Thursday, April 29, 2010

Poem in Your Pocket Day and Poetry Month Wrap-Up

Happy Poem in Your Pocket Day!  From ...
The idea is simple: select a poem you love during National Poetry Month then carry it with you to share with co-workers, family, and friends on April 29, 2010.

Poems from pockets will be unfolded throughout the day with events in parks, libraries, schools, workplaces, and bookstores.
Z and I have chosen our poems this year from Shel Silverstein's classic Where the Sidewalk Ends.  I wanted Z to choose Hug O' War but he chose ...
Homemade Boat
This boat that we just built is just fine--
And don't try to tell us it's not.
The sides and the back are divine--
It's the bottom I guess we forgot.

I chose a Silverstein classic --
Listen To The Mustn'ts
Listen to the MUSTN'TS child,
Listen to the DON'TS
Listen to the SHOULDN'TS
Listen to the NEVER HAVES
Then listen close to me--
Anything can happen, child.
ANYTHING can be.
We hope you enjoyed our kid poetry focus this month.  We loved reading a load of nonsense, going through the Big Book, and learning about different forms of poetry.  Z and I talked together about the different subjects poems can be about -- nature, family, school and so much more.  I think it's much more likely that he will find poetry approachable later in life if we incorporate it into his reading now.  Tonight he was chuckling at the humor of Shel Silverstein and we've agreed not to leave this book on the shelf for a whole 'nother year!

Reading rhymes is really fun --
Exploring poems -- we are done,
K and Z

Wednesday, April 28, 2010

The Book List Meme: Three Books That Intimidate Me

Well, Rebecca has come up with another Book List topic this week that was easy to answer but rather thought inspiring.  I'm going to answer with the three books that have been in the house for years and yet I have put off reading for various reasons.

Three Books That Intimidate Me

1. Ulysses by James Joyce
Ulysses chronicles the passage of Leopold Bloom through Dublin during an ordinary day, June 16, 1904 (the day of Joyce's first date with his future wife, Nora Barnacle). The title alludes to Odysseus (Latinised into Ulysses), the hero of Homer's Odyssey, and establishes a series of parallels between characters and events in Homer's poem and Joyce's novel (e.g., the correspondences between Leopold Bloom and Odysseus, Molly Bloom and Penelope, and Stephen Dedalus and Telemachus). Joyce fans worldwide now celebrate June 16 as Bloomsday. (via Wikipedia)
I am a big fan of The Odyssey but this one has been collecting dust in the house for years.  I think my hesitation on this one comes from my fear of stream-of-consciousness writing.

2. Don Quixote by Miguel de Cervantes Saavedra
Don Quixote has become so entranced reading tales of chivalry that he decides to turn knight errant himself. In the company of his faithful squire, Sancho Panza, these exploits blossom in all sorts of wonderful ways. While Quixote's fancy often leads him astray—he tilts at windmills, imagining them to be giants—Sancho acquires cunning and a certain sagacity. Sane madman and wise fool, they roam the world together-and together they have haunted readers' imaginations for nearly four hundred years.  (via Penguin Books)
I've always been intrigued by this story.  My mom used to play the soundtrack from The Man of La Mancha.  I know the name of Quixote's horse (Rocinante).  And yet, I just never pick this one up.  I always imagine that it will be slow reading but how would I know, right?

3. Doctor Zhivago by Boris Pasternak
In the grand tradition of the epic novel, Boris Pasternak’s masterpiece brings to life the drama and immensity of the Russian Revolution through the story of the gifted physician-poet, Zhivago; the revolutionary, Strelnikov; and Lara, the passionate woman they both love. Caught up in the great events of politics and war that eventually destroy him and millions of others, Zhivago clings to the private world of family life and love, embodied especially in the magical Lara. (via Random House)
 This is the only one of three that I have actually started at some point (probably about seven or eight years ago).  I think I read maybe the first ten pages or so and got confused by the number of different names that were thrown at me right away.  It's partly a Russian thing (patrynomics, surnames, nicknames) but not entirely because I have read other Russian lit.  I saw a recommendation a few weeks ago on someone else's blog to just watch the movie first.  I usually don't do that but in this case it could be the only thing that gets me to finally pick up the book or pass on it forever.

So what are the books that either are languishing on your shelves or TBR lists because you're too scared to pick them up?  Or are you so intimidated that there are books that won't even make it to your lists?

Formulating a reading plan as I type,

Tuesday, April 27, 2010

"It was early morning on Saturday, the sixteenth of December, the first day of the Christmas holidays."

Originally released as Gideon the Cutpurse, book one in Linda Buckley-Archer's Gideon Trilogy has been re-released as The Time Travelers.  Both titles are too simple to bring readers into this fascinating and complex book.  While I was reading it I couldn't help but think that it seemed like a version of Outlander for kids.

Peter Schock is a lonely twelve year old with a workaholic father and an absent mother.  When his father cancels his birthday celebration for the third time and sends him on a trip to a farm with his au pair, Peter's only words for his father are "I hate you".  Unfortunately, when Peter gets to the Dyer farm and sets off with scientist Dr. Dyer and his daughter Kate, something goes terribly wrong and Peter regrets those last words.  Peter and Kate are sent back to 1763 by an anti-gravity experiment gone awry.  They, of course, don't know this at first and are confused to find an empty valley where Kate's house normally sits.  They are also confused by the rogue in costume that calls himself the Tar Man and who steals the machine that traveled with them.  Luckily, their next encounter is with a much more friendly man -- the young Gideon Seymour -- a handsome man heading to a new position as manager of the Byng estate.  Gideon promises to help Peter and Kate return to their own time and they have many adventures that give them a good idea of life in eighteenth-century London.

