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The universe has conspired to turn my research work this summer into mass culture — while I've been toiling away on a fellowship that has me investigating Virginia Woolf's reading in the 1930s and the literary culture of the decade, the mini-series Life in Squares, about the Bloomsbury group and Woolf's family, played on the BBC and the film Testament of Youth, based on Vera Brittain's 1933 memoir of her experiences during World War One, played in cinemas.
I've now seen both and have mixed feelings about them, though I enjoyed watching each. Life in Squares offers some good acting and excellent production design, though it never really adds up to much; Testament of Youth is powerful and well constructed, even as it falls into some clichés of the WWI movie genre, and it's well worth seeing for its lead performance.
The two productions got me thinking about what we want from biographical movies and tv shows, how we evaluate them, and how they're almost always destined to fail. (Of course, "what we want" is a rhetorical flourish, a bit of fiction that would more accurately be expressed as "what I think, on reflection, that I want, at least now, and what I imagine, which is to say guess, what somebody other than myself might want". For the sake of brevity, I shall continue occasionally to use the phrase "what we want".)
Testament of Youth is easier to discuss in this context, partly because it's a single feature film based (mostly) on one text and not a three-part mini-series depicting the lives of people about whom there are shelves and shelves of books. Though the filmmakers clearly read some of the biographies of Vera Brittain, as well as her diaries, and occasionally incorporate (or at least allude to) some of this material, the structure of the film of Testament of Youth is pretty much the structure of the book, even though the screenplay takes some massive liberties. (I expect the 1979 mini-series was able to be more faithful, since it had more time, but I haven't gotten around to watching it on YouTube, which is pretty much the only place it seems still to be available, never having been released on DVD.)
For any 2-hour movie of Brittain's memoir, massive liberties are unavoidable, and overall I think the filmmakers found good choices for ways to streamline an unwieldy text — 650 pages or so, with countless characters who constantly bounce from one locale to another.
I should admit here that I don't much like Brittain's book. Some of the war parts are compelling, and it's certainly important as a historical document, but it seems to me at least twice as long as it needs to be, and Brittain simplified the main characters to such an extent that I find it hard to care about any of them. For instance, when Roland, the great love of her life, dies, it's all supposed to be terribly sad and devastating and I just thought, "Finally! No more of that insipid pining and those godawful letters back and forth and that hideous poetry!" (Which is not to say that I wanted more of the slog of the first 100+ pages of the book with all the details of Oxford University's entrance exams.) Someone could create an abridgement of Testament of Youth, maybe reducing the book to 150 or 200 pages, and it would be vastly more interesting and compelling, because there really is some excellent material buried amidst it all. Concision was not among Brittain's writerly skills.
I am not the right reader for Testament of Youth, however. None of us are, really. The book became a bestseller for a number of reasons, but one of them was that readers could fill in its thin parts with their own memories, experiences, and griefs. What the film of Testament of Youth achieves is to evoke some semblance of the emotion that was, I expect, present in the book for its first readers, most of whom would have had memories of the war years, and many of whom would have suffered similar losses as those described by Brittain — losses both of loved ones and of a certain, more innocent, worldview.
The deaths in the film were, for me at least, far more powerful than the deaths in the book. One reason is the change in medium: the move from the words on a page to actors embodying roles. Deaths in books can be hugely powerful, of course (see A Little Life for a recent example), but Brittain's ability as a writer was not up to the task, at least in a way that would transfer beyond the experiences of people for whom the First World War was still an event that had defined important portions of their lives. The characters in the film are less idealized than in the book, more human. The screenplay by Juliette Towhidi creates situations, moments, and dialogue that allow the characters to live a bit more than they do in Brittain's narrative, where the characters are more asserted by the writer than dramatized. The acting by the men is generally good, and Taron Egerton is especially effective as Brittain's brother Edward. (Kit Harrington struggles a bit in the role of Roland, but it's a nearly impossible role, since its primary requirement is for the actor to make poetic mooning somehow alluring.) But I think the real reason this film of Testament of Youth ultimately succeeds at evoking some emotion and making us care about what we watch is that Alicia Vikander is a truly extraordinary actor. Her portrayal of Brittain manages to convey the important overall arc of the character: from naive, idealistic girl to war-hardened woman shattered not only by the events of the war but also by the deaths of all the men she most loved.
Life in Squares might have been saved by its performances as well, given the talent of the actors in the show, but they never get a chance to do much. Writer Amanda Coe tries hard to give focus to the story she wants to tell, but she was unfortunately undone by the limitations of time — three episodes of not quite an hour in length is simply too little for what Coe and the other filmmakers attempt, and the result is mostly thin and unaffecting. Coe does some great things with the material, but there's just not much for the actors to work with, because the scenes move forward so quickly that there's no chance to build up anything. It's a real waste, unfortunately, because the lead actors in the first two episodes, James Norton (as Duncan Grant) and Phoebe Fox (as Vanessa Bell), capture some of the energy, attraction, and personality of young Bloomsbury in ways I've never seen before. The mise-en-scene is important, too, and marvelously rendered, giving a sense of the physical world through careful attention to the detail of sets, props, and, especially, costumes. But it's a mise-en-scene in service to ... well, not much.
For anyone who doesn't know the intricacies of the personal relationships among the "Bloomsberries", Life in Squares must be terribly confusing, especially given the choice to have two sets of actors play the main characters: a younger group and an older one, with the older group seen in quick flashbacks in the first two episodes, then dominant in the third, which is set in the 1930s. (The BBC has a helpful guide to the characters on their website.) With so many people coming and going through the show, and only a handful of characters given more than a few lines, it's difficult even for a knowledgeable viewer to know who is who.
The best decision the show makes is to focus primarily on Vanessa Bell, a fascinating person who has too often been invisible in the pop culture shadow of her sister, Virginia Woolf, but who was really much more at the core of the Bloomsbury group than either Virginia or Leonard Woolf. Her life also exemplified the ideals and aspirations of the group — she was an artist, had an open marriage to Clive Bell (with whom she had two children), and had a child with Duncan Grant, who preferred sex with men but for whom Vanessa was about as close as a person can get to what might be thought of as a soul mate. Their lives included mistakes, prejudices, jealousies, and great grief, but nonetheless seem to me to have been quite beautiful.
The problem Life in Squares fails to solve is the problem of showing entire lives over a long period of time. This was a problem Virginia Woolf knew well, and tackled again and again in her novels. But the problem of narrative time in a movie is very different from the problem of narrative time in a novel, because cinema's relationship to time is different from that of prose narratives, as lots of filmmakers and film theorists have known (Deleuze's second Cinema book is subtitled "The Time-Image"). This is one of the big perils of biopics, since they seek to show the progression of a life, and yet cinema is usually at its best when taking a more focused, less expansive view. Some wonderful films have covered entire lives — Citizen Kane comes to mind, as does 32 Short Films About Glenn Gould — but most history-minded movies that take on such a large expanse end up feeling thin, especially if they try to tell the story in a fairly conventional way, as Life in Squares does. (For comparison: The Imitation Game can thrive in its utterly conventional, audience-pleasing form because its narrative is relentlessly straightforward and the history is simplified to fit the linear movement of the plot and the characters' desires. Life in Squares doesn't simplify the historical figures or events nearly so much, but it also doesn't find a form that fits what it seeks to depict.)
Actually, the problem for Life in Squares is that it can't decide quite what approach it wants to take — will it be fragmentary and impressionistic, or will it try to string events together in a more linear structure? Linear becomes impossible because there's just so much material, and thus the show has to skip over all sorts of things, but it still retains an urge for linearity that sinks it. (How much better it would have been to, for instance, show us just three days in the lives of the characters. Or to take a page from Four Weddings and a Funeral and base it on the weddings of Vanessa, Virginia, and Angelica and the days of the deaths of of Thoby Stephen, Lytton Strachey, Julian Bell, and Virginia. Or base it on particular art works. Or ... well, there are any number of possibilities.) Coe structures the story around the love lives of the characters, but there's too much else that she wants to throw in, and it all ends up a muddle that, sadly, too often domesticates people who, in reality, very much did not want to be domesticated.
What's worse, Life in Squares ultimately fails to show anything much of what's important about Vanessa Bell, Duncan Grant, and the people around them — their contributions to culture. We see paintings around, we see the artists working now and then, and there are a few brief moments when we hear talk of books (Woolf's first novel, The Voyage Out, is, if I remember correctly, the only one we actually see, though there's some brief mention of The Years being a bestseller in the third episode). If not for the significant contributions to art, literature, and politics (hello there John Maynard Keynes, who gets maybe three lines in the whole show), these would not be especially noteworthy people, nor would there be much historical record of them. But more importantly, it's impossible to think of these people without their contributions to art, literature, and politics, because they lived for art, literature, and politics. (Well, Vanessa Bell and Duncan Grant were less politically inclined than many of the others, but that's relative — the first biography of Leonard Woolf, for instance, was a political study.) Life in Squares does an admirable job of showing the truly radical sexual politics of the group, but it subordinates everything else to the personal relationships, which of course makes for easier drama, even if that drama is, as here, unfulfilling. But what it looks like and feels like and sounds like to devote your life to the things the Bloomsbury Group devoted their life to ... that isn't really here in a meaningful way.
(Is there a movie about a writer that gives a real sense of the writing life? Nothing comes immediately to mind. For artists, yes — Mr. Turner, Vincent & Theo — but the making of art is itself visual action. Carrington, which could almost be Life in Squares Episode 2.5, was better because it focused very closely on its two protagonists and allowed Lytton Strachey to talk to Carrington about books and Carrington to work on, and discuss, her art. It's still pretty flat as a movie, but it's earnest and Jonathan Pryce and Emma Thompson are quite good in their roles.)
Which brings me back to the original question: What do we want from biopics? Why was I excited to see a new film of Testament of Youth and a mini-series about the Bloomsbury Group? Why, even now, given all I've said especially about Life in Squares, am I glad these exist?
Partly, there's a sense of validation. It's a powerful feeling when mass culture recognizes the perhaps strange or esoteric thing you yourself obsess over. I watched the first episode of Life in Squares with a friend who only knows Virginia Woolf's name because he's seen her books around my house. He was bored by the show, but seemed amused by my ability to expound on the various relationships and histories of the characters flitting across the screen (and indistinguishable to him) — and in that moment, suddenly all of the work I've done this summer (not to mention the past twenty years of sometimes casually, sometimes obsessively reading in and around Woolf and her circle) felt somehow less ... hermetic. This, I could say, is something the wider world cares about, too, at least a little, at least superficially, at least... It's possible that Life in Squares was a more fulfilling experience for me than for most viewers who know less about the characters and era. Not only could I figure out who was who, but I could also fill in the blanks that the show didn't have time or ability to dramatize. In that way, the show was, for me, pointillistic: my mind's eye filled in the space between the dots and extrapolated form from the individual moments of color.
Knowledge of the book of Testament of Youth is not necessarily helpful for the movie, because the film takes so many (mostly necessary) liberties that it's likely the knowledgeable viewer will become distracted by thinking about where the book and movie diverge. Both Testament and Life in Squares suffer from common problems of biopics, particularly name-dropping and random, obligatory cameos. Characters in Life in Squares constantly have to say each other's names because there are so many of them and they're all so quickly dealt with. Large historical moments must of course be alluded to in dialogue. And then important people must at least show up — there's a pointless moment with Vita Sackville-West in Life in Squares, for instance, and the presence of Winifred Holtby in Testament of Youth is only explicable because Holtby was so important in Brittain's life; but she gets so little time in the movie that she feels like she's been airdropped in at the last moment, and the portentousness of her announcing herself is never really dealt with. This brings me back, as ever, to the wonder that is Mr. Turner — director/writer Mike Leigh in that film and in his other historical movie, Topsy Turvy, avoids this sort of thing, because he knows that a movie is not a history book, and that what matters is not so much who people are as what they do and how they behave with each other.
