Feb 25, 2012

#TheList, No. 959: The Illustrated Mum

The Illustrated Mum takes on a rare subject for children's literature: bipolar disorder.  There are many books that aren't that great, but are heavily relied on because they discuss a topic unseen elsewhere.  Fortunately, this book is incredibly well-written.

The Illustrated Mum tackles not only bipolar disorder, but also welfare, alcoholism, dyslexia, foster homes, and single parenthood.  It's a mess of harsh topics, but author Jacqueline Wilson handles it effectively by displaying the actions through the eyes of a ten year old.    Through this child's eyes, we see the manic depressive actions of Marigold, the mother, the mother's strained relationship with her oldest daughter, Star, and how the thought of social services can be just as scary to a child as monsters in the closet.  Dolphin and Star often act as a maternal figure for their mother, an alcoholic who incessantly and at times terrifyingly pines after Star's father, a man who she knew for just a few weeks, but believes is her soul mate.  When Star leaves Dolphin to take care of Marigold on her own, the 10 year old is forced to make decisions that would be difficult for an adult.

The entire time I read this novel I was thinking "wow."  It is powerful and heartbreaking.  I had never heard of this book until encountering it on "The List" and I am so grateful that it was included.  I actually can't wait to recommend this book to children and young adults in the future.

I'd definitely recommend this book for middle school aged children who express an interest in realistic fiction and can stomach the sorrow that comes with such titles.  It's not like Jodi Piccoult novel where the intention is to make you cry, but it does include a similar "there's always hope for the future" type of feel at the novel's conclusion.  

Feb 19, 2012

Blue's Clues

Yesterday was my sister's 17th birthday.  It was also the day that we discovered that Blue's Clues is available to watch instantly on Netflix.  This is what our reaction faces looked like:


And then we watched three episodes.  Not to brag, but during every episode I figured out what Blue was trying to say after the first clue.  So, yeah.

Maybe we're lame, but I at least have the defense that I'm interested in children's media and using said media as an educational tool: "Hey kid, you think you're having fun, but really you're learning.  Sucker!" 

Blue's Clues is a fairly awesome television show.  Its basic detective plot helps build problem-solving skills.  The repetition the show is built around strengthens minds.  Nick Jr. used to air the same episode 5 times a week so the youngins watching would improve their memory, attention span and comprehension.  The show also features about four songs that are the same in every episode  so children become familiar with the show's format and stay on track.  
The theme of every episode is also repeated throughout to maintain audience focus, not unlike a theme episode of Glee.  The interactive format is one of the lauded aspects of the show, as it keeps children attentive and involved in the action.  And really, who doesn't like yelling at the screen?  It's The Price is Right for kids. 

There was research done that actually proved that this show improved creative thinking and problem-solving. There's no proof that it helped build vocabulary with its repetitive word-of-the-episode scripting, but the positives for this show are astounding.  Far better than that trollop Dora (Kidding, I also love Dora). 

Review: Miss Peregrine's Home For Peculiar Children

This is a young adult novel that just screams future Tim Burton movie and I have a vague idea who Johnny Depp would play and I support it.  I was actually joking about that, but I looked it up and it turns out it may be true.

Here's what goes on in this book.  See if you can spot the Tim Burton appeal:

Jacob's grandfather appeared to have a wild imagination.  When Jacob was younger, he told him stories of how he grew up on an island in an orphanage full of people with special abilities - levitation, strength, invisibility - complete with pictures of these feats.  Once Jacob grew up, these stories weren't enough to fascinate him anymore and his grandfather stopped.  But when Jacob finds his grandfather bleeding to death after being attacked by a monster, he realizes that these stories may be more true than they seemed.  He must trace his grandfather's past to figure out why he was murdered and finally understand the truth.  Jacob goes to the island and locates the now abandoned orphanage, finding clues that lead him to believe the orphans were dangerous and kept there for a reason.  During one of his explorations, Jacob enters a time loop and ends up in 1940 with these "peculiar" children his grandfather once knew, learning the horrible truths his grandfather carried with him until his murder.  Jacob is left to work with these potentially dangerous peculiars and finish his grandfather's lifelong work.  

It's odd, mysterious, and chock full of real photographs.  Ransom Riggs located authentic photographs from collectors and used them to create and enhance the story.  Some of them look incredibly familiar, some don't, but they are all amazing and bring a completely different element to what would be a great story without the images.   

My only problem with the novel was that there's no complete resolution to the story, but that's more of a personal reading preference.   Plus, it leaves the possibility open for a sequel...

