Fuse #8

Saturday, March 31, 2007

Review of the Day: Lissy's Friends

Lissy's Friends, written and illustrated by Grace Lin. Viking (a division of Penguin Young Readers Group). $15.99

Origami. I could never do origami. As a kid it didn’t matter if you wanted me to fold a crane, a frog, or a paper hat. For all the logic involved, origami was equal in difficulty to playing the accordion so I never really took to it as a result. It’s the old if-you-can’t-do-something-it-must-not-be-worth-doing argument. What I did like to do, though, was play with inanimate objects and give them distinct personalities. Not your usual toys and dolls, necessarily. I’d have sweeping romances involving crayons and the coloring pages they were in love with. Epic battles and court intrigue could come out of a deck of playing cards (particularly if the Jacks looked nefarious and cruel). So as it is, I found “Lissy’s Friends,” by Grace Lin to be a perfect intersection of something I loathed as a kid and something I loved. Where does that leave the book? Firmly in the latter category, I’m happy to report.

Being the new girl in school can be infinitely lonely. Lissy’s kind of a solitary gal to begin with and when no one talks to her or sits with her at lunchtime, she creates a little paper crane out of a nearby lunch menu. To her delight, the crane comes alive and Lissy has literally “made” a friend. When her mother (misunderstanding, naturally) says that she’s sure that Lissy will make lots of friends the next day, her daughter guarantees that this will be true. Now she swamped in wonderful friends of every shape and size, “And Lissy was never alone.” Unfortunately, when a ride on the merry-go-round in a stiff breeze sends her companions heavenward, this moment of despair is quickly alleviated by a girl like Lissy who’s interested in her origami skills. Now Lissy has human friends by her side while her former companions are now taking a bit of café au lait on the banks of Paree.

There is a moment in this book where Lin could have lost her readers entirely (at least her grown-up ones) had her writing been heavy-handed or icky sweet. It is when Lissy’s first origami creature, the paper crane, it comes to life in her hands. Some artist/illustrators would have imbued this moment with a great deal of silliness. With Lin, however, the moment just hangs there. For some reason, it makes perfect sense; not goofy or sentimental. Just a magical little occurrence that could be real or the figment of a lonely little girl’s imagination. Even the happy ending where the once missing origami friends write Lissy a missive from Paris comes across as more touching than cutesy. I also loved that in Lissy’s mind, her animals (with the exception of the original little stork) become the size of their real-life equivalents. The giraffe and elephant tower above Lissy, while the tiny mouse and crab (origami crabs?) scuttle beneath her feet.

Lin’s art is what I like to call deceptively simple. Clean pen-and-ink lines and supposedly simple human figures make up most of the scenes. But Lin has possibly outdone herself with this book. Lissy creates at least twenty different origami friends, and each one is made out of a different kind of paper. Their designs and colors never repeat twice. In one scene, Lissy and friends look out the window at some kids who are going to the nearby playground. Not only are the animals realistic looking origami critters, all folds and bends, but the curtains, floor, wallpaper, and Lissy’s shoes, pants, and jacket are ALL different colors and patterns as well! You’d think this sort of thing would hurt to look at or, at the very least, take in. Not the case. But what about when the animals disappear? Would that mean that the book becomes dull and less interesting? Not if you consider that the kids Lissy befriends by the end are all wearing their own distinctive patterns and colors. There were other little lovely details as well. The book takes place in the fall and feels particularly autumnal from scene to scene. I also loved Lissy’s “secret smile” she keeps when she thinks of the living little paper crane who is her first friend.

In the back of the book lie step-by-step instructions for creating your own paper cranes. They’re pretty straightforward, but be sure you have your origami skills well-sharpened when the child in your life demands a crane just like the one in the book. When people ask me at my library for books about making friends, I think I’ll take them at their word from here on in. The making doesn’t happen to be a problem. It’s the keeping that takes some work. A gentle, genuinely touching little tale.

On shelves May 17th.

Blog-Related Note: Grace Lin actually done went and dedicated this book to “my friends the blue rose girls.” That’s the first blog-related dedication I’ve seen to date.

Previous Blog Reviews: A Wrung Sponge

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Friday, March 30, 2007

Poetry Friday - The Collected Works of Susan Ramsey

You know the drill. It's Friday. Friday is, in kidlitosphere time, meant for poetry. Me marm's a poet. Poetry Friday. Easy peasy. Today's was published in The Hiram Review, #63.
Due to the constrictions of Blogger, lines do not necessarily appear as they did in the original publication.

Consider Hairs

Your nose and your ears keep growing as long as you live.
Think of it: Lilian Hellman forced to tote
that great zucchini, Auden’s unfurling ears.
Cute is a survival mechanism;
consider harp seals, ask parents of two-year-olds.
So it's no wonder the carapace of age
frightens us; almost certainly we will not
develop sufficient charms to compensate.

Not for hairs, so often embarrassments.
These aren't the secret hairs of adolescence:
pubic disruptions, smooth armpits suddenly becoming
caverns dense with Spanish moss. Those shames
are secret. No, the hairs of age are public,
chins and moles for women, ears for men.
Eyebrows you could braid or bead.

But why
should only those hairs flourish which are unwanted?
If a wise providence chooses not to encourage
six brave hairs arching lonely from ear to ear
across the gleaming scalplands, well, all right.
But why couldn't the forces of disintegration
have evolved to encourage bourgeoning eyelashes, too?
Just as cheeks grow softer and softest, why
couldn't eyelashes come to resemble reeds
fringing still dark pools where lions drink,
grow heavy as Shetland ponies', as giraffes',
finally closing of their own soft weight.

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The Pigeon Presents (and what it's not telling you)

Hey. Wanna see Mo Willems for free? Live in the New York area? Do ya do ya, huh huh, do ya? Happen to be free between the hours of 6 and 7:30 on Thursday, April 12th? Cause here's the deal: Pigeon Man is coming to my neck of the woods as part of the Donnell Central Children's Room's Spring Lecture Series. We also have two other magnificent guests coming, but I'll keep their names under wraps for at least another week or so.

The point is, our Spring Lecture Series is sometimes woefully unattended. These big big name authors come in and we get maybe ten folks to see them, tops. So our cheese cubes go uneaten, our strawberries wilt, and our tasty treats are devoured by our oddly eternally hungry pages (who appreciate it, but... y'know). This year my blog is doing fairly well and I'm hoping that some of you out there in the Apple of Largess will be willing to come on by for FREE and see Mo speak on whatsoever enters his furry little brain. If you've seen him do his shtick before then you know he's like a stand-up comedian. And he's FREE. And there's food. And there's me (though I'll probably be on desk or something). And I'm lovely. Just a peach.

And hey, if that's not enough to whet your whistle (you dry as dirt whistlers, you) then check out Mo's newest website Pigeon Presents. Why is this a good site to visit? Aside from the animation (run, Pigeon, run!), the voices (mostly Mo), and the swooning pigeon there are little previews like....

Knuffle Bunny Too.

Like it? Want to ask Mo about it? *THEN COME TO OUR SPRING LECTURE SERIES!!!!

*To be read in the same voice as when the pigeon screams, "Let me drive the bus."

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In a Hole In the Ground There Lived a Largely Ancillary Figure

In case you have not tired of any and all news possibly pertaining to Lord of the Rings type stuff, I have something for you today. Now personally, I'm sort of hobbited out. I'll comment on the odd weirdo living situation here and there, but I didn't feel the need to draw any sort of attention to the pseudo-hooplah surrounded J.R.R. Jr.'s "completion of the series", whatever that may mean. Nope. But a blog piece that tries to sort out exactly how hobbits fit into the larger scheme of Middle Earth? I'm in. And I quote: "I presume that hobbits were small yet integral in some way to Middle Earth’s economy, there to befriend non-hobbits like Aragorn and Gandalf and to remain more or less subservient the entire time, never expressing a singular self-interest." Worth a peek.

Thanks to Shaken and Stirred for the link.

