Wednesday, March 31, 2010

"Aragorn sped on up the hill."

I almost ran out of time in March to read The Two Towers for the Lord of the Rings Read-Along.  I was going to just let it go and not stress about it but then I decided at the last moment to use this as another "for enjoyment" book and just did a two day re-read of this wonderful story.

This is the second in the Fellowship trilogy -- the middle of what began as one journey and has become two.  The first part of the book follows one set of travelers and the second part follows the other set.  I won't write any more about the plot for those of you who haven't read The Fellowship of the Ring yet.

The first part of this book was far more enjoyable to me than the second part.  There are dedicated friends, joyful reunions and moments of true wonder dispersed throughout.  I enjoy the journeys of those choosing their own paths.  The second part seems much more predictable as there is little choice involved for the travelers.

This novel introduces some of the best characters in the series -- Faromir, Eomer and the fantastic Fangorn, a.k.a. Treebeard.  I also treasure the acts of love shown throughout the story -- Eomer for Theoden King, Sam for Frodo and many others who show love through loyalty.  In fact, I think it was brave of Tolkien to use the word "love" a few times in this book.  I find that it is a word not used often enough in non-romantic literature.

I am really looking forward to reading The Return of the King next month and I'm not sure I will be able to leave it until the end of the month!

Continuing forward with faithful friends,

Support our site and buy The Two Towers on Amazon or find it at your local library. We own our own copy of this book.

Tuesday, March 30, 2010

"Emmy Addison was an ordinary girl---almost."

For about the past week, I was feeling stuck in two obligation books--one fiction, one non-fiction--that are review and challenge reads.  I just couldn't get anywhere in them even though they're enjoyable enough.  So I finally decided to just set them both down for a few days and get my reading groove back elsewhere.  Thanks to Lynne Jonell and Emmy and the Home for Troubled Girls, I'm feeling much better about reading now!  Three hours with this fun book was the perfect prescription.

This upper elementary level book picks up about four weeks after Emmy and the Incredible Shrinking Rat which I read last year.  Emmy has freed herself from the evil nanny clutches of Miss Barmy and has supposedly incapacitated her.  But she is still uneasy and she also wonders about the fates of the girls that Barmy tended before.  They were supposedly sent away to a "home" but none have ever been seen again.  With the help of her new friend Joe, his six year old brother Thomas and Raston the rat, Emmy works to find out what Miss Barmy did with the other young girls and what evil scheme she is working on now.  The only thing in her way is her own wish to be a more normal little girl -- one who doesn't have rodents for friends.

I powered through this book pretty quickly.  The plot pulls you right in and Emmy's troubles with trying to fit in are believable and touching.  The only thing that slowed me down in this book was the flip-book drawing in each side margin -- Z kept stealing the book from me while I was trying to read!  He loved the flip-book in the first one and is even better at flipping it this year.  Reading this book reminded me that there is nothing wrong with picking a simple book just for enjoyment.  Thank you, Emmy!

Pretending not to understand the cats,

Support our site and buy Emmy and the Home for Troubled Girls on Amazon or find it at your local library. We borrowed our copy from the library.

Saturday, March 27, 2010

Starred Saturdays: week of March 21

Happy Saturday!  I assume that some of you are starting Spring Break this week.  Ours isn't until next week, beginning with Good Friday.  I can't wait!  I'm trying to think of outings to take with Z -- and "dad" has just decided to take the week off with us which will be fun!  It might be raining for most of the week though so we are going to have to plan indoor activities.

A link just for Jenners -- here's the Kindle app for iPad (so that you don't lose the books you already bought for your Kindle ... see, now an iPad is an even better idea!  You know you want one.).

If you are in need of some major bookshelf envy, take a look at this beautiful staircase/bookcase featured on Apartment Therapy.

This is definitely my favorite book theft story ever.  I love the punishment that they ended up giving to this man.

Part of me loves this idea (as long as they really are unusable books) and part of me feels a bit queasy.

Hey Potterites!  The Harry Potter theme park in Florida is opening on June 18th.  And if you can't wait for your HP fix, check out the new official Scholastic HP website where you can take quizzes on the books to unlock secret content. (via EW's Shelf Life)

Being a zoologist, I've become pretty okay with most animals.  I volunteered at the Seattle Aquarium for about two years and fed small sharks once a week with almost no problems.  But Snake Island?  Even though it's beautiful, I'm going to stay far away.  If you like reading about "grizzly deaths", check out the link.