Though the kids encounter too many historical figures in their short time in the past and too many characters are readily willing to believe their outrageous story, I became totally engaged in this book.  It is part mystery, part adventure and part history lesson.  It has complex characters and terrifying villains.  I can't wait to read the second in the series, The Time Thief, and will probably read it sooner than later to find out what comes next after the cliffhanger ending.

Appreciating modern traditions like bathing,

Support our site and buy The Time Travelers (a.k.a. Gideon the Cutpurse) on Amazon or find it at your local library. We borrowed our copy from the library.

Monday, April 26, 2010

New Release: Wild Romance

Sometimes when I read about a strong woman in an oppressive society, I wonder how much of the "history" is really just wishful thinking on the author's part.  And yet it was easy to believe the story of Theresa Longworth because of the straightforward way that Chloe Schama has presented the facts in Wild Romance: A Victorian Story of a Marriage, a Trial, and a Self Made Woman.  Alas, this presentation of straight facts is also the main weakness of the book.

Theresa Longworth was a nineteen year old girl who fell in love during a steamer trip with the man who rescued her errant shawl.  The man, William Charles Yelverton, was a soldier, always on the move.  Fortunately, Theresa also felt the pull of exploration and she traveled as a nurse and with various friends and family members -- sometimes meeting up with Yelverton in foreign locations.  Through the following years, Yelverton and Theresa exchanged many letters that showed Theresa's independence and free spirit and Yelverton's ambivalence about this woman that he rarely saw.  When they ended up together in Scotland and Theresa orchestrated a secret wedding (based on Yelverton's purported family issues), Theresa thought she had finally achieved what women of her era were taught to want.  But when they spent time apart after the wedding, she came back to find that Yelverton had romanced and married a widow.  Theresa was forced to fight a court case for her rights -- a case in which her character was laid open through the aforementioned letters.  The years the various trials dragged through changed her life forever and she eventually became a solitary wanderer around the world.  She also became a proponent of women's rights as they related to marriage and the law.

This was a fascinating collection of details about Theresa and her fight to be an individual of value in Victorian society. The author came across Theresa's story in a footnote while she was researching sensational novels.  In fact, one of the best parts of this book is the way that Schama related the history to the novels being produced at the time.  Though the mentions were brief, they provided a connection between this story and the ones I already am familiar with -- those of Dickens, Collins and more.  And Theresa's plight--that of being judged by a system that did not value independence or sensuality in women--made for a very thought-provoking read.  As I mentioned earlier, the only real weakness I found in the book was that it was mainly a presentation of facts with very little analysis.  We were presented with portions of letters and events and then left to determine on our own whether it was Theresa or Yelverton that was being truthful.  I would have liked an opinion from the author since she was the one who read all of the documents.  Despite this shortcoming, I enjoyed the book even though I didn't entirely like Theresa.

Appreciating the pioneers -- even the flawed ones,

Support our site and buy Wild Romance: A Victorian Story of a Marriage, a Trial, and a Self-Made Woman on Amazon or find it at your local library. We received our copy through the LibraryThing Early Reviewer program.

Saturday, April 24, 2010

Starred Saturdays: week of April 18

Thank you again to everyone for the birthday wishes and more this past week!  I had a great time which was due, in no small part, to having ice cream twice in one day.  :)  I got a few new books (Agatha Christie's Secret Notebooks, The Devil and Sherlock Holmes, Nicholas Nickleby and The Forgotten Garden), some cds, a malachite bead bracelet and a candle holder -- all wonderful gifts!  Now on to Starred Saturday ...

Are you thinking about Cinco de Mayo yet?  I might try making these Mexican Fried Ice Cream Cupcakes that I found on Tasty Kitchen.  Although they seem to be missing the ice cream ...

The Spotlight Series is revving up again -- this time focusing on NYRB Classics.  They have a fantastic list of novellas so I think I'm going to try and participate with three books!

Have you ever made an embarrassing typo?  I bet it wasn't this bad. (via The Millions)

Are you going to be in the Cornwall area soon?  Here's a unique bed and breakfast for your stay.

For all of you book bloggers out there who might be questioning why you continue doing it, check out Eva's inspiring manifesto.

How much more gothic can you get than the Clermont-Ferrand Cathedral which is made of black volcanic rock?

And finally, I absolutely love this video of an octopus who steals an underwater videocamera and then hitches a ride on a spear gun.  What a life! (via io9)

Finding intelligent life both high and low,

Friday, April 23, 2010

The Book List Meme: Three Favorite Eras to Read About

Three Favorite Eras to Read About?  This week's Book List is kind of an easy one for me ...

  1. Victorian England (ie. David Copperfield, The Meaning of Night)
  2. The Golden Age of Egyptian Archaeology (ie. the Amelia Peabody series, The Adventure of the Egyptian Tomb (Poirot)
  3. Post-Partition India (ie. Midnight's Children, A Suitable Boy)
Although now that I've looked through my books, there are so many more eras that I read about regularly -- post-Great War England, the Spanish Inquisition, modern India and Pakistan, Victorian New England, Regency England, pre-Revolution France.  And then there's everything else -- including many books that are set in imaginary places and universes so that they have no "era" to speak of.