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"A New World of Laptop Gypsies"

As hobbies go, blogging's an oddity. I come home and instead of developing black and white photographs or learning the penny whistle I instead take the virtual cuttings and tidbits I've found of interest throughout the day and try to place them in some kind of context that makes sense to me. It's fun. I enjoy it. I just wonder how long I'll be able to keep it up. Two years? Ten? Fifty? Could A Fuse #8 Production last fifty freakin' years?

Unlikely but not, I suppose, impossible. Then again, if you listen to science fiction writer "and professional pundit"(?) Bruce Sterling, he gives the world of blogging ten years. Tops. They're a fad, like mashups, which, for the record, he happens to label "novelty". And as there is no precedent for this kind of thing, maybe he's right. Guess we better milk it for all that's it worth while we can, eh whot?

Thanks to Bookninja for the link.

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Bring Out the Vote

Boy oh boy. Mitali Perkins enjoys the voting process. First she had us all weigh in on how often we read a book before declaring some sort of opinion about it. And now her fictional character Sameera Righton is giving us a chance to vote on the name for the second book in the First Daughter series. Your choices? First Daughter: White House Rules versus First Daughter: White House Rant. I am, as you might have suspected, firmly in the rant camp. Now go and do that thing you do; that thing you do so well.

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Thursday, March 29, 2007

Covers Abundant. Covers Galore.

In this fast-paced day and age, waiting even a day to post something as hot as the new Harry Potter covers means you're behind the times. "Go to bed, old man!," scream the masses. And so it goes.

Now every time a new Harry Potter is due out I make sure to buy a British edition because I much prefer their covers and (sorry, Cheryl) Britishisms. Well, this year it's not the clear cut choice it used to be. America's covers have gotten classier with every passing year while Britain has gotten...

I think goofier might be the only accurate word to use. Yes. Goofier. Let's play a little compare and contrast, shall we?

America's Cover:I'm fairly certain that I'm the only person who likes this. I love the new color palette with its creams and browns. I like the look of Harry, and check out the wraparound:
Nice. Of course, there is the fact that Harry and Voldemort look as if they're doing Yoga. There is that. Especially with that lovely sunrise in the background. Then again, it would be hilarious if Voldemort saw the errors of his ways all thanks to the power of the Astavakrasana position.

Britain's Cover:I got one word for you: Madcap. This looks like National Lampoon: Harry Potter Vacation. I can't tell if these kids are getting thrown out of the big golden circle into (what I'm fairly certain must be) Harry's Uncle Scrooge-like inheritance or if they're being sucked OUT of the money pile. Plus our hero has apparently been aged to approximately 37. Most odd. Even weirder is when you look on the back and get this:

Said one of my co-workers when he saw this, "Is that the Fortress of Solitude?" Yes! That's the twist none of us were seeing. Rowling has secretly paired with DC Comics and the result is a Harry Potter/Superman crossover spectacular! And finally:

Britain's ADULT Cover:Unlike the adult Half-Blood Prince cover, this puppy doesn't give anything away. We've already seen this locket before (once in flashback and once in person, if I don't miss my guess). Just lovely. And if you squint really really hard you can make out the description of the story for this last volume. It doesn't say anything you don't already know, though.

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Because I Would Not Stop to Think, Thinking Kindly Stopped for Me

So I'm reading Theodosia and the Serpents of Chaos right now since, y'know, that's how I roll. And I get to thinking about the time period and the setting. The book basically takes place in pre-WWI England with a kid whose parents are continually bringing back and examining a host of nasty Egyptian artifacts. So naturally, I get to wondering how the author is going to tackle the tricky question of British nationalism. The idea of Egyptian independence is popping up left and right in this book and having finished Larklight by Philip Reeve (more on that later) I'm seeing a small but distinct increase in British fantasies that tackle their nation's thorny past with big, beautiful, magical metaphors. There is, to my mind, no better time then to read J.L. Bell's recent post Bartimaeus and the British Empire. Concentrating primarily on Jonathan Stroud's magnificent trilogy, Bell points out how colonialism and conjurings intertwine perfectly within Stroud's alternate England.


On Blurbing

Maybe Lisa Yee's recent comment regarding her blurb for Emma-Jean Lazarus Fell Out of a Tree made me think of this. Maybe it's the warm spring weather and the dogwood (or whatever the heck it is) that's poised to bloom outside the Central Children's Room window. In any case, it's springtime and a young woman's thoughts inevitably turn to blurbing. It's an odd thing, isn't it? The thought that I like this author therefore, ipso facto, I like this NEW author too. Nice and simple.

The post Blurbing Blurbage (I could not in good conscience steal this, though every corpuscle in my body was screaming to do just that) is a great bit from an established writer on how he narrows down the books he'd care to blurb. The perils of success are fraught with (to quote Roger Sutton against his will) hurty feelings.

Via Shaken & Stirred.

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A Call to Artists

Good news. Grace Lin has announced that there's to be a new Robert's Snow and all you wonderful little published artists and illustrators out there are invited to submit applications for potential contributions. All is explained here, and bear in mind that you'd be in primo company (15 pages worth of it, in fact). Go do the good thing.

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Viewing the Inter

And over in the center ring, may I draw your attention to one Cybils interview with author/illustrator Gene Yang. Y'all may remember him as the fellow who won a Printz and a 2006 Graphic Novel Cybil Award for American Born Chinese. And now that I think about it, there's another nice interview with Lois Lowry over at wordswimmer that's worth a looksee. Aw, heck. On top of all that is the magnificent interview with Jarrett Krosoczka at Ye Olde 7-Imp. Keep an eye peeled for his Estefan-laden fanmail.

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Friggin' Teef

People joke about bronzed baby shoes. The idea that your tot is so precious that even this brief reminder of their teensy-tiny status is worth holding on to for years to come. Bronzed baby shoes are funny, but you know what their problem is? They just ain't creepy enough.

Enter the carving of your children's milk teeth into fairies. No lie. Send off the kid's teeth (what're you gonna do with them for the years they still believe in The Tooth Fairy anyway?) and get back your own pint-sized Icarus. Artist Cordelia Cembrowicz didn't exactly expect this kind of a response when she carved her own wisdom teeth into a bunch of foul-mouthed fairies (her words, not mine), but she's willing to oblige.

To me, teeth are the only visual part of our skeleton. Dream books always tell you to associate the appearance of teeth in your nocturnal visions with death (dream books also tell you to associate everything aside from a guy in a hood carrying a scythe with death). So maybe I'm not seeing the adequate "awww" factor here. Interesting stuff anyway.

Thanks to Strollerderby for the link.

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Wednesday, March 28, 2007

Review of the Day: Emma-Jean Lazarus Fell Out of a Tree

Emma-Jean Lazarus Fell Out of a Tree by Lauren Tarshis. Dial Books (a division of Penguin Young Readers Group). $16.99.

First and foremost I want to stop right now the temptation anyone may have to compare this book to "The Curious Incident of the Dog in the Night-Time". It ends here. “Emma-Jean Lazarus Fell Out of a Tree,” is a treat. A delight. An engaging romp, if you will, but it is NOT to be compared to Mark Haddon’s book, no matter how tempting a prospect. Let us consider this book entirely on its own merits and leave speculations regarding the main character’s mental state to the readers themselves. Newbie first-time author Lauren Tarshis has written a book with some serious buzz flitting about it. Memorable and supremely interesting, this is a book worth holding on to for a very long time.

She’s not like other girls, that Emma-Jean Lazarus. She doesn’t burst into tears every day in middle school or giggle about boys with her friends. Come to think of it, she doesn’t seem to have all that many friends to begin with. That’s okay, though. If Emma-Jean is anything, she’s comfortable being herself. That’s something Colleen Pomerantz would probably pay anything to be. When Emma-Jean finds Colleen sobbing in the girls’ bathroom (which is just as illogical as it is out of character) she vows to help Colleen out any way she can. Of course, that may mean some forgery here and there, but Emma-Jean is confident in her abilities. Now, however, she has mixed feelings towards her widowed mother falling for the nice Indian guy boarding with them, while at the same time learning that this whole “friendship” idea may not be as straightforward as all that. People don’t always make sense and the world is not always fair, but sometimes change can be good. Even if it's not entirely comfortable.

