Thursday, July 26, 2012

Award Winner: Parrot in the Oven

Parrot in the Oven By Victor Martinez Illustrated by Steve Scott Well, I've officially fallen behind in my summer goal; I decided to get to sleep at a reasonable time and then I spent a day driving and didn't finish my assigned book.

I did read some library books that were falling due, but that doesn't count. Phooey. I still hope to catch up this week, and then we'll keep trying.  Today I finished Parrot in the Oven by Victor Martinez, a novel in short stories about a boy growing up in a Mexican American family, struggling with academic ambitions that are left unsupported by his school and peers, an alcoholic father and a generally abusive family, a peer group that values fighting and theft, and the general prejudice of whites against anyone brown or black.
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Martinez's stories have a delicate flavor to them, wrapping the feelings and senses of the moment carefully up and then leaving quietly so the reader is left alone with the emotions. It was a powerful book that I didn't manage to read quickly enough on the drive home.

Monday, July 23, 2012

Sea Magic: The Changeling Sea

The Changeling SeaPatricia McKillip's books always deliver a combination of magic and emotional truth. This means that I'm not always in the mood to pick them up, since emotions are heavy things, and occasionally she doesn't get the balance just right. The cover of The Changeling Sea also deterred me; it looked like a book about a child and her mentor, and I just never had the urge to start that story. So although I clearly bought this book back in California (it's a discard from the San Mateo County Library, one of a half-dozen libraries I frequented when I lived near San Francisco), I hadn't read it until today.
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I also took a bit of a chance, leaving this book until the end of the day so that I read it straight through, instead of putting it down when things got tough, my usual cowardly approach. But it paid off; the story wove magic and love and loss together in a lovely enchantment, much as the sea turned Peri's angry hexes into webs of moonlight and beauty. Despite the cover, the protagonist was a young woman, not a child, who starts off struggling with multiple losses, including a mother who retreats from the sadness of the world. As Peri emerges from her grief we also enter into a world of magic and loss and longing, and she encounters love and friendship and greed and danger.

And, just as in McKinley's The Hero and the Crown, she doesn't insist on limiting herself to a single lover; life has tides and changes, and your heart can weather them. It's a wonderful read, although not the one promised by the cover on my copy. (The cover shown isn't the one I got; it's actually a lot more representative.)

I'll leave this around for the boys, although it doesn't really hit any of their obvious buttons.

Sunday, July 22, 2012

Interesting History: Dragonwings

Dragonwings Unabridged CDDragonwings is another book that I might have read as a kid, but I'm glad to have it on my shelves. It's also possible that I just read about it, since the plot seemed familiar but I didn't recognize the tone. Laurence Yep's book imagines what it might have been like to be a Chinese immigrant building an airplane in the early 1900's in San Francisco.

The story is told through the memories of Moon Shadow, a young boy sent out to live with his father, the aviator. Although Yep admits in the author note at the back that he made up most of the story, the core element is probably true, and mainly he succeeds in his attempt to make the lives of the Chinese community into a vibrant story. I really liked the voice of the narrator and found all the characters sturdy and believable, from Uncle to Mrs. Whitlaw.
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It also gave a vivid depiction of the San Francisco earthquake and its aftermath, which I liked and which will help me keep the details straight. I do like getting my history from historical fiction, especially when I trust the author to keep the details straight while placing his believable characters into realistic situations.

I'll leave this around for the boys, although it doesn't really hit any of their obvious buttons.

Saturday, July 21, 2012

Fun: I Was a Rat!

Philip Pullman's books for YA readers leave me a bit cold; I never quite trust Pullman to give me a happy ending, which I'm a bit addicted to. I do trust him to give me a true ending, which is even more important, but I'm not always in the mood for the harsher kinds of true.

So I've always kind of avoided his younger books as well, and this summer I'm finding out that I've been depriving myself of some really fun reads. I Was a Rat! has been hanging around my house for years and years, and I've always avoided it because I thought it was a sociological look at poor orphans or something, when really it's a glance at what happens after Cinderella's ball, if one of the transformed rats misses the return trip and stays stuck as a boy.
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And yes, Pullman lets all sorts of rotten things happen to the boy, but he also provides him with a family, so we know that somehow everything will turn out all right. I had a lot of fun with the book, and now I hope I've buried some more of his works on my TBR shelf to be discovered this summer. And I've handed the book over to my sons with a recommendation; maybe we'll make it a book club book.