I am notorious for two things food-related -- spilling on myself and burning myself.  So, although I would love to make Joy the Baker's caramel corn, if she even burned herself then I'm in real trouble.  But then again it just looks so dang good ...

And our picture of the week is coming from our Australian blog colleague, Al.  He's got some fantastic koala piccies -- something that is apparently a great accomplishment even for an Aussie.  Head over to his post to see all of his wonderful snaps!

Feeling a bit of wanderlust,

Friday, March 26, 2010

"Sophie couldn't sleep."

Our final read-a-thon book for the month was the Roald Dahl classic, The BFG.  This is our favorite Dahl story so far.  It's fun and sweet and, well, has a bunch of grody stuff in it that little boys love.

Sophie is a small orphan girl who hears a noise outside the window and spies a shadow.  She realizes that the shadow is a very large man -- in fact, a giant.  Unfortunately, he has very large ears and he hears her at the window.  Soon, a large hand reaches in and grabs Sophie and she is whisked away in her blanket.  The giant turns out to be the BFG, the Big Friendly Giant, and he is the only one of ten giants that doesn't eat people.  Sophie learns all about the giants' lives and decides to do something about their human-eating ways.

Well, Z liked this book so much that he make me read the final part in a 75 minute marathon this afternoon.  I almost lost my voice!  The only thing I found that detracts from it's superb read-aloud qualities (the great words and character voices are a plus) are the uneven chapter lengths.  Some of the chapters are nice and short but others can take over twenty minutes to read.  Depending on your kid's attention span, you can decide if this works for you.

This book is full of amazing ideas.  Z loved the "frobscottle" (a fizzy drink where the bubbles go down) which helps you make "whizpoppers" (how the bubbles come out when they go down).  I liked the kid dreams that Dahl wrote about.  This is just a fantastic story and was a great way to end our many, many hours of reading this month!

Looking for a bit of the fantastic in everyday life,
K and Z

Support our site and buy The BFG on Amazon or find it at your local library. We borrowed our copy from the library.

Thursday, March 25, 2010

Tolkien Reading Day

According to my Book Celebrations calendar, today, March 25 is Tolkien Reading Day!

If you want to learn about why it's Tolkien Day, head over to the official website.

If you're participating in the Lord of the Rings Read-Along (we're on The Two Towers), be sure and pick up your book today.

And if you're feeling extra elvish, go ahead and dress up and meet with some other like-minded hobbits.

Wishing everyone a safe journey,

Wednesday, March 24, 2010

The Book List Meme: Three Books That I Loved As A Child

Three books I loved as a child?  This is a hard one!  Luckily these aren't superlative lists ... these are just three of the many books that I loved as a child.  I'm trying to think of ones I haven't talked about a bunch before.

1. Raggedy Ann Stories by Johnny Gruelle - I adored these stories about Raggedy Ann and Andy.  They hobnob with fairies and other toys and play with kittens.  These books also introduced me to my favorite word -- grotto (only slightly tarnished by the Playboy Mansion).

2. The Nancy Drew Series by Carolyn Keene - I think that almost every time I came home from the library I had checked out one of these.  I don't remember much about the stories themselves but I remember loving the suspense and the independence.

3. No Flying in the House by Betty Brock - This was one of the ones that I re-read over and over.  I bought a copy a few years ago and liked it just as much now as I did then --though for entirely different reasons.  This book caused me to spend hours of my childhood trying to kiss my elbow.  You see, if you can do that you're a fairy.

Loving this short trip back in time,

Tuesday, March 23, 2010

Catching Up with Chapter Books

Z and I have been reading A LOT this month with our school read-a-thon commitments.  We are keeping up with the 40 minutes a day and sometimes exceeding that when something is especially good.  I didn't feel like doing full write-ups on every book so here is a brief rundown of which chapter books we have read in the past three weeks.

The Mouse and the Motorcycle by Beverly Cleary (1965) -- This was a fun read from my own childhood that I was glad to share with Z.  I sort of wrote about this one in my post about children's books that don't stand the test of time.  This was the one that did.  We definitely want to read some of the other books that Cleary has written about Ralph S. Mouse.

The Sneetches and Other Stories by Dr. Seuss (1961) -- Okay, so these aren't really chapters but different stories.  Still, we love this book and like to revisit it every once in a while.  I love the name "Oliver Boliver Butt" in the story Too Many Daves.

Mokie and Bik by Wendy Orr (2007) -- This was an easy reader chapter book that was anything but easy for Z to understand.  Mokie and Bik are twins and have a sort of twin language where they change the names of things into gibberish.  It was very hard to follow and Z was not amused -- just annoyed.