What do we want to be accurate in our biopics ... and why? Does it matter if three minor characters are melded into one? Does it matter if chronologies are rearranged or simplified? Does it matter if people are put into places where they never were? "Well, it depends..." you say. Depends on what, though? I want to say that it depends on the ultimate goal, the effect, the meaning.
For me, the only changes that feel like betrayals are ones that distort the personality of characters I care about. Both Testament of Youth and Life in Squares do pretty well on that count, which is why, for all my grumbling, I was overall able to enjoy them and feel not great animosity toward them. I wish that the makers of each had been more imaginative, certainly — Life in Squares needed more imagination in order to come alive and feel vital, while Testament falls into too many clichés of the WWI story (plenty of which are directly from Brittain's text, which is why circumventing them requires significant imagination) and adds a couple of credibility-straining coincidences (particularly with Edward in France). If the Vera Brittain of the movie is a bit less naive and jingoistic at first than the real Vera Brittain was as a girl and the textual Vera Brittain is in the book, there is still a strong sense of her development in the film and, especially, in Vikander's performance, which begins with idealistic energy and ends with something far more profound.
In the end, I suppose what I want from biopics is a sense of the ordinary moments of extraordinary lives and the emotional realities of worlds gone by. This is something that drama in general can give us, and that cinema can give us especially well, with the camera-eye's ability to zoom and focus and linger and look. I got a sense of all that now and then in Life in Squares, especially when it calmed down and didn't try to squeeze so much in — I got a sense (imaginary, of course, but real in the way only the imaginary can be) of why everybody who ever met him seems to have fallen in love with Duncan Grant, and why Vanessa Bell was such a bedrock of the group, and what, in some way, it maybe felt like to wander those rooms and landscapes when they were not museums but just the places these people lived. Testament of Youth offers a bit more, and also shows some other virtues of the historical or biographical film — it enlivened the material for me, and I returned to the book with a certain new appreciation, a new ability to find my way into it, to care about it and to imagine how its first readers cared about it.
The cinema fell upon its prey with immense rapacity, and to this moment largely subsists upon the body of its unfortunate victim. But the results are disastrous to both. The alliance is unnatural. Eye and brain are torn asunder ruthlessly as they try vainly to work in couples. The eye says: 'Here is Anna Karenina.' A voluptuous lady in black velvet wearing pearls comes before us. But the brain says: 'That is no more Anna Karenina than it is Queen Victoria.' For the brain knows Anna almost entirely by the inside of her mind -- her charm, her passion, her despair. All the emphasis is laid by the cinema upon her teeth, her pearls, and her velvet. Then 'Anna falls in love with Vronsky' -- that is to say, the lady in black velvet falls into the arms of a gentleman in uniform, and they kiss with enormous succulence, great deliberation, and infinite gesticulation on a sofa in an extremely well-appointed library, while a gardener incidentally mows the lawn. So we lurch and lumber through the most famous novels of the world. So we spell them out in words of one syllable written, too, in the scrawl of an illiterate schoolboy. A kiss is love. A broken cup is jealousy. A grin is happiness. Death is a hearse. None of these things has the least connection with the novel that Tolstoy wrote, and it is only when we give up trying to connect the pictures with the book that we guess from some accidental scene -- like the gardener mowing the lawn -- what the cinema might do if is were left to its own devices.
Tales of wonder usually have happy endings. They may have danger and darkness, forbidden places and strange creatures, witches and cruel magic...but wonder tales -- fairy tales -- do have happy endings...with very few exceptions. The journey may be fearsome, but salvation and awakenings occur in the end...and these stories endure forever.
Beauty, Horror, and Ignition Power...
Enchanted Hunters, The Power of Stories in Childhood by Maria Tatar, takes the reader on a wonderful journey through children's literature.
In the chapter entitled, Beauty , Horror and Ignition Power, she writes about the effect of wonder tales on the imagination of children, including the balance between the dark side and positive endings. Here are excerpts..."We rarely worry about the effects of beauty, but horror is another matter...with an allure all its own, horrorhas the power to frighten as well as to fascinate...how much do we want children to find in their stories and how soon?..."
Tatar then illustrates the idea of too much horror with "Hans Christian Anderson's'The Girl Who Trod On The Loaf', a tale that revels in torturing Inger, the 'girl' in the title." Tatar then writes, by contrast. of three classic tales where all ends well.
"By contrast,'Little Red Riding Hood', 'Hansel and Gretel', and 'Snow White' begin with the child as victim, but they end with the triumph of the underdog and the punishment of the villain. 'Children know something they can't tell; they like Red Riding Hood and the wolf in bed' Djuna Barnes once declared. Fairy tales and fantasy enact perils and display horrors, but they always show a way out, allowing children to explore great existential mysteries that are far more disturbing when they remain abstract and uncharted rather than take the concrete form of the story."
The illustration of Little Red Riding Hood is by Hermann Vogel.
The Defining Dynamic of the Fairytale
Amanda Craig,is an acclaimed British novelist, journalist, and children's book reviewer. The following excerpt is from her insightful review of Marina Warner's "OnceUpon A Time, A Short History of the Fairy Tale", in the Guardian
"One of the most interesting aspects of reworking fairytales is that it tends to be practised by idealists and reformers, whether devout Christians, such as CS Lewis, or socialists, such as JK Rowling. The defining dynamic of the fairy tale is optimism (as opposed to the tragic tendencies of the myth), but this has encouraged bowdlerisations from the dark and gruesome aspects of many originals – Dickens hated the way the illustrator George Cruikshank softened stories, the brothers Grimm tinkered to “excuse the men and blame the women”, and the ambiguity of the fairytale led to them being twisted into Nazi propaganda, with Little Red Riding Hood being saved from a Semitic wolf.
Happily, they have also been transmuted by modern feminism: Neil Gaiman’s striking novella, The Sleeper and the Spindle... conflates and subverts Snow White and Sleeping Beauty into a tale of female courage and choice..." Read it all in the Guardian
The illustration from Tom Thumb is by Warwick Goble.
Where the Light is Golden...
“October knew, of course, that the action of turning a page, of ending a chapter or of shutting a book, did not end a tale. Having admitted that, he would also avow that happy endings were never difficult to find: "It is simply a matter," he explained to April, "of finding a sunny place in a garden, where the light is golden and the grass is soft; somewhere to rest, to stop reading, and to be content.” ― Neil Gaiman, The Sandman, Vol. 4: Season of Mists
The Humane Society of Missouri helps more than 85,000 homeless, abused and unwanted animals each year. Here is their mission statement:
"Since 1870, the Humane Society of Missouri has been dedicated to second chances. We provide a safe and caring haven to all animals in need - large and small - that have been abused, neglected or abandoned. Our mission is to end the cycle of abuse and petoverpopulation through our rescue and investigation efforts, spay/neuter programs and educational classes. We are committed to creating lasting relationships between people and animals through our adoption programs. We further support that bond by making available world-class veterinary care, and outstanding pet obedience and behavior programs..."
"Wulff`s heartwarming storiesabout a household of misfit dogs, reminds me that family can include the four-legged variety, as well as the two-legged. Her simple affirmation that "My dogs are not perfect.... but they are perfect for me," guides the telling of these gentle stories. For dog lovers everywhere."
If you have not yet read "Born Without a Tail: the Making of an Animal Advocate" or "Circling the Waggins: How 5 Misfit Dogs Saved Me from Bewilderness", this mini ebook is the perfect introduction to the world of C.A.Wulff."Parade of Misfits" is only available in digital format.
C.A. Wulffis an author, artist, and animal advocate. She has volunteered in animal rescue for more than 26 years and attributes her love of animals to having been raised by Wulffs.
Dr. Seuss’ ‘What Pet Should I Get?’
By MARIA RUSSO,in the NY Times. MS Russo writes an appreciation of the incredible Theodore Seuss Geisel, his wonderful books, and the new-found book, What PetShould I Get? Here's an excerpt...
"First, though, the book itself: It features a round-faced brother and sister — his close- cropped hair is bristly on top, she has a long, wispy ponytail — who enter a pet store excited about the prospect of taking a new animal home. 'Dad said we could get one./ Dad said he would pay,' the boy exclaims. Inside, they confront a head-spinning lineup of choices. Also, they don’t have much time — their mother has told them to be home by noon. A few pages into their predicament and again toward the end, the words MAKE UP YOUR MIND charge across the top of a two-page spread, each held aloft by a different invented Seussian creature — floppy-limbed, scruffy-coated, oddly proportioned, jubilantly weird. On one of those pages, the boy sums up the book’s central point in a deceptively innocent lament: 'Oh, boy! It is something to make a mind up!' ”
Here's a link to a delightful and informative Dr.Seuss Today Show report on the new book, Theodore Geisel, his widow, his personal assistant, and his publisher.
"To the uneducated, an A is just three sticks."
“People say nothing is impossible, but I do nothing every day.”
“We'll be Friends Forever, won't we, Pooh?' asked Piglet. Even longer,' Pooh answered.”
“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.”
A.A. Milne, Winnie-the-Pooh
The illustration is by Earnest Shepard. ...................
Rescuing Wonderful Shivery Tales
This is the title of Marina Warner's excellent and inclusive article in theNY Review of Books . Warner writes about contributions to the world of wonder tales and children's literature by Jack Zipes, Philip Pullman, Peter Wortman, and Maria Tatar. In the case of Tatar, she concentrates on her work in introducing, translating, and annotating the Turnip Princess, the tales collected by Franz Xaver von Schonwerth.
Here are excerpts from this informed and insightful article:
"Jack Zipes has long been a staunch advocate of fairy tales and their proper study since his book Breaking the Magic Spell (1979) issued a devastating blast against the wishful thinking of mass entertainment and shook the staid and soporific scene of folklore studies. To interpret the tales he has combined Marxism, feminism, cultural materialism, and even—for a short period—evolutionary biology. He has stirred readers with a similar passion for his material, while attacking the use of literary fantasy in movies and television to camouflage moral manipulation. Writers whom he admires—Jane Yolen, Terri Windling, and above all Angela Carter—and the films informed by their work have supplied countermodels to the sins of the dream factory.
In the epilogue of the new critical collection, Grimm Legacies, Zipes, drawing on the work of the philosopher Ernst Bloch, once again argues that fairy tales are best understood as utopian thought experiments. When the peasant crushes the ogre, the poor lad finds justice; persecuted by malicious relatives, the kind sister gets her due, the courageous girl saves her beloved siblings or lover...
Zipes is on a lifelong mission, as ardent as the Grimms’, to bring fairy tales into circulation for the general increase of pleasure, mutual and ethical understanding..."
The illustrations for the Grimm's Hansel and Gretel and King Thrushbeard are by Arthur Rackham.
FOR YOUNG FANTASY AND ANIMAL LOVERS EVERYWHERE
By Don Blankenship, educator and reviewer forGood Books for Kids . This is an excerpt from his review of Castle In The Mist...
"This is the second book in the Planet of the Dogs series and I must say I enjoyed it, cover to cover. This work can be read as a sequel to Planet of the Dogs, an ideal situation, but can also be read as a stand-alone with no loss to the flow of the story. This read is suitable for children of approximately eight years and up as a reader, or can well be read to children much younger. Adults will love this one also; I know I did, but then I have my fare share of kid still in me...
The art work by Stella Mustanoja McCarty is of the same high quality that we found in the first book in this series (and we find in the sequel to this book also), and is a delight to theeye. These are a series of black and white drawing, probably enhanced by the use of charcoal, which fit the text perfectly. When you bring a skilled artist and writer together that know children and know their dogs, then you know you are in for a treat."
Read sample chapters of Castle In The Mist at our website: Planet Of The Dogs. The photo, above, of the boy, Chase, and Rose, the therapy dog, are by Susan Purser. Susan and Rose bring hope and caring to many people, of all ages, from young readers to the ill and the aged.
We have free reader copies of the Planet of The Dogs book series for therapy dog organizations, individual therapy dog owners, librarians and teachers...simply send us an email at email@example.com and we will send you the books.
