Review | The Adventures of Odysseus, by Sonia Elisabetta Corvaglia, Illustrated by Anna Lang

The fourth and final children’s book in the the Little Library of Greek Myths went down without a hitch. My son even said that he wanted to read it again another night. A clear success.

As with the other three books in this series, the artwork was attention grabbing for a child, and the story was straightforward and a good length for a bedtime story.

The Adventures of Odysseus took us through Odysseus’ more popular exploits, and made them more child friendly as well (hitting the cyclops in the eye versus stabbing him for example). I thought Sonia Corvaglia did a great job on this one, choosing the most engaging and interesting stories from Odysseus’ wide birth of narrative to retell.

And my son wants to read it again, which is a major win. I also enjoyed this book, and I definitely recommend this one for your children’s library.

This book and the other three in the series from Starry Forest Books, Zeus, Hercules, and Theseus and the Minotaur hit shelves today, 21 September 2021.

Word Prompt | September 2021

Stimulate your Muse with this one-word prompt!

I recommend going somewhere quiet with your laptop or pen and paper and thinking about this word for at least 3 minutes.

Ambition

What images come to mind?

What emotions?

What memories?

What desires?

Now write.

Happy Writing!

~MJ

Review | Theseus and The Minotaur – by Sonia Elisabetta Corvaglia, Illustrated by Anna Lang

Theseus and The Minotaur, by Sonia Elisabetta Corvaglia and illustrated by Anna Lang is part of the Little Library of Greek Myths published by Starry Forest Books and will be available for purchase on 21 September 2021.

This is the third book in this series that I have read to my son Dante for a bedtime story and there is one more left to go. Like the other two, the artwork is excellent for this age range; colorful, fun, and straightforward, and the pictures clearly depict what is going on in the story.

Like Hercules, the story length was perfect for a bedtime story–right in between “I feel cheated if we don’t read another story” and “I’m bored.”

Also like Hercules, this children’s adaptation stuck pretty closely to the original Greek myth about Theseus and the Minotaur, and tamed it down by having Theseus capture the Minotaur and tie it up so it couldn’t hurt anyone else versus slaying it outright. I think this was a good move for a children’s version.

My son seemed to enjoy this book. There were significantly fewer interruptions from him as I read than when I read Zeus. However, I don’t think this story provided much that he could relate to as a child, and he seemed more interested in swiping his finger across my phone screen to turn the page than listening to the story. Although, he did ask a few questions about things that were happening in the story so I know he was paying attention, which is success in my opinion.

Despite that, when I asked him if he wanted to read it again, he said no. However, last night he wanted to read another story “like the one we read yesterday” so I’m chalking his comment about not wanting to read it again largely up to the fact that reading it on my phone doesn’t allow a child to see the whole picture, literally only one half of it, which definitely detracts from storytelling experience. I honestly think having a physical copy would have made the difference for Dante.

I would recommend this book for your children’s library. The story of Theseus is a classic and Sonia Elisabetta did a great job making this one kid friendly, and Anna Lang’s art was really great. I want to especially applaud Anna Lang for not only making the artwork kid friendly in appearance, but also selecting a color scheme that imitates the ancient murals and paintings from ancient Greece, it really imbues this collection with a classical essence.

Review | Zeus – by Sonia Elisabetta Corvaglia, Illustrated by Anna Lang

Zeus, by Sonia Elisabetta Corvaglia and illustrated by Anna Lang is part of the Little Library of Greek Myths published by Starry Forest Books and will be available for purchase on 21 September 2021.

This is the second book in this series that I’ve read to my son Dante at bedtime. Like the first, Hercules (which you can find my review of here), the bright colors and artwork are really kid friendly and engaging.

Zeus follows a few exploits of the Greek god Zeus and discusses some of his relationships with the other gods, painting a friendly picture of Mount Olympus that successfully avoids any major moral conflicts. So no awkward “Why is he stealing? Stealing is bad” questions from my son this time.

Almost none of the stories were accurate to the Greek myths about Zeus, which wasn’t too problematic for me because the real Zeus (rapist, kidnapper, adulterer, murderer) is really not someone that should be a role model for kids, so taking liberties with his stories in a children’s book I can accept and encourage.