Alice's Adventures in Wonderland by Lewis Carroll (1865) -- I did write up this one and it was certainly a challenge for us but also a fun adventure.  Z is a good sport when it comes to listening to language he doesn't fully understand.  We will probably read the second book next month.

Your Very Own Robot Goes Cuckoo-Bananas! by R.A. Montgomery (2009) -- This is the second Robot Choose Your Own Adventure in the Dragonlarks series -- CYOA for younger kids.  It's still pretty heavy on text but the choices are fun and we went through about eight of the story paths before Z got bored.  I loved CYOA as a kid and am glad to be able to share them with Z this early.

Paddington Treasury by Michael Bond (1958) - We read the first few chapters about Paddington Bear and I fell in love with him again!  Z seemed to really like him as well.  The Brown family is so very British and we learned a lot about train stations, cabs and tea.  Something I discovered this time through was the more mature humor in some parts.  I think this is a great read-aloud and Paddington is a very silly bear.

Sensible Hare and the Case of Carrots by Daren King (2009) -- An easy chapter book about a hare detective.  This book is also super British and might be a little out there for some kids but Z gets enough Brit exposure to be okay with it.  Plus he thought my accents were hilarious!  We're interested in his other book, Mouse Noses on Toast.

Flight of the Phoenix (Nathaniel Fludd, Beastologist, Book I) by R.L. LaFevers (2009) -- This might be one of our favorite new young reader series!  It's a sort of Harry Potter for second graders.  Nathaniel has been raised by a nanny while his adventurer parents are off making maps around the world.  When they go missing and are presumed dead, he is shipped off to his Aunt Phil Fludd who informs him that she is a "beastologist", a family profession that has existed for generations.  She studies rare and mythical animals and wants to train Nate to carry on the family legacy of exploration.  Their first trip is to help a phoenix regenerate in Arabia.  This is a great slightly-above easy reader level chapter book.  The chapters are short and the action is pretty evenly spaced so it should keep the little ones interested.  The next book in the series will be out in June and the third book in October.

Loving our time in chapters,
K and Z

Support our site and buy these books on Amazon through the links above or find them at your local library.  We own some of these, won one from the publisher (the CYOA book) and borrowed the rest from the library.

Monday, March 22, 2010

New Release: The Weed that Strings the Hangman's Bag

Do you really need me to tell you that The Weed That Strings the Hangman's Bag is wonderful?  Did you read Alan Bradley's first Flavia de Luce mystery, The Sweetness at the Bottom of the Pie?  Did you think there was any way that he wouldn't continue with the same brilliance and character that he brought to the first book?  This book was everything I wanted it to be and more.  I think it's possible that I like it better than the first!

In this book we rejoin the eleven year old Flavia de Luce as she is lying in a graveyard, imagining her own death and funeral.  She is brought out of her morbid reverie by the sound of a woman sobbing.  The woman turns out to be the beautiful Nialla, assistant to renowned BBC puppeteer Rupert Porson. Their van has broken down and the mechanic is away for the weekend.  There's nothing for them to do but to schedule a pair of shows for the locals and try to earn some money toward their van repairs.  But, of course, nothing is as it seems and Flavia soon finds out things about not only Nialla and Rupert but also some of her own neighbors.  Eventually, she takes her part in solving both a modern-day crime and also a five year old one.

If you like mysteries at all and haven't read The Sweetness at the Bottom of the Pie yet, get yourself a copy.  I know it had a lot of hype last year when it came out but it really deserved it.  It's a fantastic book.  And this is a wonderful sequel.  It is a different type of narrative--the murder doesn't even happen until almost half-way through the book--but it's the same Flavia.  She's smart and observant and tough.  She still fights with her awful sisters and exasperates her eccentric father.  She is kind to the shell-shocked Dogger and is almost universally liked in Bishop's Lacey.  The mystery is strong and just as shocking as some of Flavia's more poisonous thoughts.  What else can I say except that Alan Bradley can't finish the next book soon enough!

Pondering how my advanced chemistry classes now seem so inadequate,

Support our site and buy The Weed That Strings the Hangman's Bag on Amazon or find it at your local library. We bought our own copy.

Sunday, March 21, 2010

Book v. Movie: Alice in Wonderland

For Z's read-a-thon month, we've been focusing on some longer books.  Even though he may not understand everything, he's been a good listener and I've tried my best to do some good voices as I read.  One of our most adventurous reads so far was the original Alice's Adventures in Wonderland.  Z is quite familiar with the Disney film version and so he was willing to listen to this story and even read some of his favorite parts himself (like the crocodile poem).

