Author: S. Smith
Genre: Middle Grade/ Young Adult Dystopian Fiction
Length: 200 pages
Many moons ago, it seems like forever now, S. Smith sent me a copy of Seed Savers, the first of her young adult series set in an America where growing your own food has become illegal. Children were being taught about seeds and produce gardens in whispers; collecting, saving, and planting seeds a prison-worthy offense.
The story couldn’t have come at a better time for me. It was the summer of 2012, I had a small daughter at home, my husband was out of work, and I had just started spending more time and care actively growing more of our groceries. On top of that, I was beginning to learn how to forage and was focusing my daughter’s future education on as much regarding sustainability and self-sufficiency as possible. I wanted taking care of ourselves to come as naturally as literature does for me. I wanted finding edible grapes in the forest to be as simple as knowing that 2+2 = 4. Then Seed Savers happened and it felt like the stars had begun to align.
Several books later (Seed Savers, Heirloom, and Lily), we finally have the fourth installment of S. Smith’s world. The girls, Lily and Clare, have done a lot of growing up. Siblings Dante and Clare have received a lot more education during their stay in Canada. Rose is being indoctrinated… bad guys are getting closer and closer to turning everything upside down as rebels have begun starting riots in the street. Soon, all four kids find themselves in Portland, Oregon, where Seed Savers headquarters has been stationed under a forested park in the city for years.
More and more, the series is resembling the fast paced action political drama of the Divergent series – without the killing, and with the added fun of things like Dandelion syrup being discussed.
Although I was sent an advanced reader’s copy of Keeper, I still made a point to pre-order a final copy for my kindle. The book is a keeper in every format, and it’s just worth it to be as supportive as possible of this story, help it get told. I’m looking forward to the day Smith gets a movie or mini-series deal. Better yet, the homeschool mom in me votes for it to be a Netflix original.
Title: The Summer of the Great-Grandmother (Crosswicks Journal Book Two)
Author: Madeleine L’Engle
I’ve been reading The Summer of the Great-Grandmother for nearly a month now. I read pieces and snippets in particular moods – moods when I need it: L’Engle’s wisdom and a bit of the outdoors.
But finally, last night, I turned the last page.
I finished and sat there a moment. My journal open, the book closed, my pen ready and not ready at the same time. Ready because I had a vision to capture in the ink. Not ready because it didn’t seem to me like a book review at all, but it’s what I have – my thoughts regarding this book.
I cannot help but think of Sandy Smith while I am reading it. L’Engle tells tales of her home life and mentally, for some reason or another, I picture Smith’s face rather than L’Engle’s. Perhaps it is because I’ve met Sandy, but L’Engle is a series of disjointed pictures from different decades that I have plucked from the internet. Sandy is flesh and blood to me, and L’Engle deserves to seem like flesh and blood in my mind. Flat internet images glowing with the unnatural light of an LED background do not do her justice. I hope Sandy doesn’t mind me stealing her image and loaning it to another in my mind.
It’s just that – in my mind, they belong together. They are joined by associations I may never be able to clearly express, but might be able to feebly make a fraction of sense of them here.
They are each writers and humans in their own right, but L’Engle’s writing seems to have the same aura of loveliness that I find in Sandy when talking to her in person. When I think of her, this soft spoken writer who traveled all the way from Oregon to Texas for a book signing tour, you’d think I’d remember the hours I spent with her in bookstores hanging out around tables of her young adult series Seed Savers. But I don’t.
Instead, I specifically recall looking back at her while walking on a trail – her face lit up by the sun and a full smile as she looked back her husband entertaining my daughter with flora and fauna and a delightful hat. (The picture on the left is not long after that moment that is ingrained in my mind forever.)
As in every moment with her, she had a twinkle in her eye. I’d call it a spark, even. She’s someone you meet and instantly want to be her friend, or little sister, or niece, or daughter. It doesn’t matter, you just long to matter to her because she is wonderful and wise and everything about being around her feels enriching.
I do not know Madeleine L’Engle other than by her books, and I would not presume to say that I really know Sandy Smith either – I’ve just had the pleasure of her company, the joy of promoting her books, we’ve chattered back and forth in emails to plan signings and blog tours, and I adore her. But in my mind, I imagine L’Engle and Smith as kindred spirits that belong to the same whisper of a thought.
Perhaps this is one of those things I’m meant to keep to myself. I’m not sure. I have forgotten, until recently when back in the store full time, how awkward I can be. I say things at odd times, like tonight when I commented on a girl’s freckles. I really love freckles. But I’ve read The Summer of the Great-Grandmother and I’m grasping to “review” it. I can’t. I can only tell you about a feeling, and that feeling was a memory of sunshine and a respect for life and nature on an Easter Weekend in the woods near my old home. Ultimately, I can only choose one word that describes it all… this book, the ladies in question, the woods, that moment…
1. You came to Texas for the first time for an Earth Day celebration book signing tour. Let’s recap, what stores and schools did you visit?
