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Viewing: Blog Posts Tagged with: Reviews, Most Recent at Top [Help]
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26. Review: The Fall

The Fall by Bethany Griffin. Greenwillow Books, an imprint of HarperCollins. 2014.

The Plot: A retelling of The Fall of the House of Usher by Edgar Allan Poe.

The Good: Did you not see what I said? A retelling! Of The Fall of the House of Usher!

OK, it's true that not every retelling or re-imaging is done well. And it's also true that there are many ways to revisit a story. So you need more from me, to let you know that this one is well worth the read.

The Fall is an emotional, character driven retelling, making the doomed Madeline Usher the main character.

It is Madeline telling the story, and it is fragmented. Madeline at eighteen, trapped, buried alive; Madeline at nine, when her family is strange but still together and alive. The story jumps back and forth in time, ending, as it began, with Madeline at eighteen. Along the way, the reader, along with Madeline, learns of the curse of the Ushers -- a curse on both the physical house and the bloodline. A curse that allows the family to continue, yes, but attacks each generation, physically and mentally attacking family members. They remain rich and well off and with a grand house -- but they are doomed and the house is decaying, as the family decays. As Madeline decays.

And let me say how much I loved that the telling is non-linear, because it makes the reader as unsure as Madeline is, as unaware of what is really going on. Doubting and believing, uncertain and sure.

And what is really going on? Madeline and her family are cursed, of course. Along with Madeline, the reader learn about the origins of the curse, and how it touches each generation, with hints of abuse and madness and incest, and how it twists and turns the people living in the house.

Or, maybe not.

One thing I liked about The Fall, and I hope I'm not alone in this, is that it may all be in Madeline's head. That she may be mad, yes, but not because of a curse. That Madeline sees things and interprets things because of both her own madness, but also because those around her are convinced there is a curse so she chooses to see the world, and herself, as victims of that curse. That some things may be things she made up, or she believes because her parents believed and she's been isolated with no one to balance anything.

Or, maybe yes, and there's a curse and even when Madeline seems mad it's the proper reaction to the situation she is in.

Another thing I liked was that The Fall doesn't veer far from Poe's story. OK, I admit, I haven't read the story in years and years. So I'm going more on memory of the story and the Vincent Price movie. But The Fall kept the focus tight: Madeline, her twin brother Roderick, his friend from school. There are also doctors treating Madeline and that may be new but if it is, it makes sense and it kept the story and plot tight.

And, finally, The Fall stays within the confines and setting of the original story, which was written in 1839. A year is never given, but there are coaches and servants and the time period is clearly "long ago" and "not now." What I love is how this setting is shown and created without much detail. Ask each reader of The Fall to sketch the house and its gardens and rooms, and each drawing will be different from each other. Madeline is telling the story and she is showing us her emotional truth. I love that Griffin trusts us, the reader, to not need those extra bits and doesn't give into the temptation of unneeded details.

And yes . . .  I do plan on rereading The Fall of the House of Usher! So I'll revisit this review once I've done so.

Assorted links: Guest Post by Bethany Griffin at Uncorked Thoughts, talking Gender; review at The Book Smugglers; review at Wondrous Reads; review at Bookish.




 Amazon Affiliate. If you click from here to Amazon and buy something, I receive a percentage of the purchase price.

© Elizabeth Burns of A Chair, A Fireplace & A Tea Cozy

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27. Review of the Day: Once Upon an Alphabet by Oliver Jeffers

OnceUponAlphabet 219x300 Review of the Day: Once Upon an Alphabet by Oliver JeffersOnce Upon an Alphabet: Short Stories for All the Letters
By Oliver Jeffers
Philomel (an imprint of Penguin)
$26.99
ISBN: 978-0-399-16791-1
Ages 6 and up
On shelves now

Beware ever becoming a brand, my sweet, for that way lies nothing but unhappiness and ruin. Or not. I think the only real and true problem with becoming extremely popular in your field is that you have to battle on some level the ridiculous expectations others set for you. You did “X” and “X” was popular? Make another “X”! Creativity is haphazard and in the children’s book biz even the most popular illustrators do jobs that simply pay the bills. Such is NOT the case with Oliver Jeffers’ Once Upon an Alphabet. I have seen Jeffers do books that were merely okay and some that didn’t quite pass muster. I have also seen him be consistently brilliant with a style that is often copied, whether artistically or in tone. Yet in his latest book he does something that I honestly haven’t really seen before. Each letter of the alphabet is worthy of a story of its own. Each one distinct, each one unique, and all of them pretty much hilarious. No other author or illustrator could do what Jeffers has done here or, if they did, the tone would be entirely off. Here we have an abecedarian treat for older children (at least 6 years of age, I’d say) that will extend beyond Jeffers’ already gung-ho fan base and garner him new devotees of both the child and adult persuasion.

“If words make up stories, and letters make up words, then stories are made of letters. In this menagerie we have stories, made of words, made for all the letters.” So begins Once Upon an Alphabet, a book that seeks to give each letter its due. The tales told vary in length and topic. For example, “A” is about Edmund the astronaut who wants to go on an “adventure” and meet some “aliens” “although” there’s a problem. “Space was about three hundred and twenty-eight thousand, four hundred and sixteen feet above him . . . and Edmund had a fear of heights.” Many of the stories seen here rely on a twist at their conclusion. Danger Delilah may laugh in the face of Death but she’ll book it double time when her dad calls her for dinner. And then there’s Victor, plugging away on his vengeance. Told with wit and humor these tales are each and every one consistently amusing and enjoyable.

One thing that sets Jeffers apart from the pack is his deft wordplay. He has always been as comfortable as a writer as he is an illustrator or artist. Examining the tales I saw that some of the stories rhyme and others do not. This could potentially be off-putting but since each letter stands on its own I wasn’t bothered by the choice. The book could also be a very nice writing prompt title, not too dissimilar from Chris Van Allsburg’s The Mysteries of Harris Burdick. Once kids get the gist of what Jeffers is doing here they could be encouraged to write their own letter-inspired tales.

As for the art, it’s recognizably Jeffers, but with a twist. A close examination of the book shows that Jeffers changes up his artistic style quite a bit. While I’d say all his art is recognizably Jeffersish, his choices are fascinating. What determines whether or not a character gets a nose? Why is the terrified typist of “t” made so realistic while Ferdinand of “F” is done in a more cartoony style? Then there’s the use of color. Generally speaking the book is black and white but is shot through with different colors to make different points.

You also begin to read more into the illustrations than might actually be there. When the elephant dutifully eats nearly nine thousand envelopes in answer to a riddle, he is directed to do so by a nun who is keeping score. Adults will see this and wonder if it’s the equivalent of that old riddle about how many angels will dance on the head of a pin. I know the nun is there because the letter is “N” but that doesn’t stop me from seeing a connection. Other times there are connections between letters that aren’t explicitly mentioned but that will amuse kids. The owl and octopus that search and correct problems fix the cup that made an unseemly break (literally) for freedom at the letter “C” only for it to break again around the letter “T”. Then there are the back endpapers, which manage to wrap up a number of the stories in the book so subtly you might not even realize that they do so. See the frog hit on the head with a coin? That’s the ending to the “F” tale. And a closer reading shows that each person on the back endpapers correlates to their letter so you can read the alphabet found on the front endpapers through them. Pretty slick stuff!

I guess the only real correlation to this book is Edward Gorey’s Gashlycrumb Tinies alphabet. Even if the name sounds familiar I’m sure you’ve heard it. “A is for Amy who fell down the stairs. B is for Basil assaulted by bears.” I’ve often thought that Jeffers’ sense of humor owes much to Gorey’s. You see it in letters like “H” which features a woman falling off a cliff or “T” where an author meets an untimely end at the hands (or, more likely, mouth) of a monster. And like Gorey, Jeffers is capable of giving potentially gruesome and macabre poems an almost sweet edge. Gorey’s stories dealt well in funny melancholy. Jeffers, in contrast, in a form of humor that turns tragedy on its head.

From what I can tell the book is pretty universally loved. That said, it is not without its detractors. People who expect this to be another alphabet book for young children are bound to be disappointed. No one ever said alphabet books couldn’t be for older kids as well, y’know. And then there’s one criticism that some librarians of my acquaintance lobbed in the direction of this book. According to them some letter stories were stronger than others. So I read and reread the book to try and figure out which letters they might mean. I’m still rereading it now and I’m no closer to finding the answer. Did they not like the daft parsnip? The missing question? The monkeys that move underground? I remain baffled.

Or maybe I just like the book because it ends with a zeppelin. That could also be true. I really like zeppelins. I am of the opinion that 90% of the picture books produced today would be greatly improved if their authors worked in a zeppelin in some way. Heck, it’s even on the cover of the book! But if I’m going to be perfectly honest with you, I suspect that even if you removed every last zeppelin from Once Upon an Alphabet I’d still like the puppy. A lot. A lot a lot. You see Jeffers knows how to use his boundless cleverness for good instead of evil. This book could be intolerable in its smarts, but instead it’s an honestly amusing and tightly constructed little bit of delving into the alphabet genre. It remains aware from start to finish that its audience is children and by using big long fancy dance words, it never talks down to kids while still acknowledging the things that they would find funny. All told, it’s a pip. No picture book alphabet collection will be complete without it.