At first he was a bit daunted because the only copy I own is the beautiful The Annotated Alice.  He said it was too long, especially when he thought we had to read the annotations on the side of the pages.  But when he realized that it was just the center column text and that it had the original Tenniel illustrations, he was excited to dive into the story.  We made it through with only a few bored moments (the story of the unfortunate Mock Turtle is a bit abstract for a five year old) and I think it was a great experience for Z to be exposed to the different language and ideas.  I'm not sure what he took away from it except that, for a couple of days, everything was "nonsense"!  He says that he wants me to read Alice's Adventures Through the Looking Glass to him sometime soon.

As a reward for sitting through a difficult book, we then went to a 3D showing of Tim Burton's Alice in Wonderland.  We both really enjoyed the movie although I would have probably done better with the 2D version because my eyes didn't adapt well.

If you don't know the premise of this new movie, Alice has grown up having vivid dreams of a place called Wonderland that she believes exists only in her head.  Now she is of age and she is attending her engagement party.  She starts to question the life she is being forced to lead and sees the white rabbit running through the shrubbery.  He beckons to her and she follows, only to fall down the rabbit hole once more.  When she arrives, she is told that they have been waiting for "the Alice" to return -- to slay the Jabberwocky on the Frabjous Day.  But until she believes in Wonderland (actually Underland) and herself, she can't succeed.

This film mixed elements from both Alice books and also the original Disney movie in an interesting way.  There were some intense chase and fight scenes but Z wasn't scared.  He was much more frightened by the Other Mother in Coraline.  The visuals were up to Burton standards and the acting was superb for the most part.

Verdict: The movie takes elements of the books but weaves its own story.  The book is, of course, a must read and the movie is beautiful and unique but, since they aren't the same story, you really can't compare them.  Choose whichever one you are interested in and both if you love Alice.

Following the white rabbit,
K and Z

Saturday, March 20, 2010

Starred Saturdays: week of March 14

It's the first day of spring in the Northern Hemisphere!  Yay!  I still haven't uploaded my neighborhood bloom pics but it looks like I'm going to be able to get many more this weekend because the sun is shining and the days are longer.

The U.S. is finally getting in on the children's books in cereal boxes racket thanks to Cheerios.  Jacket Copy doesn't give a date for when this will start but the books are by first-time authors and they are chosen through a contest.

io9 says that there is going to be a new A Wrinkle in Time movie.  That's good news because the first one was rather bad.

If you haven't heard of The 826 Project yet (and I hadn't), check it out.  It's a youth (ages six to eighteen) creative writing program that is funded by some pretty unique shops.  Just looking at the classes offered by the local Seattle chapter is inspiring.  (via Pages to type before I sleep ...)

Are you an Etsy browser or shopper?  PicClick looks like an awesome way to navigate quickly through Etsy items.  I like that it has prices right there up front.  (via Apartment Therapy)

If you are a luxury camper or an emergency preparedness nut, this Camp Chef Camping Outdoor Oven with 2 Burner Camping Stove might be the most awesome thing you could own.  Can you imagine some fresh warm muffins when the power is out?  (via Apartment Therapy)

Atlas Obscura is one of my favorite new sites and the other day they featured a rabbit carving that may have influenced a young Charles Dodgson to write about a certain white rabbit.  What do you think?

Rob of RobAround Books has a Bookshelf of the Week feature and this week's photo from Joseph del Pesco is unique -- a hollow tree structure on the streets of Berlin with books inside.

And finally, I really hope that you consider tuning in to the Discovery Channel for their follow up series to Planet Earth -- Life.  Techland sings its praises and the first two episodes air on Sunday.  (And yes, it's narrated by Oprah.)

Thinking of re-starting my zoology career,

Friday, March 19, 2010

New Release: Heresy

Heresy by S.J. Parris is a historical fiction set in sixteenth century Oxford.  It's an easily read mystery with a wealth of details about the plight of Catholics in Elizabethan England.

The novel follows Italian ex-monk Giordano Bruno as he runs from the Inquisition straight into an even more dangerous situation in England.  After being recruited as a spy by Sir Francis Walsingham, he heads to Oxford where he is immediately attacked for his Papist past.  Words are not the only means of attack in this college though.  During his first night there, he is woken by the screams of a man who is being attacked by a vicious dog in a locked courtyard.  After the man dies, Bruno is shocked that the Rector tries to explain it away as an accident even though the conditions are such that it was obviously murder.  After Bruno starts his own minor investigation into the murdered man's life, things in Lincoln College only get worse and it is up to Bruno to figure out who is being targeted and why.

