New Lit on the Block :: Binsey Poplar Press

“Having a safe space to share your art/writing and the power of publication to galvanize aspiring young artists and writers to share their voice” is a motivating factor behind Binsey Poplar Press according to Founder and Editor Sophia Smith. Featuring poetry, fiction, nonfiction, photography, and art by contributors ages 13-26, Binsey Poplar Press publishes an online literary magazine every two months as well as publishing pieces on their website. “Our website will be continuously updated with new art and writing pieces and issues,” said Jessica Gao, Web Designer and Co-Editor for Art. “We hope to make it even more visually appealing and be one of your favorite reading spots.” Continue reading “New Lit on the Block :: Binsey Poplar Press”

A Wonderful Read

Guest Post by Brooke Carpenter

I don’t think I’ve ever laughed so hard or cried so much as in the book Wonder by R. J. Palacio. That’s saying something; I am one of the editors of the poetry section of the online journal Route 7 Review, which features the creativity of worldwide authors and artists. And Wonder is a stunning work of art. It is beautifully woven with introspect and paradigm-shifting opportunities. Palacio masterfully creates a soothing undertone of love and acceptance in a cruel world, while at the same time maintaining a lighthearted, hilarious overtone that digs at the very human essence. Palacio carefully crafts the perfect tones and perspectives for each character she delves into, creating a quick-paced, engaging read.

Wonder discusses the topics of kindness, forgiveness, and acceptance as it plunges headfirst into the world of August, a 5th grader going to public school for the first time. With 27 surgeries to his name and a severe facial deformity, August is highly aware that he attracts unwanted attention. Needless to say, he is terrified to become a public display as he starts school. The book not only follows August through the school year, through the ups and downs and fears and successes, but Palacio also cleverly weaves in the voices of the surrounding characters, adding a deeper level of interest to the novel.

As August’s story unfolds, it is impossible not to love the marvelous characters pushing and pulling against each other. Palacio’s beautiful writing delves into the far reaches of the soul to expose the hidden pieces. There is probably nothing more accurate to say than that Wonder is simply wonderful.

Wonder by R. J. Palacio. Knopf Books for Young Readers, 2012.

Reviewer bio: I am a Senior at Dixie State University and am an editor for the poetry section of DSU’s online journal, Route 7 Review. Submissions are open now until November 6.

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Timely Critique & Uncluttered Horizons

Guest Post by Christine Wambui

Bird Song weaves mythology into our present reality, juxtaposing waves of mythic cerulean sea with a snowy winter’s day in the Windy City, where Thelsie lives with an alcoholic uncle. The fluency of her exit strategy in this opening scene carefully lands us on an Ali-Smith-esque beach, possibly in Heaven. But this novel satisfyingly dives into the other world, replete with untouched olive trees, cypress, oaks, alien looking plants and wildflowers.

Hearing a voice that reminds Thelsie of her mama’s choir singing, she wanders inland to meet the locals. An appreciation for the natural world pervades the island of past and future, rich in prickly grass, ferns, and ancient Greek speaking characters. If looks can kill, you can imagine what sounds can do. Sirens struggle to protect the environment from man, tied to the mast, and ship, dashed about on the rocks.

But that’s the joy of it, to see the metaphor of industry undone by its own gluttony and cursed pretension. This book gives me hope that humans can overcome their greed and protect the environment. Bird Song’s timely critique and uncluttered horizons liberate the mind: truly a pleasure to read.

Bird Song: A Novella by Clara Hume. Dragonfly Pub, November 2020.

Reviewer bio: Christine Wambui is a passionate freelance writer from Kenya, who covers socio-economic, environmental, fashion related, and women’s issues. Her writing draws on a wide variety of work and life experiences.

New Lit on the Block :: The Milking Cat

What happens when you repeatedly tell a teen they can’t do something? Of course, they will find a way to do it, which, in the case of Editor-in-Chief Benji Elkins, resulted in The Milking Cat, an online publication of comedy in all forms, from written works to movies to comics and more.

The name itself has a comedic referent, as Benji explains, “’The Milking Cat’ is a reference to the 2000 film Meet The Parents where Ben Stiller’s character lies about milking a cat on a farm that has no cows.” Benji found the scene especially humorous and decided to name the website as a testament to it. “Also,” he adds, “it rolls off the tongue once you get used to it.”

Behind the name, the mission of The Milking Cat is to provide an outlet for aspiring teen comedians, but the initial motivation stemmed from an experience Editor-in-Chief Benji Elkins faced. “It goes something like this: In ninth grade, there was a stairwell that consistently had pencils stuck in its ceiling. When I returned to school in the tenth grade, the pencils were completely gone! All that remained was the scarred terrain of pencils that once were. As a result, I wrote a comedic piece featuring the pencils’ removal entitled ‘COLLECTIVE STUDENT BODY ART PIECE DESTROYED BY SCHOOL.’ However, when the school newspaper refused to publish it, I asked that they create a humor column. When they refused that, I asked his school’s activities director if I could start a humor paper. When they refused that as well, I decided I would simply have to do it myself.”

