Fists Upon a Star, Softcover

Fists Upon a Star: A Memoir of Love, Theatre, and Escape from McCarthyism by Florence Bean James with Jean Freeman Published by University of Regina Press Review by Kris Brandhagen $27.95 9780889774070 Fists Upon a Star is the memoir of a determined theatre director, Florence Bean James. It also chronicles the history of her theatre, the Seattle Repertory Playhouse. The book begins with the opening of the Playhouse, establishing a frank and journalistic voice. James establishes a sense of foreboding through the use of elegant foreshadowing right from the beginning. The reader already knows from the cover of the book that the Great Depression and McCarthyism would enter into the narrative at some point. She increases the suspense by backtracking to her upbringing and education. James decides to follow her teacher’s footsteps and pursue a post secondary education in Boston–quite a thing for a woman born in 1892 in Pocatello, Idaho. It was at Emerson College where she met her husband Burton James. Since they became such a dynamic duo, always working together, it is also difficult to separate her husband from her memoir, for the most part it is a memoir of them and their work. Surprisingly, the James’…

Do Trees Sneeze?
Your Nickel's Worth Publishing / 30 January 2015

Do Trees Sneeze? by Jean Freeman illustrated by Val Lawton Published by Your Nickel’s Worth Publishing Review by Jessica Bickford $12.95 ISBN 9781927756324 Do Trees Sneeze? is the fourth collaboration between the powerhouse children’s book team of author Jean Freeman, and illustrator Val Lawton.  It follows Where Does Your Dog Sleep?, Where Does Your Cat Nap?, and Wascana Wild Goose Chase, which are all just as fun, adorable, and perfect for early readers as this book is. Lawton’s illustrations are vibrant and energetic, and I especially love the sprightly Nonna who I suspect might be a depiction of Jean Freeman herself.  The trees in this book all have expressive little faces and Lawton captures the change of seasons in a lighthearted way – with the trees painting their own leaves to get ready for winter.  The colours are bright, but I especially love the black and white pages where the children have their eyes closed and are just listening to the rustle in the trees. You can even play a game of spot the bunny on a few of the pages! The story itself is cute and simple with two grandchildren, a boy and a girl, talking about how their Nonna says…

Fists Upon A Star

Fists Upon A Star: A Memoir of Love, Theatre, and Escape from McCarthyism by Florence Bean James, with Jean Freeman Published by University of Regina Press Review by Keith Foster $34.95 ISBN 978-0-88977-260-1 “Speak up!” This was Florence James’s admonition to aspiring actors. It was something she often did herself, speaking up on behalf of the deprived and downtrodden. Fists Upon A Star is Florence’s autobiography, assisted by her former student and co-worker, Jean Freeman. The title comes from a poem by Stephen Vincent Benét. The book includes an index and 28 black and white photos of productions that Florence directed. Florence details the excitement and perils of live theatre. Once, dressed in a new gown – she always bought a new gown for opening night – she was waiting in the wings for the curtain to rise when the theatre caught fire. At its core, this is a story of love between Florence and her husband Burton, and especially the love they shared with live theatre. They were a dynamic duo acting in tandem, perfectly complementing each other. Together, they formed their own company, the Seattle Repertory Playhouse. They also made innovations that were ahead of their time, including…

Terror on Turtle Creek
Your Nickel's Worth Publishing / 19 December 2012

Terror on Turtle Creek by Jean Freeman illustrated by RoseMarie Condon Published by Your Nickel’s Worth Publishing Review by Keith Foster $14.95 ISBN 978-1-894431-77-4 As a longtime admirer of Jean Freeman’s work, I knew I was in for a good read when I saw she was the author of Terror on Turtle Creek. The story follows the exploits of Barry Richards, a youngster prone to anger and negative thoughts, who works hard to avoid work. He volunteers to help fill sandbags when Turtle Creek floods over, but slinks away to relax in an unmoored boat. When it slips into the raging river and starts to sink, Barry struggles to steer himself to a flooded house. There he meets the stranded occupants, Sara McKeever and her three younger siblings, ranging in age from eight to three – Sam, Josh, and Emily—and Emily’s doll, Angelina Poot. Each chapter title is actually a time stamp that allows the reader to follow the story in real time. Teeming with challenges, each chapter ends in suspense. Just as the children are coping with one crisis, another comes crashing down on them. I immediately felt compelled to read the next chapter to see how, or if,…