Smite the Ogre’s Egg on Crispin’s Day

My children have invented a game, and I’m going to celebrate the 600th anniversary of the Battle of Agincourt by telling you about it.

This game began as the classic “Don’t Let the Balloon Touch the Ground.” (My kids like titles that double as rulebooks.) Then we added toy swords. Inevitable, really. It’s fun to whack balloons, and a sword extends the player’s reach. Both precise swordsmanship and overextended lightsaber swings are deeply satisfying.

The kiddos call our new game “Sword Balloon.”

I call it “Ogre’s Egg.”

The Folktale

Ogres, giants, witches, tricksters, and sorcerers have sometimes found it useful to hide their hearts inside eggs—and then hide the eggs. If they kept life and breath somewhere else, somewhere separate from their bodies, then those bodies cannot be killed. This is the upside. The downside is that eggs are fragile. Hide them carefully.


Folklorists call the trick Aarne-Thompson motif #302. Jim Henson based an episode of The Storyteller on Asbjørnsen’s version, “The Giant Who Had No Heart In His Body.” Koschei the Deathless tried some fun variations. So did the Marquis de Carabas in Neil Gaiman’s Neverwhere.


I am also pretty sure that the Easter Bunny disguises his own unique and precious egg by hiding so many decoys. Find the one true egg, kids! Keep it secret. Keep it safe. Gain power over all things carved out of chocolate.


Sword Balloon is another variant of folktale motif #302, but with the words “egg” and “hide” swapped out for “balloon” and “duel.”

The Game

Every player takes up a toy sword and a balloon. Any toy sword will do. Balloons should be filled with breath, and not helium—preferably the player’s own breath and life, for maximum symbolic resonance.


Each player should have their own distinct color of balloon. If a full spectrum of colors is unavailable, each player should use a magic marker to write their name on their balloon (or draw an easily identifiable doodle, or create a recognizable coat of arms).


Use your sword—and only your sword—to keep your balloon from touching the ground.


You may whack other balloons aside, forcing your opponents to chase after them. You may attempt to spike other balloons at the ground. But note that you rely on your sword for both offense and defense. You leave your own balloon vulnerable by striking at others.


Your body is invulnerable. There is no advantage to physically smiting each other. (I am trying to keep my very young children from smiting each other.)


When a balloon touches the ground, that player turns to stone. (Several princes and princesses turn to stone in Asbjørnsen’s story of the heartless giant.) They cannot move, but they can speak and entreat an ally to knock their balloon back into the air and restore them to movement. This is kinda like Freeze-Tag. But if any balloon pops then that player stays a statue until the end of the game. Play continues until only one warrior remains mobile.


If you have a large enough group of willing players, you may opt for more organized combat. Use one balloon color per team. Distinguish individual balloons with a magic marker (write your initials, draw coats of arms, etc.). Give stirring speeches before you clash upon the field. Treat friends and foes alike with honor. Defend your balloon, and the balloons of your comrades, for each contains their vital life and breath.


And those who did not whack balloons with us
Shall think themselves accursed they were not here,
And hold their toy swords cheap whiles any speaks
Who smote the Ogre’s Egg on Crispin’s day!

Have fun. Happy Crispin’s Day.

Illustrators are Wizards

Books with beautiful illustrations have arrived in my mailbox. First came Nomad and the new paperback edition of Ambassador:


Shoutout to the great Stéphanie Hans for bringing Gabe and Kaen to life. She’s best known for her work at Marvel. Behold her mighty Thor:

THOr wip4


Nomad will be published one week from today. I am nervous and absurdly proud of this book. It finishes the story that Ambassador began.

Signed and personalized copies can be ordered here. Other sorts of copies can be ordered from pretty much anywhere. The audiobook, read by yours truly, will be downloadable from this bit of the internet right over here.

Japanese translations of Goblin Secrets and Ghoulish Song have also just arrived, and they are absolutely gorgeous and filled with internal illustrations that remind me of Studio Ghibli concept art and and and and… just look at them.


I’m still trying to learn the illustrator’s name. I don’t read Japanese, so I can’t figure it out from the books themselves. And I very much wish I could read these copies. That might sound odd, since I already know what happens in them. But I don’t know what new shades of meaning the stories have picked up in translation.

