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This blog is about teaching, my life’s work; literature, especially that created for children; history, especially as it is taught to and learned by children; Africa, especially Sierra Leone where I was a Peace Corps Volunteer; and other sundry topics as they come to my attention.
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1. Learning About Africa: Ishmael Beal Tells it True “Still, the ways in which Africans are portrayed as less human have not lost the power to shock. “

Ishmael Beah, in “The West ignores the stories of Africans in the middle of the Ebola outbreak” writes bluntly about much I’ve been thinking, but afraid to say.  He begins:

It wasn’t surprising that Western journalists would react with doom-and-gloom when the Ebola outbreak began in West Africa. Or that the crisis would not be treated as a problem confronting all humanity — a force majeure — but as one of “those diseases” that afflict “those people” over there in Africa. Most Western media immediately fell into fear-mongering. Rarely did they tell the stories of Africans who survived Ebola, or meaningfully explore what it means to see your child or parent or other family member or friend be stricken with the disease. Where are the stories of the wrenching decisions of families forced to abandon loved ones or the bravery required to simply live as a human in conditions where everyone walks on the edge of suspicion?

And then he writes some hard truths.

Given our interconnected world, it’s no longer possible to excuse such treatment as a lack of access to the facts. So what is the explanation? To borrow the words of Ni­ger­ian novelist Chinua Achebe, “Quite simply it is the desire — one might indeed say the need — in Western psychology to set Africa up as a foil to Europe, as a place of negations at once remote and vaguely familiar, in comparison with which Europe’s own state of spiritual grace will be manifest.”

This thinking is so deeply entrenched in the minds of people in the West that it has become a reflex. Still, the ways in which Africans are portrayed as less human have not lost the power to shock. [b0ld is mine] Each new crisis, it seems, offers a platform for some to exercise their prejudices.

And

The hysteria is also fueling racism beyond the continent. In Germany, an African woman who recently traveled to Kenya — far from the affected countries — fell ill with a stomach virus at work; the entire building was locked down. In Brussels, an African man had a simple nosebleed at a shopping mall, and the store where it happened was sterilized. In Seoul, a bar put up a sign saying, “We apologize but due to the Ebola Virus we are not accepting Africans at the moment.” Here in the United States, each time I have been to a doctor’s office since the outbreak, I have noticed an anxious look on the faces of the assistants that dissipates only when I say that I haven’t been to my country recently.

And

For Western media, this is just another one of those stories about the “killer virus” and the “poor Africans” who must once again be saved and spoken for by Westerners. And, always, there is the most important question: Will the virus come to the United States or Europe?

And concludes:

If you are reading this and believe you do not think about us the ways I have described, ask yourself the following questions: When was the last time you saw, and took the time to read, a positive front-page article about an African country? Have you ever met someone from Africa and decided to tell her what you know about her country and her continent, even if you have never been there? Have you ever noticed yourself speaking slowly and using exaggerated gestures while talking to someone from Africa, assuming that he doesn’t understand English well?

 


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2. Some of My Right Words Celebrating Bryan and Sweet’s The Right Word

This is so cool. Thank you, Erdmans!

tumblr_nbsx6vyv7K1soarwno1_500

We thought we should mix Monica Edinger‘s great quote with an image

proving her point that:

“All in all, The Right Word is a

spectacular

brilliant

marvelous

superb

magnificent

dazzling

work of art.”

(Thanks for the love, Monica!)


1 Comments on Some of My Right Words Celebrating Bryan and Sweet’s The Right Word, last added: 9/18/2014
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3. Thoughts on Newbery: Flaws, Fatal or Not?

Heavy Medal has started up again and some fascinating conversations are well underway.  One aspect of the conversation that has struck me is the idea of flawness (my made-up word). That is, are all books perfect? And if not, how do we grapple with perceived flaws? Can we reach consensus on the degree of their significance?