What eras do you find yourself reading about the most?  What are your favorite books set in my favorite eras that I may not have read yet?

Proving that time travel is possible,

Thursday, April 22, 2010

"The young policewoman stood in the corner of the room."

Pardonable Lies is the third of Jacqueline Winspear's Maisie Dobbs novels and it is somewhat similar to the first two but also a departure from them.  As is usual when I review one of a series, I will attempt to be as general as possible in the summary but please skip it if you want to be sure nothing is given away.

Maisie, Psychologist and Investigator, is having continued success in her business and seems to have everything together.  But when she must return to France as part of her investigations, she suffers from a post-traumatic stress event when the memories of her time as a nurse in the Great War come back to her.  Her current cases cause her to re-evaluate friendships, loves and losses and it is a mystery if she will come out of this episode in her life unscathed.

I appreciated the cracks in Maisie's varnished finish that came through in this story.  It seemed a bit callous and unlikely that she would be able to completely put her time as a trauma nurse behind her.  I felt this novel made Maisie a bit more human than she was in the last one.  Conversely, I did not think it was necessary for Winspear to give Dobbs psychic abilities.  It was a silly plot element and there wasn't really a point to it.  I hope that this isn't included going forward in the series.

I'm very curious about the fourth book in the series, Messenger of Truth, because it's quite short.  Maybe I will pick it up in the next month or so.  After that, I will need to get copies of the remaining three books that have been published.  This is definitely a series I want to continue with!

Admiring the well-organized but vulnerable mind,

Support our site and buy Pardonable Lies on Amazon or find it at your local library. We bought our own copy.

Wednesday, April 21, 2010

Nonsense Words Make Lasting Poetry

I struggled with writing this post about two of our favorite poets that happen to have something in common -- they are both Victorians and they both made sense out of nonsense.  You see, it kept coming out all stodgy and boring and these poets are anything but.  So let's just get to the poetry and these creators of the fantastic!

Edward Lear (1812-1888) traveled extensively through India, Greece and Egypt, suffered from epilepsy and had almost no formal education.  He was a master of the limerick and the nonsense poem.  He was also a very accomplished artist.

The Owl and The Pussy-cat

The Owl and the Pussy-cat went to sea
In a beautiful pea-green boat,
They took some honey, and plenty of money,
Wrapped up in a five-pound note.
The Owl looked up to the stars above,
And sang to a small guitar,
"O lovely Pussy! O Pussy my love,
What a beautiful Pussy you are,
You are,
You are!
What a beautiful Pussy you are!"

Pussy said to the Owl, "You elegant fowl!
How charmingly sweet you sing!
O let us be married! too long we have tarried:
But what shall we do for a ring?"
They sailed away, for a year and a day,
To the land where the Bong-tree grows
And there in a wood a Piggy-wig stood
With a ring at the end of his nose,
His nose,
His nose,
With a ring at the end of his nose.

"Dear Pig, are you willing to sell for one shilling
Your ring?" Said the Piggy, "I will."
So they took it away, and were married next day
By the turkey who lives on the hill.
They dined on mince, and slices of quince,
Which they ate with a runcible spoon;
And hand in hand on the edge of the sand,
They danced by the light of the moon,
The moon,
The moon,
They danced by the light of the moon.

Lewis Carroll (a.k.a. Charles Dodgson, 1832-1898) stayed at home in England, was deaf in one ear, had a stammer and a "weak chest" and spent years teaching mathematics at Oxford.

'Twas brillig, and the slithy toves
Did gyre and gimble in the wabe;
All mimsy were the borogoves,
And the mome raths outgrabe.

"Beware the Jabberwock, my son!
The jaws that bite, the claws that catch!
Beware the Jubjub bird, and shun
The frumious Bandersnatch!"

He took his vorpal sword in hand:
Long time the manxome foe he sought--
So rested he by the Tumtum tree,
And stood awhile in thought.

And as in uffish thought he stood,
The Jabberwock, with eyes of flame,
Came whiffling through the tulgey wood,
And burbled as it came!

One, two! One, two! And through and through
The vorpal blade went snicker-snack!
He left it dead, and with its head
He went galumphing back.

"And hast thou slain the Jabberwock?
Come to my arms, my beamish boy!
O frabjous day! Callooh! Callay!"
He chortled in his joy.

'Twas brillig, and the slithy toves
Did gyre and gimble in the wabe;
All mimsy were the borogoves,
And the mome raths outgrabe.

So what do you think?  Do these poems have a chance in the modern age?  Some of the words have different meanings now (that luckily Z is too young to know) and some of them still have no meaning but does anything sound better than a "frabjous day"?

Reveling in the nonsense,
K and Z

Tuesday, April 20, 2010

Halfway to Seventy

photo by k

It's my birthday today which, of course, means I don't have to write a real post.  I'm leaving it to you to do the math from the post header to figure out how old I am this year.  I have no real feelings about this milestone.  I'm happy in life with a great husband, awesome kid and the chance to be a mom and a blogger right now!  I don't know what's ahead for me but as long as I can keep reading, I will probably be okay.

A very merry un-birthday to the rest of you,

Monday, April 19, 2010

"I write this sitting in the kitchen sink."