Our books are available through your favorite independent bookstore, Barnes & Noble, Amazon, Powell's and many more...Librarians, teachers, bookstores...You can also order Planet Of The Dogs, Castle In The Mist, and Snow Valley Heroes, A Christmas Tale, throughIngram with a full professional discount.
The illustration and book cover are by Stella Mustanoja-McCarty.
Pan In The Garden
"In many ways , modern children's literature remains an Edwardian phenomenon.This period defined the ways in which we still think of children's books and of the child's imagination. During it's few years, this age produced a canon of authors and works that are still powerfully influential in the field...Our default mode of childhood, if you like, remains that decade or so before the first World War; the time between the death of Queen Victoria in 1901, and the assassination at Sarajevo in 1914, the time when writers looked back over loss and could only barely anticipate the end of the old order"
In the chapter "Pan In the Garden",Seth Lerer, in his book, Children's Literature, A Reader's History from Aesop to Harry Potter, writes of the impact of the Edwardian era on children's literature..."the years before the First World War in Britain and America were also years that socially and politically redefined childhood."
Children's books written in the Edwardian era are known, even today, by many children: The Secret Garden (Frances Hodgson Burnett), Peter Pan (JM Barrie), The Wind In the Willows (Kenneth Grahame) and more.
The cover illustration is by Inga Moore.
"Logic will get you from A to B. Imagination will take you everywhere." Albert Einstein
The illustration is from Miyazaki's Castle In The Sky.
Disney Got It Right in 2011-- After Previous Stumbles
According to Rotten Tomatoes, 90% of the critics (out of 127) liked the 2011 Disney production of Winnie the Pooh. Here is excerpt from the review by Michael DeQuina inMovie Report.
..."the writing team and directors Stephen J. Anderson and Don Hall make it work by never losing sight of the spirit of the characters, world, and Milne: imagination, innocence, and heaps of heart--best encapsulated by the bear's simple, moving gesture of friendship that so eloquently ties up the story, characters, themes and the enduring legacy that is Pooh."
Maine has an organization - EmBrace A Vet - that provides healing support with therapy service dogs. They also provide retreats for groups of vets and their families. This is from their site:
"Embrace A Vet is a nonprofit organization dedicated to providing direct and supportive services to these Maine Veterans and their families living with PTSD and/or TBI. Besides helping to save the lives of our veterans by providing love and hope through a new canine 'best friend', we also save the lives of many of the dogs who we adopt from shelters."
Embrace A Vet is the recipient of a $5,000 grant for their Paws for Peace Program. This funding, from thePlanet Dog Foundation (PDF) will aid in the placement of 12 dogs with veterans in need,
Jessica Lahey,in the Motherlode section of the New York Times, wrote an excellent article on reading,literacy, and RIF. Here is an excerpt...
"Fortunately, Reading Is Fundemental (RIF), has been enriching children’s childhoods through thedistribution of free books since 1966, when the founder Margaret McNamara resolved to give books to the children of Washington, D.C., children who may not otherwise have the chance to own books. RIF delivered books into the hands of these children by way of their iconic Bookmobiles; magic vehicles of wonder that pulled right up to the schoolhouse door and invited children to select, and take home, books of their very own. In its first year, RIF gave 200,000 books to 41,000 Washington children, and by the time I stepped into my first Bookmobile in 1977, I was just one of 1.1 million children RIF served that year.
Literacy is a prime predictor of student success, as well as a range of economic and physical well-being. According to the National Center for Education Statistics, nearly half of the adult population, or 93 million Americans, read at or below the basic level needed to contribute successfully to society. Adults below this basic level of literacy are far more likely to be unemployed and live in poverty, while individuals who achieve higher levels of literacy are more likely to be employed, earn higher wages, and vote in state and national elections"...
Here's a link to read it all: Motherlode
Go Ask Alice
AnthonyLane,in an effervescent New Yorkerarticle, wrote about Lewis Carrol, the Alice books, the world of nineteenth century Oxford,and several biographies in what Lane calls the Carrolllian maze. Here is an excerpt from this fascinating article... "Conversations about what is real, what is possible, and how rubbery the rules that govern such distinctions turn out to abound in the tales of Alice. Yet they are sold as children's books, and rightly so. A philosopher will ask how the identity of the self can be preserved amid the ceaseless flow of experience, but a child -- especially a child who is growing so fast that she suddenly fills the room -- will ask more urgently, as Alice does, "Was I the same as when I got up this morning? I almost think I can remember feeling a little a little different" Children, viewed from one angle, are philosophy in motion."
After I had prepared this post, I found that it was already posted by Maria Tatar on Breezes From Wonderland. Tatar has since added more about Alice including information about a new Annotated Alice by Mark Burstein and other news about 175 translations worldwide.
Here is a link to Grace Slick singing White Rabbit at Woodstock (August 1969)
The illustration of Alice is one of ninetytwo by John Tenniel for Lewis Carrol's books.
A Rose Is Not a Rose...
This excerpt is from a fascinating article by Marina Warner in the Guardian
"A fairytale doesn’t exist in a fixed form; it’s something like a tune that can migrate from a symphony to a penny whistle.
Or you can compare it to a plant genus, to roses or fungi or grasses, that can seed and root and flower here and there, changing species and colour and size and shape where they spring. But if the prevailing idea of an archetype gives too strong an impression of fixity, the picture-language of fairytale is fluid and shapeshifting: a rose is not a rose, an apple not an apple; a princess or a villain signify far more than what they seem. A dictionary of fairytale would look more like a rebus made up of icons: snow, crystal, apples, dark forests, pinnacled castles, mermaids, toads, giants, dragons, sprites, fair princesses, likely lads and crones.
The symbolism comes alive through strong contrasts and sensations, evoking simple, sensuous phenomena that glint and sparkle, pierce and flow, by these means striking recognition in the reader or listener’s body at a visceral depth (gold and silver; diamonds and rubies, thorns and knives; wells and tunnels). It’s an Esperanto of the imagination, and it’s available for any of us to use – in almost any medium..."
The painting of Sleeping Beauty is by Edward Burne Jones. The illustration is by Jennie Harbour.
The Society of Bloggers in Children’s and Young Adult Literature
I highly recommend Kidlitosphere as a source for anyone interested in children's literature.
The following is excerpted from their site...
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.
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...
KidLitosphere Central strives to provide an avenue to good books and useful literary resources; to support authors and publishers by connecting them with readers and book reviewers; and to continue the growth of the society of bloggers in children’s and young adult literature...here is a link to read more.
Welcome to our world.
The top illustration is of of Tom Thumb. The bottom illustration is of the Frog King.
There's magic, wonder, and exceptional animation here...I learned of this film, when I received this message from Joy Ward (author of exceptional dog books)..."There is an absolutely gorgeous animated movie out right now. It's Song of the Sea by an Irish team. Lovely story about o little boy and his selkie sister. Wonderful for everyone!"
The film reviewers have been uniformly enthusiastic. Here is an excerpt from Leslie Felperinin the Guardian:"Song of the Seablends Celtic legends, bravura design and animation, and intelligent storytelling that understands but never patronises young viewers, to create an exquisite and rewarding work ..." Here is a link to the trailer: Song Of The Sea
No Dark Deeds Here
This excerpt of the review by Jo Williams in the St Louis Post-Dispatch, sums up the Minions, a movie for the very young.
"If you’re old enough to read a movie review in a newspaper, you’re too old to fully appreciate “Minions.” Ditto if you’re old enough to read the menu at a fast-food joint, the height requirements at an amusement park or the price tag on a shiny yellow toy. This spinoff of the “Despicable Me” cartoons is like a pre-verbal version of “Inside Out,” all coos and colors and cute facial expressions. Tiny tots will eat it up like jelly beans. But what about their bigger siblings and baby-sitters? Will they be trapped on a sugar-rush cycle with no hope of escape?
Yes, but … The mad scientists at Dreamworks have scrubbed this ’toon of anything that might scare or challenge the target audience"...
Several years ago, I read Deb Eades book, Every Rescued Dog Has a Tale, and first learned about the nationwide network of volunteers who are "rescuing dogs from certain deaths in kill shelters and then being driven by dedicated animal lovers to a new life in another state."
Deb Eades was one of these volunteers, and her book is filled with touching first-hand stories of rescuing dogs and driving them to a place where another volunteer takes over and drives the next leg of the rescue journey. Or, sometimes, actually driving the rescued dog(s) to their new home.
Sunbear Squad is a mainstay in dog rescue. Here is an excerpt from their site:
"Each weekend in America, an army of volunteer rescue transport drivers deliver dogs and cats to safety in an organized relay of vehicles. Hard-working volunteer transport coordinators plan the logistics, organize the four-legged passengers, and provide support by phone continuously during the entire one- or two-day operation. Drivers sign up for relay "legs" via e-mail. They meet the previous leg drivers at an appointed time, transfer the lucky dogs and cats to their vehicles, and drive to the next relay meeting spot where the process is repeated until the destination is reached..."
To read the entire article follow this link: Rescue
"All knowledge, the totality of all questions and answers, is contained in the dog." -- Franz Kafka, Investigations of a Dog
Goodness: the deadline for the bookhas suddenly jumped out of the bushes and is frantically waving its arms at me! I have until August 20th to get everything done. It's about a month, but counting only the free days I have to work on it, it's actually 3 weeks. Trouble is, that is also the only remaining time I have to prepare for filming the Craftsy class too - same deadline. Yikes.
I clearly need to get my skates on. I hate to be so busy when it's summer though. I spent last Sunday working at my computer with the blinds down, while other folks were prancing around in the sunshine. Sob.
I have gone through the design layouts for almost all the book now. There are about a dozen new images to scan, because of rejigging the content at the design stage, then I have to choose sketches I want to feature as full page images for each of my chapter-header pages. It's hard to do that without having a proper overview of the content, so Quarto are about to send me a definitive version of what we have done so far.
Once the final sketches are scanned, I will at last be able to get rid of all the sketchbooks piled around the studio. I'm really looking forward to a good tidy up.
There are still a few little bits of text that need doing: extra sections that have appeared as we have made changes (it has been very much a project that you have to allow to evolve as it goes along). That won't take long though. The main job left is all the step-by-step drawings dotted through the book. I am going to do some of them live to camera, so we can choose stills from the film to use to illustrate stages of the process. It's a wee bit scary, to be honest. I am going down to London to sort that out in a fortnight. We have 1.5 days to work on the filming and sort any photography, like taking pictures of all the elements of my sketching kit for instance. Right. Back to it...
Remember the Craftsy online-workshop I was invited to run on How to Design Children's Book Characters? Well, last month, my outline got the go-ahead (yeh!), so I have now moved onto the next stage, fine-tuning the content.
The company are extremely professional and organised, which is great, as it fills me with confidence that they will get the best out of me (and help to make it look like I know what I am talking about!). They have a huge team of people working on all aspects of the process. First of all, I was commissioned by the Acquisitions Editor, who talked me through the framework of the workshops and advised me while I put together the outline and organised it into 7 similar length lessons of approx 15 - 20 minutes each. Now I have started to go through the lesson plans in detail with a Producer.
My producer called me from Denver last week and we talked for about 45 minutes about what happens next. He asked me to devise 'homework' projects to follow each of the 7 lessons. I also have to make a list of all the materials I will need and all the materials my students will need. The biggest job though is to time myself, to make decisions about which teaching points I am going to demo live and which I am going to talk through, using existing examples of my book illustrations - I can't demo everything as there is so much to teach and so little time.
I did the homework last week and have started making preliminary decisions about what book illustrations I think I am going to need to show on-screen. Next job is to hunt them out of the archive to send to my producer. Luckily, I still have the original digital scans of pretty much everything I have ever had published.
I have also just had an email from another member of the team: the Talent Coach. they are responsible for making sure I coming across well on screen. All very interesting stuff. I am so enjoying the wild variety of my work at the moment, what with this film, the urban sketching book, the residency, the school visits and of course my next picture book with Julia Jarman, which I start in October.
