Aug 27, 2011

#TheList, No. 721: The Tale of Despereaux

The Tale of Despereaux Being the Story of a Mouse a Princess Some Soup and a Spool of Thread - 2006 publication.Most people who know me would say I'm fairly cynical.  It's part of my charm.  I prefer optimistically pessimistic, but whatever.  So reading this adorable, heartwarming tale about a small, seemingly doomed from birth mouse and his love for a princess should have disgusted me, correct? Wrong.

The story is fairly complex, especially for a child reader.  It has four interloping stories: 1) the tiny mouse Despereaux's quest to prove his love to Princess Pea; 2) the rotten rat Roscuro's plot to bring light into his life; 3) Princess Pea's loss of her mother; and 4) peasant Mig's dreams of becoming a real princess.  The setting jumps all over the place as the narrator, speaking directly to the reader, attempts to tie all the pieces together to complete his story that begins and ends with Despereaux. 

The novel definitely has the potential to take on an overwhelmingly cute tone as the adorable mouse, shunned by his family and the other mice surrounding him, falls for a human and yearns to be her knight in shining armor.  He falls hard enough to declare that he "honors" her.  Gross.  But DiCamillo avoids creating an overly romantic, sorrowful plot because everything she weaves together is HILARIOUSLY DEPRESSING.  

I love that the narrator points this out to the reader.  He specifically tells the reader that love (and later forgiveness) is ridiculous.  How great and true is that?  I mean, sure he goes on to say that it's also wonderful and all the jazz, but to state outright that it's just a ridiculous concept is kind of refreshing to me, especially when love drives so many works of literature, children's especially.  The other refreshing concept is Mig being ugly and remaining ugly with absolutely no moral lesson tied in about how the inside counts more than the outside.  She's also sold by her father for a hen and a piece of red cloth which is just waaaaay too funny to me.

The Tale is also a great vocabulary book.  Not only is it full of multi-syllabic words, the narrator directs the reader to look them up.  It's practically screaming to be a part of a library lesson that involves the reference section. 

To sum up, I'm cynical, this book is humorous and cynical while still promoting hope with a semi-happy ending, and the narrator encourages vocabulary building.  What's not to love? 

Aug 17, 2011

#TheList, No. 662: Haroun and the Sea of Stories

I was obligated to read this for two reasons: 1) my boss bought it for me for Christmas; and 2) it's on the List.  After almost 8 months of my boss asking me if I'd read the book yet, I decided it was time to cross it off my "to read" list that never seems to decrease.

Salman Rushdie apparently wrote this story for his son, which is sweet. My boss told me this every time he asked if I read it, so I'm obligated to mention it.  I wonder if he's reading this.  I shall ask him.  

I'm also currently suffering from the Plague right now and don't have the ability to continue writing complete sentences.  Consequently, I'm going to make a list of  what could be fragments that may or may not mean anything. Ready, set, go!

What's up with Haroun?
-It's about a boy who has a dad who makes up stories that make people happy, but then he loses the ability and people aren't happy anymore.  That mirrored my experience reading it...I started out happy and then it went away.
-Sarcastic, reminds me of a strange mix between The Princess Bride and Hitchhiker's Guide
-I liked it a lot initially, but it gets muddled about 3/4 of the way through and way too much is added to tie things together.
-As such, it starts out as a book to read aloud, but then becomes too crazy.  If I were reading it aloud, I'd do the thing where you make up your own ending.
-The tone is pretty funny, but the story is kind of blah
-Nothing about it was memorable after the first few chapters
-I'd use an excerpt from the beginning to tie it into a storytelling lesson, if need be. Otherwise, it could be useful for someone doing a cultural project on India.

Aug 11, 2011

Classics are me at least

Recently some friend of a friend asked me what I planned to do with my life and upon hearing "librarian" immediately responded with: "Oh! So you must really love the classics!"  No.  I don't have to must love anything, thank you very much. 