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28. Scott Pilgrim, Volume 1

After reading and enjoying Seconds, I decided to embark on the Scott Pilgrim graphic novel series. What a zippy little book is Scott Pilgrim’s Precious Little Life. The book is in black and white and is the closest thing to a comic that I have read since I was a kid. Total fluffy, no brain required fun, which was perfect after House of Leaves.

Scott is 23 and pretty much mooching off his roommate, Wallace. Scott has loser written all over him. He is in a terrible band called Sex Bob-Omb. He is dating a seventeen-year-old high school girl named Knives Chau. And then he meets Ramona Flowers. She is so out of his league but for some reason she likes him back. But in order for Scott to truly win Ramona, he has to fight all of her seven evil ex-boyfriends. This first volume has him taking on ex-boyfriend number one.

Like I said, fluffy, comic-y fun. That’s pretty much all there is to say. Except, even though I have the drawings in front of me as I read, I can’t help but picture Michael Cera in my head, the actor who played Scott Pilgrim in the movie. I wonder if his face will still be there by the time I make it to the end of the series? I have nothing against Michael Cera, but I hope his face eventually dissolves.

It is election day here so now I am off to cast my vote.


Filed under: Books, Graphic Novels, Reviews

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29. House of Leaves

I managed to finish House of Leaves on Friday. More or less. What I finished was the main text of the story. I still had thirty pages of appendices to read through. And the index to scan. What, wait! An index in a novel you say? Oh yes. The index actually turned out to be rather hilarious, a sort of index parody with hardly any of the things you would expect to show up there but lots of things you never see in an index like “and” which appears on pages 3-78, 80-154, and so on. There is also “five” and “July” and “more.” And then there are entries like “canine DNE” with “DNE” meaning “Does not exist.” These are sprinkled throughout the index. There is “dolphin” and “donkey” and “lubricants.” Kind of funny.

But why? Well, it plays into the fact that the main part of the text sort of mocks academic criticism. How to explain? The main text is an academic treatise written on a movie called The Navidson Record, a movie that has been seen by many but doesn’t seem to actually exist. The criticism is written by a man of the name Zampano who is pretty much driven mad by his work on the book. This text is filled with extensive criticism and footnotes. Incredibly, a good deal of what is cited actually exists. There are also citations of “experts” talking about the film and these are completely made up but they are woven in so expertly with the non-made up stuff that they appear to be real.

In spite of all the academic babble, Zampano actually does manage to tell the story of the film of the Navidson Record. It’s about a house, but not just any house. Imagine husband, successful photojournalist who has won a Pulitzer Prize, who is away from home quite a lot because of his work and has a tendency to court danger. Imagine the wife, beautiful, a former model, who has had an affair or two while husband has been away. Or maybe she hasn’t, husband isn’t sure and he isn’t sure he wants to know the truth. They have two young children. They move to a house in the Virginia countryside, hoping to create a family, hoping to save the marriage. It seems like a normal house until they leave to visit family out of state for a few days and return home to find a hallway that wasn’t there when they left. At first they manage to rationalize it away. But then another hallway shows up, this one in the living room instead of between bedrooms. This one is dark and impossibly long, this one seems to go on forever leading into perfectly dark rooms and other hallways. It is freezing cold in the dark and the rooms and hallways are continually shifting and changing.

Wife furiously battles the house with feng shui. Husband calls in friends and experts, locates professional explorers who mount an expedition into the depths of the mysterious house. Husband doesn’t get to go because wife forbids it. Weird things happen in the dark and cold. People die. Weird things happen in the light and warmth. People die.

Along with this story is a second one told by Johnny Truant. It takes place mostly in footnotes to Zampano’s book. Johnny came into possession of Zampano’s papers after he died and is trying to assemble them into a coherent whole. He becomes obsessed, his life falls apart, he perhaps goes insane, he perhaps recovers.

There is an additional layer, other footnotes by an editor who has taken the entire manuscript, Zampano’s and Johnny’s combined which amounts to one whole book, and published it.

It is a crazy book. There were moments when I was genuinely creeped out. There were others when I was utterly bored. When I finished the main text I felt like it had bordered on a waste of time. After all the appendices I appreciated the book much more. On an intellectual level, it is clever and interesting and intriguing in how Danielewski made this book even work. The ideas, the themes, parody and mockery were well done. But other than the few times I got the creeps, I was never truly emotionally engaged with the book. I was never sure why I should care and there was nothing to hate so I was left at a distance, reading a book about a book about a movie. And maybe that is how I was supposed to feel but I like my books to be more than intellectual mind games; I like to be mentally and emotionally engaged.

So there you go, for what all that is worth. I didn’t hate the book. I didn’t love the book. I am glad I read it though so that’s something.


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30. Reviewers

Here's a list of reviewers for traditionally published books. 

http://publishedtodeath.blogspot.com/2014/09/list-of-reviewers-for-published-books.html

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31. Review of The Farmer and the Clown

frazee farmer and the clown Review of The Farmer and the Clownstar2 Review of The Farmer and the Clown The Farmer and the Clown
by Marla Frazee; illus. by the author
Preschool, Primary    Beach Lane/Simon    32 pp.
10/14    978-1-4424-9744-3    $17.99
e-book ed.  978-1-4424-9745-0    $10.99

Appearances can be deceiving in this superb wordless book from two-time Caldecott Honor recipient Frazee. At sunset, a grim-faced, pitchfork-wielding farmer comes to the rescue when a circus train hits a bump and ejects a jolly-looking toddler clown. The contrast is almost comical: a tall elderly man wearing a frown and a flat black hat holding hands with a miniature clown wearing a painted-on grin and a pointy red hat. At bedtime, the two wash their faces, and off comes the clown makeup, revealing a scared and vulnerable child and wiping away any hint of humor from our tale — for the moment. In Frazee’s pencil and gouache illustration the characters are arrestingly transformed: the child now clearly unhappy and the farmer’s softened features registering concern. The next morning, the farmer reveals a playful side as he essentially makes a clown of himself to get a real smile from his young guest. When the circus train returns later that day, the body language of the new friends expresses a powerful clash of emotions: the child’s ebullience brings both his feet off the ground, while the farmer, earthbound, stands stock-still and stoic. The two exchange hugs, wave goodbye, and…how the heck can Frazee break readers’ hearts like this? Never fear: as the farmer walks pensively away, viewers see that he’s being followed by a circus monkey, who gestures to us not to tell — surely a tip of the hat to Rathmann’s classic (and also wordless) Good Night, Gorilla (rev. 7/94). Using only pictures, Frazee’s book — both spare and astonishingly rich — offers a riveting narrative, characters to care deeply about, and an impressive range of emotion.

From the November/December 2014 issue of The Horn Book Magazine.

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32. The Swap by Megan Shull

If you like the concept of comedic body switches a la Freaky Friday, then it's time for you to read Megan Shull's new novel The Swap.

Note that I said comedic "body switches" as opposed to horror-movie-style body swaps - those are invasive and terrifying, whereas The Swap is a smart and sensitive look at what it would be like for two middle school students of opposite genders to switch places.

When an encounter at school causes them to unwillingly swap bodies, thirteen-year-old Jack and twelve-year-old Ellie have to figure out a way to deal with their very different bodies, families, friends, and afterschool obligations until they can swap back. Before this unexpected event, the kids weren't friends. They go to the same school, so they vaguely knew each other - with Ellie being more aware of Jack than vice-versa - but they are a grade apart and don't have any classes or activities in common. By the time the book is over, though, there's no way they could call themselves strangers anymore.

This story is about more than temporarily being in someone else's body - it's about sharing someone else's life. The decisions the protagonists make and the actions they take while walking in each other's shoes (including Ellie's soccer cleats and Jack's hockey skates) affect them both. Seeing the world through new eyes changes how they see others and how they see themselves.

And back to the body sharing: where some sitcoms, books, or movies might play awkward moments in the locker room and in the bathroom as silly and/or gross jokes, these kids are truly uncomfortable at those times, and ultimately very respectful.

You could say that the two parental figures in the book are both devoted to their children, but they are definitely at opposite ends of the emotional spectrum. Ellie's mother, a divorced single parent and yoga instructor, is upbeat and sunny. Jack's stern father, a widower, is very strict with his four sons. Very strict. Think Captain Von Trapp. He oversees their daily fitness routine and year-round hockey training and makes them call him "sir." Ellie's mom wishes her daughter would be more open with her, while Jack's militaristic dad doesn't do heart-to-heart chats.

Jack has a whole bunch of buddies and gets along very well with his brothers. Meanwhile, only child Ellie feels like she doesn't have a friend in the world. Sassy, her best friend since kindergarten, has found a new best friend and now finds it fun to say mean things to Ellie (and Jack-as-Ellie) at school, on the soccer field, and at a memorable sleepover. Anyone who has had a friend turn on them, especially in middle school, will relate to that heartache. Friendship break-ups can hurt just as much as romantic ones. Not all friends make up; not all friends should. Kids and adults alike should keep this in mind: If someone is being mean to you and repeatedly putting you down, that person is not a true friend.

Both Ellie and Jack are healthy and athletic, which is really cool. It also comes in handy when they have attend each other's practices and tryouts. I also appreciated that the sports storylines didn't culminate in either character winning the big game or being chosen MVP; instead, it was about personal successes, about what the work taught them about themselves and how it pushed them outside of their comfort zones. There was also a neat sporty bit towards the end of the book that I wasn't expecting, and I liked a lot.

I've read a lot of books with dual narratives, and The Swap is a solid example of a story that both needs and benefits from two narrators who offer honest first-person thoughts. Without making them polar opposites, Shull has her characters speak and react differently, with some overlap - it's fun when they start realizing that they've picked up each other's lingo. The narrating duties flip back and forth in alternating chapters, and the story is easy to follow. The Swap considers the different ways we treat girls and boys, the different things we expect of our sons and daughters, and it's a great take on upper middle school life, a time that a lot of TV shows glaze over, jumping from little-kid-dom right into the teen age rather than dealing with the simultaneous horrors and happiness of those in-between wonder years.

For those of who you have yet to read the original novel Freaky Friday by Mary Rodgers, do yourself a favor and pick up that book at the same time you pick up The Swap. Also grab Megan Shull's previous releases, including Amazing Grace.

Related posts at Bildungsroman:
Author Spotlight: Megan Shull
Booklist: Multiple Narrators
Booklist: Hey There, Sports Fan!
Booklist: Suggested Sets
Booklist: Middle School Must-Haves

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33. Girl on a Wire by Gwenda Bond

Jules Maroni has always worked in the circus. Jules, like her father, is a high-wire walker; her mother and her cousin Sam do dazzling work with the horses, and her grandmother used to fly on the trapeze. When her family joins the Cirque American, an old rivalry flares up between the Maronis and the Flying Garcias. Though she rarely falls off of the wire, Jules find herself falling for Remy, a Garcia boy - and she finds herself the target of threats and bad omens.

While she and Remy try to figure out who is behind these unwelcome acts, they also have to hide their relationship from their families. (A little bit of Romeo and Juliet, a little bit of Hatfields and McCoys, but with less bloodshed, thankfully. No suicide, just somersaults and pirouettes!) Meanwhile, Jules' fame rises as the circus travels across the country.

Bonus points for the main character's affection for classic films. It is lovely to see a teen character who has inherited an appreciation for the likes of Cary Grant and Barbara Stanwyck, clearly the influence of her grandmother, who is often found watching TCM (Turner Classic Movies). It's worth mentioning that all three of the Maroni adults - her mother, her father, and her grandfather - are all supportive figures who have raised Jules well and inspired different parts of her personality, her interests, and her talents.

Give this book to folks who like their mysteries with a touch of magic, and ask yourself: Would you dare to walk the high wire?

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34. Rio de Janeiro: ATREVIDA – Revisão crítica da exposição artevida

Organizada em quatro seções – corpo, política, arquivo, parque - a exposição artevida, com curadoria de Adriano Pedrosa e Rodrigo Moura, incluiu uma grande quantidade e qualidade de trabalhos vindos dos recônditos do globo, com a ambição de “desenvolver conexões e leituras a partir de certas práticas artísticas do período [final dos anos 50 ao início dos anos 80], mediante diferentes conceitos, referências e enquadramentos além dos eurocêntricos”, resume o folheto da exposição.

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35. 31 Days of Halloween Review Special: Hellboy & the BPRD #1

26148 31 Days of Halloween Review Special: Hellboy & the BPRD #1

By Matthew Jent

Hellboy and the BPRD #1

Writers: Mike Mignola & John Arcudi

Artist: Alex Maleev

Colorist: Dave Stewart

Cover Artist: Alex Maleev

Genre: Horror, Fantasy, Action/Adventure

Publisher: Dark Horse Comics

 

“You’re taking Hellboy with you.”

In the mid-1990s I was in high school and looking for rebellion. Something to get pretentious about. It was a search for some kind of pre-hipster deep knowledge. Oh, you like superhero comics? Meh. I’m more of a Vertigo fan.

Then I found the comic book rebellion I was looking for. A group of comics creators, writers and artists of some renown, banded together and abandoned the Big Two publishers in order to make creator-owned work, following their passion and making the comics they wanted to make, unrestricted by corporate mandates, editorial oversight, and comics code authorities.

No, not the one you might be thinking of. I’m talking about Dark Horse’s Legend imprint. Founded by John Byrne and Frank Miller, it encompassed their extant Next Men and Sin City books, Paul Chadwick’s Concrete, and new series from creators like Art Adams, Geoff Darrow, and others. I was fifteen and looking for a bandwagon to jump on. So I decided Legend was going to be that bandwagon. Every creator, every book, the complete imprint: I was going to read them all.

Which leads us to Hellboy: Seed of Destruction. Growing up with superheroes, I wasn’t a big Mike Mignola fan. I knew him from covers and annuals and the occasional mini-series, and his art had always been too blocky, too weird, to squiggly for my tastes. But Hellboy, whatever that meant, was a Legend book, and more than that, it was tied in, however lightly, to the “Torch of Liberty” backup that was going to run with Byrne’s Danger Unlimited miniseries, so I was willing to buy it, skim it, and board it.

That was 20 years ago. If you’re reading this Hellboy review and wondering what a Torch of Liberty or a Danger Unlimited is, or even — yikes! — whatever happened to Concrete, that’s partly a testament to Mike Mignola and Hellboy, one of the few enduring comic book creations of the modern era. Inspired by mythology, pulp fiction, weird horror, and action-adventure stories, Hellboy was the book Mignola was made for, and it’s been published pretty continuously ever since that first issue of Seed of Destruction. There have been toys, cartoons, and a couple major motion pictures, but there’s never been a reboot or a relaunch. The universe has expanded to include solo series or one-shots for Abe Sapien, Lobster Johnson, and the whole Bureau for Paranormal Research and Defense. They’re not always written and drawn by Mignola anymore, but hey — the guy created a world around the idea that the (possible) Anti-Christ is a superhero/paranormal investigator. That’s fertile ground for a shared universe.

This December sees the release of Hellboy and the BPRD. In the year that Hellboy turns 20 for real, this series flashes back to 1952 to tell the tale of Hellboy’s first mission with the Bureau. This issue — like most Hellboy comics — is dripping with dread and foreboding. Professor Bruttenholm, the Director of the BPRD and Hellboy’s Earthly father figure, sends a team of soldiers and investigators to Brazil to look into a series of murders supposedly committed by a “superhuman creature,” the descriptions of which vary. They have a small plane, a contact in a Brazilian village, and orders to bring along the untested Hellboy, who is otherwise sitting on his bed, tossing playing cards, chilling with a pet dog. There are some visions of the future and worries (spoken and unspoken) as to whether Hellboy will be a force for good or evil, but any longtime fan of the character knows that the red guy has a heart o’ gold.

The art from Alex Maleev and Dave Stewart is a great fit for Mignola & Arcudi’s story, and for the world of Hellboy. The shadows are dark (though not as oppressive as in Mignola’s own art), and the architecture is appropriately doom-laden. There are very few examples of characters free-floating in space — when that does happen, there’s always evidence elsewhere on the page of where these characters are. Objects, walls, backgrounds — ceilings! — painting a full picture of the space these characters inhabit. It might seem like a small thing, but with very little action in the first issue, Maleev and Stewart do a great job of establishing tone and tension through their use of setting and space.

As for the story? There’s always a push and pull to serialized storytelling. Do you write for the trade? For the periodical? Do you just tell the story you want to tell, and let page counts fall where they will? Hellboy and the BPRD #1 falls into the same category as a lot of modern first issues, meaning there’s a lot of setup without any denouement. That setup is thorough, and the tension and weirdness grows with an appropriate balance of pacing and characterization — two of the four BPRD agents are interchangeable, but Archie and Xiang are interesting enough to allow for a few potential redshirts on the team — but there’s no release of that tension. It’s an issue-long intake of breath, with no exhale. If you consider this as a single issue in a 20-years-and-growing tale, that’s not a bad thing. But as the first issue of a new series, I was looking for one more 4-6 page scene or cutaway that gave a clearer sense of what this story would be about. The first issue of a Hellboy series doesn’t need to provide a clear shot of the villain or an assessment of the threat at hand, but when I get to page 22 of any comic and I find myself genuinely wondering if the ending has been cut off (and this was a review copy, so it’s possible), I consider that a storytelling misstep.

Single issues like this are hard to review out of context. The short version is, If everything comes together, this is a very good beginning. The longer version is, well, everything else you’ve read to this point.

That said, I don’t need a more complicated pitch to continue reading than “Mike Mignola tells the story of Hellboy’s first field assignment.” Hellboy and the BPRD is building on a 20-year bank of weird horror, existential dread, and tales well told. This isn’t a great jumping-on point for new readers, but it’s a promising start to an untold tale in a decades-long serialized story.

Hellboy and the BPRD #1 will be released on December 3rd, 2014.

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36. Review: How We Fall

How We Fall by Kate Brauning. Merit Press. 2014. Reviewed from ARC.

The Plot:  Jackie's feelings for Marcus are intense, but she tries to hide it. Oh, they flirt, and yes, there are stolen kisses. So why can't they just both admit that it's more than flirtation, why not go on a real date?

Jackie's afraid, afraid of what people will think. Marcus is her cousin. And, to make matters more sensitive, or at least Jackie more sensitive to what people will think, their families share one home. They live under the same roof.

Jackie has few people she can trust or turn to. Her older sister is at college; her parents wouldn't understand, or worse, would over react. Her best friend, Ellie, has disappeared and it's beginning to look like Ellie didn't run away but was kidnapped, or worse.

Breaking up with Marcus, or, rather, stopping things, doesn't help. Her feelings don't just go away, and seeing him with a new girl,, Sylvia, makes things worse. So Jackie tries seeing someone new, Will.

Jackie begins to pore over all emails and messages from Ellie, hoping to figure out what happened to Ellie. And she's surprised when a name turns up in an old email: Sylvia. Could Marcus's new friend have a connection to Ellie and her disappearance?

The Good: How We Fall looks at love and lust and desire. Jackie knows full well what other people are going to think about her and Marcus being together, and I'm sure there are readers who won't be able to get over the first cousin romance. As Jackie points out, though, it's not illegal; and at most, it means that in some states they wouldn't be able to marry. There was something so sweet, and heart-breaking, to have Jackie both trying to deny her feelings and love for Marcus, while doing searches to find colleges in states where marriage is possible. Add to it that Jackie is keeping her emotions and thoughts so close, from fear, that she hasn't shared this with Marcus.

Jackie's attraction to and love for Marcus is clear, and while the story is told from Jackie's point of view, it also becomes clear that what he feels for Jackie is true. On one level, How We Fall is, simply, about star-crossed lovers.

The star-crossed is made more complicated by the unique housing situation. About two or three years earlier (Jackie is now 16, Marcus a year older), the two families decided, for several reasons, to combine households and move in together. For Jackie and her older sister, that meant moving from California to rural Missouri. Her father, a lawyer, now does legal consulting from home; her mother works at the library. Her uncle works in a lawn and garden shop and her aunt takes care of the home, which also involves a working farm.

To use Jackie's words to describe her aunt and uncle: "Uncle Ward's opinions were a junk drawer combination of conservative family values, generous interpretations of self-restraint and normalcy, and questionable ideas Aunt Shelly found on the internet." Ward and Shelly have six children, ranging from twin toddlers to Marcus, the eldest.

The families share a home -- this isn't sharing land, or a building. It's using the same kitchen, the same living spaces, and trying to balance their values. It's not always easy; you can tell that sometimes Jackie's mother (Ward's sister) is biting her tongue about Shelley's judgments and rules. (Let's just say that Shelley isn't a fan of TV or movies while Jackie is looking to major in film in college.) Jackie has also gone from youngest child of two to an eldest child helping not only with chores, and selling their farm produce, and helping in the gardens and with the animals, but also babysitting her younger cousins.

Still, the families make it work. They are happy and functional; but it's also a financial decision. They are living a lifestyle, and in a home, that requires four adults working. But, to be honest, working "less", with a better quality of life, if that makes sense. Look at the father: he can return to law, but he's happier being a consultant. Jackie's mother is happy working at the library, but if the families split, she'd need to get a better paying job. I really loved that this book included this non-typical living argument, and that the arrangement works. And, I also think that more and more readers are going to identify with teens in home situations that are non-traditional.

As you can tell, the love story and the setting is what really captured my attention. There is also a mystery going on, the mystery of Ellie's disappearance, and I liked how this was handled. Jackie is not Veronica Mars; her friend lurks in the background, something that Ellie thinks about but, especially at first, doesn't obsess over. It's as time goes by, and it turns into a murder investigation, and Marcus's new girlfriend is revealed to have a link, that Jackie finds herself actively trying to learn more about Ellie's life to figure out what happened.

There is also Jackie's own new boyfriend, Will. One of the reasons I like Will is he ends up being such a good, understanding guy. Seriously, whether in real life or a book, when a person is confronted with a situation when they can be cruel or they can be kind -- when they can be judgmental or understanding -- when they be angry and lash out,or listen and be a friend? And they choose kind? It just makes my day; it reaffirms that people are good. And that was Will. Someone who is good.

Also, Will is cute. I said that How We Fall is also about desire, and that's true of Jackie and Marcus and Jackie and Will. Jackie is trying to figure out what she wants, and what she feels, and what is love, and what is love -- and it's a bit messy, made messier but the awkwardness of the situation and her thinking she is protecting everyone by not admitting to her feelings for Marcus. And then here is Will and yes he's fun to kiss cause he's older and hot and even with all this he is just such a good guy. And I love that this book shows the complexity of feeling, emotion, and desire that a teen girl feels.



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© Elizabeth Burns of A Chair, A Fireplace & A Tea Cozy

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37. Millie’s Book of Tricks and Treats Vol. 2 app review

millie tricks and treats menu Millies Book of Tricks and Treats Vol. 2 app reviewIntrepid adventurer dog Millie is back in Halloween-themed offering Millie’s Book of Tricks and Treats Vol. 2 (Millie Was Here series; Megapops, 2012).

Knock on each of ten front doors in Millie’s neighborhood to spin a game show–style wheel and receive either a video “trick” (e.g., “Millie Performs an Amazing Yo-Yo Trick,” “Millie Teleports All Over the Place”) or “treat” (spooky-fied bacon treats such as “Frankenbacon”). Judging from the not-too-scary decorations, it seems Millie’s neighborhood includes friendly families of werewolves, mad scientists, aliens, and vampires. A theremin-and-harpsichord waltz continues the Halloween-y mood. Every screen also offers a scratch-off picture of Millie modeling a different costume and a hidden sticker of a creepy-cute creature. Collect badges by finding all of the stickers and reading through the entire app. Each read-through offers slightly different content as the app cycles through a wide range of trick and treat videos and costumed Millie snapshots.

millie tricks and treats mad scientist door Millies Book of Tricks and Treats Vol. 2 app review

Trick-or-treat!

millie tricks and treats open door Millies Book of Tricks and Treats Vol. 2 app review

a trick: “Millie Knits You a Nice, Warm Sweater”

As in previous Millie Was Here apps, the humor lies in the juxtaposition of the off-screen narrator’s bombastic voice-over and the equally over-the-top title cards with Millie’s mundane doggy activities and interests. In the trick “Millie Turns into a Vicious Werewolf,” for instance, the small, snuggly dog looks up at a projected moon while a horror-movie-worthy wolf howl plays. Many of the videos show hands of human assistants offering treats and helping Millie perform her various tricks; the intentionally low-tech effects are part of the series’ considerable charm.

The navigation is straightforward — just forward and back buttons — and the app requires no reading. Music, narration, text highlighting, touch hints, and sticker hints may be turned on or off and volume may be adjusted (some of these settings are accessible from the navigation bar at the bottom of each screen, others in a parent-locked info section). A “bedtime mode” dims the screen slightly and disables the sticker hunt for a more soothing experience. Tips for keeping pets happy and safe on “Howl-o-ween” are appended.

Available for iPhone, iPad, and iPod touch (requires iOS 6.0 or later); $0.99. Recommended for preschool and primary users.

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38. Protected: Rio de Janeiro: ATREVIDA – Revisão crítica da exposição artevida

There is no excerpt because this is a protected post.

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39. H2O by Virginia Bergin




From the Jacket Blurb:

.27 is a number Ruby hates.
It's a number that marks the percentage of the population that has survived. It's a number that means she's one of the "lucky" few still standing. And it's a number that says her father is probably dead.
Against all odds, Ruby has survived the catastrophic onset of the killer rain. Two weeks after the radio started broadcasting the warning, "It's in the rain. It's fatal and there's no cure," the drinkable water is running out. Ruby's left with two options: persevere on her own, or embark on a treacherous journey across the country to find her father-if he's even still alive.

"It's in the rain...and just one drop will kill you."

15 year-old Ruby Morris is obnoxious. In fact, she's possibly if not definitely the most annoying narrator of any YA book I've ever encountered. And just about all reader reviews of the book agree with this assessment.  She's an image and status obsessed snobby teenage brat, at times more concerned with putting on a sparkly top and makeup than smartly surviving the apocalyptic killer rain that has wiped out all but .27% of the world's population. You often find yourself thinking "UGH, what is wrong with you, Ruby? How can you still be THIS annoying? How could YOU of all people have survived when so many more likeable, clever, responsible people were dead within the first few days?" These questions are surprisingly, fascinatingly, the very reason why I enjoyed this book.

Let's face it: the world is full of annoying, frustrating people. People with different priorities and values and personalities than yourself. Ultimately harmless people that you just don't, well...like. And in the event of an apocalypse, these people don't just magically go away. Killer rain doesn't kill with discrimination. Many of the survivors of this story just got lucky. Ruby is a fault-filled person just like you or I (albeit far more immature), and catastrophe doesn't automatically change people into deeper people. At least not immediately, and not always in obvious ways...

Even if Ruby is as shallow as a puddle of the alien killer rain from which she's running...she's still human. And like it or not, being human means that we are (as a species) a mix of good and bad, complex and simple, deep thinkers and painfully, mind-numbingly shallow idiots. We don't get to pick from only our best qualities to define what being human means. We can't control the behaviors and decisions of others. We can't force them to abandon who they are, who they've been, to suddenly become our version of a "better", more-likeable person.