This came to mind when in her Heavy Medal post on Deborah Wiles’ Revolution, Nina noted that “There is a fatal flaw that I find in REVOLUTION, and that is that Raymond is not as fully realized a character as Sunny, not by a very long shot.” She goes on to thoughtfully articulate why she thinks this and others of us have been discussing this concern in the comments. Now I adore Revolution (you can read my review here) , but had noticed that Wiles has been able to write Sunny through her own personal experience while she couldn’t with Raymond resulting in a more cautious presentation. If I were on the Newbery committee this is something I’d want to explore long and hard. I’d pester a huge range of people, those with different racial and regional backgrounds and historical experiences, to read the book and tell me what they think. I’d have to stand back from my first love of the book to honestly attempt to figure out if this is a flaw and if it isn’t, why not. And if it is, is it fatal? How would I argue that it was or was not when in my deliberations with the Committee?

Then there is Jonathan’s post on A Snicket of Magic which has generated a fabulous conversation about vernacular, about so-called folky literature. By attempting to categorize a collection of titles as being this, Jonathan provoked a wonderful series of comments. For some, I know, a certain sort of voice and heroine are tough going. So when you are on the committee, how do you keep a personal distaste from turning into a fatal flaw?

Thinking about this fatal flaw business made me go to my goodreads Newbery list and add a few more personal favorites, some of which also have flaws…er…blemishes…er..imperfections… (Roget, I need you!)… I’m wondering about. As a result, I’ve now got ten books there, three more than I’d be able to nominate if I were on the committee.  I’ve added Kwame Alexander’s The Crossover as I thought it fabulous –except for the ending.  And I’ve added Cece Bell’s El Deafo even though I have no clue how to make a case for it as it is a graphic novel.  Similarly I’ve added Patricia Hruby Powell’s picture biography, Josephine, although I haven’t figured out how interlaced the text is with the art.  This review of Dana Alison Levy’s The Misadventures of the Family Fletcher got me to add it on as well as I’d love it and just needed Rachel’s push to get me to acknowledge that it belonged on my long list. Does it have a fatal flaw? Not so noticeably that I can figure out.  Finally, I added Jack Gantos’ series finale, The Key That Swallowed Joey Pigza. While I don’t think it is flawed, I’m sure there will be some absolutely horrified by Joey’s circumstances as they were with the previous books.

Fatal. Flaws. Fascinating.

 


7 Comments on Thoughts on Newbery: Flaws, Fatal or Not?, last added: 9/16/2014
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4. Books for Incarcerated Teens

Many years ago I first heard Walter Dean Myers speak of his involvement with incarcerated teens. Later, when I found myself with an abundance of YA ARCs, I was pleased to hear that they were much needed for incarcerated teens and looked for a way to get them to them. After some struggles figuring this out (living in NYC I’m carless so getting lots of books places isn’t so easy) I discovered that Karlan Sick, who lives around the corner from me, is now chair of the board for Literacy for Incarcerated Teens. Karlan told me to bring the books to her and she’d get them to the teens.  And so for the last few years, I periodically load up my shopping cart with finished galleys and take them to her building.  For a time I was told they could only take galleys and paperbacks, but more recently I’ve been able to donate hardcovers as well.  It is fabulous program that I associate with Walter as he was so passionate about incarcerated teens and so I was delighted to see the SLJ feature, “Literacy for Incarcerated Teens” and urge you to read it to learn more about this wonderful program.


3 Comments on Books for Incarcerated Teens, last added: 9/10/2014
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5. Jen Bryant and Melissa Sweet’s The Right Word: Roget and His Thesaurus

I love words and I love art that plays with words. ABC books, abecedarian novels, lipograms, everything and anything that plays with the art of words is art right up my alley. And so having adored Jen Bryant and Melissa Sweet’s glorious Caldecott Honor A River of Words, I was agog with anticipation waiting for their latest, The Right Word: Roget and His Thesaurus.  And now that I’ve seen it, let me tell you — it was worth the wait.  Bryant again captures the essence of a complicated individual in spare and beautifully crafted text. Having now written a book about a real person myself, I’m all the more in awe of anyone who takes on a full biography for children, managing to economically pull out just what is needed about that person’s life for young readers to best appreciate his accomplishments. Roget was clearly one brilliant man who loved all sorts of things, words among them. Bryan elegantly communicates Roget’s lifelong passion for word lists as well as much more. She communicates beautifully just why such lists are so worthwhile by having Roget answer his mother’s questions with a single word and then mull over what better ones there might be. She suggests the darker parts of his life, but mostly she communicates a person who was a passionate learner, passionate creator of word lists, and someone who figured out how to put those passions together to create a unique and wonderful book, the thesaurus.