I’ll level with you here. I read this book roundabout a month ago. The thoughts that have percolated and popped in my noggin are not first-impressions or sudden flashes of inspiration. So as I picked this book up to review it, something strange occurred to me; I could remember everything in it perfectly. I could remember the plot, and the characters, and teensy tiny little details here and there. When you review a lot of children’s books, they all tend to run together after a while into a big old slurry blur. Not this book.

Part of Tarshis’ strength lies in her characters, of course. Emma-Jean isn’t emotional, but at the same time she isn’t so cold that the reader doesn't care for her. You warm to her instantly, even as she puzzles through the peculiarities of middle school interactions. I like that from page one you get a sense of Emma-Jean’s personality. “. . . crying was not a logical way to express one’s opposition to the seventh-grade science curriculum,” she thinks after two girls cry at having to dissect a sheep’s eyeball. As for Colleen, she was exactly the kind of person I could understand. “. . . Colleen was always thinking and worrying and obsessing about things.” Been there. Most of us have. It's just rare to see that feeling fleshed out so well into a living breathing person.

The writing, in and of itself, is subtle, but not so subtle that it won’t make for good discussions. For example, when Colleen decides not to get angry at Emma-Jean it reads, “She couldn’t be mad at Emma-Jean, because poor Emma-Jean didn’t understand anything about anything.” The heck she doesn’t! Emma-Jean is a uniquely skilled individual. When she wants to hook her teacher up with the man boarding with herself and her mother she knows how to drop a dinner invitation with a sly, “You could bring your boyfriend if you like,” to determine her teacher's relationship status. Descriptions pop out at the reader with a bit of intensity you wouldn’t expect off-hand. When Colleen feels terrible, the pink wall color, “made her feel like she was trapped inside an old dog’s ear.” Not just any dog, mind you. An old dog. Ick.

The assumption is going to pop up (hence the “Curious Incident” reference at the beginning of this review) somewhere suggesting that Emma-Jean has some mild form of autism. Yet the book never says that, and the book is, when you think about it, the only reference on the topic we have. I don’t think we can go about leaping to conclusions willy-nilly. Just because someone isn’t doesn’t act like everyone else, do we have to label them? When Emma-Jean explains why she doesn’t want any friends she simply says, “They are too complicated.” You don’t have to diagnose a person to agree with a statement like that.

Now I run a homeschooler bookgroup, and recently I’ve been taking the time to assess the readability of the books that come my way. For example, recently my kids and I read "Rules" by Cynthia Lord and we were just bowled over by how well that title works as a point of discussion. It engages the child readers so much so that everyone loves the book. So I’m gonna go out on a limb here and say that Tarshis ’ book does the same thing. It has that indefinable quality that makes the reader just want to pick up the title again and again and again. The ending is top notch (coming up with a quilt-related solution to one of Emma-Jean’s woes that gives me shivers to read), the beginning biting, and the middle engaging and endearing in turns. Recommended with a "yes, indeed" for kicks.

Notes on the Cover: As someone pointed out on this blog not too long ago, it does the book no favors. It’s not a terrible cover by any means. And you can even tie it into Emma-Jean’s pet bird, the trees she and her father loved, and the fabric that is eventually sewn onto her quilt. That said, this is not a kid-friendly cover. This is the kind of cover you put on an adult book of poetry (one that uses words like "thrush" and "entirety"). So it’s nothing against you, Dial, but when this pup comes out in paperback (and it will if it gets the attention it deserves) let us take into consideration the possibility of doing something just as classy but with a touch of child-friendliness to boot. Let us, to be blunt, make this book like like it’s worthy of its buzz.

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Nobody Puts Mary In the Corner

A blogger is only as smart as her readers. Credit Jennifer Schultz when she asked in a comment box the other day, ". . . has the Little House on the Prairie musical with Patrick Swayze and Melissa Gilbert been discussed yet? I can't remember if I read it on a kidlit blog or on one of my Broadway message boards."

Not on my watch it hasn't. And sure as shooting, that's exactly what's going on. I mentioned back in February how amused I was that they were creating a musical called Prairie! (emphasis entirely my own) but I never dreamed they'd ever get any major names attached. Yet so sayeth Yahoo News: "Patrick Swayze and Melissa Gilbert will star as Pa and Ma in an April workshop presentation of "Prairie," a musical version of Laura Ingalls Wilder's 'Little House on the Prairie.'"

Now I am old enough to remember Swayze's ill-fated leap into singing. It was when the notion of celebrities coming out with songs was a far more haphazard enterprise than it is today. Don't believe me? I got two words for you: Don Johnson. But I digress... Swayze put out a little song called She's Like the Wind (20 points if you read the words aloud just as you would Readers Theater), so we know that he can hold a tune. I just prefer to imagine crazy dance sequences with Swayze sporting a big old black Pa-beard. THAT I would pay money to see.


That Critter With the Babydoll Head in Toy Story Ain't Got Nuthin' on These Guys

Ah good.
Looks like the demons in my head have finally found the form with which they may torture me via my dreams. Now when I plop my head down upon the pillow I can look forward to seeing these fellas laughing at me as they chase me through the streets of Manhattan bearing various kitchen utensils. Somehow these little guys are scarier to me than that last Madame Alexander monstrosity I stumbled on.

Gee willikers, thanks bookshelves of doom AND Oz and Ends. Y'all really know how to keep a girl rested.

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Titular (tee hee) Importance

We all know how you're not supposed to judge a book by its cover. But I think that's one of those rules you ignore out of a sense of self-preservation more than anything else. So what about titles? If you glance at something and it has a title that bores the pants off of you/does nothing in the pulse stirring department, does that mean you won't pick up that book even for a gander?

It would be worse if you were the kind of author who couldn't even begin a book until you selected its name. Says Maxim Jakubowski in his recent Guardian piece What's in a novel's name, "I'm not sure how important they are, but I can't even begin to write until I've settled on a title." I wonder if this is a widespread problem. Names in kidlit rarely strike me as particularly awful or bizarre. Pretentious titles are another matter entirely.

Thanks to Bookninja for the link.

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2007 Booklist Top 10 Graphic Novels for Youth

All righty. Let's see how we did.

Lemme see here.... out of a potential 10 Top Graphic Novels for Youth I've read and reviewed... five. Hm. 50% of the listed titles. Still, I loved all five. No objections there. Still, I wouldn't have minded seeing a Babymouse or Gray Horses inclusion.

Thanks to Flight 4 for the link.

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Love the One You Hate

There's an informal poll (why do I feel the need to slip in the word "informal"?) going on at Mitali's Fire-Escape on a topic near and dear to our hearts:

"Do you discuss, recommend, ding, or write about books you haven't read (qualifying your comments, of course, by admitting your non-reader status)?"

No no, surely not NO. Well. I mean. Sure there was that one time. And I'm busy. Places to go. People to see. Certainly you can't expect someone to read EVERYTHING out there, do you?

Such excuses serve you ill, but we all pull them out from time to time. Go and vote at Mitali's and BE HONEST. It's an anonymous poll. No one's going to come after you with thick sharp sticks if you tell the truth.

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I Man-Eating Heart This

Ever since I wrote that review of Diary of a Wimpy Kid I've been interested in checking out all the cool webcomics for children out there. Then I found Zita Space Girl. Tell me you don't take to it after a single reading. Somebody give THAT guy a book deal.

Thanks to Sandbox for the link.

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I Prefer My Holmes "Action-Man-Like"

Sometimes you just can't make these things up. Guess the next Sherlock Holmes. Aw, go on. Is it Jeremy Irons? Is it Alan Rickman? Is it Jason Isaacs?

Think again.

Favorite Quote From Article:
Unlike previous films this one is going to focus more on Holmes' physical attributes, including his talent for bare-knuckle and sword fighting, which were both mentioned in the original books. "Russell is the favourite for the role as it's felt he'll give the character the action-man-like qualities the part is going to require."
Just wondering if the seven percent solution is going to get its due.

Thanks to LibrariAnne for the link.

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Tuesday, March 27, 2007

Review of the Day: Tiny Tyrant

Tiny Tyrant by Lewis Trondheim, illustrated by Fabrice Parme. First Second Books (an imprint of Roaring Book Press). $10.50.

