Nov 26, 2011

#TheList, No. 33: Handa’s Surprise

When I picked up this picture book from the library, my first reaction was: "oh crap."  The title was in Arabic and because I only learned the everyday language that is Latin throughout junior high and high school, I figured I would have to read this book like the three year olds it's meant for and just look at the pretty pictures.  But there was an English translation alongside the Arabic within the book, so all was good.
The story is simple: Handa is bringing fruits to her friend Akeyo, but on her journey, animals keep sneaking up and stealing the fruit from her basket.  But within the story, this little picture book covers a lot.  It teaches animal types, fruits, colors, counting, sharing, and hey, a new language (assuming they don't know it already)!  Apparently this book is available in about 20 languages, which is a pretty nifty dynamic to add to a picture book. 

I read this to a three year old to get her perspective on the story because as much as I act like a 3 year old, I'm far too cynical to have their exact outlook on life.  Results: a lot of laughing, a lot of pretending she was the animals in the book and a lot of asking what sound a zebra makes.  So all in all, Eileen Browne's picture book is an effective read for the kiddies.  If you don't mind toddlers bouncing off the walls pretending they're animals in the book (and out of the book), then I say go for it, but probably not as a bedtime story.   

Handa's Surprise would also be a great multicultural project in a library where kids can research the animals, land, and fruit that's held between the covers of the book.  I actually found an adorable video on Youtube of students performing this story dressed as the animals in the story.  Basically, this book can be fun reading or the subject of lesson plans galore and should definitely be kept in any children's library. 

Nov 16, 2011

I do not like the Taylor Swift

Usually my gym has it down with the playlists.  Hall & Oates, NKOTBSB, Huey Lewis and the News...basically all the 80s and 90s nostalgia I need to pretend that I'm a runner.  But yesterday, it was nothing but fail, unless the gym was hosting some weird tween scene for all the middle-aged people on their lunch breaks.  If that's the case, it passed with flying colors: Biebz, Selena Gomez, and the worst of 'em all, the T-Swizzle. 

So this might seem out of place here in a blog about being a librarian-in-training.  But being a librarian isn't all about pushing books on the children.  It's also about embracing other forms of media as sources of education and entertainment.  As such, it allows me to vent about one of the most popular musical acts among kids, tweens, teens, people who think they're country music fans, and college boys.  Here goes:

Alright, she's cute.  They're all cute.  And she didn't start on Disney, so she's most likely got a few more years up the sleeves of her sparkly dresses before she reaches the pivotal point where teen stars need to pick their path as if they were in that Robert Frost poem: will she go down the well-worn path of drugs and shaved heads (yes, I love the Brit Brit, but I'm not blind to that horrible year), or will she take the "one less traveled by" and go for a respectable career?  Probably the latter, although I would much rather she fade away into obscurity.  I get that her stuff is all about cutesy puppy love, but it's sooooooo bad. Please, someone make this girl write something that doesn't sound like she put a bunch of cliches and phrases into a hat and pulled them out one at a time to make a song. Just...please.  I know my taste in music is questionable, but let's just examine one of her "hits," the one that plagued me at the gym yesterday:

This is the Swift version of a  fairy tale
"Today was a Fairytale" - [too bad she doesn't mean one by the Brothers Grimm]

Today was a fairytale
You were the prince
I used to be a damsel in distress
You took me by the hand and you picked me up at six
Today was a fairytale

[Oh good, way to stuff people into forced gender roles.  Also, if this were actually a fairy tale, you would still be a damsel in distress.  Or did you stop becoming a damsel in distress sometime before he picked you up at 6? If that's the case, then by traditional fairy tale lore, you're cheating on the person who saved you, because once you're saved you can't ever leave that person, meaning he shouldn't have to pick you up.  So how sweet of you.  Also, in what fairytale is someone picked up at 6? Midnight, dawn, dusk, etc. tend to be the go-to times, not 6.  Actually, people tend not to get picked up at all.  Maybe lifted in the air as a troll is about to pummel them, but never picked up.  You must mean saved.  He saved you at...6.]

Today was a fairytale

[Yes, you've told us.]

Today was a fairytale
I wore a dress
You wore a dark grey t-shirt
You told me I was pretty
When I looked like a mess
Today was a fairytale
[A dress?  You wore a dress.  Okay, that's...fitting, I guess. But who wears a dark grey t-shirt in a fairy tale? I can't say I recall reading about "Prince Charming" in a dark grey t-shirt.  He told you you looked pretty when you looked like a mess.  Okay, let's dissect this.  You condone lying and you're on a date with a liar.  Also, why do you look like a mess? You just told us you were wearing a dress.  Did you not pick a clean one out of the closet? Even Ariel knew how to make herself look spiffy without a dress.  If you want today to be a fairy tale, think about stepping up your game.]
Time slows down
Whenever you're around

[No. No, it does not.  That's what happens when you're miserable.  Time goes too fast when you're happy.  Get it right.]