Despite this though, I’m disappointed in this book.

This kid friendly version of Zeus was not very engaging for myself or my son. It was a really generic rendering of a god who just throws thunderbolts.

I would have liked to see retellings that are a bit more relateable to kids. Zeus interacting with his children: how he helped Hercules along his trials, or gave permission to Hermes to help Odysseus escape Calypso, gave Artemis her silver bow, or teamed up with Athena to resolve a conflict, for example.

A retelling about how Zeus viewed the gods squabbling over the Trojan war could have been interesting. A story about the three brothers divvying up rule over heaven, ocean, and underworld would have presented an opportunity to show kids how siblings can reach a compromise when all of them want the same thing. Any of those stories could have been relatable, engaging, and enlightening for a kid.

What I really can’t get behind though, is the exorbitant amount of words on each page. The stories, in addition to being generic, were really long. My son kept interrupting me to show me his toes or tell me some random thing that happened at daycare. The Hercules book did a good job in keeping the story interesting with few enough words on each page that they could be read quickly the page turned to a new picture to keep kids interested. Zeus though, not so much.

I personally would not recommend this book, but it might be worth getting for the sake of having a full collection of Little Library of Greek Myths. It does reveal a little bit about the hierarchy of the gods and introduces Zeus as their leader, which is pretty integral to understanding Greek mythology. So the book is not without its merits. Perhaps a child older than 4 would enjoy it more and maybe be able to read it themselves.

This book is available for purchase along with Hercules and two others which I will also review in the coming days. So stay tuned!

Review | Hercules – by Sonia Elisabetta Corvaglia, Illustrated by Anna Lang

Hercules, by Sonia Elisabetta Corvaglia and Illustrated by Anna Lang is part of the Little Library of Greek Myths published by Starry Forest Books and will be available for purchase on 21 September 2021.

I read this story to my son, Dante, who is turning 4 next month. He really enjoyed it and was engaged from start to finish. It was the perfect length for a bedtime story, not too long to lose his interest and not too short that he felt cheated if we didn’t read a second book.

The artwork was also really good, the bright colors are excellent for kids in this age range, and the story is really easy to follow. There are no big complicated words, and the author retells the trials of Hercules in a way that is understandable to children. Overall, I think this book would be an excellent addition to a children’s library.

My biggest issue is that the book ends without completing the final trial to capture Cerberus, the three-headed dog that guards the underworld. It ends with “a hero like Hercules will definitely succeed.” So it built up the tension for the final trial and then didn’t deliver and I was super confused.

There were several trials that the story skips or sums up with a single sentence, and this didn’t bother me at all because it would have been too long for a bedtime story if they were included, but ending the book with the hero essentially “unfinished” with his trials is a bit irksome. Dante asked me about it too so I think he was a little sad too, but overall he was happy with the book.

If the author was concerned about which trials to cut and keep, I would have cut the trial about stealing Hippolyta’s belt. Dante stopped me in the middle of reading and said “but stealing is bad, why is he stealing her belt?” which was a bit of an awkward moment as a mom and one I would have appreciated not having to be in if there was an option. Given that the author did skip other trials, it would have been good to leave out stealing Hippolyta’s belt and given us the Cerberus story for the end. What kid doesn’t like a three headed dog story?

Overall, it was enjoyable, and I will be reading the other 3 titles in the Little Library of Greek Myths series to my son in the next few days, so stay tuned for those reviews!

Monthly Writing Prompt – September 2021

What a better way to begin a new month than with a writing prompt? I hope you enjoy this one!

A song is playing. The rhythm tingles into your limbs, stirring emotions deep within. A memory springs up, a painful one. It weaves its way from a blurry whisper into a vivid imagining that feels so real you are transported back in time. Colors, smells, sounds, sensation. You wish the music would stop. 

***Muse Stimulators***

  • What song is playing?
  • What is painful about the memory?
    • Something that happened to the POV?
    • To someone else?
    • Something the POV did that they regret?
    • Something they lost?
  • What are the feelings the POV is experiencing?
  • What is the memory?
  • What does the POV choose to do next?