Putting together a humor publication editorial staff is a delicate balance between skill sets. Benji Elkins [pictured] says he has always enjoyed both writing and making jokes at the dinner table. “I’ve been involved in other (and much more serious) teen literary magazines through the submission of my own work,” Benji quips, “and therefore like to believe I ‘know the industry.’ But I’ve also been an active member in my school’s literary magazine. Currently, I’m the co-Editor-in-Chief. Otherwise, I’m simply a fan of writing and comedy and a huge fan of trying to put the two together.”

Alongside his efforts is friend and colleague Dan Soslowsky, who, “after coming down from the high of winning his third-grade art contest,  needed something to keep his cartooning skills sharp.” As Dan tells it, “I originally turned down my offer to be the Senior Editor and Head of Illustration and Design for The Milking Cat, but ultimately gave in after receiving a box of chocolates, flowers, and a 2018 Mercedes-AMG® GT C Coupe on my doorstep with a note signed ‘With love, Benji.’” In addition to his role with The Milking Cat, Dan is the Head Editor of the Humor Section in his school’s newspaper as well and is involved in numerous other art-related extracurriculars.

The final editorial staffer is Noah Stern, who “has been an avid fan of comedy since his parents let him watch their DVD box set of the Family Guy Star Wars parody episodes.” Noah is the head of the satire section at his school paper as well.

Additionally, “in case anyone was wondering,” Benji included, “all of the Editors’ favorite apparatus on the Bop-It machine is Twist-It.”

The learning curve for running their own publication was steep, as Noah shares the greatest hurdle they have faced was “bringing The Milking Cat to the level it is at today. Originally, The Milking Cat submissions were open to anyone of any age, but in retrospect, we cast the net too wide. We would rarely get submissions or viewers and as a result, the main people submitting were mostly us three editors. We pushed ourselves to write something every week, and it was increasingly stressful. However, when COVID-19 hit, we decided to kick it up a notch and grow our team – specifically around teens like us. We rebranded as a ‘by teens, for teens’ comedy website and began receiving many staff applications and comedy submissions. As a result, the greatest joy we’ve all experienced probably comes out of our greatest hurdle; the thing we love most about the site is giving teens around the world the opportunity to not only to read comedy, but also to provide them the opportunity to create it themselves as well.”

Readers of the publication, which posts new content every Monday evening, can expect to find content related to sports, politics, riffs on classic literature – “all sorts of readers can find a comedic piece that fits their specific interests,” Noah assures. “We triple-dog-dare you to pick any piece at random, and no matter which you stumble upon, you will find something thoughtful, well-written, and (hopefully) funny.”

In addition to the editors’ contributions, recent content includes:

Julianna Reidell – Hamlex Commercial: A commercial screenplay for the new prescription drug inspired by Shakespeare’s Hamlet
Asher Hancock – I Tried 5 Dark Web Dating Sites and was Pleasantly Surprised: A lonely romantic reviews various shady dating sites such as SatanMate.com and WeHaveCandy.com.
Sascha Nastasi-Feinburg – Pad+ Casting Calls: A mock casting call asking for actors to fill roles in the next big WattPad novel adaptations, including “I Fell in Love with a Cannibal because I Thought He Was a Vampire.”

And a sampling of humor by title alone:

Man Plays Air Guitar With All The Wrong Notes
The Life of an Undercover Dental Student
High School Student Shocked To See Chemistry Teacher Peeing In Middle Urinal

Teenaged contributors who are not a part of The Milking Cat Staff are welcome to submit works. Submissions are collectively reviewed by the Editors on its publication status. If accepted, the work is uploaded verbatim to the site. Pieces written by staff members are reviewed by Staff Curators who make edits and suggestions that the author can accept or reject before publication.

Looking to the future, Benji says, “Our plans for this summer include The Milking Cat Comedy Competition, where teens around the world can submit humorous pieces of any kind for the chance to win special prizes from 4 Ivy League Humor Magazine and the satirical site The Hard Times, such as up to $350, merch from the various humor magazines, workshop sessions, and much more! We also hope to establish ourselves more among teens as a regular place to read comedy from their peers. As for long term plans for the publication, we will keep doing it as long as it keeps bringing us joy (and it is).”

Here’s to a lifetime of joy for The Milking Cat!

