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Baleful Strix (Colored pencil, pastel, acrylic, & watercolor), by Zoe Campbell, 11 (San Francisco, CA), published in the October 2021 Issue of Stone Soup

A note from Jane

Now it’s October, it definitely feels like fall—the perfect time of year to curl up in a cozy chair on one of those ever-lengthening evenings with the new issue of Stone Soup and a pile of books to read. There are so many delights in this month’s issue, but I wanted to draw your attention to a book review, included in our new feature highlighting material from Stonesoup.com. I am a huge fan of the absurd, especially when it appears in the form of an incredibly serious approach to something not obviously worthy of that kind of attention, so I loved reading Brais Macknick-Conde’s review of David Rees’s How to Sharpen Pencils. Besides the fact that I am naturally drawn to the book Brais reviewed, I also really enjoyed the style in which they reviewed it. While sharing all of the proper insights of a great reviewer, they brilliantly deadpan their way through their review, mirroring the style of the book itself, and closing with a gloriously tongue-in-cheek summary of the important things learned from this manual.

This weekend, I challenge you to produce a review of a piece of creative work in the style of the original. Focus in on two or three paragraphs of the writing you are reviewing and take note of the author’s word choices, sentence structures, turns of phrase, and adherence to the rules of genre. Do they have particular stylistic tics you can mimic? Maybe something like long, rambling sentences broken up with clauses or dashes—as if they are having lots of thoughts at once, in a haze—or, perhaps, equally long, meandering ones, somehow controlled with commas; or semi-colons. Or perhaps it’s all short and to the point. Or choosing every word or phrase carefully, like a cat waiting to pounce? They might use deliberately technical language, or period speech. Whatever it is, work with your observations to have fun working in the mode of someone else’s style or genre. Understanding our greatest inspirations can be a great way to help us find our own voices, and have some fun in the process.

If visual art is more your bag, take inspiration from the tremendous October issue cover art by Zoe Campbell. Her Baleful Strix is so vividly alive, its legs powerful, its wings outstretched, leaning into our space and fixing us with its eyes. Its power is emphasized by her bold color palette, an extraordinary mixture of strong, fiery warmth and cooling blue-grays and purples. It makes me think of fall, and Halloween, and mythology—and at the same time, the creature’s expression, and even the striking title, make me question its identity. Is it really the baleful loner it seems? I feel there are many possible tales to tell embedded in this image . . .

Whatever you choose as your creative inspiration this weekend, if you are happy with it, send us what you make!

Before I go, I wanted to say that this week we are saying a fond farewell to one of our longest-serving interns, Anya Geist. We already knew Anya as a contributor pre-2020, but when COVID-19 struck she stepped forward to participate in and help us deliver all the new projects we started at that time—classes, Book Club, prompts, contests, and related web posts, just for starters—and she became a really important part of our team. We couldn’t possibly have got it all done without you, Anya! I was lucky to be the team member working most closely with Anya. It was a pleasure from start to finish, and great to have someone keeping me (mostly) on track! We especially had fun teaching our summer camp on starting your own literary magazine. (And what a great group joined the class, performing the miracle of making an actual online magazine in four days flat. Phew!). I want to say on behalf of the whole Stone Soup team that we are so proud of everything you have achieved with us, Anya. “Thank you” is two rather small words, but they mean so much in this instance. We look forward to hearing more from you as you continue to carry your brilliance out into the world. You can read a message from Anya herself below.

Until next time,

 A note from Anya

Dear Stone Soup Community,

For the past sixteen-plus months, I have been working as an intern for Stone Soup. Now, my time here is coming to an end—I’m ready to take all that I’ve learned into my own community in Massachusetts, and to launch into all of the excitement that is sophomore year of high school.

I have learned and grown so much through Stone Soup, and not only via my internship. Stone Soup has let me share my writing and art with the world: photography, short stories, poetry, my novel . . . all of it. I have met other young writers through the writing workshops, and through the summer camps; and of course, I gained invaluable leadership experience through my internship—co-running Book Club, creating an interview series with Stone Soup contributors, and far more. If you had told me five years ago that the magazine I loved to read would become so much more important in my life, I might not have believed it. But that’s what has happened. I am so grateful for the opportunity I’ve had to explore my confidence and independence, and to engage with the community—with all of you—through creative prompts, flash contests, Book Club, and so much more. Stone Soup will always be very special to me, and I hope that other young writers and artists will feel that way, too.