Can you feel this magic in the air?
It must have been the way you kissed me
Fell in love when I saw you standing there
It must have been the way
Today was a fairytale
It must have been the way
Today was a fairytale

[Love doesn't happen until you either dance with him or he kisses you to wake you up from a long sleep, thereby obligating you to be in love with him.  Silly girl.]

Today was a fairytale
You've got a smile that takes me to another planet
Every move you make everything you say is right
Today was a fairytale

[That third line makes you seem like Little Red Riding Hood believing your "Grandmother" when she tells you that her eyes are so big because that makes it all the better to see you with.  Or like Michelle Bachman when she believed the lady behind her who said her daughter suffered from mental retardation from the HPV shot.  Now, I realize that this isn't a fairy tale, but as fairy tales were designed to teach moral lessons, I plan on making it one so that future children can learn how to not talk to strangers about health care.  So I guess you're playing up to that gullible female fairy tale role.  Brava!]
Today was a fairytale
All that I can say
Is now it's getting so much clearer
Nothing made sense until the time I saw your face
Today was a fairytale

[So this is one of those fairy tales where you've been sleeping for 100 years, and now that you've been allowed to open your eyes, things have become clear.  Got it.]

I can feel my heart
It's beating in my chest
Did you feel it?
I can't put this down


Swift, T. (2010). Today was a fairytale. On Valentine's Day. Big Machine.
This is a 1909 illustration from a
real Brothers Grimm fairy tale.

Nov 15, 2011

Day 30 - Weirdest Book You Loved

Ellen Raskin's The Mysterious Disappearance of Leon (I Mean Noel) is one of the weirdest books I've ever encountered.  It involves a woman who wears the same outfit for years and years and years so on the off-chance that the man she once "loved" comes back, he'll recognize her.  That sounds chick lit-y.  It's not.  See, the woman was also an heiress to some soup business and was married at age 5 in order to keep it in the family.  The last message she has from her husband was heard whilst he was drowning, so it's obscured by "glubs" and blubs."  She spends the majority of her lifetime trying to solve the puzzle of this message to find his whereabouts and get on with their lives together, with the help of her friend and twins she adopts.  So there's soup, glubs, blubs, word puzzles, changed identities, and just a whole mess of weird randomness.  It's lovely. 

Raskin also wrote The Westing Game which, in the words of my fellow Children's Literature and Media classmates, is "THE BEST BOOK EVER," so I never doubted that this book would be just as great. 

Nov 14, 2011

#TheList, No. 922: Dear Nobody

I had never ever heard of this novel before encountering it on "The List."  Upon investigation, it was published in the early 90s in the UK, which is probably a legitimate reason for the unfamiliarity.  Not everything gets to take off like Harry Potter playing Quidditch (yes, I am lame enough to make that simile), especially problem novels about teenage pregnancy! Huzzah!

Berlie Doherty gets major points for many things (spoilers ahead, I just can't avoid it): 

1.) The two teens, Helen and Chris, don't end up together.  It's open-ended about whether or not they may get back together somewhere down the line, but they don't live happily ever after and I like that about this book.  There's no illusion of a weak girl needing to be rescued, which is perfect because such an illusion doesn't need to exist to tell a compelling story.

2.) We're given the male point of view.  These types of books, or at least the one's I've read in the past, are always from the pregnant teen's perspective.  While we do get Helen's point of view through a series of letters addressed to "Nobody," the unborn baby, that she presents to Chris so he'll understand what she went through those nine glorious months, the story mostly plays out from his perspective.  Sure it's a little gushy here and there with his talk of love for Helen and how much he wants to just hold her hand, but at least it's a solid effort to give a male a voice in this type of novel.  

3.) Abortion is discussed straightforwardly.  Sometimes in these books, especially in books published earlier than 1991, if abortion is mentioned at all it's subtly hinted at via a "bad" girl who once "got rid of her problem" or something that makes it sound like anyone who chooses to have an abortion is directly related to Satan.  No matter what your views on abortion are, it's a legal option and it's fair for teenage readers to see this very real experience discussed in a novel that deals with pregnancy.  If you're pro-choice, there's a character who discusses having once had one - and she's not a "bad" girl either.  If you're pro-life, Helen decides not to go through with it, but does consider the consequences.  I'm a fan of how all of this is portrayed.

4.) Now, this has nothing to do with Doherty's input, but just look how deliciously 90s that cover is! 

It doesn't appear to be that widely known, but I would recommend it for sure if someone wanted a book about teenage pregnancy that wasn't Annie's Baby, one of those "real" diaries of troubled teens that are actually written by Beatrice Sparks.  Dear Nobody is a good book and it doesn't preach to teens.  All in all, I'm surprised I hadn't heard of this book before because it seems like something that should raise alarms all over the place, especially Texas.  I don't know why, but Texas is always my scapegoat state for blaming censorship of books.  Probably because of instances like banning authors from library festivals.  But anyway, my apologies to Texas.  