Friday, July 20, 2012

Short Take: Freddy and the Baseball Team

Ugh -- my mouse is misbehaving, and just now it selected most of the post and deleted it. I had just written about why Walter R. Brooks' Freddy and the Baseball Team From Mars didn't work for me.
Now I'll just say that it didn't and mostly leave it at that, with the last three sentences that justify my call:

But somehow it just didn't click for me. I found the mystery too obvious and the jokes too telegraphed, and I guess I was just generally too cynical to appreciate it. Thirty years ago would have been a better time to pick this up.
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Thursday, July 19, 2012

Kids and Parents: Moonlight Man

The Moonlight ManSomehow I ended up today with another Paula Fox book. It's funny how I went years without reading any of her books, and this week I reread one and tried out a new one, The Moonlight Man. I've owned if for years and years (decades?) but the topic of a teenage girl learning to deal with her divorced and possibly alcoholic father didn't encourage me to pick it up, maybe because my parents divorced and then so did I, and I shy away from obvious bibliotherapy books.
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It's just as well I waited; I don't think I would have enjoyed it at an age it would have aimed at me. Fox writes a slow investigation of Catherine's growing maturity and understanding of her father; this is the summer that she actual starts to understand him, but she is also learning about herself. Some things do happen, as her father alternately charms her with his refreshing and challenging outlook on life and repels her with his dips into binge drinking, but mostly the book is spent inside Catherine's head, watching as she makes connections and learns about people and their complex emotions, including her own.

I'll leave it out, but I can't honestly say I think my thirteen year old would like this. He does surprise me sometimes, though.

Wednesday, July 18, 2012

Super Short: Meet Samantha

I knew I was going to spend most of today driving around in my car, which meant precious little time for reading, so I carefully saved a skinny little book from my shelves for this day. The American Girl series of books sound like an awful idea -- there is an expensive doll designed, complete with expensive accessories, clothes, and whatnot, and each doll gets a series of books about that girl's life.

However, the books are actually quite decent early readers. Meet Samantha by Susan S. Adler follows the story of a rich orphan living with her grandmother and a bunch of servants. She's friends with the cook, the seamstress, and the naughty boy next door, and struggles to live up to her grandmother's standards of behavior and proficiency in womanly arts like sewing and music. See how we've just learned what family life was like among the elite in the early 1900's? Samantha then befriends the young girl working next door, so we find out what life was like for the less wealthy, and then she sneaks out to visit her seamstress at home, so we also find out how things were different for African Americans.
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Although the writing clearly follows a plan, the words themselves are friendly and flow easily, without condescension or an overly didactic feel. As an adult, I do have a constant sense of "I see what you've done here" but I bet kids would enjoy it as a read aloud or an easy chapter book.

Tuesday, July 17, 2012

Relaxed Fairyland: Emerald City of Oz

The Emerald City of OzI found my book bag, but too late to finish the library book. (It was a biography of Willie Mays, too detailed to hold my interest.) But now I have a half-finished book from my shelves to hold in reserve, in case I ever have problems finishing my book-a-day goal.

Today I read another fast book -- L. Frank Baum's Emerald City of Oz. I can't remember if I've read it before; I read a lot of them but they tend to mix together. It's possible this is my first read; I noticed when Dorothy's Uncle Henry and Aunt Em started appearing in the background but I think I always wondered how they got there, and the answer is in this book.
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I had fun with it -- both the chapters where Dorothy wanders around Oz with her guardians and some assorted Ozians and find silly villages (Bunville, where everybody and their stuff is made of pastry, and Bunnyville, a land of white rabbits) and then dark subplot with the evil Nomes gathering even eviler allies in hopes of enslaving everyone in Oz. But I liked Ozma's attitude towards them -- watch them approach even when it's boring, and then figure everything will be OK. Which it is. Mari Ness has done an extended series of reviews of Oz books on; Ness was much more bothered by Ozma's insouciance in the face of desperate danger and defilement. I had confidence in the queen, though.

