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There’s a secret I hide. Few people know this secret, and they have kept quiet for the past twelve years. They can now break their silence, as I make this astounding announcement: I used to be an actress.
When writer pal Rasheda Poe asked me to be in her short film, I hedged. I was vague. I told her I wasn’t “actually an actress.” This is untrue. In high school, I was Theater Student of the Year as a senior. I earned my varsity letter as a thespian. In college, I minored in acting. My last stage show was in 2002, and I haven’t acted since.
Historically, I was cast as the bitch. I don’t know why. I’m not a bitch. I’m actually quite nice, but perhaps my snark comes across as bitchy. Perhaps men see me as bitchy (since I was always cast by men).
Rasheda saw the bitch in me, too. Well, the bitch and the psychopath. Her short film, entitled “Urban Midnight,” is about a seductive murderess. Rasheda wrote the role of Fiona with me in mind. It’s highly complimentary when one of your best friends thinks you’d make a perfect murderer, right? I think so.
Monday night, we spent five hours filming. I have a semi-photographic memory, which makes me super annoying to other actors. (I’m always correcting people.) I knew I could memorize the lines, but could I deliver them?
I arrived to the “set” (an extended stay hotel) and found myself surrounded by about ten film geek dudes. Yeah, Rasheda and I were the only girls, and I was in nothing but a robe. We joked about how the hotel probably thought we were filming porn, and yeah, I may have busted out the Old School line, “I’m here for the gang bang.”
Blood is so hard to wash off.
Playing Fiona was like playing Hannibal Lecter: a lot of stillness with very little facial expression. My favorite part was when the boys covered me in chocolate syrup for fake blood (it’s what Hitchcock used for Psycho). Since the film was in black and white, this worked perfectly.
How did it feel to have the acting boots on again? I guess we should take a quick trip back to 2002 first.
In 2002, I was a sophomore at Ohio University, an acting major. I’d just been cast as the overbearing, bitchy older sister in a dark comedy about one man returning home for his father’s funeral. I had one scene in particular where it was just me in the center of the stage, giving my father’s eulogy, and finally breaking down. I physically ached after every performance.
It was reminiscent of when I starred in “To Absent Friends” in high school: a short play in which the viewer realizes, only at the end, that all the characters are dead. My friend, Emily, had to be escorted out of the theater by her boyfriend because she was so distraught by the shocking conclusion.
During my “actor days,” I understood the power of theater. I’m a movie buff to this day. In fact, I’m a movie snob and trivia expert. But in 2002, I realized I loved what actors did … but I hated acting. I switched to creative writing. Haven’t looked back since.
That said, since I’m a huge proponent of doing things that scare the shit out of me, I agreed to act in Rasheda’s short film, and I did have fun. I liked playing a sociopath, and the process was interesting: all the camera angles, the sound stuff, and “getting into character” with the help of my awesome costars. I slid back into it like a hand in a glove.
So shall I announce my victorious return to acting? Um, no. Making “Urban Midnight” was fun, but acting (although once my thing) is a very small part of my introverted, writer brain. Just like singing (something I can do but don’t really enjoy), acting will be one of those skills I keep in my back pocket in case Ben Cumberbatch calls and wants me to play his romantic lead.
Until then, I’ll tuck Fiona away but thank her (and Rasheda) for reminding me how fun it is to step outside my comfort zone for a couple hours and do something truly unique.
Is Panem modeled after ruthless dictatorships of the past?
Is the harsh world of the Grimm's more than a reflection of the past?
Does children's literature, in books and movies, bring the past into the present?
Can childhood stories open the doors of the mind to the present -- and the future?
High Stakes of YA Dystopia.
In earlier eras, there were adult works of literature set in dystopian milieus... they includeThe Trial, Brave New World, Animal Farm, 1984, Childhood's End, The Quiet Ameriican, The Naked and the Dead, A Rumor of War, The Unbearable Lightness of Being, Farenheit 451, All Quiet On the Western Front, The Spy Who Came In From The Cold and many more.
To one degree or another, these books are classics. And like children's and young adult (YA) books of our current era, many were reinvented as theatre and movies.
Today, we seem to have a run of dystopian-centered books and films for young adults (YA). Many are in the form of a series and are followed by films -- also in series. The books, although some may be well written, do not pretend to be literature. Rather, the books, like the films, seem primarily designed to be popular and succeed in the marketplace.
Controversy has followed...most of the films are characterized by great violence; and they all seem to have teen age protagonists who are themselves commiting violence (usually for survival).
Crossover. I don't know if the term YA, and the definition (12-18 year olds) came from marketeers or librarians, or both. I do know that the lines have been blurred, with children and adults both crossing over into the realm of YA.
I doubt that there will be clear lines in the future. The finacial stakes are too high. YA books and movies are a multi -billion dollar business.
Personally, I don't care if adults read YA books. Hopefully, they do so with discernment.
I do care about the amount of over-the-top violence that children are subjected to in YA movies.
For any child, there is a huge difference in the impact found in the brief mention of Gretel pushing the murderous witch into the oven, when compared to the long, unrelenting, realistic, hardcore violence (supported by thunderous sound and music) of the Ring movies.
Hopefully, Alice In Wonderland, Winnie-the-Pooh, Snow White, HisDark Materials, Tales from the Brothers Grimm, and other classics -- themselves often fraught with danger, fear, and violent events -- will continue as the main source for bringing the past -- or the future -- into Children's minds.
Dystopia and the Grimms
The world of the Grimm's fairy tales is filled with fearful events, dark forests, curses by evil witches, and cruelty -- dystopia, but always relieved by magic, marvels, courage, beauty and happy endings...
"The unsparing savegry of stories like the Robber Bridegroom is a sharp reminder that fairy tales belong to the childhood of culture as much as the culture of childhood...they capture anxieties and fantasies that have deep roots in childhood experience"- Maria Tatar,The Grimm Reader: Classic Tales of the Brothers Grimm.
"It is worth noting that the lives of all people in the land of the Grimm's was in was in constant turmoil and change during the time that the Grimm's collected, wrote, and published their books." - Seth Lerer, Children's Literature, A Reader's History from Aesop to Harry Potter.
The illustration from The Robber Bridegroom is by John B. Gruelle
"'Well, dear little children. How in the world did you get here? Just come right in, and you can stay with me. You will come to no harm in my house.' She took them by the hand and led them into her house...The old woman had only pretended to be kind." - Hansel and Gretel meet the Wicked Witch
"For children in their most impressionable years, there is in fantasy, the highest of stimulating and educational powers." -Arthur Rackham
Kaitlin Jenkin's has two blogs, She Speaks Bark and Pet Parent.Kaitlin has a background of working in many dog related jobs, including foster care and 7 years as a shelter worker. She has two adopted dogs (seen on the left), Bear and Scooter. She recently wrote an excellent and informative review of C.A. Wulff and A.A. Weddle's book for dog owners, Finding Fido. Here are excerpts...
"The thought of Bear or Scooter going missing, or being stolen is one that I don’t let my mind entertain. To say I’d be devastated doesn’t even begin to cover it, and I know you all feel the same about your pets! Would you know what to do if your pet suddenly went missing? Where to begin? What to do first?
Finding Fido is essentially a Pet Parent’s guide to preventing the loss of a pet, as well as a guide on exactly what steps to take should that awful moment ever happen to you. Authors C.A Wulffand A.A.Weddle are the administrators of the Lost & Found Ohio Pets service and they collaborated on this helpful guide in order to address the sad reality of so many lost pets in America....
If our pets were to become lost, it would be absolutely devastating. We may not even be able to think logically in order to act effectively to work towards their return. That’s why this book is great- it’s literally a step by step guide to finding your lost pet. Full of resources for Pet Parents to utilize, and all at the turn of a page.
... I think that Finding Fido is a great read for all Pet Parents and pet lovers. If you’re a first time Pet Parent or a long time, seasoned Pet Parent, there are tips and tricks in here that will be helpful to you! Everyone should read the sections entitled ‘Before You Lose A Pet‘" ...
Adults Continue to Cross the Borders of Imagination Into Y.A.
As part of a post that I wrote in our September blog about the trend of adults reading Y.A. books, I quoted journalist (Atlantic, Wall Street Journal, Boston Globe) Ruth Graham'sarticle in Slate with this headline: "Read whatever you want. But you should be embarrassed when what you're reading was written for children."
Graham's article provoked substantial controversy including a very thoughtful rebuttal, in Hairpin, by journalist and author(Save The Date ) Jen Doll: The Trouble With Reader-Shaming: A Y.A.Book List Here are excerpts from Jen Doll's rebuttal:
"The great debate over whether grownups should read young adult literature—and further, what the nature of reading should be—has come up again, thanks to a piece in Slate telling adults they should feel ashamed about reading books for kids...
"What the piece itself rails against—that Y.A. offers pat, easy or at the very least "satisfying" solutions aimed at kids and doesn’t make adults think—could be said for the very type of internet writing it embodies. Here, precisely, is how you should feel, it says. Here are the answers, tied up in a bow: You be embarrassed for wasting your time reading Y.A., because Y.A. is not for adults, and you should be reading something appropriate to your age. It is easy and not challenging. You should not be "substituting maudlin teen dramas for the complexity of great adult literature." This is an argument that speaks from a place of truth and rightness, or at least, intends to; there is little room for nuance.
Yet, nuance persists. There are many, many factors that go into what makes something complex, great, or "appropriate to one's age," and most of all this depends on who is reading it—not based in age, because age categorizations do not always match prescribed reading levels; just ask any kid sneaking illicit tomes off her parents' bookshelf because all "her" books have already been devoured—but based in who that person is, what they want, and what they bring to the table..."
Update: Jen Dollis now writing a column of YA book reviews for the venerable New York Times: "Y.A. Crossover". The Times they are a changing. Congratulations, Jen Doll.
The Photo is of Ms Doll. The two books pictured are from Ms Doll's Y.A. Book List.
KidLitosphere is the best source that I have found for locating children's literature blogs. KidLitosphere has helped many readers find their way to these pages. Here is an excerpt form their home page..."Some of the best books being published today are children’s and young adult titles, well-written and engaging books that capture the imagination. Many of us can enjoy them as adults, but more importantly, can pass along our appreciation for books to the next generation by helping parents, teachers, librarians and others to find wonderful books, promote lifelong reading, and present literacy ideas."
Geno is retiring. An 8 year old German Shepherd, Geno is highly regarded by the Kane County Sheriff's Office for his loyalty, courage and intelligence. Here are excerpts from his bio as posted by the Sheriff's Office:
"Geno has served with the KCSO since 2009. Deputy Bill Gatske, Geno’s handler, has served with the KCSO for 15 years and Geno will continue to live with Gatske and his family in retirement. Over his career, Geno has... performed numerous dignitary and presidential protective sweeps and participated in sweeps before games at Soldier Field in Chicago along with conducting countless explosivedetection searches, suspect apprehensions and missing person searches. Geno may be most remembered, though, for his appearances with local area children where he taught the value of policing and reinforced the fact that law enforcement officers exists to serve their community"...
The cost of replacing Gino with his special skills in explosives detection, tracking, missing person searches, and more is very expensive. Once again, Planet Dog Foundation is providing support for a service dog. They have come together with theSpirit of Blue Foundation to award the Kane County Sherrif’s Office a $12,500 grant to acquire and train a new explosives detection K9 to replace the very special Geno.
The Planet Dog Foundation has awarded over a million dollars in funding to support dogs helping people in need.
“We dogs are happy and help each other because love is the most important part of our lives. When you give love,” she said, “You bring out love in others. If we come to Planet Earth, and people spend time with us, there will be fewer lonely people and more happy people.” - Miss Merrie, Queen of the Dogs
“But Mole stood still a moment, held in thought. As one wakened suddenly from a beautiful dream, who struggles to recall it, but can recapture nothing but a dim sense of the beauty in it, the beauty! Till that, too, fades away in its turn, and the dreamer bitterly accepts the hard, cold waking and all its penalties.” -- Kenneth Grahame, The Wind in the Willows Illustration by E.H. Shepherd
Snow Valley Heroes, A Christmas Tale at the Independent Publishers of New England Exhibits (IPNE)
If you are a New England librarian and headed to Boxborough, MA, for the NELAConvention (October19-21), we invite you to visit the Independent Publishers of New England (IPNE) exhibit where you will find Snow Valley Heroes, A Christmas Tale.
If you are a New England book lover and are headed to the Boston Book Festival (BFF) 0n October 25, we invite you to the Independent Publishers of New England (IPNE) exhibit where you will also find Snow Valley Heroes, A Christmas Tale.
Children's Literary Salon...New York Public Library
Saturday, November 1, 2014, 2PM, Stephen A. Schwarzman Building, South Court Auditorium...Speaker: Howard Scherry...Hosted by Elizabeth Bird
Margaret Wise Brown & Antoine de Saint-Exupery: Parallels in Their Life, Comparison in Their Literature...free admission
The Past is Always Present
UPDATE: Y.A. Distopian Movies Keep Coming -- And Making Money...Variations and Reinterpretations of Books of the Past by Movies are Omnipresent ...
No one is safe...not family, nor friends, nor any of the good folks in Katniss' "hometown" -- District 12. Empire. Oppression, and teen warriors again prevail as the Hunger Games story of resistance and survival continues. Dystopia will mean box office dollars when this third episode (there will be one more) of the Hunger Games, Mockingjay-Part1, opens in theaters worldwide, starting on November 19 -- November 21 in the USA.
For some perspective on the Hunger Games series, take a look at this review from Salon by Andrew O'Hehir "Whose Revolution Is It It?"
"Much of the genius of the “Hunger Games” franchise lies in its portrayal of a dystopian future society that lacks any specific ideological character. Panem, the deep-future dictatorship that has apparently replaced present-day America after an unspecified combination of civil war, social meltdown and ecological catastrophe, has the semiotic appearance of fascism – white-helmeted storm troopers and barbed-wire walls – but is really more like an old-fashioned feudal society, concerned entirely with maintaining its internal order. In reviewing the first “Hunger Games” movie, I observed that the relentless media onslaught of the Information Age has been rolled back, in author Suzanne Collins’ fictional universe, to one TV network and one reality show. Politics has been stripped down too: There is nothing except Empire and Resistance."
The Hunger Games Films have thus far grossed over 1.5 billion dollars
The critics were generally hard on Divergent, but the Box office has been excellent - over 288 million dollars thus far - and two sequels will follow. Based on a very popular Y.A. series by Veronica Roth. Here is an excerpt from a review by Brad Keefe in ColumbusAlive.
... “Divergent” is an adaptation of a popular young adult fiction trilogy featuring a smart, underdog heroine who fights against a corrupt power system in a dystopian future.
If you haven’t read the books, you’ll see “Divergent” as a convoluted “Hunger Games” knock-off. If you have, you’ll find the production values and performances are solid. But the movie is still convoluted.
In the crumbling ruins of a near-future Chicago, a post-war society has established peace by creating five “factions” of the population based on character traits (brains, brawn, compassion, etc.). Teens are tested for their aptitude in these fields, but they can choose their own faction (as long as they don’t mind leaving their family).
It’s like society based on a high-school clique system, so it resonates with teens (along with themes of non-conformity). And our heroine Tris (Shailene Woodley) embodies that moment of 'what do I do with my life' confusion." ....................................
Earlier this Fall, we had The Maze Runner, another YA movie set in a YA Dystopia. In less than a month, the Maze Runner has grossed over 83 Million dollars.
Also based on a successful book series (by James Dasher), it was described by Ben Kienigsberg in the International New York Times as a "perfectly serviceable entry in the young-adult dystopian sweepstakes. It combines elements of “Lord of the Flies” with the Minotaur and Orpheus myths, but it plays as something closer to “The Hunger Games” experienced through a dissociative fog. Much suspense comes from wondering which favored Hollywood twist the movie will employ...." .............................
Even if one adjustedthe figures for inflation etc, I doubt if the combined monies made by the books of Anderson, Dodson, St. Exuprey, the Brothers Grimm et al could compare with the box office receipts of these Y.A. movies.
More violence arrives in time for Christmas. The Hobbit, Battle of the 5 Armies opens on December 17. Here is a link to the trailer: Battle
If you've had enough of YA Dystopian Violence there is good news for children's films...
Boxtrolls is doing well and the Tale of Princess Kaguya, from Ghibli Studios is coming. Advance reports on Princess Kaguya suggest another outstanding film from the studio that gave us Howl's Moving Castle and Spirited Away.
Building Blocks in the past...Minecraft today and tomorrow
In case you were unaware of the scope of Minecraft, here is the opening of the excellent and comprehensive article by Stuart Dredge in the Guardian. The article is entitled: Minecraft movie will be 'large-budget' but unlikely to arrive before 2017. The article also contains videos that will take you into the digital world of Minecraft.
"What is Minecraft? It’s a game, obviously: one that its developer Mojang has sold nearly 54m copies of across computers, consoles and mobile devices so far.
But Minecraft is also an educational tool in schools through the MinecraftEduinitiative, and the driver for Block by Block, a partnership with the United Nations Human Settlements Programme to get young people involved in planning public urban spaces, starting with a pilot in Kenya.
Minecraft is also one of YouTube’s most popular video categories – right up there with music – fuelling hugely popular channels..."
Amazon-Hachette Battle Continues with Authors United
Power, money, books, writers and control are all involved as this battlle continues...Here are excerpts from a New York Times article by David Streitfeld.
"Amazon is at war with Hachette, and it sometimes seems as if it has always been that way.
As a negotiating tool in the battle, which is over the price of e-books, Amazon is discouraging its customers from buying the publisher’s printed books. After six months of being largely cut off from what is by far the largest bookstore in the country, many Hachette writers are fearful and angry. So...they are trying a new tactic to get the ir work unshackled.
