Guest Blogger Elena Kalodner-Martin on Rupi Kaur

Jone MacCulloch is today’s host. You’ll find Poetry Friday links at her blog, Check It Out.

Dear Friends and Poetry Friday bloggers, I have to begin this post with a thank you.

On Tuesday, I learned that THE LAST FIFTH GRADE OF EMERSON ELEMENTARY is the 2016 CYBILS award-winner for poetry. Many of you have cheered on my novel-in-verse for years — commenting on drafts of the poems on my blog, mourning with me when characters were cut during revisions.

I know how much time, thoughtfulness, and discussion goes into the process of selecting CYBILS finalists and an ultimate award-winner. Thank you to all of the judges for the work you do. I am honored!

Today, I’m excited to introduce you to a guest blogger, poet Elena Kalodner-Martin. Elena is a senior at Towson University. It’s her birthday today! Happy birthday, Elena!!

A few months ago, I read an article about a young, feminist poet named Rupi Kaur. (You can find that article here.) Not only has her first book of poems, MILK AND HONEY, sold more than half a million copies, but she enjoys near-rock star status among teen and new adult readers, poetry lovers, and women.

When Elena shared a Rupi poem on social media several weeks ago, I wanted to learn more. I invited Elena to guest post today, to look at Rupi Kaur’s work and discuss its importance to readers.

Rupi Kaur: Feminist, Instapoet, and Woman to Watch
By Elena Kalodner-Martin

If you are on Instagram, Tumblr, or even Facebook, you have probably seen at least one of Rupi Kaur’s poems. Known as an “Instapoet” for the fame she garnered by posting her poems online, Rupi Kaur is a twenty four-year-old Indian-Canadian author who has taken social media by storm.

She published her first book of poetry, Milk and Honey, in 2015. It sold over half a million copies and made the list for Amazon’s bestselling poetry, as well as the New York Times bestselling list for 25 consecutive weeks. Its themes of love, heartbreak, abuse, healing, and femininity speak to poetry lovers everywhere and have contributed to her hundreds of thousands of likes, shares, and re-posts on social media platforms.

Milk and Honey is broken into four sections; “the hurting,” “the loving,” “the breaking,” and “the healing.” Each poem is typed in a black font and situated on a white page, often paired with black line drawings. The simplicity and beauty are aesthetically pleasing and allow the words to leave their impact. Whether she is writing about the complicated toll that alcoholism can take on a family, how she often felt oppressed by the belief that women ought to be submissive and silent, or the ups and downs of sex and love, she has hit home for so many young women. She reminds us to be soft yet powerful, strong yet giving, and loving yet fierce.

There is no better time to read poetry that reminds us of the beauty left in the world and of the importance of love and inclusion, particularly in the political climate in which we currently exist. She is unapologetic, unafraid to call out the areas on which we can improve. She is bold and fearless, a feminist role model, an artist, and a poet. She focuses on encouraging women to build one another up, advocating for peace and tolerance, and challenging people to relentless accept and love themselves.

As a young woman in college, reading Milk and Honey forced me to examine my own thoughts and actions: am I gentle with myself? How can I create a culture of kindness around me? How can I incorporate beauty into the ugly and hard parts of life? Rupi’s poetry knows no boundaries – immerse yourself in her simple yet beautiful book and challenge yourself to live more gently, more softly.

P.S. Good news for her dedicated fans: she recently posted that she has been working on her second book of poetry, which will be available shortly!

Elena Kalodner-Martin is a senior at Towson University, majoring in English Literature and Creative Writing and minoring in Health Sciences. She is in the process of selecting a graduate program for her MA/PhD in Rhetoric and Composition and hopes to be a college professor. She is a lover of words and coffee.

Thank you for guest posting today, Elena. Congratulations on your upcoming graduation!



Poetry Friday: #10FoundWords

Poetry Friday blogger and picture book author Penny Klosterman is hosting all of the poetry links today. Stop by A PENNY AND HER JOTS for more poetry posts from around the web and around the world.

Happy February, everyone. This week, we kicked off my annual poem project, which has moved over to Facebook.