Long ago, when folk tales were told by people in homes, in fields, in the marketplace and taverns, there were many stories of the forests.
Two out of three of the original 1812 Grimm Folk Tales are set in or involve the forest.
The forests held beauty and danger, the known and the unknown, light and darkness.
The forests were places of lost and abandoned children; homes of witches, elves, and dwarfs. They were the place where wondrous events occurred.
The forests were a threshold of wonder.
The illustration is of Harry Potter seeing the Silver Stag.
The Forest - steeped in ancient myth and legend and infused with spiritual meaning...
Justine Gaunt, in Woodlands.co.uk, writes of the underlying significance and symbolism of the forest found in the minds of ancient peoples and in their folk and fairy tales.
"Anyone embarking upon the journey of exploring forest symbolism finds themselves, perhaps like Little Red Riding Hood waving goodbye to her mother at the garden gate, on a vast voyage punctuated with the joys and dangers of the psyche, steeped in ancient myth and legend and infused with spiritual meaning.
It is no accident that so many fairytale characters find themselves having to traverse danger-laden tracts of woodland. In a most practical sense, as the ancients dreamed up those stories and even when the oral traditions were finally written down in the middle ages and later, the lands of northern and western Europe were thick with woodland. The dangers were palpable: from rogues and bandits lying in wait for unsuspecting travellers to opportunistic wolves hungry for the kill...
As for Little Red Riding Hood, straying from the path and into the woods is similarly dangerous and filled with treachery. Symbolically, those who lose their way in the uncharted forestare losing their way in life, losing touch with their conscious selves and voyaging into the realms of the subconscious..."
The illustrations of fairies and for the story of Tom Thumb are by Gustav Dore.
Fairy Tales Speak to the Secret Self
Tim Lott, who writes a Family Column for the Guardian wrote about the resonance andconnection that the dark side of fairy tales have -- especially for kids - after taking his family to an interactive total immersion theater event based on Phillip Pullman's Grimm Tales...
"But why do these particular plots have such resonance for the audience? Bruno Bettelheim in his study, The Uses of Enchantment, suggested that folk and fairytales that endure from generation to generation, speak to something deep in the reader’s unconscious – for instance, that these older tales legitimized the murderous and violent instincts that all children experience, freeing them from the guilt that such feelings generate...
Whether or not you believe in Bettelheim’s Freudian take on storytelling, it is unquestionable that the best stories have a profound resonance of the Grimm tales transparently address our darkest fears, but in a sense, all mythic storytelling is about addressing uncertainties and anxieties...
Archetypal stories, then, for adults and children – even the “simplest”, not usually thought of as “art” – are more than merely entertainment. The more they involve us imaginatively, the more they speak to the secret self. Without access to those ancient portalsthat lie within us all, and certainly lie within Grimm Tales, we may applaud the style, and the elegance and the sophistication of the storyteller. And in children’s stories... "
Here is a link that will connect you to the full article, Fairy Tales Are Not Just For Fun: Guardian
Both illustrations are for the Grimm's story, the Robber Bridegroom. The top one is by John Cruikshank; the lower on is by John Gruelle.
The Planet Dog Foundation (PDF), Planet Dog's non-profit grant-making organization, is awarding $60,000 in new grants to twelve canine service organizations throughout the country.
"A PDF grant of $5,000 toAmerica's VetDogswill support the training and placement of dogs for veterans being trained through their Massachusetts Prison Puppy Program. Collectively, inmates from local facilities along with local volunteer weekend puppy raisers will train 40 future service dogs per program cycle to assist our nation's veterans with disabilities. The program not only raises the quality of life for wounded veterans and keeps them active in their communities, but also has a positive impact on the inmate population involved in the training."
America's VetDogs serves veterans from all eras, and first responders who have honorably served our country and community, by providing Guide Dogs, Service Dogs for Disabilities,, Service Dogs for PTSD, Hearing Dogs, and more...Click this link and Learn more about America's VetDogs here.
Save The Children
The devastating effect of war on children is seen in a brief video, Second A Day, produced by Save The Children. Here is an excerpt from a report by Dion Dassannayakein the Express:
"The moving clip starts with a childcelebrating her birthday and follows her moment by moment as war and conflict develops in the UK. The hard hitting clip shows London being turned into a war zone where rockets are fired at buildings in broad daylight and children wear gas masks. The powerful video ends with a moving shot of the young girl celebrating her birthday once again."
In just one minute and thirty three seconds, we are reminded of what is happening to multitudes of children today. Here is a link to YouTube- Second A Day
The Wonder of a New Fairy Tale
Pixar's Inside Out...Inside the Mind of an 11 Year Old Girl...
After a rather disappointing hiatus of wonder, the folks at Pixar-- who produced Up, Toy Storyand Finding Nemo--have produced another winner, both critically and with audiences.
Rotten Tomatoes reports that 98% of 217reviewers were enthusiastic and positive in their reviews of Inside Out. Opening weekend crowds for “Inside Out” were 56% female and 38% under the age of 12. Families comprised 71% of the audience. The film opened June 19 and has already grossed over $300 million in ticket sales.
Here's the reaction of Craig Mathiesonin the Sydney Morning Herald:
"The most pleasurably complete Pixarfilm since 2004's The Incredibles,Inside Outdelivers a witty and empathetic answer to the eternal lament of, "What is going on inside your head?"
And, here's an excerpt from an insightful review by Andrew O'hehir in Salon.com
"... there’s an enormous conceptual gulf between Disney films of the “classic” mode, from “Snow White and the Seven Dwarfs” and “Dumbo” right through “Pocahontas” and “The Little Mermaid,” and the consistently elegiac and nostalgic childhood’s-end fables of the Pixar era. If you’ve ever wondered why Pixar’s animators have never gotten around to adapting “The Velveteen Rabbit,” Margery Williams’ 1922 classic about the boundary between childhood imagination and adult reality, it’s because they don’t have to. Almost every Pixar film is “The Velveteen Rabbit,” transmuted into some new fictional universe but built upon the same question, perhaps the most profound and tragic ever framed in the English language: 'Of what use was it to be loved and lose one’s beauty and become Real if it all ended like this?' ..."
"Like Wulff's "How to Change the World in 30 Seconds", this book is another practical handbook for helping pets. Easy to follow steps, important data, and insider info. Displaced pets make up most of the animals that find themselves in pounds, and with 3-4 million animals euthanized inU.S. shelters every year, it's no place for your beloved pet!Many times the pet's people have no idea where, or how, to start looking for them. This guide spells it out with lots of helpful tips and advice. And all the sales go to charity - how great is that?... An Amazon 5 star review by Kristina Kane
Here's a link to read excerpts, reviews, and to purchase Finding Fido.
I was quite taken by an excellent and evocative Dog Poem on C.A. Wulff's website, Up On The Woof
Sight Unseen...the Threshold of Invisibility
Here are excerpts from "The Hows and Whys of Invisibility" by Kathryn Schulz in the New Yorker.
...."These questions are not so much answered as provoked by “Invisible: The Dangerous Allure of the Unseen”(Chicago), by the British science writer Philip Ball...
His book takes seriously a subject that, perhaps aptly, has heretofore been mostly disregarded. Invisibility looms large in the kingdom of childhood—in pretend play and imaginary friends, in fairy tales and comic books and other fictions for kids—but it seldom receives sustained adult scrutiny. And yet, once you get past the cloaks and the spells, invisibility is a consummately grownup matter. As a condition, a metaphor, a fantasy, and a technology, it helps us think about the composition of nature, the structure of society, and the deep weirdness of our human situation—about what it is like to be partly visible entities in a largely inscrutable universe. As such, the story of invisibility is not really about how to vanish at all. Curiously enough,it is a story about how we see ourselves..."
The illustrations are from the Miyazaki film Spirited Away.
Alice: 150 Years of Wonderland
The Morgan Library Museumin New York is presenting an extraordinary exhibit, both at the Museum and Online...
"This exhibition will bring to light the curious history of Wonderland, presenting an engaging account of the genesis, publication, and enduring appeal of Lewis Carroll'sclassic tale, Alice's Adventures in Wonderland.
For the first time in three decades, the original manuscript will travel from the British Library in London to New York, where it will be joined by original drawings and letters, rare editions, vintage photographs, and fascinating objects—many never before exhibited..."
The array of artwork by Lewis Carrol and John Tenniel is dazzling. The scope of the online exhibit is quite comprehensive and includes information and links to early Alice films.
“You know very well you’re not real.”
“I am real!” said Alice, and began to cry.
“You won’t make yourself a bit realler by crying,” Tweedledee remarked: “there’s nothing to cry about.”
“If I wasn’t real,” Alice said—half laughing through her tears, it all seemed so ridiculous—“I shouldn’t be able to cry.”
“I hope you don’t suppose those are real tears?” Tweedledum interrupted in a tone of great contempt.
Through the Looking Glass and What Alice Found There-Lewis Carrol
Illustration by John Tenniel
Castle In The Mist is the second book in the Planet Of The Dogs Series -
"...Castle in the Mist is full of the same elements I enjoyedinPlanet of the DogsandSnow Valley Heroes:beautiful, detailed, soft, mood setting drawings; the fun and antics of the dogs, and the people who are discovering them for the first time; encroaching danger and suspense; the lovely fantasy of a planet of dogs who are so concerned with the people of earth; and the forgiveness, unconditional love and loyalty that the dogs are able to subtly impart."- Taken from a 5 star Amazon review by Lisa Harvey, Book Thoughts by Lisa...
We have free reader copies of the Planet of The Dogs book seriesfor therapy dog organizations, individual therapy dog owners, librarians and teachers...simply send us an email at firstname.lastname@example.org and we will send you the books.
Our books are available through your favorite independent bookstore, Barnes & Noble, Amazon, Powell's and many more...Librarians, teachers, bookstores...You can also order Planet Of The Dogs, Castle In The Mist, and Snow Valley Heroes, A Christmas Tale, throughIngram with a full professional discount.
The illustration by Stella Mustanoja-McCarty is from Castle In The Mist
Rescuing Wonderful Shivery Tales
Marina Warner, in the New York Review of Books, writes an extremely informative overview encompassing the books and lives of the brothers Grimm, the work of Franz Xaver von Schönwerth (The Turnip Princess, translated by Maria Tatar), as well as related work by Philip Pullman and the translation of Selected Tales of the Brothers Grimm by Peter Wortman.The article also contains information and insights regarding the contributions through the years by Jack Zipes, including his translation of the Original Grimm Tales and his latest book, Grimm Legacies, The Magic Spell of the Grimms' Folk and Fairy Tales.
Here is brief excerpt regarding a turning point:
The brothers had been strongly encouraged to make their scholarship a bit more family-friendly by including Ludwig’s illustrations after they learned of the huge success in England of the first English translation by Edgar Taylor(1823 and 1826), with its quirky, joyous drawings by George Cruikshank. In Grimm Legacies, Zipes relates how the tone of the English illustrations changed the tales’ reception, inspiring Dickens to write sentimentally about their innocence, and Ruskinto claim that Cruikshank’s “original etchings…[are] unrivalled in masterfulness of touch since Rembrandt.”
The illustration of the Elves and the Shoemaker is by George Cruikshank.
"The simpler question to answer is why these tales are called "fairy tales." It is from the influence of the women writers in the French Salons who dubbed their tales "contes de fees." The term was translated into English as "fairy tales." The name became so widely used due to the popularity of the French tales, that it began to be used to describe similar tales such as those by the Grimms and Hans Christian Andersen." Heidi Anne Heiner --SurLaLune
The illustration of Beauty and the Beast is by Walter Crane.
Sunbear Squad is Anna Nirva's practical site for a wide range of information focused on the well being of dogs ( as well as cats). Here are a few excerpts from a very comprehensive article on Traveling by Car or Truck with Pets.
...On the Road...