It must have been a couple of years ago that I watched the film version of I Capture the Castle but now I've finally gotten around to reading Dodie Smith's fantastic book and I'm sure this won't be the only time.  This was obviously a strong story because it stuck with me through the years.  I didn't remember the resolution but I definitely remembered the spunk and vigor of the narrator, Cassandra Mortmain.

Cassandra is a seventeen year old who lives in a dilapidated castle with her one-time author father (Mortmain), an artistic stepmother (Topaz), her twenty-one year old sister (Rose), a younger brother (Thomas) and a room-and-board helper (Stephen).  This story is told through her journal, as she attempts to "capture" her life and the lives of those around her.  They live a life of near poverty but think they are fairly happy -- until a young American, Simon Cotton, and his brother Neil come to town to claim ownership of a local manor.  It's up to the Mortmains to not lose themselves in the wealth and charm that the strangers bring to town.

I adored Cassandra and I adored this book.  She is bright and thoughtful and is far from perfect but always striving to be the best person she can be.  The things that happen in the story are almost secondary to Cassandra's development as a person.  I know that this book is a favorite for many of you and it is absolutely deserved.  Strangely, I started watching the film on Netflix again this morning and loathed it.  It is quite dark and negative.  I will probably watch the rest just out of curiosity but the book is going to be my go-to for this story in the future.

Wishing I was a writer,

Support our site and buy I Capture the Castle on Amazon or find it at your local library. We bought our own copy.

Sunday, April 18, 2010

Wrapping Up the Children's Chapter Book Poll

Betsy of A Fuse #8 Production has finally hit number one in her 100 Top Children's Chapter Book Poll countdown.  There were many books that I hadn't heard of but I'm going to use the list to fill in some of my missing reads.  I've read the top five but then I start to falter a bit and I think my final count is that I've read 40 of the books.  I suppose it's not too bad considering how new some of the books are that made it to the list.  I haven't been a kid for quite a while now!

Here was the list that I sent in.  The votes were weighted by what number you assigned them so my number one is my top pick.  I've put in what position each book ended up on the list in parenthesis after the title (with a link to the post about it).
  1. The Wizard of Oz (40) - L. Frank Baum -- I really, really wanted to be Dorothy.  Though I loved some of the stories and characters later in the series better, this is the book that started it all.  Baum really knew how to write for children and also push the boundaries -- to let children know that is was okay to not be safe all of the time as long as you had a way to get back.
  2. Charlotte's Web (1) - E.B. White -- This one is the classic story of love and friendship and even loss.  The animal personalities are well thought out and the story moves at a good pace.
  3. The Secret Garden (8) - Francis Hodgson Burnett -- Every child wants a secret place of their own but it's even better when the secret is shared with a few good friends.
  4. Harry Potter and the Sorcerer's Stone (3) - J.K. Rowling -- Enough said?
  5. Charlie and the Chocolate Factory (19) - Roald Dahl -- I think that this could possibly be the most child-friendly book title in the whole world.  It could have just been called "Chocolate Factory" and it would be just as amazing!  And seriously ... four grandparents in one bed?  How did he come up with these things?!?
  6. The Lion, The Witch and The Wardrobe (4) - C.S. Lewis -- Apparently I have a thing for escapism.  But this one always felt special to me because even though they were kids, they were made kings and queens and not the lesser princes and princesses.
  7. The Phantom Tollbooth (10) - Norton Juster -- Just loved it.
  8. The Magician's Elephant - Kate DiCamillo -- When I read this one recently, I called it an instant classic.  It has all of the elements that make a book appeal to all readers.
  9. The Graveyard Book (80) - Neil Gaiman -- Another "destined-to-be-classic" book, I love the untidy ending and the irregular family.
  10. The Children of Green Knowe (98) - L.M. Boston -- I missed this series somehow when I was a kid but it's a beautiful connecting of past and present and I love that the grandmother never stopped believing.
Only one of my books didn't make the Top 100 which I think is pretty amazing (and not surprising since it was such a new book).  So which of my picks do you agree with?  Which obvious books was I missing?  (I've never read any Laura Ingalls Wilder or L.M. Montgomery, by the way.)  The ones I didn't include but wished I could have were Alice in Wonderland, The Wind in the Willows and Winnie the Pooh.  And I totally disagree with how low The Wizard of Oz ended up on the list because of the number of other works it has inspired and all of the pop culture references.  Here are some of the ones that got votes but just not enough to make it and these are the next twenty on the list (101-120).  And finally, two posts of everything else.  I was glad to see that two other people voted for The Magician's Elephant!

Heading back to the grade school library,

Saturday, April 17, 2010

Starred Saturdays: week of April 11

Welcome to another non-controversial edition of Starred Saturdays!  I got to wear shorts for the first time yesterday which was awesome.  And my birthday is coming up on Tuesday so it looks to be an antsy weekend.  I want to know what are in the boxes that have arrived so far!

If you're interested in some exposure to science-fiction short stories, io9 is starting a Weekend Short-Story Club.  They have posted a schedule of stories and they are all freely available online so that nobody has access issues.  FYI - I tried to read the first Asimov story but it was awful and I couldn't finish it.

Today is Record Store Day!  Check out the site for events at your local indie stores.  I wish I could be in San Francisco to see J√≥nsi!  (via Chronicle Books Blog)

Here's a cool critter-cam video of a sea lion capturing an octopus.  The color changes in the octopus are amazing and it's a bit sad to watch its demise.