This year’s theme is #10FoundWords. We have a daily news story, speech, or current event selected by a project member. That person chooses 10 words from the news source, which makes up our word bank for the day.

Because we’re all writing with the same daily prompts, my favorite part of the project is reading the response poems. I notice the ways our writing overlaps, and cheer people on when their poems are unexpected, when there’s an innovation. (You can still join the project. Leave a note in the comments if you’d like to give it a try.)

Speaking of news — scroll to the bottom of the page for two announcements: an event with me and YA author Heidi Heilig, and a book giveaway.

Here’s one of my own poems, written as a warm-up exercise.

By Laura Shovan

Remember learning long division?
This was long ago, 20th Century math.
Historical stuff. We’re talking
a solid wall between two different numbers.
The smaller number makes its appeal.
“Let me inside. It’s cold.
I’m suffering out here.”
The wall stays up because
that’s how division has always
been calculated. But the big number
is overcome with a generous spirit.
It sneaks the shivering digits inside,
counts how many will fit.
Soon, there are numbers
climbing on the roof, thankful numbers
tunneling underneath.
It’s a kind of freedom,
the way they gather on all sides
of the wall, which looks thinner,
less substantial, surrounded
by the orderly many.

This was Warm-up #6: January 29, 2017. Kip Rechea was in charge of this day’s #10FoundWords and news source.

20th Century

Source: An appeal from the mayor of Berlin not to build a wall across the U.S. border with Mexico.

Still here? Great! Thanks for sticking with me. I’ve got two announcements.

Announcement #1: On February 8, I’m hosting YA author Heidi Heilig (THE GIRL FROM EVERYWHERE) as part of the Master Storytellers series run by the Ivy Bookshop. Join me and Heidi as we discuss the broad appeal of young adult fiction. You can find details and RSVP here. If you’re in town for AWP, it’s a short trip up to Baltimore. Hope to see you there.

Announcement #2: Foundry Media is giving away four copies of THE LAST FIFTH GRADE OF EMERSON ELEMENTARY on Goodreads. Sign up here to join the giveaway.

Announcement #3: (When I said “two announcements,” I was simply stating an alternate fact.) I’m excited to share that THE LAST FIFTH GRADE is a finalist for a Pennsylvania Young Readers’ Choice Award!

Poetry Friday: #10FoundWords

Thanks to Carol Varsalona for hosting Poetry Friday this week. Carol’s blog is Beyond Literacy Link, always a great resource for writing and education. Stop by for more of this week’s Poetry Friday posts.

It’s the last Poetry Friday of January. That means I am gearing up for the annual February daily poem project.

This year, I’m encouraging participants to engage with current events, news articles, political speeches, and interviews. Each day, we’ll be using 10 Found Words from a news-related source and building our poems around those words.

The February poetry project grew so large last year that I can no longer host it here at my blog. Instead, we are writing together in a closed Facebook group.

Interested? Read the full introductory post here. If you’d like to join the group, leave me a note in the comments. I will add you ASAP.

We’ve been working on a few warm-up poems before the project officially starts on February 1. Here’s my draft of the day. Do you think it’s “Unfair!”?

Under the Rug
By Laura Shovan

The arc-shaped flow
of his solar-blonde hair
defies gravity. Fluid,
odd, its color scorched
as a drought-tossed field
of wheat. When the wind
rattles its dried-out stalks,
the whole plain shifts, lifts
as if the hidden door of Hell,
slammed shut for so long,
has swung wide open
in the middle of America.

10 Words — found by Heather Meloche:


Source: “Weird wave found in Venus’ wind-whipped atmosphere,” by Ashley Yeager, Science News, January 17, 2017.

Annual February Poetry Project Announcement

We’re coming up on the last Poetry Friday in January. You know what that means. It’s almost time for our annual daily writing workout!

For the past four years, my blog has hosted a community poetry project.

This year, the project has moved to a closed Facebook group to accommodate the number of people who want to participate. A group of us have been testing out the process with warm-up exercises. I’m excited to report that the Facebook platform is working well.