Monday, July 16, 2012

Happy Telepathic Kids: The Magic Meadow

I seem to have misplaced my bag of books, which is a shame because it not only holds the book I was supposed to finish today, but also the almost-due library book and my NOOK. I'm hoping I left it somewhere obvious like my couch and it just temporarily turned invisible, and that I didn't leave it anywhere annoying like at the IHOP where I fed the kids. Anyway, at 10:00 PM I grabbed the next book on my shelf and spent an pleasant hour reading through Alexander Key's The Magic Meadow.

Like most of Key's works, this involves kindly paranormal kids at the intersection of our grungy, greedy, grasping world and a more highly evolved culture that involves loving nature and abstaining from money. Oh, and singing to the dawn in antigravity boats. These kids are trapped in the "orphaned cripples" ward of a condemned hospital, and they have only each other and the kindly night nurse. To amuse themselves, they imagine better places to be, and in the first pages main character Brick discovers the ability to will himself to one of those places, and the kids frantically race to get there before disaster strikes back at their lonely ward.
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I liked how no one worried about how the kids get their powers; they just practice until they can do things, and they have plenty of time since all they do is languish in the ward. They can all listen in to the thoughts around them in the hospital, although it's usually too depression to bear. And getting to the magic place they visualized is all they really need to get better -- immediately their toes start wiggling and they all begin walking. I never really worried that things wouldn't work out, so I liked the escalating tensions, both the immediate problem of escaping the hospital and then the slower issue of eating once they get to the Better Place.

Sunday, July 15, 2012

Grim Stuff: Slave Dancer

Paula Fox's Slave Dancer is a book I read as a child and thought was good work but deeply sad, so I had no desire to reread it. But I did want to OWN it, so I bought a copy, and I'm uncomfortable with books I haven't actually read. I mean, what if all the pages got put in backwards or something? So it languished on my shelves until this summer reading thing bubbled it forth.
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My memories are quite accurate -- it's a good book, and very sad. Jesse provides a manageable glimpse at the horrendous and horrific world of slave trading, with men twisted by the cruelty they inflict in their search of profit. My memory of the plot was vague -- Jesse is kidnapped onto a slave ship, he witnesses the torture forced on the Africans by the evil captain and his twisted crew, and everyone but Jesse dies in a shipwreck. Turns out that I had forgotten one other survivor, which is an interesting note about what I tend to cling to.

I'll tell my eight grader that it's a good book, but I'm not sure he's that into historical fiction.

Saturday, July 14, 2012

More Mythology: Temping Fate

I was actually on a Foolscap panel with Esther Friesner a few years ago, so I made a point of buying Temping Fate from the dealer's room. Of course, I usually come home with a pile of books from Foolscap, so this one ended up piled in the TBR bookcase until today.
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It's a fun book about people with strange names (Ilana, Dyrrin) interacting with modern versions of ancient gods, mostly Greek through a summer temporary work agency designed to let the deities get a bit of a break. Ilana, who gets a confusingly interesting back story, lands this summer job and wavers between enjoying the high wages and backing away from the magic and danger involved, while fending off the insanity of her sister's extreme wedding plans.
Photo: They call this the "anticlimactic " flaming geyser.
Anticlimatic Flaming Geyser

I didn't finish until late, since we went out to Flaming Geyser state park to celebrate my Discovery Pass. We tracked down the Anticlimactic Flaming Geyser (as the local rangers named it) but read up on its glory days a before my birth when it leaped up much higher. Not content with this, we then went to the local water park for the evening to hit the water. Well, I didn't get far enough in the book to do the laps I actually contemplated, because I had the pleasure of hanging out and talking with my son for a while. I will definitely give this book to my eight grader though; he lives urban fantasy and Greek mythology.