This was an average novel.  There was nothing exceptional about it but at the same time I have no real complaints.  If this is a genre that you enjoy, you will probably want to read this book.  The descriptions of torture are vivid and the religious complexities of the newly Protestant England are well expressed.  Giordano Bruno was a real historical figure and, if the author makes this a series, we will have few years left with Bruno as he was imprisoned for seven years and then burned at the stake for heresy in 1600 -- only 17 years after his visit to Oxford.

Contemplating religious freedom,

Support our site and buy Heresy on Amazon or find it at your local library. We received an advance review copy from the publisher.

Wednesday, March 17, 2010

Happy St. Patrick's Day and Giveaway Winner

In lieu of clover (of which we have tons in our semi-wild yard including quite a bit of the four-leafed variety), you will have to be satisfied with just a bit o' green.  I think the rabbits ate the pictures along with the clover.

Happy St. Patrick's Day and congratulations to the winner of a copy of The Yellow House

Wendy a.k.a. Caribou's Mom!

Thank you to all who entered the contest and I hope to have another giveaway soon.

Looking for someone to pinch,

Tuesday, March 16, 2010

New Release: Dead Spy Guy

Last fall I reviewed the first of David Lubar's Nathan Abercrombie, Accidental Zombie series, My Rotten Life. I thought it was cute and was hoping that it was the start to a strong series. In January, the second book of the series, Dead Spy Guy, was released and, if anything, I liked it more than the first one!

This book picks up shortly after the first one leaves off.  Nathan Abercrombie is a zombie and only two of his friends know his secret.  At least, that's what he thinks until he notices that he is being followed (rather shabbily) by a man in a shrub costume and an electronic squirrel. When the man finally contacts him, he reveals that he is head of B.U.M., The Bureau of Useful Misadventures.  The man wants to recruit Nathan to use his special skills to help the world.  But can Nathan trust this man -- especially when he offers a partial cure to Nathan's woes?

This is a really fun book.  I found myself chuckling in a few places and laughing a bit too loudly at 2 am during one of the final scenes.  I love the direction that the book takes and that it deals with some of the everyday challenges that Nathan faces with his "condition".  He has his same personality but he doesn't need to sleep or eat and he has to be careful with his slowly deteriorating body.  I also like the way that friendships and school kid alliances are portrayed in the books.  This story has depth despite its light-hearted topic.  I have recommended this series to Z's school librarian and she is going to purchase the books for his school.

Rooting for Nathan despite his being a zombie,

Support our site and buy Dead Guy Spy (Nathan Abercrombie, Accidental Zombie) on Amazon or find it at your local library. We received an advanced reading copy from the publisher.

Monday, March 15, 2010

Japanese Literature Read-Along: The Wind-Up Bird Chronicle: Book 1

I'm very excited to have the chance to join Tanabata in a three-month long read-along of The Wind-Up Bird Chronicle by Haruki Murakami.  Simon suggested I try Kafka on the Shore first but I ran out of time so this ended up being my first Murakami novel.  I've been interested in it since last year when my husband ran a Facebook application that gathered data from his friends and said that the most frequently listed "favorite" book in his friends group was this one!  Anyway, the group read started with Book One for this month and I finished it just in time.

Told in the first person, we follow Toru Okada, a married man in a Tokyo suburb who has quit his job and is trying to figure out what he wants to do next with his life.  He certainly doesn't want to return to his career in law but he's not sure what else lies in his future.  While he's spending his time at home, his wife gone at work, many things happen to him that are out of the ordinary. He receives strange phone calls from an overly familiarly woman.  His cat goes missing and his wife brings in a psychic to help them find it.  He meets a sixteen-year old neighbor girl who ditches school and does surveys around the city of bald men for a wig-making company.  And this is just the start of many irregular things that happen.  He tries to make sense of all of this but his calm personality also allows things to happen around him and, instead of acting out, he tries to find the reason that these things are coming to him.

I'm really enjoying this book so far.  There are some parts that are a bit over the top but I get the sense that Murakami doesn't write without purpose.  I think that many things will be explained and tied together before the end of the story.  As a main character, Toru Okada is very neutral--he doesn't really initiate anything--and yet he is somehow also quite likable.  Apparently the reader isn't the only one to think this.  Many of his fellow characters find him easy to confide in and seem to trust him immediately.  I am very interested to find out what happens in the rest of the story and it will be hard to wait to find out!

