Friday, September 17, 2021

"An Occasionally Happy Family" by Cliff Burke and Venturing into Pop Art.


If I weren't Lucky Louise, 
I would never have known about
Cliff Burke's wonderful middle grade novel
An Occasionally Happy Family.

But I am, and I won a free copy of
this hilarious and heart-wrenching book
in a drawing on Natalie Aguirre's

If you are interested in writing and publishing,
then you must check out Natalie's blog
which is jam-packed with excellent information.
You might get lucky and win a great book too!

I finished An Occasionally Happy Family for the second time last night,
laughing even harder than the first time I read it.
Burke teaches English in Austin, Texas, and he definitely knows teenagers.

Thirteen-year-old Theo Ripley and his fifteen-year-old sister Laura reluctantly set off
with their father on a family vacation in Big Bend Nation Park in Texas.
Not only are they visiting the least popular national park,
but they are camping in the Chihuahuan Desert in July
where the afternoon heat climbs to sweltering, dangerous temperatures.

 Big Bend National Park and the Chihuahuan Desert

Theo dreads this week in the national park
with his nature-loving father and his planning-obsessed sister.
He favors indoor comfort over wilderness
and prefers nature viewed through the window of an air-conditioned car.

And that's not the worst of it.  
Their father has a big surprise planned for them
on their first vacation together since their mother died.
Neither Theo nor Laura suspect that the surprise is their father's new girlfriend.

The undercurrent to this funny and disastrous family vacation
is what gives this novel heart and depth and makes it memorable.
This is a family that doesn't discuss love, pain, or death.
They come together as a family only at dinner
and then scatter in different directions with their phones.
Theo and Laura's mother died of cancer two years ago,
and they and their father Stanley have never dealt with this as a family.

Stanley's new girlfriend Lucrecia is a life coach,
and she has been helping him get in touch with his feelings.
When she meets Theo and Laura and tries to connect with them,
everything falls apart.

Santa Elena Canyon, Big Bend National Park

The book is a page-turner, and the story is moved along
by its fast, lively dialogue and short, succinct sentences.
Theo, Laura, and Stanley are realistic characters,
and the situations they land in are comical, until they are not.

As a reader I laughed out loud as the Ripley family faced scorching heat,
a threatening bear, an annoying birdwatching father and his creepy vlogging son,
middle-aged nudists, and other comical characters.

Boquillas Hot Springs, Big Bend National Park

But I also felt the pain of Theo, Laura, and Stanley as they grieved silently,
especially when when their emotions burst out and had to be confronted.

I would recommend Burke's moving debut to middle grade readers
and their teachers looking for good novels to share in their classroom.

So how does this novel tie into my friend Rain's Thursday Art Date? 
Luck again!

This week's theme is pop art,
and Burke's Theo Ripley happens to be an imaginative and talented graphic novelist.
He has written The Aliens Who Ate People and Never Got Full
and The Humans Who Fought Back by Eating the Aliens Who Ate People.
With nowhere to go in his first graphic novel trilogy,
Theo starts drawing a new book, Bob:  The Boy with Perfect Memory.

888 Auctions

When the girlfriend word dropped into his life,
Theo imagined drawing the word in "all caps
with lightening bolts flaring in every direction."

Sounds like an incipient Roy Lichtenstein to me!

Roy Lichtenstein.  
I used to see his name hanging from the ceiling in the art room in my elementary school.
Our fabulous art teacher Preston Skitt introduced Lichtenstein
and other famous artists to thousands of students over the years he taught at Sunrise.

I didn't know who Lichtenstein was, and I never stopped in my busy days
as a second and third grade teacher to find out.

And then suddenly, Whaam!  There he was hanging on a wall, 
Roy Lichtenstein, as I toured the Tate Modern in London in 2018.
He was a pop artist!

Roy Lichtenstein's Diptych Whaam!
Tate Modern, London, UK
(My own photograph was too blurry)

Pop Art? 
To me that was Andy Warhol and Campbell's Soup cans.

The Andy Warhol Museum of Modern Art in Medzilaborce, Slovakia,
 the world's first museum devoted to the personality of the king of pop-art.

I really knew very little about pop art, 
an art movement that emerged in the US and UK in the mid-to-late 1950s. 

Google summed it up well:
"The Pop in Pop Art stands for popular, and that word was at the root of the fine arts movement. The main goal of Pop Art was the representation of the everyday elements of mass culture. As a result, celebrities, cartoons, comic book characters, and bold primary colors all featured prominently in Pop Art."

I thought Warhol cans of soup would be too hard to tackle,
but I thought Lichtenstein's Pop! might be doable.