Accepting that others are others, that they think and act differently and that this is OK---is a worthwhile (although sometimes very challenging) exercise in becoming better people ourselves. Ruby doesn't deserve to die just because I don't like her. And she doesn't deserve NOT to be the main character of a book just because I wouldn't want to be her friend in real life. Because in real life, there are countless Rubys in the world. Imperfect, immature, infuriating kids naively stumbling through the world---just trying to live to see another day. We may want Ruby to grow up (fast!) and prove her worth to us as a narrator we can be proud of, but really, she doesn't owe us a darn thing. She is who she is. Peoples is peoples.

In the end, it's not the differences that matter but the ways in which even VERY different people are the same.

"Please don't leave me."

Throughout the story, Ruby finds herself thinking these words. Silently imploring whoever happens to be around her to hang around a little longer. These tiny glimmers of desperation, of fear and desire not to be alone, let us see through to her deeper humanity. This is the Ruby that I understand and that I pity. No one wants to be alone. Ruby has lost just about everyone she knows and cares for. She's completely on her own. She's going through hell and yet she keeps going. Who am I to deny her the things that make her happy? The little things that add a bit of sparkle to an otherwise gray, dead (and deadly) world---even if her happiness does come in the form of an impractical, shimmering sequined top?

I hope to see more of Ruby. I hope that her story doesn't end here. I hope there is a sequel and I hope to get the chance to see her evolve into better version of herself.

I have to hope, because even in the face of unlikely odds, to hope is to be human.
Well, it's part of it, anyway.




A Note on the Book's Design:

I quite like what Sourcebooks Fire has done with the book jacket and cover. Yellowish green acid-rain like droplets seem to have burned holes into the cover, revealing two key words in the raindrop shaped text block on the hard cover: "drop" and "scream" are very clearly highlighted by the cutouts which ominously sets the stage for the events that unfold. An effective cover, I love that it doesn't resort to the hideous trend in YA covers of overly Photoshopped imagery. I like that it's purely graphic. Simple, clean, and intriguing. No people. Only drops of killer rain, daring you to touch it with your bare hands.

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40. Review of Because They Marched

freeman because they marched Review of Because They MarchedBecause They Marched:
The People’s Campaign for Voting Rights That Changed America

by Russell Freedman
Middle School    Holiday    83 pp.
8/14    978-0-8234-2921-9    $20.00
e-book ed.  978-0-8234-3263-9    $20.00

With characteristically clear prose sprinkled liberally with primary source quotes and carefully selected photographs, Freedman documents the 1965 Selma-to-Montgomery march that featured the horrific Bloody Sunday confrontation between the marchers and the Alabama state troopers. Captured on television footage by all the major networks, these events convinced the nation — and Congress — that something finally had to be done. That something turned out to be the Voting Rights Act of 1965, “the crowning achievement of the civil rights movement.” Freedman’s introduction is particularly effective because it focuses on the teachers’ march to the courthouse to register as a major trigger for the movement: “For the first time, a recognized professional group from Selma’s black community had carried out an organized protest.” If the book is not quite as visually striking as its notable predecessor, Elizabeth Partridge’s Marching for Freedom (rev. 11/09), nor as invested in the youth participation, its later publication date allows the book to touch on the controversial 2013 Supreme Court decision that struck down key provisions of the Voting Rights Act. A timeline, source notes, selected bibliography, and an index are appended.

From the September/October 2014 issue of The Horn Book Magazine.

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41. Trolls & the NYT Bestsellers

What do trolls and the New York Times bestseller list have in common?



More than you might think.

It is often stated that bullies act out of a lack of self-esteem. But it is postulated that the opposite is also true: early humans that were good at convincing others of their superiority were perched at the top of the social hierarchy and demeaned others to keep their lofty position. Their followers aped their behavior and adopted their opinions.

Malicious internet trolls tend to be narcissistic, perhaps sociopathic. They need to lash out at other people to make themselves feel better. They usually rely on the cloak of anonymity, but not always. Superstars can be just as guilty.

They know that participants tend to conform to the rules and mindset of the bullies. 
A highly dysfunctional troll can start an attack with stealth with no fear of real reprisal, unless they accidentally target a master hacker who is capable of coming after them with a return cyber-attack. They do this certain that they will gain followers.


If you know such a hacker, I'd like his/her number.

The problem is, people who would never consider themselves bullies, who would never intentionally hurt others, can be drawn into the fray. They may agree with the troll's position, not necessarily the way it was expressed. The troll could be a friend (virtual or real), a relative, or a coworker, but acquaintance is not necessary to gain support. People jump in for myriad reasons.

The opposite of the troll is the cooing elf. Positive posters are motivated by the same phenomena. When the top “elf” loves something, others rush in with praise in their desire to be part of the “in” group. Elves also adopt the opinions and behaviors of their leader.

That is how books that are inherently flawed and barely readable can rise to the top of the NYT bestseller list.

When an elf is attacked by a troll, the battle becomes a free-for-all, dragging in totally innocent bystanders. You end up with a gallows mentality. A faction of the population enjoys a good show, particularly a gruesome one. It is why crowds gather to cheer on combatants when a fight breaks out.


                            But the positive review elves don’t cause any harm, right?

On the contrary, rewarding bad behavior or false praise can be just as toxic as trolling. If friends, family, or total strangers who have never read the book jump in with five-star ratings, it skews public opinion. 

Is there a solution to this problem? 

Not entirely, but there are steps we can take.

It would be nearly impossible to eliminate the cloak of anonymity offered by a virtual world, but attempts are being made to discourage trolls. An administrator can take down any post they consider inappropriate, but how do they decide which posts are “appropriate?” It’s a thin line between abuse and freedom of opinion. You can report abusive messages or direct threats from a troll. The administrators can block the accounts, but that doesn’t keep the troll from assuming a new identity.

If the situation gets stressful, quickest and easiest way to cope is to unplug and refuse to engage. Bullies get bored when they no longer get a rise out of you. You may be tempted to delete your social media accounts. However, authors are encouraged to have a social media presence to market their work, so removing your online presence isn't the best option. Either way, you'll have a hard time getting the troll war erased on review sites. You may need to take a break for a while, until you no longer feel the need to throttle someone.

As for society as a whole, we could aim for higher standards of online behavior:

We can teach our kids (or students) to think for themselves and to consider very carefully before they post anything online.
Stop laughing.

We can teach them to never post a review until they can display a sufficient grasp of the language.
Please, for the love of literacy.

We can encourage civil discourse in all public arenas: the internet, television, radio, the printed press, congress.
I see your smirk.

We can encourage journalistic and reviewer integrity.

I can hear you howling.

We can stop "trading" or writing reviews for books we've never read or refuse to pay for fake reviews and social media "likes." You may mean well, but you are enabling and harming the integrity of the process.

Don't bother sending hate mail.

Short of rewiring human nature, there is no simple solution. We can only change one person's character at a time: our own.

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42. Author Spotlight: Austin Kleon

If you are an artist of any kind - a writer, a poet, a singer, a painter, a filmmaker, anything creative - and Austin Kleon is not already on your radar, please tune in:

In his book Steal Like an Artist: 10 Things Nobody Told You About Being Creative, Kleon encourages people to be confident when approaching their projects, even when that voice in the back of your head is telling you, "But someone's already done something like this. Someone's already written a story about this, or make a similar sculpture, or created a collage like this..." Because guess what? Even if that is true, even if there is something similar out there, your creation won't be the same as what came before, because it's coming from you, and your viewpoint and abilities will make it unique. So don't be scared to tackle something that you think has "already been done" - because it hasn't, if you haven't done it yet.

At the same time, remember to give credit when credit is due. That's mentioned in all of his books: if you're doing something directly based on someone else's work, give that person credit. If you choreographed a dance largely influenced by the life of Martha Graham or inspired by the paintings of Degas, say that. If your research was heavily based on someone or something, cite it. Be grateful for those who paved the way, acknowledge those who helped you, respect others and you'll be respected.

Show Your Work! 10 Ways to Share Your Creativity and Get Discovered, Kleon's latest book, offers ideas and ways to share your work with the world. As with Steal Like an Artist, each chapter is motivational, brief, and to-the-point. There are those who feel the need to "network" and those who absolutely hate networking, and any number of folks in-between; Show Your Work focuses talks about using the network to help other people find your work, to share what you've done without feeling like you are self-promoting or self-involved.

Kleon's Newspaper Blackout is a collection of poetry he made by taking a permanent marker to newspaper articles and turning them into something new. My favorite piece in his collection is Underdog, as seen here; I am also fond of Enigma, created by Erica Westcott.

I'm cross-posting this at GuysLitWire. Why share this at a blog targeted to teen readers? It's simple: creativity exists in everyone, in people of all ages. Some creative people are very outgoing and outspoken (hello, that's me!) but others aren't as confident in their abilities, especially when they are younger and/or are trying an artistic pursuit for the first time. Some people need a little nudge to write down the story that's been in the back of their mind for years, just as others need a little nudge to try out for the sports team or the school play.

So what are you waiting for? If you've always wanted to play the tuba, go to the local music store and get a recommendation for a good music teacher in your area. Or, to be more specific to the aforementioned books and methods, if you want to be a poet or a songwriter or a hand-lettering artist or a greeting card designer and don't know where to start, look at the things YOU like, and create something inspired by your favorite poems and songs and illustrations. Start with what moves you, and go from there. In time, you'll find your voice, and make something wholly original that will, in turn, inspire someone else. Creativity is a cycle. Pay it forward!