Happy Writing!

~MJ

Monthly Writing Prompt – August 2021

Hello everyone! Here is another writing prompt to help stimulate your muse! Hope you enjoy!

***Writing Prompt***

There is red in the air. From every angle, it’s all that can be seen, or is just all that you can see? Beads of wet liquid are running down your skin. Your awareness pushes away from the vibrant red and opens to your other senses: Sounds, loud and distant, distinct, eery; a smell–it’s familiar, but you’re not sure why; emotions well inside your veins, calling you to action.

Muse Stimulators:


– What is the red in the air? Is it the sky? Ceiling? Something else? Is it the environment or a fixation of the POV?

– What is the wet liquid running down the POV’s skin? Is it sweat? Tears? Blood? Something else?

– What is the smell? Why is it familiar?

– What are the sounds? Are they soothing? Calming?

– What emotions are welling? Fear? excitement? Anxiety?

– What does the POV do next?

Happy Writing!

~MJ

Monthly Writing Prompt – July 2021

It has been a really long time since I posted anything to this blog and a lot has taken place in that space but I am back and ready to put fingers to keyboard again!

I want to begin with something small: A writing prompt. I host a local writers critique group in my area called Augusta Writers Critique Group (AWCG). One of our events is simply me blasting out a monthly writing prompt to my 350+ members. Many of them have shared their responses with me for feedback and critique. I’m continuously blown away by what my group is able to accomplish, and how they are able to transform a few lines of muse stimulation into a moving and engaging narrative. I have enjoyed it so much.

The writing talent in my critique group is truly inspirational, and I’ve learned so much from interacting with them. My writing has drastically improved in ways that I never even realized that it needed to, but looking back at some of my manuscripts from before I began AWCG and comparing them to what I’ve written recently, it is clear how beneficial it has been. It’s truly a privilege and honor to be part of such an amazing community of writers.

With that said, I want to share those writing prompts and extend my experiences to my blogging family as well, so keep an eye out for monthly writing prompts that will be dropped every first Wednesday (or Thursday) of the new month. Here is the writing prompt for July:

July Writing Prompt

Your parents/guardians/caretakers are in the next room, their voices slightly muffled through the walls. You know they’re discussing you; the hushed tones are a dead giveaway. You’re not sure whether to laugh or cry at the implication of their words.

  • Muse Stimulators:

— Who is the POV?
— What are the parents/guardians/caretakers discussing?
— Was there an incident or is this a normal phase of life being discussed for the family and POV?
— What time period is this?
— How is the POV feeling? Sad, nervous, scared, proud, etc?
— What does the POV plan to do next?

*****

Happy Writing!

~MJ

Adding Art to Your Book

Most authors plan to have an elaborate cover for their book.  We’ve all heard the phrase “Don’t judge a book by its cover” but…. we all judge books by their covers, so making sure we have a good one for our own is at the top of our pre-publishing checklist.

What about art throughout the book though?

Children’s books, comics, graphic novels, etc will always have lots of art, but for all other categories of books, the art content varies and is usually optional.

Artwork in the book can add to the reader’s experience, or it can take away from it if done poorly.  Choosing to include art really depends on the experience you want the reader to have, just know that whichever you decide it will have a huge impact.

For Isle of Elandia, I’m mulling around the idea of breaking it down into episodes instead of one huge novel.  One of the things I’m considering is adding artwork to each episode.  To test it out, I commissioned UnknownArtist20 from Deviantart to create a character art of Farwen and her horse Inan.  She also recorded a speedpaint which you can view on her youtube channel here.

I’m in love with this image she created, and I’m excited to commission her again for more character drawings in the future.

farwen_and_inan__commission_by_unknownartist20_de2b4cs

Systemic Racism and White Ignorance: White Privilege

I’ve seen a lot of social media posts from white people saying they have not experienced white privilege.  I have also received scathing letters from relatives explaining all the reasons why white privilege doesn’t apply to them. 

Yet some whites are calling out white privilege and circulating #blacklivesmatter content on social media with a vengeance.