The Wild Things, by Dave Eggers

We all have favorite picture books from our childhood and for most of us (my age at least), it's one or more of the following (or at least something similar):
  • Harold and the Purple Crayon
  • Goodnight Moon
  • The Stinky Cheese Man
  • Alexander and the Terrible, Horrible, No Good, Very Bad Day
  • Corduroy
  • The Polar Express
  • Tuesday
  • Anything by Dr. Seuss
  • The Snowy Day
  • Where the Wild Things Are
Seriously, almost everyone will say one of these.  These are some of the most memorable picture books around.  I want to say it's because they all involve imagination: either with the reader having to use his imagination to fill in the gaps, the characters in the story use their imagination to entertain themselves, or the authors use their imaginations to go beyond traditional storytelling.  Imagination is what childhood is all about and we tend to lose that as we get older, so we hold onto these books as reminders of what that experience is like.  It's sometimes fun to revisit these books and often tempting to wonder what more of the story is beyond the traditional 32 page picture book format. 

The last one on that list, Where the Wild Things Are, is probably one of the top examples of imagination, where Max, angry that he's sent to his room without supper, concocts a world full of monstrous creatures (with human like features) to unleash his anger. Once his anger has subsided, he "leaves" the Wild Things and returns to his real life.  That's all the story we get and really, that's all the story we need.  We can imagine for ourselves where Max's anger stems from, if he ever returns to the Wild Things, what he's like as a child, etc. 

The Wild Things, by Dave Eggers, is a semi-novelization of both the picture book and the 2009 movie release.  This book gives us one explanation for Max's behavior: his parents are divorced, he thinks no one pays attention to him, he most likely has untreated ADHD, and is kind of a misunderstood twerp.  I kind of like this pre-Wild Things visit storyline because it's a lot more involved than the movie version.  It's a perfectly valid explanation for why this kid is acting up all the time.  But then it gets frustrating.

The beauty of the monsters in the original picture book is that the readers get to give them their personalities.  In The Wild Things, we don't have a choice, and quite frankly, they all suck.  Sure, they're all fragmented versions of Max's personality/people in his life, which is a nifty little trick, but they are all so horrible!  While Max probably spent about 15 pages with the Wild Things in the picture book, he's stuck with them for over 100 in this novel.  Over 100 pages that completely drain the imagination and creativity from readers' own original impressions of the monsters. 

I'm a fan of different interpretations of classic stories, like fractured fairytales, but this book just obliterated all the fond memories I have of Where the Wild Things Are (I hated the movie too).  For books that thrive on reader  imagination, maybe it's best to avoid works that offer their own interpretations in favor of your own. 

Nov 13, 2011

Day 29 – A book everyone hated but you liked

People didn't necessarily hate this book, but they complained a lot about it.  The word on the street is that The Higher Power of Lucky only won the Newbery Award because it went for the shock value and used the word "scrotum" on the first page.  I personally don't think it's a big deal and the ALA, and many others agree.  Discussion of a dog's anatomy shouldn't take away from the rest of the book, which is really great.  Really, what's not to love about a 10 year old who eavesdrops on her town's AA meetings?

Nov 11, 2011

#TheList, No. 46: The Tale of Jemima Puddle-Duck

Alright, I know these Beatrix Potter stories are household names, but I don't remember reading any of them when I was a child.  I'm pretty sure I owned a collection of the stories, but I think it became a coloring book for my siblings (along with my walls and the back of my closet where my brother once drew out his comic book "Triangle Boy" - it's not half bad).  Anyway, my point is that I went into reading this book with the assumption that its inclusion in "The List" is for nostalgia's sake. 

I did not expect to laugh my butt off the entire time I read this book, although that might not have been for the right reasons.  I still think this is a nostalgia title, but there's some worth to it.  It's got a bit of a Little Red Riding Hood feel to it and teaches kids that if you're simple and too trusting, you and your kids will be eaten by a fox who is almost always illustrated while sitting and holding a newspaper which makes him look like he's going potty.  You shouldn't want that to happen to you, so don't be stupid - - a moral I can get behind. 


Anyway, I'm going to go through this step by step (like you're in the New Kids) and list my reactions to everything in order. Ready set go:

1) The duck's name is Jemima so I was sincerely hoping for some syrup connection.  She's syrupy sweet in a simpleton kind of way, so I guess that works enough.

2) Miss Jemima is all in a tizzy because the farmer's wife won't let her hatch her eggs (woman's gotta eat!), but her sister-in-law, Rebeccah, but who I call Aunt Becky, is all for letting those eggs get taken away.  She's a busy woman and doesn't have time for that dilly dally nonsense that comes from sitting on top of kids all day.  To this I say: right on! But I guess that's not the attitude I'm supposed to adopt right now.