I now have a whole new appreciation for pop art.
It isn't as easy as it looks, even when you start with tracing.

My Attempt at POP!

I wasn't satisfied with my finished product, especially the dots,
so I sketched my own drawing WOW.

I immediately ran into trouble.
By the time I started the second W, I'd run out of room,
and I had already squeezed the O.
I was able to add another inch to the right side of the drawing, 
but I had to give up my exclamation point.
Overall I was pleased, especially with my dots.

© M. Louise (MacBeath) Barbour/Fundy Blue
All Rights Reserved

The experience left me wondering how Lichtenstein created his paintings
with their industrial, machine-made appearance.

I discovered that he started with a cropped comic book reference or drawing.
He projected the image onto a pre-primed canvas and traced the lines with a pencil.
Then he filled in the image with paint.

As for his signature Benday dots, he painted each one by hand.  
In Whaam! he used an aluminum mesh as a template,
and pushed the paint through each hole with a toothbrush. 

Wow!  I could have used a stencil?
It would have saved me time and tears.

See you next week!  Stay happy and safe!

Till next time ~
Fundy Blue

On the Bay of Fundy
© M. Louise (MacBeath) Barbour/Fundy Blue
All Rights Reserved



  1. Hi Louise as always a most interesting post, awesome pics especially the National Park, I recall going to Yosemite National Park which was a great experience.
    Have a wonderful weekend , Hope both you and husband are keeping well.

    1. Thanks, Yvonne! I loved Yosemite, and I'm glad you experienced it! It and Zion are two of my most favorite spots on earth. Have a wonderful weekend, my friend!

  2. Sure sounds like a winner indeed. Never knew what Pop stood for, makes sense though. Figured it looked easy too. Guess I'll leave the pop-ing to you haha

    1. LOL, Pat! I've had my fling with Pop Art! Have a great weekend, my friend!

  3. Books are the VERY best prizes (and gifts) aren't they? An Occasionally Happy Family sounds like a wonderful approach to some very confronting issues. Thanks for the review.
    I am an appreciator rather than a creator. Pop-Art is not my favourite artistic genre but I am well aware that creating it is no easy matter. I am super impressed at your work - and glad to read that you were finally pleased with it too.

    1. Hi, EC! Yes, books are the best prizes and gifts. My side of our family is obsessed with reading and books. Starting with birth, each new arrival will get books at every birthday and Christmas! When I visit Calgary in December, I will be bringing a suitcase of books, LOL! The more I read about Pop Art, the more interesting it becomes. I am fascinated with Lichtenstein, and after writing this post, I can spell his name. Have a happy weekend!

  4. Hi Louise, thanks for a fun post! Congrats on winning that book, I will try to get it, it sounds marvellous. Your pop art is fun too, it's never as easy as it looks. Stencils are always a big help. Your final piece is fantastic! Have a great weekend, hugs, Valerie

    1. Thanks, Valerie! It was a revelation to learn that Lichtenstein used stencils and templates. For some reason Blogger eliminated my description of his process when it published my post. But I added it back in this morning. Blogger was making me crazy last night! I hope that you have a great weekend! Hugs back at you!

  5. Thanks so much for the shout out about my blog. And I'm so glad you enjoyed Cliff's book so much and read it twice.

    1. It was my pleasure to link to your amazing, informative blog, Natalie! I loved Cliff's book, and it was fun looking up the locations of scenes in Big Bend. Have a great weekend, my friend!

  6. Well that really popped!
    I can identify with Theo. My idea of camping is three star hotel.

    1. LOL! I'm a comfort camper myself, Alex. I may never sleep on the ground again, with or without a tent. I do love campfires though. Hunting for fossils might lure me out again. Have a great weekend, my friend!

  7. That title is both intriguing and sad.

    Lovely canyon shot!

    1. Hi, Sandi! I'd like to kayak through that canyon, which apparently you can do. For all its humor, the book had an undercurrent of sadness and disfunction, but it ended on a hopeful note. Wishing you a happy weekend, my friend!

  8. POP! WOW! I love both your artworks, Louise! And that book does indeed sound good!

    1. Thanks, Debra! It was fun to attempt something new. Have a fun weekend with your Rare One! Hugs!

  9. Really wonderful post. Beautiful photos and great art.

  10. It is time to feed my fur babies (they are letting me know how urgent this is) so I am going to come back to write my comment because I so enjoyed this post and have actually already ordered the book (could really use a good laugh in this pathetic political environment we are all living in). So it probably won't be until Sunday, so come back and check. Just know, if for some reason I don't make it back, your post this week was a slam dunk ... all of it. See you soon :)

    Andrea @ From the Sol

    1. Thank you, Andrea! You made my day! I hope you enjoy Cliff's book as much as I did. It's good to escape our current reality and laugh. I'm about to start bugging Terry the way your fur babies are bugging you. It's time for our Friday night dinner at our neighborhood restaurant. I'll be back, and if you can't make it, no worries. Have a happy weekend! Hugs to you!