I will be discussing this more today at In Spring It Is The Dawn.

Hoping for a satisfying continuation,

Support our site and buy The Wind-Up Bird Chronicle on Amazon or find it at your local library. We received our copy from a fellow blogger.

Sunday, March 14, 2010

Discussion: Top 40 Bad Books

If you haven't had a chance to read this American Book Review article, Top 40 Bad Books, yet, head over and take a read and then come back and we'll discuss.  (FYI - It's a 10 page PDF.)  It starts by asking what exactly is a bad book --
That said, what constitutes a bad book? Is it an overrated “good” book? Can an otherwise good author produce a “bad” book? Is the badness in style, in execution? Or is it in theme or outlook? Or is the notion of a “bad” book even comprehensible in the age of postmodernism, poststructuralism, and cultural studies?
All set?  Okay ...

So this didn't turn out really to be "a list" but instead the thoughts of forty academics on the subject of bad books.  What do you think about the books that received mention?  Jacket Copy says "Really? If they're the worst, what's the best?"  It's true that some "classics" get mentioned -- The Little Prince, Women in Love, Their Eyes Were Watching God, The End of the Affair -- but I think most books can be argued as "bad" for some reason or another.

So, another question?  Are there any books that are unequivocally, unarguably "good" books?  I think Gerald Graff puts forward an interesting question as well --
It has always seemed strange to me that bad books aren’t a prominent part of our school and college literature curriculum. How do we expect students to learn to tell the difference between good and bad books unless we assign some bad ones for comparison? Don’t you need badness in order to know goodness?

I can only conclude that those who have determined the literature curriculum have been more interested in protecting the good or great books from contamination—that is, in feeling virtuous about their own tastes—than they are in helping students understand what they read.
I think my own definition of "bad" books definitely includes this category, as described by Sue-Im Lee --
One breed of a bad book is a disappointing novel from an author for whom you harbor expectations. Previous encounters with this author’s novels have pleased you immensely, and you look forward to another opportunity.  This opportunity comes surprisingly early and frequently, since this author publishes a novel every few years. But by the third novel, you experience growing indignation at the familiarity of it all.
Or does it all just boil down to Liedeke Plate's idea that the addition of zombies to classics is what makes a book truly bad?

I think that Zahi Zalloua's thoughts were the perfect end to this article --
Bad books deliver on their promise. They lend themselves too easily to pedagogical use; they are saturated with purpose, conforming all too well to their readers’ expectations. They don’t take a risk; they don’t interrupt the numbing flow of knowledge and commentary. They are devoured (read once) and then discarded by an insatiable reading public. Is the state of bad books hopeless? Can they be “rescued”? Can they be reminded of their so-called literariness? Maybe. Maybe a bad book is in fact merely a mirror that reflects a bad reader—a reader who asks uncreative questions of a work. Or maybe bad books are really at their worst when they’re paired with such bad readers.
Lost in thought,

Saturday, March 13, 2010

Starred Saturdays: week of March 7

Where does the time go?  We're a few days away from St. Paddy's Day (yay!).  We're changing our clocks forward an hour this weekend (boo!).  And we're wrapping up winter and welcoming spring.  Time flies!

Penguin is determined to create an alternative cover for every taste and now we have their (RED) series.  There are some beautiful books there and they fund a fantastic charity!  (via Rob Around Books)

If you have lots of spare money and a book-lover who has almost everything, how about getting them The Oxford Companion to the Book?  $270 for 1408 pages comes out to only 19 cents a page.  It's really quite a good deal!  (via The OUP Blog)

Here's an amazing database of 20th century bestselling American novels that The Millions calls "bibliophilic crack".  Click on a novel and find a ridiculous amount of information (compiled by graduate students) including descriptions of paper and binding and dust jacket flap blurbs.

Don't forget to pre-order your iPad.  I've decided to wait for the next version.  It's always improved and usually cheaper.

If you're heading to Buenos Aires, don't miss the Palacio Barolo -- a 22 floor building modeled on Dante's Divine Comedy.  "The lobby, a central hall adorned with inscriptions of Latin verse and monster statues, radiates out from a central dome into 9 vaulted archways, which represent the nine circles of hell as described by Dante in the Inferno."

Are you a tree house lover?  Check out the Wilkinson Residence from Portland, OR.  Be warned, at 3300 square feet, it's no kid's playhouse!  (via Apartment Therapy)

A woman in New Zealand has just made a tidy sum by selling the souls of the previous residents of her home.  However, she donated the proceeds to the SPCA. (via io9)

Need some useless information about yourself?  Take the True Value personal color quiz.  I got black.  What am I supposed to do with that?  (via Apartment Therapy)

And for your viewing pleasure ... Dead Vlei.  The trees are dead and dry and the sand is red with rust.