2017 Theme: 10 Words Found in the News

The theme of this year’s project combines current events and found poetry with an exercise borrowed from one of my mentors, poet Grace Cavalieri: 10 Little Words.

Beginning January 31, I will post 10 words in our project’s Facebook group for the next day. Along with the words, you’ll see a link to the source from which those words were drawn. Sources might include news articles, transcripts of political speeches, interviews of politicians and activists, the headlines of the day. Your daily task is to build a poem that includes those ten words.

Why this prompt?

Over the past several weeks I’ve resisted the urge to disengage from the language our government is using. Instead, I encourage everyone to look at that language as a poet. We can create found poems and word art to reflect what’s happening in our country and world.

IMPORTANT NOTE FOR PROJECT NEWBIES: As always, the point of this exercise is to practice the habit of writing regularly, even if it’s just for one month. Members of the project post response poems the same day so that we can focus on generating ideas and giving positive feedback, rather than polishing for publication.

Interested in joining us? You can request to join the closed 5th Annual February Daily Poem Project here.

Poetry Friday: #WritersResist

Violet Nesdoly is this week’s Poetry Friday host. Stop by Violet’s Blog for more poetry links, reviews, original poems, and sharing.

Well, here we are. It’s really happening.

First, I’d like to thank all of you for your comments on the press conference found poems. Several Poetry Friday regulars have been engaging with transcripts of the president-elect’s words. By paring away (or emphasizing) the fluff, these poems help us expose problems with the way language is used by our future president.

I’m glad my week began with a #WritersResist event in Baltimore. [Find out more about the Writers Resist movement at this website.]

There were so many powerful speakers: military veterans, high school-aged performance poets, an essayist who spoke about the history of neglect that led to Baltimore’s recent uprising, young women, elders, the city’s first youth poet laureate, academics, and activists.

I was invited to read as a representative of the 100 Thousand Poets for Change. I’ve written about the group before [read my interview with founder Michael Rothenberg here], and about my 2015 trip to the 100TPC World Conference in Italy.

The group is an earlier incarnation of the pulse that is driving #WritersResist now. 100TPC was born at the same time as the Occupy Wall Street movement, and has grown — with concurrent literary readings happening around the globe each September — ever since.

Being part of 100TPC has enriched my life with new and very dear friends, poets whose words take international stories out of the realm of newspapers and TV soundbites and into the real.

On Sunday, I shared poems by two of these poets, Michael Dickel of Israel and Menka Shivdasani of India. Both have been turning eye, pen, and heart to human rights issues in their home countries for many years. I am learning from them how to use my own eye, pen, and heart to speak truth to power.

Street art by Pino Green at the 100TPC World Conference in Salerno, Italy, 2015.

So thirsty…
by Michael Dickel

I am almost back perhaps. The long summer ordeal
of stress, rockets, war, death, killing has moved off
into Syria and Iraq and left us barren for a moment.
A bit of rain falling today hints at winter being
wet. We need water. We always need water. So thirsty.

The brown hills will green again, and the dry beds
recently run with blood water will wash thoroughly
so flowers may wave their red-yellow-white-purple
cacophony of emotions in winter’s permissive grace.
We need the water. We always need water. So thirsty.

Since between last summer’s war and the next,
whenever it might fall upon us, this brief moment
flickers—a satellite-pretense of being a star gliding
across black night—a mere reflection of sunlight.
We want water, we always need more water. So thirsty.

The desert will preserve these battles, mummify
the narratives, and wait as scorpions and seeds wait.
And to this I return. Almost. Maybe. Turned back
from the sea and step-by-step making my way to sweet
water. Always water. Like the night sky, I am so thirsty.

Michael Dickel reading at the 100 TPC World Conference, 2015.

By Menka Shivdasani

The first veil was when
the country split,
a woman held apart
and sliced,
crushed under the weight
of muscle, bone,
and the evil smile.

After that, the second veil
didn’t matter;
the countries hid
behind their nets and little webs.
We peeped out
from behind the
fraying thread.

Too much had already
been lost.
The skin had ripped,
and scarred
beneath stitched
exteriors. The third veil,
then, was just
impotent cloth.