And I was going to include more volcano photos but I hear that some of you in the U.K. and Europe are less than pleased with the Icelandic ash-factory right now so instead, here is the rock island monastery of Mont Saint-Michel in Normandy.

Doing a whole lot of nothing,

Friday, April 16, 2010

The Book List Meme: Three Books I Should Love But Actually Hate

Rebecca has chosen a really interesting Book List topic this week -- Three Books That I Should Love But That I Actually Hate ...

I can't help but start with Breakfast at Tiffany's by Truman Capote.  I had watched the film a bunch of times before I read the book.  The book turned out to be much darker, Holly was shown to be more self-absorbed and damaged and the entire thing depressed me to no end.  I honestly wish I had never read the book.

Next I'll go with Walden by Henry David Thoreau.  This is really one that I "should love" with its focus on nature and solitude and communion.  But actually reading it was so incredibly painful for me.  Honestly, I will probably try and read it again one more time in my life just because I want to like it even though I really don't.

Finally, I'm going to sadly say Wuthering Heights by Emily Bronte.  If you had asked me twenty years ago, I would have said I loved this book.  But each subsequent read has made me like this book less and less and there were definitely parts when I read it last year that I hated.  It's depressing to have lost this as a favorite classic but I think I am done with it -- at least until I am old and need to say goodbye to Catherine and Heathcliff.

This was a tough list to make this week!

Moving on to something happier,

Thursday, April 15, 2010

Japanese Literature Read-Along: The Wind-Up Bird Chronicle: Book 2

This month, the Japanese Literature Read-Along group, led by Tanabata, read Book Two of Haruki Murakami's The Wind-Up Bird Chronicle.  You can read my thoughts on Book One here.  I have a notoriously bad memory for books so I was surprised to find this one very easy to pick back up this month.

Book Two definitely feels like the middle of a book.  We rejoin Toru Okada, the unemployed main character of the story, as he encounters various mysterious characters and family members.  I don't believe there were any new characters introduced in this section of the book.  There was very little resolved and even more plot lines opened up.  I still felt that everything seemed purposeful but the book started to veer more into the realm of the supernatural and it was a bit strange.

I can't wait to finish this novel next month.  I have no idea where it is going but I'm hoping for the best for Okada.  He's a unique character.

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

Missing the sound of the wind-up bird,

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.

Wednesday, April 14, 2010

"Amy called the whale punkin."

I've finally read my first Christopher Moore novel!  I know that many of you adore him but it took me until now to find one of his books that had a plot that I was really interested in.  Fluke focuses on whale researchers in Maui and, since I studied some marine biology in college and lived in Hawaii for a bit as a kid, this was something I hoped I could enjoy.  So how did it turn out?  Let me tell you.

Nate Quinn is a researcher studying humpback whale songs in Lahaina, Maui.  He works with a photographer/videographer partner, Clay, and they have a new research assistant, Amy.  Nate and Amy are out recording songs when Nate sees something he just can't believe -- a whale fluke with big black letters on the tail spelling "BITE ME".  He only glimpses it for a moment but is pretty sure of what he saw.  When he returns to his office, he finds it ransacked and all of his data has been erased from his computers.  And this is just the beginning of a chain of events that has Nate wondering if everything he has always believed as a scientist is wrong.

There were many things I liked about this book.  Moore really is quite funny.  He also did great research on whales and scientific methods.  There's nothing worse than being brought out of a story by bad facts.  I was totally on board with this story until about halfway through when it took a strange direction.  And yet I was still pulling for the story and enjoying Moore's writing so I continued.  But by the end, the book had mostly lost me.  It got quite strange--a bit religious in a roundabout way--and there were some things that were just beyond belief.  And still, I came out of it liking Moore and I even think I might read this book again at some point.

Have you ever encountered a book like this -- where the plot loses you but your overall impression of it is still positive?

Considering a return to research,

Support our site and buy Fluke: Or, I Know Why the Winged Whale Sings on Amazon or find it at your local library. We bought our own copy.

Tuesday, April 13, 2010

A Poetry Anthology for All Children

When I was working the book fair at Z's school last year, I noticed The Bill Martin Jr. Big Book of Poetry.  I didn't get a chance to look at it so I grabbed a copy from the library this month for our poetry project.  This is a beautiful book that was printed as a tribute to Bill Martin Jr. who passed away in 2004.  I'm sure you know Martin from his books Brown Bear, Brown Bear, What Do You See? and Chicka Chicka Boom Boom.  This book has 200 poems, selected by Martin and his friend and collaborator Michael Sampson.  It also has the work of 13 well-known artists like Lois Ehlert and Dan Yaccarino.

There are poems for all tastes in this anthology -- divided into categories like animals, nature, places, school and family.  The poets represented are numerous and most of the poems here were new to me.  Some are short and sweet and others are a bit longer but there is nothing that would try the attention span of even the youngest listeners.  This book is bright and beautiful and really succeeds is making poetry accessible.

We want to share two poems from the book -- one was Z's favorite and one was mine.  See if you can guess which is which.

by Anonymous

If you should meet a crocodile
Don't take a stick and poke him;
Ignore the welcome in his smile,
Be careful not to stroke him.
For as he sleeps upon the Nile,
He thinner gets and thinner;
Whenever you meet a crocodile
He's looking for his dinner.