Granted, my knowledge of the "classics" isn't wonderful.  I own most of them and they have their own little designated area on my too cramped bookshelf, but usually I think they're a waste of shelf space when I come home with a bag full of new books. 

Are classics worthy? I'm sure they are.  I'm sure there are plenty of great reasons for students and/or readers to deconstruct meaning from Great Expectations or what have you, but just because someone deemed them a "classic" doesn't mean they should sit year after year on students' required reading lists.  Doing so causes people to refuse to acknowledge the existence of wonderful, NEWER books that are just as well written and engaging and possibly better.  It's a classic (heh) case of being blinded by nostalgia.  "I had to read these books as a child, so they should too" or "It was written before technology destroyed our minds, they must read them" or "Things my generation experienced will never be matched by any other generation, therefore we must subject the children to the same books."  No.  The only time that last argument is acceptable is when discussing the near flawlessness of 90s Nickelodeon shows.  That is it.  (Kids who grew up without Clarissa Explains it All are just deprived).   

I just really hate when people put them on a pedestal when other books are just as deserving.  While I clearly put Harry Potter up on a pedestal and think it will become a classic children's adventure series, I don't doubt for a second that something just as amazing will pop up in the future (I'll weep, but get over it...maybe). 

While not all students are terribly bored with these "wonders," most are and as a result of being forced to read them (or watching the movie counterpart to avoid doing so), they risk ending up choosing not to read for pleasure.  I'm not saying that students should never read the classics because the books do have their merits hidden in there somewhere, but they shouldn't be approached with the idea that they are the "best."  They aren't.  They're racist.  They're boring.  They're not targeted towards the minds of today's youth.  Etc, etc.  Instead, they should be paired with more recent publications, ones that mirror the sentiment, but in a more modern fashion that allows today's young adult to relate.  That way you can bridge the gap between the past and present and open up a discussion in which students will most likely feel more comfortable participating. 

Most people think this reaction to classics stems from laziness.  Not the case.  I can read through them in a breeze.  Sometimes I actually think modern books are more difficult to read.  It took me a few chapters to fully understand the structure of The Book Thief and graphic novels actually take me about 3 times as long to read.  New doesn't mean depraved.  There's just a different structure.  Young adult books are actually the most inventive books on the market.  As teenagers are trying to find their own voice, they're more open to reading inventive pieces to see what fits for them.  Hence the success of the Chaos Walking trilogy, The Hunger Games, The Book Thief and, it pains me to say it, Twilight.  Sometimes reading these series even leads young adult readers to exploring the classics on their own.  My sister was obsessed with Twilight and ended up reading Dracula on her own.  Now she knows that Twilight is crap, which is the one bonus that come from reading that horrorific excuse for a novel.  This is hurting my argument, Twilight is awful, but the others are wonderous.  Actually, there are definitely awful young adult books out there, you just need to sift through them and select ones that will get the job done. 

So to sum up, I do not love classics because I'm going to be a librarian.  I am pro-new books.  Yay!

Aug 4, 2011

How I Met Your Mother

Ahhh How I Met Your Mother.  How I love thee so.  I mentioned once before that I love this show because it's full of lists, all of which are amazing.  It's also the show that enabled Britney Spears to make what some people consider a comeback and, as an added bonus, Bob Saget is the narrator.  #winning

But back to the list thing.  I love lists.  Lists and books.  So here's a list of fake books from a show full of lists.  Also, each one of these books is made up of or contains lists.  So they're lists within a list.  Guys, How I Met Your Mother is Inception (BRAMMMMM):

1) The Power of Me, by James Devito
Ohhh Brit Brit :-)
In "Ten Sessions," Ted is determined to win over Stella, his dermatologist, by the time she's finished removing the butterfly tattooed on his lower back.  Yup.  I would have gone for the receptionist.  One, because we're good people; and two, because she's Britney freakin' Spears.  But, whatever.  Seeing it in her office, he thinks Stella is reading a self-help book called The Power of Me and decides to bring a copy with him to impress her at his next session.  Turns out, it was actually Marshall's copy, Stella hates those types of books, and Britney Spears decides to read it because she's fallen for Ted and similarly thinks it will impress him or she just really needs it (she does).  There's no actual excerpt from the book, but it's a self-help book, which by definition means it's a huge list of things to do to feel better about yourself and most likely annoy the people around you. 