Once you are on the road with your pet, you will need to adhere to some basic guidelines to keep your animals and your family happy and safe. Here are some recommendations for the trip itself:
Keep the Animal Inside...Anyone who owns a dog knows how much these animals like to put their heads out the window while they are riding in a car. This is dangerous for the animal, as debris can injure it. It is best to keep the animal’s head and every other part inside the car or truck, and never let your pet ride in the bed of a pickup truck, which exposes it to many dangers.
Stop Frequently...Particularly if you are traveling with a dog, you will need to stop regularly to give your animal bathroom, exercise, and water breaks. Fortunately, most rest areas have ample space for you to give your pet a chance to stretch its legs. Keep your pet leashed when you stop and have a bag ready to clean up after it.
Food and Water...You will want to limit excessive feeding while you are traveling to avoid giving your pet an upset stomach. Keep feeding to a minimum and stick to the pet food. Avoid the temptation to let the animal snack on what you are eating, as that can cause some unpleasant digestive issues.
On the other hand, you want to make sure that your pet gets as much water as possible. Give it water every time you stop. You may also want to bring along some ice cubes, which are a treat for most pets and easier for them to handle than water if they get upset stomachs while you are traveling...
There is much more to this article...here is the link: TRAVEL
"When a man's best friend is his dog, that dog has a problem." - Edward Abbey
Jurassic World is a pretty bad movie. What's interesting about it, however, is that the reasons for its badness are, for the most part, the reasons it should have been good. With only a few exceptions, the ideas that went into Jurassic World, the fourquel-slash-reboot of Steven Spielberg's paradigm-defining 1993 blockbuster, are solid and interesting. The basic premise of the movie--that
The latest incarnation (I chose that word advisedly!) of the Jurassic Park franchise has been breaking box-office records and garnering mixed reviews from the critics. On the positive side the film is regarded as scary, entertaining, and a bit comedic at times (isn't that what most movies are supposed to be?). On the negative side the plot is described as rather 'thin', the human characters two-dimensional, and the scientific content (prehistoric animals) unreliable, inaccurate, or lacking entirely in credibility.
It's possible that Sense8, the new Netflix series from the Wachowskis, is the worst thing ever to happen to humanity. I don't know, because from the second episode it put its hooks into me so deeply that my critical, skeptical mind could not keep up. Certain elements of this show appealed to me so deeply that I was overwhelmed and had no ability to keep critical distance. Those elements were all related to a kind of queer ethic and queer vision, an approach to life that I've been a sucker for for decades, but have hardly ever seen expressed in a mainstream pop culture item.
First, I should note that even in my soggy, sappy, besotted love affair with this show, I couldn't miss some of its more obvious weaknesses. The major one for me is its globalized Americanism, well critiqued by Claire Light at The Nerds of Color in a post I pretty much entirely agree with, especially regarding the lost opportunity of a truly global production — imagine if, instead of writing it all themselves with J. Michael Straczynski, the Wachowskis had worked more as showrunners and farmed out the writing and maybe even directing to people from the actual places they depicted. I appreciate, for instance, that they reportedly liked Nairobi Half Life (I did, too!) and so had one of its producers, Tom Tykwer, direct the Nairobi scenes. But what if they'd brought in the actual Kenyan residents who wrote and directed Nairobi Half Life instead of just the German director who supported it but didn't really have a lot to do with its production? (For that matter, why not at least help Nairobi Half Life get broader distribution? I was lucky enough to see it when it played for one night in a nearby theatre, but as far as I know it's not available for home viewing in any way in the U.S.) But no. Though Sense8 is remarkable in many ways, it's still a product of big money, big egos, and a traditional production process. An anti-hegemonic pose is a whole lot easier to achieve than actually doing something to undermine hegemony.
Despite all this, I still fell hard for Sense8, and a lot of that has to do with a thought I had during the first episode: "I'm watching a sci-fi action soap opera kind of thing with queer people in it," and then later, "I'm watching a sci-fi action soap opera kind of thing that actually has more than a whiff of queer ethos to it."
That got me thinking about representation. I'm so used to seeing major media depict the world not as I know it, but as it is supposed to be known by a narrow norm, that when something like a pop cultured representation of something like what I know does make it into the mainstream, the gob smacks. It's not just about what I know of the world, however, because pop culture isn't really about the realistic representation of anything. It's more like a realistic representation of what we dream and hope for, a representation of yearnings and desires that are familiar and fitted into the whizzbang and weep of melodrama.
Halfway through my viewing of Sense8, I took a break and watched the documentary Vito, about Vito Russo, author of The Celluloid Closet and an important gay rights activist. The documentary is effective, though hagiographic — The Celluloid Closet may be historically important in having reached a large audience, but it's awful as film criticism, and the material in the movie about the gay liberation and AIDS struggles gets terribly simplified (a perhaps inevitable consequence of a focus on one person). Nonetheless, Vito was interesting to watch while in the midst of Sense8 because it's a powerful story and because it does a good job of showing the importance of chosen families and chosen communities for queer people, even ones who have, as Russo did, a supportive biological family.
That's one of the great attractions of Sense8: it is very interested in communities, especially chosen ones. The sensates themselves have no choice about being part of their group (and I wonder what they'll do if they ever get tired of each other!), but the show does an excellent job of presenting good and bad families, chosen families, biological families, and communities of support. This stands in fierce opposition to mainstream family values, where biological family ties are sacred and uplifting. That's a story many queer people have no ability to participate in, and an important emphasis in a lot of queer culture is on the creation of intentional families and chosen communities.
In Sense8, for instance, Nomi's mother is horrible: she misgenders her, and she is complicit in torture of her. It might be nice and affirming and optimistic if they could reconcile, as they would in a mainstream show. Her mother would then learn to see Nomi as she wants to be seen and blah blah blah. But no. There's no redemption for her, nor should there be. She's no better than Wolfgang's abusive father was. We don't necessarily want Nomi's mother to be killed, but there's no need for Nomi to put effort into keeping this dreadful woman in her life. Call it a queer commandment: Thou shalt not put effort into maintaining a relationship with a family member who doesn't recognize you as you, or who doesn't respect your humanity.
I've never seen a mainstream movie or show that so well embraces the differences of queerness within a general ethic of common humanity. The mainstream liberal impulse these days is to take the queer out of queerness and extend the umbrella of normality. (Even your racist, sexist, bullying old uncle is welcome to the gay tent if he's willing to stop calling us faggots! Hooray for progress!) It's a message that appeals to Gay, Inc., allowing the mainstream to celebrate gayness alongside white supremacy, militarism, neoliberalism, etc. And certainly there's some of that in Sense8, but there's also an attention to details of sexual difference and oppression that Richard Dyer was writing about way back in the late '70s in a piece that's a bit dated (obviously) but still useful:
Now it may be true that we are still at the stage where we need to assert, to others and to ourselves, that we are part of the human race. But such assumptions assume that there is no real difference between being gay and being straight. Yet, from a materialist standpoint, gayness is different physically, emotionally, and socially from heterosexuality. It is physically different not in the sense of involving different genetic factors (the equivalent sexist argument for the fascist arguments of behavioral psychology) but in the sense of being a different physical activity—two women in bed together is not the same as a man and a woman together or two men. It is different emotionally because it involves two people who have received broadly the same socialization (being both the same gender) and have thus formed their personalities in relation to the same pressures and experiences. It is socially different because it is oppressed. ...
What this boils down to in terms of films is that if you are representing sexual and emotional relationships on screen, it does make a difference whether they are gay or straight. One will not do as a metaphor for the other. Neither will either do as general metaphors for human sexuality and relationships.
The various relationships in Sense8 — gay, straight, trans, poly — are represented as the same in the sense of filled with love and capable of love and defined by love. (The Wachowskis are, in terms of their sensibilities, hippies.) But these relationships are not materially the same either to each other or to heterosexual relationships, and there's some good attention paid to exactly what Dyer pointed to: the physical, emotional, and social differences.
This is announced with a wonderful shot early on in the show where, after sex with Nomi (Jamie Clayton), Amanita (Freema Agyeman) drops a wet strap-on to the floor — a gauntlet plopped right into the center of the viewer's field of vision.
Sense 8 is definitely explicit (including full frontal Max Riemelt, which I would never complain about), and so it attends to the basic material, physical reality of queer sex in ways that movies and shows that don't have any explicit scenes do not. If anything, I wish Sense8 was more explicit, particularly in the Lito scenes (but the filmmakers probably pushed the actors as far as they were comfortable, and some viewers are already saying the show is porn, so...). Emotionally, Sense8 keeps the queer in queerness primarily through the affinity and comfort the sensates feel with each other, which seemed to me like the experience of first being in a space with other people whose emotions and desires are similar to yours — the first experience not only of a liberatory queer space, but also of, say, a particular fan community or any other place where your marginalized pleasures and enthusiasms are shared. This experience is sexualized in the sensate orgy scene, which wonderfully shows the erotic currents within that feeling of being around people who get you as you. (There's a certain Stranger in a Stranger Land element to it, too.) That the orgy is centered around Will (Brian J. Smith), the working class cop who's pretty darn hetero, is a great touch — instead of the queer being welcomed by and into the norm, the norm is brought into the queer. Late in the season, when Will and Lito (Miguel Ángel Silvestre) first encounter each other, Will says something like, "Have we met?" and Lito responds, "Yes, we had sex," and the look on Will's face is perfect: right there, we see him come to grips with the queer within himself.
It's socially that Sense8 really fits into Dyer's rubric, particularly through the experiences of Nomi and Lito. The Wachowskis and Straczynski found a pulpy but effective way to make clear the emotional stakes in Lito's life as a closeted movie heartthrob — if you can sit through some of the later episodes without screaming out at him, "Come out! It'll be okay! Come out, Lito!" then you are stronger than I.
One of the reasons I typically prefer melodrama to verité drama is that I'm not especially interested in "rounded" characters — "roundedness" is a construction that depends on particular conventions and ideologies that I generally find boring and/or exhausted. Dyer gets at how this relates to queer subject matter:
Inscribed in the concept of the well-rounded character is the ideology of individualism, the belief that an individual is above all important in and for himself, rather than a belief in the importance of the individual for her or his class, community, or sisters and brothers. This cardinal precept of bourgeois ideology as against feudal or socialist ideology is built right into the notion of the "rounded character," who may well feel some pulls of allegiance to groups with whom she or he identifies, but who is ultimately seen as distinct and separate from the group, and in many cases, antagonistic to it. Rounded characterization is then far from ideal when you need (as we do) expressions of solidarity, common cause, class consciousness, fraternity and sorority.
Sense8 doesn't give us well-rounded characters, at least not in the way Dyer means, though the characterizations have some depth. They're still types, sometimes even clichés. This is melodrama, after all. The ways the actors and writers work with the expectations and possibilities offered by the types and clichés is what's interesting, and the ultimate effect of the show is indeed toward "expressions of solidarity, common cause, class consciousness, fraternity and sorority".
In some obvious ways, Sense8 draws on superhero stories, but the superhero stories it draws on are ones like The X-Men and Fantastic Four rather than Superman or Batman, and the kinds of superheroes it gives us are not ones with extraordinary, alien superpowers (beyond the psychic powers), but rather people with specific, relatively human skills who are able to benefit from each other. It is, then, a story of mutual aid.
The premise of people with special psychic powers and particular connections to each other pre-dates superhero stories, and the familiarity of that premise is, I think, actually a virtue of the series. What's innovative is not the basic idea, but the way that idea is developed. The entire first season of twelve episodes (each roughly an hour each) is, in traditional terms, basically set-up. What almost any other series would dispense with in an episode or two, Sense8 spends the season on: the characters discovering their abilities and each other, learning a bit about the malevolent forces that seemingly want to destroy them (but by the end of the season we learn hardly anything about this malevolent force), wandering around. It's a triumph of subplots with the main plot only becoming clearer by the end when the sensates realize they need to band together to protect each other. This allows us to spend a lot of time seeing their circumstances — meeting not just each major character, but developing an understanding of the various minor characters who are the people of their lives. It's a wonderfully humane structure, even if it denies some viewers the sort of plot-driven arc they'd prefer.