Friday, July 13, 2012

Corn Rows: The Greek Gods

The Greek Gods
I was supposed to read The Slave Dancer today, but I put it down somewhere and the house ate it. I hope it turns up again fairly soon. Anyway, when I finally gave up on finding it on time I grabbed the next skinny book, which was The Greek Gods by Bernard Evslin, Dorothy Evslin, and Ned Hoopes, which was about what you expect from the title.
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I did enjoy these versions, which gave a bit more time to the diverse emotions and needs of the gods, so that Persephone, for example, enjoys the power she has over Hades even as she misses her mom, and she eats the pomegranate seeds through the temptation of a boy killed by Demeter in her first shock of grief. Little touches like that keep even the most well known myths fresh. But I'm sorry to say that my most vivid memory of this book was triggered by the history video on The Columbian Exchange that I watched right before reading it, because that meant that when Ceres is identified as the goddess of the cornfield I laughed outright and showed the book to P, who also smirked knowingly. I actually doubt that ancient Greek gods assigned corn fields to anyone in particular.

Anyway, today was a good book day, including a very pleasant book club with delicious food, great weather, and interesting conversation. (We read Soulless, by Gail Carriger, which got different opinions so made for fun talk.)

Thursday, July 12, 2012

Strange Names: The Secret of the Indian

Lynne Reid Banks has written a handful of books about a boy whose magic cupboard brings his toys to life, and the complications that ensue. They're good complications, because the toys really come to life, or rather become actual people represented by the kind of toy -- the toy Indian figure becomes a real seventeenth century Algonquin man, who is not impressed at being suddenly tiny and in modern times.
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The Secret of the Indian is the third book, where Omri deals with the aftermath of enlisting an army of miniatures to help him fend off a burglary, and also deal with his friends who are reluctant to treat the living toys as real people, preferring to enslave them as animated toys. Oh, and the parents who find many of the explanations unconvincing, and the few adults who have an idea of what is going on and immediately fixate on how they could profit from it. It's rather a thoughtful little elementary school book, but unfortunately I'm so distracted by the strange names that I can't really concentrate on it. Omri? Gillon? Adiel? Their parents are Lionel and Jane, so I have no idea how to picture the family.

I should probably have gone with a more ambitious book; it really wasn't a day to waste on a short easy read, since I got to spend an hour waiting in the airport for my kids to come through customs. Oh well, I couldn't read anything too engrossing because I really wanted to see them. Welcome home, world travelers!

Wednesday, July 11, 2012

Different Lives: The Family From One End Street

I tend to gravitate towards old-fashioned family books, particularly ones that are old fashioned because they were written a long time ago.  My copy of Eve Garnett's The Family From One End Street has a published date of 1939, which is a lucky year because my mom was born in it. It was actually written a bit before that, so it's actually older than her, but it's set a bit earlier than that. There's no war, no depression, just a family in a town that Miss Read would recognize, with too many kids and not enough money but a genial ability to just get on with it since their family can handle it all.
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Each chapter follows a specific story, first going through the oldest five kids as they have smallish adventures such as losing an (expensive) school hat that should have lasted five years and instead won't make it to the start of term at the secondary school. The twin boys have more improbably adventures that still pinpoint the alien nature of the past, with the English shadings of class and money. I remember liking these when I was a kid just as I liked science fiction and fantasy; it seemed just as unlikely. Anyway, a cosy and happy story about people living very different lives.

Tuesday, July 10, 2012

First Book: Stranger Next Door

The Stranger Next DoorFor each of my sons I can pick up a book that was really their first immersion in reading, the first book that they cared about finishing, the text that really started their lives as independent readers. For X, that was Wen Spencer's Alien Taste, and he's never looked back. P has a more controlled relationship with books, but Peg Kehret's The Stranger Next Door was the book that he picked out, that he read, and that he finished.