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43. Teach Us To Sit Still

I must give a hearty “thank you” to Ian Darling for telling me about Teach Us to Sit Still by Tim Parks after I read The Miracle of Mindfulness. When you read a book like Thich Nhat Hahn’s on meditation and he is telling you how good it is and how it will change your life it is easy to dismiss it because of course this Buddhist monk is going to say that. To then read a book like Parks’s, a personal story that leads him kicking and screaming to meditation where he discovers that it really does work, it makes you pause and think.

Parks’s story begins when he was 51 and tired of suffering from severe pains and trips to the bathroom 5-6 times a night, something that he has been experiencing for years and keeps getting worse. Parks live and teaches in Verona, Italy and happened to have a good friend who is a top urologist in the country. His friend diagnosed him with prostatitis and referred him for tests and consults with top doctors. Through test after test and scan after scan, all the doctors said that if he weren’t having such pain they would say there was nothing wrong with him. The suggested treatment was an invasive and painful surgery that may or may not work, though all the doctors assured him it would. Parks rightly hesitated.

On a trip to India for a conference he decided to visit an Ayurvedic doctor on the spur of the moment. The doctor told him he could give him all kinds of herbs and recommend all sorts of expensive supplements but none of them would work and he would never be cured until he confronted the “profound contradiction” in his character. “There is a tussle in your mind,” the doctor told him. Parks left kicking himself for wasting his time. But he could not get over this idea of there being a tussle in his mind.

On the internet he discovered a place in California that treated men with problems like his. They had a book. Parks ordered the book. Basically, their theory was that his condition was muscle-related, that his body was so full of tension that the muscles around his prostate could not relax. Treatment was an hour of “paradoxical relaxation” and regular prostate massage. Parks decided even though he didn’t feel tense, he’d give the relaxation a go since he had nothing to lose.

“Paradoxical relaxation” is pretty much meditation done laying down. The paradox is that once you are comfortable, you are supposed to focus on an area of your body that feels tense but not try to relax it. Only by not relaxing the tension will the tension go away. And there was to be no verbalization, no talking to yourself in your head, just an empty mind and focus.

Parks was surprised when he quickly learned that the body he thought was not tense at all was nothing but tense. His first few efforts ended up giving him moments of increased pain. But he kept at it and after a few more tries had a moment when something let go and he felt a warm wave wash through him. He was so excited by this that he immediately ruined the moment. But he had made progress. Eventually he had pain-free hours during his day but he still had to get up frequently during the night.

He visited a Shiatsu massage specialist. The massages caused pain but also relieved pain. His masseuse eventually recommended Parks try Vipassana meditation. Parks was reluctant but realized that he had gone as far as he could with his paradoxical relaxation so he signed up for a weekend retreat.

In Vipassana meditation you begin by focusing your attention on feeling your breath move across the top of your lip, in and out. You aren’t supposed to think. You are supposed to sit completely still. Parks quickly discovers how very hard this is. Even with his paradoxical relaxation he had supreme difficulty not thinking, not verbalizing, now it was even harder. But there were exquisite moments when it would all come together and he would feel so calm, relaxed and completely free of pain. After two years and regular meditation, he found himself cured. He still had to get up during the night but only twice a night instead of 5-6 times.

Throughout the book he keeps going back and mulling over what the tussle in his mind could be, and he discovers there are a number of unresolved issues with his parents, especially his father, with his writing and his ambition. At one point he even decides he needed to give up writing entirely but when he told the leader of the retreat he was on when he came to this conclusion, the man just laughed at him and said he had it all wrong.

Eventually he figures it out. He realizes that holding on so tight to language, to words, the “I” that language asks us to create is the problem. Meditating helped him let that go, helped him get out of his head and into his body, gave him a sense of wholeness and calm and taught him that there is pleasure in letting the self disappear.

Of course everyone will have different reasons for meditating and derive different benefits, but Parks’s experience is encouraging and uplifting. He makes you believe that if he could do it, everyone reading his book certainly can do it too.


Filed under: Books, Memoir/Biography, Nonfiction, Reviews Tagged: Tim Parks

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44. Medea

What an amazing play is Medea by Euripides. I read an edition from 2006 translated by the poet Michael Collier and the Greek scholar Georgia Machemer. Machemer also wrote a fantastic introduction. Of all the introductions to all the Greek plays I’ve read over the last several years, this one is hands down the best. What was so good about it? It provided context for the play without trotting out all the usual tired historical droning that usually makes its way into these kinds of introductions. The context provided was specific to this play itself and what was going on in Athens during the time it was produced, what the audience would have known and expected, how they would have probably reacted when their expectations were challenged, and what they would have known and how they would have felt about Euripides himself.

For instance, even though the songs Euripides wrote for his choruses were popular and sung all over town, the playwright and plays themselves often unsettled audiences. Euripides was schooled by the Sophists who were foreigners to Athens, had unnerving theories about the nature of things and could deftly argue either side of an issue. They stirred things up. Euripides didn’t let them down.

Medea opens with Medea’s nurse coming on stage. Today we would think nothing of this, but then, this was shocking. Not only was it a woman giving the opening monologue of the play but a servant who was an old slave of a “barbarian” princess. When you expect a highborn man or a god to walk out for the opening monologue, this move is quite astonishing and right off sets you reeling.

And then the play itself. A woman carries it and not just any woman. Medea is a priestess of Hecate, she has immense knowledge of the healing arts as well as potions that kill. She is from a foreign country. And she speaks throughout with the rhetorical skill of a man, scheming, tricking, deceiving to save her own honor instead of submitting to the will of her husband like a good and proper wife should. After seeing this play the men in the audience, and the audience would have been almost all men, would have been shaking in their sandals for fear of the power that a woman might wield. I could also hope that some of them left the theatre with a bit more respect for their wives but that might be hoping too much.

This play would have resonated with Athenians on a different level too. Athens had recently passed a law that said foreign-born wives could not be citizens nor could any of their offspring. This law effectively disinherited any children born from such a marriage. As a result, many men divorced their wives and married Greek ones instead. So when Jason leaves Medea for the daughter of King Creon, the men of Athens watching this play got an extra dose of discomfort.

There is an interesting note in the text of my edition of the play that says a good many scholars believe Euripides invented Medea killing her children, that prior to this play, the story did not include their deaths. So why did she have to kill them? Medea needed to destroy Jason for his betrayal and the best way to destroy him is to destroy his whole family. Thus Medea kills Jason’s new wife with poisoned gifts and Creon in rushing to her aid is also poisoned by he deadly robes. The children could not be left alive as heirs nor after killing the king and his daughter could Medea leave the children alive to likely be killed my an angry mob. So she does the deed. She almost couldn’t. Can you blame her? The gods do not punish her for killing her children because her act was honorable vengeance against a man who betrayed both her and the gods who had given him Medea to help him escape with the Golden Fleece.

Medea gets to exit in a golden sun chariot with the corpses of her children after she curses Jason. And we all known Jason dies a sad and ruined man, killed when his famous ship, the Argo, falls on his head while he is beneath it repairing its keel.

Medea, of course, has some marvelous speeches in this play. One of my favorite passages happens when she is talking to the chorus who are all women:

But I’ve been talking as if our lives
are the same. They’re not. You are Corinthians
with ancestral homes, childhood friends,
while I, stripped of that already,
am now even more exposed by Jason’s cruelties.
Remember how I came here, a war bride,
plundered from my country, an orphan?
Now who’s obligated to shelter me? Not you,
I know. As you watch my plans for justice unfold,
keep them secret, that’s all I ask. I’ve never felt
this threatened nor fearless: men win their battles
on the field but women are ruthless when the bed
becomes the battleground. We’ve lain
in our own blood before…and have survived.

In the face of Medea, Jason comes off sounding like a greedy, petulant boy whining about how Medea isn’t being reasonable in accepting the crumbs he is reluctantly offering so he looks like a good man and doesn’t feel guilty. Why he is so surprised that this powerful woman throws it all back in his face and calls him on his betrayal is the real surprise.

The sad thing though in the end, in spite of Medea triumphing over Jason and being carried away to Athens in a chariot of the sun (he’s a relative), she has lost everything too. She will have protection in Athens, but she has no home, no friends, no children. She wins by losing and that is the biggest tragedy of all.


Filed under: Ancient Greece, Books, Plays, Reviews Tagged: Euripides

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45. GraphicAudio Releases Their First Graphic Novel Adaptation - Cemetery Girl, Book One


If you cannot see the media player embedded above, click here to listen to the sample track at SoundCloud.

GraphicAudio has released their first graphic novel adaptation - and it's CEMETERY GIRL Book One: The Pretenders by Charlaine Harris and Christopher Golden. Double cool! I loved the original book, and the audio sample released by the publisher (see above) immediately sets the stage for the story's location and feel. Kudos to Emlyn McFarland, who plays the main character, Calexa, and to the sound designers and producers.

Read my review of the original graphic novel.

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46. Fusenews: Bemoaning, Lamenting, and Generally Carrying On

  • A stumper to begin the day. I got this message from my aunt and I simply do not know the answer. Librarians of the world, do you know? Just to clarify beforehand, the answer is unfortunately not Are Your My Mother? by P.D. Eastman:

“… seeking info on a children’s book that was [a] favorite at least 30 years ago about a baby bird (with goggles) who is having trouble learning to fly.”