I could go on and on about various details I appreciated, including the exquisite use of the divine Jean-Claude van Damme and the sometimes goofy but amazingly powerful use of such familiar songs as "Mad World" and "Knockin' on Heaven's Door" (in the haunting Antony & the Johnsons version; very well chosen for all sorts of reasons) and, especially, "What's Goin' On" ... but I won't go on. You can make up your own mind. For all the ways Sense8 falls short, for all its faults and even failures, its virtues overwhelmed me, and I'm grateful this show exists, grateful it was made, grateful to have watched it.
Christopher Lee was the definitive working actor. His career was long, and he appeared in more films than any major performer in the English-speaking world — over 250. What distinguishes him, though, and should make him a role model for anyone seeking a life on stage or screen, is not that he worked so much but that he worked so well. He took that work seriously as both job and art, even in the lightest or most ridiculous roles, and he gave far better, more committed performances than many, if not most, of his films deserved.
"Wonder has no opposite; it springs up already doubled on itself, compounded of dread and desire at once, attraction and recall, producing a thrill, the shudder of pleasure and of fear...It's a useful term, it frees this kind of story from the miniaturized whimsy of fairyland to free the wilder air of the marvelous"... Maria Warner in the Introduction to her book Wonder Tales: Six Stories of Enchantment.
The essential strangeness of fairy tales
by Alec Nevala-Lee
"Over the last few months, I’ve been telling my daughter a lot of fairy tales. My approach has been largely shaped, for better or worse, by Bruno Bettelheim’sbook The Uses of Enchantment: I happened to read it last year as part of an unrelated writing project, but it also contained insights that I felt compelled to put to use almost at once in my own life. Bettelheim is a controversial figurefor good reason, and he’s not a writer whose ideas we need to accept at face value, but he makes several points that feel intuitively correct. When it comes to fairy tales, it seems best to tell the oldest versions of each storywe have, as refined through countless retellings, rather than a more modern interpretation that hasn’t been as thoroughly tested; and, when possible, it’s preferable to tell them without a book or pictures, which gets closer to the way in which they were originally transmitted. And the results have been really striking. Stories like “Little Red Riding Hood” and “Jack and the Beanstalk” have seized my daughter’s imagination, to the point where we’ll discuss them as if they happened to her personally, and she isn’t fazed by some of their darker aspects.(In “Hansel and Gretel,” when I tell her that the parents wanted to take their children into the woods and leave them there, she’ll cheerfully add: “And kill dem dere!”)...
The above is an excerpt from Alec Nevala-Lee's blog -- Thoughts on art, creativity, and the writing life. Nevala-Lee is also an author. His books include Icon Thief, City of Exiles and Eternal Empire.
Crossing the Avalanche of Time...Excerpts from Richard Marshall's in-depth article and review of Jack Zipes' current books
"...The Grimms have been appropriated by U.S. America because defying the inhuman is as urgent there as anywhere else and its unhinged power leaves behind the innocent and the beaten. What Zipes has done in these two books is remind us that there’s a need for the naked struggle of Kafka, where speech goes to extremes without strategy, without masks, without calculation. The tales of this first edition are as much a part of an old weird Americana as bluesman Howling Wolf singing ‘Going Down Slow’...
The Grimms have become as ancient a part of this old weird America as the other folk songs and tales that ship around, and though Zipes is right to decry their banalisation and Disneyfication they still remain underneath or behind, ready to be reeled in by alert souls..."
Here is another excerpt from this very heady article:
"From 'The Frog King' to 'The Golden Key,' wondrous worlds unfold—heroes and heroines are rewarded, weaker animals triumph over the strong, and simple bumpkins prove themselves not so simple after all. Esteemed fairy tale scholar Jack Zipes offers accessible translations that retain the spare description and engaging storytelling style of the originals. Indeed, this is what makes the tales from the 1812 and 1815 editions unique—they reflect diverse voices, rooted in oral traditions, that are absent from the Grimms’ later, more embellished collections of tales. Zipes’s introduction gives important historical context, and the book includes the Grimms’ prefaces and notes.
The original edition of Grimms’ tales read like once-familiar weirds, crossing the avalanche of time like hallucinatory figures, abrupt as thorns, troubling as a black hawthorn that won’t stop bleeding. They move in and out between long disconnected synapses, stirring up logics and memories that fill us up with dread and unease. Readers are Macbeth listening to the stories of the three weird women. Everything is laid out for us but we are dazzled by their dark intensity. What is needed to read them? Courage and an imminent doomsday."
Here is a link to all of Marshall's article, Curious Legacies of the BrothersGrimm:3:AM Magazine.
The illustration of Snow White is by Hermann Vogel. The photo is by Gregg McCarty.
Wonder has no opposite...
Cinderella has strayed from Charles Perrault and the Brothers Grimm, but she has never left us.
In the Western World today, romantic fantasy appears to be the foundation for the popularity of this abandoned child story and sustains its huge popularity in the hearts of little girls, young girls, and many mommies.
The current worldwide box office results (as of May 31) of over $531,750,700attest to way the story continues to resonate around the world.
Cinderella Has Been Everywhere -- Forever. And Heidi Anne Heiner has written a book to prove it: Cinderella Tales From Around the World. Here is an excerpt from her introduction on the often overlooked dimensions of this timeless story:
" The quandary is that one version of Cinderella dominates all the others, so we assume we know her, this fairy tale celebrity, and many of us have grown bored with her to the point of relegating her to cliche and nothing else. But when we consider the hundreds of Cinderella variants from around the world, Cinderella becomes once again mysterious and lovely, active and vibrant, for she defies definition and understanding... "
Book Overview by Barnes and Noble: "Yeh-hsien. Cenerentola. Cendrillon. Ashenputtle. Chernuska. Cinderella.These are just a few of the names of one of the best known and most beloved fairy tale characters in the world. The tale is known in countless variations throughout Europe and Asia as well as Africa and the Americas. The tales share the familiar story of a persecuted heroine who finally triumphs over oppressed circumstances through her virtue and the assistance of a magical helper. "
Here is a sample from Heidi Anne Heiner's collection...
"WELL, my grandmother she told me that in them auld days a ewe might be your mother. It is a very lucky thing to have a black ewe. A man married again, and his daughter, Ashey Pelt, was unhappy. She cried alone, and the black ewe came to her from under the greystone in the field and said, “Don’t cry, go and find a rod behind the stone and strike it three times, and whatever you want will come.”
So she did as she was bid. She wanted to go to a party. Dress and horses and all came to her, but she was bound to be back before twelve o’clock or all the enchantment would go, all she had would vanish. The sisters they did na’ like her; she was so pretty, and the stepmother she kept her in wretchedness just.
She was most lovely. At the party the Prince fell in love with her, and she forgot to get back in time. In her speed a-running she dropped her silk slipper, and he sent and he went over all the country to find the lady it wad fit..." The story, Ashey Pelt, continues with a fine Irish ending.
"Have Courage and Be Kind"
Jack Zipes has written often of the hype that distorts the meaning of folk and fairy tales. I found a disturbing example in Kenneth Branagh's comments about the film quoted in Kate Connolly'sCinderella article in the Guardian . The comments were made at a press conference following the successful launch of the film at the Berlin Film Festival. Here is an excerpt:
"Branagh said though more used to directing Shakespeare, he had been struck by many of the similarities between those plays and the Brothers Grimm fairytale. “We have the line Cinderella is told by her mother: ‘Have courage and be kind’; some people thought it seemed trite, but I was reminding them of King Lear when Edgar says ‘Have patience and endure’ at the point he’s being put in the stocks and mocked. Patience to me equates to compassion, and endurance is a form of courage – it reminded me that these basic, human and fundamental situations get seized on by great storytellers and there are obvious resonances between all these stories.”
I find it difficult to see the "obvious resonance" that exists in Mr Branagh's sugar-coated Cinderella and the tortured story of King Lear. I do see hype. Disney is not Shakespeare. ..............................
Never mind Branagh – my mother wrote a Cinderella story you can believe in...
Here is an excerpt from a saucy article by EdVulliamy in the Guardianabout a retold version of the Cinderella story with a very different setting, and a totally different ending.
The actor-cum-fairy-storyteller – and his critics, to cheer them – would have done well to heed an acclaimed retelling of Cinderella in a book of more than a decade ago, which won the Kate Greenaway medal, the highest honour in illustrated children’s books, for 2003.
It was entitled Ella’s Big Chance: A Fairy Tale Retold, by the author and illustrator ShirleyHughes, serial award-winning doyenne of children’s books, described by Philip Pullman as “a national treasure” (I should declare an interest here: Shirley Hughesis my mother). She retells the famous and primal story of the persecuted seamstress: the ball, prince (a duke in this version) and shoe – set in the roaring 1920s on what seems to be the Mediterranean coast – with two big differences..."
Read more about this award winning book where Cinderella chooses not to marry the prince -- in the Guardian.
Reading programs with therapy dogs that support kids and open the doors to the world of reading, have been spreading throughout the US and the Western world.
READing Paws is opening the doors to reading for kids in Alabama, Florida, Georgia, Nevada and Tennessee. READing Paws is a recipient of a Planet Dog Foundation grant.
"The mission of READing Paws is to improve the literacy skills of children...READing Paws utilizes nationally registered animal-owner/handler Therapy Teams who volunteer to go to schools, libraries and many other settings as reading companions for children. The utilization of registered therapy teams is the foundation of READing Paws, in order to ensure that the animals have been trained and tested for health and safety, appropriate skills and temperament, and have been insured for liability."
READing Paws is proud to be an Affiliate of R.E.A.D.® (Reading Education Assistance Dogs®), a program of Intermountain Therapy Animals ® (ITA) of Salt Lake City, Utah" R.E.A.D. has affiliates throughout the USA and in fourteen foreign countries, from Spain to Finland, and Canada to Australia.
The Last Echoes of Pagan Myths
"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 whobequeath 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."
Wilheim Grimmas quoted by Seth Lerer in his book, Children's Literature, A Reader's History from Aesop to Harry Potter.
Entering a World of Long Ago...
Castle in the Mist
When the dogs first came down to planet Earth, great forests were found in many lands.
The Castle In The Mist was located on lake Ladok in the land of the Forest People. It is here that the Black Hawk Warriors, under Prince Ukko's command, brought the kidnapped children. And it is this act that brought the threat of war.
Forests play a major role in all of the books in the Planet of the Dogs Series. The forests frustrate invaders. What does conquest mean when people can disappear by going to places in the forest unknown to the invaders -- or beyond the forest and into the mountains.
Stories and fairy tales about the forests and the deep woods have always stimulated children's imagination. In the Castle In The Mist, the dogs love the forests and use them to frustrate the Black Hawk Warriors. The dogs follow a non-violent path until their courage, loyalty and cleverness cause Prince Ukko to free the children and bring peace to the land of the Forest People.
Castle In The Mist Is the second book in the Planet Of The Dogs Series
"...the McCarty's again succeeded in bringing archetypal themes such as good vs evil, man vs nature, love, faith and faithfulness into the story without being overly teachy or preachy. We were riveted by the story and its main characters (both human and canine); we shared in their challenges and celebrated their victories. Melinda Gates, Reading Mother
We have free reader copies of the Planet of The Dogs book series for therapy dog organizations, individual therapy dog owners, librarians and teachers...simply send us an email at email@example.com and we will send you the books.
Our books are available through your favorite independent bookstore, Barnes & Noble, Amazon, Powell's and many more...Librarians, teachers, bookstores...You can also order Planet Of The Dogs, Castle In The Mist, and Snow Valley Heroes, A Christmas Tale, through Ingram with a full professional discount.
The illustration by Stella Mustanoja-McCarty is from Snow Valley Heroes, A Christmas Tale
KidLitoSphereis a very special website that connects kid lit bloggers to the world of readers. Librarian MotherReader (Pam Coughlin), who describes herself in this way -- "The heart of a mother. The soul of a reader. The mouth of a smartass" -- is president. Among her achievements as a passionate advocate of children's books is the founding of Bloggers Against Celebrity Authors. Here's a sample...