Why do some whites acknowledge white privilege, and others do not?  

Simple: many whites don’t really understand what white privilege is.  So let’s break it down.

I want to start first by providing 5 statements on what white privilege is NOT.

1) white privilege does NOT mean you didn’t work hard for your success, or you didn’t have struggles in your life.

2) white privilege does NOT mean that you were born rich or had anything/everything paid for by your parents

3) white privilege has NOTHING TO DO with how many non-white friends you have or don’t have

4) white privilege has NOTHING TO DO with how you were raised to interact/view non-whites

5) white privilege is NOT a choice, it just IS because of the color of your skin (sucks, huh?). 

Okay, so if it’s none of those things, then what is it?

I’m going to focus this article on numbers because people tend to accept numbers over well educated professionals and personal experiences.  I’m also going to focus on 4 quality of life aspects that I, as a mother of 3, desperately want for my children in America:  1) Health, 2) Wealth, 3) Education, and 4) Freedom to experience 1-3.

The overall US population is key to understanding our racial construct.  According to the 2010 census, approximately 72% of Americans identified themselves as white, and 28% identified as non-white.  All things being “equal” in America, you would expect this population to be reflected similarly across our institutions.  For example, 72% of college graduates could be expected to report as white, 28% report non-white, 72/28 are covered by health insurance, 72/28 are in the average wealth range, 72/28 are incarcerated.  Right?  Let’s explore the facts:

1)  Health, a factor largely influenced by whether or not you have health insurance.

A study conducted by KFF.org examined health insurance coverage among whites and non-whites aged 0-64, approximately 208 million people in all.  160 million were white, and 48 million were non-white.  This boils down to 77% white, and 23% non-white respectively, fairly comparable to the 2010 census population. 

The total number of uninsured across all races in the study was approximately 33 million.  21 million of those were white, or about 63%, and 12 million, or 37%, were non-white.  A 14% disparity in overall population vs uninsured population.

So how does this factor into white privilege for the total US population?  

Whites insured:  87% 
Non-whites insured:  75% 

Or:  1 in 10 whites are uninsured vs 1 in 4 non-whites.

So.  If you are a white person in America, the likelihood that you will have health insurance is 87%.  If you are non-white, your chances drop to 75%.  This statistical advantage is white privilege.  

In a future blog I will delve deeper into the racial disparities involving the healthcare system, but for now let’s move on to my 2nd Point.

2) Wealth 

A study conducted by Pew Research Center examined the average incomes of whites and non-whites from 1967 to 2014.  In 1967, the median income of white households was $44,700, 45% higher than black household incomes, which were $24,700, and 23% higher than Hispanic incomes which were $34,000. 

Fast forward to 2014:  The average white household income is now $71,300, 40% higher than both black and Hispanic household incomes, which are now equal at $43,300.  

Here’s another way to look at this data:  In 2014, non-white households finally achieved income equality (almost) with white households from 1967. 

That’s right.  Average non-white wealth in 2014 was on par with “equality” 47 years prior

The study also showed that in 2014, only 10% of whites lived below poverty level, whereas approximately 25% of non-whites lived below poverty level.  

Going back to the total US population vs poverty population: 

Whites in poverty:  16 million  
Non-whites in poverty:  24 million 
Total US in poverty:  40 million
% of poverty who are non-white:  60%

60% of Americans in poverty are non-white.  

White Privilege Factor:  White incomes are likely to be 40% higher than non-white neighbors, and whites are 90% likely to live above poverty level. 
And
Non-whites can expect to be as wealthy as whites living in 1967, and are 75% likely to live above poverty level.  

Also:  1 in 10 whites live in poverty vs 1 in 4 non-whites.  Just like with health coverage.

The Pew Research study also found a significant correlation between college education and wealth across all races.  The higher one’s education, the higher one’s average income was likely to be.  That makes sense given that higher education allegedly translates into higher skilled/higher wage earning jobs.  So let’s look at my 3rd Point, Education of whites/non-whites.

3) Education

A dataset of the 2010 census examined 199.7 million people over the age of 25, 153.7 million white, 46 million non-white.  28% of them reported having a Bachelor’s degree.  About 55 million people total.  Out of these 55 million people with Bachelor’s degrees, 45 million were white, or 82%, and 10 million were non-whites, or 18%.  That’s a 10% disparity from our overall population ratio of 72/28.  Putting this into our total population vs educated population:

Whites with Bachelor’s:  29%
Non-whites with Bachelor’s:  22%

White Privilege Factor:  Whites are 29% likely to complete a Bachelor’s degree by age 25, a 7% statistical advantage over non-whites.

The fact that this disparity isn’t as significant as health or wealth raises several questions about the impact of education, wealth, and race.  What impact does higher education actually have on higher wages?  On the surface, these numbers seem to suggest that even when non-whites do achieve higher education, wealth doesn’t seem to show a significant increase in wealth, nor does it suggest equal income with whites of the same education level.  We’ll explore this deeper in a future blog, but for now, let’s move on to my final comparison:

4) Freedom to exercise 1-3, or incarceration rates. 

In a study conducted by The Sentencing Project in 2016, data reported to the Bureau of Justice found that 35% of prisoners nationwide are white, and 65% are non-white.  Again, let’s look at our overall population ratio 72% white, and 28% non-white.  Somehow our prison system is almost completely inverted, very similar to our poverty stats. 

The study also broke it down further and examined the incarceration rates of whites and non-whites per state, revealing many to have an even higher racial disparity than the national average.  In 11 states, 1 in 20 black Americans over the age of 18 were incarcerated.  In Oklahoma, 1 in 15.  These numbers don’t include other non-whites besides black Americans either, which would further skew these ratios.

How does this factor into white privilege?  Data from prisonpolicy.org reveals the total number of incarcerated adults as of 2010 was 2.2 million.  .8 million were white, and 1.4 million were non-white, out of a total US population of 223 and 85 million respectively.  

Whites incarcerated:  0.35%
Non-whites incarcerated:  1.6% 

White privilege factor:  Non-whites are 4.5 times more likely to be incarcerated than whites. 

I encourage you to read my previous post Systemic Racism and White Ignorance: a Deep-Seated Coexistence, because it explains some of the systemic issues that exist in the justice system which contribute to this skewed ratio, one of them being that non-whites are more likely to be charged than whites for the exact same crime.

In Sum:

White privilege means you automatically have huge statistical advantages over non-whites.  It doesn’t mean you automatically benefit from them, but your chances of doing so far outweigh your non-white counterparts, just because you are white.  

White privilege is not something white people can “opt out” of, it is an automatic advantage that exists because of the systemic racism that has dominated our country’s institutions for centuries.  It’s also not something that most whites consciously choose to capitalize on.  It’s just there.

As Americans, we all want to believe that anyone and everyone has equal opportunity, that all people can succeed if they just try really hard.  And of course that’s true to an extent.  The deeper reality is that non-whites have to try a lot harder. 

White privilege is an inherent expectation of society that whites are born to be successful.  It’s generally perceived as a tragedy when one of them fails.  Something happened to throw them off course.  They weren’t raised right.  They were exposed to bad influences or drugs.  They hung out with the wrong crowd.  They fail by exception.

On the opposite end, the inherent expectation of society for non-whites is that when one succeeds it’s because they worked hard.  They defeated the odds.  Were exceptionally talented.  Left behind their troubled roots.  And when a non-white fails, society doesn’t view it as a tragedy.  It’s just normal.  They succeed by exception.

Or when a non-white is killed by police:  They should have been more respectful.  They should have done what they were told.  They shouldn’t have been there.  They shouldn’t have run.  As if any of these actions warrant capital punishment.

The information I’ve provided in this article in no way addresses the full scope of white privilege in America.  It doesn’t paint the human picture of systemic racism, or what the consequences of these statistics are for the individual lives of non-whites.  

But I hope it presents a starting point to acknowledge the inequalities that persist in our country.  This is not a land of equal opportunity.  Yet. 

Make a stand for change.  Educate yourselves.  Vote.

#Endwhitesilence #Blacklivesmatter

Photo courtesy of @vegan_sloth and @grime_photography

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