Revisiting Childhood Favorites

Guest Post by Chang Shih Yen

Lockdown gives you more free time to reread classics and revisit things you love as a child. The Little Prince is a book by French writer and aviator, Antoine de Saint-Exupéry. It was originally written in French and first published in 1943. Since then, it has been translated into hundreds of languages and has sold many millions of copies.

In The Little Prince, the narrator is a pilot who has crash landed in the Sahara Desert. In the middle of the desert, the pilot meets a little prince who comes from a different planet. The little prince has decided to travel and visit different planets, including Earth. The little prince asks the pilot many questions about the world. In this book, readers meet many characters like the little prince, his rose, his lamb in a box, and the fox. The book is also illustrated with charming illustrations by the author.

The Little Prince may be a children’s book, but it should be recommended reading for all ages. This book reveals the truths about life and the essential secret to understanding life. This book can be read at any stage in life, and each time that you read it, you will discover new truths and connect with your inner child.

The Little Prince by Antoine de Saint-Exupéry. Reynal & Hitchcock, 1943.

Reviewer bio: Chang Shih Yen is a writer from Malaysia, seeing through the pandemic in New Zealand. She writes a blog at https://shihyenshoes.wordpress.com/

New Lit on the Block: The Weight Journal

The weight of this sad time we must obey,
Speak what we feel, not what we ought to say.

― William Shakespeare, King Lear

Editor in Chief of The Weight Journal Matthew E. Henry shared, “At the beginning of my state’s COVID-19 Stay at Home order, it was widely circulated on social media that Shakespeare likely composed some of his greatest works in the midst of the Black Death. This was being shared as an encouragement for writers to continue producing work in the midst of the pandemic. The Weight took its name, in part, from the ending of Lear. But it is a general call for teens to take up writing as a tool to lay down the various things ‘weighing’ on their lives.”

The Weight Journal, publishing online poetry, slam poetry, flash fiction, fiction, creative nonfiction, and hybrid works by writers ages 9-12 grade, “endeavors to showcase the best in teen literature, including works that are not deemed school appropriate.” Matthew adds: “whatever that means.”

“We want work that is honest and says something profound about the human experience as can only be captured by this age group,” he explains. “We want to provide a common, public space, for those who have dared to undertake the challenge of objectifying their experience and imagination in writing.”

Matthew E. Henry knows this challenging experience, having been nominated twice for Pushcart and a Best of the Net for his poetry. He has been publishing poetry and fiction since 2003, and his first collection, Teaching While Black was published by Main Street Rag in February. Joining Matthew are six editors, current or former high school English/creative writing teachers, each with at least one MFA or MA. They are all writers themselves with a varied background of interests and publications.

Given this level of expertise and experience, writers who submit to The Weight Journal can expect their writing will undergo a rigorous process. “All submissions receive a first pass from the editor in chief,” Matthew explains, “to see if they are a potential fit for the general vibe of The Weight. After this, submissions are sent to the content editors, who pass their acceptance (sometimes with suggested changes), recommendation for resubmission, or rejection back to the editor. The editor then makes the final decision. Submitters are welcome (and encouraged!) to send in revised pieces or new ones in the future. Sometimes we’ve been able to provide one-on-one support through the revision process. We’re teachers and can’t help ourselves.”

The caliber of reading content available for the public is a standard Matthew defines clearly: “We aren’t publishing writers who are ‘good for their age.’ We’re publishing ‘good writing,’ period. So readers will find honesty and maturity from a diverse set of voices and experiences. Some works may be triggering for readers. Others will fill them with joy. All of them will make readers think, and rethink, and come back for more.”

Recent content published in The Weight includes “a conversation between what is alive, and what only pretends to be” hybrid by Anne Fu; “Broken Sanctuary” poetry by Sarah Street; “The Stages of Falling in Love with Her” poetry by Charlotte Edwards; “The Met” creative nonfiction by Alexandra Carpenter; and “Colors” creative nonfiction by Emma Kilbride.

Creating a new publication comes with joys and frustrations. Matthew focuses on what has worked well for The Weight: “Thus far, the greatest joy has been encouraging some amazing young writers. In some cases, we’ve been able to send the first acceptance letter to someone with a bright career ahead of them. We have already published pieces that I am jealous of and hope this will continue long into the future.”

In terms of the future for The Weight, “I want to see how this naturally evolves,” Henry muses. “The old man in me is thinking about a print publication or at least a ‘best of’ anthology in the future. But who knows? At this stage I am content to help usher these young authors into the literary scene.”

The Weight accepts submissions on a rolling basis, with a goal to publish new work every other Friday depending on the number of submissions. Matthew adds, “In light of our current realities, while submissions are still open for all students and on all topics, we are interested in works that are focused on matters of racial identity, especially from students of color. These works do not have to be centered on our current racial tensions, but they very well can be.”