So, of course I had to get a copy when I saw it in a Scholastic catalog, but of course I had read it over his shoulder at the time, so I just tossed the new copy in the shelves until it popped back up today. It's a competent little book, a slight mystery with a lonely boy and a cute cat. The plot moves along, and the words never get in their own way. My only concern as a book for my young son was the violence lurking in the corners -- the new boy, the stranger next door, is in the witness protection program so the mob doesn't take out his family. I thought that was a bit grim until the real villain showed up, kidnapped the pet owner at gun point and then locked him up in a burning building. Okay, now we are talking raised levels of violence.
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Of course, compared to the shots and deaths in Spencer's book I have nothing to complain about, but I knew what to expect when X wandered to the wrong section of my library and started reading one of my SF books. P's book came from the children's section, and I guess I can be glad that the cat doesn't head for the big catnip patch in the sky by the end. In general I like Kehret for her realistic (well, non-fantastic) stories with kids dealing with real world problems, and in particular I like the insertion of Pete the cat's sections in these particular books.

Monday, July 9, 2012

Wrong Genre: Roscoe's Leap

Roscoe's Leap
Well, I read today's book expecting completely the wrong kind of thing until the last twenty or so pages. I picked up Gillian Cross's Roscoe's Leap at a library discard sale sometime in the past five years, and based on the author, the blurb, and the cover, I figured it was a time-slip book, where somehow the guillotine thing shoves them around in time or lets them see stuff back in head-slicing days or something. Modern covers look like this, but my cover has an eighties looking guy cowering from some candles and the hint of a guillotine; it really looks the past has hold of him.
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And of course, that's what this book is about, but it's the literal past of the characters, not the distant past of history that has them in its grasp. The family living in their ancestral ridiculous old historical house find that their family secrets get stirred up when an eager young researcher comes to investigate the founding member of their family. Stephen, the stoic twelve year old, learns why he has taught himself to hide his emotions so well, even from himself; Hannah, the mechanical fifteen year old, learns that the interiors of people can be almost as interesting as that of the automatons collected by her distant ancestor. And they all learn how devastating family secrets can be, although I could have done without the Highly Symbolic final scene at the crumbling bridge with long disunited parents clasping hands to lead their frightened child to safety.

Of course, I read the whole thing thinking that Cross was doing her usual good job of emotionally grounding the characters before introducing the whole time-travel thing, and then thinking that it was going to be hard to wrap up everything once the magic started, and then thinking that there sure was a lot of time spent on the family's emotional pit of despair regarding the dad (from all the characters, including the dad), and then suddenly realizing that that was actually the CORE OF THE BOOK, and having as sharp a shock as young Stephen when he started recovering memories. So it was a good read, but I was obviously confused for most of it.

Summer Days, Reading Away

Still relaxing, but I should start moving back into my life soon. Of course, I haven't quite decided how vigorous I want that life to be this summer vacation; the boys come home on Thursday so maybe I'll just coast until then, although I guess I'd better get the last of school stuff packed away.

The Book-a-Day goal for the summer is still on track; I mostly just pull the next book from the shelf but if it looks too thick I'll juggle things so I get a running start. Also, I'm saving an American Girl book for the day I'll drive 800 miles; if I find another super short book I'll need that for the drive home. It's rather exciting to see space appearing on my TBR bookcase, although at the end of the summer I'll pull down some boxes of books and fill it back up.

So as I go to Book Journey's weekly round-up of what everyone has read, is reading, and will read, most of my selections are children's books, and some of those are books I've been waiting to (re) read for decades. I don't think I'm exaggerating. After I've read my book-of-the-day choice, I go back to read other stuff, especially the library books that Absolutely Must Go back this week.

I'll go sign in on the update posts that, where everyone notes what they read, are reading, and intend to read. Teach Mentor Texts echos this with a concentration on children's books which clearly is appropriate for me.