  11. ...WOW, you sure have a lot of POP this week. I love art, but Warhol's soup cans make my head spin! Big Bend looks like a place that I should visit. Enjoy your weekend.

    1. Thanks for your kind words and well wishes, Tom! Have a good one!

  12. Good job with the pop art, I think we both learned a lot! Thanks for the book review, I enjoyed it.

    1. Thank you, Christine! I hope you are having a great day!

  13. Hi Louise,
    Laughter is always good for you, and your post covers many things in life. What stood out to me was The Boy With Perfect Memory (I think that is what it is called ) ha ha! I think I could get a bit of advice from him.

    1. Hi, Brenda! I have people in my life who think they have perfect memories, and they don't. LOL! In the story, Bob has to decide should he give up all his memories, the good and the bad, or should he keep his perfect memory. I, for one, would never give up my memories. Have a happy day!

    2. Congrats winner! Nice to get a giveaway prize. Fun review as well.

    3. Thanks for your kind comment and visit, Teresa! Happy weekend!

  14. I agree, the POP art was harder then expected. Still, I like what you created.

    1. Thanks, Monica! I hope you are having a happy and relaxing day!

  15. i really enjoyed the story of occasional family dear Louise :)

    your story telling is amazing indeed !

    characters from ordinary life lost in routine come closer in extra ordinary circumstances ,i always liked movies with such family stories :)

    your art is brilliantly done as always my friend ,i love the way you are able to make instant connection with everything and create bonding out of it ,this is truly a gift !
    love ,hugs and heartfelt best wishes for you and Terry!

    1. Thank you, Baili! I am delighted by excellent middle school books such as "An Occasionally Happy Family." There are many great authors writing excellent children's literature. I consider my ability to connect with everything a gift. With it, the world is always a wonderful place. My brother Roy calls me his "beautiful butterfly flitting from flower to flower." That's his way of nicely saying I am ADHD. You are like this too, my dear friend (not ADHD); You have imagination, curiosity, and a thirst for knowledge. You are always learning and wanting to understand more. Amazon delivered Goff's book "Galileo's Error" this morning. I was outside on my knees priming our cement steps for painting tomorrow. I was covered in paint-spotted clothes with my hair in a pony tail under a floppy hat. And up walks the delivery man ~ LOL. He put the book package on the garage floor, because my rubber gloves were covered with bright white wet primer. I've had a lot of books come in the past few days, seven or eight. I better get reading! I hope you are having a lovely day, and that you, Ali, and boys are happy and well. Sending you a big hug and love!

  16. Never would have guessed the country for the Warhol museum

    1. Me, neither, Adam! I was really thinking of you throughout the week as I painted my cement porch floor and steps. I hope all is well with you!

  17. I am happy to find your blog, which Baili mentioned on her blog today. I read some of your previous posts and you have some brilliant photographs here. I am a writer, currently not writing, and have many articles on all manner of topics published.

    1. Hi, Terra! I'm sorry I didn't reply sooner to you here. Life got away from me in the past few days. Thank you for your kind words about my photographs. Writers are always writers, even if they are in a non-writing phase. Wishing you a happy week!

  18. that sounds like a wonderful book... and I have always wanted to hike in Big Bend NP and now I know there's hot springs, it moves up on my list!

    1. Hi, Jeff! It's good to hear from you! I've had such bad issues with commenting on blogger that I now copy each comment before I try posting it. Sometimes I have to past it i not a document, save it, and restart my computer before I can finally post the comment. It makes me crazy ~ LOL!

  19. Third try at posting... :(. I have always wanted to hike in Big Bend and knowing there are hot springs makes it even more enticing.

    There is an Andy Warhol Museum in Pittsburgh, which is where he was born.

    1. I hope all is well with you, Jeff. I was painting the cement steps and floor of our porch this past week and wondering how your renovations are going. Have a happy week, my friend!

  20. You really make me want to go to Big Bend. What a gorgeous place.

  21. Louise!!! I LOVE your POP and WOW!!!! And I can relate to the grief of the dot. lol....Your art is fabulous! I'm so glad you joined in. And that book you reviewed sounds like a good one. I bookmarked Literary Rambles, thanks so much for the recommendation! Love the photos too as you talked about the book!!! ♥♥


Thank you for your comments! I appreciate them very much.