Thinking about a weekend excursion,

Thursday, March 11, 2010

New Release: The Yellow House (Plus Giveaway!)

This novel, The Yellow House by Patricia Falvey, is a satisfying blend of historical fiction and character study.  Set in Northern Ireland in the period between 1905 and 1924, Falvey explores the explosive politics of the time in the context of one woman's life.

Eileen O'Neill believes she has the ideal life with her parents, older brother and younger sister in their yellow house at the base of Slieve Gullion, a mountain in County Armagh.  Their family lives off the glory of the O'Neill family history and celebrates life with friends and music.  It doesn't take long, though, for things to turn for the worse.  Young Lizzie contracts scarlet fever and dies in the local Fever Hospital.  Eileen's mother, pregnant at the time, has a new baby, young Paddy, but loses her mind after the birth.  She soon leaves with Frankie, abandoning Eileen and the baby with their crippled and heartbroken father.  A couple of years later, the political violence makes it to their remote region and Eileen's Da is killed by Ulster Unionists for being Catholic and their yellow house is set on fire.  The story then follows Eileen as she moves in with friends, finds work and love, cares for her brother Paddy and becomes entangled in the very politics that put her in such an unfortunate situation.

This novel definitely took me on a journey through a defining time in Northern Ireland -- and in fact, the creation of the country.  The tension between the Protestants and Catholics is palpable and distressing.  Having this violence occur in the shadow of World War I seems almost unbelievable and yet the history is undeniable.  I appreciate that Falvey has included a short historical summary at the end of the book as I usually turn to research after a book like this one.

The plot of the story is a a bit frustrating.  As a heroine, Eileen can be infuriating, as her Irish temper seems to be the only thing operating her mouth most of the time.  Sometimes it is hard to sympathize with the problems that she has created for herself.  And yet, through everything, you find yourself hoping for the best for her and each setback in her life is still heartbreaking.

I would love to share this novel with one of my readers so if you are interested in winning my copy, please let me know in the comments before the end of day on Tuesday March 16 (be sure to include your e-mail address if it's not in your profile) and I will choose on St. Patrick's Day.  I'm going to offer this one just in the U.S. and Canada since it's a hardcover book.

Update: The winner will receive a brand new copy of their own thanks to the publisher, Hachette Book Group!

Waiting for the politics of hate to end in all nations,

Support our site and buy The Yellow House on Amazon or find it at your local library. We received a review copy from the publisher.

Wednesday, March 10, 2010

A Random Picture Book Three

We have read so many picture books lately that we have a backlog of them to review!  Two of these are ones that Z loved and one was not quite a fit for our family.

This first book, Otto Grows Down by Michael Sussman and illustrated by Scott Magoon, is the one that wasn't right for us.  The simple reason -- Z is an only child.  This is a story about a boy that resents his baby sister and wishes her away on his birthday candles during his sixth birthday party when she is getting more attention than he is.  The wish backfires though when time starts moving backward.  His sister is returned to the hospital but only because she hasn't been born yet.  And as Otto passes back through time, he begins to regret his wish and tries to reverse it.  It takes a very strong wish on his first birthday to return to the normal timeline and get his family back.

There are quite a few picture books about sibling rivalry and Z just doesn't get it.  I think they even upset him a bit because the siblings are being mean to each other so often.  I'm not sure we would have liked this one anyway as it was just a bit strange.  When time is moving backward, paintings are undone, trash is taken back into the house and, well, food takes the reverse trip through the system.  This was something I really didn't need to have a mental picture of!

This version of the classic Old Lady story is called There Was An Old Monster! by three generations of artists -- Rebecca, Adrian and Ed Emberley.  This is a cute book with some wacked out illustrations.  The monster starts by swallowing a tick (that strangely looks just like a spider), then some ants, a lizard (that appears to actually be a chameleon), a bat, a jackal, a bear and finally sets his sights on a lion.  Unfortunately, the lion turns out to be bigger than the monster and the monster ends up being the one who is swallowed.

Z loved this one -- as would most adventurous children under the age of six or seven.  Z has always liked There Was An Old Lady Who Swallowed a Fly and I'll admit that I was worried that he would be upset that it was changed in this book.  Sometimes he gets ideas about things being a certain way and doesn't like them to be altered.  Luckily, this was fun enough to satisfy even him! You can download a companion song to the book from Scholastic's website.