  • Woods Runner, Gary Paulsen. Monday. Good book.
  • School of Fear: Class Is NOT Dismissed, Gitty Daneshvari. Tuesday. 2nd in the series. More of the same, which is fine.
  • Chester Cricket's New Home, George Selden. Wednesday
  • Down These Strange Streets, anthology. NOOK. Good airplane reading. 
  • Airman, Eoin Colfer. Thursday. My son liked this more than I did.
  • Weirdstone of Brisingamen, Alan Garner. Friday. I thought I had read this, but I was wrong.
  • Astonishing X-Men Book 1 (Vol 1 & 2), Joss Whedon. Comic books!
  • On the Blue Comet, Rosemary Wells. NOOK. Good time-slip book.
  • Doctor Dolittle's Garden, Hugh Lofting. Saturday. Old fashioned science fiction.
  • Treasure of Green Knowe, Lucy Boston. Sunday. Great book.
  • The Clockwork Three, Matthew Kirby. RML. I liked how it came together.
  • Astonishing X-Men Vol 3 : Torn, Joss Whedon. More comic.
  • Astonishing X-Men Vol 4 : Unstoppable, Joss Whedon. Sad comic.
  • World War II On The Home Front: An Interactive History Adventure, Martin Gitlin. Historical choose-your-own adventure. I find it more depressing to die horribly in a historical nonfiction book.
What am I currently reading? I left some in-progress books at home during my gallivanting, and I cherry picked from my options to things I thought I'd enjoy.
  • Redskin and Cowboy, G. A. Henty. I think I need a running start for this one, so I went back and got - 
  • Roscoe's Leap, Gillian Cross. Today's book. I think it has a haunted house.
  • A Secret Prince, Violet Haberdasher. I read the first from RML, and my son demanded the sequel, and now the library wants it back.
  • Team Human, Sarah Rees Brennan & Justine Larbalestier. Started on the plane.
  • Delusions of Gender, Cordelia Fine. Fun stuff.
  • Kushiel's Dart, Jacqueline Carey. Online book club book. I'm late.
  • Buffy and the Heroine's Journey, Valerie Frankel. Present from librarything early readers.
  • Willie Mays, The Life, The Legend, James S. Hirsch. TBR. Probably more than I needed to know about him, but interesting enough.
  • The Dark Knight Returns, Frank Miller. Still missing.
  • Phoenix In Flight, Sherwood Smith & Dave Trowbridge. NOOK. Interplanetary rich people plot things.
  • Close Range, Annie Proulx. I dip into this for a page or two in between other books.
  • The Borrowers Afield, Mary Norton. Another dipping book.
What will I read next? I'm still pulling from my reservoir of purchased-but-unread books, and I'm now reading library books that must get turned in this week. Or else I don't get to read them until I check them out again -- what a terrible fate! Avert!

  1. Cybils: 61/73. Unchanged. 
  2. Global Reading Challenge: 13/21. Apparently everything in my shelves is set in Europe (UK) or the US. Hmm.
  3. Where Am I Reading?:  30/50.  Reviews are overrated. Hey, School of Fear is in Connecticut, and that got reviewed!
  4. Science Book Challenge: 1.141/3.14159. I think Delusions of Gender will qualify.
  5. Reading My Library:  Finished one, pausing to get my library exposure under control.
  6. Eclectic Challenge: 10/12. I need literary and a classic. Lowbrow me finds these hard.
  7. Best of the Best: 27/25. Nothing this week.
  8. Summer Reading Goal: On target. This is hard!

Sunday, July 8, 2012

Favorites: Treasure of Green Knowe

Treasure Of Green Knowe
Returning to a childhood favorite means meeting yourself across a span of years, sometimes being delighted in your young sensibilities, sometimes appalled at your youthful indiscretions. I've loved L.M. Boston's Green Knowe series since my aunt first gave me the first copies, and I've always regretted not managing to share them with my sons. I found a hard copy of Treasures of Green Knowe on my TBR book case, and that was today's reading. Little me, you sure recognized good stuff.

I was a little nervous about the racial implications of the plot -- Treasures involves a young black slave taken from Barbados to England soon after slavery in England has ended. Would the suck fairy have visited this book? Or even would I have problems reading it with my more sensitive understanding now? Actually, I think this book holds up quite well. Boston treats each child (Tolly, Susan, Jacob) with the same respect and care, letting each one be the subject of its own story even as they interact with each other and their worlds.
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The language itself is beautiful, the relationships wonderful, the interplay between fantasy and reality brilliantly done. I met myself a few times as I read, vividly recalling passages that had stayed with me all my life (Toby and Jacob in the chimneys, the hair picture, the blind girl in the trees), and smiled at my younger self a few times, such as during one of the Granny's stories in the evening, which turns out to include things about Toby himself; at the time I thought she deliberately picked a story that reflected him, but of course she was making up the story while she told it, so she knew exactly what details to use. Child me had never even thought of that, since I spent most of my time figuring out the motivations of the kids, not the adults.

