Out and About on the Northside

The last two Saturdays I was out and about in my own neighborhood! First I read along with authors Sarah Warren and Shannon Gibney and literacy advocate Chad Kempe at The Warren Arts Habitat which is about one hundred yards from our back door (I’ve never measured). This event was extraordinary — Sarah and Shannon were fantastic to read with, and there was a wonderful group of people, many of them in the neighborhood. I even met a guy from the D.R. who was really interested in my latest baseball novel (which I read from). I had a warm happy feeling about this for days.

Reading at the Warren

Today was one of the coolest events I’ve ever done — I did a book talk at North Regional Library (two blocks from B’s school!) followed by a robot demo by the Herobotics club at Patrick Henry High… it was like the characters in my novel Winter of the Robots had come to life! (The littlest person is my assistant, not a member of the team).

Herobotics Team

I talked about my favorite robot books from Asimov to Yaccarino, then the Herobotics club showed some of their creations. Byron got to operate a robot! At both events my wife had a great robot craft for the kiddos. Even the herobotics team took a break to make paper bots.

robot craft

I received a Minnesota State Arts Board grant to support my latest work, and these events were done to fulfill my obligation to the voters of Minnesota. But after doing them I realize the events are really what the grant is all about. Getting out in the community, promoting reading and robots, has been the highlight of my year. We really did reach new people and new readers. I’m lucky to live in a state that values and supports the arts as much as Minnesota does, and lucky to live in a neighborhood where people turn out to support local authors.

Thanks to Larry and Catherine, Duane and Connie for their support at these events! And a huge thanks to Sarah, Shannon, Chad, and the Herobotics team for making these wonderful events! This thanksgiving week I have a lot of thanks to give.


Winter Class: The Art of Growing Up

I’m teaching a Loft class this winter that’s live and in person, inspired by my many posts here.


The Art of Growing Up

01/27/16–03/16/16 | Wednesday | 6:00-8:00 p.m.

Ages: Adult

Location: Open Book-Loft Classroom (1011 South Washington Ave., Minneapolis, MN 55415)

Reg $280.00 | Mem $252.00 | Low inc. $196.00

In this class we’ll revisit two iconic middle-grade series: Beverly Cleary’s Ramona and Judy Blume’s Fudge. These series chart the milestones of growing up without dead mothers or anyone needing to save the world. In the first part of each class, we will discuss two or three crucial moments in the book under discussion and how the comparatively low stakes can feel high in the hands of a skilled author. We will also have a sustained discussion about why such books matter—how “quiet” books that chronicle the lives of ordinary children can be comforting companions to young readers. In the second half of each class, students will bring their own writing and/or favorite books into the discussion. Each participant will have at least one opportunity (and obligation) to do so.

Students are encouraged to read or re-read Ramona the Pest,Ramona and Her Mother, and Ramona Quimby, Age 8 by Beverly Cleary and Tales of a Fourth Grade Nothing, Otherwise Known as Sheila the Great, and Superfudge by Judy Blume.

Sign up here!

The Five People You Meet on the Internet

I think I broke my Facebook. I deleted all of my past posts and now nobody sees the new ones… do doubt due to algorithms that make it impossible to appear in the “feeds” of others unless you have a critical mass of past likes. Kind of like publishing, I guess. You have to be a big deal to be a big deal.

But do I want to trust my public persona to algorithms anyway?  Deep down inside, even in the age of Kardashians, I kind of think that a fame based on being shoved in people’s faces is not the same as having, for lack of better word, a reputation. Some desperate, lonely part of me wants people to seek me out, to find me on the bookshelf, to enter my URL, at the very least to “subscribe” to my posts via email.

So maybe this is for the best. To the five people who see this post because they chose to see it, I thank you for stopping by.

November Events

I have two events in November, both cool, and both in stone-throwing territory from my own home… these are both free, open to the public, and fun for all ages.



Join me and wonderful local authors Shannon Gibney and Sarah Warren as we talk about our work, and have snacks. There will also be someone from the terrific-awesome Mid-Continent Oceanographic Institute, a local nonprofit dedicated to helping kids with their writing.

What do the four of us have in common? Alas, it is a secret, but if you come, I will whisper it to you and deny it later.

Saturday, November 14, 2:00 p.m. – 4:00 p.m.
The Warren (An Artist Habitat), 4400 Osseo Drive, Minneapolis


Join me and the Herobotics team from Patrick Henry High School in North Minneapolis for a fun afternoon of books, bots, and bars (you know, cookies… I’m trying to stay alliterate here). I will talk about my favorite robot books, which of course includes one set in North Minneapolis (cough). I am so excited the real-life counterparts of my characters will be on hand to talk to younger kids about what goes into bot-building.

Saturday, November 21, 2:00 p.m.- 4:00 p.m.
North Regional Library, 1315 Lowry Avenue North, Minneapolis

Both of these events are made possible because… Kurtis Scaletta is a fiscal year 2015 recipient of an Artist Initiative grant from the Minnesota State Arts Board, thanks to a legislative appropriation by the Minnesota State Legislature and by a grant from the National Endowment for the Arts.

Please come and tell your friends to come!