"AsBloggers Against Celebrity Authors founder and let’s say president, I see it as the kid lit equivalent of the four horsemen of the apocalypsewhen the Children's Choice Book Awards Author of the Year is Rush Limbaugh. I'm sure that there are and will be many thoughtful articles about what happened to make the winner of a prestigious children's literature award for Rush Revere and The Brave Pilgrims: Time-Travel Adventures With Exceptional Americans. But all I can say is,"Dear God, what have we done?"
The power of the bestseller was a slippery slope for children's literature awards. Certainly the power of the celebrity author - with their top budget promotions and guaranteed WalMart shelf space - was enough for a snarky online cause like Bloggers Against CelebrityAuthors. But now, we've added to this mixture the nebulous and sometimes nefarious power of the Internet, which allows anyone to vote for this now-less-prestigious award. There is no way - NO WAY! - that children voted for Rush Limbaugh over Rick Riordan or Veronica Roth...
Read more from MotherReader-cast your vote at BACA
Aaron Fowler wrote a profile of C.A. Wulff forAkron Life....Here are excerpts...
..."For the last 26 years, Wulff has volunteered in animal rescue. In 2007, she released her first book, “Born Without a Tail,” which chronicles the true-life adventures of two animal rescuers living with an ever-changing house full of pets.
This past year she unveiled the sequel, “Circling the Waggins: How 5 Misfit Dogs Saved Me from Bewilderness,” which follows Wulff and her companion, Dalene, as they maneuver through one unexpected pet incident after another while living in a cabin in the Cuyahoga Valley National Park.
Although both books are memoirs, she explains that they are very different. “Born Without a Tail” tells the stories of 20 animals who have shared her life. While it’s chronological, each chapter stands alone and is devoted to a single animal.
‘Circling the Waggins’ is more of a story with a beginning and an ending. It tells the story of some 27 animals over the course of two years, who lived in our home and took root in our hearts,” she says...'
Like her first book, “Circling the Waggins” is an incredibly personal story. Its depiction of the ups and downs of sharing your life with animals has reached out to those who have experienced the same heartache and joy... "
Nancy Segovia,Amazon reviewer and author of Dragon Tears, wrote this:
" I am not really sure what it is about these books by Wulff, but I simply love them. The story telling and commentaries are engaging, honest and sincere. And, her love of animals shouts out from every page."
In lieu of actually reviewing the newly translated (by Maria Tatar) Turnip Princess, Slatepublished one on the stories,Tricking the Witch. It has magic, transformations, twists and turns and a princess heroine -- not a prince -- who saves the day.
Here is an excerpt...
..."It looked as if the two were about to be caught, when the princess said: “I’m going to change into a rosebush, and I’ll turn you into a rose. My sister is chasing us, and she won’t be able to do a thing because she can’t stand the smell of roses.” Just when the girl was closing in on them, a fragrant rosebush sprang up right in her path with a magnificent rose in bloom. The girl had been tricked, and she had to turn back. The witch scolded her to no end. “You stupid girl,” she grumbled angrily. “If you had just plucked the rose, the bush would have followed.” And then she sent the eldest of the three to find the two fugitives.
In the meantime the couple returned to their human shapes, and they continued on their way. Reinhilda turned around at one point, and she saw that they were still being pursued. She decided to take advantage of her magic powers again, and she said to the prince: “I’m going to turn myself into a church, and you are going to climb up into the pulpit and hold a stern sermon about witches and their sinister magic...”
Nancy Houser has written an informed article, based on research and experience, about the effects of age on dogs and parallels with the aging experience of humans. Here are excerpts:
"The more we are around the old dogs on our rescue farm, the more we see similar characteristics between human dementia and Canine Cognitive Dysfunction. To tell the truth, there is not a whole lot of difference. The health care field is one I have been involved with throughout most of my life – dementia and Alzheimer’s were my specialties. The very first job I had was at a care-home in Lexington, Nebraska, when I was 16-years old.''"
We rarely post book reviews. However, our respect for Kaitlin Jenkins -- She Speaks Bark -and Pet Parent-- is such that we were drawn to her review of My Apolloand wanted to share excepts here:
"Nina Huang wrote ‘My Apollo‘ after being inspired by her own experiences in rescuing companion dogs. ‘My Apollo‘ is a gorgeous book, full of beautiful hand-illustrated drawings that are absolutely lovely. The watercolor images are done by the author herself, and the book is hardbound on durable, heavyweight paper. ‘My Apollo’ features the story of a young boy who is struggling at school. His family adopts a rescue greyhound, Apollo, and the book follows along as the two of them begin a healing journey together. The great thing is, Apollo the dog actually exists- Nina and her family adopted him and have helped him overcome his shy nature and fear of new things."
The photo of Scooter, the dog, and the book, my Apollo, is by Kaitlin Jenkins.
"Grownups never understand anything by themselves, and it is tiresome for children to be always and forever explaining things to them."
"And now here is my secret, a very simple secret: It is only with the heart that one can see rightly; what is essential is invisible to the eye.”
Antoine de Saint-Exuprey, The Little Prince
The weather is bad. You're tired. You want to get home -- at that moment, you see an injured dog, a dog in distress. What can you do? What should you do? 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...
Yesterday was the 70th birthday of my favorite filmmaker, Rainer Werner Fassbinder. He wasn't around to see it, having died at age 37, but I celebrated for him by watching Querelle again. (I was tempted to do a Berlin Alexanderplatzmarathon today, but I do actually have to get some work done...)
I've written various things about Fassbinder over the years, so here's a roundup and then some 70th birthday thoughts:
In commemoration of the 30th anniversary of Fassbinder's death, I wrote "30 Years After Fassbinder: Where to Begin", which attempts to offer some entry points into his vast, sometimes bewildering oeuvre. (And proposed that I'd be writing a series of posts about Fassbinder. I didn't get around to it at the time, alas...)
Fassbinder isn't around anymore to make some wishes on his birthday, so I'll make a few in his stead...
Of course, my primary wish is for everybody on Earth to recognize and celebrate Fassbinder's genius. But I can be more specific:
My greatest wish is for a release of Eight Hours Don't Make a Day. As far as I can tell, it's never been released on home video anywhere, and has hardly ever been shown since its premiere on German television in the early '70s.
Criterion is doing a good job of putting together excellent home video versions of many of the films. With luck, they'll solve whatever rights problems led them to put their wonderful BRD Trilogy set out of print, and will continue releasing extra-features-rich versions of the major films, as they recently have with The Bitter Tears of Petra von Kant and The Merchant of Four Seasons. I hope, given that they've been able to stream them on Hulu, Effi Briest, Fox and His Friends, and Mother Küsters are in line for similar treatment. I'd love to see a "Queer Fassbinder" set: Fox, In a Year of 13 Moons, and Querelle together, preferably with good commentaries and essays to help viewers work through the wonderful challenges those films offer.
Finally, we need someone to write a good, comprehensive biography. There are a few good Fassbinder books out there (my favorites of Thomas Elsaesser's Fassbinder's Germany and Wallace Steadman Watson's Understanding Rainer Werner Fassbinder, along with Juliane Lorenz's collection Chaos as Usual: Conversations About Rainer Werner Fassbinder), but there's no good biography that I'm aware of. (Robert Katz's 1989 biography is an atrocity and shall not be spoken of.) Telling the story of Fassbinder's life day by day would be a tremendous, perhaps impossible, challenge, but the attempt would be worthwhile because it's so difficult to get a sense of how those days fit together — he would work on a film while also working on stage plays and radio plays, writing new scripts, getting financing for upcoming works, traveling to festivals — it's dizzying just to think about.
Fassbinder continues to offer riches to us even now. I wish, of course, that he'd made it to the age of an elder statesman (I'd trade significant portions of my anatomy to see what he would have done with digital cameras), but he lived so fast, so productively, and so brilliantly that though he died young, we're still working through his oeuvre in a way we aren't with even great filmmakers who lived to ripe old age. So happy birthday, RWF. We're celebrating even in your absence.
"When I was younger, the future was... different." So says Frank Walker (George Clooney), one of the heroes of Brad Bird's Tomorrowland, in the opening narration that acts as a frame for the film's story. It probably says everything you need to know about this movie that Frank--and the film itself--seem entirely unaware of the irony and self-contradiction inherent in a statement like this, and
Mannstyle No film director gets the sound of gunfire like Michael Mann. It's not just that he typically uses recordings of live fire; plenty of people do that. There's an alchemy he performs with his sound designers, a way of manipulating both the sound of the shots and the ambient sound to create a hyperreal effect. It's not the sound of gunfire. It's a sound that produces the effect of standing close to the sound of gunfire.
Mann is celebrated and derided for his visual style, a style so damn stylish that any Mann film is likely to get at least a few reviews saying, "All style, no substance." I can't empathize with such a view; for me, style is the substance of art, and if any object has value beyond the functional, that value is directly produced by style. (Which is not to say that Mann's style is above criticism. Not at all. But to say that it is "only" style, and that substance is something else, something that can be separated from style, seems nonsensical to me. You may prefer the style of an Eric Rohmer or Bela Tarr or a Steven Spielberg or just the general, conventionalized style of mainstream Hollywood or mainstream TV ... but it's still style, and it's still substance created and transmitted through style.)
What generally goes unnoticed about Mann's style is how the aural and the visual work together. The visuals can be so ostentatious, so determinedly symmetrical (in his early work) or abstract (in the more recent films) or supersaturated or obscuringly dark, that the strangeness of the soundtrack remains unremarked. One of the most sensitive viewers of Mann, Ignatiy Vishnevetsky, noted it, though, in his review of Blackhat, pointing out the "patchy sound mixes" and "sound design [that] is deliberately erratic, rendering a good fifth of the dialogue unintelligible..."
Yes, and more: since his first abstract-expressionist film, 2006's Miami Vice, Mann has cast non-Americans as American characters for some of the leading men (Colin Farrell, Christian Bale, Chris Hemsworth) and non-native speakers of English as the leading women (Gong Li, Marion Cotillard, Tang Wei). The men do a good job with their American accents, but it creates an extra level of artificiality for them to work through, an extra way for them to distance their everyday self from their character.
The women wrestle with English well, but their tones and rhythms are noticeably different from a native speaker's, and the effect is to further make the dialogue difficult to apprehend, to distance the words spoken from their meanings and heighten their aural qualities.
The dialogue in Mann's movies, regardless of whether he's the writer, is unmistakably the dialogue of a Michael Mann movie — there is Mannspeak just as there is Mametspeak. It's clipped, jargony, declarative, pulpy. It sometimes drives critics crazy ("laughable" and "ridiculous" are words I've frequently seen used to describe the dialogue in Mann's movies). The actors tend to fall into similar rhythms from film to film, and you could play a one or two minute clip of dialogue from any of Mann's films, particularly the ones of the last decade or so, and you'd know it was dialogue from a Mann film, just as you can easily identify clips of dialogue from the movies of Robert Altman, Woody Allen, and Terrence Malick. Couple the dialogue and how the actors speak it with a recording style that is more common to amateur documentaries, and the effect is odd and, if you're able to tune into it, intoxicating.
The ways we understand and get to know characters in these movies are also very different from the techniques of conventional Hollywood cinema. Mann's always presented psychology via action, but in his most popular films — that is, his films of the 1990s — there's a pretty standard approach to psychology. That all changes with Miami Vice, where a new distance is placed between viewer and character while at the same time the filmmaking heightens the sense of our subjectivity melding with theirs.
Now, the characters thoughts, feelings, and desires no longer inhere within the character, but are, instead, expressed through the light, colors, angles, and sounds of the world as it is conveyed to us. Mann's characters are no longer characters so much as they are figures in a landscape, and the landscape is an extension of those figures' feelings.
That's why it doesn't much matter whether you can understand all the dialogue. The dialogue is just sound, and it's how that sound fits with the images (the light, the color), and how those images and sounds flow together, that matters.