Words, words, letters and numbers and then more words float through this book. In the text, through the perfect design and, most wonderfully, through Melissa Sweet’s art. These marks of language are everywhere in this book, those of Roget’s lists dance across one page, march down another, and flit throughout in magical ways.  On every page, Sweet’s assemblages of paintings and collage are an exuberant delight; the realistic paintings celebrating different parts of Roget’s life are often layered one above another; here’s one with an elegant file folder border; there’s another with paper scraps of lists peeking out behind it. On every page words drift through, around and in the paintings via speech bubbles, book covers, cards, signs, maps, labels, diagrams, and more. Color and texture are used to brilliant effect, at times repeating within and without an illustration. Most of all it is Sweet’s playful use of language through her lovely realistic watercolors of Roget and his experiences, her glorious assemblages of meaning, that bring Bryan’s words, Roget’s life, and this book to an ethereal place of pleasure.

All in all, The Right Word is a

spectacular

brilliant

marvelous

superb

magnificent

dazzling

work of art.

 

 

 

 

 


1 Comments on Jen Bryant and Melissa Sweet’s The Right Word: Roget and His Thesaurus, last added: 9/7/2014
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6. In the Classroom: No Homework No Scieszka?

On the first day of school, my son and I made a deal. In three days, one of his favorite authors — Jon Scieszka, editor of the “Guys Read” short story collections — was coming to Nashville for a reading and signing downtown. If my son showed me that he could keep track of his early school assignments and bring home everything he needed for each of those first few nights of homework, he could go.

From Mary Laura Philpott’s Homework and Consequences.

I’m sorry, but as a teacher this is NOT a consequence I’d recommend for missed homework.  Makes me sick to my stomach that this poor kid — spoiler — didn’t get to see his favorite author.

 


4 Comments on In the Classroom: No Homework No Scieszka?, last added: 9/3/2014
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7. In the Classroom: No Homework No Scieszka?

On the first day of school, my son and I made a deal. In three days, one of his favorite authors — Jon Scieszka, editor of the “Guys Read” short story collections — was coming to Nashville for a reading and signing downtown. If my son showed me that he could keep track of his early school assignments and bring home everything he needed for each of those first few nights of homework, he could go.

From Mary Laura Philpott’s Homework and Consequences.

I’m sorry, but as a teacher this is NOT a consequence I’d recommend for missed homework.  Makes me sick to my stomach that this poor kid — spoiler — didn’t get to see his favorite author.

 


0 Comments on In the Classroom: No Homework No Scieszka? as of 9/4/2014 2:24:00 AM
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8. In the Classroom: Thoughts on Ice (Buckets)

I have been very appreciative of the occasional attention given to introversion in the classroom for students and teachers of late. It helps me to clarify what I know already — I’m very introverted. I need quiet, recovery time, and all those other things that are so often typical of introversion. And as I consider how I can be a good teacher given this and how I can also support my students, introverted or not, I have been considering something else. This is the pleasure so many get when a teacher performs. Those that happily dance on the stage during an assembly, who willingly wear a costume all day for a cause, who speak publicly with such verve, who do the Ice Bucket challenge and other things of that sort. So often I see a video of such a teacher along with comment after comment about what an amazing teacher he or she is and I think, “There is just no way I can do this.” The very idea gets me all scrunched up.

It isn’t that I’m uncomfortable with all forms of public presentations. I enjoy enormously writing about what happens in my classroom, about curriculum, about my thinking about teaching and learning. I enjoy public speaking about teaching and learning or Lewis Carroll or Sierra Leone or Africa is My Home or something else. What I don’t like at all, what makes me horribly uncomfortable, is having it be all about ME. That the looking is at ME and not about my work or something else. And I wonder — what is this? Is it introversion or something else? Social anxiety? (While I am very lively in social gatherings with people I know, I’m extremely shy in those where I don’t know anyone.) Comfortable as I am knowing this about myself,  I still feel horribly guilty when saying no to a request to do one of these public acts. I feel that I must appear really selfish for being so unwilling. Or that I’ve disappointed my students who watch other teachers happily dance and be silly.

