Are you familiar with Matthew Clark? I hope so! He’s a singer-songwriter from Mississippi who travels in his trusty van, Vandalf the White, and brings music and beauty with him wherever he goes.
But his work doesn’t begin and end with music. I first met him while editing an essay he contributed to J.R.R. Tolkien and the Arts, and again when he contributed a chapter to Wild Things & Castles in the Sky. Now he’s the mastermind behind Only the Lover Sings—an album of his own music, accompanied by an anthology of essays written by various authors who each respond to one of his songs.
Did you follow that? I barely did. Let’s see if I can say it more clearly. For the book Only the Lover Sings, Matthew recruited a handful of writers (such as Andrew Roycroft, Lanier Ivester, and more) and invited us to choose a song from his album to write about. Our assignment was not to analyze the song or interpret it, but to respond to it, each in our own way, and the result is a diverse but beautifully braided collection of essays that weave in and out of one another. Some are more scholarly; others are stories. All explore some aspect of the story of the woman at the well.
If you’d like to know more about Only the Lover Sings, I encourage you to listen to Matthew Clark’s podcast, One Thousand Words, where he invites each contributor to read a portion of their essay. You can find the podcast here, my episode here, and the book itself there.
Another fun thing that’s now available: a new episode of the Square Halo podcast, in which co-editors Leslie Bustard, Carey Bustard, and I discuss children’s books, this book, and various and sundry other things.
And as this book makes its way out into the world, I thought I’d share with you a few fun, book-promote-y resources I think you might enjoy:
Byron Borger of Hearts & Minds Bookstore wrote a wonderful review of the book (Wild Things is featured at the bottom of the post). If you’re still not sure what this book is, exactly, his detailed and enthusiastic description will illuminate it for you. Bonus: you can order the book (at a discount!) through the Hearts & Minds website.
And these four all gave it five-star reviews over the dinner table:
So, where can you order a copy? The best place to get it right now is directly through Square Halo Books or through Hearts & Minds Bookstore (scroll to the bottom of that link for a discount code and ordering instructions).
And if you go to places like Amazon, Barnes & Noble, Christianbook.com, ThriftBooks, or Bookshop and add the book to your cart, that shows those big guys that people are interested in the book and helps us get it listed on their sites. Reviews are helpful too, as are shares on social media and so forth! We’d be so grateful for anything you’re willing to do to help us introduce other readers to the book (and, thus, to the beautiful books mentioned within it).
Lastly: thank you all so much for your support and encouragement! For all your wonderful book recommendations; for every time you’ve gone in search of a book mentioned here and shared it with your family and friends; for the emails that have arrived just when I considered quitting and—I don’t use this word lightly—literally inspired me to keep writing and reviewing: thank you, thank you. I hope there is a library in the new heavens and the new earth, and that we get to gather there one day and share our favorite stories! I’d love to hug you.
A large percentage of the books on our family shelves are actually about books. They’re books within books, if you will, and they’re filled with wisdom on how to read with children, why to read with children, and—best of all—what to read with them. The closing chapters of these books are always my favorites: they’re full of fascinating book lists.
I wouldn’t be in this business if I didn’t love book lists. (My blog is, after all, essentially a nine-years-long book list.) And so I am pleased to introduce you to Wild Things and Castles in the Sky: A Guide to Choosing the Best Books for Children. This is an anthology of essays, edited by Leslie Bustard, her daughter Carey Bustard, and myself. With over forty essays written by dozens of contributors, Wild Things covers a range of reading-related topics, from fairy tales to graphic novels, classics to contemporary works, board books to Shakespeare. It’s all in there—the how, the why, and the what. A few of the stellar contributors are:
The essayists write from a variety of backgrounds, and while their interests and tastes vary (assuring there’s something in this book for everyone) every essayist recommends books full of truth, beauty, and goodness. (I know, because we read a lot of them as I wrote my chapters and edited the rest. Our library basket overfloweth!)