Authors United, a group of Hachette writers and their allies, is appealing directly to Amazon’s board. It is warning the board that the reputation of the retailer, and of the directors themselves, is at risk.
UPDATE...This battle has expanded to include many prominent writers who are not published by Hachette. David Streifeld continues his coverage in what has become a series in the New York Times. Here is an updated excerpt...
"Now, hundreds of other writers, including some of the world’s most distinguished, are joining the coalition. Few if any are published by Hachette. And they have goals far broader than freeing up the Hachette titles. They want the Justice Department to investigate Amazon for illegal monopoly tactics..."
The Hero of Color City
This film opened in early October to mediocre reviews,but very young kids seem to like it.You be the judge. Here is the trailer: Hero of Color City
Complimentary Holiday Dog Books for Therapy Reading Dogs…
Christmas is coming and Barking Planet Productions is sending complimentary reader copies of ourholiday book,Snow Valley Heroes, A Christmas Tale, Volume 3 in the Planet of the Dogs series, to libraries and teachers participating in therapy reading dog programs and to therapy reading dogs owners and organizations.
To receive your copy, email us at firstname.lastname@example.org
Snow Valley Heroes, A Christmas Tale, is an illustrated first chapter fantasy-adventure book for children 6-12 and dog lovers of all ages.
Long, long ago, there were no dogs on planet Earth. It was during that time that two of Santa’s reindeer went missing and there could be no Christmas.
Far out in space is the Planet of the Dogs. Dogs have always lived there in peace and happiness.
When the dogs learned that there would be no more Christmas, they came down to planet earth to challenge the King of the North, free the reindeer from the Ice Castle, and save Christmas for children everywhere.
To read sample chapters, visit: www.planetofthedogs.net.
Insights on Visual Storytelling
Lizzy Burns is a proilfic, outspoken, caring and engaging blogger (A Chair, A Fireplace and a Tea Cozy )
She usually reviews YA booksand strongly supports those she likes. I'm interested in younger readers, however, I find her YA reviews to be insightful and very lively reading.
I have excerpted comments on her emotional response to the Y.A. book and movie, If I Stay, and her insights into visual storytelling...
"Here is the thing. I cried at the trailers for this film. I cried when I read the book. I knew all the plot points. There were no surprises. And yet...I cries through the whole film.
Because sometimes, it's not what happens. It's the emotional journey. And no matter how many times you go on that journey, it remains heart wrenching...
One thing I like about visual storytelling is it can show me things, reveal things, that I may not have picked up in the book. And yes, sometimes this is because of changes in the adaptation, but i t's often about staying true to the spirit of the book if not the text. So, for me, the movie made me understand more how Mia viewed her father leaving his band to pursue a job that was more stable as something he did because of her younger brother, Teddy -- never realizing it was also for her.
The movie is true to the book, but something happened at one point where I both feared and hoped that a change had been made and I said to myself, please please please even though there was no way, no way, and it was just like in the book BUT STILL MY FOOLISH HEART, IT HOPED...."
Here the link to her review/article of If I Stay. When she isn't blogging, Elizabeth Burns is the Youth Services Librarian for the New Jersey State Library Talking Book and Braille Center. Here is a link to her blog.
Nancy Houser has another excellent article that solves questions about feeding dogs and taking into account breed, age, health condition -- and she's not selling dog food, not pushing a brand. Here is an excerpt and a link:
"Dog diet is one of the most confusing aspects of taking care of your dog, a vital part of its care. Deciding on the correct dog diet and how to feed your dog is considered a highly complicated task.
Lena Dunham discussed a wide array of topics with writer and author Ariel Levy during the 15th annual New Yorker Festival on Friday night, including her aspirations to turn Karen Cushman’s “Catherine, Called Birdy” into a feature film….”It’s a really interesting examination of sort of like coming of age and what’s expected of teenage girls,” Dunham said. “I’m going to adapt it and hopefully direct it, I just need to find someone who wants to fund a PG-13 medieval movie.”
Yesterday, John and I took part in a charity walk, in aid of Alzheimer's, the horrible disease which stole my dad from me, almost exactly a year ago (and John's too, a few years back).
The forecast was iffy (it's Sheffield after all), so we carried rain gear and big coats, but in the end it was a gloriously sunny day. Maybe that's why an extra 1000 people turned up, so that over 3000 of us set off together, not to mention a varied assortment of kids and dogs (some dogs also wore the T-shirts: very funny, wish I'd got a picture).
The Rother Valley Country Park is a series of lakes, old gravel pits I think, now alive with ducks and swans and geese, so it was a really pretty walk. I took my sketchbook of course. Because we were so many, we were walking pretty slowly at the beginning, so I was able to draw while I was still on the go. Look what was posted to my Facebook page that evening:
Hee hee! Here is the sketch. I managed to add the watercolour while I was walking too, though I confess that I copped out and did the text afterwards:
This shows you what I was trying to capture:
It took a two and a half hours to complete the circuit. When we crossed the finishing line, John and I took a selfie to celebrate:
There was a memory tree, where you could post a message about the person you were dedicating your walk to:
I have managed to raise a little over £400 so far. My goal was £500, so I am doing pretty well, but if anyone would like to help me reach the £500, it's not too late and any donations would be absolutely lovely! Just click here. Thank you so much to everybody who has already supported me - I really appreciate it.
This summer saw the release of Hercules (Radical Studios, dir. Brett Ratner). Dwayne “The Rock” Johnson took his place in the long line of strongmen to portray Greece’s most enduring icon. It was a lot of fun, and you should go see it. But, as one might expect from a Hollywood piece, the film takes a revisionist approach to the world of Greek myth, especially to its titular hero. A man of enormous sexual appetite, sacker of cities, and murderer of his own family, Hercules is glossed over here as a seeker of justice, characterized by his humanity and humility. And it is once again Hercules, not Heracles: the Romanized version loses the irony of the Greek, “Glory of Hera.”
This is neither the Hercules of ancient myth, nor is it the Hercules of Steve Moore’s graphic novel, Hercules: The Thracian Wars (Radical Comics, 2008), on which the film is loosely based. It is perhaps not surprising then that Moore fought to have his name removed from the project, at least according to long-time friend Alan Moore. Steve Moore died earlier this year and buried deep in the closing credits of the film is a dedication in his memory.
When he wrote his comic, Moore strove to fit his story into the world of Greek myth in a “realistic” way. Though the story (and that of its sequel, The Knives of Kush) is original, the characters and setting are consistent with the pseudo-historic Bronze Age of Greek legend. The film jettisons much of this careful integration for little narrative gain. I am never opposed to revisions to the myth (myth, after all, can be defined by its malleability), but why, for instance, set the opening of the film in Macedonia in 358 BCE instead of 1200? It adds nothing to the story, but confuses anyone with even a passing knowledge of Greek history — our heroes should be rubbing elbows with Philip II of Macedon, Alexander the Great’s father. The answer to this question, I suspect, is a sort of Wikipedial historicity: Hercules and his companions are hired by a fictional King Cotys, a name chosen by Moore as suitably Thracian — and there was a historical Cotys in 358.
The Thracian Wars is set well after Hercules has completed his twelve labors: in the loose chronology of Greek myth, we are somewhere between the Calydonian Boar Hunt and the battle of the Seven Against Thebes. Hercules arrives in Thrace as a mercenary, along with his companions Iolaus, Tydeus, Autolycus, Amphiarus, Atalanta, Meleager, and Meneus, the only character made up by Moore. (The Hollywood film production jettisons those characters who might have LGBT overtones: Meneus is Hercules’s male lover, and Meleager is constantly frustrated by and therefore exposes Atalanta’s lesbianism.) Though no story of Greek myth involves all these characters, they all belong to roughly the same generation — the generation before the Trojan War. These characters could have interacted in untold stories.
But they don’t interact well. As Moore notes in the afterword to the trade paperback, “Hercules was a murderer, a rapist, a womanizer, subject to catastrophic rages and plainly bisexual…I wouldn’t have wanted to spend much time in his company.” The rest of the band is not much better. Where the film presents a band of brothers, faithful to each other to the death, in the comic these characters loathe each other and are clearly bound not by love of each other but the need to earn a living. They are mercenaries, with little interest in the morality of their actions.
Legendary Greece, then, is without a moral center. Violence and bloodshed are never far away. Sexual activity is fueled only by deceit or lust. The Greek characters speak of their Thracian surroundings as barbaric, but we are never shown any better. The art of the comic articulates this grim reality. Eyes are frequently lost in shadow, for instance, dehumanizing the characters further. Throughout, artist Admira Wijaya deploys a somber color palette of greys, browns, and muted reds to convey a bleak world.
This, then, is the great disconnect of Greek myth with the modern world. In our times, our heroes of popular culture must be morally pure; only black and white values can be understood. So-called “anti-heroes” are occasionally tolerated in marginal media, but even here their transgressions are typically mitigated somehow (think of the recent television series Dexter, in which the serial killer is validated by his targeting of other serial killers — the real bad guys). The heroes of Greek legend — the word “hero” itself only denoted those who performed memorable or noteworthy deeds, without a moral element — often existed solely because they were transgressors. Tantalus, Oedipus, Orestes: their stories are of broken taboos, stories of cannibalism, incest, kin-slaying. Later authors may have complicated their stories, but violation is at the core of their being.
Sure, the common people of ancient Greece benefited from Hercules’s actions as a slayer of monsters, but none of his actions were motivated by altruism. Rather, it was shame at best that moved him: in most tellings, his famous twelve labors were penance for the death of his family at his own hands. Many of his other deeds were motivated by hunger, lust, or just boredom. In the film, Johnson’s Hercules finds a sort of absolution for his past crimes. In the comic, redemption is not an objective; in fact, Hercules doesn’t even seem to recognize the concept.
Hercules is a figure of strength and power, a conqueror of the unknown, a slayer of dragons (and giant boars and lions). The Hercules of Hollywood shows us strength. The Hercules of myth — and of Moore’s comic — shows us the consequences of that strength when it’s not carefully contained. There is a primal energy there, a reflection of that part of our souls that is fascinated with, even desires, transgression. As healthy, moral humans, most of us conquer that fascination. But myth is our reminder that it always, always bears watching. Hollywood isn’t going to help you do that.
Featured image: An engraving from The Labours of Hercules by Hans Sebald Beham, c. 1545. Public domain via Wikimedia Commons.
Actually, its publication date came while I was still in Barcelona but, as you can imagine, I had a few other things going on at that point, so have only just found time to tell you the good news.
Jungle Grumble is really funny and very unusual, so please do all rush out and buy it, right away! The paperback is £6.99. If anyone would like a signed copy with a little drawing and a dedication inside, just drop me an email and we'll sort it out on PayPal, then I'll pop one off to you. Perfect Christmas presents to put away perhaps?
Thank you as well to all the team at Piccadilly Press who have worked with Julia and I on the book. People outside the business don't always realise what a team job picture books are and how important people like the editor, art director and designer are, not to mention all the folks we rarely get to meet, from sales and publicity etc.
If you would like to follow the process of how I created the illustrations, use this blog's Jungle Grumble label and scroll back to the beginning, for my very first sketched thoughts. There are also several short films on my YouTube channel, explaining how I created the animal characters in Jungle Grumble:
...and how I designed the book's roughs (it takes about a month to work out all the drawings and layouts in pencil, before any colouring can begin):
There is also another film on the way, talking you through the creation of a piece of pastel artwork - the cover of Jungle Grumble - just like the film I did when I was illustrating Swap!:
The footage for new film is all shot, but it always takes quite a time to edit the films and this is the most complicated one we have attempted. It got put on the back-burner while other things have been happening, but now the book is available, it's definitely time to get it out and get it sorted, so watch this space!
“Don’t Ball the Boss” is a whopper of a good time. If you’re offended by homosexuality, cussing, or super hot British actors, do not read. This hilarious and irreverent short story is featured in The Stoneslide Corrective today, and I dedicate every word to the adoring Cumber Collective and/or my Cumberbitches (depending on how you identify). Definitely rated R.
Don’t Ball the Boss by Sara Dobie Bauer
Rule number one: don’t fuck the boss. Even if he is doing that thing he does when he’s nervous. He pulls on the cuffs of his dress shirt. I don’t think he even knows he does it, and the movement makes me want to rip that Dolce and Gabbana shirt right off. I pretend not to watch.
There are five of us in his hotel room. His driver is in the restroom; then, there’s his tailor and me. His blond agent sits on the edge of his bed with her smart phone. She’s talking to someone and says, “Not her. Don’t make him sit next to her at the premiere.” I can tell she’s eating this up, the way America is eating him up, the way I would love—Jesus, I’m fucking starving.
I give myself permission to look at him when he addresses me.
The tailor, an old dude with glasses like Olivier in Marathon Man, drapes a tuxedo coat over his shoulders.
“How’s the fit?”
I casually address six feet of British politeness and fold my hands over my crotch. “Perfect, sir.”
“I keep telling you not to call me sir. Call me Nicholas.”
Not Nick. I’ve noticed no one calls him Nick. And tonight is his night.
A friend called a week ago and asked if I was looking for work. In Hollywood, shit, we’re always looking for work. I’m a personal assistant to the stars, and I’m real good—like Meryl Streep at Oscar time good. They say I’m discreet and subservient; stars like that.
So my pal calls up and tells me there’s this up and coming British star on his way over for a movie premiere. The film is huge, the kind that makes back its budget in a night, and this Brit plays the bad guy. He’s never been to Hollywood. He needs someone who knows the right barbers, tailors, call girls …
That’s where I come in: David Baron, assistant to the stars. And I’m not given to flights of fancy.
I’ve assisted maybe a hundred newbie celebs over the years and felt not a twitch in my pants. I took one look at Nicholas Pike and thought about quitting because PA’s don’t fuck the client. In the business, we tell stories about PA’s who did. They end up as homeless hookers.
We’re standing around, waiting to leave for his big movie premiere, and his agent won’t shut up. God, I hate her, been listening to her ever since Nicholas got here. She’s too blond, fake blond, and her British accent isn’t like his. Nicholas is all Oxford-sounding; she’s like the wenches in Oliver Twist. She has terrible style, too—wears pink lipstick, and nobody outside 1985 wears pink lipstick.
She’s giving Nicholas the time breakdown for tonight’s movie premiere, and he’s rubbing the space between his neck and shoulder. He’s been doing that a lot, but unlike the cuff pulling, this isn’t a nervous twitch. He injured his neck doing a stunt for a film he’s making in England. I know this because he told me. He tells me a lot of things.
He’s never once in his life considered smoking a bad habit.
Without a stylist, he would have no idea how to dress himself.
Finally, he believes his sudden and newly realized status as a sex symbol makes no sense. (Quote: “I’ve had the same face since I was twenty!”)
I explained to him days ago it’s all about the role. A role can make somebody, and although I haven’t seen him play the villain, I have no doubt: he’s made it. He’s been doing appearances all week, me at his side, and when we step outside the limo, it’s mania. Women are everywhere, screaming his name, waving pictures for him to sign, and he does sign them. We’ve been late to every single appearance this week, because he loves signing things, having his picture taken. He loves his fans, and I wonder if this is a British thing. He has more manners than an auditorium full of nuns.
I’m his assistant, yet he makes sure I order first at restaurants. He holds the door—for me. He smiles at me in crowds, apparently to make sure I’m all right, and it’s his manners that do it. The manners make me want to fuck him, just shove him against a wall somewhere and swallow his protests with hot, sloppy kisses.
I know I am, in many ways, in support of what in Britain would be qualified as ‘traditionalist’ educational practices in terms of literacy (and in France as ‘normal’ ones), namely the learning of poetry by heart, the imposition of reading lists, etc. However, where I differ from the French view on literacy, and perhaps from many educators in English-speaking countries too, is that I am opposed to the common hierarchy between arts or media which puts reading at the top. I don’t think there’s any reason, once literacy skills have been acquired of course (and it’s not an easy task), to enforce the notion that books are ‘better’ intrinsically than films, video games, TV series, and other visual or musical art forms and media. But they are, certainly, different ways of looking at the world.
This is partly why I’m getting increasingly uneasy with the common claim, in author interviews, that ‘we’ authors ‘now’ have to ‘compete’ with ‘films, video games, TV series’ in order for our books to be read. I used to say this as well, and of course I understand that in the most basic sense of ‘competition’ (=available time), it is true: children and young adults ‘now’ have immediate access to a wide range of such other media, and while they’re watching films or playing games they’re not reading our books.So, in terms of time, yes, we have to ‘compete’. We also have to ‘compete’ with one another, as authors, I guess. We have to ‘compete’ with funny YouTube videos, too, but that doesn’t keep me awake at night.
No, this claim bothers me because I do not see and do not want to see other creative people and other works of art as ‘competition’. Films and video games are not our enemies. They are works that ambition to set in motion creative processes, to stimulate the imagination, to increase empathy, to entice viewers and players to take part in the elaboration of complex worlds, and that can do so in different ways and just as well as books. They are not ‘competitors’. If anything, we complement one another; we provide different ways of encouraging creative, thoughtful, witty, etc. visions of the world.
Saying we’re in competition with them is the equivalent of saying that all these different works of art and ways of looking at the world are interchangeable. ‘Yes! I win! She’s reading my book instead of watching a film!’. To me, this is like saying, ‘Hurrah! She’s reading my book instead of talking to her grandmother!’. Both are hugely beneficial activities. They’re not the same, but they all contribute to growth, maturation, creativity and learning, in their own original ways. If we try to 'compete' with films or video games through similar narrative strategies, we risk making it sound like literature does not have its own specificities; like it's just a matter of being 'more entertaining' than 'other media'. This would impoverish greatly what we can do with verbal narrative, with words, which are what makes our medium unique.
