?

*Knitted Landscape shows off a new kind of guerilla knitting-mushrooms, flowers, leaves, and rocks in unexpected places.

Thank you, Amy, for your help compiling these links!

Handmade Nation's a documentary about contemporary crafting in America--keep an eye out for the guerilla knitters!

Friday, February 6, 2009

I Felt Like I Was Creating the World:Gothic Lolita by Dakota Lane

C_1416913963 do you ever wish you had someone (not the sky someone, but a real person) who could share your reality?

there would be nowhere you could go that this person couldn't go, down to the details of your last strange dream.

you'd be in this game together, just you and the other person creating the entire world.

Unthinkable, years after the first time I'd spotted them, that those strange-eyed girls in Victorian finery would get their own novel. Gothic Lolita is a breakneak thriller of a novel, fast-paced and starkly written, a contrast to the dreamy tone of The Orpheus Obsession. Chelsea and Miya, thousands of miles apart are connected in unimaginable ways--a dramatically romantic manga, a pechant for frightening but beautiful lolitas, and brothers they love and a secret world they share. What will happen when their lives appear to fall apart?  The plot is best discovered for oneself, but I was pleasantly surprised by the ending, which I had expected to take a more somber turn.

While Gothic Lolita is a dark novel, ribboned with grief and  regret, it has moments of beauty which are fragile and melancholy:

i've been tricked by books all my life.

they fall into your hands at the exact right moment and say just what you need to hear--more like a friend than a book--until the moment you finish. as soon as you close the cover, the book goes back to being just a memory of someone else's story--leaving you lonelier than you were before.

Or as light and decadent as the pastries lolis loves:

one cluster of girls wore phospherescent dresses; they caught the light in the most ethereal way, giving the feel of holographs. in my mind, they looked like rainbow warriors.

i imagined myself posing with them, icy pastel shimmering gloss on my lips and eyes and cheeks, skin polished with a sparkly dust of mild green and baby shoes on my feet, but toenails the color of pearls and seashells. i would be an intergalactic mermaid splashing into the hearts of an enthralled crowd, a cyberdelic creature.

I loved this corner of the world conjured by Lane: the overwrought romanticism of Shonen Rainbow Warriors, their beloved manga; the intense relationships between sisters and brothers; the bits about online culture, where these girls met. Dakota Lane uses her photography to immerse the reader in Chelsea and Miya's worlds, in double-page spreads with a mystic, shady atmosphere. It's a treat for fans of Japanese subculture, anyone who has lost and found family, and mystical realists. Toss on your rocking-horses, sit back with a plate of macarons and enjoy.


*Gothic Lolita's Myspace has events, videos, picture outtakes, and more

*Royal/T is the real-life counterpart of Lolipopland in the novel: Royal/T is a playful blending of café, concept shop and art exhibition space. The space reflects the interior realm of fantasy that strongly influences the artists included in owner Susan Hancock's collection. Royal/T Cafe is inspired by the meido kissa (maid café) phenomena of Akihabara--Tokyo's electronic district. Recontextualizing the underground culture of Japan that celebrates cosplay (costume play) waitresses dress in maid uniforms, with a Lolita-esque touch and the café serves a fusion of French and Japanese cuisine with local and organic California style. The art space showcases curated exhibitions with a focus on Japanese contemporary art; and an inventive concept store emulates the collections' sophistication--a fusion of pop culture and high-end design.

*La Carmina is a premier GothLoli blogger and face of Gothic Lolita, with a stunning website full of interviews with other lolitas, swoonworthy shop profiles, makeup tips, street fashions scans--it's amazing! And I just found out she's got two books coming out this year: Crazy Theme Restaurants in July and Cute Yummy Time in November.

*Sitting around in your frock looking for fun? Here's a list of 101 Lolita Lifestyle Ideas

1. Buy a lovely floral print notebook or leather-bound journal and keep a Diary. Begin each entry with 'Dear Diary', press flowers between the pages, and draw Lolita fashion designs in it.
2. Get a Lolita pen pal, learn how to write a proper formal letter and send it on pretty scented paper, send gifts and things for each others birthdays. You might want to purchase a quill or dip pen, its fun to write with when you get used to it and has an old fashioned feel.
3. Find a time during the day when you can enjoy the ritual of Tea. Late afternoon or mid-morning is traditional. Read about how to hold a 'high tea' and visit specialist tea shops to learn about the different blends and qualities. (My favorite is Chai!)