I think I'll see if I can interest my kids in a read-aloud when they get home, or at the very least, I know my next pick for a family book club.

Saturday, July 7, 2012

Old Science: Doctor Dolittle's Garden

Doctor Dolittle's Garden
Another book finally made its jump from the TBR section of my house to the read-it shelves! Doctor Dolittle's Garden is the old-fashioned Hugh Lofting kind of Doctor Dolittle, dating from 1928 or so, with the Doctor busying himself with kindness and science with young Stubbins writing down notes and superstitious old Bumpo alternating college wisdom and barbarian foolishness (that last bit is rather cringe-worthy, actually).

I'm rather delighted by the book's careless refusal to acknowledge plot -- the first few chapters look at the stray dog club organized in the garden, moving in to an extended history of one of the dogs, with rather obvious satirical jabs at various adult topics that I would have cheerfully ignored as a kid. Then the doctor moves onto a study of insect languages, feeling the pages with some techno-babble that has the same attention to accuracy that I expect from Star Trek episodes (little to none, in other words). Cracking that gives us some tales recounted by maggots and water beetles, and some fine philosophy as to whether cockroaches are ever worthy dinner companions (I'm coming down with Dab-dab on the negative there), and then the subtle foreshadowings of all the side characters wanting to go on a trip while the doctor speaks wishfully of lunar traveling come crashing through with the arrival of the Giant Moth! Right in the garden!
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And here you thought this book was going to a a quiet anthropological, well, zoological study. No, suddenly it's space travel!  And Stubbin's moral dilemma -- obediently stay behind, or sneak along.

I think modern versions of this book do something with the rotten racial stereotyping, although I guess there's nothing to do about the lack of female characters -- only Dab-dab, the housekeeper appears, I think.

Holding the Line at the Library

Renton Library
Required reading is really kicking my tail this summer! I'm forcing myself to finish one of my unread kidlit books before reading anything else, and even when they are quite short, these tough rules have me spinning like a fifth grader asked to write a paragraph before going to the pool. Not that I've ever met such a procrastinator; all my fifth graders graduated. So I had nothing to turn in except two books called home prematurely by the library (dang other people wanting books I planned to renew!).

I had three things on hold -- one book, one movie, one CD. Only one was for me; the others N had forced me to put on my card for the spurious reason that I had forgotten to bring his in to the library last week.

Let's see if anyone can guess which my own pick, and which were not:
Image of itemImage of itemImage of item
  • Transformers Vault: The Complete Transformers Universe. Pablo Hidalgo. An illustrated look at the history of the Transformers brand, complete with many illustrations of games, movies, and toys. It's actually a very beautiful looking book.
  • Transformers Armada: Battle for the Mini-Cons (DVD).
  • Violent Femmes (CD). Inspiration for my first mixed CD -- counting songs!
This left me with 43 items out on my card, still under my age, so I celebrated by buying Sarah Rees Brennan's new book, Team Human. Well, OK, I had bought that in Austin at Book People, because good stores should be supported, just like good authors. If I ever get ahead on this summer reading challenge thing, I'll tell you how much I liked it.

I'll go share my Library Loot at the event co-hosted by Claire from the Captive Reader and Marg from The Adventures of an Intrepid Reader, where all the library addicts compare their treasures.

Friday, July 6, 2012

Powerful Stuff: The Weirdstone of Brisingamen

CoverI could have sworn I had read Alan Garner's major works; I thought I had bought my hardback of The Weirdstone of Brisingamen to own, not as a first read. But I'm glad I didn't just pass it onto my shelves; I don't remember any of this story, and I'm positive that the powerful images and tense situations will stay with me for a long time, and bring back echos even if it takes me twenty years to read this again.