So this isn’t about throwing ice on these sorts of public activities. Bravo to those who can do them. But what about those of us who appear perfectly able to do them and say no for the reasons that are not necessarily visible?  Teachers and students alike. How do those of us who have this aspect to our personalities navigate a world that so adores Ice Bucket challenges and similar sorts of things?


7 Comments on In the Classroom: Thoughts on Ice (Buckets), last added: 9/2/2014
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9. In the Classroom: Thoughts on Ice (Buckets)

I have been very appreciative of the occasional attention given to introversion in the classroom for students and teachers of late. It helps me to clarify what I know already — I’m very introverted. I need quiet, recovery time, and all those other things that are so often typical of introversion. And as I consider how I can be a good teacher given this and how I can also support my students, introverted or not, I have been considering something else. This is the pleasure so many get when a teacher performs. Those that happily dance on the stage during an assembly, who willingly wear a costume all day for a cause, who do the Ice Bucket challenge and other things of that sort. So often I see a video of such a teacher along with comment after comment about what an amazing teacher he or she is and I think, “There is just no way I can do this.” The very idea gets me all scrunched up.

It isn’t that I’m uncomfortable with all forms of public presentations. I enjoy public speaking about teaching and learning or Lewis Carroll or Alice or Sierra Leone or Africa is My Home or something else. What I don’t like at all, what makes me terribly uncomfortable, is having it focused on me. That the looking is at me and not about my work or something else. And I wonder — what is this? Is it introversion or something else? Social anxiety? (While I am very lively in social gatherings with people I know, I’m extremely shy in those where I don’t know anyone.) Comfortable as I am knowing this about myself,  I still feel horribly guilty when saying no to a request to do one of these public acts. I feel that I must appear really selfish for being so unwilling. Or that I’ve disappointed my students who watch other teachers happily dance and be silly.

So this isn’t about throwing ice on these sorts of public activities. Bravo to those who can do them. But what about those of us who appear perfectly able to do them and say no for the reasons that are not necessarily visible?  Teachers and students alike. How do those of us who have this aspect to our personalities navigate a world that so adores Ice Bucket challenges and similar sorts of things?


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10. Toon Graphics for Middle Grade Readers

I was really excited to learn of Toon Books‘ new offerings for middle grade readers, Toon Graphics and then to meet recently with founder, Françoise Mouly. Her enthusiasm for the power of comics for school-aged readers is contagious. What I have always liked about Toon Books is their distinctively European sensibility, understandable as there is a proud and venerable comic tradition on that continent. This same feeling comes through in the first offerings of their middle grade imprint:

To learn more about Toon Graphics and how school kids are responding to the offerings go read the New York Times profile, “Comic Books Even Teachers Can Love” (and just ignore that headline and the old-fashioned notion that we teachers think comics and graphic novels are very bad things).


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11. Toon Graphics for Middle Grade Readers

I was really excited to learn of Toon Books‘ new offerings for middle grade readers, Toon Graphics and then to meet recently with founder, Françoise Mouly. Her enthusiasm for the power of comics for school-aged readers is contagious. What I have always liked about Toon Books is their distinctively European sensibility, understandable as there is a proud and venerable comic tradition on that continent. This same feeling comes through in the first offerings of their middle grade imprint:

To learn more about Toon Graphics and how school kids are responding to the offerings go read the New York Times profile, “Comic Books Even Teachers Can Love” (and just ignore that headline and the old-fashioned notion that we teachers think comics and graphic novels are very bad things).


0 Comments on Toon Graphics for Middle Grade Readers as of 9/4/2014 2:24:00 AM
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12. Christopher Paul Curtis’s The Madman of Piney Woods

I was on the 2008 Newbery Committee that honored Christopher Paul Curtis’s Elijah of Buxton so I was both eager and nervous to read its companion, The Madman of Piney Woods.  Eager because I so admired the first book, and nervous because you just never know.  Happily, I was delighted with the book and those at the Horn Book  Magazine where I reviewed it agreed with me, starring it. I concluded my review (which you can read here) thus: “Woven throughout this profoundly moving yet also at times very funny novel are themes of family, friendship, community, compassion, and, fittingly, the power of words.”