Half Price Books in Houston at these locations:
Half Price Books in San Antonio at these locations:
Half Price Books Austin area:
Half Price Books in Dallas area:
Claughton Middle School in Houston
Austin Jewish Academy in Austin
2. Did you meet any memorable customers you’d like to send a shout out to?
Oh my gosh—so many! The young woman from Spain studying in the futures program, sorry I can’t remember the name of the program and don’t know if I got hers. What a long, great conversation. There was Rob who was interested in knowing more about publishing. Marie Senter, “Viva la Fiesta!” in San Antonio who blessed me with my own pair of cowboy boot earrings. Lots of excited and, alternately, very shy kids. I met kindred spirits in the food movement who were very encouraging about the theme of my books. Answering these questions is helping me remember all the good times. 🙂
3. Where did you visit when you weren’t at bookstores and schools?
Unfortunately, my husband and I did not get to do too much touristy stuff, but we got in a little. Of course, first, I got to meet my number one fan in Texas and her family, and visit her woods—you! We also got to visit Old Spring. In San Antonio we ran into a spring festival called Fiesta that we hadn’t a clue was happening! We also were staying in an old part of town with historic homes, many included on the “walking tour.” We met the owner of one of those homes (shout out to Victoria!), who gave us an inside tour of the home. I also got to have dinner with an old friend of mine that I hadn’t seen in 30 years! And of course we did the Riverwalk and had dinner there the first night. Unfortunately, in Austin and Dallas it was just busy, busy, busy. On the way home we got in a quick visit to Petroglyph National Monument in New Mexico and the Grand Canyon. We were sort of on a deadline to get back.
4. Do you have a favorite city or region, now that you’ve been here?
I think we both enjoyed San Antonio the most. But it might have been because we were staying at a very good location. Close to downtown and in a cool, older neighborhood.
5. Did you learn anything new on your tour?
Sure. I learned how cool Half Price Books bookstores are, for one. Besides books, records, etc., they have lots of very nice stationery products which I am a sucker for. I also learned what the sky looks like when it’s full of dust. I got to see a lot of new terrain. We drove through Idaho, Wyoming, Colorado, Texas, New Mexico, Arizona, Nevada, California, and a touch of Utah. Some of those were for the first time. And the Hoover dam is huge.
6. Did you try any new foods?
No, I don’t think so. Unless you count McDonald’s Bacon Clubhouse Burger. Although there were a different kind of beans being served with the Mexican meals than we usually have here. Charro beans?
8. Your trip ran into the Easter weekend. How did celebrating Easter on the road differ than how you celebrate it at home?
Normally at home we would go to church in the morning and in the afternoon my family would get together, have a traditional meal where I would bring my homemade egg noodles, my sister-in-law would bring her fried rice, and five or six layer jello, my sister would bring her green or pink creamy salads, mom a pie or two, and whoever is hosting filling in with the rest (ham, mashed potatoes, gravy, vegetable, more pies…). Then the kids would do an Easter egg hunt until nobody wanted to hunt anymore and everyone wanted to hide the eggs. Sometimes we use plastic eggs, but I like to use the real boiled and colored ones. It would be a lot like the scene in Heirloom where it is Easter. This year we drove from Houston to San Antonio on Easter. We managed to get to a church service late and then we were offered some food that they had eaten in the morning before the service. Since we were on the road we ate some. So I had two tamales and an orange for Easter noon dinner this year. But I guess the Riverwalk dinner at night was also on Easter. It just didn’t seem like Easter, but periodically someone would wish us a happy Easter.
9. What would you tell non-Texans to expect from a visit to Texas?
10. In the third installment of the series, the story takes readers to Florida. Do you see a Florida trip in your future?
Well, I have been to Florida, just not out and about much. A reader in Florida recently invited me down, so you never know….:)
Even if you missed the tour, don’t miss out on the books:
4-20, Easter Sunday, Resurrection Sunday, Spring Equinox, Earth Day (on the 22nd)… so many things to celebrate. Today, we hid from them all and took to the woods after doing some spring cleaning and moving of furniture.
So as we practiced the catechism (“Who made you?” “God made me.” “What else did God make?” “All things.” And so on), we gathered wildflowers in an ‘Easter’ basket and frolicked in the sunshine.
It looked a bit like this:
This time in the woods was refreshing, as always. And much needed after the exciting week we had. All day yesterday I was out celebrating Earth Day with S. Smith on her last day in Houston, while kiddo was with her Grandmom dyeing Easter eggs (a tradition I can only get behind because I love eating hard boiled eggs).
Below are pictures from the Earth Day Celebration Seed Savers Signings at HPB Humble and then HPB Montrose.