*The Princess Portal is home of Skye, former sweet lolita and all-around princess. She blogs about pretty little things, advice for princesses-in-training, fairytale fashion and literature for aspiring royals. Everything she posts has this old-fashioned, dreamy feel--like Picnic at Hanging Rock without the metaphysical oddness. Love it!

*Vivcore is the talent behind Candy Violet and Cute Salad, Japanese street fashion inspired clothing lines. Her journal features her fiber art, dolls, fake pastry, historical gowns--she can do everything! Fancy Girl is her personal website, A modern day "ladies book" filled with information on living a little fancy every day.

*Kamikaze Girls is...indescribable. Just watch the trailer:

Wednesday, February 4, 2009

An Extraordinary Child:Coraline by Neil Gaiman

coraline It took me a while, but I figured out why my feelings about this book are bittersweet.

My mother was a huge fan of stop-motion animation, but especially The Nightmare Before Christmas. She collected the memorabilia back when you had to import it from Japan--Hot Topic had just jumped on the Tim Burton bandwagon in '03. Now, my family has a slightly morbid tradition of bribing mourning children, and the day my mom died my dad and brother and I visited the comic shop my mother imported all her Jack Skellingtons. I picked out Coraline.

Now, I could make all sorts of cheesy connections between that and the end of my childhood, but anyone who's seen me run around Tah-Poozie knows that my inner child is alive and well and probably fingerpainting the walls I'm supposed to tear down.

Anyway. Book.

Coraline is a quintessential children's novel: your perfectly average heroine finds herself in extraordinary circumstances when her parents move into a crumbling old building which is so much more than it seems. What kid doesn't dream of finding a portal to another world through a tiny doorway, one where your parents love you and you have toys and clothes and wonders--but at a price? Of having strange neighbors who "trod the boards" in their youth, or tutor a secret mouse circus in the attic, who are your unknowing allies? Of--even though it frightens them--hearing strange noises and seeing odd shadows dance about your room? Of triumph over evil with the knowledge that yes, there is magic in the world, and some is scary and dark but some is very, very good?

Gaiman's writing style is easy, charming, and full of details that flesh out Coraline's world in just a few well-chosen phrases, such as in this description of her bedroom behind the secret door:

There were all sorts of remarkable things in there she'd never seen before: windup angels that fluttered around the bedroom like startled sparrows; books with pictures that writhed and crawled and shimmered; little dinosaur skulls that chattered their teeth as she passed. A whole toy box filled with wonderful toys.

This is more like it, thought Coraline. She looked out of the window. Outside, the view was the same one she saw from her own bedroom: trees, fields, and beyond the horizon, distant purple hills.

Something black scurried across the floor and vanished under the bed. Coraline got down on her knees and looked under the bed. Fifty little eyes started back at her.

"Hello," said Coraline, "are you the rats?

I loved how Coraline was resourceful and brave in a perfectly childlike manner. She comes up with strange games to entertain herself, she accepts her guide (a vain but wise cat) with bemusement, and defeats the villain of the piece with her own best talent--exploring. As creepy and strange as the Other World may be, the reader is reassured by Coraline's bravery--even though she doubts it, herself.

Coraline is an odd, dreamy novel that keeps good company with Alice in Wonderland and The Thief of Always. It's full of bits that kids love (weird people, odd gifts, an atmospheric setting in the English countryside, a kid subduing the bad guy all by herself) and humor sophisticated enough for the adults who gift them with it. Coraline is destined to be a classic.

*Mouse Circus is Neil Gaiman's kid fiction home on the web

*And you can catch up with him on his Journal--he's posting lots of Coraline-related ephemera.

*I can't wait for the movie! The Coraline team has been sending out mystery boxes of bits from the movie to bloggers they like--awesome!