But it mattered when
they held her down again,
this woman born
of country blood,

and they whipped her
on the streets
so no one dared
to take her by the hand.
Instead, they took
a video of the veiled
and battered face.

These veils have begun to bleed on me.
They bite
into my flesh
and blackened skin.
You cannot hide
behind veils much longer;
they will not survive
the grenade in your hand.

The marketplace is waiting;
hurry now.

Menka Shivdasani reading at the 100 TPC World Conference, 2015.


Michael Dickel, a poet, fiction writer, and photographer, has taught at various colleges and universities in Israel and the U.S. He co-edited Voices Israel Volume 36 (2010). He was managing editor for arc-23 and 24. Is a Rose Press released his new book, The Palm Reading after The Toad’s Garden in 2016. His previous books are War Surrounds Us, The World Behind It, Chaos… and Midwest / Mid-East. With producer / director David Fisher, he received an NEH grant to write a film script about Yiddish theatre. Dickel’s writing, art, and photographs have appeared in print and online.

Menka Shivdasani’s first book of poems, the critically acclaimed Nirvana at Ten Rupees, was published by Adil Jussawalla for XAL-Praxis in 1990. Her second collection Stet first appeared in 2001, and her third collection, Safe House, was published recently by Paperwall Media & Publishing Pvt Ltd. Menka is also co-translator of Freedom and Fissures, an anthology of Sindhi Partition poetry, published by Sahitya Akademi in 1998 and editor of If the Roof Leaks, Let it Leak, an anthology of women’s writing that forms part of a series being brought out by Sound and Picture Archives for Research on Women (SPARROW). She has edited two online anthologies of contemporary Indian poetry for the American e-zine​​.

Menka’s poems have appeared in several publications, both in India and elsewhere. These include Poetry Review (London), Poetry Wales, Fulcrum (USA), Seminary Ridge Review (Gettysburg), the Bloodaxe Book of Contemporary Indian Poets, 60 Indian Poets (Penguin Books India), and the Harper Collins Book of English Poetry. She is also represented in Indian Literature in English: An Anthology, a textbook of the University of Mumbai.

Menka is joint coordinator of the Culture Beat initiative at the Press Club in Mumbai and has been a member of Asia Pacific Writers & Translators Association since its inception. As Mumbai coordinator for the global movement, 100 Thousand Poets for Change, she organises an annual poetry festival at the Kitab Khana book store. Menka’s career as a journalist includes a stint with South China Morning Post in Hong Kong, and the publication of ​eleven books as co-author/ editor, three of which were released by the then prime minister Atal Bihari Vajpayee. In 1986, she played a key role in setting up the Poetry Circle in Mumbai.

Hello from Salerno, Italy!

Press Conference Found Poem #2

I’m still mining this week’s pre-inaugural press conference for found poetry. Today’s poem is pulled word for word, unabridged from an exchange between the president-elect and a reporter. In addition to the repetitiveness of Trump’s speech (repetition *is* a poetic technique, after all), the contrast between the two speakers, and the irony of Trump’s use of the word “rude” are what interests me.

Source material: NY Times transcript of January 11, 2017 press conference.

It’s a Disgrace What Took Place
Trump Press Conference Found Poem

By Laura Shovan

Since you’re attacking us,
can you give us a question?
Mr. President-elect —

                                                Go ahead.

Mr. President-elect,
since you are attacking
our news organization —

                                                Not you.

Can you give us a chance?

                                                Your organization
                                                is terrible.

You are attacking
our news organization.
Can you give us a chance
to ask a question, Sir?
Sir, can you —


Mr. President-elect,
can you say –

                                                He’s asking a question.
                                                Don’t be rude.
                                                Don’t be rude.

Can you give us a question
since you’re attacking us?
Can you give us a question?

                                                Don’t be rude. No.
                                                I’m not going to
                                                give you a question
                                                I’m not
                                                going to give you
                                                a question.

Can you state…

                                                You are fake news.
                                                Go ahead.

Sir, can you categorically
state that nobody –

No, Mr. President-elect,
that’s not appropriate.

                                                Go ahead.