 


3 Comments on Christopher Paul Curtis’s The Madman of Piney Woods, last added: 8/29/2014
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13. Christopher Paul Curtis’s The Madman of Piney Woods

I was on the 2008 Newbery Committee that honored Christopher Paul Curtis’s Elijah of Buxton so I was both eager and nervous to read its companion, The Madman of Piney Woods.  Eager because I so admired the first book, and nervous because you just never know. Happily, I was delighted with the book and those at the Horn Book  Magazine where I reviewed it agreed with me, starring it. I concluded my review (which you can read here) thus: “Woven throughout this profoundly moving yet also at times very funny novel are themes of family, friendship, community, compassion, and, fittingly, the power of words.”

 


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14. Disney’s Aladdin on Stage and Screen

While Disney is not my preferred choice for a Broadway show,  the enthusiastic New York Times review and what I saw on the Tonys, peaked my interest in seeing  the Broadway production of Aladdin, the Musical. And so yesterday, as a reward for completing a big writing project before school starts, I  went to see it and was not disappointed; it was loads of fun.  And now rereading the Times review, I’m not surprised to see that the director was also responsible for The Book of Mormon musical. Both have an old-fashioned feel and are loving appreciations of the musical theater genre with production numbers that are reminders of old favorites, while being entertaining all by themselves.

And then there is James Monroe Iglehart who rightly won a Tony for his terrific performance as Genie. At first his performance reminded me somewhat painfully of Robin William’s creation of the character in the movie, but eventually Inglehart’s terrific singing and dancing made the role all his own.  To honor both men here are their performances of the showstopper, “Friend Like Me” and then one more recent video of Inglehart  and the Broadway cast leading a tribute to Williams.


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15. Disney’s Aladdin on Stage and Screen

While Disney is not my preferred choice for a Broadway show,  the enthusiastic New York Times review and what I saw on the Tonys, peaked my interest in seeing  the Broadway production of Aladdin, the Musical. And so yesterday, as a reward for completing a big writing project before school starts, I  went to see it and was not disappointed; it was loads of fun.  And now rereading the Times review, I’m not surprised to see that the director was also responsible for The Book of Mormon musical. Both have an old-fashioned feel and are loving appreciations of the musical theater genre with production numbers that are reminders of old favorites, while being entertaining all by themselves.

And then there is James Monroe Iglehart who rightly won a Tony for his terrific performance as Genie. At first his performance reminded me somewhat painfully of Robin William’s creation of the character in the movie, but eventually Inglehart’s terrific singing and dancing made the role all his own.  To honor both men here are their performances of the showstopper, “Friend Like Me” and then one more recent video of Inglehart  and the Broadway cast leading a tribute to Williams.


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16. Barry Jonsberg’s The Categorical Universe of Candice Phee

Barry Jonsberg’s The Categorical Universe of Candice Pheean Australian import, is one fabulous book.  I’d had the ARC for quite a while, but it took Betsy Bird’s rave review to finally get me to read it and I’m so glad I did. Twelve-year-old Candice is one of those delightful singular narrators — she is definitely different, but not in a way that can be nicely and conveniently categorized.  Classmates term her SN for special needs, but there is no sense that she is being provided any special support at all. She tells her story clearly, without discomfort, with thought, and with delightful humor. Her family is struggling emotionally for many good reasons, but Candice is keeping going even as her parents are barely able to do so. Candice knows herself, she knows she is different, and is completely comfortable with that. Occasionally there is a tinge of Pollyanna in her, say when she is paired for a school project with the classmate who seems to hate her most. Candice both knows Jen detests her and thinks that they will be great friends because of the project. Does the latter prevail? Sort of and sort of not. Read the book to see.

Jonsberg’s writing is a dream. He has structured the book as a school assignment Candice is given — to write an abecedarian  autobiography — one paragraph for each letter. Our girl takes it and runs with it, letting us know at the beginning that she is tossing the one paragraph rule, giving each letter a full chapter instead.  She loves the dictionary and Dickens and it shows. Hers (or rather Jonsberg’s) ability to write a scene is just delightful. I dare you not to be moved by those with her parents. Or intrigued by those with Douglas Benson from Another Dimension. Then there are those passages where Candice ruminates, say about trying to get her fish to become an atheist. Or about the death of her baby sister. Or about her Rich Uncle Brian. I’m a teacher so I have to say I adored Candice’s, Miss Bamford.  She just appreciates Candice and I appreciate her, pirate attire and all. (Read the book to see what that is all about.)