Monday, February 2, 2009

The Fourth Annual Brigid Cyber Poetry Slam Part 2


Art by Fumi Nakamura, who will be illustrating Francesca's latest Wood Nymph Seeks Centaur: A Mythological Dating Guide


by Francesca Lia Block
in these hills there are many lights
luminarias and bonfires
christmas ornaments and candles
scattered through the deep green dark
as i clamber the steep sides
the broken steps and chipped pathways
you are always just a little ahead of me
i can hear your band playing at the next party
but when i get there you are gone
just some stray people drinking beer around the koi pond
dazzled by the shiny reflections
they never seem to see me
like a dreamer in a dream

my mouth is pomegranate
i am wearing a pale blue silk corset
thigh high fishnets
fetish shoes
that make it hard for me to walk
all under the velvet cloak
my hair spills dark around pale cheeks
i am trying to look like the woman i imagine you see
alone in your room at night
while you dream your songs

i have left the warm and fragile arms
of my college boyfriend
the one who wrote the first poem about me
the one i left for that lover anorexia
and my father's cancer
the one who married a japanese woman
they brought their baby to my reading
he must be a young man now, that child
willowy with lotus blossom eyes
and the only time i see his daddy
is reflected in the dark pool of my dreams

i have left the little bungalow in the hills
overlooking the jewel-like lights
i feel my bound nakedness under my cloak
corset bones girding my hips like your fingers
as i stumble from one party to the next
following the music
thinking somehow you can bring me back to life
wake me from this dream

but you can't
even though the trees in my garden would dance for you
even though when i tasted your mouth i became bloodthirsty
like a maenad
you're just wandering the hills of your dreams too
and though you cannot save me
still i am breathless with
the beauty of all this
it is all mine
and soon with
or without you
soon i will


Let poetry bless the blogosphere once again!
WHAT: A Bloggers (Silent) Poetry Reading
WHEN: Anytime February 2, 2009
WHERE: Your blog
WHY: To celebrate the Feast of Brigid, aka Groundhog Day
HOW: Select a poem you like - by a favorite poet or one of your own - to post February 2nd.

The Fourth Annual Brigid Cyber Poetry Slam



Photo by Eric Gay

"Once Again I Prove the Theory of Relativity"

By Sandra Cisneros

you come back
I'd treat you
like a lost Matisse
couch you like a Pasha
dance a Sevillana
leap and backflip like a Taiwanese diva
bang cymbals like a Chinese opera
roar like a Fellini soundtrack
and laugh like the little dog that
watches the cow jump over the moon.

I'd be your clown
I'd tell you funny stories and
paint clouds on the walls of my house
dress the bed in its best linen
And while you slept
I´d hold my breath and watch
you move like a sunflower

How beautiful you are
like the color inside an ear
like a conch shell
like a Modigliani nude

I'll cut a bit of your hair this time
so that you´ll never leave me
Ah, the softest hair
Ah. the softest

you came back
I'd give you parrot tulips and papayas
laugh at your stories
Or I wouldn't say a word which,
as you know, is hard for me

I know when you grew tired
off you'd go to Patagonia
Cairo Istanbul

I'll have savored you like an oyster
memorized you
held you under my tongue
learned you by heart
so that when you leave
I'll write poems.


Let poetry bless the blogosphere once again!
WHAT: A Bloggers (Silent) Poetry Reading
WHEN: Anytime February 2, 2009
WHERE: Your blog
WHY: To celebrate the Feast of Brigid, aka Groundhog Day
HOW: Select a poem you like - by a favorite poet or one of your own - to post February 2nd.

Moondrummer started this tradition--if you decide to join in, leave a comment for her. I can't wait to read what you post!

Sunday, February 1, 2009

Life Artists Unite: Those Who Make the World More Whimsical/Surreal/Wondrous


If you are a dreamer, come in.
If you are a dreamer, a wisher, a liar,
A hope-er, a pray-er, a magic bean buyer . . .
If you're a pretender, come sit by my fire,
For we have some flax golden tales to spin.
Come in!
Come in!

~Shel Silverstein

Imagine this: you're walking down the street, and the trash can is looking at you.

Or you're dragging your hand along a brick wall and discover a secret city between the cracks.

Or you're at a cafe, and a girl pulls off her hat, removes a handful of treasures from her bag, and starts playing a game with her tablemates.

Art isn't just paint on a canvas or clay on a pottery wheel. Anything that makes you stop and think and see the world in a slightly tilted way? That's art too. In my travels around the net, I've discovered quite a few artists who are making the places they live a bit more surreal, whimsical, and wondrous.



Every day I see such lovely things.