  • CatherineCertitude 210x300 Fusenews: Bemoaning, Lamenting, and Generally Carrying OnHere’s a new one.  Apparently the 2014 Nobel Prize winner for literature is a French author with a children’s book to his name.  And the book?  According to Karen MacPherson it’s Catherine Certitude.  Now THAT is a title, people!
  • Me Stuff: Pop Goes the Page was very very kind and did a little behind-the-scenes interview with me about good old Giant Dance Party.  Ain’t Dana swell?  Meanwhile my favorite transgender children’s librarian Kyle Lukoff just posted a review of Wild Things on his blog.  I’ve been very impressed by his reviews, by the way.  The critique of A is for Activist is dead on.
  • On the one hand, this may well be the most interesting board book I’ve seen in a long time.  On the other, why can’t I buy it through Ingram or Baker & Taylor?  Gah!
  • Movie news! Specifically Number the Stars movie news. Read on:

Young readers and their families enjoyed an afternoon celebrating the 25th anniversary of Lois Lowry’s Number the Stars  at Symphony Space in New York on October 19th.  Actor Sean Astin (Lord of the Rings) was on hand to read from Lowry’s work,. He and his wife Christine have secured the rights to adapt the book for film.

The event was one of the Thalia Kids’ Book Club series at Symphony Space. The next event is a celebrity-studded tribute to the work of E. B. White on Wednesday, November 19th, with proceeds benefiting First Book Manhattan. (Link: http://www.symphonyspace.org/event/8497/Family-Literature/thalia-kids-book-club-terrific-tails-a-celebration-of-eb-white

Lowry event PHOTOS just posted via Getty Images: http://www.gettyimages.com/detail/news-photo/lois-lowry-and-sean-astin-attends-number-the-stars-25th-news-photo/457520190

  • Aw heck.  Since I’m just reprinting small press releases at this point, I’d be amiss in missing this:

ASK ME ANOTHER WITH MO WILLEMS

  • Date: Wednesday, November 5
  • Time: 6:30 doors, 7:30 show
  • Price: $20 advance, $25 door
  • Location: The Bell House, 149 7th Street (between 2nd and 3rd Aves), Brooklyn, NY 11215
  • Ticket Link: http://www.thebellhouseny.com/event/699477-ask-me-another-brooklyn/
  • Blurb: Join NPR’s Ask Me Another, along with host Ophira Eisenberg and house musician Jonathan Coulton, for a rousing night of brainteasers, comedy, and music. This week’s V.I.P. (that’s puzzle speak for Very Important Puzzler), is acclaimed children’s book author Mo Willems. Willems is known for titles like Knuffle Bunny, Don’t Let the Pigeon Drive the Bus!, and the Elephant and Piggie series. See how he fares in a trivia game written just for him. For more information and tickets visit www.amatickets.org.

DuckDeathTulip 300x180 Fusenews: Bemoaning, Lamenting, and Generally Carrying OnAs a children’s materials specialist I have a little file where I keep track of my 80+ library branches and the types of books they want.  One of the topics you’ll find on my list?  Death.  We’re always asked to provide books about the bereavement process.  Now The Guardian has done a nice little round-up of some of the more recent ones.  Note, though, that death books all have on thing in common: They’re all about white families.  Finding a multicultural book about death isn’t impossible but it is harder than it should be, particularly when we’re discussing picture books.  Thanks to Kate for the link.

  • There is a tendency online when a story breaks to write a post that comments on one aspect or another of the situation without saying what the problem was in the first place.  That’s why we’re so grateful to Leila Roy.  If you found yourself hearing vague references to one Kathleen Hale and her article of questionable taste in The Guardian but didn’t know the whole story, Leila makes all clear here.
  • Hm. I like Harry Potter as much as the next guy but the Washington Post article Why the Harry Potter Books Are So Influential All Around the World didn’t quite do it for me.  Much of it hinges on believing that HP is multicultural.  I don’t suppose I’m the only person out there who remembers that in the original printing of Harry Potter and the Philosopher’s Stone, Dean Thomas was not mentioned as black.  That was added for subsequent editions.  Ah well.  Does it matter?
  • Daily Show Head Writer and fellow-who-is-married-to-a-children’s-librarian Elliott Kalan recently wrote a piece for Slate that seeks to explain how his vision of New York as a child was formed by Muppets Take Manhattan and Ghostbusters.  But only the boring parts.  Yup.
  • Fountas and Pinnell have a message for you: They’re sorry.  Thanks to Colby Sharp for the link.
  • Daily Image:

They’ve finally announced the winner of the whopping great huge Kirkus Prize.  And the final finalist on the children’s side turns out to be . . . Aviary Wonders, Inc.  And here’s an image of the committee that selected the prize with the winner herself.

Left to right: E.K. Johnston (author finalist), Vicky Smith (Kirkus Children’s Editor), Claudette McLinn, Kate Samworth, John Peters, and Linda Sue Park.

Screen Shot 2014 10 27 at 11.25.19 PM 500x389 Fusenews: Bemoaning, Lamenting, and Generally Carrying On

They mentioned the prize money but they never mentioned that the winner also gets a TROPHY!!  That’s big.  We don’t get many trophies in our business.  Well played.  And thanks to Claudette McLinn for the photo.

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47. Review of The Cabinet of Curiosities

bachmann cabinet of curiosities Review of The Cabinet of CuriositiesThe Cabinet of Curiosities:
36 Tales Brief & Sinister

by Stefan Bachmann, Katherine Catmull, Claire Legrand, 
and Emma Trevayne;
illus. by Alexander Jansson
Middle School    Greenwillow    488 pp.
6/14    978-0-06-233105-2    $16.99

Four “curators” — Bachmann, Catmull, Legrand, and Trevayne — travel to lands peregrine and outré to fill their Cabinet of Curiosities museum, sending back grotesqueries and objects of wonder as well as the tales behind them — tales that often bend to the tenebrous and unearthly. The table of contents lists the Cabinet’s “rooms” and “drawers,” each with a theme (cake, luck, tricks, flowers) and four or five tales to explore. In “The Cake Made Out of Teeth” (“collected by” Legrand) a spoiled-rotten boy must finish an entire cake made in his image, despite the sensation of teeth chewing him up with every bite. “Lucky, Lucky Girl” (Catmull) stars a young woman whose good luck seems to depend on the very bad luck of the people around her. In “Plum Boy and the Dead Man” (Bachmann), a rich and opinionated lad has a conversation with a corpse hanging from a tree…and ends up unwillingly changing places with the victim. “The Book of Bones” (Trevayne) features Eleanor Entwhistle, a plucky girl whose courage halts the work of a grave-robbing sorcerer. The stories are remarkable both for their uniformly high quality and for their distinctness from one another; the abundant atmospherics, including occasional stark black-and-white illustrations, provide a unifying sense of dread. The framing device — the curators send letters from the field introducing their latest discoveries — adds depths of mystery, danger, and idiosyncrasy to a book already swimming in each.

From the September/October 2014 issue of The Horn Book Magazine.

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48. Domestic animals

goldish science dogs Domestic animalsGoldish, Meish Science Dogs
Gr. 4–6    
32 pp.     Bearport

Goldish, Meish Shelter Dogs
Gr. 4–6    
32 pp.      Bearport

Dog Heroes series. These series entries introduce two types of “dog heroes”: in Science, dogs are studied to aid beneficial scientific discoveries and innovations; Shelter discusses how unwanted dogs can go on to do remarkable things for humans after they’re adopted. The volumes are accessible, with numerous photographs and interesting personal anecdotes rounding out the texts. Reading list, websites. Bib., glos., ind.
Subjects: Domestic Animals; Pets; Animals—Dogs; Animal shelters; Scientists; Science

green inheritance of traits Domestic animalsGreen, Jen Inheritance of Traits: Why Is My Dog Bigger Than Your Dog?
Gr. 4–6    
32 pp.     Raintree

Show Me Sciences series. In a successful series entry, Green walks us through the “Ultimate Pet Show,” describing how dogs, cats, and horses evolved from the wild and are bred to encourage the emergence of certain traits in each species’ breeds. Explanations are clear, specific, and supported by simple diagrams and engaging photos of our animal companions. Reading list, websites. Glos., ind.
Subjects: Domestic Animals; Genetics; Animals—Horses; Animals—Cats; Animals—Dogs; Pets

johnson guinea pig Domestic animalsJohnson, Jinny Guinea Pig
Gr. K–3
     24 pp.     Smart Apple

Johnson, Jinny Hamster and Gerbil
Gr. K–3
     24 pp.     Smart Apple

Johnson, Jinny Kitten
Gr. K–3
     24 pp.     Smart Apple

Johnson, Jinny Puppy
Gr. K–3
     24 pp.     Smart Apple

Johnson, Jinny Rabbit
Gr. K–3
     24 pp.     Smart Apple

My New Pet series. Young children learn what it takes to care for a new pet. Large print and a combination of photos and drawings of familiar critters present the responsibilities — providing food, water, a place for sleeping and play, gentle handling, regular attention, and veterinary care. The books are narrated simply in the first-person voice of a child; a few notes for parents wrap things up. Glos., ind.
Subjects: Domestic Animals; Animals—Dogs; Animals—Rabbits; Animals—Cats; Animals—Guinea pigs; Animals—Hamsters; Animals—Gerbils; Pets

spiotta dimare draft horses Domestic animalsSpiotta-DiMare, Loren Draft Horses: Horses That Work
Gr. 4–6    
48 pp.     Enslow/Elementary