The French are different from you and me. They like their graphic novels smart, colorful, and consistently amusing. What other nation could claim the wonders of “Asterix and Obelix”? Who else has the chops to give us Joann Sfar on the one hand and then turn around to toss us the partnership of Lewis Trondheim & Fabrice Parme on the other? First Second Books, never afraid to co-opt the foreign so as to market it to one and all, has now brought us a title from the aforementioned Trondheim & Parme pairing. Now I’d like you to bear in mind that I am not a pushover on the subject of French GNs. To be frank with you, I love French graphic novels for teens but have never found one for younger kids that gave me anything but a vague sense of nausea/the willies. The “A.L.I.E.E.E.N.” and the “Sardine in Space” books do nothing for me. “Tiny Tyrant”, however, is another matter entirely. Telling various tales surrounding a pint-sized ruler with very little common sense, I think First Second has a winner on its hands. It’s hip. It’s hilarious. And it’s something I’d hand any kid if they looked at me mournfully and asked if I didn’t have any comics on my library shelves.

Meet King Ethelbert. You can call him, Your Majesty. As the six-year-old ruler of Portocristo, Ethelbert’s not just a pain. He’s a menace to the very society he rules. If he’s not conjuring up dinosaurs out of a laboratory or shrinking the world around him, then he’s fighting with his insufferable cousin Sigismund or kicking Santa Claus in the rear. Ethelbert isn’t all bad, of course. I mean he’s perfectly nice to Princess Hildegardina (though that might be because she’s three times as rich as he is and he wants to prevent his cousin from marrying her). And he sends a guy over to India for an all expense paid vacation (though, to Ethelbert’s mind, it was the worst punishment he could conjure up). All in all, he’s not the kind of monarch you’d necessarily like, but he does happen to be a king you’ll have a hard time putting down. This book is a collection of the best "Tiny Tyrant" stories from eight different French volumes.

Basically the book won me over to its charms right from the start. In “Safety First” Ethelbert finds himself in the care of a bodyguard. Not content to get just any old protector, however, the king decides to test his new servant in the hopes of finding a chink in the man’s admirable abilities. So what do you do when you want to test your new bodyguard? You put a price on your own head, naturally. When groups from all over the globe start showing up, the sheer variety of them is delightful. Everyone from The Family Farmers Liberation Front to a Michigander ambush performed by the Dastardly Detroiters, takes a hand. Not for the first time would I wonder to what extent translator Alexis Siegel and (uncredited) Edward Gauvin added their own personal touches to these exceedingly funny bits of wordplay. Princess Hildegardina, for example, speaks with a lofty convoluted speech that frequently leaves Ethelbert tongue-tied himself. How many of these words are direct translations of the French and how many the delightful vocal curlicues of Siegel and Gauvin?

I would like to point out that not just anyone can do humor and I credit author Lewis Trondheim on some of Ethelbert’s finer ridiculous aspects. When a group of Ethelbert lookalike robots takes over the palace his doubles offer a list of demands that are exceedingly magnificent in their silliness. For example, “I wanna see a death match between a giraffe and a penguin.” If I can take nothing else away from the book, let me at least take that.

Were it not for the book’s bookflap, I might not have noticed that artist Fabrice Parme draws quite a lot of inspiration from “the classic animation of Mr. Magoo and The Pink Panther.” Thinking about it, you can definitely see the mod influences here. And I was particularly taken with the look of Ethelbert himself. It's difficult to tear your eyes away from those eyebrows that float about a foot above his head and are roughly the same size as his body from the neck down. Lest you believe this penned by an American artist, however, I did find a couple instances here and there that were particularly daring by U.S. standards. For example, in the story “A Mountaintop Inheritance”, Ethelbert and Sigismund fight over their now deceased great-great-Aunt’s inheritance. As their squabble disintegrates over a single gold ingot, they start pulling various firearms at one another from a host of weapons lying on the floor. Trust me when I say that it works, but you can definitely see the horror that will grace some parents’ faces when they come to that part of the book. Then again, we all grew up watching Warner Brothers cartoons where pulling a gun on someone was an act of humor (much as it is here) so I don’t think any lasting damage will crease your own tiny tot’s head as a result. Still, keep an eye out for squeamish adults. They may have something to say about this section.

I find it more than a little coincidental that “Tiny Tyrant” is getting a release on the exact same day as David Horvath’s picture book, Bossy Bear. Look me in the eye and tell me these two books don’t have a lot in common. Right here. Right in the eye. Now tell me. Can’t do it, can ya? Yeah, no, I didn’t think so, and why? Because the color scheme is frighteningly similar. The drawing style has some pretty familiar elements. Plus there’s the mild fact that both books are about crown-wearing tiny tots with egos the size of Goodyear blimps. A good pairing? Not necessarily since there’s the difference in age level to take into account here. Still, should you wish to get your nine-year-old and five-year-old nieces and nephews some related gifts, this wouldn’t be an unlikely pairing.

On its own “Tiny Tyrant” is sure to amuse plenty of kids and adults alike. If petulant dictators with little education and even less interest in the the plight of the common man are your cup of tea (and in this day and age, how could they not be?), you may find in this book a fun house mirror for our times.

On shelves May 1st.

Follow the link for a preview of the story Picture-perfect Children.

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A mixed thank you to Alan Silberberg for the link.


Fat Insufferable Cats

So I'm cruising the Children's Picturebook Price Guide for fun, and I come across this piece regarding the The "Top 1000" titles most widely held by Online Computer Library Center (OCLC) member libraries.

The site is poorly laid out, tricking you into believing that Tomie dePaolo's Mother Goose is number three when, in fact, Mother Goose in general is third. Fortunately, the aforementioned Children's Picturebook Price Guide has rounded up all the 172 children's titles for you. So see if you can spot what's wrong with the kidlit holdings. Here are the first numbers:

#3: Mother Goose
#7: Huckleberry Finn
#8: Lord of the Rings (trilogy)
#10: Alice's Adventures in Wonderland
#14: Night Before Christmas
#15: Garfield
#16: Tom Sawyer

*screeeeeeeeetch* Back up, back up, back up.
Let me get this straight. GARFIELD is number 15 on the list of books that are in THE MOST libraries worldwide? GARFIELD? Are you pulling my leg?

Oh, it gets better. Garfield beat Aesop's Fables, Arabian Nights, and A Christmas Carol. He beat Treasure Island, Grimm Fairy Tales, and The Wonderful Wizard of Oz. He beat, The Hobbit, Little Women, and (and here it gets insulting) The Diary of Anne Frank.

Jim Davis, I am not pleased. Even Peanuts had the good grace not to appear until #69 with Calvin and Hobbes bringing up the rear at #77 alongside Doonesbury (#88).

In any case, for a good time, scroll down to the later titles and see what comes up. I could read this thing all day.

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Whilst listening to the audiobook of Life As We Knew It, Jen Robinson recently speculated aloud as to why it is that post-apocalyptic children's books are so doggone compelling. I see eye-to-eye with Jen on this one. I went through an interesting let's-read-all-the-post-apocalypse kidlit-we-can-get-our-hands-on phase three years ago. I was wolfing down Z for Zachariah, Eva (oh, it totally counts), Tomorrow When the War Began, Hole In the Sky, Noah's Castle (oh yeah, I got obscure), and more. Couldn't get enough.

Now it looks as if there is an answer to Jen's question in the L.A. Times piece, Boom times for the end of the world. Apparently 9/11 and fear mongering play a hand in the current upsurge. I recently met with the delightful Sue Stauffacher, and Sue happened to mention that her beautiful book Donuthead (one of those omigodyouhaven'treadthisyet? titles) was inspired in some small part by the fear surrounding the attack on the World Trade towers. How better to address such a concern than with a character afraid of absolutely everything? And if it comes down to deciding between a child named Franklin Delano Donuthead and a book where everyone's either died of a dread disease or been turned into bald deaf zombies, I know which one I'll pick.

Thanks to Bookninja for the link.

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Mmmm. That's the Stuff.

A whole website dedicated to book covers? Brother, that's a sweet little old idea just ripe for the picking.