ColorMeKatie documents tiny adventures in NYC--sticking hearts and eyes and butterflies in unexpected places, dying food unexpected colors, dancing with strangers and photographing missions with Improv Everywhere. Her photos have a wonderful sense of color and composition, and every post makes me want to go out and have an adventure, too. The best part of ColorMeKatie is the integration of art and everyday life--so inspiring!



Lea Redmond’s other creative projects range from socially-engaged conceptual artwork, to projects with youth, to small performances reminiscent of magic tricks. In a nutshell, she loves to make things. Things that inspire. Things that tell stories. Things that spark critical thinking. Things that question. Things that make us wonder. Things that envision and create a new world.

Recipe dice and The World's Smallest Postal Service. Poetry ribbons and reader-named crayon colors. Matchbox theaters, creative wedding consultations, and earrings for spontaneous seeding. Lea Redmond proves that you can be whimsical and environmentally conscious with her quirky, earth-friendly projects, crafts, and performances. When I first discovered this site, I gasped in delight and devoured every word. Find treasures in her Curiosity Shoppe, read about her Art Projects, and keep up with her latest works on the Leafcutter Designs blog. The World's Smallest Postal Service was recently featured on BoingBoing.



When Leonardo's da Vinci's pupils were stuck for inspiration he advised them to make a study of a crack in the wall, and it's true that when you spend time engaging your imagination with such a crack, all sorts of possibilities and new worlds may begin to appear...

Helen Nodding's website is called Stories from Space, but her work is thoroughly terrestrial.  She creates castles for spiders, fairy-lit caverns for squirrel gods, a bestiary's worth of mythical bugs, and messages in moss.



ABC Adventures began one dreadfully boring night in Tempe, Arizona. Elizabeth Adventure and Brian Adventure were sitting at her house, determined to have an exciting, adventure-filled night but were running dry on ideas. We wished we’d had a book that was full of awesome things to do almost anywhere, any time, any day of the week. Since no such book existed as far as we knew, we decided it was imperative to create such a thing and share it with the rest of the people in the world who would most certainly, at some point, be as bored as we were that night. While the physical book is still our goal, we’ve chosen to publish our adventures as we go on this blog.

When you've been all shook up from reading arty blogs and want to go out into the world and do something, ABC Adventures is your guidebook to cheap fun: bubbles, moustache-wearing, tree-climbing and secret-note-leaving. They love reader participation, so send in your own adventures!


plain and simple, the mission is: to spread big or small bits of love and things that make you smile and laugh, little bits of unexpected happiness and affirmation. we believe in feeling good and spreading it; we want everyone everywhere to know that somebody somewhere loves you. because you are amazing in all your strange and wonderful ways.

here you will find lists on how to love yourself more, beautiful things, ways to share your beauty & knowledge & love. you will also find stories of people who have discovered YOU ARE REMARKABLE through the tangible guerrilla love sharing.

Does what it says on the tin. While the sites above aim to spread art, this one looks to spread love--which becomes a kind of art in itself. I love the List of Ways to Heal a Broken Heart, secret gifts, and love letters to & from.

Want to join them?


1. NamelessleTTer is a collaborative art project where people from all horizons leave personalized bookmarks in books with the goal of seeing other readers discover them. Library-based arting? Awesome.

2. Cakespy created faux cupcakes with inspiring messages and left them for the world at large. “The ultimate goal was a momentary escape from everyday worries, and a small reminder that yes, life can be strange, but sometimes sweet.”

3. Zoomdoggle's on a mission to send out 1,000 love letters.

4. Magnets + plastic army men, dinosaurs, and aliens +magnet friendly surface = Vertical Wars! Guttermonkey on Livejournal tireless documented his own tiny plastic battles: Post 1, 2, 3, 4, 5, 6, 7, 8, 9, 10. (Noting that I don't necessarily endorse the views of the first website, but I do like reading posts about weird art and ghost stories.)

5. Are you a fiber artist, or just a chick (or dude!) with sticks? Join the Global Guerilla Knit Up Challenge!

6. If it wasn't for Keri Smith (and Jerry Spinelli--Stargirl, naturally), I wouldn't know about the crazy world of guerilla art. Read her post on How to Be a Guerilla Artist as a primer, and this interview at Art News for in-depth exploration of her work and philosophy.

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