It's a bit funny, because there isn't much character development here, while there is a lot of action and suspense. But the characters aren't lonely heroes; they are a rather nondescript brother and sister team who don't spend much time speaking to their deep familiar love but do such things as look after each other, take each other for granted, and avoid sitcom bickering during life and death situations. There's also a pair of dwarven heroes, and an adult friend who doesn't waste time disbelieving the things in front of his face. Much of the book is spent on a tense flight from danger, trying to reach safety before the dark finds them. Did Tolkien imprint this on the English, or is it something they've always done well? In this case it worked with me.
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I'll be adding this book to my "recommended for my kids" shelf before moving it to my general library.

Thursday, July 5, 2012

Action Packed Action: Airman

I've enjoyed Eoin Colfer's fairy books, although I do think he has a few too many vowels in his name, so I'm sure I picked up Airman on that recommendation. But the cover is dark and scary looking, so I never got around to reading it. I'm fairly sure my older son has read it, but I don't remember if he thought I'd like it or not.
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It turns out that I didn't like it that much, but not because of what it does. It's a book that concentrates on action and intrigue, with action driving most of the intrigue. What emotion there is consists mainly of manly angst, burning within the soul of the solitary airman, not something shared with friends or family or really any one else. And I think it's time to admit that I want a bit more connection in my reading.

It's very good at what it does, though -- the young protagonist is heroically but not comically talented and tough, and suffers believably before rising above (heh heh, you see what I did there? Look at the title) and triumphing over the bad guys. Oh yes, and reconciling with his lost loved ones. And he does it all with Wright-style aeronautics, which the scientific reader could probably replicate from the text. So for people looking for a kidlit book long on danger and action but short on philosophy, grab this one from the shelves

Wednesday, July 4, 2012

He Finds One!: Chester Cricket's New Home

Chester Cricket's New HomeMost people aren't aware there are sequels to George Seldon's The Cricket In Times Square, which follow Chester Cricket back to his Connecticut meadow and observe his gentle adventures there. I know I read Tucker's Countryside but I didn't notice the others.

Chester Cricket's New Home is a pleasant young elementary school book about a cricket who loses his home and tries out various creatures as room mates.  Of course, no one else sets his home up the way Chester likes it, and he has amusing adventures until his true friends help him find a home that meets his needs, not theirs. Nothing to object, although no signs of forgotten greatness.

It looks like the Seattle Times gave this book to one of my kids, so thanks to them for this book. I'll probably donate it to a third or fourth grade classroom.
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Tuesday, July 3, 2012

Chuckles: School of Fear

Book two of Gitty Daneshvari's School of Fear series, Class Is Not Dismissed, continues with the lighthearted lampooning of the previous books. The four camp returnies are mostly cured but still need a bit of a refresher and the chance to drop some one-liners on each other.

One new camper is added, but her misery is kept comic and cartoonish so that we never wince with anyone's pains.  The cover reflects the truth that not all kids get equal time -- Theo, Madeline, and newcomer Hyhy get the bulk of the pages. The third book may balance things out for Lulu and Garrison, and it seems it starts immediately after this one.  There are no unexpected turns but a gentle continuous laugh track that kept me amused as I dipped in and out.
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Since I spent most of the day having a great time and eating delicious food, I was pleased to have a witty but uncomplicated book to read in my off moments. Now I shall go to sleep and dream of beautiful dinners.

Monday, July 2, 2012

Grim War: Woods Runner

I bought Gary Paulsen's Woods Runner from a Scholastic book form sometime this year; I vaguely recall that it was one of their loss leaders. I like Paulsen's wilderness books, so I figured with a title like this I'd probably like this one, but somehow it got shelved in the bookcase instead of read.
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As it turns out, I was right. Paulsen's book is set during the American Revolution, although his protagonist can't really be described as either Whig or Tory. He and his family first hear about the revolution on a few weeks before British soldiers appear to burn down their cabin and change their lives forever. Paulsen keeps to his trademark style of showing emotions through actions and employing lucid prose that disappears into the story.

My then-fifth grader's class read a different novel about the war, in which a foolish boy makes mistakes  and learns to his horror that war is grim and terrible. I suspect my son would much prefer this book, where a wiser boy displays competence while dealing with war's horrors.