Botanicals, Intimate Portraits by Laurie Tennent

Along Birmingham’s Rouge River Trail,  local photographer Laurie Tennent gave our city a marvelous art installation, City Bloom: Birmingham. The nearly three-mile trail features over a dozen of Tennent’s botanical portraits. I joined a tour of her work sponsored by our synagogue. Laurie became a professional photographer by accident. Two of them in fact. She planned to  become a marine biologist and had enough credits to graduate high school a year early.

Then came the accidents: she was thrown from the the back of a pick up truck, breaking her back. While recovering from that she was stung by a  man o’ war. Setting aside early graduation, she spent senior year taking art classes.  She fell in love with photography, applied to Detroit’s Center of Creative Studies, and  the rest is history.

Laurie Tennent’s flower portraits, all done in her studio under very controlled lighting, are magnificent.  Installed along the trail, the photographs, printed on metal and enlarged to 30″ x 40″ or bigger, become part of the landscape. Ferns rise leviathan-like from the forest floor; a curl of veronica takes center stage amidst a stand of woodland maples; astrantia shimmers white in the sunlight.

I had promised myself that I was simplifying this month. NO book purchases. I made it six days into June. This is so much more than a book. It is a journey of wonder, on the trail or off. Check out Laurie’s work at Laurie Tennent Bontanicals.

The Boy, The Mole, The Fox and the Horse

A friend called and raved about this book. “It’s about a little boy who meets three animals friends. He has many questions about life and they answer them. It’s simple. It’s profound. You’ve heard this wisdom before but…..” She read me some of the text. Yes. The statements were simple, profound and heard-before.

Trusting in my friend’s enthusiasm, I went online to order the book. It was sold out everywhere and I never got around to trying again. Then last week, another friend came by for a walk. She had with her a present for me. I unwrapped the gift and whooped. One friend tipped me off; another friend gave it to me. Something was afoot.

I waited until before bed that evening to enjoy it. The cover text is gold. The drawings of the four friends are spare yet powerful. The illustrations have a misleading sense having been quickly scribbled. They are anything but. The book’s front and back inside covers are printed with a composition — four staffs of music through which the four friends run, glide, and rest. I sat down to play, imagining boy, mole, fox and horse tripping through Mackesy’s ink-rendered world.

The boy’s questions draw LIfe’s truths from his new friends. Many of their answers are familiar, yet no less important for their familiarity. In my younger years I mightn’t have understood, “One of our greatest freedoms is how we react to things.” Toward the end of their journey, having delved into courage vulnerability, love, and kindness, the boy begins to share wisdom of his own.

If you can order this beautiful book, go for it. Or, wait until a dear friend raves to you about it and another gifts you with it.

The Enchanted Hour by Meghan Cox Gurdon

I can’t really call this a book review, since I’ve just dipped into Meghan Cox Gurdon’s thrilling book about reading aloud. What I love about the book’s subtitle, The Miraculous Power of Reading Aloud in the Age of Distraction, is the phrase “miraculous power.” Being read to feels like a warm embrace. Whenever I reread parts of Madeleines L’Engle’s A Wrinkle in Time, I hear the voice of my third grade teacher reading the novel to us at the end of each school day. Believe it or not when I read Caps for Sale to my granddaughter, Olivia, it is Captain Kangaroo’s voice scolding the monkeys on behalf of the frustrated cap peddler.

Such is the anecdotal power of reading aloud. Gurdon brings more, much more than anecdote to The Enchanted Hour. From brain development to strengthening the bonds of love to the long-term benefits of building vocabulary through reading, the author shares the latest scientific research on why reading aloud to children is a “fast-working antidote to [today’s] fractured attention spans.”

This book moved from my to-be-read shelf to being actively read. I’m even going to read parts aloud to my husband.

PS. If you’ve never checked out Gurdon’s reviews for the Wall Street Journal, read them! Olivia doesnt’ know it yet, but some of her faves have come at the suggestion of this enthusiastic writer and children’s book editor.

A Banquet of Consequences — Elizabeth George

Sometimes you just want to read something that you know will captivate you, surprise you, involve you, and end in a most satisfactory way. Elizabeth George’s crime novels never disappoint.                 A Banquet of Consequences did all of the above and more for over 700 throroughly enjoyable pages. I’m usually pretty good at figuring out at least part of the plot and the bad guy or gal. Not this time. Utter surprise. The plot twist turned out to be creepier than I would have ever imagined.

There are the series familiars: Inspector Lynley, Barbara Havers, and Winston Nkata, the three detectives challenged with finding out why              a young man committed suicide. Then you have    a deliciously twisted and interfering mother-in-law; her long-suffering, and tragically clueless second husband; a successful feminist author with her own hidden darkness; her manipultive and mommy-attached elder son and his wife who would love nothing better than to change her relationship status from separated to divorced; and assorted others who distract and delight.

The title got me thinking why we always frame consequences as something negative. Feast on George’s novel. You’ll find the consequences delicious.


Children’s Books — Not Just For Kids

IMHO, no personal library can be complete without at lease one shelf of children’s picture books. Children’s books, good ones anyway, are works of art for the eye and the soul.

 A children’s picture book author must distill deep human questions into the fewest words possible. The illustrator must render universal emotions and experiences into artwork that enhances the text while not overpowering it.

 For years I collected children’s picture books to read with the grandchildren I hoped I might have one day. Now that I do, it’s not only a delight to share my treasures but I discover new treasures each time I visit.  Here are my three most recent finds:









I adore Joyce Hesselberth. Her artwork is charming and in pitter pattern her illustrations were ingenious invitations to discover patterns page after page.

Anthony Browne is a new one for me. Any reader can identify with Browne’s eponymous Willy the Dreamer, who envisions himself as an actor, a painter, a scuba diver.  Browne’s artwork is a trifecta of cleverness. There bunches of hidden bananas, visual puns and
best of all for the art-wise adult, homages to Magritte, Dali and Henri Rousseau among others.

I didn’t get to spend enough time with Oliver Jeffers and the book he wrote for his newborn son. Here We Are, Notes for Living on the Planet Earth. Jeffers’ illustrations become increasingly complex as he moves from the Earth’s atompshere and the solar system and weather systems to life here on earth. These are the kinds of illustrations that take time to enjoy, the kinds that reward the reader the more carefully and deeply she explores the pages. This two-page spread of humanity entranced me as much as it did Olivia. After this most recent visit with Olivia, dedicating another shelf in my office to chidren’s picture boks just might be in order.