2) The Bro Code
It's mentioned on occasion throughout the series and even became an actual book to give to your friends as a funny present or keep on your own coffee table to show people that you are in fact a "bro" and, as such, adhere to the appropriate code.  Sadly, I'm not a bro and unable to follow said code, so I was left with the choice of purchasing it as a Christmas gift for my brother.  You're welcome, by the way.

Anyway, first mentioned in "The Goat", The Bro Code is a document written in the 18th century by Barnabus Stinson, as George Washington and Benjamin Franklin were too busy.  The document contains 150 articles outlining the expected behavior of "Bros" such as the obvious "Bros before hos" and the less obvious "the mom of a Bro is always off-limits, but the step-mom of a Bro is fair game if she initiates it and/or is wearing at least one article of leopard print clothing."  Barney breaks the "no sex with your Bro's ex" Article, which leads to him enlisting Marshall's legal wisdom to find a loophole in the Code and consequently introducing the book to the series. 

3) Robin 101 Notebook
While not technically a "book book," it's in a book form, contains words and Ted teaches from it, so it counts.  Robin is upset that Barney doesn't know how to stop being Barney the gross womanizer and start being Barney the official boyfriend.  Overhearing her complaints, Ted, as a self-appointed expert on being in a relationship with Robin, decides to give Barney classes to help him figure out how to be her boyfriend.  Robin finds the Robin 101 notebook and is appropriately disgusted.  The book contains wonderful lists about Robin including how to distract her (the Vancouver Canucks 2004 Division Title, proper gun cleaning and maintenance, and emperor penguins) and things never to do around her (mention hockey's surprising lack of popularity in the U.S., cry, surprise her, or show her a YouTube featuring an animal playing a musical instrument). 

4) Goodbye, Sparky
Ted psychs himself up for a nostalgic road trip with Marshall that will be fueled by the energy drink Tantrum ("TANTRUM!") and musically accompanied by the Proclaimers' "500 Miles."  Thanks to marriage, Marshall has become a "we" rather than an "I," and Ted desperately needs some alone Bro time with his best friend.  But sadly, the wife tags along and instead of listening to the obnoxiously pleasant one hit wonder, they listen to the Kenny Rogers narrated audio book Goodbye Sparky, which, according to Lily, apparently made Elizabeth Hasselbeck cry (to which I say, GOOD).   It's appropriately about a man who loses his best friend, except here it's his dog, Sparky.  It has my favorite list of all time: "because Sparky loved chasing a ball, and it didn’t much matter what kind. Tennis ball, baseball, Wiffle ball, golf ball, basketball, beach ball, gum ball, a grapefruit-which isn’t actually a ball, but is round like a ball, a football-which isn’t round, but it’s still technically a ball, Indian rubber ball…This ends disk seven. The audio book continues on disk eight. (Ted removes the disk and puts back the other one) Disk eight.  Lacrosse ball, volleyball..."

5) The Playbook
Another one of Barney's creations, this one from the episode of the same title.  Essentially, it's a compilation of his crazy schemes to get women.  More specifically, a list of crazy ways to get women into bed.  Following his breakup with Robin (who he will so clearly marry, I'm calling it now), Barney breaks out The Playbook to pretty much make up for lost time.  Hilarity ensues in list form as he describes various scenarios:

And because I've watched more HIMYM clips while writing this than I have while actually procrastinating, here's my all-time, semi-HIMYM related favorite: