Wednesday, October 31, 2007

Close of the R.I.P. Challenge

Today marks the end of Carl's RIP II challenge. (Readers Imbibing Peril) You may read all of my challenge related posts here. I still can't believe I read 18 books for this one. Especially since I said I was only going to read ONE book for this challenge. My old favorite is, of course, Frankenstein. But I've made many new friends. I've fallen in love with two authors: Ray Bradbury and H.G. Wells. All of the books have been good, some have been truly great.

My first selection was The Island of Dr. Moreau by H.G. Wells
Vampirates: Tide of Terror by Justin Somper
The Invisible Man by H.G. Wells
Frankenstein by Mary Shelley
The War of the Worlds by H.G. Wells
Thirteenth Tale by Diane Setterfield
The Food of the Gods by H.G. Wells
Book of A Thousand Days by Shannon Hale
Dr. Jekyll and Mr. Hyde by Robert Louis Stevenson
Bearwalker by Joseph Bruchac
Dracula by Bram Stoker
City of Bones by Cassandra Clare
Life As We Knew It by Susan Beth Pfeffer
Lost Boys by Orson Scott Card
The Historian by Elizabeth Kostova
Empire by Orson Scott Card
One for Sorrow by Christopher Barzak
My final selection was: Something Wicked This Way Comes by Ray Bradbury

Two More Challenges

Melissa from Book Nut is hosting a challenge called the Expanding Horizons Challenge. You can read the rules and find out how to sign up yourself here.

There are two ways to approach this challenge. Either read four books by authors in one of the six categories (you can read more than one category, but you must read four books; not two books in one category and two in another) OR read six books, one from each of the six categories. The categories are:

1. African/African-American.
2. Asian/Asian-American (This is not just East Asian -- Chinese, Korean and Japanese -- but also Indonesia, Singapore, Thailand, Philippines, and the Central Asian -Stans.)
3. Hispanic/Latin American
4. Indian/Indian-American (Again, books by Indian authors; not books by white authors set in India.)
5. Middle Eastern (Iran, Iraq, Israel, Palestine, Turkey...)
6. Native Peoples (Can include Native American, Inuit, Polynesian --Maori, Samoan, etc -- Siberian natives and Australian Aborigines.)

I am planning on joining this challenge which goes January to April 2008. But I haven't made my list yet.

The other challenge I'm planning on joining is a challenge hosted by Words by Annie called "What's In A Name." This one goes from January 1, 2008 to December 31, 2008.

The Challenge: Choose one book from each of the following categories.

1. A book with a color in its title. Examples might include: The Amber Spyglass, The Red Pony, Blue Blood

2. A book with an animal in its title. Examples might include: The Hound of the Baskervilles, To Kill a Mockingbird, Julie of the Wolves

3. A book with a first name in its title. Examples might include: Jane Eyre, the Harry Potter books, Anne of Green Gables

4. A book with a place in its title. Examples might include: From Russia with Love, A Tree Grows in Brooklyn, Out of Africa

5. A book with a weather event in its title. Examples might include: The Snows of Kilimanjaro, Red Storm Rising, Tornado Alley

6. A book with a plant in its title. Examples might include: Where the Red Fern Grows, The Name of the Rose, Flowers for Algernon

--You may overlap books with other challenges, but please don't use the same book for more than one category. (For example, you can use The Red Pony for either a "color" book or an "animal" book, but not for both.)

I haven't got books picked out for that one either. Both of these are potential challenges. I have every intention of joining them, but it's not *official* official yet. I really need to sit down and actually try to plan out what I want to do in 2008.

Travel the World: Germany: Princess Pigsty

Today's Travel The World brings us to Germany. The book is Princess Pigsty by Cornelia Funke. The publisher is Scholastic.

I just love Cornelia Funke's picture book, Princess Pigsty. Here is a princess that I can actually like for once! The story is of a royal family, of course, a household with lots of princesses. Isabella, our heroine, is the youngest of the bunch. Her older sisters are Druscilla and Rosalinda. The first few pages explain royal behavior. How the sisters are waited on hand and foot. How they have every luxury they could ever want or imagine. How perfect there life is. How they should be the happiest girls in the kingdom. But. (There's always a but in picture books like this...) But Isabella is not happy. No, not happy at all. One day she decides to do something about it. "I am tired of being a princess. . .I want to get dirty!. . . I don't want to smile all the time. . .I don't want to have my hair curled EVER again." And the list goes on and on throughout the text. She wants to have fun, get dirty, wear pants instead of dresses, actually interact with the world and learn to do things herself. When her father essentially asks what has come over her...what led her to throw her crown in the fishpond, she responds "Princesses don't do anything fun. Princesses don't even pick their noes. Princesses just stand around looking pretty. Yuck. I don't want to be a princess anymore!" Thinking that he can teach his daughter a lesson, he sends her off first to the kitchen and then finally the pigsty. The twist? He's the one that learns the lesson. Sometimes you've got to let kids be themselves. You can't always mold them into the exact image you want. (Some girls don't want to be girly-girls. They don't want to wear dresses with bows and laces. They might not want to wear pink tutus and take ballet and/or piano lessons.) The book ends with her compromising a little bit saying that she might wear a dress and crown occasionally, but that some lines aren't meant to be crossed. "Isabella never let anybody curl her hair EVER again!"

Tuesday, October 30, 2007


Watson, C.G. 2007. Quad.

Quad has multiple narrators and a non-chronological framework. You might think that would make it harder to read--to grasp. After all, for the first twenty or thirty pages you're not quite sure what's going on. There is a new narrator for each chapter, all these new characters--these new names--are being tossed about. And the 'action' is unfolding on at least two different days. But once the reader is patient enough and every narrator has had a turn, then things begin to come together, to make sense. The premise is simple: one of these students, one of the narrators' classmates, has decided to take revenge on their classmates. Someone is out for vengeance and they've brought a gun. How this becomes complex? Well, each narrator, each circle of friends, has motive to seek crazy revenge. All of them are angry, most are bitter. All see high school labels and social hierarchy's as evil for the most part. The "bad guys" the popular kids come across as true villains. With their cruel jokes and laughter, their mean pranks, I dare the reader to have sympathy for these bad guys. While not all narrators are equally likable, most are portrayed as human--fallible but likable just the same. The suspense of who lives, who dies, and the unveiling of the identity of the shooter and victim(s)...will keep you reading.

This is an emotional book. There are so many different levels of frustration, anger, hatred, disappointment, bitterness, etc presented. But the reason I enjoyed this one so much was that it dissected the minute details of high school society. It examined cause and effect. It showed how daily interactions can be perceived, received, both negatively and positively. On the one hand, a kind word, a smile, a compliment, could make the world of difference to someone. On the other hand, it shows that a mean glare, a laugh, a snicker, a whispered insult, a cruel note, a simple prank could break someone apart. Actions have consequences as this book shows. It also shows how thin a line there is between sanity and insanity...keeping it together versus having an emotional breakdown. And of course, it shows that being a teenager is a volatile experience emotionally. One day alone can be full of emotional ups and downs and you can be all over the place in no time.

From the Stacks Challenge

From the Stacks Reading Challenge 07

November 1, 2007 - January 30, 2008

5 Books--ANY five books from our stacks, but they cannot be *new.* You're not to search out things, be tempted by things, and go out to find more books to add to your stack. This is your time to play catch-up and read the books you already own.

My list

1) Before, After, and Somebody In Between by Jeannine Garsee
2) Memoirs of A Teenage Amnesiac by Gabrielle Zevin
3) Someday This Pain Will Be Useful To You by Peter Cameron
4) Seeing Redd by Frank Beddor
5) Boy Toy by Barry Lyga


1) Inkheart by Cornelia Funke
2) Inkspell by Cornelia Funke
3) Lessons From A Dead Girl by Jo Knowles
4) No Talking by Andrew Clements
5) The Aurora County All-Stars by Deborah Wiles

Updated 12/14/2007 I've read 4 of my original choices and 2 of my alternates. I'm calling this one done.

Robert's Snow Day 15 & 16

Tuesday, October 30, 2007:

Monday, October 29, 2007:

Monday, October 29, 2007

Just in case...

I may or may not be having more computer problems. So I may or may not be able to blog for the next week or so. I'm really hoping that this computer works out...I don't want to hassle with repairs and whatnot. But if I'll know the culprit.

Interview with Sarah Deming

What is the inspiration behind Iris, Messenger? Or how did this novel come to be…

It started when I was on a trip to Sayulita, Mexico. I was feeling very heartbroken and spending some time with the ocean to heal. I started to get the image of Poseidon as a sad old fisherman. At the same time, the question was bouncing around in my head, "What happens to gods after people stop worshipping them?" They can't die because they are immortal. Wouldn't it be sort of sad, to outlive your culture?

Have you always enjoyed reading mythology?

Oh yes, always. When I was a kid it was Greek/Roman and Norse myth, but as an adult I have also enjoyed exploring the Hindu Mahabharata and Ramayana, which are different in that the gods who appear in the stories, such as Krishna and Shiva, are still worshiped today. I also love the old Welsh tales and Arthurian legends. The Mabinogion is so beautiful.

What is it about mythology, in your opinion, that keeps people so spellbound, so enchanted?

Myth goes deep to the heart of life, to things like birth, death, love, dreams, and the struggle to survive -- things which are the core of everyone's experience. This is why the myths from various cultures have such surprising similarities. Myth deals in a symbolic language that we may not always understand consciously, but which works on our unconscious mind. There is nothing superficial or accidental in myth, which is why it survives. And it reminds us of the magic in life. We always need a break from the mundane, an invitation to the magical...

You've had many jobs along the way, but have you wanted to write all along?

I wrote a lot of papers in school but I never realized I was going to be a fiction writer until I wrote Iris, at age 27 or so. But looking back, it seems very natural for me to be a writer. My mom writes, my brother writes, and we are all big readers. I think it's good for a writer to do a lot of stuff first before she writes, to have some interesting experiences to draw on. Traveling is also great.

Who has been your biggest supporter or mentor along the way for you on your road to publication?

Well, my husband has been my biggest supporter. He's a successful jazz pianist and he knows a lot about how hard it is to be a working artist. He is very disciplined about practicing every morning, and he's gotten me into better habits about writing every morning. He also told me not to be so hard on myself when I wasn't making a lot of progress. I am also extremely lucky to have my agent, George Nicholson at Sterling Lord. He's such a pro, so calm and confident. It's good for a young author to have an agent who is as schooled in the business as George.

What are you working on now? Is there a second novel in the works?

Yes! My second novel is due soon to Harcourt. It is called "Monsters Anonymous" and it is about monsters in group therapy.

What do you love about writing? What do you find easiest? What do you find hardest?

I love when I am inspired and I write something -- usually an essay -- all in one sitting in a white heat, knowing it is good. This almost never happens. I also love having finished something, and reading it over and thinking, "Gosh, this is really good," and it's almost like it came from someone else or like I channeled it. Again, this hardly ever happens! The easiest thing for me is revision on the language level -- cutting out the bad stuff, weeding it down to a tight, finished piece. I don't have a problem with "killing my children" as they call it. I edit heavily, throwing out more than I end up keeping. The hardest thing is composing new scenes. Just sitting down and staring at the empty page and filling it: this is what is toughest.

Iris is a great little heroine. She is always full of observations—often sarcastic but true observations about school. Were you like Iris growing up? Were you full of dreams? Did you dislike middle school as much as Iris does?

Thank you! Yes, I was a lot like Iris, except more of a nerd and less of a dreamer. I liked things like math and science, but I went to a really terrible elementary school where the teachers were sadistic and crazy. My middle school was actually much better, but there were still some teachers who singled me out and were a little humiliating. I didn't fit in -- was chubby, had pimples and greasy hair. I had trouble making friends until I was in college. I guess I want to tell kids that being miserable during the middle school years is totally normal and that life gets way better. It did for me!

Iris received a copy of Bulfinch's mythology for her twelfth birthday…is this book one of your favorites from childhood? What books were your favorites at that age?

Yes, I loved Bulfinch and still do. I also loved the D'Aulaires' book of Greek Myths. I read a lot of fantasy novels as a kid. I loved the Susan Cooper "Dark is Rising" series, the Patricia McKillip "Riddle of Stars" trilogy, Katherine Kurtz's Deryni books. Around that age I also got hold of the amazing book The Egyptian by Mika Waltari. Roald Dahl and EB White were earlier favorites.

I loved the opening line for Iris, Messenger. "The main difference between school and prison is that prisons release you early for good behavior. School lasts about thirteen years no matter how good you are. Also prison has better food." Did this line come easily, or did it require a lot of time to make it 'just right.'

Thank you, Becky! First lines are so important, and you want one that grabs the reader's attention. I was working with a different first line for a long time, it was "On a Thursday night, over bean burritos, Iris asked her mother the question that started it all." But at a certain point I wrote that line about school being like prison and I thought: that's it, that's my lead!

One of the things I admire about your style in Iris, Messenger was the fact that you were able to capture so many different voices. Each character—each god and goddess—had a different voice, a different way of communicating their story. Can you take us behind-the-scenes in your writing process? Did you know which stories and styles went together from the very beginning?

The critic Bakhtin says that the novel is a polyphonic form, one with multiple voices. Letting each character speak for themselves is really important to me, and I think it's the key to a successful novel. I used people I knew as models for the gods and goddesses. Then for the myths, I just thought: what is this god's personal connection to the myth. Does the story make them feel sad? Like for Apollo, I knew it would be very painful to tell about Phaethon. So I thought, that would be a sad jazz ballad. And I wrote that whole poem longhand at the bar at Balthazar in NYC. It helped to have the noise of the bar around me. Other stories, like Persephone's, I thought would be more tender, nostalgic. The Theseus myth is more of a boy's story, and Theseus has always struck me as sort of a jerk, so I wanted someone to tell it who might not like Theseus too much. Dionysus was the natural choice, since he saved Theseus's jilted girlfriend.

If you had twenty-four hours, a time machine, and a limitless supply of money, what would you want to do?

I would begin the morning with a visit to Buddha to hear his famous Fire Sutra, then check in with Jesus at the Sermon on the Mount. Breakfast with Virginia Woolf. Lunch with Hafiz. Tea with Jane Austen. Then I'd check out Plato's Symposium, meet Sappho, then head to the Round Table for a dinner with the knights and King Arthur. Catch a performance of Bach in his own time, then head to Paris to see the infamous premier of Stravinsky's The Rite of Spring. Off to ringside seats at the Rumble in the Jungle, a late night jazz performance of the John Coltrane quartet, and then I'd finish it up with a bottle of champagne as I watched the end of the world.

Sarah Deming's Official Web Site
Sarah Deming's Blog The Spiral Staircase
Read the first two chapters online
My review of Iris, Messenger

A Crooked Kind of Perfect

Urban, Linda. 2007. A Crooked Kind of Perfect.

I read this book initially for Dewey's 24 Hour Read-a-thon. Now, less than a week later, I have reread this little gem of a book. It's a book that I would describe as practically perfect in every way. (I don't know if Linda Urban would want me to stress the near-perfect part since the message of the book seems to be that nobody can be perfect, that life isn't perfect. But even the message seems perfect to me.) Our heroine, Zoe Elias, is ten-going-on eleven. She has one dream--a very big dream. She wants to play the piano. In what could be one of the best openings of all times we read about "How It Was Supposed To Be" versus "How It Is."

I was supposed to play the piano.
The piano is a beautiful instrument.
People wear ball gowns and tuxedos to hear the piano.
With the piano, you could play Carnegie Hall. You could wear a tiara. you could come out on stage wearing gloves up to your elbows. You could pull them off, one finger at a time.
Everybody is quiet when you are about to play the piano. They don't even breathe. They wait for the first notes.
They wait.
They wait.
And then you lift your hands high above your head and slam them down on the keys and the first notes come crashing out and your fingers fly up and down and your foot--in its tiny slipper with rubies at the toe--your foot peeks out from under your gown to press lightly on the pedals.
A piano is glamorous. Sophisticated. Worldly.
It is a wonderful thing to play the piano.

The next chapter...Zoe's reality...

I play the organ.
A wood-grained, vinyl-seated, wheeze-bag organ.
The Perfectone D-60

That's it. The entire second chapter. What a statement! But I better watch my exclamation points in this review, just in case Zoe (or her creator) is reading. Zoe really doesn't like the excessive and unnecessary use of exclamation points.

Zoe's life isn't perfect. She wants to play piano, but she's stuck with the Perfectone D-60. She wants to be playing real music. She's stuck with beginning level songbooks like Television Themesongs and Hits from the Seventies. And her social life? Well, she's been recently dumped by her best friend because her friend's interests are changing--lip gloss, tv, music, clothes, and boys. That leaves Zoe with no one to sit with at lunch, doesn't it?

Enter Wheeler.

Usually, Wheeler Diggs is a mess.
Except his hair.
On anybody else, his curly hair might look goofy, but on Wheeler Diggs it looks just the right kind of wild. And it's dark, which makes his blue eyes look even brighter. And his smile, which is kind of lopsided, looks like he's trying not to smile, but he can't help it.
Which is why, sometimes, every once in a while, somebody will smile back. And sometimes, most of the time, those people will get punched in the stomach. Which is why even the kids who sit with him at lunch are a little bit scared of him and why, really, Wheeler Diggs doesn't have a best friend, either.

Wheeler and Zoe are the unlikeliest of friends. But when he follows her home from school one day--to get his hands on some more of her dad's cookies--it's the beginning of an odd but satisfying friendship. Though Zoe doesn't admit this for the longest time. In this book, the reader sees if practice really does make perfect. . .and if wishes really can come true.

The characters, the relationships are about as perfect as can be. I've never seen family dynamics so well captured, so well displayed. Linda Urban has created memorable, authentic characters. The book has it all--moments of happiness, frustration, disappointment, loneliness, and joy. And plenty of humor!

It kind of goes without saying, but for the record...this is one that I love, love, loved!

Linda Urban's website is great too! (I better watch those exclamations.) You can find the recipe for Bada-Bings cookies. You can read her thoughts on writing 'the perfect' book. (She writes in part that: "There is no perfect book. But there is a novel to be written that is perfectly you.")
And of course, you can find out more about Linda Urban on her bio page. She also has a livejournal page where you can read her latest thoughts.

Sunday, October 28, 2007

Iris, Messenger

Deming, Sarah. 2007. Iris, Messenger.

The main difference between school and prison is that prisons release you early for good behavior. School lasts about thirteen years no matter how good you are. Also, prison has better food. (1)

When Iris Greenwold turns twelve and receives a copy of Bulfinch's mythology, her world changes dramatically. Imagine going from black and white to technicolor. Clue #1? The book was delivered by a strange boy on a skateboard. (Not your typical UPS or mail man.) Clue #2? The book has a strange and mysterious note. To Iris, on the occasion of her twelfth birthday. Knowledge is power and then Didn't you ever wonder, Iris, what happens to gods when people stop worshipping them? Where do they go? What do they do? (11, 13). Iris attends Erebus Middle School, a place where the teachers are weird and the punishments cruel and unusual. And while typically Iris is a bit of a dreamer--always on the verge of getting detention, she is still your average middle schooler. But Iris is about to witness the incredible as she discovers the wonderfully awful truth about herself. The Greek gods and goddesses? Not dead. The gods and goddesses are alive and living in a small town in Pennsylvania... Sad and prone to melancholy, yes. But far from dead. Her brief encounters with each god and goddess is an opportunity to listen, to learn, to appreciate the stories in a whole new way. For example, Apollo, he's a jazz musician. The loss of his son, Phaethon, has him singing the blues. Well, acting as muse as Iris makes her unexpected debut on stage. Each story is unique. And Deming gets the voices of these gods and goddesses just right.

Iris is a great heroine. She's a daydreamer. She may not have a lot of friends her own age, but she has her own unique way of seeing the world, and a gift for listening and understanding. Deming's writing style is charming and enjoyable through and through. There are so many great lines--observations that ring so true--but I don't want to spoil the plot by quoting them here. (You're just going to have to trust me on this one!)

I really loved this one and I am very happy that Sarah Deming agreed to be interviewed! My interview with her will be posted tomorrow, Monday, October 29th. I think you will enjoy it as she sheds light on Iris, Messenger. So be sure to come back tomorrow and read it!

Another review of Iris, Messenger. (Bookshelves of Doom)

iTunes and challenges

If only, if only I had discovered this podcast, The Classic Tales, earlier...just think of the fun I could have had for Carl's R.I.P. Challenge II. But better late than never. You can subscribe to the feed here. Of course you don't have to subscribe to the podcast to enjoy, you can listen while online as well.

Related to the R.I.P challenge, Frankenstein and Dracula appear to be available through iTunes as well. I haven't listened to any of the Dracula production. But I did listen to about four or five minutes of the Frankenstein. It seems to be well done. I haven't listened to any from this site yet. But I did find The Mercury Theatre On the Air.

But what I got distracted with most this morning was a podcast of Pride and Prejudice by Jane Austen.

Anyway, my point being (I haven't forgotten I need one) is that there are audio productions out there--for free--some done better than others, that you might want to consider.

Robert's Snow Day Fourteen; Look Ahead Week Three

Sunday, October 28, 2007:
In case this is the first time you’re reading about the Blogging for a Cure effort, the illustrators and snowflakes that participating bloggers are featuring are only the ones that the Dana-Farber Cancer Institute had ready to go when this multi-blog event was organized. Remember that you can see all of the snowflakes at the Robert’s Snow auction site. There are many more beautiful snowflakes by more talented children’s book illustrators.

Monday, October 29

Tuesday, October 30

Wednesday, October 31

Thursday, November 1

Friday, November 2

Saturday, November 3

Sunday, November 4

Saturday, October 27, 2007

Toppermost of the Poppermost

Spitz, Bob. 2007. Yeah! Yeah! Yeah!: The Beatles, Beatlemania, and the Music That Changed the World.

It is not easy for a book to cover the Beatles (pre, early, mid, late, and post) and do justice to the Fab Four. This one almost does. (Don't pay attention to the almost--not yet.) The book opens with the casual--yet fateful--meeting between John Lennon and Paul McCartney in July 1957. John was playing with his own group, the Quarry Men, and Paul McCartney was one of the 'kids' (teens) in the crowd. (The two were introduced by a mutual friend, Ivan Vaughan.) It discusses why this meeting was instrumental in the history of rock and roll. While I think this paragraph is a bit over-the-top, it does give the reader a sense of the importance:

Miracles, such as they are, occur at the most unexpected times--and in the most unusual places. That John Lennon and Paul McCartney met at all is an amazing phenomenon; that it happened in Liverpool, England, of all places, is even more remarkable. (8)

I don't think it was a 'miracle.' For one thing, this didn't happen in an unexpected time and place. Liverpool in the fifties--and even earlier--was a place where music was big. As a port town, it saw a lot of music come and go. New styles, new records, new songs, new artists introduced that most cities (towns, whatever) didn't have a clue about. If something *new* was happening on the music scene, Liverpool knew about it first. There were nightclubs and venues of all sorts for those musically inclined. And this magic that was rock and roll was widespread. It seemed that to be a Liverpudlian and a teenager meant one thing: you were either in a band or wanting to join a band. These homegrown, teenage bands were big. The miracle wasn't that the two met and started a band. The miracle was the fact that out of all the bands in Liverpool, all the bands in England...that they were the ones that would become rich and famous and change the world. It was the fact that they outgrew their small pond and went on to larger towns, cities, venues...that was out of the ordinary.

The book then begins tracing the lives of John, Paul, George, and Ringo as they join the band. John and Paul come first naturally. And the other mini-biographies are grafted in as the band grows and changes. From this point, the book takes a chronological look at the band that changed rock music--the sixties--forever. It spends most of the time focusing on the years 1960-1970. The decade that saw the rise and fall of the Beatles.

Beatles books are known for being biased most of the time. Authors are almost forced to take sides when it comes to writing the narrative. Will they take Paul's side? John's side? See George as an under appreciated artist whose time in the Beatles was too restricted? Will the author be pro-Cynthia or pro-Yoko? Bob Spitz almost avoids this altogether. (There's that almost again.) His focus is on John and Paul. It is rare for him to sidestep and shed some attention on Ringo and George. Rare, but not unheard of. In many ways, the story of the Beatles in the 'late' period was a tug-of-war. On one side Paul, on the other side John. The others were there, often unhappy, sometimes speaking up for one or the other. But this wasn't their battle. [It is like John and Paul were so focused on arguing with the other--on being 'right,' on winning that argument against the other, that they couldn't see or hear George and Ringo.] As far as relationships go, Bob Spitz really stays out of the private lives--the bedrooms--of the stars. Yes, Yoko gets her treatment at the end. How her 'presence' in the studio, and her vocal 'contributions' irked and annoyed the other three. But his narrative doesn't get personal (or as personal) like so many other narratives do.

This book--this narrative--is focused mainly on the music. It covers their lives in the studio and on tour, but only as it relates to the music, the show, the performance, the end result. It doesn't focus on the sex and drugs of the phrase 'sex, drugs, and rock 'n roll'. Drug use is mentioned briefly, but knowing how heavily the group used drugs, it barely scratches the surface. (It doesn't mention the drug arrests at all.) And sex is hardly mentioned at all. Yes, we're told that John married Cynthia secretly when he learned she was pregnant. But there are no scandalous reporting of the rock 'n roll lifestyle. No real mention of groupies and no focusing on extramarital affairs. It might warrant a "life on the road made marriages difficult" line. But having read plenty of biographies, again this barely scratches the surface. The truth is that while these four men were great musicians, they often made lousy husbands, fathers, and boyfriends. If not for the affairs, then for their negligence stemming from heavy drug use.

I haven't decided if this purging is a good thing or a bad thing. On one hand, it makes for a 'cleaner' read. Most of the scandals--but not all of the scandals--have been brushed aside completely, or given a quick non-abrasive statement or two. It does place the emphasis on the music. It does place the emphasis on their genius as musicians. Their talent singing, writing, performing. Their creativity in the studio. The text does a great job in providing commentary when it comes to the music and the songs. And part of me sees the wisdom is separating their lives out into their professional and personal, private lives. It is better for a musician to be esteemed because of their work--remembered for their work--than to become a circus act of personal mistakes. An exhibitionist when it comes to personal chaos. (Britney, anyone?) Plus, I think in many ways, the scandals read more like gossip. This book tries to be gossip free.

What I enjoyed about this one? I think it is a great introduction to the Beatles. It covers the essentials. It does so in a fair way. It is straightforward. It is chronological for the most part except for the first chapter. While more attention is spent on the first five years than the last five years, it seems right somehow. It is full of pictures--photographs--of the Beatles and other key figures of the times. The sidebars were informative gems. The back matter (discography, selected bibliography, and index) were well done. If this had been a perfect book instead of an almost perfect book, then there would have been footnotes or endnotes linking up which quote came from which book. But as it is, I'm happy with this almost perfect book about the Beatles. Another thing that made this one great? While it serves as a good introduction for this younger generation, it makes for a great read for those more knowledgeable as well. There were quite a handful of I-didn't-know-that facts sprinkled throughout. Little bits of trivia that I had not heard before. So it truly has something for everyone.

For a personal look at my flirtation and indulgence in Beatlemania. See my post on Reading with Becky.

Robert's Snow Day Thirteen

Saturday, October 27, 2007:

{Note: Libby’s feature of Ginger Nielson at Miss O’s School Library was featured later in the day yesterday; if you missed it, it’s here}.

Friday, October 26, 2007

Poetry Friday: Mama (Contest Poem/Original)

This is a 'poem' composed for a contest hosted by Taylor the Teacher. You can visit the site here. The rules of the contest are simple: Here’s the challenge: Take the lines submitted during the read-a-thon and put them together into a new poem. Use the lines in any order, and feel free to add “connective tissue” if necessary. Ideally, you would use every line from every entry, but this may not be possible. The winner will be voted on by the readers, so it’ll be up to them how much “connective tissue” is too much, or how little use of the original lines is too little. All entries (presumably) will be posted either Thursday or Friday. So go to the site and vote for your favorite!

by Becky Laney

While reaching out for my old life,
I sit here meditating on what I could say…
I have a number of things I must tell you.
But I can’t seem to find a way.
I can’t always understand…
You owe me no apologies
for things you left unsaid.
Silence is eloquent.
Words left unsaid do not hurt…
A positive echo in the void.
More than silence, less than voice
A smile that makes all things better.
A touch that takes pain, gives love.
A healing word that saves the day.
It sighs, it laughs, it repeats.
And I forget all I wanted to say.
I’m all for the old fashioned way.
Unconditional love.

Poetry Friday round-up is at Literary Safari

Robert's Snow Day Twelve

Friday, October 26, 2007:

Thursday, October 25, 2007

Go and Vote...

You can vote for my poem at the 'Win The White Album' contest now. This poem/contest is offspring from Saturday's 24 Hour Read-a-thon.

Saving the Best for Last

If you're a beatles fan...

Let me just take a very brief minute to direct you to my Reading with Becky post. Or if you like posts about sorting and organizing for that matter. :)


Kiki Strike

Miller, Kirsten. 2006. Kiki Strike: Inside the Shadow City.

Ananka Fishbein was just your average twelve-year-old until one day when she looked outside her window and saw a strange girl emerging out of a deep hole in the ground--a sink hole if you will where the park had formally been. Unusual. Strange. Yet oddly beckoning. When the young girl waved, Ananka found herself drawn or beckoned much like Alice was enchanted with the white rabbit. Soon Ananka finds herself outside and disappearing into a giant hole. What she finds is a room...or the ruins of a room. She also finds a trapdoor. But before she can explore too far, she hears the police approaching. When they see a young girl running around in a dirty hole that could very well be unsafe...they’ve got to question her sanity...after all...the girl apparently has no sense. But she alludes their custody by being girl-like. Still the event puzzles her for a long time. She subsequently discovers a book about New York City--where the book is set by the way--and how criminals created a tunnel system of sorts linking buildings and creating hideouts. She’s convinced that she’s discovered one entrance into a ‘Shadow City’ that has been forgotten about for over a hundred years. Unfortunately, the city covers the hole back up...and it will be quite some time until Ananka discovers another entrance and other people who share in her knowledge of the Shadow City. Enter Kiki Strike. An albino-elf character of sorts. Good at being invisible, mysterious, secretive, clever, evading capture and dodging questions. Kiki and Ananka find one another and three other twelve-year-olds with various skills and strengths and all with a sense of reckless abandonment when it comes to adventure and common sense. These twelve-year-olds form ‘The Irregulars’ a group that is determined to be ‘dangerous’ and to break the law whenever they feel like it. Sneaking out of the house, staying gone eight or nine hours at a time, endangering their’s all child’s play to this group of five adventurers. Are these kids scared of rotting corpses and skeletons, of course not. How about giant rats, don’t be silly. They’re not scared of the dark. Not of being trapped underground. Not of being blown to bits. Did I forget to mention that these twelve-year-olds like to use explosives? Not scared of being caught by the police or FBI. No, these five know no fear. Life is one adventure after another. Kiki Strike is full of excitement, adventure, danger, secrets, lies, revenge vendettas, murder cover-ups, and general junior high melodrama.

Robert's Snow Day Eleven

Thursday, October 25, 2007:

Wednesday, October 24, 2007

Travel the World: Plans and Announcements

I don't have a review for you today. But I do have an announcement of sorts. I am so loving this Travel the World Wednesday feature, and I was plotting ahead for what I wanted to do in the future. Starting Wednesday, November 28th, I'll be highlighting how Christmas is celebrated all around the world. Based on the list below, that comes to 'reviewing' or 'highlighting' five books a week. (For the record, these are all from my local library. I'm 'choosing' these countries because these are the ones at my library. If I could find books on more countries, I'd be happy to highlight more.)

Christmas in Brazil
Christmas in Switzerland
Christmas in Greece
Chrismas in Russia
Christmas in Mexico
Christmas in Finland
Christmas in the Philippines
Christmas in Spain
Christmas in Scotland
Christmas in Australia
Christmas in France
Christmas in the Holy Land
Christmas in Today's Germany
Christmas in Italy
Christmas in in Denmark
Christmas in Germany
Christmas in Ireland
Christmas in Belgium
Christmas in Ukraine
Christmas Around the World by Emily Kelley
Christmas Around the World by Mary D. Lankford.

National Geographic has what looks to be a great series on holidays and celebrations from around the world. But these books aren't in my library, and I don't have a contact at that publishing house. But ideally, I would love to review these as well if I can get my hands on some review copies:

Holidays Around the World: Celebrate Christmas
Holidays Around the World: Celebrate Thanksgiving
Holidays Around the World: Celebrate Hanukkah

Hypothetically speaking, I'd love to review the whole series. I don't want to 'ignore' any holiday title in particular. But I don't want to list them all out either.

And I'd love to read/review Christmas Around the World: A Pop-Up Book by Chuck Fischer. Little, Brown is the publisher of that one.

Illustrator Spotlight: Consie Powell

Consie Powell is an illustrator who is participating in the Robert's Snow Auction for the Dana-Farber Cancer Institute. There are hundreds of illustrators participating, so please visit the auction sites to view and bid on the snowflakes! They are all beautiful, and the cause is great. The 2007 online auctions for bidding on these hand-painted snowflakes will take place in three separate auctions, open to everyone, from November 19 to 23, November 26-30, and December 3-7. You can read here for more information.

About Consie Powell:

What would you like to share about your snowflake?

I made my snowflake as a woodcut print, because I’ve illustrated a number of my books with woodcuts, and just love the whole process of cutting, printing and then painting the images. I love how the block feels and looks after it is cut, totally aside from the fact that the print is made from the woodblock. So I wanted to make a snowflake that could have the colored art be the front of the snowflake, and have the carved block be on the back. This way, the owner of the one single print made from the block is also the owner of the block from which the print was made.

How did you get involved in the Robert’s Snow project?

I don’t remember exactly when I stumbled upon Robert’s Snow, but I think it was shortly after the 2005 snowflakes were released onto the internet, but before the auction. I was smitten both by the beautiful snowflakes and by the whole project as a cancer research fundraiser. I thought to myself, “I would love to do a snowflake!” but a little sleuthing informed me that I couldn’t do one that year. But when the call for artists came out this year, I submitted my name and portfolio info, and I was so pleased to be asked to do a snowflake. As wife of a scientist, I understand the great need for funding for research, and because I’ve had friends and relatives who have suffered from cancer, as well as having had a couple of, fortunately, less aggressive kinds of cancer myself, Robert’s Snow is a cause I feel is definitely worth supporting.

What was your inspiration?

I wanted my snowflake to be an outside, wintery scene of some sort. I played around with several ideas, but finally came around to simply showing the loving bond between a girl and her big Newfy dog at a break in sledding time. And because Newfies are wonderful hauling dogs, as well as being fantastic dogs with kids, it seemed natural that my dog needed to have her harness on; after all, one of her favorite things to do would be to pull her favorite young human on that toboggan…

Have you always wanted to be a writer and an illustrator?

I think that drawing and writing has always just been a part of my life, and it’s not so much something I always wanted to do, as just something I did. And do. Kind of can’t not do it.

Who has been your biggest supporter?

It’s always been family, somehow or other. When I was a child, my parents supplied me with materials and always were supportive, without being gushy. Their attitude, all the time I was growing up, was that each of us kids (I’m the third of four) should do whatever it is we wanted to do in our lives, work hard at it, and do it well. Once I was married, my husband has been equally supportive, both from an intellectual standpoint, and from a financial standpoint (during those times as a new freelancer when most everything was not financially very sound, to put it mildly). He is a good editor and critic, has a great eye for composition, and I value his input (even though I do sometimes get irked at what he says… which is usually right…)

Growing up, whose work did you admire most? Was there a particular illustrator or writer that made you say “I want to grow up and do that!”?

I’ve had some favorite writers and illustrators; although I didn’t ever feel that they made me “want to do that”. They just did wonderful work that I loved (and still love). I think Wanda Gag’s Millions of Cats probably had a big influence on me. I loved that book as a small child – the words, the pictures, the repetitive text, and the way it made me question some things (like, where did all the cats go?) Another one of my all-time favorites is Robert McCloskey. I think his books come close to being perfect. I love the freshness of his drawings, the humor and wit of his writing and art, the gentleness towards family and the insights towards nature that all entwine themselves in his books.

Have you always loved animals?

Yep. I come from a long line of critter-loving people that have enjoyed having pets, and that have been open to other interesting critters that might share their lives. My 85 year old mother tells the true tale of an infant possum she kept in a shoebox overnight, who got out, knocked over a bottle of mercurochrome (a brilliant pink kind of disinfectant for cuts, that’s not used anymore, I think…), and left pink footprints all over the house. Her mother didn’t get mad; she just found it funny. My mother and father were the same tolerant way with me when I was growing up. And my daughter grew up with all kinds of various critters around.

Your work is very nature-friendly, what do you hope kids (and adults) will take away from reading your books?

I find the natural world to be a source of great beauty, wonder, and inspiration to me, and I’m constantly learning more about myself and the world by paying close attention to what is out there. Being married to a biologist, I’ve been able to be involved with a variety of research, and to learn an awful lot of science basically by osmosis – just being there and soaking it in. So I hope to be able to communicate some of my own sense of wonder and awe at the natural world through my writing and illustrating. I also feel that we humans have a great responsibility to fit in to the natural world as a part of the whole big complex picture and to acts as stewards, and perhaps through my work I can help others understand this big picture. If a person understands something, then it is easier for that person to love or care about it. And only when a person loves or cares about something will they then be willing to actually take care of it.

What do you love most about being an illustrator?

Hmmm. There are a number of things I love – some more than others, just depending on where I am in a project, and what kind of project it is. Or even when it’s not a project, but is just for me.
I love making something look beautiful – looking at something I find amazing and interesting, and capturing it in two dimensions, and kind of “immortalizing” it. I love playing around with making art – to try new things and push myself outside a comfort zone (though that sometimes feels agonizing at the time… but wonderful later on…). I love taking a story made with words, and going somewhere with it visually, learning new and exciting things about that story along the way; things I had no idea I would learn. I love looking at other people’s illustrations and finding that I love (or really don’t love!) them, and then figuring out why. I love being and illustrator and artist because, simply put, is makes me very happy.

Robert's Snow Day Ten

Wednesday, October 24, 2007:

Tuesday, October 23, 2007

Letters From A Slave Boy

Lyons, Mary E. Letters From A Slave Boy.

Years ago, Mary E. Lyons wrote a fictionalized account of Harriet Jacobs’ life. Now she has returned with a fictionalized account of Joseph Jacobs, Harriet’s son. The books do overlap quite a bit. But it is nice to read the story from a different perspective. This account is also told through letters. Although like I’ve said before, they really read like diary entries since none of them could ever have been mailed. This book tells of his life as a slave, his escape from slavery, his life in Massachusetts and New York, his life as a sailor on a whaling vessel, and his unsuccessful attempts to strike gold both in California and Australia. This book is more fictionalized than the first. We simply don’t know that much about his life--especially his later life. But the story is interesting enough I suppose. It’s full of hardships, and full of adventures.

Robert's Snow Day Nine:

Tuesday, October 23, 2007:
In case this is the first time you’re reading about the Blogging for a Cure effort, the illustrators and snowflakes that participating bloggers are featuring are only the ones that the Dana-Farber Cancer Institute had ready to go when this multi-blog event was organized. Remember that you can see all of the snowflakes at the Robert’s Snow auction site. There are many more beautiful snowflakes by more talented children’s book illustrators.

Monday, October 22, 2007

Recovering From the Readathon

On Saturday, October 20th, I participated in Dewey's 24 Hour Read-a-thon. (There were nineteen challenge-related posts!) But I wanted to take a few minutes and summarize my experience. I was awake for nineteen and a half hours, about fourteen or fifteen hours were spent reading books or reviewing books. (The challenge began, for me, at 8 AM Central.) Another hour was spent doing mini-challenges and such. I ended up falling asleep around 2:30 in the morning. (About two or three hours past my normal bedtime.) I woke up around 6:30 and stayed awake reading, blogging, commenting, etc. until the 8 o'clock finish. I didn't go back to bed. This is the shocking part for me. I didn't necessarily feel tired or droopy or disjointed or whatever. That came much, much later. As I spent my afternoon hours on the computer I realized how lonely I suddenly felt. Saturday was about the community. There was always something going on. There were new posts popping up all over the place. And it felt exciting to be a part of something this big, this exciting. But Sunday, it seems I was all by my lonesome. I did end up napping from 6PM to 8PM--waking up in time for Desperate Housewives surprisingly enough. But I didn't really begin to feel exhausted until this morning. I realized waking up at 9:30 that I could stay in bed for a really, really long time. I suppose I'll be trying to catch up on those missing hours for a few days at least.

What did I love about the Readathon? Well, I loved the community aspects of it. The hourly posts updates, the mini-challenges, the cheerleaders and fellow readers being supportive enough to leave comments on posts, and, of course, the reading. I read eight books for the challenge, and reviewed nine. (The ninth being the book I had finished the night before.) Many of these books were ones I'd rate as 'great' or 'outstanding.' The Talented Clementine by Sara Pennypacker was so hilarious, so perfect. An Unlikely Friendship by Ann Rinaldi, I loved how Rinaldi was able to tell the stories of two completely different women so believably. You felt for each heroine in many ways. And her style, beautiful. A Crooked Kind of Perfect by Linda Urban is such a great book. She makes being eleven sound like the best thing ever. It's just so fun, so joyful, so funny. Almost Forever by Maria Testa, for such a small book this one packs a lot of powerful emotions. It is just really incredible how she does this. Really, I enjoyed all of the books I was able to read for this challenge.

But my favorite part of the Read-a-thon? Writing letters to Lisa Wheeler and Natasha Wing. I heard back from them on Sunday! I love hearing back from an author!!!

So thank you, Dewey, for a wonderful day!

Letters From A Slave Girl

Lyons, Mary E. Letters from A Slave Girl: The Story of Harriet Jacobs.

Mary E. Lyons creates a fictionalized series of letters--consider them diary entries if you will--to tell the story of Harriet Jacobs to young readers in her novel Letters From A Slave Girl. When the reader first meets Harriet she is a young girl, a slave. But at the beginning her life isn’t all bad. But with the death of her mistress, Harriet is given to a new master. Her new master, Mr. Norcom, is not a good man. He’s “after” Harriet. Trying to escape her master’s sexual advances is not easy. And it becomes even more difficult when his wife starts to blame her for her husband’s behavior. But Harriet finds comfort--but not love--in the arms of another white man. Samuel. She and Samuel have two children: Joseph and Louisa. Of course he never claims his children. He never admits that they are his offspring. But Samuel does offer some hope to Harriet. At the very least, Mr. Norcom has stopped making advances towards her. But what he has in mind for Harriet and her children is not pleasant. He may give up on the idea of having Harriet in his bed, but he’ll never let her out that easy. Sent to the country plantation, she’s told that her children will work in the fields. I’m not sure if Harriet would be allowed to work in the house (as a cook, maid, seamstress) or if she would be in the fields as well. Regardless, Harriet has had about enough of being a slave. One thing is on her mind now: how to escape. It won’t be easy. But she’s determined. But escape means having to tell her young children goodbye...possibly forever. Can Harriet go through with her decision to run?

Robert's Snow Day Eight

Reminder that in this below schedule, the illustrator’s name links to his/her website, but click on the blog to be taken to that blogger’s snowflake/illustrator feature:

Sunday, October 21, 2007

Keep the Nominations Coming...

Welcome to the 2007 Cybils, the only literary awards by bloggers. We're seeking nominations from book lovers in eight genres:

Fantasy/Science Fiction
Fiction Picture Books
Graphic Novels
Middle Grade Fiction
Non-Fiction: Middle Grade and Young Adult
Non-Fiction Picture Books
Young Adult Fiction

Want to nominate your favorite books of the year? They must've been published in 2007:

  • Only one book per category;
  • Click on a category and read the description;
  • Click on "comments" and type in the author and title;
  • Make sure your book isn't already listed, please.

Nominations close Nov. 21, so take your time and come back often.Thanks for joining us!

So far, I've only nominated one book--in the category of science fiction/fantasy. The others, well, I'm waiting. Waiting for inspiration maybe. Waiting to see which of my favorites *needs* a special little nudge from me to make it onto the list. Waiting in general. For example, I have a few books that I want to read in the Middle/YA nonfiction group before I nominate a book. I would hate to nominate one, and then be blown away by the "wow-ness" of a book the next week. Which means I need to start prioritizing my reading, doesn't it?

And how do I begin to choose a favorite picture book? Really? There are SO SO SO SO many great ones out there. I think it's really awful that no one has nominated My Cat Copies Me by Yood D. Kwan. That book is so great. And Dadblamed Union Army Cow by Susan Fletcher is one-of-a-kind. After all, how many historical fiction picture books are there out there depicting this true heroic cow that earned a medal and everything during the war? Doesn't that deserve some recognition? And Jazz Baby. I love Jazz Baby. It is so perfectly perfect as far as having text that sings. (That one is by Lisa Wheeler.) And Natasha Wing's Go To Bed Monster. My three-year-old self is SO head over heels in love with that book. So how am I supposed to choose???

And middle grade fiction? Well, I've read so much...loved so much. Luckily, most of my favorites have already been mentioned. (I'm so happy Miss Spitfire is on the list. And Crooked Kind of Perfect. And Elijah of Buxton. And so many others.) I'll have to go through my piles and see what looks promising and give it a read. This needs to be a top priority!

Nonfiction picture books...well...I already have one or two I'm considering...but again I need to go through my piles and see what else I need to read. I think there are some great ones out there. I just need to revisit and pick my favorite.

Poetry--well, most of the poetry books I've looked at are already nominated. But I'll see what I can do. I'd love to pick something if I can :)

Young Adult. I need to look through what I've read and make lists. I'm sure I can think of something to add here. :)

Robert's Snow Week Two

Here's the schedule for Week 2, which starts Monday. Because the posts aren't up yet as I write this, I'm linking to the participating blogs, instead of to the individual posts. You can find links to the posts themselves, and any last-minute updates, each morning at 7-Imp. Jules and Eisha have also set up a special page at 7-Imp containing a comprehensive list of links to the profiles posted so far. Also not to be missed is Kris Bordessa's post summarizing snowflake-related contests to date over at Paradise Found.

Monday, October 22

Tuesday, October 23

Wednesday, October 24

Thursday, October 25

Friday, October 26

Saturday, October 27

Sunday, October 28

Please take time out to visit all of these blogs, and read about these fabulous illustrators. And, if you're so inclined, think about bidding for a snowflake in the Robert's Snow auction. Each snowflake makes a unique gift (for yourself or for someone else), and supports an important cause.

Robert's Snow Day Seven

In this below schedule, the illustrator’s name links to his/her website, but click on the blog to be taken to that blogger’s snowflake/illustrator feature:

* Matthew Cordell, featured by “LindaBudz” at Just Like the Nut

* Maxwell Eaton III, featured by Darla at Books and Other Thoughts

* Roz Fulcher, featured by Sheri Goad at Goading the Pen

* Susie Jin, featured by Stephanie Ruble at sruble’s world

* Susan Mitchell, featured by “MsMac” at Check It Out

The Challenge Was Yesterday (Renamed Post)

The 24 Hour Read-a-thon Challenge has begun. It started at 8AM Central for those keeping track. I have only been up a few minutes. So I haven't done much yet. And I'm about to head off for breakfast. Will be back in a bit to really begin.

My first review of the day is Into the Woods. I completed this one yesterday. But the time spent blogging should count towards something in this challenge since our time can be split between the two activities. Let's say this one took me about fifteen minutes to review.

My second review of the day is The Talented Clementine. I finished this one in about forty minutes--maybe a few minutes more or less. I wasn't keeping exact track of time. But definitely less than an hour!

Here is my review of An Unlikely Friendship. It took me a little over two hours to read, and probably add on an additional fifteen or twenty to review. The page count is 241.

My review of The Sweet, Terrible, Glorious Year I Truly, Completely Lost It. I read this one is a couple of hours. Maybe closer to two and a half. Anyway, it's done. It is around 295 pages.

Here is my review of Almost Forever by Maria Testa. It was about 70 pages long. It took me about twenty minutes to read and ten minutes to review.

Here is my review of Quicker Than The Eye by Ray Bradbury. I read this one over several days. But I did cover about half of this book today in bursts. It's 261 total. But probably only 100 or 120 were read today...if anyone is keeping score. I probably spent an hour or maybe an hour and a half--off and on--on this one. And it took about twenty or thirty minutes to review.

I have reviewed Secret Club by Chrissie Perry and Angels of a Lower Flight by Susie Scott Krabacher. The second was about 322 pages in length. I had read about 100 or 120 pages before today. The Secret Club book was about 92 pages. The time spent reading Secret Club, about fifteen or twenty minutes. I don't know on the other book, since I read a chapter here and there throughout the day.

I have read but not reviewed A Crooked Kind of Perfect by Linda Urban. It is 211 pages. And took I guess about an hour give or take five minutes.

As far as total time spent. I figure I was awake about 20 hours of the 24. With the last hour being after a good four or five hour sleep. Of those 'awake' hours. I probably read/blogged/participated about sixteen.