Spiotta-DiMare, Loren Performing Horses: Horses That Entertain
Gr. 4–6    
48 pp.     Enslow/Elementary

Spiotta-DiMare, Loren Police Horses: Horses That Protect
Gr. 4–6    
48 pp.     Enslow/Elementary

Spiotta-DiMare, Loren Therapy Horses: Horses That Heal
Gr. 4–6    
48 pp.     Enslow/Elementary

Horses That Help with the American Humane Association series. Examining horses that work as performers, with police, pulling plows and wagons, and in therapeutic environments, these volumes address the history of horses doing such work, breeds, training, the work itself, and horse retirement. The conversational writing, plentiful examples, and occasional references to the author’s own horse keep things engaging. Photos and “Fast Fact” sidebars enliven the design. Reading list, websites. Glos., ind.
Subjects: Domestic Animals; Animals—Horses; Police officers

stiefel chickens on the family farm Domestic animalsStiefel, Chana Chickens on the Family Farm
Gr. K–3     24 pp.     Enslow

Stiefel, Chana Cows on the Family Farm
Gr. K–3      24 pp.     Enslow

Stiefel, Chana Goats on the Family Farm
Gr. K–3     24 pp.     Enslow

Stiefel, Chana Pigs on the Family Farm
Gr. K–3     24 pp.     Enslow

Stiefel, Chana Sheep on the Family Farm
Gr. K–3     24 pp.     Enslow

Stiefel, Chana Turkeys on the Family Farm
Gr. K–3      24 pp.      Enslow

Animals on the Family Farm series. One family’s farm is the setting for these six simple books about domestic animals. In each volume, a conversational text and colorful photos briefly cover basics: what the animal eats, where it lives (coop, pen, etc.), differences between males and females (size, coloring), care of young, and what it’s raised for (eggs, cheese, meat). Reading list, websites. Glos., ind.
Subjects: Domestic Animals; Farms and farm life; Animals–Chickens; Animals—Cows; Animals—Goats; Animals—Pigs; Animals—Sheep; Animals—Turkeys

From the October 2014 issue of Nonfiction Notes from the Horn Book.

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49. Cookery

barlow noodlemania CookeryBarlow, Melissa Noodlemania!: 50 Playful Pasta Recipes
Gr. 46     112 pp.     Quirk Books

Illustrated by Alison Oliver. Sections named for pasta shapes (“Twisted & Twirly,” “Wheels & Whatever”) contain recipes that use common ingredients and simple techniques with the usual caveat about grown-up help. Appetizing full-color photos show final products. Pasta trivia, creative cooking tips, and “fun facts” are scattered throughout. A chart suggesting substitutions, such as ravioli instead of tortellini, is a clever addition. Ind.
Subjects: Cookery and Nutrition; Food

elton starting from scratch CookeryElton, Sarah Starting from Scratch: What You Should Know About Food and Cooking
Middle school, high school      96 pp.     Owlkids

Illustrated by Jeff Kulak. Although this book includes some recipes, it’s not a cookbook. Elton explores why we cook, how our senses contribute to food preferences, how culture and history affect food choices, and more. The lively prose is accompanied by stylized illustrations, charts, activities, and other graphics. A “guide to flavor pairing” and a measurement conversion chart are appended. Ind.
Subjects: Cookery and Nutrition; Food

lapenta fall shakes to harvest bakes CookeryLaPenta, Marilyn Fall Shakes to Harvest Bakes
Gr. K3     24 pp.     Bearport

LaPenta, Marilyn Spring Spreads to “Nutty” Breads
Gr. K3     24 pp.     Bearport

LaPenta, Marilyn Summer Sips to “Chill” Dips
Gr. K3     24 pp.     Bearport

LaPenta, Marilyn Winter Punches to Nut Crunches
Gr. K3     24 pp.     Bearport

Yummy Tummy Recipes: Seasons series. Corny titles and static illustrations aside, these cookbooks are something fresh for kids. With seasonal ingredients — pumpkin and cranberry for fall, peach and melon for summer, etc. — they offer enticing and healthy dishes that are perfect for holiday celebrations and generally enjoying each season. Sidebars present health tips, and directions are simple to follow and relatively concise. Reading list. Bib., glos., ind.
Subjects: Cookery and Nutrition; Seasons—Autumn; Seasons—Summer; Seasons—Spring; Seasons—Winter; Food; Bakers and baking

wagner cool backyard grilling CookeryWagner, Lisa Cool Backyard Grilling: Beyond the Basics for Kids Who Cook
Gr. 46     32 pp.     ABDO

Wagner, Lisa Cool Best-Ever Brunches: Beyond the Basics for Kids Who Cook
Gr. 46     32 pp.     ABDO

Wagner, Lisa Cool Cooking Up Chili: Beyond the Basics for Kids Who Cook
Gr. 46     32 pp.     ABDO

Wagner, Lisa Cool Game Day Parties: Beyond the Basics for Kids Who Cook
Gr. 46     32 pp.     ABDO

Checkerboard How-To Library: Cool Young Chefs series. Each volume emphasizes characteristics of being a good cook (efficiency, creativity, organization, etc.); introduces a cooking technique and safety guidelines; and includes nine not-too-difficult, kid-appealing recipes—caramelized onion dip, black bean chili, breakfast bakes, kebabs, and more—with variations. Clear step-by-step directions include helpful color photos. There is some boilerplate repetition across the useful, accessible series. Glos., ind.
Subjects: Cookery and Nutrition; Food

walton lets bake a cake CookeryWalton, Ruth Let’s Bake a Cake
Gr. K3     32 pp.     Sea to Sea

Let’s Find Out series. Beginning with a birthday cake baked at Grandma’s (recipe appended), this book explores the origin and processing of the ingredients: sugar, butter, eggs, wheat, and chocolate. Walton generally makes sound choices about coverage for these broad topics, along with occasional advocacy for organic, fair-trade products. Collage-style illustrations and captioned photos help clarify the wide-ranging (and haphazardly organized) subjects. Glos., ind.
Subjects: Cookery and Nutrition; Bakers and baking

From the October 2014 issue of Nonfiction Notes from the Horn Book.

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50. Big ideas

adler things that float and things that dont Big ideasAdler, David A. Things That Float and Things That Don’t
Gr. K3        32 pp.      Holiday

Illustrated by Anna Raff. Adler expertly teaches the concept of density, moving beyond classic floating and sinking experiments to a carefully constructed lesson that helps young thinkers appreciate both scientific explanations and practices. The concepts are kept simple and age appropriate, without shying away from the more abstract dimensions of science. Cartoonlike illustrations portray two children and their curious dog happily doing science.
Subjects: Physics and Chemistry; Water; Vehicles—Boats and boating

andregg seven billion and counting Big ideasAndregg, Michael M. Seven Billion and Counting: The Crisis in Global Population Growth
Middle school, high school   
88 pp.    Twenty-First Century

This book is chock-full of sobering statistics on human population growth. Andregg explains demographic basics, then how numbers are affected by the interplay of politics, religion, depletion of natural resources, poverty, education, and access to health care such as birth control. Photos and graphs extend the rich, thought-provoking text. Reading list, websites. Bib., glos., ind.
Subjects: Social Issues; Population

ross shapes in math science and nature Big ideasRoss, Catherine Sheldrick Shapes in Math, Science and Nature: Squares, Triangles and Circles
Gr. 46     192 pp.     Kids Can

Illustrated by Bill Slavin. Upper-elementary math fans (and teachers) will enjoy the many hands-on activities in this compilation of Ross and Slavin’s three earlier books about squares, triangles, and circles—and their related solid shapes. Numerous details (historical, architectural, geographical, etc.) are woven in among the projects and games—some of which are quite challenging (e.g., making a sundial). Chapters include diagrams and cartoonlike illustrations. Glos., ind.
Subjects: Mathematics; Mathematics—Geometry

schaefer lifetime Big ideasSchaefer, Lola M. Lifetime: The Amazing Numbers in Animal Lives
Gr. K–3     40 pp.     Chronicle

Illustrated by Christopher Silas Neal. The concept of quantity is cleverly examined in the context of animal lives. Schaefer presents the number of times an animal “performs one behavior” in its lifetime, starting with the single egg sac spun by a spider, up to the thousand babies carried by a male seahorse. Bold and beautifully composed, Neal’s retro illustrations contain the actual number of items mentioned. Supplemental information is appended.
Subjects: Natural History; Animals; Biology

zoehfeld secrets of the seasons Big ideasZoehfeld, Kathleen Weidner Secrets of the Seasons: Orbiting the Sun in Our Backyard
Gr. K—3        40 pp.      Knopf

Illustrated by Priscilla Lamont. Alice and friends from Secrets of the Garden return to enjoy her nature-filled backyard. This time, she learns to notice and welcome differences in weather, plants, and animal life in each of the four seasons of the temperate northern hemisphere. Throughout, airy pen and watercolor illustrations make the appeal of nature accessible to even the youngest readers.
Subjects: Earth Science; Astronomy—Sun; Seasons; Nature

From the October 2014 issue of Nonfiction Notes from the Horn Book.

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