For those of you involved in activism right now, the January 21 Women’s March organizers posted an important video here.

If you can’t march, but you are a crafter, the Pussyhat Project is taking donations of pink hats for the March.

Poetry Friday: Found Poem Assignment

Keri is hosting Poetry Friday this week at Keri Recommends.

The pen is a mighty weapon, according to the old saying.

To help kick off inauguration week in the spirit of activism, poets and authors all over the U.S. are performing at WRITERS RESIST events. You can read about the movement at PEN America. Writers Resist has its own website with a listing of readings across the nation.

I will be representing 100 Thousand Poets for Change at the Baltimore City Writers Resist reading. Information about the event is here.

After last week’s poetry exercise with a bit of Thoreau, I had a feeling that our President-Elect’s words would make some revealing poems. Yesterday, I posted a political poetry assignment on Facebook. Here it is:

I challenge everyone to create a cross-out or found poem out of Trump’s recent press conference. Here is a link to the transcript.

Please post your poem — text or picture — in the comments or at your own blog. Thanks to Amy Ludwig Vanderwater and Diane Mayr, who shared their poems on Facebook.

For my response, I was interested in the rhythm of Trump’s repetitious, overlapping phrases. I went through the transcript and highlighted sentences driven by “I.” Here is my own response to the prompt. Though these phrases lack context, I did not rewrite or re-order any of Trump’s words.

I Messages
Trump Press Conference Found Poem

by Laura Shovan

I think we probably maybe won,
I do have to say that and I must say that.
I’ve just gone up a notch.
As to what I think of you?
OK, I guess you could say.
And I will say, I said,
that I will be the greatest.
And I mean that, I really –
I think you’ll be very impressed.
I tell this to people all the time,
and I told many people.
I have no dealings.
I have no deals that could happen.
And I have no loans.
I have very, very little debt.
I have assets. I have very little debt.
I have very low debt. But I have no loans.
And I thought that was important.
I certified that. So I have no deals.
I have no loans. And I have no dealings.
I just don’t want to.
Because I’m president.
I didn’t know about that, but it’s a nice thing.
I have something that others don’t have.
I understand they want a president
to run the country.
I would be able to do that if I wanted to.
I’d do a very good job.
I think it’s one of the reasons I got elected.
I think the people of this country
did not want to see what was happening.
I think it was disgraceful.
And I say that, I think it’s a disgrace
that information was false and fake.
I think they’re going to suffer the consequences.
I guess the advantage I have is
that I can speak.
And I think it’s very unfair.

Poetry Friday: First Snow

Linda Baie hosts Poetry Friday this week at her wonderful blog, Teacher Dance. Be sure to check out the winter proverb in the blog header.

Happy Poetry Friday, friends. As I write this post on Thursday afternoon, we are expecting our first snow of the winter season.

I went looking for a “winter walk” poem (preferably, with dog), and instead landed on Henry David Thoreau’s essay “A Winter Walk.”

As an exercise, I took Section 4 (featuring a baying dog) and adapted it into poetic lines. Since I’ve been working on a prose novel for some months, thinking about phrasing and line breaks was a good work out for my flabby poetry muscles. It also helped me to engage more deeply with Thoreau’s gorgeous language as I broke it down into lines, paying close attention to sound and meaning. Many of us tend to focus on visual images when we write, but the sense of sound — and how it is brightened by the cold — is on Thoreau’s mind here.

As a winter baby, I especially love the final lines of this section. A walk on a cold day is, for me, “an elixir to the lungs, and not so much a frozen mist as a crystallized midsummer haze, refined and purified by cold.”

Have you ever tried adapting a piece of prose by another author into a poem? What did you learn? I wonder if this this exercise would work well in the classroom.


From “A Winter Walk,” by Henry David Thoreau
Full text at American Transcendentalism Web

We hear the sound of wood-chopping
at the farmers’ doors,
far over the frozen earth,
the baying of the house-dog,
and the distant clarion of the cock,
though the thin and frosty air
conveys only the finer particles
of sound to our ears,
with short and sweet vibrations,
as the waves subside soonest
on the purest and lightest liquids,
in which gross substances
sink to the bottom.
They come clear and bell-like,
and from a greater distance in the horizon,
as if there were fewer impediments
than in summer
to make them faint and ragged.