This is masked Rownie while he gathers up an audience:


The new title for Goblin translates as City of Masks, which I love. The one for Ghoulish is Song of the Shadowless. “Shadowless” or “shadeless” implies a sort of bodiless-ness in Japanese, which perfectly echoes Kaile’s loss of self and shadow in the story. Here she is with two shadows in the burned-out house on the Fiddleway Bridge:


(Thanks to my friend Rio Saito for translating the titles, and to Michiko Saito for translating the actual books. They aren’t related. Saito is a pretty common name.)

This is Graba in watercolors on the back of the Goblin dust jacket:


While I’m gushing about gorgeous illustrations, here’s a shoutout to Jeff Crosby. His version of Zombay can’t be found in any physical copy of the books, but they are part of his website portfolio:

goblinsecretsint31In other news, these books are long-listed for the National Book Awards and they are magnificent. I’m especially happy to see VCFA colleagues Kekla Magoon and M.T. Anderson.

This reminds me that I should be reading VCFA student manuscripts right now. Back to work with me.




Oliver Sacks

Oliver Sacks is dead. SacksMusic

I met him once. We talked about folklore and Williams Syndrome. He shared his theory that this rare condition inspired tales of leprechauns and changelings. Children diagnosed with Williams Syndrome have unusual facial features, developmental impairments, and a great facility for music.

His book about music and neurology inspired me to write about music and magic.

He was one of the great storytellers. He restored a sense of narrative to the practice of medicine. Doctors had gotten rid of stories. They had banished any sense of lived experience from their meticulous case histories and lists of symptoms. They thought it made them better doctors. But our understanding is always story-shaped. Identity and history are stories that we tell about ourselves, to ourselves, and to everyone else. Scientific theories are stories we tell about the bits of the universe that we’ve noticed. Medical case histories are stories about injuries and disease–and what it’s like to live in their company.

Oliver Sacks understood that, and he shared his understanding.

SacksSquid“When people die, they cannot be replaced,” he wrote a few months ago. “They leave holes that cannot be filled, for it is the fate — the genetic and neural fate — of every human being to be a unique individual, to find his own path, to live his own life, to die his own death. I cannot pretend I am without fear. But my predominant feeling is one of gratitude.”

Thank you, Dr. Sacks.

The Golden Duck and Other Shiny Things

Fantastic new cover art by Stéphanie Hans

Ambassador just won the Eleanor Cameron Award—one of three awards in science fiction kidlit known as the Golden Ducks. Previous winners include M.T. Anderson for Whales on Stilts, Katherine Applegate for The Andalite Chronicles, and Bruce Coville for My Teacher Glows in the Dark, which received an inaugural Golden Duck in 1992.

Worldcon hosted the ceremony. I wasn’t able to attend, but the great K. Tempest Bradford accepted the Duck and delivered this speech on my behalf:

Ambassador is about a kid named Gabe Fuentes who experiences the dangers and possibilities of belonging to more than one world. I’m honored and thrilled to see it win an award named after Eleanor Cameron, an author who also sent kids into space on diplomatic missions of first contact—and who was courageous enough to publicly call out Roald Dahl’s horrible, first-edition descriptions of Oompa Loompas.

I also need to take this opportunity honor the powerful influence and gravitational pull of Sandra Cisneros and Ambassador Carlos Fuentes, whose stories capture the wonders and dangers of borderland life; and of Ursula K. Le Guin, who dramatizes, over and over again, the urgent necessity of communication between our many worlds.

Finally, thanks to K. Tempest Bradford for accepting this award, and for all of the magnificent ways she continues to challenge our community of writers, readers, and fans.

PS – Ambassador ends on a cliffhanger. But the sequel, Nomad, comes out next month and wraps everything up.

Thank you all.



Speaking of Worldcon, I’m proud to have voted in the Hugo Awards. This year the shiny silver rocket celebrated wonderful and astonishing work—and also thwarted the pathetic, flailing rage of irrelevant testosterone. (Long story. Here’s one set of cliff notes.)

And speaking of Nomad, reviews are starting to come in. Kirkus gave it a star and called it “superb.” Publisher’s Weekly said this: “Filled with a Heinleinesque sense of wonder, National Book Award–winner Alexander’s depictions of life in space pave the way for unlimited possibilities in this sequel to Ambassador.”

In other news, the two-year-old has just informed me that she is upset because she is not Robin Hood. Luckily she has Kekla Magoon’s Shadows Over Sherwood to look forward to.