My Shadow
by Robert Louis Stevenson

I have a little shadow that goes in and out with me,
And what can be the use of him is more than I can see.
He is very, very like me from the heels up to the head;
And I see him jump before me, when I jump into my bed.

The funniest thing about him is the way he likes to grow--
Not at all like proper children, which is always very slow;
For he sometimes shoots up taller like an india-rubber ball,
And he sometimes goes so little that there's none of him at all.

He hasn't got a notion of how children ought to play,
And can only make a fool of me in every sort of way.
He stays so close behind me, he's a coward you can see;
I'd think shame to stick to nursie as that shadow sticks to me!

One morning, very early, before the sun was up,
I rose and found the shining dew on every buttercup;
But my lazy little shadow, like an arrant sleepy-head,
Had stayed at home behind me and was fast asleep in bed.
Enjoying the varied world of poetry,
K and Z

Support our site and buy The Bill Martin Jr Big Book of Poetry on Amazon or find it at your local library. We borrowed our copy from the library.

Monday, April 12, 2010

New Release: The Lost Children

I forget where I saw The Lost Children by Carolyn Cohagan mentioned but from the beautiful cover and the fantasy-based jacket summary, I wanted to read this grade school novel.  I'll admit that I'm now coming away from it with mixed feelings.  It's definitely an inventive book but I also feel that it could have been polished a bit more.

Josephine Russing is a young girl who is ignored by her distant father (her mother is no longer alive) and is despised by the children at school because of a law her father was able to have passed in the town -- that all citizens wear gloves at all times.  We find no coincidence in the fact that he also owns the town's only glove factory.  Josephine is sad and lonely and finds solace in books.  One day, a young boy appears in her yard, tired and dirty.  He doesn't seem able to speak and he's very hungry.  She feeds him and lets him nap but when her father comes home, he disappears again.  When she goes looking for the boy, she comes to the conclusion that he could only have come out of the dark, spooky shed.  When Josephine skips school to investigate, she is pulled through some sort of wormhole into a different world where fear rules and the children have gone missing.

This is a very ambitious book for an elementary level novel.  I think some of the ideas could have been fleshed out a bit more to make this a YA novel.  When scientific concepts needed to be explained, I felt that the author struggled a bit in translating them to a young audience.  Also, some of her characters were well-formed but others were extremely one-dimensional.  I would have liked to see more consistency in this.  Still, the story was imaginative and different and, seeing as how this is Cohagan's first novel, I would definitely give her second one a chance.

With not enough time to travel in my own world much less others,

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

Sunday, April 11, 2010

Book Club Read: Skin Lane

The latest selection by Simon for the Not The TV Book Group was Skin Lane by Neil Bartlett.  I wasn't going to read this one because I didn't think it was a good fit but at the last moment decided to give it a try since Simon must have had a reason for choosing it.  However, this ended up being a Did Not Finish for me at page 130 of 344.

This is the story of a lonely man in his late forties in 1960s London.  He begins to have a recurring nightmare about coming home to his flat to find a young man tied up and dead in his bathroom.  He becomes obsessed because he can't see the face of the victim.  He starts searching London for young men with similar features to those he could see in his dream so that he can put a face to the body.  When he decides he has found the right young man, I stopped reading.  Did I mention that the main character is a furrier?  That he works with many sharp instruments and spends his days cutting the skins of animals?  And that he has just looked longingly at the skin of this certain young man?

This is the point where I didn't want to know any more.  I don't know what direction the novel ends up taking but whatever it is, imagined or real, I didn't want the images in my head that I knew would be inevitable based on the main character's mental instability and already strange thoughts and actions.  The moment I decided to stop reading Skin Lane, I felt a great sense of relief.  I also wasn't thrilled with Bartlett's writing style in this novel which I think contributed to my willingness to stop reading it.

So, I am going to head over to the discussion for this novel and find out why Simon chose it, why it was shortlisted for an award and what the other readers ended up thinking about this disturbing book.

Washing away the mental dirt with a light and lovely novel,

We are not going to suggest you buy this book.  If you want to read it, you can do what we did and find a copy at your local library.

Saturday, April 10, 2010

Starred Saturdays: week of April 4

Happy Saturday!  I hope that those of you participating in the 24 Hour Read-a-thon today are having fun!  Since we've been on Spring Break, I've been doing a lot of extra reading this week already so the Read-a-thon seemed like overkill.  Instead, I'm going to get outside and enjoy the remainder of the break.  Don't forget that this coming week is National Library Week in the U.S.  Neil Gaiman is the honorary chair this year.  Check your local library for events or just stop by and support those who work hard to bring you an amazing resource!

First this week, I was happy to see that they aren't just destroying old books to make home decor.  They are also mangling vinyl records.  Okay ... so maybe "happy" isn't the right word ...  (via Apartment Therapy)

If you haven't visited Pictory yet, this is a good time to start.  They accept submissions of photographs on a single subject and a short caption is included with each picture.  The variety of pictures that come with each subject is always amazing.  This week's subject is London.

I can't embed the video but the Times Online has Sir Christopher Lee doing a reading of the poem Jabberwocky at the British Library.

And have you seen Funny or Die's Drunk History?  They get a narrator plastered and then they recite history and have it re-enacted by famous comedians.  It's pretty dang funny if you are into that sort of thing.  io9 has a Tesla episode where the narrator actually pukes during the taping.  It's not for the weak-stomached.

