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Book Bag


By David Milgrim

Blue Rider Press/Penguin Group


Northampton children’s author and illustrator David Milgrim had a big hit last year with “Goodnight iPad,” a parody that updated the old bedtime story “Goodnight Moon” for the digital age, with a household of people struggling to turn off their Nooks, cellphones and other gadgets before going to bed.

Milgrim’s back with another spoof of digital enslavement, this time using a comic book/graphic novel format aimed at older readers. Narrator Dave Bowman writes a blog about all things electronic, and he professes little need for human interaction: “It seems to me that, with some luck, it won’t be long now before we’ll be able to digitize the contents of our own brains and then upload our very selves into cyberspace.”

But Dave’s got a problem. He’s lonely, and he has no idea how to meet or talk to girls. He’d rather text them if possible: “I don’t have to worry about the whole eye-contact thing.”

So it seems like a perfect match in Dave’s mind when his new iPhone, known as Siri, fills that role with a unique, independent feminine sensibility and wit, even if the two are mismatched physically. “I’m a large primate and she’s a small handheld electronic device,” Dave blogs. “How can that ever work?”

Siri, though, is intent on trying to steer Dave into the real world and make contact with a human female. Can Dave do it? And, in a world where the machines (including Dave’s electronic dog) seem to demonstrate more humanity than humans do, is there any hope for us?


By Jane Yolen

Holy Cow! Press


Jane Yolen, who’s written over 300 books for children and adults, tells a different kind of story in “Ekaterinoslav.” It’s a memoir, told in verse, of her father’s family, the one she never really knew — the one that came from a Ukrainian village, a fact that Yolen, of Hatfield, never learned until the late 1960s, when she turned 30. For years her father had told her he’d been born in Connecticut.

The book’s title comes from the name of the small Ukrainian town, or shtetl in Yiddish, where her father was born in the early 20th century. Mixed with old photos of family members and the town itself, Yolen’s story recounts the banter in the marketplace and the dirt streets and wooden houses, the traits of long-ago relatives, and the dangers to Jews in those communities from Cossack raids and pogroms.

In 1912, her father’s oldest brother, Lou, came to New York, and the rest of the family, including her father, followed in 1914, eventually settling later in Connecticut. These “greenhorns,” as Americans dubbed newcomers then, found jobs in their new home: some of the women as milliners, her grandfather as a Coca-Cola salesman, her uncle Lou as — possibly — a bootlegger.

Since her father told her very little about his past, Yolen has pieced the story together by talking to some older cousins, looking at documents at Ellis Island in New York and researching online archives. She says poetry seemed the best way to present a story that may be hazy on some facts but is rich in imagery.

She wonders, as she gazes at a picture of her father as a very young boy in Ukraine, whether she should visit the ancestral town — if she can find it — to learn more. She decides against it: “No, I shall stay here, at home, instead, / gazing back at the boy who stares at me / whisper to him, through him, dare him, / ‘Tell me the story of Ekaterinoslav,’ / till one day the picture itself speaks.”

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