There’s more celebrating to be had. S.Smith will be touring San Antonio, Austin, and Dallas before she heads back to Oregon; and HPB Humble will be giving away reusable bags to the first 25 customers Tuesday morning. Next Saturday (HPB Humble) there will also be a seed presentation by the Mercer Arboretum volunteers!
I’ve been a slacker these last few weeks. At least it feels that way. I am behind on my reading – but when am I not? My house is not nearly as clean as I would like it to be – since when is this news? And I’ve been doing an awful lot of just ‘hanging out.’
Just thinking about the act of doing nothing makes me cringe sometimes. I’m a doer. Albeit a relaxed doer, but a doer nonetheless.
Then, I realized, it’s family season. I’m supposed to be hanging out. Thanksgiving just passed. It’s almost Christmas.
Plus, sometimes the reading bug is in a coma because it’s still caught up in the last book you read.
You know that one, “the book hangover.” You can’t move on to a new title with the same level of zest because your brain keeps lulling back to old characters. I felt that way pretty heavily after I finished reading The Hunger Games series in a two-to-three day stint. And now, I have half a mind to re-read the book that has induced this coma… Heirloom by S.Smith.
How appropriate that in this season of friends and family, Heirloom has such a gloriously familial title.
There’s just nothing more appropriate in the holiday season than a search for a missing father. Questions that rise up in every little girl’s heart, whether her father is present or missing are subtly addressed in Smith’s book as Lily asks, “Do you think my father will like me?”
Of course, another character responds, you’re his daughter so he loves you.
Little girls just can’t hear that enough.
Then as Lily finally (*spoilers*) makes her way home, I just want to bask in the hominess of it all. I’ve been lurking around in a Seed Savers hominess fog for weeks. In my impatience I want to scream, “When do I get a copy of Keeper!?”
My only response is the last page of Heirloom, “Keeper, Coming in 2014.”
2014 cannot get here fast enough.
If you haven’t purchased your copy of Seed Savers: Heirloom, please do so by clicking the link with the title.
Author: S. Smith
Genre: Young Adult
Length: 300 pages
“I haven’t been this in love with a young adult series since Harry Potter,” I wrote after reading the first installment of the Seed Savers Series – Treasure – for the first time. Having now read the second and third installments – Lily and Heirloom – I can happily say that the statement still holds true.
No, there aren’t wizards or magic. The adventure doesn’t reach any of the same fantastical levels, but it is very epic. It is based in a truth that could easily lend itself to being our future. This dystopian society is so intense, because it’s so plausible.
Treasure featured two runaway kids (Clare and Dante) after their discovery of the wonderful world of planting your own seeds and growing your own food, in a government where that is forbidden. They flee for their safety. They flee to learn more.
Lily is where you get to know another character, Clare and Dante’s friend and fellow cohort in the Seed Saving excitement. In this book she blossoms before our eyes into less of a sidekick and more the hero. I was pleasantly surprised to find she had such a huge role in the story. She’s not just the key to almost everything, but the narrator as well! Who knew?
After a long alienation from Clare and Dante, Smith is wise enough to bring us back and feed our curiosity. Heirloom is told back and forth between what’s happening with Clare and Dante, and the world according to Lily. I loved this pattern for a third in a series. It wrapped up some lo0se ends, it led us into asking more questions, and we were able to adventure cross country and learn more about growing plants in a cozy environment in the same book. My brain needed this.
Heirloom, even more than the other two in the series, is full of interesting facts about how a society would get from where it was in the 1980’s to what it is in Smith’s novels. In a time when we are debating GMOs, organics, seeds, and patents, this book is a must have to help middle grade students grasp all the political nuances decisions of today will have on tomorrow. I love that Smith was able to take an intense political topic and weave it into a fascinating (and fun) story.
The fun comes into play, I think, because Smith did not intend to strictly bark all this information at us. It comes from love, and you can sense that as you read. Love for what? “[M]y love of good food,” she said in a blog interview with me once, “Seed Savers is a love story starring home-grown food. I love food—growing, harvesting, cooking, eating, and sharing it. And I think a lot of people these days maybe are missing out on that.”
If you’ve read books one and two, you cannot miss this third part of the series! It’s essential. It has propelled us so much deeper into the story and I’m jittery waiting on the fourth! It didn’t maintain the same read in one sitting quality of books one and two, but I believe that’s because the characters demand more of your time. There is so much more going on, and in the midst of it all they want to teach you as well. That takes more than a day. Clare, Dante, and Lily are growing and stretching their legs, and with them Smith is becoming more detailed and dynamic in her tale. Like good food, Heirloom was made to be savored.
If you haven’t read any of the series, you must. Purchase it for yourself, purchase it for your children for Christmas and read them together – or just swipe the copies and read them yourself. They are so good.