And here is Neil Gaiman reading his own poem, Instructions, to support a newly released version that is illustrated by Charles Vess.

And to close out the video focus this week, I don't want you to miss the baby penguin from Seattle's Woodland Park Zoo!  They opened the new penguin exhibit here last summer and obviously the birds are happy with it because they are breeding.  There are now two chicks!

Having a high bandwidth week,

Friday, April 9, 2010

The Book List Meme: Three Book Covers That Fall Flat

This week's Book List Meme topic is the opposite of last week's -- three book covers that just don't do it for me.  I'm going to do it the same way and give more general examples of what I don't like in a cover.  And just for the record -- this is not a judgment on what is in the book so you don't have to try and convince me that any of these are good!  I will never not read a book because of the cover.  But ... I have been known to place certain books face down on the table on purpose!

1. There are actually two things I don't like about this cover.  One is the big fat ad that is printed on the cover.  I hate when they make ads that look like a sticker but they're not.  You can't take them off.  The other thing that I dislike is when the author's name is printed in a way larger font than the book title -- like it doesn't really matter what the book is.  Not a fan.

2. Man nipples and airbrushed abs?  Ick.  What is romantic about man nipples?  And what's with the airbrushed ribs on this one?  Airbrushing is icky.

3.  Movie tie in covers ... why do they always have a circle on them that says "now a major motion picture"?  Are there readers who think that Meryl Streep and George Clooney just pose for book covers?  Duh!  And I just don't like having these actors interfering with my own mental picture.  This one is even worse because "Julie" is a real person.  Why can't she get her own picture on the book?

Maybe I will expand on these later in a bookish pet peeves post.  I like to rant about book covers!

Taking off my cranky pants,

Thursday, April 8, 2010

"Vish Puri, founder and managing director of Most Private Investigators Ltd., sat alone in a room in a guesthouse in ... South Delhi ..."

Since I first heard of Tarquin Hall's new mystery series set in India, I wanted to read it.  I needed to move away from English detective stories for a bit!  The first book, The Case of the Missing Servant, is culturally fascinating with a strong plot and larger than life characters and I can't wait for the second book to come out in June.

Vish (rhymes with "wish") Puri is a private detective in Delhi.  In fact, he is an award winning detective -- having won the Super Sleuth award in 1999 from the World Federation of Detectives.  His motto is "Confidentiality is our watchword".  He has a network of assistants who have imaginative nicknames like Facecream and Handbrake.  Vish himself is called "Chubby" -- an apt nickname for a man who just can't give up the tasty fried delights of his country.

A lawyer comes to Puri for his help in proving his innocence in the disappearance of a servant girl from his home.  Unfortunately, things move quickly around Ajay Kasliwal's case once a body is found that might have been the servant girl's.  Puri must find out what truly happened to Mary--a girl with only one known name and no known hometown--before Kasliwal is tried for a crime he swears he didn't commit.

This story is full of local details -- from the poor state of the public utilities to the growth of the call center and tech industries.  We also learn that the Indian justice system is in disarray when it is compared to Dickens' Chancery, as seen in Bleak House.  With a fourteen page glossary at the back of the book, Hall feels free to use local colloquialisms and the authentic Hindi for things like food and swearwords.  I thought that he did a fantastic job of transporting me to India and I felt he used situations unique to the country in the cases that he invented.  This story felt fresh and interesting and I hope the series continues on in the same way.

Practicing my Hindi swearwords for no particular reason,

Support our site and buy The Case of the Missing Servant on Amazon or find it at your local library. We bought our own copy.

Wednesday, April 7, 2010

Buy A Friend A Book Winner

Congratulations to the winner of a copy of The Eyre Affair --

Since this is a four times a year event, I hope you will all join me again in three months for another Buy A Friend A Book Week!

Hoping I've created another Fforde fan,

Tuesday, April 6, 2010

Two Modern Poetry Picture Books

What originally gave me the idea to focus on children's poetry this month was an email from a Candlewick Press publicist asking if I would like to review any of their current poetry books.  Z happens to have an interest in poetry so I accepted two books that I thought would be a good fit for us.

The first is Messing Around on the Monkey Bars by Betsy Franco and illustrated by Jessie Hartland.  This is a book of poems about school that are read in two voices.  The text is different levels of bold for each reader.  There are poems about lunch, recess, the school bus, homework and much more.  This is a book that requires the participants to be readers rather than just listeners.

The subject matter in some of these turned out to be just a bit old for Z.  Since he's only in half-day Kindergarten, he doesn't ride the bus or have lunch.  He also doesn't have some of the subjects mentioned in the poems.  Still, he liked the interactiveness of the poems and there were a few that worked for him -- like New Kid at School, In the Library, and Me and Joe Lining Up After Recess -- a fun one about two kids who are chatty and fidgety in line!  This book should do really well with most grade school kids.  The back of the book also has alternate ideas for reading the poems with larger groups of kids -- something that made me want to bring this book to the attention of our school librarian!

The second book we received is African Acrostics with poems by Avis Harley and photographs by Deborah Noyes.  (And if you recognize the name ... yes, it's that Deborah Noyes.  Strangely, I will be reading her novel Captivity in the next month or two).

