Posts Tagged ‘pen pal’

I used to write theater reviews, and I was doing a Google search not long ago on the name I used when, lo and behold, I found that I was in a footnote in a book on theater — specifically Portrayals of Americans on the World Stage, by Kevin J. Wetmore.

An essayist in the book had cited a TheaterMania review of Family Stories: A Slapstick Tragedy, by Biljana Srbljanović, a strange, dark play about children surviving in wartime. I saw the footnote at Google Books and couldn’t see the whole chapter, but it looks like it was about Srbljanović’s view of the Ugly American.

I can’t tell you how tickled I was to be footnoted. I had no idea that anyone had wanted to use that review. I have been equally excited and surprised the few times I got an acknowledgment (for doing not much) in friends’ books: Unseen Warhol, Balm in Gilead: Journey of a Healer, and Pen Pal. What a thrill!

Danielle Skraastad and Emma Bowers in Family Stories: A Slapstick Tragedy

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“Nearly two decades ago,” writes National Public Radio, “a massive wave struck the Tokio Express, a container ship that had nearly 5 million Legos onboard. The colorful toy building blocks poured into the ocean. Today, they are still washing up on shores in England.

“Tracey Williams and her children first happened upon the Tokio Express Legos in the late 1990s. Since then, she’s created a Facebook page called — Lego Lost At Sea — where other collectors show off their findings.

“Williams, who lives in Cornwall, tells NPR’s Scott Simon that among the many small, colorful and ironically nautical-themed Lego bits are flowers, swords, life vests, scuba tanks and even Lego octopi. …

” ‘I thought it would be quite interesting, from a scientific point of view, to monitor where it was all turning up, what was turning up and in what quantities and who found it,’ Williams says.” Read more here.

I note a variation on a theme in Pen Pal (which tells what happens when a child on the Gulf Coast throws a message in a bottle into the sea and ends up with a political-prisoner pen pal across the world). Francesca Forrest, author of Pen Pal, records true stories about messages in bottles at her website about the novel, here. Like the stories of Legos washed up near England, some of the message-in-a-bottle stories are pretty intriguing.

Photo: Tracey Williams/Lego Lost at Sea

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Photograph: Devesh Uba
Grocery store in Makoko, Lagos, Nigeria.

A recent manmade-island story in the Guardian made me think of Francesca Forrest’s lovely novel Pen Pal, which involves a girl in a floating community in the U.S. South who corresponds with a political prisoner in Asia.

The Guardian article, however, is about designers and architects building islands for populations threatened by rising seas.

Jessa Gamble writes, “It may seem like science fiction, but as rising sea levels threaten low-lying nations around the world, neighbourhoods like [the Yan Ma Tei breakwater in Hong Kong’s Causeway Bay, where residents live in boats] may become more common.

“Whereas some coastal cities will double down on sea defences, others are beginning to explore a solution that welcomes approaching tides. What if our cities themselves were to take to the seas? …

“The immediate and most numerous victims of climate change are sure to be in the developing world. In Lagos, the sprawling slum of Makoko regularly suffers floods, and its stilted houses are shored up with each new inundation. It’s under threat of razing by authorities.

“The Nigerian-born architect Kunlé Adeyemi proposes a series of A-frame floating houses to replace the existing slum. As proof of concept, his team constructed a floating school for the community. Still, many buildings do not make a city: infrastructure remains a problem here. One solution would be to use docking stations with centralised services, rather like hooking up a caravan to power, water and drainage lines at a campground.” More.

It all sounds like Noah building an ark. But I can’t help thinking it would be better to end global warming in the first place.

Photograph: Seasteading Institute, by way of the Guardian
The Seasteading Institute proposes a series of floating villages.

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Francesca has published Pen Pal, an e-book for middle grades through adults. $3.99. (Paperback available by January 1.)

I can’t recommend the book highly enough. It’s the story of two unlikely pen pals who turn out to have a lot in common and, though living a world apart, actually end up helping each other in times of crisis.

Em is a girl in a marginalized community on the southern U.S. coast (think “Beasts of the Southern Wild”) who puts a message in a bottle. The message is ultimately received by Kaya, a young woman in a place that is an amalgam of Asian countries where minorities have struggled to preserve their language and culture. Kaya is a political prisoner because of her advocacy.

It’s an amazingly enjoyable and compelling story, not as didactic as I may have made it sound. Francesca even went to tutor English in East Timor last summer, capping off several years of research about various locales in Asia and on the Gulf Coast.

Here is the message in the bottle starts it all off:

“Dear Person Who Finds My Message,

“I live in a place called Mermaid’s Hands. All our houses here rest on the mud when the tide is out, but when it comes in, they rise right up and float.

“They’re all roped together, so we don’t lose anyone. I like Mermaid’s Hands, but sometimes I wish I could unrope our house and see where it might float to. But I would get in trouble if I did that, so instead I’m sticking this message in a bottle. If you find it, please write back to me at this address. Tell me what the world is like where you are.

“Yours truly,


Francesca says, “The ebook of Pen Pal is out in the world at three out of the four locations it’ll be available at–Amazon, Barnes & Noble, and Kobo.”

If you like the book, enjoy its special website, here. And spread the word.

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