Tuesday, August 21, 2007

A Slice of Organic Life

I checked out this book for two reasons. First, it looked interesting. Second, the editor's name is Sheherazade Goldsmith. Wow! What a cool name! I've always wanted to give my children a musical name, but never was brave enough for something like Sheherazade. That's awesome! Back to my point. This book is a pretty good guide to all things organic, although there's no rhyme or reason to how it's organized. You have how to raise your own chickens, tomatoes, bees, apple trees, goats and whatever else you can think of intermixed with how to make your own soap, paint, baby food, bathtub cleanser, etc. There's also how to conserve energy and water, make your own compost and use untreated wood. It also has a large section on how to live more organically even in very small spaces, like apartments or places with very small yards. It's really interesting and has beautiful photographs. But this kind of book is also depressing to me. There's no way I can do--or more accurately--will want to do most of these things. I did a little dance of joy because our new neighborhood has free recycling, but I'm not going to raise goats or make my own paint. Then I feel bad that I'm exposing my family to toxins and hurting the environment. I just spiral downwards from there, wondering how I can be a good mother and wife if I don't raise our own pork and clean my house with only baking soda! Deep breath. Calm down. The fact is, I do try to conserve. I do try to recycle. I make my own bread and get organic milk from a dairy, for crying out loud. Ignore the fact that they deliver it to my door and that was most likely my primary motivation. The point is, there's only so much people can do, and that's got to count for something, right? I gotta draw the line somewhere and that line is most likely going to be at cloth diapers. There's only so much a woman can do. But go ahead and read the book. It's pretty.

Saturday, August 18, 2007

The Invention of Hugo Cabret

This book can seem daunting. It's 533 pages long. I had requested it at the library with the intent to read it to my children, but when I picked it up, I had second thoughts. I prefer read-alouds that I can finish in a reasonable amount of time and not lose my voice in the process. But when I flipped through the pages, I saw that it was at least two-thirds illustrations. Drawings, more accurately. And those drawings tell huge portions of the story. It brought back memories of being read to by my elementary school library who I was convinced was really Shel Silverstein. He looked just like him. He would pull pencil erasers out of our ears and read to us the most wonderful books. I remember one of my favorites had no words in it. I've just spent a good amount of time googling, trying to figure out what book it was, but when your search term is "picture books without words" it's not very helpful. Anyway, he could make the most marvelous stories out of these wordless books. We were absolutely entranced. Sure enough, my children were entranced by Hugo Cabret. Written and illustrated by Brian Selznick, it was such fun to read. Hugo lives in the walls of a Paris train station. The story starts out with him searching and stealing for mechanical pieces for his invention. The story sort of works backwards, telling his story in flashbacks; how he came to be living in those walls, where his invention came from and why he's building, or re-building it. But the action also propels forward, at times being so exciting that my oldest was covering her ears, it was so intense. Then she would take the book to bed with her and study the pictures. The pictures move the story at such a heart-pounding rate that you have to stop yourself from skimming through them too fast. The chase scenes especially were exciting. This book ranked up with some of our other favorites, like the E.B. White books, Roald Dahl's "Mathilda" and "James and the Giant Peach", Laura Ingalls Wilder books, C.S. Lewis' Chronicles of Narnia, and of course, Shel Silverstein. Too bad my kids don't have their own Shel to read to them like I did.

Here are some authors who have written (or not written?) many wordless children's books. I'm going to check some out. I copied and pasted them from somewhere else, so pardon the last name, first name. Here's a link to some descriptions of wordless children's books.

Anderson, Lena
Anno, Mitsumasa
Day, Alexandra
DePaola, Tomie
Goodall, John S.
Hoban, Tana
Krahn, Fernando
Lionni, Leo
Mayer, Mercer
Oxenbury, Helen
Spier, Peter
Tafuri, Nancy

Monday, August 13, 2007

Don't read this book, wink wink

I can under no circumstances recommend this book. I shouldn't even tell you that I read it. I picked this book up while hunting for books to give as gifts at a sidewalk sale for an independent bookstore. I have to say I was embarrassed to have it in the same stack as the Henry Wadsworth Longfellow collection and a pile of pictures books for my children, nieces and nephews. Heh heh. "Me Write Book: It Bigfoot Memoir" by Graham Roumieu is hilarious, irreverent, crude, and funny in a fifth-grade boy kind of way. I loved it. It has some swear words, some references to body parts, and Bigfoot's writing is terrible. Here's an example. “I famous for ability to not be see but don’t think I not notice you not notice.” Bigfoot claims to be a tortured artist. Who knew that Bigfoot tried out for, but didn't get, the part of Snuffleupagus on Sesame Street, causing him to go into a rage and break Oscar's back, forcing to spend the rest of his days in a trash can? Some parts were so funny that I became light-headed from laughter. This book panders to my lowest sense of humor, the poop-joke part of my brain. I must remove it from my house, but for now, it's at the bottom of my book stack where I can read it one more time before I send it to someone. Maybe one of my siblings...

Thursday, August 9, 2007

The Mysterious Benedict Society

Oh my goodness. This is one of those books that you get so excited about that you tell everyone who comes within a ten-foot radius about it. Imagine Lemony Snicket's "A Series of Unfortunate Events" with better writing, better characters, better villains, better plot lines, a better ending, and contained in only one book. Don't get me wrong, I loved Unfortunate Events. I thought it was a hoot. But "The Mysterious Benedict Society" by Trenton Lee Stewart puts Lemony Snicket to shame. To shame, I say! It's a story about clever, brilliant children fighting against a seemingly insurmountable enemy. But these children do have some help from adults and they are infinitely more likable. There were parts in this book that literally had me at the edge of my seat. I couldn't put it down. And even better, the ending made sense in this book. That was my big complaint about Unfortunate Events, that the ending left something wanting. In Lemony's defense, however, Brett Helquist did a much better job than Carson Ellis, who illustrated this book. Ellis' illustrations weren't anything to get excited about, whereas Helquist's were amazing.

My point of all this is that you should go out and immediately check this book out from the library and read it. What are you waiting for? Quit reading and go! Now!

Monday, August 6, 2007

The Sadness of Maps is more like it

I went to the library without a list and without my handy Honey book to guide me along and I succumbed to grabbing books at random. "The Insufficiency of Maps" by Nora Pierce is a story of mental illness, Native Americans and substance abuse. I know, cheery stuff. The prose seemed lovely, told from a five-year-old's perspective and follows her as she gets bigger. But honestly, it was so depressing. You can't help but pity the girl's mother, since she's obviously mentally ill and out of control, but what was most depressing was that the book felt like it had no point. You just watched this family spiral further and further out of control until you didn't think it could possibly get any worse. Then the book ended. Seriously, that was it. Why Nora? Why? Was it to show us the way the White man has destroyed the lives of Native Americans forever? Was it to intimately describe how this woman destroyed her daughter's life because she never got help for her illness? What?

I think I'll go read Harry Potter again.

Thursday, August 2, 2007

Post-Potter Depression 2

I was going to write in the last post where I got the phrase Post-Potter Depression, but I decided to make it another post. Here's where I found the phrase. I've already tried out several of the books they list and let me tell you, some of them are great and some stink. Or maybe you have to be nine years old and less discerning to like it. But hey, the great thing about Harry Potter was that the books stretched across age groups, liked by young and old. Right after HP7 came out, my realtor (a man in his 50s) came over for us to sign some paperwork and looked pretty worn out, having been up late reading. Juvenile Fiction isn't just for tweens.

The books that I thought were "meh" or stunk, I'll briefly cover here. But the ones that were great merit their own post. For a better description of "meh", try saying it with one lip curled up and eyes slightly closed. See what I mean? Nothing great. "Peter and the Star Catchers" by Dave Barry and Ridley Pearson comes across as something Disney came up with to break into the lucrative juvenile fantasy market. Along those same lines is "The Kingdom Keepers" by Ridley Pearson and "Fairy Dust and the Quest for the Egg" by Gail Carson Levine. Yes, the same Levine who wrote the wonderful "Ella Enchanted" and the not-as-wonderful "Fairest." I'm reading the first Fairy Dust book to my girls and they are enjoying it, but as for me? Meh. Another book is "The Alchemyst" by Michael Scott. This book is everywhere! I saw piles of these stacked up at Wal-Mart. When I read it? Meh. It just felt too forced, like it was trying too hard to be good.

Here's a series of books that had potential for greatness, but made me frustrated at the end. His Dark Materials Trilogy by Phillip Pullman had me completely hooked. I couldn't get enough. Then I read the third book. It was the most blatant, hate-filled, anti-religious propaganda that I barely finished it. I wanted to find out what happened to the characters, but it was no fun reading Pullman's personal beef about Christianity. Man, take your issues to another forum, not a novel supposedly geared towards children! And now I find out that they're making a movie from the first book, "The Golden Compass." I'm still excited for it because that book was still great, but I wonder how they'll treat the third book.

The website I gave you in the first paragraph had lots of other great books, ones that I'll post about later. They need their own space to be praised. And there's some seriously good stuff.

Post-Potter Depression

Okay, so I didn't coin the phrase, Post-Potter Depression. I'll tell you who did in a bit. But I am suffering from it. It took me about three days to finish it, mostly because I pre-ordered the book, which meant I had to wait around for it to get delivered. Then I also had family in town and I could only be so rude and disappear to read so many times. But it was kind of nice to savor the last of these great books, to linger over it. I tend to devour books when I anticipate them, reading too fast to catch every last detail and then regretting it later. No such problem this time. But I did have to avoid news websites or other places that might ruin it for me. I did the internet browsing equivalent of plugging my ears and singing, "na na na na na." Nothing was spoiled, thank heavens.

If you haven't yet read the book, stop here. Get off your bum and read it and go no further in this post.

It is a beautiful book. One of my favorite things about the Harry Potter series is Harry's noble heart. Sure, he occasionally lies to get out of trouble, he breaks rules when he finds them unjust, he gets angry and hurts people, and sometimes he's frightened. In other words, he's human and imperfect. But he is full of goodness. Even though he is connected to Voldemort and tied to him in ways that no one else is, he is nothing like him. He doesn't hesitate to do the right thing. What I love about these books is knowing that we all have the potential to be brave and make bold decisions, to fight against injustice, to have friends that will stand by us. To be loved and be capable of love. These are all universal themes in literature, but J.K. Rowling puts it in such a nice package. There's a reason why the Harry Potter series has brought children back to the love of reading.

What I hate the most is people nick-picking the book to death. The inconsistencies (minor, believe me), the lack of or blatant support of certain religious themes (depending on which website you read, J.K. Rowling is either an atheist or slathers the books with Anglo-Christian symbolism), or not using the characters as they see fit. Write your own darn book! Sheesh! My complaint was that Snape didn't show up until late in the book when he was such a central character in HP6. So? Did that make the book any less great than it was? Nope. I got over it.

For some really good analysis of The Deathly hallows, read this online dialogue between Orson Scott Card and Patrick Rothfuss. You can also read the essay that Card wrote before HP7 came out and see how close he got to what really happened. I know I use a lot of Card references in this blog, but he's good.

I cried when Dobby died. I cried when Fred died. I cried when Mrs. Weasley battled Bellatrix Lestrange and yelled, "You will never touch our children again!" At that moment, I felt her pain, I felt her furious protection of her children. I cried when Tonks and Lupin died, knowing that they left a baby behind, another generation orphaned by Voldemort. I cried with Dumbledore as he talked to Harry. I cried when the headmasters applauded Harry in Dumbledore's office. And finally, if that wasn't enough crying, I sobbed when Harry tells his son who he's named after and why. That killed me. I had hated Snape along with Harry all through the books. After HP6, I was convinced that he was a self-interested fiend, whether or not he was for Dumbledore. As Harry watched Snape's memories, I felt such remorse, such pity for the boy that became Snape. For his bad decisions, for his unrequited love, for his sorrow that consumed him.

Man, I'm getting emotional just writing all this down. I suppose it's time for another reading of this lovely book. I can't wait until my children get old enough and then I can read it again and relive it through them.

P.S. All I can say is that Neville Longbottom rocks. He is one of my favorite characters in this whole series. I have loved watching him become the hero that he ends up being. If I could play any character in the series, I'd pick him. If I were male, anyway.