The ground is sonorous, like seasoned wood,
and even the ordinary rural sounds
are melodious, and the jingling
of the ice on the trees is sweet and liquid.
There is the least possible moisture
in the atmosphere, all being dried up
or congealed, and it is of such extreme tenuity
and elasticity that it becomes
a source of delight.

The withdrawn and tense sky
seems groined like the aisles of a cathedral,
and the polished air sparkles
as if there were crystals of ice floating in it.
As they who have resided in Greenland tell us
that when it freezes “the sea smokes
like burning turf-land, and a fog or mist arises,
called frost-smoke,” which “cutting smoke
frequently raises blisters on the face and hands,
and is very pernicious to the health.”
But this pure, stinging cold
is an elixir to the lungs, and not so much
a frozen mist as a crystallized
midsummer haze, refined and purified by cold.

A winter walk with Sam, 2012. Photo by J. Shovan


The Longest Night

Buffy Silverman hosts Poetry Friday this week. Join the Poetry Friday bloggers at Buffy’s Blog, where we post links to our book reviews, original poems, and other poetic delights.

After a long season of traveling, I’m home and happy to be back to Poetry Friday.

Wednesday was the Winter Solstice, the shortest day of the year. Even though the poem I’m sharing today is set in autumn, its meditative quality reminds me of how brief, chilly winter days feel here in Maryland.

This poem is by one of our annual daily poem project participants, my friend Patricia Jakovich VanAmburg. It is from her chapbook, WATCHING FOR BIRDS, and is shared with Patricia’s permission.


By Patricia Jakovich VanAmburg

In autumn, the
one-legged cardinal
totters at my feeder
a new  yogi
dangling mysteries like
his lost leg
what happens inside
the shell — the tomb
how stars are born
and die
the ways we grasp
for substance.
from task to task and
the objects of our desire —
bridging the poles:
the difference between
eternity and nothing —
the sameness of
poet and bird.

Weighing things:
my father on two legs
one of them artificial
my father on one leg
his stump reaching
to ground or
my father’s eyes
after dialysis and
my mother falling —
tripping through
overfull rooms and
the empty house — the
weight on my shoulder,
as I pause by the window
watching for birds.

Read more about Patricia Jakovich VanAmburg’s work at poet Ann Bracken’s website.

Laura here: Have you ever been visited by an animal that you feel is a messenger from someone you have lost? My grandmother sometimes sends me spiders. One once startled me when it sat on a framed picture of me and my grandmother together. It took brief residence right over her heart. This is the magic unexpected, the mystery of nature at work in our lives. I love the way that Patricia surprises the reader by sharing such a moment in this poem.

Sending you all light and warmth over the winter holidays.


It’s Time to Have a Serious Talk about Compliance

This is going to be a difficult post, friends. It’s time to have a serious talk about girls and compliance.

Let’s be clear right up front. On one level, this is about a dear friend’s book and how a review of that book got it wrong.

Conflict of interest, I know. But I’m determined to speak up because:

  • the review isn’t simply wrong about this particular book – it espouses a wrong-headed view of how girls in kidlit “should” behave;
  • the review misses a subtle, but significant message in the story’s resolution – that people have the right to appear on the outside the way they feel on the inside.

princess_frogsThe book in question in Veronica Bartles’ THE PRINCESS AND THE FROGS, which I blogged about earlier this week [that post is here].

Veronica is in one of my critique groups, so I had the chance to see this book develop from initial draft to its final form as a picture book.

I am going to focus on this book and one review in particular. I’d like to look at how language used in the review shows that there are still harmful cultural expectations about the way girls are portrayed in children’s books. I am not, in this post, going to take on the fact that pushing girls to be compliant has huge implications about female sexuality, women in the workplace and in government, and gender equality. Ready?

Several weeks ago, THE PRINCESS AND THE FROGS was reviewed by a major publishing industry magazine.