Last call for the Selfie Contest!

Our 2021 Selfie Contest: With and Without Masks will come to a close tomorrow night at 11:59 am Pacific Time, so make sure to get your submissions in!

To submit to this contest, please visit our Submittable page.

Highlights from the past week online

Don't miss the latest content from our Book Reviewers and Young Bloggers at on our blog!

Kai Wells, 12, wrote three magnificent poems centered on the experience of being young and Black in America.

Laura Moran provided a report on the first Book Club of fall session, for which they read Beyond the Bright Sea, by Lauren Wolk.

Diya, 12, blogged about her experience moving from Portland, Oregon to the Bay Area in her piece “Relocating.”

Ena, 12, created a stunning mixed media piece for the COVID blog entitled Apart Together.

Brais Macknik-CondeFrom Stone Soup
October 2021

Book Review: How to Sharpen Pencils by David Rees

By By Brais Macknick-Conde, 11 (Brooklyn, NY)


How to Sharpen Pencils: A Practical & Theoretical Treatise on the Artisanal Craft of Pencil Sharpening for Writers, Artists, Contractors, Flange Turners, Anglesmiths & Civil Servants by David Rees, is a gold mine for anyone wishing to sharpen a pencil. David Rees is a celebrated cartoonist, television host, writer, and artist. From listing the essential supplies for pencil sharpening (at a reasonable $1,000!) to describing the anatomy of a pencil to explaining how to preserve a freshly sharpened tip, this manual has it all. This truly is the ultimate guide to pencil sharpening.

Rees’s guide walks the reader through different sharpening styles and how they may apply to different styles of people and professions. One of my favorite sections describes how to sharpen a pencil with a pocketknife. For example, he recommends producing a steep-angled pencil tip for people with heavy hands, as this will make it harder to break the tip off. He also advises exposing a lot of the graphite in pencils for artists, as this will make for a light sketch that can be easily erased.

Rees’s love of manual pencil sharpening is only surpassed by his hatred of electric pencil sharpening and mechanical pencils. Here is one hint: Rees’s feelings about electric pencil sharpeners involve the use of mallets.

Without giving away all of this guide’s secrets, I must mention Rees’s most prized pencil-sharpening possession: An El Casco M430-CN. Created by a company that once made firearms, this double-burr hand-cranked machine, Rees declares, is the best pencil sharpener on Earth.

I enjoyed reading Rees’s tongue-in-check manual not just for its jokes and wisecracks, but also for its factual information, and even its lifestyle recommendations. By reading this book, I have learned the proper hand-stretching exercises to do before long pencil-sharpening sessions, that a correctly sharpened pencil is an object of beauty, and that mechanical pencils make for good firewood. This book is where I will always look to for pencil-sharpening guidance and inspiration, and it is where you should too.

Recommended for middle school and up.

How to Sharpen Pencils: A Practical & Theoretical Treatise on the Artisanal Craft of Pencil Sharpening for Writers, Artists, Contractors, Flange Turners, Anglesmiths & Civil Servants by David Rees. Penguin Random House, 2012. Buy the book here and support Stone Soup in the process!

Read more book reviews on the Stone Soup blog!

Stone Soup is published by Children’s Art Foundation-Stone Soup Inc., a 501(c)(3) educational nonprofit organization registered
in the United States of America, EIN: 23-7317498.

Stone Soup's advisors: Abby Austin, Mike Axelrod, Annabelle Baird, Jem Burch, Evelyn Chen, Juliet Fraser, Zoe Hall, Montanna Harling, Alicia & Joe Havilland, Lara Katz, Rebecca Kilroy, Christine Leishman, Julie Minnis, Jessica Opolko, Tara Prakash, Denise Prata, Logan Roberts, Emily Tarco, Rebecca Ramos Velasquez, Susan Wilky.

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