3) I'll admit that the drawings are pretty fantastic and they make you appreciate the talent that went into drawing everything by hand before computers and graphic art and all that newfangled stuff that the kids are using today came into play.  

4) "She was wearing a shawl and a poke bonnet."  I'm so glad that sentence is in here.  If I had thought for a second that she left the farm without her poke bonnet, I would have thrown this book in a fit of anger.

5) The fox looks like he's sitting on nature's toilet.  Seriously look at that fox.  What is the first thing you think of?  
6) The fox offers his home to Jemima as a place to hatch her eggs. Jemima trusts this fox too much.  Say bye bye to your babies, Jemima!

7) So Jemima keeps her eggs at the fox's house until one day he decides they should eat together and sends her off to buy the fixin's for roast duck.  Luckily a collie who I shall refer to as Lassie even though he (and of course it's a he) has his own name, realizes what the fox is up to and races to save her sorry behind.

8) Her eggs still get eaten by puppies.  I'm a horrible human being because I laughed out loud at that. 

9) Jemima goes home and eventually has more eggs, but not all of them hatched because she never felt the same.  Hooray for depressing endings!

10) Morals: Don't be stupid.   If you're smart, you get to keep your babies.  Stupid people shouldn't have babies. 

Alright, so my reactions were mainly cynical (as usual), but I do actually like the story.  The moral is simple, logical, and great for kids to learn. I recommend it even though I hate when women are portrayed as dainty little weaklings, especially ones who wear poke bonnets. 

Day 28 – Favorite title

There are so many amazing titles out there.  It makes me sad that "One Eyed One Horned Flying Purple People Eater" was never made into a book or this would have been the easiest decision ever. 
But I'm going with Al Capone Does My Shirts as my favorite title.  1) It's silly and draws readers in; 2) By the end of the book you'll be it true? 

Nov 3, 2011

Day 27 – The most surprising plot twist or ending

I've mentioned this book before in discussing how this was a perfect example of the inventiveness that is often found in young adult literature.  It also has the best cliffhanger.  This is quite possibly because I was unaware that this was part of a series while I was reading it...despite how it says BOOK ONE right on the cover.  Unfortunately, the book's follow-up, The Ask and the Answer, wasn't fulfilling.  But the first installment's ending is jawdropping for sure.

Nov 2, 2011

Day 26 – A book that changed your opinion about something

Kind of a copout because I have already semi-mentioned it in this countdown, but after reading Twilight with its sparkly, sissy, poorly defined vampire characters (don't worry, the non-vampire characters are also poorly defined) completely cured my vampire phobia.  That was the only thing it was good for.  Well, that and a good laugh.

Nov 1, 2011

Day 25 – A book that you wish more people would’ve read / No. 729: The Invention of Hugo Cabret

Now that this book has been made into a Martin Scorsese film ("Hugo"), I may get my wish.  If the movie flops, however, it might be difficult to convince people to read this AMAZING book because people's minds tend to be made up by box office success. Plus it's being released in 3D, and I think we're all sick of 3D by now, so it could be a disaster.  Sigh.
The Invention of Hugo Cabret, by Brian Selznick is one part historical fiction, one part adventure, one part mystery, and three parts awesome sauce, all shaken together and served with incredibly detailed and expressive pencil drawings and a side of prose. As it's a little over 500 pages long, it can look pretty intimidating to a young child reader (and an adult reader, let's be honest), but the majority of the book is made up of full page illustrations.  I didn't know it was part graphic novel prior to reading, which caused me to almost burst into tears at the library when I saw it on the shelf waiting for me the day before I needed to have it read for a class.  Good times.

Selznick tells the story of George Melies, pioneer filmmaker, through a young boy's (Hugo) discovery of an automaton that draws images from Melies' old films.  The text and illustrations are interdependent, meaning you need to spend as much time looking at and dissecting the images as you do reading the text in order to comprehend the full story.  And really, the images are so beautiful it's hard to look away. 

This novel makes wonderful pleasure reading material, but with the plethora of historical movie references, it's easy to pair this novel with history, film and even art lessons.  With the unique format, it's also easy to sneak in a lesson on narrative techniques and symbolism which is my favorite thing about this book aside from the, and I can't stress this enough, wondrous illustrations (it won the Caldecott for a reason).  I once wrote an essay on how shoes frame the novel as a symbol for both moving forward.  I got an A.  Go me.  I'd explain more, but to do so would result in severe spoilers, so just go read the book.  Or see the movie and then read the book.  Either way, reading the book is a must, especially if you love films, graphic novels, magic tricks, and fun. 
Also, go here for the cutest review of a book I've ever encountered.