I like the format of this. You just click on the cover of your choice and read the comments. Part of me wonders if this could be done with children's books. I don't see why not. You'd just need a website and a way to post scans of the covers. I don't have either at my disposal, but surely there is someone out there willing to put in the time and energy.


A Poohian "Who Knew?"ian

Apparently (and she has never divulged this information before so how was I to know?), Lisa Yee is the world's biggest number one Winnie-the-Pooh fan. I'm not saying this in a lighthearted manner. I don't call her Number One because she has two Eeyore dolls and a signed edition by E. H. Shepard or something. I'm talking... well...

Better see for yourself.

Yeah. When you have so many materials you can donate them to The White River Heritage Museum and get a collection named after you... only THEN can you be called a true fan.

Lisa, darling, you must come and visit Pooh again and pronto. Look, this newbie YA author did. Why not you? Come back to him. You may be on the wrong coast, but no author can stays away from NYC for too long. How long can you resist the lure?

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New Yorker Is Animating Its Cartoons

To which we disapprove. Heartily. Wired disapproves as well, for that matter. I still like me my cartoons now and then, but give me the New Yorker Anti-Caption Contest any day of the week over oddly embarrassing animated shorts.

Thanks to the Powell's Blog for the link.

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For the "Colbert Report" Watchers Amongst Us

The new catchphrase that's sweeping the nation is now, "Librarians are hiding something." I intend to use this willy-nilly. Copyright be damned.

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Monday, March 26, 2007

Review of the Day: The Escape of Oney Judge

The Escape of Oney Judge: Martha Washington's Slave Finds Freedom, written and illustrated by Emily Arnold McCully. Farrar, Straus & Giroux. $11.20.

When you consider the pedestal on which our Founding Fathers are placed in the world of children's literature, it's not surprising that the story of George Washington's slaves has never been adequately told for the younger set. A slave owning first president just doesn't gel with the general George-Washington-chopped-down-a-cherry-tree mythos. You want something on his wooden chompers? Read Deborah Chandra's amusing, George Washington's Teeth. You prefer a silly story involving a bunch of wacky barnyard animals? George Washington's Cows, by David Small is the book for you. But you won't find runaway slaves mentioned in "Teeth" and you'd be hard pressed to find a single black amongst any of the white servents in "Cows". Now Farrar, Straus & Giroux (who, fascinatingly enough, was the publisher of all three of these books) has published Caldecott Award winning author/illustrator Emily Arnold McCully's newest biography, "The Escape of Oney Judge: Martha Washington's Slave Finds Freedom". From the moment I read this subtitle I was hooked. Few people would have the guts to talk about this tie-in between the Washingtons and the girl who got away from them. Trust McCully to carry about with her a backbone made of iron and enough facts to blow away even the most skeptical of critics.

She was the daughter of a white indentured servant and a black slave mother in 1773, and right from the start Oney Judge was quick. Because of both this and her light skin she was taken on as one of Mrs. Washington's sewing circle slaves, and her skills with a needle made her invaluable to her mistress. When George Washington was to become President of the United States of America, Oney moved with the family to Philadelphia. It was there that she learned that an adult slave who lived there six months was required, by law, to be free. Unfortunately, it soon became clear that Martha Washington intended to will Oney to her granddaughter Eliza in the event of her own death. Oney, desperate to escape before the family returned to Mount Vernon, threw herself on the mercy of some freed slaves and Quakers who, in turn, helped her escape to New Hampshire. Author Emily McCully tells everything from Oney's early years to the multiple attempts the Washingtons and their friends made to lure, threaten, and trick Oney into returning back to Mount Vernon. In the end, Oney remained free and the extensive Author's Note at the back recounts how she continued to live in "proud, independent poverty for the rest of her life."

Much of this book owes its existence to Henry Wiencek's, An Imperfect God: George Washington, His Slaves, and the Creation of America. It is more important than ever to teach our kids that while the Founding Fathers did many good things and created a remarkable new nation, in their personal lives they were sometimes less than stellar human beings. Martha Washington in particular comes off looking quite the self-satisfied slave owner in this title. She'd had slaves for many years, and she apparently had no intention of freeing any of them, even in the event of her own death. So McCully knows how to just give kids the facts without going out of her way to conjure up stereotypes. Martha Washington isn't pictured with evil leers and a nasty eye. She's a product of her times to some extent and yet she's also completely blind to the needs of the people around her. McCully did find it necessary to note at the end that, for George, he didn't say anything publicly against slavery but that he "made provisions in his will for the freeing of his own slaves after Martha's death." Kids can make of that what they would like.

The storytelling in this book proceeds at a swift clip. McCully's an old hand at non-fiction works, having put her skills to the test with such titles as The Pirate Queen and The Ballot Box Battle. Considering the scant amount of information there must have been out there on Oney, you have to admire the sheer number of Sources and Websites cited by the author at the end of her book. And her storytelling is consistently interesting, even if she has to rely on creating dialogue for the sake of keeping the story interesting. I was especially taken with the moments in the story where Oney, thinking herself safe, is barraged with people trying to get her to return to the Washingtons. The mere fact that Washington didn't take Oney to court is explained beautifully. "The President would have to go to court to force a slave to return. He won't do that - it would only cause a scandal in the North." And his now sterling reputation might have tarnished some as a result, I'm sure. McCully does choose to end the story in a manner so abrupt that I almost wonder if she ran out of time and didn't have a chance to create a final image of Oney living on her own alongside the sentence, "For the rest of her long life, Oney Judge had no mistress but herself." Instead we get a very hurried encapsulation of her final flight with the picture of a man helping her into a cart at night. The book is excellent on telling a story but certainly lacking in any kind of conclusion.

Those of you familiar with McCully's watercolor style will take to her images in this book. I can offer no criticism here, and not being familiar with the clothing of this time period I can't comment on how historically accurate McCully has been. Nonetheless, the book does a good job of breaking up the text around the images in the story. Nothing ever feels stilted or slapdash, since pictures are constantly jumping above, below, and around a given section of writing.

So is it historical fiction based on a true story or is it non-fiction? The Library of Congress subject headings all consider this book to be fiction, and in a way you can concede the point. After all, to make the book interesting McCully has to rely on putting words into her characters mouths that may seem plausible, but that can't be backed up with any adequate source material. That won't stop some libraries from squeezing, "Oney Judge" onto their biography shelves, but be careful to bear in mind the author's limitations.

Recently the U.S. Mint revealed that the newest dollar coin was going to feature the image of George Washington on it. I figure that if your kids are going to go about seeing this man's face everywhere, the least you can do is give them a story about one of the women he and his wife owned. Exciting and factual, "The Escape of Oney Judge" is one of those must-read titles for any child asked to do a biography of George Washington for a school project. By all means mention his triumphs in battle and acts as a President. Just remember too that one woman did all she could to escape from under his thumb.

Other Titles: If historical fiction's your bag, check out the middle reader title Taking Liberty: The Story of Oney Judge, George Washington's Runaway Slave by Ann Rinaldi (though you'll note the inaccuracy of the title).

Previous Online Reviews of This Title: Planet Esme. You can also see a Q&A with Emily McCully regarding this book at the Powell's website.

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Seen On a Post-It Note While Filling in on the YA Desk Down in Teen Central

"Like its politicians and its wars, society has the teenagers it deserves." - J.B. Priestley


Note the Pop-Up Homage to Charles and Di

Geez. The Brookshelf has cranked itself up to maximum informative capacity and it's all the rest of us can do to keep up as a result. Recently everyone's favorite Pittsburgh-based librarian
had a posting on The Pop-Up World of Ann Montanaro. I've grown quite fond of Brooke's online weekly exhibits. After you finish with the pop-ups, do yourself a favor and also check out Brooke's take on The Charlotte M. Smith Collection of Miniature Books as well.

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Kidlit Blogs Represent

The blog Book Chronicle has started a little something it's calling The Litty Awards. As it explains it, "We will present twelve awards, from Best Christian Litblogger to Best Infamous Litblogger over the next six weeks. To do this, we’ve selected thirty-five blogs from the whole blogosphere as our nominees to compete for the twelve ‘prestigious’ Litty Awards..."