Sapiens: A Brief History of Humankind (Review)

sapiensSapiens: A Brief History of Humankind was not the book I expected to read, and the title seems to misrepresent the book. There is history here, sure, but it is more a philosophical treatise than an historical one. Author Yuval Harari suggests, among other things, that:

  • Humans are inherently bad for the planet, having driven animals to extinction well before recorded history began.
  • Even extinction is a better fate for animals than being domesticated, save a few (cats and dogs) kept as pets and a few more (sheep, no other examples) who manage to have decent lives while still being exploited for their resources.
  • The agricultural revolution was terrible for humanity. He even suggests that wheat domesticated humanity vs. the other way around.
  • Human Rights are among the fictions we create, like gods and corporations.
  • Money is the one true religion.

Any reader is likely to find something here to be challenged by, perhaps even outraged by, if so inclined. I found it rather interesting and provocative, even if Professor Harari (it is hard to think of him as anything but a professor, the sort of iconoclastic one who divides classes into ardent admirers and petitioners who want him fired) might overhammer a few nails. In fact, his tendency to go back and remind you what he just said six times is part of his professorial wont.

In particular I keep thinking about his description/indictment of “romantic consumerism,” as the prevailing western ideology, one which unites people across the political and religious spectrum. He puts this in terms where most people who do not consider themselves to be materialistic would still be very much on the hook: the idea of betterment through travel and the arts, for example. It feels true on a visceral level and gives a vocabulary to thoughts I’ve had and could not articulate.

He also describes the myth/misconception of meritocracy, which is also compelling and important. I think that even progressives who know the statistics of success will attribute their own fortunes to their virtues, even if they magnanimously decline to blame the failures of others on their character flaws.  These are mere fictions used to support a hierarchy. I would say an “unjust hierarchy,” except that justice itself is, by Harari’s explicit reasoning, a fiction.

The religious and the idealistic will find little quarter given, but I don’t I would describe him as misanthropic. Sapiens definitely holds up some unpleasant truths about our particular species that might be easier to dismiss than think about.

I would recommend this book to anyone wanting a little brain food. I enjoyed having it as an audiobook; it was like having a pedantic but interesting passenger as I toodled around town.




I’ve seen a few people posting this graphic on Facebook, in response to a particular issue which this post is not about. I’ve been thinking about the quote itself.

Whether minds can be changed by eloquent quotes, I don’t know, but I do think President Jefferson here captures the mood (or a mood) of the nation’s founding, the pervasive optimism of the enlightenment, which was not especially religious, even if the men themselves were.

I think this idea has fallen upon hard times with a large number of people; the idea that our national story is one of discovery and development. Among some, there is distrust of science. Among others, profound unease about the changing “manners and opinions” of the 20th and 21st Centuries.

Even among those who live by this myth — and it is, after all, a myth, in the broader sense that means a communal narrative of origin and destiny — even among those who live by this myth, I feel like faith in it erodes; people speak with confidence about the right and wrong side of history, projecting a jury of our descendants who have the final verdict, even while lamenting the ebbing tide of progress.

I have mixed feelings myself about this narrative… I don’t completely accept this idea of “barbarous ancestors,” or that humanity has had a childhood which it can outgrow, that we are fit for bigger britches now than we did before. It is a more compelling myth, to me, than one of divine creation and pending apocalypse, but I feel like it is ahistorical to suppose we have only recently matured, after sixty or seventy thousand years of existence.

I have grave concerns about the immediate future and little hope for the far future, for purely scientific reasons that have to do with population and ecology. Whatever our barbarous ancestors did, they lived for many millennia, adapting to climactic and other changes, without making the place uninhabitable. They were more or less leaderless and casteless. Their lives were short but the world was without end.

See No Color (Review)

See No ColorThe title of Shannon Gibney’s debut YA novel, See No Color, has a resonance for people (like me) who were around in the 1980s — “Love See No Color,” was a popular motto, often emblazoned on T shirts, and generally seen (by white people, at least) as an idealistic goal: Color didn’t matter! We could all be color blind together and put the terrible past behind us!

Gibney’s book is a critique of that trope. The protagonist, Alexandra “Little” Kirtridge, is in a perfect position to examine it, as the African American adopted daughter of a wealthy white family. Her father is a former professional baseball player and still obsesses on the game as a father and as a coach. Alex is perhaps his favorite project, a high-school girl who plays on teams of boys and excels. The shared love for baseball anchors a wonderfully described father-daughter relationship, but that relationship begins to fray at the seams when Alex discovers her biological father has been trying to contact her for years and her adopted parents have kept his letters a secret. That plus a black boyfriend have Alex doing a little soul searching.

The Kirtridges say repeatedly that race doesn’t matter, and that they (the reader winces) never “saw” Alex “as black.” But of course, Alex is black, and begins to wonder what’s wrong with that, or why her parents would refuse to see it. She begins to realize that she’s been kept from her family and cultural history.

Gibney builds sympathy for the Kirtridges while showing readers how deeply flawed their reasoning is. They are kind, generous, loving parents; they are also wrong. Young adult fiction has been called “morally simple,” but here is one of many books that challenges that pert assumption (as does any book from Carolrhoda Lab). Real parents can be both lovable and frustrating, and Gibney illustrates that beautifully. Alex is complicated herself — her resentment of her parents’ biological children is conveyed with moving honesty. As a child from a well-off family, she also struggles with judging the more working-class family of her boyfriend.

Gibney is at her best describing family relationships, and I look forward to reading more from her. I happen to know that her second book is set in Liberia — an interesting direction to take after a debut novel about baseball and adoption. ;-)