Let’s take my first point: The review isn’t simply wrong about this particular book – it espouses a wrong-headed view of how girls in kidlit “should” behave.

After describing the plot and praising the author’s Frog Prince retelling as a “fun idea,” the anonymous reviewer goes on to say, “the heroine’s imperiousness comes off as spoiled and snooty, as opposed to empowered.”

I sat with these words for a few hours. “Imperious” and “spoiled” jumped out at me. When I was growing up, “spoiled” was one of my family’s code words for “you are not being compliant.” My parents used both this word and “selfish.” It wasn’t until I was an adult that I realized, I’m not an abnormally selfish person. This was coding for “you’re not doing what we want you to do, the way we want you to do it.”

Authors, we’ve got a lot of reprogramming to do around the issue of girls and compliance. Books like THE PRINCESS AND THE FROGS are a great step forward.

In this story, Cassandra is young princess who says what she wants [a frog], stays clear about it [the book’s refrain, “princes aren’t pets”], deals with a resulting problem [every frog she kisses turns into a prince], and solves it herself, achieving her goal.

This was my reaction, which I shared on Facebook.

I’m sitting with a review of a friend’s PB. The main character is a girl who is clear and steadfast about what she wants (in the book). She is called a spoiled brat (in the review). Any women out there ever get told you should be flexible or adaptable instead of sticking to what you want? Mmm hmm. Me too.

Women responded with the many ways they were chided for not being compliant. These included:

  • I’ve been told “stop being so petty,” re: insisting on fair treatment.
  • I’ve been told, “Your standards are too high.”
  • “You attract more flies with honey than vinegar.” Thanks Mom… not really looking for flies…
  • “Brat” and “whiny” are code words for female. Sadly. I once saw a review of “Speak”–a novel about a teenage girl who goes mute after being raped–that called the protagonist whiny. Think about that–she was raped and she’s MUTE, but she’s still called whiny.
  • “You have too many ideas about the world… You’ll never get a husband if you always talk about them” (my ideas, thoughts, vision, opinions).

To the last comment, I responded, “The character in this book is also more focused on her own ideas (in this case, it’s a kid, so having fun) than on being partnered with a male.”

[BTW: Thanks to the male kidlit authors who posted support on that Facebook thread.]

In THE PRINCESS AND THE FROGS, frog after frog turns into a prince. Each one proposes a quick wedding, but Princess Cassandra isn’t ready to give into those societal expectations. Without throwing a tantrum or threatening anyone, she sticks to what she wants: a pet to play with and be her friend.

Yet the reviewer goes on to say that the story, “may leave readers wondering why a prince can’t be the best friend she wants to badly.”

This leads me to my second point: The review misses a subtle, but significant message in the story’s resolution – that people have the right to appear on the outside the way they feel on the inside.

SPOILER AHEAD – please skip if you don’t want to know how THE PRINCESS AND THE FROGS ends.

Cassandra comes upon “a bedraggled little prince sniffling in the garden.” The little prince tells Cassandra he doesn’t want to be a prince. He liked being a frog. When Cassandra kisses the top of his head, he turns back into a frog and the two live happily ever after.

For me, this is one of the most powerful moments in the book. We have a character who feels one way on the inside (frog) and is miserable in his body (boy). Cassandra accepts him as who he says he is. Only then can their true friendship begin.

It is irresponsible for reviewers to perpetuate outdated cultural norms, including the implicit expectation that girls and women, boys and frogs, are only valuable when they are compliant. By implying that the main character should settle for a prince instead of the frog she wants, the reviewer missed how powerful the book’s resolution is. The final frog prince doesn’t want to change his identity in order to be part of Cassandra’s life. He wants to choose who he is and (like the princess) have a say about what makes him happy.

I’d like to thank Veronica Bartles for giving a shout out to all those kids who feel like frogs, and LIKE feeling like frogs. Cassandra may be a princess, but she prefers the company of people who are authentically themselves, instead of complying (there’s that word again) with society’s expectations.

Let’s celebrate non-compliant girls (boys, princes, and frogs) from children’s literature. Let us know your favorite characters in the comments.