The showing from the kidlit perspective is small, but includes such names as Chicken Spaghetti, Bildungsroman (mistakenly, I believe, called Slayground), and The Leaky Cauldron.

First up, Best Christian Litblogger. Oh, like you don't have one.

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The Charms of Psmith Shall Be Mine

Nothing short of small sharp crowbars keeps me from reading children's books and only children's books for pleasure these days. Now Oz and Ends and bookshelves of doom have conspired to inform me of a book that I simply must read and pronto. I've already placed a hold on it (though there are a paltry 2 copies in all the New York Public Library system). Growl. Fidget. Grumph.

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Editing V. Publicity In a Fight to the Finish

Kind of feels like that old "Would you rather" game, doesn't it? Well think about it. What's more important to you (taking into account whatever type of "you" you are). Would you prefer premier top-notch editing that cannot be compared to, or do you think what a book really needs is a fabuloso marketing campaign that sells your books like billy-o. One Justine Larbalestier poses the query and the comments are pouring in. Where lies your little heart?

Thanks to Shaken & Stirred for the link.

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Picture Book Cliff Notes

Just a quick plug to my man Greg. I've been sloooooowly sending my Newbery books off to his new elementary school library in California (I sent one this week, Greg!) and I'm scratching my head here trying to figure out if I've ever successfully plugged his Oddaptations. You all know about the Gotta Book Oddaptations, right? They're like CliffNotes for picture books. Well Greg has created a new beaut based on Guess How Much I Love You. If you haven't taken a pass at any of these before, scroll down and check out The Oddaptations in the sidebar. Choice stuff.

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Sunday, March 25, 2007

How About a Tasty "Golden Compass" Laden Treat?

Guess what I found?
A little early footage from The Golden Compass. Consider it your early birthday present.


Video Sunday - Harry Potter

Though I should technically stay within the public domain, I couldn't help but post a little Harry Potter action this bright and cheery Sunday afternoon. It's an excuse to post Part One of the French & Saunders Harry Potter spoof for Comic Relief, done just after the second HP movie came out. Of course, Blogger and YouTube are apparently caught in a tiff with one another. And for reasons beyond my control, this particular video is not linking to my blog. Stuff and bother. You'll have to see it here instead.

Silly? Very. But getting to see Jeremy Irons say, "God, I'm gorgeous," may well be worth the price of admission alone. That and seeing Saunders doing double duty as both J.K. Rowling and Ron.

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Daniel Radcliffe Pre-Equus

Though only tenuously connected, this Daniel Radcliff spot on "Extras" has two cast members from the Harry Potter film (go, Warwick Davis!). Plus Diana Rigg getting hit on by Dan is a sheer delight.

And Finally...

As with all things we will end with some super crazy Harry Potter anime. Why? Because we can, darling. Because we can and because I canNOT figure out what's going on in it.

All Right, Rogers, You Have the Floor

This past week Fred Rogers would have turned 79 years of age. In 1969, Mr. Rogers testified before a Senate subcommittee in the pursuit of funding for PBS. I find it very interesting to see that Fred really did talk this way to adults as well as kids. I also love the tough guy he keeps speaking too who, in the course of the testimony, is completely charmed the by Mr. Rogers persona.

Oh You Know They're Just Doing It Cause NYPL Did One First

The esteemed mag for librarians, "American Libraries", apparently knows the value of good P.R. It's sweetly nerdy. Makes me feel good about the dorky side of my profession.

We Know That Television For the Very Young Is Bad, But What About Wii?

The weird thing is that YouTube is filled to brimming with various tiny tots playing the Wii like this. I find this oddly adorable, especially since he seems to have the concept down pat. Plus he doesn't do too badly. Consider this my off-topic video post of the day.

Saturday, March 24, 2007

MOVIE Review of the Day: Bridge to Terabithia

Here’s how it all played out. I go to my e-mail one day to find a piece of correspondence that, at first glance, appears to be spam for Fandango. You know. That pre-ordered ticket service that advertises with multiple talking paper bags. So I delete said suspected spam, move on, then my brain does a quick double take. Wait a minute. Did that spam just have the letters HMOCL in its subject line? A quick double check and lo and behold I’ve been sent a free theater ticket by HMOCL #26 (ten points if you can name him). To what end? My sweet admirer asked that I see Bridge to Terabithia and review it on this here bloggy thingy. Never one to pass up free stuff (with the possible exception of free mouthwash, ‘cause that’s nasty) I decided to do exactly that…. approximately a month after he sent me the tickets. No one ever claimed I was quick. And even after I saw the film I needed at least a week and a half to digest it (i.e. I felt lazy and didn’t write when I should have). Now I’ve masticated, digested, chewed my cud, redigested (ew), and I think I’m ready to give this film its full due long after anyone cares anymore. Which is just another way of saying, if you haven’t checked out the Horn Book reviewer Martha V. Parravano’s take on this film, you may wish to do so. If you absolutely must read only one review of Bridge to Terabithia, read that one.

First and foremost, if you wish for any plot points in this movie (particularly of the “film’s ending” variety) to remain unknown to you, don’t read me. Not only am I filling this pup with spoilers, I intend to dance a tarantella on the remains of any mystery that might surround Terabithia’s “surprise”. Got that? Gone? Cool. Cause Leslie Burke totally dies in this film and that’s the only thing I knew about the book growing up. For years I eschewed any books that might be deemed “depressing” for fear that they might… I dunno… depress me. So fare thee well, Jacob Have I Loved. Toodle-oo, Chocolate War. And don’t you hold that Bridge to Terabithia too close to me there. You don’t know where it’s been! It wasn’t until I hit the grand old age of 20 or so that I finally picked up the dreaded tome and read it through. Such a great book. Containing one of the best first sentences in children’s literature (“Ba-room, ba-room, ba-room, baripity, baripity, baripity, baripity—Good.”) this is one of those American classics you can enjoy even as you weep. It is also, I might add, one of the top two Let’s Introduce Kids to the Concept of Death children’s novels out there. The other, you may have guessed, is Charlotte’s Web which was ALSO filmed by Walden Media not too long ago. My guess is that if you see any Disney employees sniffing around My Brother Sam Is Dead or Lois Lowry’s A Summer to Die, don’t act surprised.

Anywho, I liked the book but since I didn’t love it intensely as a child, I could remain separated from it and see whether or not this film improved on the original story or not. After sitting through fifteen or sixteen trailers for other upcoming children’s movies (the fact that Mimzy is not a horror film is still baffling to me) off we went. I was watching Bridge to Terabithia in a theater with about ten other people on a Tuesday afternoon around 4:45. There is no better way to fly.

First and foremost, I’d just like to say that I liked it. And I really didn’t expect to either. I’ve a very low tolerance for poorly made films of any type and children’s features are no exception. I wasn’t prepped to like it much either. I’d had a library patron come up to me a couple days earlier lamenting at length the various problems she saw in the film. On the other hand, at the ALA Conference in Seattle some of my Newbery colleagues saw a preview of the movie and gave it a thumbs up. Who to believe? As it happens, I’m standing with my fellow colleagues. This was a strong feature that won you over even when it faltered. David Paterson, son of the author and the kid who inspired the character of Jesse Aarons dead-best-female-friendwise, did his job to the best of his abilities.

Now the greatest fear of any fan of the book has always been how effectively Terabithia’s able to switch between the real and the fantastical. At best, I was hoping for a kind of Heavenly Creatures shift, but Paterson’s even subtler than that. The lamentable movie trailer that made the film appear to be all fight scenes alongside very little reality was easy to forget in the face of Paterson’s slow introduction to all things mystical. The first time Jesse sees Leslie read a work of her own in class, her words are so vivid to him that he can see little bubbles when she describes the experience of snorkeling. When I saw this I was poised to believe that the film might make it seem as if Leslie has some kind of hypnotic power over Jesse, but that’s not really the case. Imagination in both its practical (writing and painting) and otherworldly (fantasy world) incarnations is honored here. What Jesse and Leslie do is no more than play a kind of Dungeons and Dragons game without hard and fast rules (or twelve-sided dice for that matter). Reviewer Martha V. Parravano did criticize the film for making Terabithia such a menacing place to escape to, but I think that was the whole point. It’s a cathartic area where the two kids can fight the demons they encounter in school. The bully of a girl that gets them both in trouble becomes a monstrous troll. The annoying boys are creepy squirrel-like creatures. Some of this is a bit heavy-handed, as when Jesse is “rescued” by the troll after her realistic counterpart has been helped by Leslie at school. Still, I don’t think kids are being patronized to here.