The book will be published this spring by Square Halo Books (the official listing is here, and you can pre-order a copy there). In the meantime, I’ll be sharing some books here that our family found through this project that I think you’ll love—books the other Wild Things contributors introduced us to. The Square Halo blog is also running posts by the editors and contributors, and we’re sharing even more wonderful books over there. If your library basket also overfloweth, our work is done!
Pictured above: all books mentioned somewhere in Wild Things & Castles in the Sky. Every one of them is worth reading!
I park the van at the top of Section C, and my daughter and I get out into the rain. The spongy ground slopes away from us to the road below, speckled with headstones that are, in turn, speckled with lichen. Already my daughter bends over one, wipes the drizzling rain off its surface, and reads a name aloud.
About this cemetery hangs a pleasant sense of disorder. Stones shaped like benches, pillars, or pensive children kneel in the grass, half-sunken where the ground beneath them has settled; moss laps at their edges. Certain monuments here are notorious, like the massive stone angel who has, with her attendant urban legends, nearly eclipsed the family she was meant to memorialize. Broken stones lean in pieces against cottonwood trees whose burly roots slowly shoulder the soil away.
Unlike another local cemetery, which styles itself as a “memorial park” and offers natural burial as well as farewell tributes, death is still a presence here, not an unpleasant thought to be sponged away with rebranding. I feel comfortable saying “tombstone” here, or “grave.” As in, “Look at this grave!”—which I call to my daughter when I find one carved to resemble a scroll draped over a log and slicked with real moisture, real moss. She is at my side in a moment and together we puzzle out the inscription.
It is beautiful, but it is not his.
Since I was a kid, our local cemetery has been one of my favorite places—eerie and beautiful, sodden with history and urban legends. I used to walk through it on my way to college; the girls and I go often to explore; I gravitate toward the cemetery when I want to be alone. It was the first place we met my mom for a walk during quarantine, and it was there, one snowy evening twenty years ago, that Mitch and I confessed that we had, you know, feelings for each other.
This essay took over two years (off and on) to write, partly because it took me about that long to figure out what I was trying to say, and partly because I just had so much fun researching it. I learned about churchyard lichens, and about a spree of vandalism in our cemetery years ago. I spooked myself—pretty thoroughly and deliciously—researching the origins of those urban legends I grew up hearing. I know now about “grave wax” (don’t google it!) and about how long it takes a human body to decompose—in short, I learned far more about death and our cemetery than I actually needed to put into the essay, and yet I think every bit of that knowledge (except maybe the bit about grave wax) helped the story get where it was going.
And where it was going is here. (Thank you for reading!)
Note: The cemetery featured in the photo at the top of this post is actually not our local cemetery, but my other favorite cemetery: Sleepy Hollow in Concord, Massachusetts. I would have shown you our beloved local haunt (pun intended!) but . . . I ran into issues with the photo quality. I hope you’ll forgive the substitution.
Yesterday morning, our youngest came out of her bedroom looking equal parts thrilled and apprehensive, and announced, “I think I have a loose tooth!”
I felt the tooth. It was so. Now, she’s been sporting a gap-toothed smile for nearly a year already, on account of knocking one of her front teeth loose on a bike handlebar last summer, but this was new. This was a Milestone for all of us.
My youngest child is losing her baby teeth.
And so it seemed apt that Risen Motherhood shared my article “Two Truths & a Lie About Motherhood After the Little Years” this week. What comes next? When her children don’t exactly need her all the time, what’s a mom to do?
I’ve heard moms talk about this moment—this “all the kids finally out of diapers” moment—like it’s a finish line, as though we ran hard and the race is over. High fives all around! I’ve heard rumors about getting my life back, about resuming paused hobbies, about reconnecting with my true self, the one who apparently spent the last decade buried beneath maternity tops and nursing pillows. But I wonder if it isn’t the other way around. I wonder if my true self was not the one showing through in those years of sleep deprivation.
Hi, I'm Théa! I review classic literature, poetry, nonfiction, fantasy, picture books—children's books luminous with grace and beauty. These are books our family loved and that I think you'll love too. Thanks for stopping by!
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