So go find and read this book — it is terrific.

Coda: The SLJ reviewer wrote,  “This is a strong readalike for Counting by 7s (Dial, 2013) and Out of My Mind(S. & S., 2010.”  I have to say this makes me very uncomfortable as it suggests there is a category of books of different, so identified because of unusual personality or severe physical differences. The girls in each of these books are each such distinctive individuals, their situations are not the same, and the writing is not the same.  The idea that young readers would read all three for the same reason disturbs me — it suggests they are looking for books about kids who are not them, who are fascinated by their differences. Sure they will admire these three girls, but why throw them together this way?

 


4 Comments on Barry Jonsberg’s The Categorical Universe of Candice Phee, last added: 8/27/2014
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17. Barry Jonsberg’s The Categorical Universe of Candice Phee

Barry Jonsberg’s The Categorical Universe of Candice Pheean Australian import, is one fabulous book.  I’d had the ARC for quite a while, but it took Betsy Bird’s rave review to finally get me to read it and I’m so glad I did. Twelve-year-old Candice is one of those delightful singular narrators — she is definitely different, but not in a way that can be nicely and conveniently categorized.  Classmates term her SN for special needs, but there is no sense that she is being provided any special support at all. She tells her story clearly, without discomfort, with thought, and with delightful humor. Her family is struggling emotionally for many good reasons, but Candice is keeping going even as her parents are barely able to do so. Candice knows herself, she knows she is different, and is completely comfortable with that. Occasionally there is a tinge of Pollyanna in her, say when she is paired for a school project with the classmate who seems to hate her most. Candice both knows Jen detests her and thinks that they will be great friends because of the project. Does the latter prevail? Sort of and sort of not. Read the book to see.

Jonsberg’s writing is a dream. He has structured the book as a school assignment Candice is given — to write an abecedarian  autobiography — one paragraph for each letter. Our girl takes it and runs with it, letting us know at the beginning that she is tossing the one paragraph rule, giving each letter a full chapter instead.  She loves the dictionary and Dickens and it shows. Hers (or rather Jonsberg’s) ability to write a scene is just delightful. I dare you not to be moved by those with her parents. Or intrigued by those with Douglas Benson from Another Dimension. Then there are those passages where Candice ruminates, say about trying to get her fish to become an atheist. Or about the death of her baby sister. Or about her Rich Uncle Brian. I’m a teacher so I have to say I adored Candice’s, Miss Bamford.  She just appreciates Candice and I appreciate her, pirate attire and all. (Read the book to see what that is all about.)

So go find and read this book — it is terrific.

Coda: The SLJ reviewer wrote,  “This is a strong readalike for Counting by 7s (Dial, 2013) and Out of My Mind(S. & S., 2010.”  I have to say this makes me very uncomfortable as it suggests there is a category of books of different, so identified because of unusual personality or severe physical differences. The girls in each of these books are each such distinctive individuals, their situations are not the same, and the writing is not the same.  The idea that young readers would read all three for the same reason disturbs me — it suggests they are looking for books about kids who are not them, who are fascinated by their differences. Sure they will admire these three girls, but why throw them together this way?

 


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18. Learning About Africa: Coping with Ebola in Kenema

JP-WORKERS-2-articleLarge

 

While Ebola seems to be off the  New York Times front page, the articles are still there.  “If They Survive in the Ebola Ward, They Work On” features some heroic people in and around Kenema, an area I knew when I lived in Sierra Leone. (For a different sort of context, this is center Mende country where the Amistad captives of Africa is My Home were from.)


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19. Coming Soon: Katherine Coville’s The Cottage in the Woods

I love fairy tale reworkings. At the same time their popularity of late has resulted in a lot of mediocre ones and so when I come across one I’m both excited and wary. Is it going to be a goofy-movie-Shrek-imitating-like thing or more in the vein of Michael Buckley’s Fairy Tale DetectivesChristopher Healy’s Hero’s Guides, or Adam Gidwitz’s Grimm series?  And if YA dark is it going to be lame bodice-ripper or something with heft, like Tom McNeal’s Far Far Away? And so seeing a  description of Katherine Coville’s debut novel The Cottage in the Woods on Edelweiss,  I requested it on a whim and began reading it with very low expectations.  And so what a lovely surprise when it turned out to be completely engrossing, a book I read steadily until I was done. In other words, reader, I liked it very much.

The story is a unique melding of a Regency Romance/Victorian Gothic set within a fairy tale world. Our heroine and narrator is Ursula Brown, a very proper young bear who has come to the Cottage in the Woods, the wealthy Vaughn family’s estate near Bremen Town, as their young boy’s governess. The three Vaughn bears live an elegant and refined life and Ursula slips into it without much difficulty, tolerating Mr. Vaughn’s stern admonitions, appreciating Mrs. Vaughn’s kind gestures, and falling very much in love with her sweet young charge, Teddy.  But life in the area is not easy. The Enchanted — those animals who talk, dress, and act as humans do — are struggling with envy, prejudice, racial hostility, and out-and-out vigilantism from some of their human neighbors.

The publisher indicates that this is a reworking of “Goldilocks and the Three Bears.” It is indeed, but I don’t wish to give away just how. I will say that I found it an enormously clever rethinking of that particular story, very much in keeping with the literary tradition Coville is working in, that of the Victorian novel.  I’ve been reading and listening to a lot of them these days and so I was very impressed with how well Coville used those tropes in her story. Ursula is very introspective, the various Enchanteds in her world are as proper and polite as anyone in an Austen, Bronte, Eliot, or Trollope novel. There is plenty of drama here, but not the swashbuckling sort of some of the other fairy tale workings. And while somber on occasion it isn’t as dark as some of the YA ones around.

There are so many clever fairy tale/nursery rhyme touches that also allude to the Victorian novel tradtion. For instance, Teddy’s nurse is an illiterate tippling badger who is quite jealous of our heroine and an amusing contrast to the cozy cute ones of Potter and others. Best of all is the Goldilock’s plot thread — it is a brilliant rethinking of the story within a classic Victorian Gothic setting.  And I love the representation of the doctor who comes to examine her at one point with his Freud-like Viennese accent.

So keep an eye out for this one. I can’t wait to see what others make of it.


2 Comments on Coming Soon: Katherine Coville’s The Cottage in the Woods, last added: 8/18/2014
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20. BBC Television Series of Susanna Clarke’s Jonathan Strange & Mr Norrell

I was a huge fan of Susanna Clarke’s Jonathan Strange & Mr. Norell and have been keeping an eye out on the progress of the forthcoming BBC seven-episode series.  I found this article about the filming with some images, one of which is below. There’s also  a facebook page featuring more images and stuff from the series filming.  Evidently the filming is done and they are into post-production.

Bertie Carvel plays Jonathan Strange and Eddie Marsan plays Mr. Norrell.

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21. Jennifer L. Holm’s The Fourteenth Goldfish

Who doesn’t enjoy a well-drawn curmudgeon? Children’s books are rife with them. From dour Eeyore moping about the Hundred Acre Wood to the irritable Mary Poppins, they come in all shapes and species. Proudly singular, such cantankerous characters are invariably exasperating, endearing and entertaining all at the same time. And now along comes Jennifer L. Holm with a doozy. Best known for her works of historical fiction, three of which have won Newbery Honors (“Our Only May Amelia,” “Penny From Heaven,” “Turtle in Paradise”), and the graphic novel series “Babymouse,” Holm uses a surprising twist to bring us a particularly memorable grouch in her latest, “The Fourteenth Goldfish.”

That’s the beginning of my very enthusiastic review of The Fourteenth Goldfish in this weekend’s New York Times Book Review.  Read the rest of it here.


1 Comments on Jennifer L. Holm’s The Fourteenth Goldfish, last added: 8/23/2014
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22. Learning About Africa: Coping with Ebola in Kenema

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While Ebola seems to be off the  New York Times front page, the articles are still there.  “If They Survive in the Ebola Ward, They Work On” features some heroic people in and around Kenema, an area I knew when I lived in Sierra Leone. (For a different sort of context, this is center Mende country where the Amistad captives of Africa is My Home were from.)


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23. Jennifer L. Holm’s The Fourteenth Goldfish

Who doesn’t enjoy a well-drawn curmudgeon? Children’s books are rife with them. From dour Eeyore moping about the Hundred Acre Wood to the irritable Mary Poppins, they come in all shapes and species. Proudly singular, such cantankerous characters are invariably exasperating, endearing and entertaining all at the same time. And now along comes Jennifer L. Holm with a doozy. Best known for her works of historical fiction, three of which have won Newbery Honors (“Our Only May Amelia,” “Penny From Heaven,” “Turtle in Paradise”), and the graphic novel series “Babymouse,” Holm uses a surprising twist to bring us a particularly memorable grouch in her latest, “The Fourteenth Goldfish.”

That’s the beginning of my very enthusiastic review of The Fourteenth Goldfish in this weekend’s New York Times Book Review.  Read the rest of it here.


0 Comments on Jennifer L. Holm’s The Fourteenth Goldfish as of 1/1/1900
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24. BBC Television Series of Susanna Clarke’s Jonathan Strange & Mr Norrell

I was a huge fan of Susanna Clarke’s Jonathan Strange & Mr. Norell and have been keeping an eye out on the progress of the forthcoming BBC seven-episode series.  I found this article about the filming with some images, one of which is below. There’s also  a facebook page featuring more images and stuff from the series filming.  Evidently the filming is done and they are into post-production.

Bertie Carvel plays Jonathan Strange and Eddie Marsan plays Mr. Norrell.

article-2548260-1B0E412300000578-533_634x867

\


0 Comments on BBC Television Series of Susanna Clarke’s Jonathan Strange & Mr Norrell as of 1/1/1900
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25. Coming Soon: Katherine Coville’s The Cottage in the Woods

I love fairy tale reworkings. At the same time their popularity of late has resulted in a lot of mediocrity and so when I come across something new I’m both excited and wary. Is it going to be a goofy-movie-Shrek-imitating-like thing or more in the vein of Michael Buckley’s Fairy Tale DetectivesChristopher Healy’s Hero’s Guides, or Adam Gidwitz’s Grimm series?  And if YA dark is it going to be a lame bodice-ripper or something with heft, like Tom McNeal’s Far Far Away? And so seeing a  description of Katherine Coville’s debut novel The Cottage in the Woods on Edelweiss,  I requested it on a whim and began reading it with very low expectations.  And so what a lovely surprise when it turned out to be completely engrossing, a book I read steadily until I was done. In other words, reader, I liked it very much.

The story is a unique melding of a Regency Romance/Victorian Gothic set within a fairy tale world. Our heroine and narrator is Ursula Brown, a very proper young bear who has come to the Cottage in the Woods, the wealthy Vaughn family’s estate near Bremen Town, as their young boy’s governess. The three Vaughn bears live an elegant and refined life and Ursula slips into it without much difficulty, tolerating Mr. Vaughn’s stern admonitions, appreciating Mrs. Vaughn’s kind gestures, and falling very much in love with her sweet young charge, Teddy.  But life in the area is not easy. The Enchanted — those animals who talk, dress, and act as humans do — are struggling with envy, prejudice, racial hostility, and out-and-out vigilantism from some of their human neighbors.

The publisher indicates that this is a reworking of “Goldilocks and the Three Bears.” It is indeed, but I don’t wish to give away just how. I will say that I found it an enormously clever rethinking of that particular story, very much in keeping with the literary tradition Coville is working in, that of the Victorian novel.  I’ve been reading and listening to a lot of them these days and so I was very impressed with how well Coville used those tropes in her story. Ursula is very introspective, the various Enchanteds in her world are as proper and polite as anyone in an Austen, Bronte, Eliot, or Trollope novel. There is plenty of drama here, but not the swashbuckling sort of some of the other fairy tale workings. And while somber on occasion it isn’t as dark as some of the YA ones around.

There are so many clever fairy tale/nursery rhyme touches that also allude to the Victorian novel tradtion. For instance, Teddy’s nurse is an illiterate tippling badger who is quite jealous of our heroine and an amusing contrast to the cozy cute ones of Potter and others. Best of all is the Goldilock’s plot thread — it is a brilliant rethinking of the story within a classic Victorian Gothic setting.  And I love the representation of the doctor who comes to examine her at one point with his Freud-like Viennese accent.

So keep an eye out for this one. I can’t wait to see what others make of it.


0 Comments on Coming Soon: Katherine Coville’s The Cottage in the Woods as of 1/1/1900
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