And there's worse. While we’re busy saying that other branches of the creative world are ‘competitors’, we’re not talking about those branches of the culture industry which are actually busy ‘competing’ with us - in the sense that they're waging a war on the creative spirit and critical thinking of children by promising them, for instance, that the acquisition of a toy or product or game will bring happiness; by flattening the beautiful diversity of existence into easily-packaged, formulaic tales that will generate addiction and therefore money-spending; by constructing consent for the world as it is and driving reflection out of it. That's what keeps me awake at night, to be honest.
I'm being wilfully provocative here, but let me tell you what I see as competition. 10 million iPhones 6 sold in one weekend: that’s competition. Cultural products that are only created so as to sell spin-offs and merchandise: that’s competition. Little girls being made to worry about their looks and having to spend time investigating diets and make-up techniques: that’s competition. Little boys having to be interested in porn and war rather than in creative pursuits: that’s competition. Adverts selling children and young adults a unified, unimaginative version of world where “possession = happiness”: that’s competition.
Thank goodness there are people who create enticing, challenging, thought-provoking, original pieces of work in all the arts and media; and a school system which is starting to recognise this when it encourages high-level visual literacy, film and video game analysis, encounters with media and art forms from different cultures, etc. The real competitors are the messages we receive daily (and especially children) that discourage such imaginative pursuits and critical reflection by giving easy answers to complex questions.
Clémentine Beauvais writes books in both French and English. The former are of all kinds and shapes for all ages, and the latter humour and adventure stories with Hodder and Bloomsbury. She blogs here about children's literature and academia and is on Twitter @blueclementine.
Reading opens the doors that take the child beyond all borders.
From castles and great forests,
To ocean storms, island kingdoms,
Talking animals and magic stones.
From fear and darkness,
To light and peace.
For a child who has found the stories,
There are no borders to the imagination
. The illustration, The Defense of the Sampo, from the Finnish Kallevala, is by Akseli Gallen-Kallela ................................
Reimagining Mythology, Tolkien's Heritage and Movies
Peter Jackson has become the primary reinventor of J.R.R. Tolkien's Middle Earth Sagas. He has brought his vision of Tolkien to millions of people, young and old. His medium is film, and on December 17, 2014, the latest of his epicHobbitmovies, The Battle of the Five Armies, will thunder its way to movie theaters around the globe.
Tolkien, in turn, was inspired by and borrowed from mythology including Beowulff, the Norse Fables,and the Finnish Kalevala.
In the National Geographic News, Brian Handwerk, in an article entitled Lord Of The Rings Inspired by an Ancient Epic, wrote: "While the author's imagination was vast, Tolkien's world and its cast of characters do have roots in real-world history and geography, from the world wars that dominated Tolkien's lifetime to the ancient language and legends of Finland."
Tolkien, in his letters, said: "The germ of my attempt to write legends of my own to fit my private languages was the tragic tale of the hapless Kullervo in the Finnish Kalevala."
"After all, I believe that legends and myths are largely made of 'truth', and indeed present aspects of it that can only be received in this mode; and long ago certain truths and modes of this kind were discovered and must always reappear."
Tolkien also wrote that he was, in many ways, a Hobbit.
"Fairy tales since the beginning of recorded time, and perhaps earlier, have been a means to conquer the terrors of mankind through metaphor.”-- Jake Zipes, professor emeritus, University of Minnesota, translator, author of many books, including The Irresisitable Fairy Tale: The Cultural and Social History of a Genre. The illustration of Kullervo is by Akseli Gallen-Kallela
Adults Are Crossing the Borders of Imagination Into Teenland
In September, 2012,Bowker published the results of a survey that revealed that adults were buying YA (young adult) books in startling numbers. The article said that 55% of YA book purchases were by adults and 78% of those adults acknowledged that the books were for their own reading. The turning point was said to be the Hunger Games movie and the popular Hunger Games book trilogy.
Controversy has followed the article: should so many adults be reading books written for 12-17 year olds?
My interest is primarily in younger readers; however, it seems the age lines today are blurred for all. Movies seem to have precipitated the situation, and the children's market today also crosses into Teenland. How many kids today, who went to see films like E.T., Harry Potter, and the Lion King, are now going to the Hunger Games, Divergence and the Lord of the Rings Saga? I don't know the answer, but I do know their is a huge degree of difference in the violence quotient.
In defense of adults reading YA, there is respected YA Author (Cut, Purple Heart, Sold) Patricia McCormick:"Why are so many adults reading young adult books? No need to page Dr. Freud. This isn’t about the guilty pleasures of communing with one’s inner child...It’s because adults are discovering one of publishing’s best-kept secrets: that young adult authors are doing some of the most daring work out there. Authors who write for young adults are taking creative risks -- with narrative structure, voice and social commentary -- that you just don’t see as often in the more rarefied world of adult fiction."
Also defending YA books and encouaging adults to read them is popular YA author( Deviant, Orgins, Sleeping Beauty, Vampire Slayer) Maureen McGowan. She concluded her Kindle post with this thought: "I could list more reasons why I love YA but, bottom line, I’ve found most books in this category to be engaging, entertaining, thoughtful and well written."
On the other side of the controversy, journalist (Atlantic, Wall Street Journal, Boston Globe) Ruth Grahamcreated a firestorm when she wrote an article in Slate with this headline: "Read whatever you want. But you should be embarrassed when what you're reading was written for children."
Here are excerpts from Ms. Graham's article..."I know, I know: Live and let read. Far be it from me to disrupt the “everyone should just read/watch/listen to whatever they like” ethos of our era. There’s room for pleasure, escapism, juicy plots, and satisfying endings on the shelves of the serious reader... But if they are substituting maudlin teen dramas for the complexity of great adult literature, then they are missing something...
But even the myriad defenders of YA fiction admit that the enjoyment of reading this stuff has to do with escapism, instant gratification, and nostalgia. As the writer Jen Doll, who used to have a column called 'YA for Grownups,' put it in an essay last year, 'At its heart, YA aims to be pleasurable.'"
Pioneers In An Untrodden Forest
Seth Lerer points out that the comment, "We are pioneers in an untrodden forest" made in 1884 to his staff by James A.H. Murray, as presiding editor of the Oxford English Dictionary, also describes how the Grimms felt about their work in publishing their "nursery and household tales".
Lerer goes on to quote Wilhelm Grimm, who, in referring to these tales, wrote, "that these were the 'last echoes of pagan myths...A world of magic is opened up before us, one which still exists among us in secret forests, in underground caves, and in the deepest sea, and it is still visible to children...(Fairy tales) have existed among the people for several centuries.' And what we find inside those secret forests, caves and seas...(are) fairy tales full of families, full of parents who bequeath a sense of self to children, full of ancestors and heirs whose lives play out, in little, the life of a nation from its childhood to maturity."
The forest plays a very prominent part in the 1812 edition of the Grimm's tales as it did in the lives and imagination of people. Two thirds of the 210 tales take place in the forest. It is also worth noting that the lives of all people in the land of the Grimm's was in was in constant turmoil and change during the time that the Grimm's collected, wrote, and published their books. The quote, above, is from Seth Lerer's book, Children's Literature, A Reader's History from Aesop to Harry Potter.
The top illustration is by Julius Diez for Sleeping Beauty; the other illustration is by Hermann Vogel for the Three Little Gnomes in the Forest. Both tales are from the brothers Grimm 1812 edition of fairy tales.
“Grown-ups never understand anything by themselves, and it is tiresome for children to be always and forever explaining things to them” - Antoine de Saint-Exuprey
The True Magic of the Imagination
This was the headline on BREEZES FROM WONDERLAND, Maria Tatar's Internet forum for storytelling, folklore , and children's literature.
Ms Tatar wrote about a New York Times report, Harry Potter Casts a Spell for Tolerance. Written by Annie Murphy Paul, the article reports on a study that describes the "Potter Effect", citing it as an example of how reading can positively influence young minds regarding bigotry and intolerence...
"...The study, which will be published in a forthcoming issue of the Journal of Applied Social Psychology, concludes by noting that the Harry Potter novels may be especially effective at increasing the tolerance of their readers precisely because they concern themselves with made-up categories like Muggles and Mudbloods. More overt attempts to change readers’ views about real-life groups, Mr. Vezzali and his co-authors note, could prompt defensive or resistant reactions. By identifying with the fictional character of Harry Potter, and by drawing connections, conscious or not, between his treatment of people different from him and their own attitudes toward stigmatized groups, readers of these novels work their own kind of wizardry: the magic of the literary imagination."
Ms Tatar comments:"Is anyone surprised that children’s books, which often feature outsiders, quirky kids, adventurous orphans, and nomadic heroes turn us into more empathetic people in real life?"...she continues her comment with a related personal anecdote from her own childhood.
A long-time therapy dog owner, advocate, coordinator, and volunteer Nancy George-Michalson, sent us news of the latest Angel On A Leashevent to benefit the Ronald McDonald house in New York where children from around the world with cancer -- and their families -- come to stay when receiving hospital care..."Here a child with cancer plays and grows, surrounded by other children and families sharing similar experiences, supported each day by volunteer therapy dog teams waiting to meet and greet them as they return from a grueling day at the hospital. "
Ronald McDonald House New York - Angel On A Leash
3rd Annual “Family Fun Dog Walk”...a day to support therapy dogs and the courageous children who love them.
This fun-filled event is a 2k walk open to the public, with proceeds from funds raised going to support children battling cancer, and the therapy dog teams that bring smiles to their faces on a daily basis. There will be raffle baskets and prizes for the best dressed big dog and the best dressed little dog. Participants must be registered walkers and in attendance to win. David Frei and Cat Greenleaf will serve as the judges.
Date: Saturday September 20, 2014, Rain or Shine. Time: 10 AM-12PM. Location: Carl Shurz Park, East End Avenue, 84th St promenade entrance
"You can't stay in your corner of the Forest waiting for others to come to you. You have to go to them sometimes.”
"Sometimes,' said Pooh, 'the smallest things take up the most room in your heart.”
“The things that make me different are the things that make me.”
A.A. Milne, Winnie-the-Pooh
Penguin U.K. will issue this month a fiftieth-anniversary edition of Roald Dahl’s “Charlie and the Chocolate Factory” under its Modern Classics imprint. I find the cover design disturbing, inappropriate, and misleading.
In a very insightful New Yorkerarticle entitled, Meant For Kids, Margaret Talbotwrote about this cover, and the cross over book market. Here are excerpts:
"Why did the cover of a novel about five kids and a wonderful—if admittedly bizarre—candy-maker look like a scene from ‘Toddlers & Tiaras’? Commenters on Penguin’s Facebook page called it ‘creepy,’ ‘sexualized’ and ‘inappropriate garbage'... It seems likely that the Modern Classics cover of “Charlie and the Chocolate Factory” is an example of a new trend: enticing older readers to buy books intended for children and young adults by publishing them with covers that look sophisticated. Read it on the subway, read it in a bar—no need to feel sheepish..."
How do you explain loyalty to children? Does loyalty have a place in the world outside? Is it a virtue? Does loyalty bring trouble and problems? Or is it rewarding?
Does loyalty have a beginning and an end? Where can a child find examples of loyalty that they can experience and understand? In stories? In daily life? In computer games?
Dogs offer a wonderful way for a child to understand loyalty. Dogs are the embodiment of loyalty and a story with dogs can illustrate loyalty...
Suppose it is long, long ago...A sister and brother, are on a journey that will take them home. They have stopped for the night and are sleeping at a campsite in the woods. They have been riding on horseback, accompanied by two soldiers who are believed to be loyal to their father, and by their two dogs.
Betrayal...But the men are not loyal. They are traitors and the children find that they have been kidnapped. The children's dogs appear to be dead.
Thus begins a hard journey for the children, through the mountains to the land of the Forest people. There the children are imprisoned in an old castle. Their father cannot rescue them, because he does not know where his children have been taken. The children are dismayed and frightened.
Loyal Dogs...Until one cold foggy night, with the forest and the castle enveloped in mist, the sound of howling dogs is heard by the imprisoned children. Their dogs, their loyal dogs, have found them. Hope returns. And thus unfolds the story of the Castle In The Mist .
The illustrations above , from the book Castle In The Mist, are by Stella Mustanoja-McCarty
The more that you read, the more things you will know. The more that you learn, the more places you'll go.”
"You have brains in your head. You have feet in your shoes. You can steer yourself Any direction you choose."
Borders Of The Imagination
The Boxtrolls are coming...
Alan Snow, author, designer, and illustratorcreated a 501 page illustrated fantasy story book, Here Be Monsters.I haven't seen the book, except on the Internet, but it looks rather amazing. This month , on the 26th of September, Laika Studios, creators of the excellentCoraline movie, will bringBoxtrolls, their reimagined film version of Here Be Monsters, to movie theaters. The trailer (link below) is very enticing. The stop-motion annimation looks to be riding the borders of imagination.
Five Canine Heroes Receive Recognition and Rewards
I belatedly learned about these meaningful Awards. Here is an excerpt from the article by Cheslie Pickett in the Canine Chronicle that tells the story...:
"The AKC® Humane Fund announced today the winners of the 15th annual AKCHumane Fund Awards for Canine Excellence (ACE). These awards honor five inspirational dogs that have made significant contributions to their communities and truly exemplify the power of the human-canine bond. One award is presented in each of the following five categories: Exemplary Companion, Uniformed Service K-9, Search and Rescue, Service and Therapy dog. This year’s winners include a faithful companion that saved her owner from a bear, a heroic K-9 (Bruno) that took a bullet in the line of duty, an international search and rescue traveler, a blind therapy dog bringing comfort to abused children and ACE’s first mixed breed winner, a service dog to a U.S. veteran raising awareness of the profound impact service dogs can have on trauma survivors." I found the summaries of each award winner to be rather awesome; each is shown in a photo, including the blind recued therapy dog.
The photo is of Bruno ("who took a bullet in the line of duty") and officer R.J. Young
Books to Have and to Hold
Author, journalst and Yale Professor, Verlyn Klinkenborg, wrote about the difference in reading an ebook as opposed to a physical book Here are excepts...
"I finish reading a book on my iPad — one by Ed McBain, for instance — and I shelve it in the cloud. It vanishes from my “device” and from my consciousness too. It’s very odd.
When I read a physical book, I remember the text and the book — its shape, jacket, heft and typography. When I read an e-book, I remember the text alone. The bookness of the book simply disappears, or rather it never really existed. Amazon reminds me that I’ve already bought the e-book I’m about to order. In bookstores, I find myself discovering, as if for the first time, books I’ve already read on my iPad.
All of this makes me think differently about the books in my physical library. They used to be simply there, arranged on the shelves, a gathering of books I’d already read. But now, when I look up from my e-reading, I realize that the physical books are serving a new purpose — as constant reminders of what I’ve read. They say, “We’re still here,” or “Remember us?” These are the very things that e-books cannot say, hidden under layers of software, tucked away in the cloud, utterly absent when the iPad goes dark.
This may seem like a trivial difference, but that’s not how it feels"...
Planet Of The Dogs Is In China The publishers, Chongxianguan Books of Beijing, have created new illustrations and covers. The stories remain the same.
Complimentary copies of the English version of the award-winniong Planet Of The DogsSeries are available for therapy reading dogowners and organizations. Write us at email@example.com.
Simple Ways to Test Dog Intelligence
Here's an excerpt from Nancy Houser's outstanding blog for dog owners (and dog lovers).
As well as being ‘man’s best friend’, dogs with excellent dog intelligence are capable of performing some pretty amazing feats. We’ve all heard stories about our canine companions alerting their masters to fires. Or, protecting their owner from an attacker or intruder. And then there are those who are visually impaired who rely on ‘seeing eye dogs’ in order to go about their daily lives. A dog’s intelligence is measured by its ability to think and problem solve...Here is a link to read it all: Dog Intelligence The illustration by Stella Mustanoja McCarty is from Snow Valley Heroes, Vol 3 in the Planet Of The Dogs Series
Sponsors of Banned Book Weekinclude the American Library Association, the American Booksellers Foundation for Free Expression, the American Society of Journalists and Authors, the Association of American Publishers, the Comic Book Legal Defense Fund, the National Association of College Stores, the National Coalition Against Censorship, the National Council of Teachers of English, PEN American Center and Project Censored.
Thoughts on the Borders of the Imagination
"We don’t need a list of rights and wrongs, tables of dos and don’ts: we need books, time, and silence. Thou shalt not is soon forgotten, but Once upon a time lasts forever.”
"After nourishment, shelter and companionship, stories are the thing we need most in the world.”
“There are some themes, some subjects, too large for adult fiction; they can only be dealt with adequately in a children’s book.”
Phillip Pullman, Author of His Dark Materials (trilogy), Fairy Tales from the BrothersGrimm and many more.
Empowerment Through Rescue
by CA Wulff
There’s a saying in rescue that saving one dog won’t change the world, but it will surely change the world for that one dog. Except that just isn’t true. The truth is that saving one dog most certainly changes the world. It changes everything.
First, it changes YOU, because once you save an animal it awakens an empowerment in you. You come to realize that you can affect change wherever you apply yourself. Secondly, it changes the world for that animal, who has been given a second chance at life…and there is nothing more joyous and grateful than an animal who has been saved. They become loving and faithful companions. They protect and comfort their families.
They teach the children in the family to love and respect animals. They bring hours of joy and laughter to their people keeping them healthier in body, mind and spirit.
And there is always the possibility that a dog you save will become a service dog, or a therapy dog or a search and rescue dog. There’s no way to measure the impact you can have by advocating for just one animal.
"I wonder if I've been changed in the night. Let me think. Was I the same when I got up this morning? I almost think I can remember feeling a little different. But if I'm not the same, the next question is, "Who in the world am I? Ah, that's the great puzzle."
-Lewis Carrol, Alice In Wonderland
A Rescue Story from the Rescue People at Sunbear Squad
Meet "Muddy Puppy," named because he was found in a muddy ditch in the pouring rain. Hit by a car and with two painfully broken back legs, someone did care enough to try to protect him from the driving rain with an old jacket. But not enough to offer him relief from his painful suffering and overwhelming fear. Instead they just drove off leaving this 4-month-old puppy to slowly and painfully die all alone. All hope gone...Visit Sunbear Squad and read the upbeat ending to this story from Oklahoma Beagle Rescue
What should you do, what can you do, if you see an injured dog or one in distress? You can be prepared...Sunbear Squad offers guidelines, wallet cards, and information.
"A dog teaches a boy fidelity, perseverance, and to turn around three times before sitting down -- Robert Benchley
In 2013, director/writer Therese Shechter released the shocking documentary How to Lose Your Virginity. I wasn’t shocked by words like “hymen” or “penis.” I was shocked by our country’s ignorance.
Therese waited longer than most to have sex. When she finally decided to “do it,” she said, “It wasn’t so much because I had found Mr. Right but because I had grown tired of waiting for him.” It was in that moment, in a basement apartment, that Therese realized all the hype about losing her virginity really was just hype. There was no earth shattering before and after. She was still Therese, but she was Therese who’d once had a penis inside her.
The hype surrounding virginity is really a problem. I’m not saying losing your virginity is something to rush into. I waited until I was twenty-seven, and thank God, because I was finally mature enough by then to deal with sex’s ramifications. Thanks to How to Lose Your Virginity, though, I see how insane America is about purity and the unfortunately clichéd theory of “saving yourself.”
Did you know there are “Purity Balls?” In these ceremonies, seven- and eight-year-old girls metaphorically hand their virginity off to their fathers who will then someday hand that gift off to the girl’s husband. Antiquated (and frankly, creepy) practices like this are the reason girls get married so young: so they can finally have sex.
According to the film, one in six American girls take purity pledges. There’s even a Purity Pledge Facebook page. States are financially rewarded for teaching abstinence-only sex education, the product of which seems to be more teens having sex but being stupid about it. I’m all for waiting, but the way we’re educating teens about sex is just making things worse. Abstinence-only education is the sexual equivalent of Hitler burning books.
In How to Lose Your Virginity, Therese does an amazing job of interviewing varied and well-informed sources. She talks to magazine editors, sex educators, and a man on his way to becoming a woman. I was really impressed, honestly, with the creator of the porn series Barely Legal: a woman who had a horrible first sexual experience at the age of thirteen who now uses Barely Legal to rescript a woman’s first time into something sexy and passionate instead of awkward and uncomfortable.
Therese addresses the idea of virgin versus slut. She also questions what defines “virgin” anyway? She looks at the development of history and how patriarchal motifs have made women into objects to own, just as our virginity is something we “give away” like a birthday gift.
How to Lose Your Virginity is not blatantly sexual. It is not offensive. It is true and powerful. At certain points, I was laughing. At other points, I was wrathful. For instance, one abstinence avowing psychopath said she did support gays being abstinent, as well, until marriage … but since her organization did not believe in gay marriage, gay people have to be celibate their entire lives. One young man was asked the reasonable number of sexual partners to have in a lifetime. According to him, men could have as many as they wanted, while women could only have five.
This documentary will rile you up as well as inform you. I suggest it to anyone—women and men alike—who believe in sexual freedom. As Therese says, instead of “giving up” our virginity, let’s give up our myths about virginity. Preach, sister.
My latest video essay is now available at Press Play. It's the first in a new series by various hands on cinematic terminology. My term was "composition", and so I made an essay creatively titled, "What Is Composition?"Add a Comment
Three things you will probably have heard by now about Lucy, Luc Besson's latest film and his first foray back into proper, no-holds-barred science fiction since The Fifth Element. One, that the film's success demonstrates the viability of a female-led action/SF movie, and cements Scarlett Johansson's position as the reigning queen of filmed SF (or at the very least co-reigning queen, along with
Jamie Marks Is Dead is based on a book I love by a writer I love: One for Sorrow by Christopher Barzak. I realized recently that I think of it as the first novel of "our" generation/group of writers — Chris is a few months older than me, and originally introduced me to probably half the writers and editors I know. I read One for Sorrow in manuscript, exhorted Juliet Ulman to buy and edit it for Bantam, and celebrated its publication. Chris sent me a copy with the kindest inscription penned onto its title page that any writer has ever given me. I feel like a kind of distant (crazy) uncle to the book, and thus also deeply protective toward it. I didn't read most of the reviews when it was released for fear that I would seek out any negative reviewers and do terrible things to them that would get me arrested. When I found out it was being made into a movie, I was both excited for Chris and for the higher profile the book would likely gain, and terrified that the movie would just be awful. I mumbled to myself for weeks about the change of title before coming to accept it.
The movie was officially released in some major US cities today, and the distributor is also doing a simultaneous release on video-on-demand (Amazon, iTunes, etc.), so those of us, at least in the US, who can't get to one of the cities it's playing in can still see it. I watched it this morning.
The movie is not awful — far from it — and though at first I had my crazy-uncle fists clenched, ready to pounce on anything that even touched a hair of my beloved nephew's head, it was soon clear that this was a movie made from not only a general understanding of the book, but a profound sympathy with it. They're very different creatures, but if you love One for Sorrow, I think you're likely to love Jamie Marks Is Dead, too.
It begins in a style I've come to think of as "digital somber", a style common to a lot of artsy low-budget movies these days: muted colors; the clarity of light peculiar to a certain kind of digital lensing; long takes and fluid camera movement; dreamy music. It's become a familiar enough style that I now find myself skeptical of it at first, because too often it screams out, "Serious Movie!" before it earns its mood. (But at its best it can be devastating. See, for instance, The Snowtown Murders.) In this case, it's a good fit to the material, and director Carter Smith, cinematographer Darren Lew, and the various designers and decorators (Amy Williams, Steven Phan, Nora Mendis, Rachel Dainer-Best) do a superb job of uniting the elements into a whole that sustains a mood impressively. The production design and decoration in particular deserve notice, because the details are exquisite — though the movie makes absolutely no effort to drawn attention to it, the setting is not contemporary, but rather seems to be late '90s, early '00s (the time of the book). Further, though the novel is explicitly set in and around Youngstown, Ohio, the movie is more general in its setting: somewhere northeastish, somewhere working class, somewhere rusty and full of industrial and commercial ruins. (It was shot in New York state. Chris says it looks plenty like Ohio. It looks plenty like places I know in New Hampshire, too, the places the tourists don't go.)
Smith's background as a photographer serves him well, as he and Lew sustain a difficult look for the film without strain. Shot after shot is evocative but not ostentatious. One example (a screen capture doesn't do it justice, or I'd place a picture here): a high-angle long shot of a yellow ribbon of crime scene tape snaked across the wet ground of a grey riverbank on a moonlit night. The tape, though muddied, is the brightest object in the image, rivalled only by the white of driftwood and fragments of light rippling on the water. The image evokes mood and meaning, but most importantly it provides a perfect introduction for a ghost.
I wasn't sure if I was going to like Noah Silver as Jamie, because I had such a clear idea of Jamie in my own mind, an idea that has congealed over a decade of living with the novel, and the soggy-Harry-Potter styling of the character was very different from the lighter, whispier Jamie in my head. (Adam was always less defined for me, more an aural than physical image, since the novel is written from his first-person POV.) But Silver's performance won me over, especially in the second half of the film when he must be alluring, mysterious, innocent, and menacing all pretty much at the same time. In his first scenes, the lighting and make-up make him seem almost like a plastic mannequin, but as the scenes progress, he becomes more and more human — an odd and very effective choice for the representation of this ghost.
All of the performances are strong, and the film demonstrates quite well the adage that finding the right cast (and crew) is 90% of the success of a production. In pre-release photos from the film, I thought Cameron Monaghan as Adam looked a bit too much like a human Kewpie doll, but he gives an impressive performance. His physique is remarkably variable — he can play vulnerability and sensitivity as well as sharpness and hardness, with his face seemingly changing shape depending on the needs of the scene: at one moment, his face is soft and a bit round, at another, it's all cold angles. (Some of this is also the responsibility of the cinematographer and his lighting team.) Monaghan has excellent instincts, and Smith is smart enough to bring those instincts to fore by encouraging him to hold back: Monaghan's eyes tell entire stories.
Where Silver and Monaghan were not immediately in sync with how I'd imagined the characters, and thus had to (and did) win me over, Morgan Saylor was the Gracie in my mind's eye. I've rarely seen an actor so perfectly fit how I'd imagined a character when reading the original material. A big part of it is her voice, which is deeper and huskier than you might imagine if you just looked at her. It would be easy to make the character of Gracie into a cliché of the adolescent "bad girl", but the movie thankfully doesn't do that — as Saylor plays the role, Gracie is very much an individual, not a type. We don't actually learn a lot about her in the movie, but there is a richness to the performance that allows us to imagine so much that the film itself doesn't have time to convey.
Smith made some excellent choices with his screenplay and direction, particularly in how he focused the story. There's an epic quality to the second half of the novel that just couldn't be conveyed well in a 2-hour movie, never mind a 2-hour movie without a big budget. As any good artist does, Smith turns his limitations into opportunities. The close focus on Adam, Jamie, and Gracie (with some other folks wandering in and out of the story to create and complicate tension) allows the film to build a slow, careful emotional resonance. It's seductive, this movie, and it sticks its hooks in when you're not expecting it. Partly, this is because Smith decided to keep the dialogue to a minimum and to not explain everything. It's a movie of glances and glimpses, of possibilities more than answers. That will, I'm sure, bother plenty of viewers, viewers who want explanations for the logic of the ghost world (as if the supernatural must follow a logical system!), who will want some of the plot's mysteries solved more neatly, who will want some of the side stories tied up or justified — but this is a different sort of film, and its commitment to suggestiveness, its willingness to allow possibilities to linger, enhances the fundamental effect. Give yourself over to it, and this is a movie that will haunt you. The novel does this some, but as a novel it has the space to answer questions without closing off possibilities. Two-hour movies are more like short stories, and at its best moments this one reminded me of the effect of reading my favorite writer of ghost stories, Robert Aickman.
For all its many great moments, the most extraordinary is the very last. Since the movie goes in a different direction for some of its later parts than the novel does, I had no idea how or where it would end. (Figuring out the end was, I know, one of Chris's biggest challenges when writing the novel.) What could it possibly do? How could it find the resonance it needed to be satisfying?
I'll just say this: the moment the credits started rolling, I was in tears. Tears not only because of the profound effect of the absolutely perfect choice of ending, but also of relief that this beloved novel had been translated with such care and love to a very different medium.
Wallace is jaded, British, and wandering through life in Toronto when he meets his best friend’s cousin, Chantry. They form an immediate connection through offbeat humor and a general distaste for small talk. They leave the party together, and Chantry gives Wallace her number only to make it quite clear that she has a BOYFRIEND named Ben.
Wallace, still recovering from his cheating ex-girlfriend, tosses Chantry’s number. Of course, a little thing like that can’t keep them apart, and they soon become best of friends. But can men and women really be just friends?
This is the set up for Elan Mastai’s brilliant screenplay, What If. The plotline is vaguely similar to my favorite romantic comedy ever, When Harry Met Sally. That said, What If in no way steals from Harry and Sally. Instead, it wends it own quirky, modern, hilarious path toward what one hopes is a happy ending for Harry Potter … er, I mean, Daniel Radcliffe.
Let’s face it: whenever I see Daniel Radcliffe, I see Harry Potter. That said, he successfully shook the wizard off his back in his brilliant performance as Wallace. In an interview, Radcliffe said Wallace is the character he’s played most similar to himself. If that’s true, Radcliffe’s personality is freaking adorable, and I want to have a beer with him.
Not only is his comic delivery spot on, but Radcliffe isn’t a little boy anymore. Well, I mean, he’s short, but he’s officially a man, as proven by a nude scene in which I kept thinking, “When did Harry Potter grow pecs?”
Romantic interest Chantry is played by Zoe Kazan. I’d never seen her in anything before, but now, I love her because in Chantry, she created a loveable, odd artist person who struggles between her love for long-time boyfriend Ben and her fondness for Wallace. She, too, is comic genius, but this may all be due to screenwriter Elan Mastai.
This is his first full-length romantic comedy. Well, I dub him Rom-Com Genius. The dialogue is painfully funny (and sometimes awkward) but ingenious. For instance: “I just had sex and am about to eat nachos! It’s the greatest moment of my life!” (A line delivered by Wallace’s priceless best pal, Allan, whose every line is worthy of a chortle.) Add an additional smattering of colorful side characters, and you have a full cast to fall in love with.
I think what impressed me the most about the writing was that Mastai never took things too far. The comedy was not gross or over the top. It reminded me of conversations I have with my family and friends and hope no one’s listening to.
It’s no secret I’ve been having a hard time lately with my depression. Yet, by the time What If was over, I was smiling—really smiling. I felt good for almost an entire day, which is saying something for me. This is a film that makes you feel good. It makes you hug the person you love a little tighter. It makes you think funnier thoughts. Oh, and it totally makes you have a crush on Harry Potter … er, Daniel Radcliffe.
Films trick our senses in many ways. Most fundamentally, there’s the illusion of motion as “moving pictures” don’t really move at all. Static images shown at a rate of 24 frames per second can give the semblance of motion. Slower frame rates tend to make movements appear choppy or jittery. But film advancing at about 24 frames per second gives us a sufficient impression of fluid motion.
However, birds–such as pigeons–have a much higher threshold for detecting movement. A bird’s visual system is keenly sensitive to moving stimuli as this is essential to their survival. Whether swooping down to snatch live prey, fleeing from a predator, or zeroing in on a nest for a precise landing, birds must rely on their fine-tuned ability to hone in on moving targets. So the frame rate at which most of our films are shown is far too slow for birds to perceive continuous motion. Their threshold of visual processing exceeds the standard frame rate, allowing them to see component frames … and the illusion of motion pictures would be broken.
If a pigeon had been roosting in the theater where 19th century crowds first gaped at the Lumière Brothers’ steam train looming towards them, it may have been less than impressed — especially as early silent films were often played at only 16 frames per second.
Even a film shown at today’s industry standard of 24 frames per second would most likely look like a series of flashing slides to a pigeon. We’re mesmerized by Marilyn Monroe’s white skirts billowing over the subway grate in The Seven-Year Itch, but a pigeon may see something more like a slide show of the skirt in frozen increments.
Further, most humans cannot distinguish individual lights flashed at 60 cycles per second, perceiving instead a single continuous beam of light. This gives an impression of constant light while watching a film (despite the shutter actually shutting out light several times per frame). But birds have much higher critical flicker-fusion frequency, such as 90-100 cycles per second or higher (e.g., Lisney et al., 2011). So while humans do not perceive the flicker in a movie, a pigeon may see flashes like strobelights along with the jumpy frames of Marilyn’s airborne skirt.
One of the creepiest scenes in Hitchcock’s The Birds shows Melanie (Tippi Hedren) smoking on a bench in a school playground while birds are flocking on a jungle gym behind her. She finally spots a lone bird flying overhead and turns around to discover every rung of the jungle gym crowded with large black birds. Actually, Hitchcock used cardboard cut-outs for most of the “birds” on the jungle gym, figuring that most people would not notice these stationary objects if interspersed with live birds.
Birds in a school playground in Hitchcock’s (1964) The Birds
Indeed, the illusion works on most of us. We are also often tricked by illusory “crowds” in films–made of real people and dummies, or multiple images of the same people patched together to make a “crowd”. However birds are especially observant of the movement of other birds–and combined with the much faster ‘refresh rate’ of the avian visual system (as their visual information is “updated” more frequently than humans)–the jungle gym scene would not likely fool any birds.
Studies suggest that birds do perceive some information via video images (using video at 30 frames per second). For instance, a video of wild chickens feeding elicits feeding in birds of the same species (McQuoid & Galef, 1993); videos showing a hawk or raccoon elicit aerial and ground alarm calls respectively in roosters (Evans, Evans, and Marler, 1993); and video images of female pigeons elicit courtship displays in male pigeons (Shimizu, 1998).
So birds seem to pick up some information from video images, at a somewhat higher frame rate and screen-refresh rate than film–though color may be distorted (Wright & Cumming, 1971), and gaps in movement and flicker are likely perceived (Lea & Dittrich, 1999). These discrepancies would be much more pronounced for moving images on cinematic film.
A fine-tuned visual system gives birds of prey an advantage when pursuing a fast-moving target. And it allows pigeons those few extra seconds to peck at grubs and seeds–and flap away at the last moment possible when your car approaches.
I know it's been all Snowpiercer all the time here lately, but this time it's not so much about that particular film as about how one reviewer has chosen to write about it, since his choices are ones that I detest in reviews, despite (or perhaps because of) how common those choices are.
I am, in other words, simply here to register a complaint.
There is a good argument to be made that we should not expend any time or attention on bad writing. Life is short, and there's plenty of great writing out there to read. But I am ignoring that argument for the moment, despite all it has to recommend it. Because sometimes something is just such a perfect model of What Not To Do that I can't help but want to scream against it.
The item in question is a review at The Los Angeles Review of Books by Len Gutkin. It is a negative review, but that's not the problem. I'm glad there are negative reviews of Snowpiercer, even though I loved the film, because I am suspicious of anything that seems to garner universal acclaim.
It would be nice, though, if the negative reviews could be something more than, "Waaaaa! I don't like this movie and other people do! I'm right, they're wrong! Waaaaaa! Pay attention to me!"
You think I exaggerate? Let me do something the review does not, and offer a bit of evidence...
The first paragraph is mostly summary, but the term "critical darling" is obviously there to let us know that this will not be an altogether positive review. Critical darlings are one step above warm piles of wombat dung, after all. Not only are they darlings (which we all know must be killed, not loved), but they're also the darlings of that most disgusting of creatures, the critic. (Critics who proclaim their distaste for all those other critics are the best, of course, because they're on Our Side. They're One of Us. We the people.)
The second paragraph begins with an overview of director Bong Joon-Ho's career, with The Host praised for its satire and wit, but the review quickly plunges into invective. "Snowpiercer, too, has moments of satirical wit, but it is mostly an incoherent slog, a tendentious allegory punctuated by overproduced fight scenes meant to be virtuosic but that are, in fact, merely busy — glossy object lessons in the asininity of action-movie convention."
Here's where we begin to see the problem with this review. The reviewer wants to universalize his own taste, prejudices, inclinations, ignorance, etc. He wants to become Us. He could not write, "I found Snowpiercer to have some moments of satirical wit, but mostly it seemed to me to be an incoherent slog..." No, it must be stated more categorically: It is this.
Of course, you might argue that since this is a review written by one person, the fact that it is one person's opinion is obviously implied, and saying, "It seems to me..." or "I found it to be..." over and over is annoying. That may be true, but writers find ways around it without declaring themselves God Of All Truth. And yes, certainly the omniscient pose is, we all know, just a pose. It's the choice to take such a pose that I object to, because it leads to an astounding arrogance of tone, a tone of absolute faith, utter certainty, pure infallibility.
Perhaps I so bristle at it because I've fallen into such a tone myself at times. It's hard to avoid, I know. But worth the effort. The pieces of writing that I most regret having published are reviews composed with such a tone.
I could complain about the inaccuracy of Gutkin's adjectives, or the factual inaccuracy of his "in fact" ("merely busy" — no, that is, in fact, wrong), or the blithely dismissive phrase "the asininity of action-movie convention" — but let's instead look to how he justifies his opinions. After such assertions, there must be evidence, no? "The entire movie looks, somehow, both very expensive and frustratingly cheap." Another assertion. Followed by a comparison to a video game and another assertion: "which would have been impressive 17 years ago." Oooh, snap! But not evidence. (How does it look like that? Point to specific elements. Describe.)
"Snowpiercer is about class revolt, a theme whose timeliness has tricked critics into admiring it." More assertions and more arrogance: All those other people have been tricked! Our reviewer is the only one who can see the truth! This sentence is followed by a snide contradiction of David Denby's review: "'Is revolution being hatched in the commercial cinema?' The New Yorker’s David Denby was moved to ask. No, David, it’s not." This is a contradiction, not an argument. Also, it's puerile. (Why not just call him Dave? You're at Yale, Lee, you could, you know, jump on MetroNorth and hang out with Dave in NYC. I'm sure he'd love to chat with you. He might even offer you his job, because obviously you're so much smarter than he is!)
This is followed by some more snide summary in which the writer works hard to declare himself superior to the work he is reviewing.
(Have we found evidence for Gutkin's assertions yet? I'm not seeing much. But let's continue...)
There's commentary on Chris Evans's performance as Curtis. "Has there ever been a well-known actor so pitifully without any of the requisite gifts as Evans?" Yes, I'm sure there has been. But maybe he meant the question as hyperbole. No matter. It completely misses the idea that perhaps the performance is exactly what was needed, because perhaps there is a critique of heroic action movies built into this movie. I don't require a reviewer to agree with such an idea, but it's always worth considering that perhaps the item under review is doing what it is doing on purpose, and perhaps your job as a reviewer is to look for that purpose, and, before you reject the item as simply "bad", to consider this possible purpose and adjust your critique accordingly. But no, as any blowhard can tell you, it's much easier and more fun to hurl insults.
The review continues: "To be fair, he’s given some pretty hopeless material. Recounting to Namgoong the traumatic early days of life on the train, Curtis fights back tears (I think that’s what he’s doing) and asks, 'You know what I hate about myself? I know what people taste like.' After several seconds of grimacing: 'I know that babies taste best.' I laughed so hard I thought I’d be asked to leave the theater." Again, skipping over the snotty tone, maybe that's the point.
(But let's not entirely skip over that snotty tone. Gutkin presents himself as one of those people who likes to stay above it all, distantly judging anyone who might find the scene actually moving. I can see him at the theatre, laughing away while some poor schlub next to him wipes away a tear, and Gutkin turns to said schlub and whispers, "What a little crybaby you are. You probably watch the Hallmark Channel, don't you?")
He moves on to Tilda Swinton. To Gutkin's credit, he recognizes that Tilda Swinton is a god. He then references Coriolanus, to show what a real writer can do with similar themes, and Joan Didion, who long ago sneered down her sneery nose at Dr. Strangelove — and so Gutkin decides that because he, too, likes to sneer, he has rights to Didion's nose, and he uses it to sneer down at Snowpiercer, which is, in fact, worse than Strangelove. (Imagine that! The horror!) But Swinton's good: "Only when she’s onscreen does Snowpiercer completely hold one’s attention."
The above sentence is yet another example of the arrogance that oozes from this review. What if somebody said, "There actually are other moments that completely held my attention." How would Gutkin respond? He has left himself only two choices. He could say, "In that case, I am wrong," or he could say, "You may think your attention was completely held, but you are a victim of false consciousness, and I, a Ph.D. candidate at Yale University, know more than you, and therefore I pronounce you wrong. Return to the hole out of which you crawled, worm!"
The next paragraph is, surprisingly, all praise for various actors, ending with, "And as Wilford, Ed Harris is as good as you’d expect him to be."
Just as we're beginning to think that Gutkin is maybe not the total creep he seemed to be, he doubles down: "But not good enough." Ohhh, feel the burn!
The final paragraph continues: "Snowpiercer wouldn’t, really, be worth writing about at all, except that a number of prominent critics — and not just David Denby — seem inexplicably convinced of its virtues." If the egomaniacal shallowness of this sentence isn't obvious to you, just look at that inexplicably there. According to this sentence, none of the critics who have praised Snowpiercer have explained their praise. None of them. Instead, they've just written thousands and thousands of versions of, "Snowpiercer, Snowpiercer, rah rah rah! Yadda yadda yadda! It's great, great, great" Meanwhile, Gutkin has offered the devasting and incontroverible evidence of, "No, David, it’s not."
We're not quite done yet, so maybe there's some evidence in the final sentences. Gutkin actually quotes two reviewers, Dana Stevens and Andrew O’Hehir, but he doesn't quote their reasoning, he just contradicts their opinions, and quotes O'Hehir on Harvey Weinstein's initial desire to cut the film's length, which then leads to the final sentence: "Weinstein should have been allowed his cuts — the thing would at least have been shorter." (The thing. It's not even a movie, it's just a thing, something easily dismissed. Get this thing out from under my Didion nose! Such things are not allowed at the Yale Club! Go away, thing!)
This made me wonder if the reviews he quotes are as vapid as his own.
Here's a paragraph from Stevens (and not an entirely positive one, at that, despite Gutkin's accusation that Stevens gushes):
Unless you have a huge appetite for gnarly fight sequences, this seizing-control-of-the-train section gets a bit long and structure-less, though I will say this for Bong: His action scenes never build or resolve according to familiar Hollywood formulas. Any character, no matter how narratively important or beloved, can get the ax (often literally) at any time, which gives the battle scenes a palpable sense of emotional as well as physical suspense.
The qualifier at the beginning of that first sentence is an interesting contrast to Gutkin's arrogance. As someone who does, in fact, have a pretty good appetite for "gnarly fight sequences" (an accurate description of some of the central scenes in the film), I appreciate Stevens's caveat. Indeed, I can see how somebody less interested in cinematic mayhem than I might get bored during a lot of Snowpiercer, just as I could see they might get bored with any action movie, no matter how accomplished. If you don't like that sort of thing, you don't like that sort of thing, and you'll have a hard time telling the good stuff from the mediocre or even bad. (It's like me trying to tell you if a football player is any good. Amateur football games look just like professional ones to my eyes. But I'm not writing reviews of football games.) Further, Stevens makes an assertion about those action scenes (they "never build or resolve according to familiar Hollywood formulas") and then follows that assertion with reasoning.
The O'Hehir review is more descriptive and also full of assertions without evidence, and, truthfully, doesn't do a very good job of explaining its praise.
It's easy to write negative reviews. It's fun, in a nasty, trivial sort of way. It lets you blow off the steam that built up from being subjected to an experience you didn't enjoy. I've done it. I get it. But a negative review needs to offer something more than just its negativity.
I've come to expect, perhaps foolishly, a little bit more of the L.A. Review of Books. Shouldn't an editor say, "Hey, you've clearly had fun writing this, but you should know that you come off sounding like an ass, and it might help to put a little bit more explanation in there to give some evidence for your criticism. You disguise the lack of substance with a tone of omniscience, as if the obviousness of your complaints isn't worth the effort of explanation. I mean, have you ever considered that maybe the problem isn't the movie? Maybe, really, the problem is ... you?"
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But both Children of Men and Snowpiercer come crashing down to almost identical final moments. When the smoke clears and the countless bodies are carted off, what we’re left with is the same take-away: Bearded white dude saves humanity, in both cases represented by a woman and a child of color, both helpless and in need of saving, at the cost of his own life.
Basically, Older says, Snowpiercer and Children of Men are white savior movies. He proposes an alternative: "Imagine if the desperate rebels paused and elevated Tanya to leadership instead of Curtis. Snowpiercer would’ve become something truly subversive, a story some of us have been trying to tell for a very long time."
I think Snowpiercer is already pretty darn subversive, so I would replace the "truly" there with "even more", and I wouldn't call Yona in Snowpiercer helpless, really (she's smart and even seems to have some super powers). But yes, Snowpiercer could have offered an alternative to white supremacy (both the structural white supremacy of the train and the apparently internalized and patriarchal white supremacy of the rebels) instead of something closer to a satire of white supremacy ending in its own destruction — a futile destruction if you consider the likelihood of Yona and Tim's survival or the likelihood that some disease would kill off their ancestors. (For more along this line, and for thoughts on the implications of the film's take on revolutionary politics, and much else, see Aaron Bady's "Snowpiercer Thinkpiece".) It could have been a more deeply subversive, even utopian movie. It is not.
But as a savior, Curtis is pretty crappy. He's wrong about the revolution, most of the tailenders he's trying to liberate end up dead, and though he may have sacrificed his life for a woman and boy, the woman and boy are in all likelihood only going to outlive him by a day or two at most. And it's not like he set out to sacrifice his life for them. Nam and Yona caused the explosion. He just chose, along with Wilford, to see if his body might shield Yona and Tim's bodies from the blast. If you're going to die, you might as well make your death a potentially useful one, and that's what he does.
I've already proposed one way of thinking about the racial politics of the ending, and this is at least somewhat at odds with Older's reading, but I like texts that can be interpreted richly, and it's entirely likely that soon I'll think my first take was wrong. I like thinking about the lineage of white savior movies, because when I do, they give me a little bit more hope for progress than the ending of Snowpiercer does, because if we can see such stories as white supremacy talking about itself, then it's having a crisis of confidence and thinks it's going to die pretty soon.
(Obviously, it is the nature of white supremacy to make itself the center of conversation, and I am perpetuating that here. White supremacy's representations interest me. But I entirely agree with Older that we need additional storylines. Please please please somebody give Danny Glover the money to make his Toussaint L'Ouverture movie, for instance!)
There are some noticeable differences between the ending of Snowpiercer and the ending of Children of Men, but before getting to those, I want to bring up one other white savior movie, Clint Eastwood's Gran Torino, which I once called "a white savior movie that questions the whole idea of a white savior movie, or, at least, that wants to put an end to itself."
One of the things that I think is important to consider when viewing a white savior movie is its desired emotional effect. Where does it want the audience's sympathies to fall? What does the film seem to want us to feel, and how? In a classic white savior movie — think Dances with Wolves or The Blind Side or [insert your own title here] — the white savior becomes ennobled through their encounter with the non-white supporting character(s). They learn to be more caring, less bigoted, etc. (Yay, white people can be better! Hooray for White Guy 2.0!) The journey is fundamentally that of the white protagonist, and the audience's greatest interest should be in the white character. (This is one of the things I thought was so excellent about 12 Years a Slave, which is in the end, yes, literally a white savior movie — without Bass [Brad Pitt], Solomon Northup might never have been freed — but not at all about the redemption of white people. But that's tangential to this discussion...)
Though Gran Torino is at least partly about the end of the old white savior, it nonetheless sticks with the redemption narrative. The future is given to nonwhite characters, and those characters are shown to be the closest to a traditional (conservative) sense of American values, but grumpy old racist Walt ends up not just learning to care deeply for people he'd previously spurned, but sacrificing himself for them. And not just any sacrifice. He lands on the ground with his arms outstretched like Jesus on the cross. Like Snowpiercer, Gran Torino proposes that the future will not be white, but in Gran Torino the white savior is still pretty awesome, even if he's a relic.
In Children of Men, Theo is much less heroic than Walt. He's pointedly unheroic in his presentation. But his character arc is toward heroism — through helping Kee, he discovers something to live for, something to fight for, and he becomes somebody worth shedding a tear for when he dies. For me, it's not as big a tear as Gran Torino seems to want us to shed for Walt, but that's partly because it's not hard to imagine Theo going back to being a cynical or apathetic drunk even if he lived. Walt's death feels momentous, like a tremendous (if necessary) loss; Theo's death is sad for a moment, poignant more than devastating.
With Children of Men, Alfonso Cuarón did make interesting changes to counter the whiteness of the source material (a P.D. James novel), but the character we follow from beginning to end is, indeed, a white guy who saves a pregnant black woman and her child. Here, though, Kee is, like Thao and Sue in Gran Torino, a kind of representative of the future — if humanity is to survive, it's surviving because of a black woman, and the white savior is gone from the picture. (Although everyone we see on the Tomorrow ship that picks her up looks white, so who knows what will happen later...)
Snowpiercer also kills off the white savior(s) and proposes that the future of humanity does not lie with white people, but here the journey of the white savior is even less heroic than that of Walt or Theo. At least Walt and Theo are successful saviors.
Curtis's journey is in many ways the opposite of Walt's and Theo's. Walt and Theo begin cynical (or worse) and come to see the value in being a savior. We end up feeling good about them, and proud of them for their sacrifices. Curtis starts out at 2nd in command of the revolution (though Gilliam repeatedly suggests that Curtis is really in charge, even if Curtis doesn't want to face that fact) and ends up finding out that the revolution was a sham and that his actions all served to help Wilford's overall goals. Curtis has helped lead everyone he most cares into death for an illusion. Oops.
Do we shed a tear for Curtis?
I don't know about you, but I certainly didn't. Sure, there was the monologue toward the end where he talks about how he became a savage and then couldn't cut his arm off, etc., but it's important to remember what comes next: Nam's deflating reaction — Curtis clearly thought he was sharing his deepest, darkest secret, and Nam's response was little more than, "Uh huh." He's not bowing down to this white savior, not giving in to his emotional tug.
Curtis was interesting as a protagonist, as a figure to carry the force of the action, but my own emotional commitment was far more toward Nam, Tanya, Yona, and then Tim. (Tanya's death was, for me, the most affecting.) Curtis just isn't a very interesting character; he's a foil for the other characters and a device to get the story out. The relatively bland main character is an old tradition in narrative, and it serves a similar function to a straight man in comedy. So Curtis's death is not a moment that is, for me at least, more powerful than the deaths of so many other people on the train. It's easy for my plot interest to shift to Yona and Tim because that's where my affectual interest has been all along.
Gran Torino gives us the white savior who wants to end all white saviors, but it wants to us to pause and feel real sorrow for his death. Children of Men gives us an unheroic white savior who finds some shreds of heroism and dies to save the (at-least-partially) nonwhite future; we end up sort of sad for him, but the stronger emotion is likely happiness that Kee and her child lived. Snowpiercer gives us a white savior seeking the wrong revolution, ending up a savior as much by accident as intent, and the movie drains much of the emotional power from the savior figure, while proposing that if humanity has any future (unlikely), its future isn't one with white people in it.
Linda Woolverton is a writer, mother, and wife who also owns five dogs. She is an extremely talented and inventive screenwriter. She has written scripts for Disney that have captured the interest of hundreds of millions of people around the world. She has done this by reimagining and reinventing fairy tales and myths while retaining essential elements of earlier versions.
Her current success story began after college when she formed her own children's theater company, playing in a variety of venues in northern California, and working as a writer, director and performer. She later worked as a secretary, a substitute teacher, and from 1986-1989, she wrote several animated television series.
She also wrote YA children's books. She used one of them, Running Beforethe Wind, to help convince Disney of her writing talent.
Her films have brought billions of dollars to Disney.
Among her achievements: Beauty and the Beast(1991) including the Tony Award winning stage musical version; co-writer of the Lion King (1994), for film and stage; Alice InWonderland (2010), directed by Tim Burton; and, Malificent (2014).
Maleificenthas currently grossed over $660,000,000.
Ms Woolverton's next Disney film is her version of Lewis Carrol's Through the Looking Glass, scheduled for release in 2016.
Here is a link to an entertaining video trailer for Maleficent focused on Reimagining Sleeping Beauty. In the trailer, Ms Woolverton describes Maleficent as a "reinvention".
The Road Goes On Forever...
Sleeping Beauty, a fairy tale from earler centuries, and also known as Briar Roseby the Brothers Grimm and Charles Perrault, became Maleficentin today's movie version.
What are the enduring qualities of this story and other classic fairy tales? What are the special qualities that causes kids, young adults, and their parents to respond through the centuries?
These were among the ideas considered in a New York Times editorial, Throw Out the Rules! Read a Fairy Tale. Written by Verlyn Klinkenborg (author, cultural analyst, and Yale University professor). This unusual topic -- for a Times editorial -- was inspired by Phillip Pullman's retelling of fifty of his favorite stories by the brother's Grimm. Here is an excerpt:
"And that is the fun of going back to the Grimms. The stories veer vertiginously. There is no narrator to complicate things. They occur in a landscape whose every feature is instrumental to the plot. A castle appears if a castle is needed, a dock if a princess is going to sea. There is never weather for weather’s sake. Everyone has a terrible memory and a dim understanding of consequences. Emotions are powerful but simple — envy, love, selfishness. It is a world where boasting and cleverness can make a tailor a king."
"The Fairy tale is...a transcription made on one or more occasions of the words spoken by one of many people who have told this tale. And all sorts of things, of course, affect the words that are finally written down...The fairy tale is in a perpetual state of becoming and alteration. To keep one version is to put a robin redbreast in a cage." Phillip Pullman in his introduction to Fairy Tales from the Brothers Grimm
The illustration is by Walter Crane.
"What he wanted to do was to distil what he saw as the narrative story, the myth, of the English heroes in epics, romances, legends, dream visions, chronicles – Beowulf, Sir Gawain, Sir Orfeo, English Arthuriana (Wace, Layamon, Malory), Pearl, Patience, Purity, The Battle of Maldon – and works that may have influenced or impacted on these English works, especially the Volsunga Saga, the WelshMabinogion, and Finnish folk-myths found in the form of the Kalevala."
Dr. Jane Chance, an authority on medieval mythography, writing about Lord Of The Rings in an exceptional National Geographic
"National Dog Day is celebrated August 26th annually and serves to help galvanize the public to recognize the number of dogs that need to be rescued each year...Founded in 2004 by pet lifestyle expert and author Colleen Paige, National Dog Day was created to honor dogs more than we currently do, to give them "a day", to show deep appreciation for our long connection to each other -- for their endearing patience, unquestioning loyalty, for their work, their capacity for love and their ability to impact our lives every day in the most miraculous ways..."
Kids Reading to Shelter Dogs and the Nebraska Canine Connection
The photos tell the story.
They were taken at the Nebraska Humane Society as part of their Camp Kindness Program for kids 6-12. I learned about this wonderful program from author CA Wulff (we publish her books*) on her excellent website for dog lovers,Up On The Woof.
Here is an excerpt fromher blog:
"The program is not just helpful to improving the skills of young readers, but to the animals who find themselves in this loud and strange environment. A camper’s story helps them feel calm, noticed, and less lonely; giving them some loving companionship. Pam Wiese of NEHS says that any shelter can offer therapy reading to their animals for next to nothing. All that is needed are some 5 gallon buckets (turned upside-down for seats) and a box of books. Children don’t need to come into physical contact with the animals, (and therefore avoid any potential risks) but can sit outside the kennel cages, still providing focus and comfort to the animals."
Here's a comment by Mom Jennie Wright " Our son is doing this and he is loving it! He loves animals but dislikes reading! Best way to get him to read! Thank you for offering this program!
To read more about this program and how it can be adopted and funded by shelters nationally, read Up On The Woof. We are donating a set of the Planet Of The Dogsseries to Camp Kindness.
CA Wulff's books include Born Without a Tail, Crcling The Waggins and Finding Fido. She is associate publisher at Barking Planet Productions.
The Planet Of The Dogs Book Series
“It was wonderful to witness my students applying character lessons from the books in their own peer interactions…my students love them…(these books) are great motivators to encourage young people to read”… Julie Hauck, third grade teacher, Sheboygan WI, creator of Pages for Preston, a pioneer therapy reading dog program.
Librarians, teachers, bookstores...Order Planet Of The Dogs, Castle In The Mist, and Snow Valley Heroes, A Christmas Tale, through Ingram with a full professional discount.
Our books are available through your favorite independent bookstore or via Barnes & Noble, Amazon, Powell's and many more...
Therapy reading dog owners, librarians and teachers with therapy reading dog programs -- you can write us at firstname.lastname@example.org and we will send you free reader copies from the Planet of the Dogs Series...Read Dog Books to Dogs....
The photo, above, of the Pages for Preston classroom reading session is courtesy of teacher Julie Hauck.
The Planet Of The Dogs Series is now in China Our Chinese publisher, Beijing Chongxianguan Books Co, Ltd,g, has created new illustrations for Chinese children...
Balance between audience sales and creative effort is a never ending quest. The influence of customer data analysis on the books, films, videos, and games for kids, the YA market, and adults is growing all the time.
Andrew Leonard decribed the situation in this excellent article for SALON:
How Netflix is Turning Viewers into Puppets
"I hit the pause button roughly one-third of the way through the first episode of “House of Cards,” the political drama premiering on Netflix Feb. 1. By doing so, I created what is known in the world of Big Data as an “event” — a discrete action that could be logged, recorded and analyzed. Every single day, Netflix, by far the largest provider of commercial streaming video programming in the United States, registers hundreds of millions of such events. As a consequence, the company knows more about our viewing habits than many of us realize. Netflix doesn’t know merely what we’re watching, but when, where and with what kind of device we’re watching..."
Question: Does this mean that violence will continue to overcome content? Perhaps Peter Jackson, who has become Tolkien's movie storyteller, has the answer.
The illustration by Darth is courtesy of theAtlantic, a great source of information on this and related issues.
Tornadoes Hit Farmhouse, Shelter, and Gardens of Way Cool Dogs
I have long been a fan of Nancy Houser's Way Cool Dogs website for the never ending flow of quality information, news and insights for dog lovers. Alas, mother nature, in the form of tornadoes, brought destruction to her area of Nebraska. Here's an excerpt from her report...
"On Saturday evening, June 14, 2014, the Wilcox area … where we live … was hit during the evening by three tornadoes in the area and a high straight wind of over 90 mph. The first thing I noticed was when our large wheel barrow soared by the front of the house into the corn field on our west side, and we could not see in front of our hand.
It was as if our world was wrapped in a gray cellophane with high winds drowning everything around it. We could not even hear the emergency sirens coming from Wilcox, about one-quarter mile from us. But a preliminary count of 9 tornadoes landed that night, from Wilcox-Hildreth-Minden area on northward, leaving a trail of damage that resembled a war zone...
There are many reasons why I love my dog, starting with the massive amounts of unconditional love my dog has for me. In fact, unconditional love is a key word in every relationship, whether it involves your partner or your pet. I went out and did a little researching on dog love,, while listing reasons that work for me and the girls. Enjoy!..
Read all of this delightful post by clicking the title link above. Nancy took the photo of her dog, Joyful Jasmine.
Measuring Canines and Cancer...Nancy has also posted regarding a pioneering scientific study at Vanderbilt University that is studying the effect of therapy dogs and children with cancer (over 13,000 children diagnosed with cancer every year in the USA). Here is the link: Children's Cancer and Canine Connection.
If ever there is tomorrow when we're not together... there is something you must always remember. You are braver than you believe, stronger than you seem, and smarter than you think. But the most important thing is, even if we're apart... I'll always be with you.” ...A.A. Milne
Always # Like A Girl
I found this important, eye-opening video on Maria Tatar's Breezes fromWonderlandblog. The video deals with self esteem, puberty, and being a girl.
"The story of the child is the story of literature itself: of finding characters that fit your mold; of telling tales about yourself to audiences skeptical or censoring; odealing with parental stricture, pedagogic task, and social expectation in ways that preserve the inner self while at the same time keeping on the mask of conformity.
Girls and boys do it differently, but what their stories always tell us is that childhood is an age of the imagination, and that every time we enter into fiction, we step back into a childhood of 'what if' or 'once upon a time'."
Seth Lerer in his book, Children's Literature, A Reader's History from Aesop to Harry Potter. The illustration is by Arthur Rackham.
Book War Intensifies
David Streitfeld writes in the New York Times...
"The confrontation between Amazon and Hachette is growing louder and meaner, as the combatants drop all pretense that this is a reasonable dispute among reasonable people...
For more than six months, Amazon has been trying to wring better e-book terms out of Hachette. The publisher, which is the fourth largest in the United States and whose imprints include Little Brown and Grand Central Publishing, is energetically resisting.
Amazon has responded by delaying shipments of Hachette books and making it harder for customers to order them. Hachette authors have responded by publicly excoriating Amazon.
With its newest proposal, Amazon is trying to break the impasse by getting Hachette’s writers to switch allegiances"... Here's the link to read it all: Book War
Wags for Mags
PGI"Wags for Mags" is a student-led organization at Bradley University that has teamed up with Paws Giving Independence to train service dogs to assist those with disabilities. "Wags For Mags" was launched in 2012 to involve students with the service dog training process.
Paws Giving Independence (PGI) was started 5 years ago by Donna Kosner, a third grade teacher, her daughter, Michelle, a physical therapist, and her daughter's best friend, Brandi, an ER nurse. At that time, both Michelle and Brandi were students at Bradley University.
PGI is training and providing service dogs free of charge to people with a variety of disabilities ; they are also providing support to encourage independence. PGI also educates the public to the benefits of service dogs and a great many of their dogs come from shelters and rescue groups.
We salute the growth, dedication and life changing work of PGI. Visit their site: PGI
Here's a heartening video of PGI working with three disadvantaged 3 kids: PGI Video
Start Reading to Children at Birth! In an article by Motoko Rich in the New York Times, 62,000 pediatricians advocate early reading to nourish the brain...Here are excerpts:
"In between dispensing advice on breast-feeding and immunizations, doctors will tell parents to read aloud to their infants from birth, under a new policy (from) the American Academy of Pediatrics ...
With the increased recognition that an important part of brain development occurs within the first three years of a child’s life, and that reading to children enhances vocabulary and other important communication skills, the group, which represents 62,000 pediatricians across the country, is asking its members to become powerful advocates for reading aloud, every time a baby visits the doctor.
'It should be there each time we touch bases with children,' said Dr. Pamela High, who wrote the new policy. It recommends that doctors tell parents they should be 'reading together as a daily fun family activity” from infancy'"...The illustration is by Arthur Rackham
KidLitoSphere..."is the go-to site if you are looking for blogs focused on children's or YA literature...Here's an excerpt from their website that sums it up:
"The 'KidLitosphere' is a community of reviewers, librarians, teachers, authors, illustrators, publishers, parents, and other book enthusiasts who blog about children’s and young adult literature. In writing about books for children and teens, we’ve connected with others who share our love of books. With this website, we hope to spread the wealth of our reading and writing experience more broadly."
The Beagle Freedom Projecthas an important mission... In their own words: "The Beagle Freedom Project is a mission to rescue beagles used in animal experimentation in research laboratories and give them a chance at life in a loving forever home."
CA Wulff alerted me to this special video of their latest success:Beagle Freedom Project TEX-MEX Rescue - July 8th 2014
"We must fight against the spirit of unconscious cruelty with which we treat the animals. Animals suffer as much as we do. True humanity does not allow us to impose such sufferings on them. It is our duty to make the whole world recognize it. Until we extend our circle of compassion to all living things, humanity will not find peace."
—Albert Schweitzer, "The Philosophy of Civilization" -
I found this quote on Sunbear Squadwhere guidlines, free wallet cards, and "how to" save a dog in distress information are available at no cost for all good people.
"Sir, he's a good dog, and a fair dog; can there be more said?" William Shakespeare. The Merry Wives Of Winsor
In February, fans learned that Diahann Carroll had withdrawn from A Raisin in the Sun. The most recent revival of Lorraine Hansberry’s award-winning 1959 drama opened in April, and is now nominated for five Tony awards. Carroll relinquished her role as Lena Younger, the widowed matriarch in an African-American family living on the South Side of Chicago, due to the “demands of the vigorous rehearsal schedule and the subsequent eight-performances-a-week playing schedule,” according to a spokesperson for Raisin. The 78-year-old Carroll’s choice is easy to understand, but it also invites the question — what kind of Lena Younger might Carroll have been? How would an actress long known for her elegance and haute couture wardrobe have shed the trappings of high fashion to take on the part of a working class black mother who wants to use her dead husband’s insurance money to buy a home and improve the life of her family?
Last August, when the news broke that Carroll and Denzel Washington would have lead roles in this version of Raisin—with Carroll as mother to Washington’s Walter Lee Younger—much was made of their combined star power and the iconic Carroll’s return to Broadway for the first time in 30 years (as well as Washington’s age; the 59-year old portrays a much younger man, though the character has “aged” in this version). In some ways, though, it’s hard to know why the producers looked to Carroll in the first place. Carroll is older than most actresses who have played Lena Younger. Even more, ever since a still-teenage Carol Diahann Johnson changed her name to Diahann Carroll and left the home of her middle class parents, she has been known as a “chic chanteuse.” The link between Carroll and glamour became entrenched as her career ascended: when she sang at the Persian Room or the Plaza Hotel in the late 1950s, in her role as a high class and well-dressed model in the Broadway show No Strings in 1962 (for which she earned a Tony award), and when she portrayed a respectable, and well-dressed school teacher who travels to Paris with her white friend in the film Paris Blues in 1964 (alongside costars Sidney Poitier, Paul Newman, and Joanne Woodward). But the singer and actress soared to national prominence with Julia, a television series that ran from 1968-1971. Here Carroll was cast as the well-dressed middle class nurse and widowed mother of a young boy (her husband was killed in Vietnam). Julia was one of the first television series in which a black woman had a starring role and was not a maid or domestic. The show was an opportunity for Carroll to gain unprecedented exposure on a number-one ranking series — one that was “slightly controversial” she said, because it integrated the living rooms of white audiences through television, but was not controversial enough to “interfere with the ratings.”
If Julia cemented Carroll’s reputation as a barrier-breaking international celebrity, it also in some senses profoundly limited her career. Indeed, the first time Carroll played against type after Julia, her efforts had mixed results. In 1974, she starred in Claudine. The film was set in Harlem, and Carroll portrayed the 36-year-old single mother of six on welfare who struggles to combine motherhood and romance (with James Earl Jones, as garbage man Rupert Marshall). Claudine was notable for its critique of a welfare system that policed working class black women, and its portrayal of a single black mother who loves and cares for her children even if she also curses and beats her daughter in one scene. More remarkably, for the time, the film showed that a poor black unmarried woman could be sexually active and a good mother. With its largely African American cast and urban landscape, and with a contemporary soundtrack featuring Gladys Knight and the Pips, Claudine stood out as a rare alternative to the more violent and (mostly) male-centered blaxploitation films that were popular in the early 1970s. A critic in the Chicago Defender applauded it as a film that could “uplift” those who had “been ignored on film until now, the ADC mother” (ADC was the acronym for Aid to Dependent Children, and shorthand for welfare in that era). Carroll’s performance as Claudine earned her an Academy Award nomination for best actress in a leading role—only the fourth time a black woman had ever been nominated in that category.
But fans and critics were divided in their response to Carroll, precisely because the role was such a departure. Some applauded her for being willing and able to take on the role of Claudine. (She inherited the part from actress Diana Sands, ill with cancer in the 1970s but who had starred in the original production of Raisin in 1959, another link between Claudine and Raisin.) A “deglamorized Diahann Carroll is surprisingly effective as a 36-year old city wise and world weary mother who battles welfare department bureaucracy,” wrote one reviewer. Many more came to the opposite conclusion, asserting that Carroll did not have the life experiences to represent working class black women and could not tell their stories with any degree of authenticity. “Even without makeup, she still looks and acts like Julia,” wrote one; Time attacked the star for a “slumming expedition by a woman best known for playing the upwardly mobile Julia on TV.” With her family’s middle class background and her long association with well-dressed and glamorous heroines, Carroll simply could not “presume to speak for all black women.” The Oscar nomination was a significant milestone, but it did not open many doors thereafter; Carroll later said that she felt that her career floundered after Claudine.
Certainly, the question of who gets to tell black women’s stories is no less fraught in 2014 than it was in 1974—as critiques of the film The Help (2011) for hijacking black women’s voices, protests that actress Zoe Saldana is not the right artist to portray singer Nina Simone in a forthcoming biopic, and more recent debates about Beyoncé all begin to suggest. For decades, Diahann Carroll has been at the center of these debates—from her role as a model in an interracial romance in the Broadway play No Strings, to her role as Dominque Deveraux on the nighttime soap opera Dynasty in the 1980s– the “first black bitch on television” as Carroll herself put it. Would Carroll have encountered the same resistance today that she did forty years earlier? Would she have been able to navigate that chasm between her off-stage aura of glamour and an on-stage role of a weary yet strong working class woman who dreams about owning a home more easily in 2014 than she did in 1974? And would media-savvy audiences today, tuned into the ways that any public person is always performing some version of him or herself, have been more open to Carroll and what she could have brought to Lena with her decades of stardom than they were to the former “Julia” when she transformed into the working class Claudine? I respect Carroll’s choice to withdraw from Raisin, and the splendid Latanya Richardson Jackson has infused the part of Lena Younger with a humanity and dignity. But with the Tony awards season underway and with Carroll’s under-rated but sensitive and subversive portrayal of a poor black woman in the film Claudine in mind, I also can’t help but regret what we’ve all missed out on.
Martyrdom and terrorism are not new ideas, and in fact have been around for thousands of years, often closely tied to religion. We sat down with Jolyon Mitchell to discuss the topic of martyrdom and how it relates to terrorism in the past and today.
How did you get into working on martyrdom and related topics?
Before moving to the University of Edinburgh, I worked as a producer and journalist with BBC World Service. While there I was part of a team who covered a number of news and human interest stories relating to martyrdom, terrorism and hostage-taking. For example, we interviewed a number of Western hostages (such as Terry Waite and Brian Keenan) soon after they were freed from several years of captivity in Lebanon. Listening to their stories led me to think further about the motivations of those who had captured and had then held them for many months. I would later investigate why some of their number would go further and resort to acts of violence or terror against Westerners, while others would be prepared to give up their lives to promote their cause. It became clear then to me that one community’s martyr can be another community’s terrorist.
What fascinates you so much about the topic of martyrdom?
In Media Violence and Christian Ethics, I investigated how different people remembered, responded to and interacted with images of violence. I became fascinated with how different audiences handled “dangerous memories,” including memories of martyrdom. This work led in turn to research trips to countries such as Rwanda and Iran. In Tehran I found myself surrounded by stories and images of martyrdom, which went back many hundreds of years. In Rwanda, I investigated sites of martyrdom from the genocide in 1994. I am also fascinated by the different ways in which martyrdom is interpreted. For some, a martyr and a martyrdom are objective empirical realities that can be studied as isolated phenomena, for others they are largely created by later communities. From both perspectives there can be many different kinds of martyrdom. Who makes a martyr and their martyrdom is a more complicated question than it at first appears. Some suicide bombers embrace death in such a way as to lay the foundations for their ends to be described as a martyrdom and themselves to be thought of as martyrs. Some actively pursued martyrdom while others, when they realized death was inevitable, became more considered in their actions, writing, or speech. Some individuals such as Charles I or Jose Rizal, the founding martyr of the modern state of the Philippines, may have lost control of their lives, but they attempted to control the way their deaths would be remembered. Others did not have the luxury or time to be able to try to influence their earthly afterlives. The way in which later communities describe and then interpret a death influences whether it is remembered as a martyrdom. This diversity of interpretations and perspectives are rich topics for analysis.
How far has militant martyrdom become increasingly secular?
There are different kinds of martyrdom and different motivations for being prepared to offer one’s life to promote a particular cause. Those who are prepared to die, and take other lives, are described by some as martyrs and by others as murderers. There is a tradition of “secular martyrs” who are motivated not by religious belief, but by political objectives. For example, the Tamil Tigers in Sri Lanka used suicide bombing as a way of promoting their own cause. Their deaths were celebrated by many local Tamils as seeds of freedom. Nevertheless, in other contexts such as in the Middle East some individuals are prepared to die to kill for both religious and political reasons.
Why is it so important to look at connections between martyrdom and terrorism today?
While it can be useful to make a distinction between active and passive martyrdoms, predatory and peaceful martyrdoms, military and non-violent martyrdoms, there is clearly a close connection for many between martyrdom and terrorism. In Martyrdom: A Very Short Introduction, I suggest that over the last few years martyrdom has gone digital. The digitization of martyrdom is changing the way martyrs are commemorated, remembered, and interpreted. Audiences now have direct access to countless original martyrdom stories, texts and martyrologies (lists of martyrs). Online images of martyrs are now widely accessible. A few taps on a computer or mobile phone and anyone can see the faces of those named as martyrs. They criss-cross the globe weaving unexpected patterns, leaving traces of deaths that otherwise might be forgotten. As memories of martyrdom are remembered and re-presented digitally, images of martyrs and martyrdoms can “bear witness” both to practices of violence and peace.
Every film reflects the historical and cultural context out of which it was produced. Cecil B. Demille’s The Sign of the Cross is no exception. To our CGI-trained eyes, like most black and white films from the 1930s, this films looks like a window onto a foreign land. The dialogue, the shots, and the narrative all seem peculiar or certainly idiosyncratic. Nevertheless, this film, like several other films touching on martyrdom, raises important questions pertinent to discussions about martyrdom today. For example, why do some people embrace death for their faiths? How do state powers attempt to control the bodies of their subjects? And what role does religious belief have in the making of martyrs?
Film still from Cecil B. DeMille’s The Sign of the Cross (1932), reproduced courtesy of Paramount and the Kobal Collection, ref. SIG001CC.
In your chapter you also mention the movie Becket, which includes another notable cinematic martyrdom. What kinds of materials have been used to preserve the story of King Henry III and the knights who killed archbishop Thomas Becket in his own cathedral in 1070?
Following the murder of Thomas à Becket (c.1118-1170) by four of King Henry II’s (1133-1189) knights in Canterbury Cathedral on 29 December 1170 his remains were buried at the eastern end of the Cathedral’s crypt. Concerned that his body might be stolen, the monks ensured that the burial was carried out swiftly, with a stone placed over his tomb. At least one hole was cut through the stone so that pilgrims would be able to kiss the place where Becket was buried. Becket was canonised in 1173 by Pope Alexander III (c.1100-1181), just three years after his murder. Thousands of pilgrims were soon visiting the shrine of the former Archbishop of Canterbury. Here was a Northern European Norman saint whose remains became a magnet for visitors. The significant increase in the number of visiting pilgrims substantially augmented the wealth of the Cathedral and the city of Canterbury. When alive, Becket’s manner as Archbishop had won him few friends, but when dead he was venerated as a saint and a martyr. As such he could pray for the living, so becoming a focal point for generous giving. Pilgrims, for example, were able to purchase Becket badges or tokens marking their pilgrimage. By 1220, his bones were transferred into a jewelled golden shrine on a raised platform in the Cathedral’s specially constructed Trinity Chapel, where offerings also increased.
Both relics and images of Becket travelled swiftly in the first few decades after his death. It was not long before stained glass, wall paintings and manuscripts were being illustrated with scenes of his life and martyrdom. The V&A’s director in London, Alan Borg, claims that there was “a sort of Becket mania” that “spread across Europe.” Evidence suggests that within a few decades of his death, the spread of Becket’s martyr cult stretched from Iceland and Scotland to Palestine and Italy. Becket’s memory touched many people’s lives, though by the time the humanist Erasmus (c. 1466-1536) visited the shrine at Canterbury in the early sixteenth century he was bemused at the wealth and showmanship of one of his guides introducing him to the relics. The story of Beckett would later become the subject of plays (notably T.S. Elliot’s “Murder in the Cathedral”) and films. In this way the story of Beckett’s martyrdom has been amplified, elaborated and translated into new materials.
Dominic Janes, Alex Houen, and Jolyon Mitchell are the co-editors of Martyrdom and Terrorism: Pre-Modern to Contemporary Perspectives. Dominic Janes is Reader in Cultural History and Visual Studies at Birkbeck, University of London. In addition to a spell as a lecturer at Lancaster University, he has been a research fellow at London and Cambridge universities. His latest book project is Queer Martyrdom from John Henry Newman to Derek Jarman. Alex Houen is Senior University Lecturer in Modern Literature in the Faculty of English, University of Cambridge, and Fellow of Pembroke College. He is author of Terrorism and Modern Literature, as well as various articles and book chapters on literature and political violence. Jolyon Mitchell is Professor Communications, Arts and Religion at University of Edinburgh .
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The Return of Sleeping Beauty -- Dollars for Disney
Maleficent, the Disney reinterpretation of Sleeping Beauty is a wonderous hit with audiences with over $458,880,000 in worldwide ticket sales after only three weeks... despite mixed reviews...
Here are excerpts from four different reviewers. Two are negative, two are positive; however the audience response has been excellent.
Maleficent, is not small in the traditional sense, but rather in the increasingly common contemporary sense: yet another in a string of gazillion-dollar special-effects extravaganzas grafted onto flimsy, nonsensical scripts and featuring an array of two-dimensional performances...Alas, Disney’s subversive retelling of its own 1959 animated classic Sleeping Beauty is an utter mess. At once overblown and under-baked, the movie is a morally and tonally confused collection of sequences that never cohere into a compelling story. --Chruistopher Orr, The Atlantic
At least Disney was smart enough to cast Jolie. She has a genuinely heroic presence. If only the movie were equal to it. Grade: C+ (Rated PG for sequences of fantasy action and violence, including frightening images.) -- Peter Rainer, the Christian Science Monitor
I totally get why many of my fellow critics are giving “Maleficent” mediocre grades: It’s a stylistic mishmash, and almost everything in it resembles one or another of the numerous fantasy movies and TV series of the last 15 years. But Disney’s target audience for this picture is not middle-aged journalists. It’s tween and early-teen girls who are ready to move half a click upward from “Frozen” and “Brave,” along with their moms. That audience is going to beabsolutely thrilled by this slightly subversive fable of revenge and female solidarity – I cannot wait to take my 10-year-old daughter — and truth be told, a lot of the brothers, boyfriends and dads who claim they don’t want to come along will enjoy it a lot too. Andrew O'hehir, Salon
Illustration by Paul Woodroffe
"The formula works. It worked with "Wicked" on stage and it worked with "Frozen" on film —
tilting the storytelling prism so that a new angle on a well-known fairy tale appears in the light. The strategy depends on humanizing characters formerly known as evil, so that another tale of conflicted impulses emerges from the story we know, driven by female antagonist/protagonist hybrids who aren't bad, just misunderstood.
So it goes with 'Maleficent,' the Disney corporation's bombastic, moderately entertaining explanation of why the "queen of all evil" from its 1959 animated "Sleeping Beauty" got that way, and why she wasn't, really...This is almost entirely Angelina Jolie's show. "
Here is a link to the trailer... Step into the world of Maleficent.
Fairy-tale translations...Always Fast and Loose
We are reminded in the following excerpt from an article/review by Maria Tatar that Maleficent -- Disney's "reinterpretation" of Sleeping Beauty -- is a current example of a long standing tradition...
"Translators of fairy-tale collections have always played fast and loose with the rules of their craft. The “television and pornography” of an earlier age (as John Updike tells us), fairy tales migrated into the nursery during the nineteenth century, and no one objected when they were edited, adapted, bowdlerized, and cleaned up to suit the younger crowd. The Brothers Grimm did some of that tidying up on their own in six successive editions of the tales, cutting out a story called “Hans Dumm” (in which a young man impregnates women just by looking at them) and removing any causal connection between Rapunzel’s twins and the prince’s visits up to the tower. “A fairy tale is not a text,” Philip Pullman reminds us in his “Fairy Tales from the Brothers Grimm”—it is always mobile and magnetic, picking up bits and pieces of its cultural surround..."
Canines for Servicegives rescued dogs a new life, training them as service dogs for people with disabilities. Based in Wilmington, NC, they have developed a program that benefits the dogs, those who train them, and the disabled people who become the beneficiaries of having a custom trained service dog...Canines for service describes decribe their approach in this way...
"Triple Win philosophy- Rescuing shelter dogs, rehabilitating military prisoners and revitalizing wounded and injured Veterans."
Dogs trained for veterans by military prisoners
If you were to visit the Naval Consolidated Brig Charleston, you would find prisoners training the dogs. "The training of a Canines for Veteransservice dog takes about one year. Rescue dogs are trained by military prisoners and will learn over 90 commands including basic obedience, intermediate skills like retrieving items and advanced skills such as opening doors."
Dogs for all disabled vets...Canines for Veterans
"Service members or Veterans with a disability including mobility limitations, traumaticbrain injury or post-traumatic stress disorder are invited to apply for a Canines for Veterans service dog. We serve Veterans from all branches of the Armed Forces. Active duty service members may be eligible for a service dog only if they can no longer be deployed. Canines for Veterans does not charge a fee for the service dog...Team training, when a client is partnered with their service dog, is done on an individual basis, not in a group. Why? Because every clients' needs are different and it is better for the client to work with them individually."
We salute Canines for Service founder Rick Hairston, and the over 500 annual volunteers who provide these wonderful life changing service dogs to the disabled.
“There are some themes, some subjects, too large for adult fiction; they can only be dealt with adequately in a children’s book.” -- Phillip Pullman prolific author of classic children's books including an updated version of Grimm's Fairy Tales.
Planet Of The Dogs
Our story begins long, long ago, before there were dogs on Planet Earth.
There was plenty of space in those days for people to settle and grow things. Many of the places where people lived were very beautiful. There were clear lakes and cool streams with lots of fish. There were fields and woods with game to hunt. And there were rolling hills and open plains with plants growing everywhere.
Many people settled in these places of abundance and prospered. At first they had small gardens. As villages and towns continued to grow, more seeds were planted until the fertile land was often covered with corn or rice or wheat or vegetables....
And then there came a time when the abundance and happiness found on Planet Earth were threatened by people like the warrior tribes of Stone City. They had forgotten how to love. They took food, coins and beautiful objects from people and often hurt them. Their numbers began to grow and soon they were taking the homes, land, and farms where peaceful people lived.
Where once there had been harmony and friendship, there was now fear, anger, and unhappiness. Something had to be done -- but what could anybody do? No one knew it at that time, but help would come from far, far away, from the Planet of the Dogs.
Our books are available through your favorite independent bookstore or via Barnes & Noble, Amazon, Powell's and many more...
Librarians, teachers, bookstores...Order Planet Of The Dogs, Castle In The Mist, and Snow Valley Heroes, A Christmas Tale, through Ingram with a full professional discount.
Therapy reading dog owners, librarians and teachers with therapy reading dog programs -- you can write us at email@example.com and we will send you free reader copies from the Planet of the Dogs Series...Read Dog Books to Dogs....The photo is courtesy of Pat Christiansen, Therapy Dogs United; scroll down to read more about this wonderful therapy dog organization.
The book cover and illustration are by Stella Mustanoja-McCarty.
Any one of these books would make for a delightful—and one would assume cherished—gift for any child. All three would be an amazing reading adventure.Darlene Arden, educator, dog expert, and author of Small Dogs Big Hearts
Wonders from the Secret Forests...
Wilhelm Grimm noted that these (fairy tales) were the "last echoes of pagan mythes." He went on:" A world of magic is opened up before us, one which still exists among us in secret forests, in underground caves, and in the deepest sea, and it is still visible to children". And what we find inside these secret forests, caves, and seas is not just a poetical heritage, but a personal one as well. For fairy tales are full of families, full of parents who bequeath a sense of self to children, full of ancestors and heirs whose lives play out, in little, the life of a nation from childhood to maturity. -
Seth Lerer, in the chapter Straw into Gold from Children's Literature, A Reader's History from Aesop to Harry Potter
The illustration is by George Cruickshank.
Parents worry too much about what children read
said Judy Blume -- a wonder in her time and still going strong -- in an article in The Telegraph By Hannah Furness, Arts Correspondent...here is an excerpt.
"Blume, now 76, has sold more than 80 million books worldwide and her work has been translated into 31 languages.Her novels, which confront issues of teenage sex, racism, divorce, bullying, puberty and masturbation, were considered shocking at the time, and are remembered by a generation of women for teaching them the facts of life.
She told the audience that parents should be less concerned about the suitability of their children's reading material, concentrating more on simply getting them to love books...
'A lot of people worry much too much about what their children are reading,"'she said.
'A lot of people will want to control everything in their children's lives, or everything in other people's children's lives.
'If a child picks up a book and reads something she has a question about, if she can go to her parents, great.
'Or else they will read right over it. It won't mean a thing.
'They are very good, I think, at monitoring what makes them feel uncomfortable. If something makes them feel uncomfortable they will put it down.' "
Way Cool Dogs is filled with information, insights and dog news... here is an excerpt from an article on...
Traveling With Your Dog: Five Tips for a Safe, Fun Trip
Like many people, you may view your pet as a part of the family that can’t be left behind when you go on vacation, and the good news is its a very workable idea to travel with a dog. The key to making any vacation enjoyable for both dogs and humans is preparation....
“Weeds are flowers, too, once you get to know them."
Sometimes,' said Pooh, 'the smallest things take up the most room in your heart.
“I think we dream so we don’t have to be apart for so long. If we’re in each other’s dreams, we can be together all the time.”
Circling the Waggins by C.A. Wulff
More than twenty years of performing pet rescues could wear anyone down. Especially when the pets that end up being permanent residents in your home are the most irascible, insane and ridiculously un-adoptable pets known to man. Circling the Waggins follows two middle aged women as they maneuver through one unexpected pet debacle after another in a rugged and isolated cabin in a National Park. They emerge from a dark and difficult time as they discover that even the tiniest of lives is precious; heartache and joy go hand-in-hand, and love is an eternal circle of wagging tails.
The photo is of three of the characters you will meet in the book. You will also meet humans and other critters in the eternal circle of wagging tails. Dog Lovers -- Read the reviews on Amazon.
What kind of reader were you as a child? And what were your favorite childhood books?
"I was a fanatical escapist reader, as I am now a fanatical escapist writer. I always had a book with me, no matter what, on the bus, in line for the movies. I still love to read the same books I loved as a child. Anything written by Edward Eager, especially “Half Magic”; the Borrowers series; “Mary Poppins.” Grimms’ fairy tales, so psychologically true a child reader intuits their deeper personal meaning. Those fairy tale themes are at the heart of many of my own books."
“The Museum of Extraordinary Things”will not disappoint readers longing to be swept up by a lavish tale about strange yet sympathetic people, haunted by the past and living in bizarre circumstances." Katherine Weber in her NY Times book review
China...June is the month for Planet Of The Dogs In China
Our Chinese publisher, Chongxian Books Co. LTD, has announced that the Planet Of The Dogs is being released this month in mainland China.