If you aren't sure what an acrostic is, the book starts with a great poem about acrostics!
Explore the acrostic that rides
Down the page.
Get a word you
Enjoy and would like to define.
Write it down vertically
And fill in each line.
Your name is a very good way to begin.
Surprise yourself.  Find that poem within!

Z absolutely loved this book.  He loves puzzles and word play and these acrostics with their hidden messages got him very excited.  He's also always loved African animals and this book has fantastic photographs and animal facts.  A couple of the poems are a bit awkward due to the forced nature of an acrostic.  Most of them, though, are quite witty and fun.  Z kept looking at this book through the rest of the afternoon after we read it together.

I think one thing that turns some children off to poetry are the traditional style books with dull watercolors and pencil sketches and I think both of these books do a great job of bringing poetry to modern children.  The books are visually appealing and the subject matter is something easily understandable by most kids.

Reading together in verse,
K and Z

Support our site and buy Messing Around on the Monkey Bars: and Other School Poems for Two Voices and African Acrostics: A Word in Edgeways on Amazon or find them at your local library. We received our copies from the publisher.

Monday, April 5, 2010

New Release: Sense and Sensibility and Sea Monsters

So I'm sure you remember my recent post about being less than thrilled with the characters in Jane Austen's Sense and Sensibility.  And yet, I had committed to read the spoof, Sense and Sensibility and Sea Monsters, for the Take Another Chance Challenge.  It's for Challenge 8: Real and Inspired.
Many authors or books inspire others to pay homage to them by writing another book inspired by the original work. For this challenge, read both an original work and a book inspired by that original work.
I'm not exactly sure that this would count as paying homage but it's certainly inspired by the original!  In fact, Jane Austen is listed as one of the two authors (Ben H. Winters is the other) because almost the entire text of Sense and Sensibility is in this book.  It just has a bit more added in -- that happens to be about pirate ships and sea shanties and malaria!

I think that the dedication at the beginning of the book really gave a clue as to what the book would be like.
This book is dedicated to my parents --
lovers of great literature and great silliness.
The word silly is one that came to mind quite often while reading this book.  I definitely laughed out loud in a few spots and chuckled quietly in a few others.   The marriage of the new and old texts is smoother in some spots than others but overall it actually works.  The only thing I didn't like was that Winters made Brandon into, well, the man you see on the cover of the book with tentacles on his face (due to the curse of a sea witch).  All through the book, other characters were repulsed by his looks and I thought it was a bit harsh.  Of course, Colonel Brandon was possibly my favorite character in the original so I'm sure that influenced my feelings on this!

I'm not going to go into the plot of this story because, well, it's just Sense and Sensibility ... with sea monsters -- giant octopi, a man-sized jellyfish, killer narwhals, evil lobsters and much more.  Willoughby is a treasure hunter, Edward wants to be a lighthouse keeper and Elinor's favorite pasttime is whittling driftwood figurines.  If you appreciate silly humor and don't mind the idea of a recooked classic, you should probably give this book a shot!

Practicing my giant eyeball stabbing skills -- just in case,

Support our site and buy Sense and Sensibility and Sea Monsters on Amazon or find it at your local library. We got our copy from a publicist.

Sunday, April 4, 2010

The Book List Meme: Three Favorite Book Lists

Three favorite book covers for this week's Book List Meme?  Wow.  This is a hard one!  I will do what Rebecca did and highlight the elements of three covers that are typical of those I like.

1. Bright colors, dark silhouettes, plants, reading ... I like everything about this Book of Lost Things cover.  My cover is a dark purply blue with gold silhouettes that are thornier than these.  I like both!

2. I really like sepia tones and the historical sketch sets the mood before you even open The Dante Club.  The blood droplets are a nice touch too.  I will make sure never to count how many books I own with faux blood on the covers.  I'm sure it's too many to be considered fully sane!

3. Again, this cover begins to tell the story of A Beautiful Blue Death before we open the book -- but with a beautifully set photograph.  I love the pale but bright colors on this one.

As you can see, I'm not a huge fan of people on the covers of books.  What about you?

Judging these books by the marriage between covers and story,

Saturday, April 3, 2010

Starred Saturdays: week of March 28

Happy Easter to those who will celebrate the holiday this weekend.  We celebrate in a secular way with Easter eggs and baskets of goodies (always including a book).  Our biggest dream would be a non-rainy Easter here in Seattle where we can actually do our egg hunt outdoors!

If you haven't heard, next Saturday is Dewey's 24- Hour Read-A-Thon.  I haven't decided if I will participate or not yet.  It always seems a bit competitive which I'm really not into.

Lenore at Presenting Lenore had a great April Fools' Day post about how to build a truly great book blog.

Jacket Copy has a roundup of literary t-shirts.  I like the Threadless owl one!

The New York Times laments the end of book covers with the increased use of e-readers.  I agree with the point that seeing the cover will help you remember a book when you search for it later.  So even if you get up the courage ask someone what they are reading on their device, there's a good chance you won't remember it if you want to find it at some point.

In my first Starred Saturdays post I featured these salted brown butter krispy treats.  I finally made them yesterday and they are wonderful.  The brown butter gives them a bit more depth of flavor and the little bits of sea salt are a pleasant surprise.  Um, I would share but they are gone already.

My favorite photos of the week are of the current volcanic eruption on Iceland.  I think that "lava" is one of my favorite colors!  You should definitely head to the links and see more pics.  (via io9 and The Daily Mail)

Hop, hop, hop,