So to recap: this book is well-written, very mysterious and creepy, if you like Tim Burton movies, you should read it, and if you don't like Tim Burton movies, you should read it before he makes the movie and then you can make snide remarks about how the book is better. 

Feb 14, 2012

Happy Valentine's Day!

His eyes are as green as a fresh pickled toad,
His hair is as dark as a blackboard.
I wish he was mine, he's really divine,
The hero who conquered the Dark Lord. 

I logged on to post my favorite literary valentine; it shouldn't be any surprise that it was HP related.  

What did surprise me was this mini-essay written way back in 2001 (yikes!) about how we don't actually know who wrote the valentine's poem.  I always assumed it was Ginny, and I assumed everyone else assumed this too.  But it could have been anyone!  The purpose of this scene is for Harry Potter's bag to break and the diary to fall out.  Ginny then freaks out, not because of the valentine, but because she thinks Harry now knows she's the one who reopened the Chamber.  This then sets up the rest of the novel.  Could she have written the poem? Sure, but now my money's on the Weasley twins.

Oh, J.K.  You're a genius.

Feb 9, 2012

Review: Hope: A Tragedy

Imagine you move your family to a farm house in a town no one has ever heard of, hoping to start anew, and you find a 90 year old Anne Frank hiding in your attic, and it turns out that Anne Frank is kind of a bitch.  That's what happens to Solomon Kugel in Hope: A Tragedy, by Shalom Auslander.

To add to this pain, he has a mother who pretends she was a victim of the Holocaust as an outlet for her guilt over not being a victim.  This includes excusing every crazy action with "ever since the war," and handing her son a bar of soap in a velvet lined box and claiming it's his aunt ("Why does it say Ivory on it?").  She raised her son to be afraid of everything, resulting in him living in a state of perpetual panic and constantly updating a mental list of what he should grab in the event he needs to copy his new friend Anne Frank and hide in an attic (iPod, aloe, and credit card are among these items).  

This is an hilarious overview of cultural guilt.  Before the Kugels purchased the farm, a German family lived there and were forced to care for her because it would be awful if a German hurt Anne Frank some more.  Kugel is faced with the dilemma of trying to explain how being Jewish means he can't toss Anne out on the street.  It's great.  

The only thing I didn't like about this novel was the omission of all quotation marks.  I understand the stylistic choice: Kugel is mentally screwy, so there's a chance that the entire novel is taking place in his head.  Quotation marks are just a personal preference of mine.  I also could have used a little more Anne Frank, she's a riot.

This is technically an adult book, but I think a snarky and sarcastic teenager with a twisted sense of humor would adore this novel.  Check it out!

Feb 8, 2012

Did you know...?

One of the courses I'm taking this semester involves selecting non-fiction works for children.  Now I know exactly what thought crossed the minds of about 98.2% of you after reading that last sentence: "ew, boring."  I thought so too at one point in my life.  Who wants to read about real people when you could read about Hogwarts?  Seems like an easy choice.

Enter the informational picture storybook.

Kids books are where it's at.  The non-fiction section of a children's room is like a Cliffsnotes of Wikipedia.  Peruse a book on any topic and you'll pick up the major points outlined in an easy to follow format and with some pretty nifty illustrations.  You'll probably learn something new, like I did:

In the early 1800s, the town of Cheshire, MA made a wheel of cheddar cheese that weighed over 1200 pounds to give to Thomas Jefferson.  The cheese was delivered to the White House on a sleigh.  A SLEIGH.  First of all, do you realize how many grilled cheese sandwiches could come from a 1200 lb wheel of cheese?  Now imagine all of those sandwiches on a sleigh like Santa Clause.  Yeah, YOU'RE EXCITED.  I don't even like cheese and I want this to happen.  And happen it did.  In 1802.  They were so cool back then.  

You know Dasher and Dancer and Prancer and Vixen
Comet and Cupid and Donner and Blitzen and CHEDDAR

New Project!

Reading and commenting on 1001 children's books and other books that cross my path, ranting about various issues, and discussing library related topics isn't enough for me.  So I've come up with a new blog project idea that I'm really excited about.

Everyone always reminisces about books they used to read (guiltiest person of such behavior), but when you move on to bigger and hopefully better things, what do you select?  The same goes for tweens and young adults, they've just reached the end of that acceptable Baby Sitters Club phase, but aren't quite sure what they should attempt next.