The final book, Boris and the Wrong Shadow by Leigh Hodgkinson, was the one that excited us the most.  Z has started making shadow puppets lately and so a book about shadows was just right for us.  Boris the cat wakes up from his nap and immediately senses something is wrong.  This is confirmed when he gets up and sees his shadow on the wall -- it's a mouse shadow instead of a cat shadow.  The other cats make fun of him, the birds aren't scared at all and he's starting to worry when he notices his own shadow walking down the street!  He finds that it's attached to Vernon the mouse.  Vernon says that while Boris was sleeping, his shadow got bored and walked off and Vernon couldn't resist trying it on and seeing what it felt like.  They work things out and Vernon ends up getting the strength he was looking for -- by becoming friends with Boris.

This is an adorable book!  The collage-style artwork is bright and has a wonderful texture.  The drawings are similar to Lauren Child's but different enough to feel fresh and unique.  There are many different fonts used and sometimes it seems a bit overboard but overall, we loved this book. There's another Boris book and I think we will try and find it!

Waiting for the sun to come back out so that we can enjoy shadows again,
K and Z

Support our site and buy Otto Grows Down, There Was An Old Monster! and Boris and the Wrong Shadow on Amazon or find them at your local library. We borrowed our copies from the library.

Tuesday, March 9, 2010

The Book List Meme: Books That Take You Back to High School

What a fun list this week!  Since I'm not too many (read "two") years away from a twentieth reunion, the books that I remember when I think back to high school are the ones I spent the most time with. So, without further ado ...

Three Books That Take You Back To High School
  1. A Tale of Two Cities by Charles Dickens - Mrs. Murphy would never forgive me if I had forgotten this book by now.  We spent what seemed like months analyzing this book to death -- themes, characters, settings, etc.  I'm only now getting to the point where I'm considering a re-read!  I wish I still had the group paper we wrote on it but I passed it on to my brother when he had the class.
  2. The Grapes of Wrath by John Steinbeck - This may have been the most painful reading experience of my life.  I can't stand this book.  Luckily, one of the characters had the middle name of my boyfriend at the time and so I sketched in his first and last names around every instance of the character name.  That distracted me enough to get me through the dustbowl.  My brother didn't appreciate inheriting my copy of the book though!  I think he convinced my mom to buy him a new one.
  3. My Antonia by Willa Cather - This book actually has good memories as it's one of the first adult books that my mom recommended to me.  Along with Gone With the Wind, Jane Eyre and some other random books, this one means something to me because it meant something to her as a young reader.  I read it a couple of times when I was young but haven't visited it in a while.
What books do you recall the strongest from your high school days?

Letting these novels take me back,

Sunday, March 7, 2010

Discussion: Children's Books That Age Well and Those That Don't

Z and I read two older chapter books recently, one from 1960 and the other from 1965, and I have been faced with the realization that some children's books age far better than others.

The book from 1960 (here if you're curious) is a Newbery Honor Book and an ALA Notable Book.  And yet, I found myself cringing in parts as I read it out loud to Z.  The racially-stereotyped language and emotions for the various characters (Chinese and Italian mostly) were so discomforting that I found myself changing words as I went along.  There were no "pronunciation" spellings but the grammar was terrible (for the "Chinaman") and the vocabulary was skewed (for the Italian mama).  I didn't want these stereotypes to be incorporated into Z's world view.  I believe they belong to a different era -- one where Mickey Rooney can put in some fake teeth, yellow his face, use bad grammar and pass as Japanese.

The book from 1965 (this one), on the other hand, didn't use any sixties slang or stereotypes.  There were only two things I had to change or explain as I read.  The first was the word "aspirin" because Z just hears name brands now.  So I just told him it was medicine like Motrin and moved on.  The second was "zwieback" -- something I haven't heard mentioned since the seventies.  I just started saying "crackers" instead because I couldn't quite remember what it was!  Besides these product references, the characters all spoke in normal ways and we had no problems getting through the story.

Sidenote: Strangely, both books refer to facial tissue as Kleenex -- which my mom (a child of the 60's) has never called anything else but Kleenex.  It took years for me to realize it was a name brand!

So, readers, what do you think?  Should all children's books remain on the shelves forever as representatives of their times?  Does an award nomination or win make a book valuable forever?  Or should some books be "retired" to archival status once their messages are far enough from what we want our children learning?

Do you have any examples of children's books that you think have aged especially well or somewhat poorly?

Finding the balance between sentiment and value,