I had some mixed feelings on the casting of the children. No objections to Josh Hutcherson who played Jesse Aarons, mind you. Looking at his film career (which is extensive, to say the least), you can see that this was a far subtler part than the standard bullies and random kids he’s had to play in the past. What I liked about Josh was that when he delivered a line, you didn’t get the sense that it was something written down that he’d memorized and was now reciting. Hutcherson’s a natural actor who knows how to take on a part fully. I wish the same could have been said about his co-star AnnaSophia Robb. She’s just as much an acting veteran as Josh, but the girl needs to take a page or two out of his book. Where Josh would deliver a line like it just occurred to him on the spot, AnnaSophia placed delicate pauses after each one of her sentences. She’s great at enunciation, no question, but you never felt attached to her or her character. I blame the casting to some extent here, of course. The idea is that Leslie and Jesse are friends occurs in part because none of the other kids in school want to be their friends. But the minute AnnaSophia walks into her new classroom, it’s impossible to suspend your disbelief. THAT girl can’t make friends? Not only is she the loveliest creature you ever did see but her clothes are so incredibly cool that it’s all you can do to believe that children wouldn’t swarm around her the minute she so much as breathed near them. Someone a little more butch and a little less delicate could have possibly convinced viewers to care for Leslie and her death, but AnnaSophia was not that girl. Almost making up for her, though, was Lauren Clinton as the bully Janice Avery. I couldn’t get enough of that girl. It’s a singularly unlovely part and Lauren embraces Janice’s ugliness head-on without ever disintegrating into caricature. But the killing blow to the film was almost struck by the casting of Bailee Madison as Jesse’s little sister. I’ve a very low tolerance for, what I like to call, the Raven Symone effect (Cosby Show, anyone?). There is cute and then there’s trying too hard. Bailee tries to hard and ends up unlikable by the story’s end. Sorry guys. I wasn’t buying her in any of her scenes.

Now I may not have approved of all the kids, but the adults in this movie were spot-on time and time again. Robert Patrick, who will never entirely escape the shadow of his performance in Terminator 2, plays Jesse’s father Jack Aarons in this film. I had the mixed-blessing of having seen Mr. Patrick in a truly awful piece of dribbly dreck entitled The Marine not two nights before seeing Terabithia in the theater. After that bit of folderol it was a relief to see that this fellow had to ability to give his character a decent amount of depth. One of the complaints the anti-Terabithia movie patron I encountered was that it seemed awful how Jesse’s father was so cruel to him. I didn’t see it that way. Obviously Mr. Aarons sees the world a certain way and he’s hard on his only son because life has been hard on him. I thought the casting of Zooey Deschanel, aside from fulfilling every schoolboy’s dream of having her as a teacher, was slightly inspired as well. We don’t really have an equivalent hippie actress in this day and age to play the part of Ms. Edmonds, but we do have some pretty down-to-earth women that have already proven they can sing well enough to pull of the old Music Teacher role. And Deschanel proved in the movie Elf that she had singing chops galore, so it’s nice to see her display them loud and proud. Finally, I don’t think enough credit’s gone to actress Jen Wolfe for her turn as teacher Mrs. Myers. Playing a hard-ass prof tends to be a fairly unforgiving role, but Ms. Wolfe imbues her character with such emotion that when she tells Jen about her dead husband you suddenly get a brief flash of a glimpse into her entire persona outside of school. Few actors do so much with full speeches, let alone the random sentence here and there.

I’ve also never seen a contemporary movie so steeped in 1970s imagery. As Terabithia was published in 1977, it wouldn’t have been inconceivable to set the film during that time period. As it stood, however, the fashions and kids were definitely Millennial, while the cinematography could only be called “classic”. It felt 70s, and I tried to pinpoint why. The beautiful tracking shots from overhead of sunlit fields… yeah, you don’t see much of that today. And maybe the school itself where the kids fight their mini battles is in desperate need of some updates in technology, but that’s true in a lot of places. Then it hit me. As far as I could tell, and with very few exceptions, the land of Terabithia wasn’t a set. These kids were constantly standing with real sunlight hitting their features and real pine needles beneath their feet. I’ve spent so much time watching children and fantasy films where everything takes place on a big old soundstage that I’d forgotten how wonderful pure unadulterated nature could be. Compare Terabithia’s woods to the forest in the first Harry Potter movie. There is simply no comparison. You believe that evil creatures might lurk in nature in one film, and in the other you wonder why anyone would act scared when surrounded by trees made of rubber. The CGI is what it is. You either like it or you don’t, but certainly the outdoor feeling of the film counters any artificiality that usually comes with prolific special effects.

So did I cry when Leslie died? Buckets. Not because Leslie was dead so much, though. I couldn’t really care less about her, but the people who cared for her were so interesting that seeing them hurt made me feel awful. This all goes back to what I was saying about actor Josh Hutcherson. There’s a moment between him and his father at the end where Jesse is blaming himself for Leslie’s death and speculating that since she wasn’t baptized maybe she’d go to hell. If you don’t choke up just a little when Robert Patrick says that he doesn’t believe that “God would send that little girl to Hell”, you are made of stone. STONE!

It won’t be for everyone, mind you. The announcement of Leslie’s sudden death is so out of the blue (and natural) that I actually heard small children gasping around me. But I’ve seen plenty of awful family dramas in my day and this is not one of them. I’d have tweaked something here and toyed with something else there, but for the most part I found this a strong collective effort. The parts that were added felt like a natural extension of the book. I definitely would have done away with the horrific pop songs that will date in approximately two years or less. There should be a law passed that forbids popular singers from getting their works embedded in otherwise perfectly good children’s movies. But all that aside, I do feel it’s worth your time and dolaros to give this flick a whirl. You’ll never find a movie that replicates the feel of a story in exactly the same way the original book did, but some come pretty darn close. The second best page to screen adaptation of a Newbery Award winning book there is.

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Newbery Books Turned Into Films

In case you were wondering, I think that Holes is the best adapted Newbery award winner, though it was fun to try to think up the others. Here, in order from best to worst, are the Newbery-to-film adaptations and how well I feel they did their job. If I've left anything out (and feel free to add some more if you think of them) lemme know.

The Ones I've Seen

1999 Award Winner: Holes: Loving me my Holes. Holes is so good. The great American children's novel is Holes. And with the exception of a thin Stanley (who we will forgive because he could act) the movie was pitch-perfect and faithful as can be. I'm not saying I'd object to seeing another version of it done (wouldn't it be great if the BBC did one?) but this is as good as it gets for now. Now about that television show version...

1978 Award Winner: Bridge to Terabithia - See review. For the purposes of simplicity we'll ignore the 1985 TV version (though I am amused by the recent rerelease you can find these days).

1986 Award Winner: Sarah, Plain and Tall - First off, you can forgive it some of its ills if only because the book itself is so very slight. Still, Christopher Walken does his nice-not-creepy-dad thing, and almost pulls it off. And are you going to look Glen Close in the face and tell her she didn't do a good job? Are you?

1936 Award Winner: Caddie Woodlawn - Yeah well. I've seen worse. Sure, the wig on that Carrie's head looked like it'd been sculpted with a Wendys in mind, but the acting wasn't bad. I'm lukewarm on this one.

1992 Award Winner: Shiloh - Again, not bad. Plus, how can you resist an adorable beagle pup? Huh? Huh?

1944 Award Winner: Johnny Tremain - And here we take a turn for the worse. Anyone remember that song about the Sons of Liberty they sing at the end? I'm trying to conjure it up but nothing's coming. Plus I was convinced until about 5 minutes ago that this was a Disney film starring Tommy Kirk. I cannot fully express the depth of my shock right now.