The color illustration (above) is from the Chinese version. New illustrations were produced for all the Planet Of The Dogs books
Does your dog make you laugh ? If so, you may want to look at the study by Robin Valeri, Department of Psychology,St. Bonaventure University, on the "Relationship between Pet Ownership and Laughter". The study includes cats and is based on research and substantial data.
Therapy Dogs United ...where the wonders of the canine connection never cease
Therapy Dogs United (TDU) provides healing help and loving canine connections to thousands of people in Northwestern PA, and Western NY. They offer a full range of therapy dog services ranging from releaving lonliness in nursing facilities to programs that help children with autism, Downs syndrome and other difficult disabilities.
Who do they serve?
Here is an excerpt from the TDU website...
"Our dedicated team of certified volunteers work hand-in-hand with medical, educational, and social service professionals or one-on-one with patients to provide therapeutic and physical therapy. TDU makes daily visits to schools and learning institutions, book stores, homeless shelters, senior and nursing communities, hospice facilities, family service organizations, reading clubs, rehabilitation centers, and beyond... We (also) visit hospitals, rehabilitation facilities, homeless shelters, and homes for youth at risk..."
Here is the link to see the wonderful Therapy Dogs United dogs at work with young and old: TDU VIDEO
"Why it's simply impassible!
Alice: Why, don't you mean impossible?
Door: No, I do mean impassible. (chuckles) Nothing's impossible!”
Lewis Carroll, Alice's Adventures in Wonderland & Through the Looking Glass
Educating Alice: A dedicated teacher is disturbed...
Monica Edinger is a dedicated , book loving teacher. Here is an excerpt from her blog, Educating Alice (link below), regarding her concern for the mediocre teaching materials she found on the Achieve the Core website.
As a teacher in a private school I am not currently required to follow the Common Core State Standards. That said, because I am a teacher, I am following closely the discussion about them, their implementation, issues, and so forth. One resource I’ve come across is the Achieve the Core website created byStudent Achievement Partners, who describe themselves as '….a non-profit organization working to support teachers across the country in their efforts to realize the promise of the Common Core State Standards for all students.'...
I decided to check out a few of the ELA/Literacy “Common Core-aligned sample lessons with explanations and supporting resources.” And the ones I looked at were so full of problems that it made me wonder who is vetting them as worthy of teacher use.
One that I looked at particularly closely is on Charlotte’s Web. (I came across it by looking through their lessons for fourth grade. I can’t link to it directly, I’m afraid, as it takes you to a word document of the lesson.) Because I feel I’m pretty expert at the teaching of Charlotte’s Web, I was curious about the lesson they had on the book. And I found it very problematic. The questions seem to suggest it is a play version of the book, but no reference for it is cited. No edition of the book or play is given although there are page numbers given for various questions. The level of questioning is simplistic, surprising given the desire of the Common Core creators to make experiences with reading more complex and rigorous. Since I feel White’s book is a wonderful one to use with children as an entry into close reading, the lack of it and very low-level engagement recommended in this particular lesson was something I found despiriting. It looked similar to the many poor lessons about the book I have seen over the years.
What should you do, what can you do, if you see an injured dog or one in distress?
For answers, examples, true stories and more, visit Sunbear Squad...Let the experience of compassionate dog lovers guide you...free Wallet Cards & Pocket Posters, Informative and practical guidance...Visit SunBear Squad
"Man himself cannot express love and humility by external signs so plainly as does a dog, when with drooping ears, hanging lips, flexous body, and wagging tail, he meets his beloved master." Charles Darwin (1809-1882)
Lou Bunin did a fabulous stop motion Alice in Wonderland film in 1949. I’ve heard so much about it, but seeing it in total seems to be elusive. (Evidently Disney had a hand in this, wanting his version to be the movie version.) The clip below gives you a taste of why we Carrollians are so eager to get our hands on it. ( This young woman found a French subtitled version — scroll down to see it— that, she indicates, is not complete.)
It appears that next year I won't be teaching any first-year composition classes at UNH, which will put on hold an experiment I began this past term with FYC. (I'm teaching Literary Analysis this fall and probably a survey course in the spring.) I'll record here some thoughts on that experiment, both for my own future use and in case they are of use or interest to anyone else...
First, I should note the structure of the first-year writing classes at UNH requires teachers to assign 3 essays (an analytical essay, research essay, and personal essay) and take students through a process of drafting and revising each of those essays. Beyond that, for the most part, teachers are free to design their classes as they choose. (Graduate instructors such as I follow a more prescribed syllabus for our first term, after which we are as free as any other instructor.)
In my first term, I taught the course in the most straightforward, familiar way, and did not give it any sort of theme. The goal of the course is to teach skills more than content, as much as the two can be separated, and I wanted to see what would happen if I gave the students a lot of leeway in what they wrote their papers about. I should have known better. (Seriously, the first thing I ever published about teaching was a reflection for English Journal on my first year of teaching, and the basic message of it was: the blank slate is death! But I am incapable of learning from past experience, it seems...) The students wrote pretty flat, boring, stilted essays where they attempted rhetorical analysis, they wrote slightly better but mostly not particularly exciting research essays, and they wrote some really interesting personal essays. I found assessing and responding to their writing, even some of the best writing, challenging though because it was all over the place in its purposes and audiences, and my conferences and draft responses to students who wrote about subjects I knew something about were, I thought, pretty different from my responses to students who wrote about things I knew little or nothing about.
As a graduate instructor, I was required to take a course in Teaching College Composition, and for the final research project, I investigated the use of film analysis in FYC classes (we had to make a Weebly site as part of the course, and I found it a convenient place to park my research). I started out skeptical of the value of film analysis in a comp course, but ended up liking the idea quite a bit, and decided to try an experiment the next term: How little could I change the basic syllabus and yet give the course a film/media/pop culture theme?
The result was this syllabus. I tried to change as little of the structure and language of my first term as I could, because I really wanted to see if I could stick closely to the skill-based concept of the course while also giving it more focus.
The results were mixed. The most successful parts of the course were the ones that were most completely redesigned. Indeed, I had put most of my energy into reconceiving the analysis essay as an analysis of a single film scene, and it went from being the worst assignment in the course to the best. The research papers were worse this term and the personal essays were roughly the same, perhaps a bit weaker, though that may have been the result of the different mix of students (second term comp is very different from first term: a lot of people taking the course in the second term are ones who actively avoided it before).
I was impressed with the overall quality of work in the scene analyses (the guidelines are on the syllabus under "Essay #1: Analysis of a Film Scene"), despite many students struggling with it in their first draft. They mostly struggled against the strict definition of a film scene, because they couldn't imagine how they could analyze such a small thing. That's one of the reasons the assignment worked so well: it pushed them into the position of having no choice but to do close analysis, and they learned a lot by working through their frustration. We spent a class talking about how to use images from the films as evidence within the analysis, and how that can often give us new ideas about what to analyze. This turned out to be a valuable technique for many of the students. The final drafts were, on the whole, specific, focused, and thoughtful.
The research papers ended up being disappointing, especially following the triumph of the analytical essays. Though the students did a great job focusing their scene analyses, they weren't able to transfer what they had learned about specificity and focus to the research essays, and I'd put too much faith in their ability to do this. Despite my telling them over and over again that their topics were too broad, only a couple of students were able to find appropriately narrow topics. I liked using The Craft of Research as a guide to the unit — it's clear and practical, with lots of step-by-step guidelines, and the students found it useful overall, I think, but even following its guidelines, they weren't able to get their topics narrow enough to be able to write papers that weren't full of vagueness, generality, and ridiculously banal statements.
I've talked with colleagues and friends a lot about this, and have come to a few conclusions and ideas for adjustment. First, the next time I teach the course, I'm going to change the name of the assignment. A number of people in the department don't call it the research essay but rather a persuasive essay. That makes good sense not because it's a more accurate label, but because it moves it away from the ossified idea of "research" that many students bring with them from high school. The sorts of research we want them to do in college are somewhat different from the sorts of research we ask them to do in high school, but in their first year of college (and maybe later), they work from what they know. Or, rather, from what they think they know. And that's the problem. They succeeded with the analytical essay because they had no frame of reference for the assignment itself, and so they kept going back to the guidelines and kept asking me for more clarity. That was a good thing, a good process. They kept having to measure their writing against the guidelines in a way that they didn't for the research essay, because most of the students already had an idea of what a "research paper" should look like. In fact, one of the best ones I got was by a student who said he'd never had to write a research paper before in his life, and had felt really lost through a lot of it. Some of the worst ones I got were from students who said they'd done such work before.
Second, I'm going to be more strict with topics. In my desire to give the students as much freedom for creativity as possible, I kept definitions of popular culture loose, and let them write about almost anything they wanted. This defeated a lot of the purpose of having a theme. Next time, I will define the realms very specifically. This, too, may help circumvent some of the sense of having done this sort of thing before and knowing how it's done, since none of the students in the course had had to actually research popular culture before. Narrowing down the definition of popular culture for the course will allow me to be more specific in what I tell them about how to research, what resources are useful, etc., and will give them some practice in research within a discipline.
Ideally, the university would require a separate course just on research, perhaps a course within the student's major, or at least within their college (e.g. the College of Liberal Arts, the business college, etc.). Research involves so much more than just writing a paper that it's extremely difficult to cover it even superficially within the short amount of time of a composition course. But we try.
The personal essays weren't terrible, but I again betrayed the theme and often let students stretch the idea of popular culture beyond reason, to their detriment. Because my tendencies at heart are those of an anarchist, I bristle against having any sorts of guidelines for assignments, and feel guilty for imposing them on students. But the realities of a 15-week course that requires multiple drafts of 3 papers really do make it better to have pretty strict thematic guidelines. Or so it seems to me right now. I need to cultivate a better selection of model essays, too, ones that are much more specifically about film, media, and pop culture.
Which brings me to the main textbook, Signs of Life in the USA. Overall, I like the book, but I'm also not rousingly enthusiastic about it. Partly, that's the fault of the type of experiment I did here. If I were to design the course more to fit the book, rather than try to fit the book into a course for which it was only partly suitable, I would have, I expect, both a better course and a better use of the textbook. This is especially an issue with Signs of Life because it has a very specific approach, one emphasizing semiotics, and I almost completely ignored that element of the book. To fit the book into a course that is not at least partially about semiotic analysis is to get much less from the textbook than it has to offer. Nonetheless, we made great use of some of the material on analysis of images.
Signs of Life is quite weak on the research side of things. I was able to supplement well with The Craft of Research, but it would be nice to have more fully and obviously researched essays in it. There's a ton of great research on media and film analysis, and much more could be brought in. By the time I realized this, I just didn't have time myself to dig up stuff that would be useful models for my students. Next time, I certainly will.
Frankly, unless the next edition of Signs of Life is less specifically about semiotics, I probably won't use it. There's enough excellent material available online and through the databases the university library subscribes to for us really not to have to use a textbook like that at all. I just need the time to gather the material and organize it. That's the value of a textbook for this course, really: to give the teacher a framework to work from and something to fall back on.
While I was teaching this past term, a friend of mine who's in the Composition & Rhetoric Ph.D. program was writing a paper on teachers' uses of popular culture in comp classes, and specifically on the ways that pop culture can be useful or detrimental to a multicultural classroom, and she asked me a bunch of useful questions about how I was approaching the course. Another friend of ours, who is just finishing up her Comp & Rhet Ph.D. and now teaching at a Massachusetts school with a pretty diverse and often low-income population, joined the discussion and offered a very interesting take on Signs of Life: that it's a difficult book to use with diverse populations, particularly populations with a lot of class diversity. Her school, in fact, has dropped use of the book altogether.
At UNH, we really can assume that most of our students have a lot of experience with things like video games, streaming movies, social media, smart phones. (I had one student write a paper in which in his first draft he asserted that all kids in the US have video game consoles in their houses!) But if I consider using Signs of Life again, I'll certainly want to put it through a much tighter evaluative lens, specifically thinking about what its materials assume and expect of students' access to media. I really haven't come to a conclusion about that except that. I do know, though, that it would certainly be nice if the book included essays by writers of significantly less privileged class backgrounds — Dorothy Allison's "A Question of Class" would be a good place to start...
Which reminds me that one of the interesting questions my friend asked was about my use of LGBTQ texts in class, since I have already, apparently, become known for this in the department. (Probably because I spoke up in Teaching College Comp against the use of the "his/her" construction, one I see as setting up a false binary between men and women and erasing the spectrum of gender identities.) I'll end these reflections, then, with some of the material from my reply that seems worth keeping:
I haven't really gone out of my way in 401 to use LGBTQ texts, though I have in other classes. But they're certainly there. Both terms in 401, I've used David Sedaris, and in both pieces ("Now We Are Five" and "Six to Eight Black Men") he mentions his boyfriend, Hugh. One day at the beginning of the personal essay unit this term, I read aloud to the class an essay by Gwendolyn Ann Smith, founder of the Trans Day of Remembrance, called "We're All Someone's Freak" from the book Gender Outlaws edited by S. Bear Bergman and Kate Bornstein. It's a really fun, accessible essay that serves all sorts of purposes, from showing that "normal" is a power construction, that trans identity is not monolithic, and that people are complex. I completely stumbled on using it when I was desperate for a simple introductory activity that wouldn't last more than 10 minutes, and I think I'll probably make it a more formal part of future 401 classes I teach. We didn't discuss the issues in the piece, though I could tell that some of the students were immediately uncomfortable the minute I read the first sentence and they heard the word "transgender". I directed their attention toward the idea of everybody being somebody's freak, which was the idea I wanted them to think about for their personal essays as they considered point of view: basically, whose freak are you, and why? There wasn't time to get into the material as trans-specific material. Most students lack the vocabulary to talk about trans stuff, so it takes some preparation, but it's worthwhile, and because I think this essay is useful, I'll probably figure out a way to do that preparation in the future. I often used GLAAD's media reference guides on transgender issues, especially the glossary, which gives good, succinct definitions and also a great explanation of terms that are problematic and terms that are outright derogatory.
In the past, I've used all sorts of LGBTQ texts. I try to build something into every course, even if it's just something short, in the same way that I try to get somewhat of a gender balance among the authors and to include material from people of various ethnicities, races, nationalities, backgrounds. (Nothing makes the limits of 15 weeks more apparent!) I do it partly for all the basic reasons any liberal-minded person would, but also because one of the big, sometimes unconscious, motivations for me as a teacher is that I want to be a teacher I would have benefitted from having when I was a student. I think I've built up for myself over the years a pretty good apparatus to overcome initial, atavistic instincts and to wade through the swamp of toxic discourse we all inhabit. I hope to help students do some of the work to do the same. Certainly, I want to make my classroom a comfortable place for all types of people, all types of background, and I hope my students can see themselves reflected in at least some of what we do ... but I also want to make sure that people who have somewhat similar backgrounds to mine don't only see themselves. The world's much more interesting and marvelous that way.
To insist that a storyteller stick to the facts is just as ridiculous as to demand of a representative painter that he show objects accurately. What's the ultimate in representative painting? Color photography. Don't you agree? There's quite a difference, you see, between the creation of a film and the making of a documentary. In the documentary the basic material has been created by God, whereas in the fiction film the director is the god; he must create life. And in the process of that creation, there are lots of feelings, forms of expression, and viewpoints that have to be juxtaposed. We should have total freedom to do as we like, just so long as it's not dull. A critic who talks to me about plausibility is a dull fellow.
The audacity I see in the ending of Snowpiercer comes not just from its framing of revolution as something that must smash the logic of the system, but also from the way it shows that system to be not just hierarchical in terms of class, but of also being fundamentally racialized.
First, there is the inescapable fact that most of the people who have been saved from the apocalypse are white and English speaking. Even the people at the back of the train, though more diverse than the people in the front, are predominantly white and English speakers. All of the positions of highest power in the train are positions held by white English speakers, and the ultimate positions of power are held by white men and passed on to white men (Wilford to Curtis).
As Curtis moves closer and closer to the front, the white supremacy becomes obvious. There's the classroom, where the vast majority of students are very white (and often blonde), with a few Asians in there (the pre-apocalypse notion of Asians as educational high achievers is thus replicated in the train), and one black girl (at least that I saw). The overall effect is of lily-whiteness, with a few special people added.
The people at the dance party are almost entirely white.
The people who apparently stepped out of The Great Gatsby are white.
The women getting their hair styled are white.
It's worth noting, too, how so much of what we see in the front cars evokes the old white world, a world of the 1920s-1950s — an America before the successes of the civil rights movement, of women's liberation struggles, of gay liberation, etc. (The car where everyone is taking drugs evokes even earlier ideas. It's like an opium den, a powerful force in the orientalist imagination of the yellow peril in the 19th and early 20th centuries, and a setting with plenty of cinematic history.)
Early in the film, Curtis tells Edgar that once they get to the front of the train, things will be different. "But how different, really?" the film asks at the end. "Know your place!" Mason (Tilda Swinton) tells the rabble. Curtis learns what his place is from Wilford: the place of the white patriarch.
That system cannot be reformed. It will do no good to have somebody else in charge of the engine. The logic of the system must not be reformed, it must be defied and destroyed.
And thus the ending, which stops the train's circular journey and potentially annihilates the last remnants of humanity.
The system is so corrupt, so incapable of reform, that what is known to be left of humans is worth destroying rather than continuing along the same tracks.
If there is to be a future for humanity, it looks like this, the new Adam and Eve:
They might be destroyed by the cold, white world. They might be a meal for the white polar bear. But maybe, somehow, they will survive and discover or create a new world, a world where humans are on a different journey, subject to a different system, not oppressed by the cold, unbearable whiteness.