While at times it absolutely feels like the weight of the world is upon us, how wonderful to have such a supportive and encouraging venue for young writers and readers of all ages to come together and share in the experience.

A Time of Hope: Hatchet

Guest Post by Zizheng William Liu

Hatchet is the depiction of a world gone wrong. The book details the life of Brian Robeson, the son of divorced parents, and victim of a horrific plane crash. Left alone in the midst of the Canadian wilderness with nothing but a windbreaker and hatchet, Brian must tame himself to survive.

The story begins in the city, where 13-year-old Brian boards a bush plane to see his father for the summer. Miles up into the air, the plane pilot suffer from a heart attack, rendering the plane flying aimlessly above the Canadian landscape. But Brian had always been under tough situations. Ever since he had witnessed the dreaded secret that led to his parent’s divorce, Brian’s life had spiraled out of control. No, literally. The Cessna 406 bush plane that Brian was riding to see his father crashes, and Brian is forced to live his life in the wild. All the luxuries from the city are gone. Food needs to be hunted, shelter needs to be built, and the pesky mosquitoes need to be repelled. Over a month passes since the initial plane crash, and Brian finally finds a solution. He scavenges a transmitter from the plane ruins and that ultimately leads to his rescue. A fur buyer had been alerted to Brian, but the 54 days that Brian spent in the wilderness had still taken its toll.

A thrilling and powerful piece, Hatchet shows that any problem can be solved, even when life is on the line. In a time when the Covid-19 pandemic has swept through our nation, this book is an insight into the true potential that we all have. When utilized, no problem is too big to be solved.

Hatchet by Gary Paulsen. Scholastic Press, 1986.

Reviewer bio: Zizheng William Liu is an avid writer. His works have been published in multiple literary journals and he is an editor for Polyphony Lit Magazines.

A Thought-Changing Read

Guest Post by Mia Willardson 

On May 19th, 2020, Hunger Games author Suzanne Collins released the novel The Ballad of Songbirds and Snakes. This dystopian piece is a prequel to Collins’s bestselling series. The Ballad Of Songbirds and Snakes takes place during the tenth annual Hunger Games and centers around young Coriolanus Snow. Snow is chosen to mentor in the Hunger Games and feels mortified when he is assigned the tribute from district twelve, Lucy Gray Baird. In the capital, district citizens were inferiors—less than people. Coriolanus felt disgraced to be assigned a girl from district twelve. However, Snow begins to learn that Lucy Gray isn’t just a girl from district twelve. She’s a very smart young woman who likes to wear rainbow dresses, sing, dance, and make a scene. She begins to become a hit in the capitol and Snow begins to see her in a new light. He begins to believe that she has a shot at winning the Hunger Games.

This story helps Hunger Games fans understand how Katniss and Peeta’s world came to be. The reader is taught the history of the dystopian country, and the hardships Snow and his family faced.

The reader learns how certain events and traditions came to place in the Hunger Games universe. Readers will fall in love with the bold characters in the novel, and will definitely find themselves audibly gasping and laughing along with the story. Collins’s use of striking imagery will make the reader feel as though they are apart of the journey. Collins shocks readers with how much the story can compare to our world and our real-world issues. The story revolves around power, control, and how people will react to it on larger scales. You’d be surprised how children fighting for their lives in an arena would compare to what is happening now. The Ballad of Songbirds and Snakes is a must-read and is the thought-changing tale of the year.

The Ballad of Songbirds and Snakes by Suzanne Collins. Scholastic Press, May 2020.

Reviewer bio: Mia is a fifteen-year-old upcoming high school sophomore who adores creative writing and dystopian literary pieces.

Buy this book from our affiliate Bookshop.org.

Sync Audio YA for Summer

Once again, Sync Audiobooks is offering a free summer audiobook program for teens (13+) – and perhaps some adults too! SYNC 2020 is utilizing Sora, a student reading app available for free download from OverDrive. Each week Sync shares two YA titles that can be downloaded with no expiration. After the week, the titles are no longer available to download, but previous titles with descriptions remain available on the site.

It’s already Week 5 of the program, but there are seven more weeks remaining. Previous titles include Monday’s Not Coming by Tiffany D. Jackson, The 57 Bus by Dashka Slater, Secret Soldiers by Paul B. Janeczko, Picture Us in the Light by Kelly Loy Gilbert, Faust by Johann Wolfgang von Goethe (stupendously performed!), Stalking Jack the Ripper by Kerri Maniscalco, Sisters Matsumoto by Philip Kan Gotanda, and Disappeared by Francisco X. Stork.

All you have to do to access the titles is register your email address. I’ve done so for the past two years and never receive any related junk mail or other solicitations, so this is an great program for teens and adults alike!