So the plan is a recurring theme of "you used to read this, now read this" and it will consist of lists of books connected by subject matter, themes, prominent literary features, etc.  I'm actually using some of this work at a high school library where I volunteer, so, per usual, the selections will be a little young adult heavy.  But everyone needs a good YA read every now and then. =)

When you read, try to look like this guy.  Or maybe not.

Feb 5, 2012

#TheList, No. 27: Elmer

The goal of David McKee's book is to promote individuality and it succeeds.  If you aren't yourself and try to blend in with the crowd, then you're letting everyone and yourself down.  In case you don't remember reading Elmer, the gist of the story is that a patchwork elephant is upset that he doesn't look the same as everyone else.  He paints himself grey, becomes unrecognizable, and upsets his friends when they believe that he's not around to make them laugh.  When it rains and washes away his paint, they think it's his best joke yet and declare it Elmer's day where they paint themselves vibrant colors to emulate their patchwork friend.

It's a good story and I obviously agree that everyone should be themselves.  There's no bullying in this book, the "normal" grey elephants love Elmer because he always makes them laugh with his ideas for games and jokes, NOT because they enjoy making fun of them.  Elmer still feels unsettled about his appearance because he's different, which is something everything goes through regardless of what they look like or their popularity levels.  So I like that this is a book about individuality and being true to yourself without the bullying counterpart that is so prevalent in today's society (with good reason, obviously).  

This makes a great read-aloud with the simple story and vibrant illustrations.  The invention of Elmer's Day practically screams to be used as an activity for younger children in a library.  Just declare that day as Elmer's Day and start painting kids' faces!  That is one of the most fun things to do, I mean come on.  Who doesn't like that?  And if you're against messy faces, then have the children color in pictures of elephants and try to come up with interesting patterns to compete with Elmer's patchwork skin.  Arts & Crafts time is the best time...except for nap time.  Which is what time it is right now.

Feb 2, 2012

Google Ad Preferences

Again and again my fellow library students and I hear that we're going into an unnecessary field because Google does our job for us. Well, that's not true.

According to Google's Ad Preferences, your interests are pigeonholed into categories, stored in a cookie and used to select ads that will appeal to you...aka make you click them and buy all of the things. Also, Google will infer from your interests your age and gender.

I checked it out and according to Google, my apparent searches in the categories of "Arts & Entertainment," "Beauty & Fitness - Body Art," "Food & Drink - Restaurants - Fast Food," and "Shopping - Apparel" make me an 18-24 year old man.  SUPER.  Not only am I a girl, but it is incredibly assumptive to believe that people falling into that seven year age range are similar enough to lump together.  That's like saying a 11 year old is the same as a 17 year old.  If you go to the ad preferences page, you can edit their assumptions, which is great, but I'm still a little wary of what they'll select for me.

Librarians don't make such assumptions because most of the time we see our patrons in person. We can figure out what a person wants by talking to them and asking questions, rather than pulling up an intricate log of past items looked at and deciding what's appropriate without user input.  Silly Google; you're a wonderful tool, but you still can't best librarians.

Feb 1, 2012

#TheList, No. 748: Around the World in 80 Days

I did not expect to like this book.  For starters, it's a "classic" and that immediately makes me put up my shields against boredom, overratedness, racism, etc.  Yes, I'm biased against classics, it's a fault that I attempt to work on every now and then, but usually fail.  I also didn't expect to like this book because I was plagued with images of Steve Coogan and Jackie Chan, from the 2004 movie rendition which I didn't actually see, but I vividly remember the commercials for some reason.  I'm fine with Jackie Chan, especially when he's singing songs from Mulan in Cantonese, but picturing him as the lead character in this book just does not work.

But I really enjoyed this book.  It's funny, adventurous, historical, and includes a chapter that makes fun of Mormons (I'm still on a Book of Mormon kick).  Although, there is no hot air balloon in this book, despite an image of one appearing on many book covers and being featured in the film versions.  This was slightly disappointing to me, but that's really the only fault I had with the book and I can easily blame that on media influence. 

If this novel was used in an English, or even history, class, there is great potential for organizing a map/geography project in the library. You could even attempt to form groups of students and use electronic resources to plan out their own trips around the world (in less than 80 days, because c'mon, it's the 2010s) and see who can come up with the shortest trip that includes all locations in the book.  Fun stuff!

Liking this book makes me excited to read Jules Verne's other works included on The List, Journey to the Center of the Earth and 20,000 Leagues Under the Sea.  So maybe 80 Days is a potential gateway into lking and appreciating classics?  I would say yes.