1972 Award Winner: Mrs. Frisby and the Rats of NIMH - Yeah. Well. Which is to say The Secret of NIMH. I sure hope the filmmakers of this one had the decency to wait until author Robert O'Brien was good and dead before they churned out this monstrosity. You know what a cool sci-fi Newbery winner like this one really needs? A magic stone! Oh! Oh! And let's kill off Nicodemus in a kind of Obi Wan Kenobi fashion so that Mrs. Brisby (why the name change?) can use the rodentia equivalent of "the force" for no particular reason.

1963 Award Winner: A Wrinkle in Time - Why, Alfre Woodard? Why? Your excuse must be somewhere along the lines of, "They backed a dumptruck full of money to my front door. I'm not made of stone!"

And just for giggles, here are the other Newbery adaptations that exist but that I have never seen.

1981 Award Winner: Jacob Have I Loved - Bridget Fonda? Well, I'll be damned.

1977 Award Winner: Roll of Thunder, Hear My Cry - A TV movie from 1978, as it happens. I suspect that with Roots getting as much attention as it did in 1977, the time had never been better for this film to get made. We have an ancient creaky VHS tape circulating in our collection. You'd think it'd just collect dust, but watch that puppy fly off the shelf whenever the kids are assigned this one to read for school.

1970 Award Winner: Sounder - Two versions here! A 1972 and a 2003. The 1972 version had bigger names.

1968 Award Winner: From the Mixed-Up Files of Mrs. Basil E. Frankweiler - Again with the two versions. One in 1973 and one in 1995. Now what I love about these two films is that in each of them, the part of Mrs. Frankweiler was taken by an old-time movie goddess of one sort or another. Do you prefer to watch Lauren Bacall? Or are you more an Ingrid Bergman type? I, personally, was unaware that the film The Hideaways was based on From the Mixed Up Files. That explains why my library's circ copies (and we have about 7) keep going out. Huh!

2000 Award Winner: Bud, Not Buddy - Actually it doesn't exist. To which the masses should all yell together in chorus: WHY THE HELL NOT?

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We're Getting The Wolves In the Walls

From the creator of the remarkable Shockheaded Peter theatrical experience comes an adaptation of Neil Gaiman's picture book The Wolves in the Walls. And now, after getting stellar reviews left and right in Europe, I am pleased as punch to announce that it is opening on our fair shores in Autumn of 2007 at The New Victory Theater. Wanna go?

Thanks to the Neil Gaiman blog for the link.

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Dr. Suess Is "The Man"

Remember how much fun we all had listening to that neat website where someone did a dead-on impression of Bob Dylan singing Dr. Seuss stories? Yeah. I guess we all forgot that Dr. Seuss is essentially a big corporation now and big corporations don't have much of a sense of humor.

So look what's happened. *sniffle*

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Friday, March 23, 2007

Poetry Friday - The Collected Works of Susan Ramsey

My mom.
Just to avoid confusion, this is my mom. My mom, my mom, my mom.
And here's your shot of poetry for the week.

From New Poems from the Third Coast: An Anthology of Michigan Poets [Wayne State University Press, 2000]

Aftereffects of Bell's Palsy

Having a good and bad ear comes in handy.
My bad ear, victim of a surgeon's saw
screaming through bone to free a facial nerve
has lost the very highest range of sounds--
bats, telephones, sirens at a distance,
mosquitoes if they're male, small children whining,
regret, ambition's wheedlings, most tactful hints.
Banshees can keen on my ridgepole all night long
and, exhausted, watch me leave for work,
brisk and refreshed from sleeping good ear down.

My undiminished left ear can perceive
the beginnings of nightmare in a sleeping child
two rooms away behind a closed door, hear
the click of covert glances at a party,
the first drop on the roof of the first rain
of April, surmise the maiden name and color
of the eyes of the grandmother of the boy
my daughter sits thinking of, based on her breathing.
It can hear loneliness seven lamp posts down
the street, slamming like a screen door in the wind.

[Aftereffects was also included in Primavera, Volume 21 ]

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That's Some Bad Golden Cap, Harry

Looks as if the Sci-Fi Channel has finished casting for its very adult The Wonderful Wizard of Oz-inspired miniseries Tin Man. Could be good or pure unadulterated crap, but I'd go the distance to see a cast consisting of Zooey Deschanel, Alan Cumming and Richard Dreyfuss. Well.... maybe not Dreyfuss so much.

Thanks to Cinematical for the link.

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The Deep Dark Secretive World of Book Publishing

A recent Blue Rose Girls posting by author/illustrator Meghan McCarthy got me to wondering about the heaps of helpful souls that put work into a children's book. Meghan's piece concentrates more on what must happen behind "closed doors" when a book tanks. I, on the other hand, wonder more about the rough number of people who contribute to a single novel or picture book. What if, like movie credits, every book had a long listing of every intern, editor, or what-have-you that put their two cents into a given published work? How would the total number of participants differ between a biggie like Scholastic and a little guys like Eerdman's Publishing? The mind is ah-boggling at the thought.

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Ms. Jackson, If You're Nasty

Poor anonymous blog commentators. Not only do they often get denied the chance to sign their name to a post because they don't have an account with the blogs they read, but now they've been officially designated "nasty". I've had my own run-ins with feisty Anonymous souls here and there, and sometimes I do wonder if the days of staying Anonymous are numbered. I can certainly envision a future where blogs require a name as part of the commenting process. All very interesting stuff.

Thanks to Bookninja for the link.


Kicking It, Skulduggery Style

Skeletons, as a rule, are hot. Nobody contests this. Right? I mean, surely I'm not the only one out there.

Glad we got that settled. As I was saying, skeletons are hot and well-dressed skeletons are even hotter. Enter Skulduggery Pleasant. As a fan of book videos, I'm rather taken with Harper Collins' recent addition to the SP website. This isn't a book video. This is a book music video. Watch that skeleton break it down old school style. Go, Skulduggery, go go go!

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Finn! Part Two.

A good blogger knows to rely on her fellows when it comes to certain types of news. Rarely will I comment on recent book bans when bookshelves of doom does so with such veritable aplomb. However, the recent challenge made to remove Huck Finn from a school curriculum has been met with a response from the students themselves so interesting that I just had to link to it. Voila, the Save Huck Finn blog, created by the rather well-spoken students of St. Louis Park Senior High. I like where this is going. Ban a book, face an angry mob of kids. That would certainly make me think twice before trying to control what they read.

Thanks to bookshelves of doom for the link.

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Animals That Should Have Their Own Picture Books, Part ... somethin'

Here is my nightly schedule Monday - Thursday during the week.

11:00 - Watch Daily Show
11:30 - Watch Colbert Report
12:00 - Post blogs for next day

Well recently said schedule paid off when Colbert approved of the German animal activist who wanted to see a baby polar bear offed because his mother rejected him. Colbert fears bears, yet even he was cowed before the scampering of this little guy.

The sensationalist aspects of the story do make me wonder how credible it really is. Is the fellow calling for cubby's death a reliable source or just a single nutter? When any paper talks about a group en masse, be librarians "everywhere" objecting to Lucky or animal rights activists in general, you have cause to be suspicious.

Regardless, you could probably make a children's book out of the original story in and of itself. Take one adorable animal:


Add in tragedy, i.e. rejected by his own mother.
Voila, instant children's book.

The trick here is to keep Hollywood's hands off this story. I don't wanna have to deal with a film in which an adorable baby polar bear is threatened by evil animal activists. No thank you, sir.

Thanks to J.L. Bell for the link and idea.

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Great Pseudo-Futuristic Covers

I love this. There are few sights sweeter in this world than examining history's predictions of the future. When I was at the ALA Convention in Seattle I had the great luck to stumble upon a party held at the Science Fiction Museum. This was marvelous, in part, because we got to look at all the exhibits on our own time. So much fun. The museum was to be commended for its vast collection of pulpy sci-fi book covers as well. I suspect these covers by British illustrator and comics artist Ron Turner would have fit right in.

Thanks to Drawn for the link.

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Thursday, March 22, 2007

I got my name in lights with notcelebrity.co.uk