Odd and even alienating as Mann's style has become, there's a profound unity to its effect. More and more, he's come to make movies that feel not so much like dreams as like insomnia.
This style is not what we might expect from someone as concerned with verisimilitude as Mann. He prefers going to locations rather than building sets; he makes his actors do months of preparation; he hires numerous consultants to get all the details right. And then, shooting and editing the film, he obscures it all, swirls it, hollows it out, fragments it into collages of drift, burst, and glimpse until all that is real feels utterly artificial. Mann's ultimate aim seems to be affect: to evoke a feeling of the hyperfake real, of the deeply flattened surface, of a world rendered into electricity jumping across a flat plane of endless night.
Blackhat Blackhat lost a lot of money. According to Box Office Mojo, it is Mann's least financially successful film since The Keep, a movie he's mostly disavowed. Produced for a reported $70 million, Blackhat has earned only 10% of that investment back and supposedly had the 11th worst opening for a film in 2,500 or more theatres since 1982.It is likely to end up being one of 2015's biggest flops, and that's saying something (for all the talk of Jupiter Ascending being a disaster, the Wachowski's film had some success in foreign markets and looks like it's made back its production budget, at least. Blackhat cannot say the same).
This is not especially surprising. Blackhat is marketed as a techno-thriller (the trailer, while hinting at Mannstyle, is pretty exciting), and its plot is, indeed, that of a techno-thriller. But anybody who goes into the movie expecting a techno-thriller is likely to be disappointed. "Boring" is a word commonly used in viewers' responses to the film.
The thrill is not in the movie's narrative, which gets subsumed and sublimed into Mannstyle. The thrill is in the movement, sound, and editing. Mann's affinities are more with Wong Kar-Wai than with any standard action filmmaker.
We could talk about the ideas in the movie, ideas about surveillance and punishment and information and reality. It's not for nothing that there are references to Foucault, Lyotard, and Derrida (The Animal That Therefore I Am) early on. But these ideas are not expressed as ideas that one can talk about and debate: they're ideas that are felt, sensed, whiffed, dreamed. They can't be separated from the mode of expression.
That's Mann's real accomplishment here. Ideas, like the books in Nick Hathaway's cell, get left behind.
The traces of those ideas, though, pulse through our circuits and burn across the night sky.
Before I start talking about Mad Max: Fury Road, I should probably say that I haven't seen any of the other films in the Mad Max series, and that I'm not feeling a particular need to catch myself up. This should not be taken as a criticism of Fury Road, which is indeed as brilliant and exhilarating as advertized, and whose gorgeous, pulse-pounding action scenes put the rest of Hollywood's
“Razor Sharp” is an exciting new project from writer/director Marcus Perry and actress/stuntwoman Amy Johnston (Captain America: The Winter Soldier). The story combines the sleek futuristic trappings of Aeon Flux with a bit of slapstick wit from The Pink Panther and a little bit of Samus Aran from Metroid thrown in for good measure. Forced to take on a corporate criminal syndicate in the distant future of Los Angeles, Veronica “Ronnie” Sharpe, a cat-burglar-gone-good must decide between saving a child genius held captive or saving her own neck.
Imagine J. Scott Campbell’s Danger Girl brought to life sans the male gaze and patronizing cheesecake poses, with a large heaping dose of Ripley-esque badassery and cyberpunk cityscapes. A proof of concept short features the heroine in action turning a squad of goons into rag dolls. The fight choreography and digital backlot betrays its no-budget status, highlighting the team’s “money-on-the-screen” ethos.
The crew is made up of dedicated “action movie junkie(s), and we all grew up obsessed with comic books,” says Perry, “so we wanted to create a character that embodies that passion.” Sharpe is definitely cut from the same cloth as female legends that writers such as Chris Claremont, John Bryne and Gail Simone have brought us.
And what’s more, the Razor Sharp team seem just as committed as the aforementioned in bringing a full-fledged heroine to life, where other major motion pictures have stumbled in the past. “Veronica’s not a damsel in distress, or somebody’s girlfriend,” Perry continues, “she’s in command, full of vulnerability and humor that I hope will catch people off guard.”
The creative team are stocked with industry vets who have delivered for audiences in the past, and know how to maximize a budget. And now, they have their opening salvo with “Razor Sharp,” along with a fully-visualized world, a companion comic book, and accolades from several film festivals. Perry and co are looking to expand their short film into a feature-length extravaganza, and count me in.
With films as brutal as The Raid or John Wick adapting a back-to-basics bare-knuckle approach to fight scenes, it’s refreshing to see a project as appealing as Razor Sharp but just as committed to raising the bar in action cinema. Spearheaded by their accomplished lead Johnston, the crew promises to deliver a striking new style to the big screen.
You can visit the official Facebook page and the team on Twitter to find out more about the film.
Out of all the nerds talking about things on the webs, KJ literally ranks among the tallest. Check out his reviews, ramblings, proclamations and declarations on his website.
An 8 year old girl, after reading the first chapter in a manuscript, helped convince her father, the CEO of Bloomsbury, to publish Harry Potter. It had previously been rejected by eight publishers.
The Harry Potter book series that followed has found an enormous and passionate following around the world. The seven books in the series have been published in sixtyseven languages. The books have taken readers to Hogwarts and beyond, to a world of wizards, flying broomsticks, and magic wands ...a world of the imagination. There are over 450 million books in print. There are eight movies that have translated the the books into fantasy adventure films with a worldwide gross of over seven and a half billion dollars... there are websites, games, theme parks, as well as a wide variety of merchandise.
The Harry Potter books were the catalyst for the major cross-over phenomenon of adults reading YA books, a change in the book buying marketplace that continues to this day.
And it all started with the imagination of J.K. Rowling -- and an 8 year old girl who liked to read, who helped open the doors to a world wonder, a world of fantasy, magic and imagination for millions of children, teenagers, moms and dads around the world.
The centaurs in the Forbidden Forest and the Hogwarts school are from the Harry Potter movies.
"Many prefer not to exercise their imaginations at all. They choose to remain comfortably within the bounds of their own experience, never troubling to wonder how it would feel to have been born other than they are". J.K. Rowling, Harvard Commencement Speech, 2008
The Courage to Love...
Lev Grossman, journalist, critic, and best selling author -- Warp, Codex, and the Magicians series -- wrote a very personal, insightful and in-depth appreciation of the legacy of J. K. Rowling, the Harry Potter series, and the Deathly Hallows. It was published inTimeHere are excerpts...
"Deathly Hallows is of course not merely the tying up of plot-threads, it's the final iteration of Rowling's abiding thematic concern: the overwhelming importance of continuing to love in the face of death....
So we have known for a while that Voldemort cannot love, that he has been spiritually ruined by his parents' deaths, and he will kill anyone to stave off his own death. Harry, though also an orphan, has found the courage to love. "Do not pity the dead, Harry," a wise man tells Harry in Deathly Hallows. "Pity the living, and, above all, those who live without love." Characterologically speaking, the greatest question that remains in Hallows might be whether Harry can do this — that is, whether Harry can find it in himself to pity the man who killed his parents..."
Grossman then writes of mixed feelings, including sadness, following the completion of DeathlyHallows, the final book in the series...
The sadness is more an instant nostalgia for the unironic, whole-hearted unanimity with which readers embraced the story of Harry. We did something very rare for Harry Potter: we lost our cool. There is nothing particularly hip about loving Harry. He's not sexy or dangerous the way, say, Tony Soprano was. He's not an anti-hero, he's just a hero, but we fell for him anyway. It's a small sacrifice to the one that Harry makes, of course, but it's what we, as self-conscious, status-conscious modern readers, have to give, and we gave it. We did and do love Harry. We couldn't help ourselves."
Reading... "Losing one’s self is, after all, one of the rewards of reading. The opportunity to inhabit another self, to experience another consciousness, is perhaps the most profound trespass a work of literature can allow." - Eula Biss
Opening the Door for Hermione
"You really are the cleverest witch of your age"
These are the words of Sirius Black, at the close of the movie Harry Potter and the Prisoner of Azkaban.
In the book, at this same moment, Sirius spoke to Harry, and says,"We'll see each other again. You are -- truly your father's son, Harry."
Seth Lerer, writing about Theaters of Girlhoodin his history of Children's Literature, cites this telling movie moment as a "benediction of female accomplishment"... "this movie takes as its telos the authority of girlhood. It makes Hermione the real performer of the story: the stage manager of magic; the director of its time shifts, costume, and control.The film becomes a girl's film, one in which the female audience can find their affirmation. Yet the book remains, despite Hermione's obvious centrality, a story about men and boys: about Harry's search forfor his relationship to his dead father; about his need to find surrogates in Black, or Dumbledore."
"J.K. Rowling never shies away from the great existential mysteries: death and loss, cruelty and compassion, desire and depression. Harry is anything but sheltered and protected from the evils of Voldermort. Think of those fiendish Dementors who are experts in making you lose hope...The presence of loss and the threat of death perpetually hover over the boy magician and he becomes heroic precisely because. like his literary predecessors, he is destined for greatness even though he also possesses the weaknesses, failings, and vulnerabilities of all humans." -- Maria Tatar, writing about Theaters For The Imagination, in her book, Enchanted Hunters, The Power of Stories in Childhood.
The Mind of the Dog
Dog lovers find dogs to be quite special. Dogs are forgiving, affectionate, helpful, and unconditionally loyal.
Therapy dogs help people to heal from emotional problems and support people with physical problems. And they enable kids, helping them to learn to read.
Dog owners often feel that their dogs know what they are thinking.
How much of this is instinct, intuition, or conditioning? What is going on in the dog's mind? What are they thinking?
Yale Universityhas established a Canine Cognition Center to better understand the dog's mind.Here is an excerpt from their website:
"The Canine Cognition Center at Yale is a new research facility in the Psychology Department at Yale University. Our team of Yale scientists studies how dogs think about the world. Our center is devoted to learning more about canine psychology—how dogs perceive their environment, solve problems, and make decisions. Our findings teach us how the dog mind works, which can help us to better develop programs to improve how we train and work with our canine friends."
Here is a link to an informative CBS documentary news broadcast on the research and goals of the Yale Canine Center : Studying the Brain of Man's Best Fried.This video includes scenes where the research tests with the dogs is taking place.
Castle in the Mist is the second book in the Planet Of The Dogs Series...Here is an excerpt... "The trail became rougher and then, through the trees, they saw the ancient castle of the Black Hawk warriors. It was an awesome sight. It had been built as a fortress castle long ago – before the memory of people could recall. It was later abandoned and lay empty for hundreds of years until the forest people began to use it once again. It was a large, solid structure with two towers rising above the walls. The ancient stones rested on granite bedrock, and the back wall rose straight up from the vast waters of the lake. As they approached, the sun was setting and mist was rising over the waters. Soon, the mist would move over the land."
To read more, and for sample chapters from all the books in the series,visit our Planet Of The Dogs website.
We have free reader copies of the Planet of The Dogs book series for therapy dog organizations, individual therapy dog owners, librarians and teachers...simply send us an email at firstname.lastname@example.org. and we will send you the books,.
Our books are available through your favorite independent bookstore, Barnes & Noble, Amazon, Powell's and many more...Librarians, teachers, bookstores...You can also order Planet Of The Dogs, Castle In The Mist, and Snow Valley Heroes, A Christmas Tale, through Ingram with a full professional discount.
The illustration from Castle In The Mist is by Stella Mustanoja McCarty. The photo is by C.A.Wulff.
An Alternate Universe... The Harry Potter Legacy
Michiko Kakutaniis a highly regarded book critic for the New York Times. Following the publication of Harry Potter and the Deathly Hallows,” the seventh and final book in the series, she wrote a review of the book and an affirmation of the Harry Potter Legacy.
Here are excerpts:
"It is Ms. Rowling’s achievement in this series that she manages to make Harry both a familiar adolescent — coping with the banal frustrations of school and dating — and an epic hero, kin to everyone from the young King Arthur to Spider-Man and Luke Skywalker. This same magpie talent has enabled her to create a narrative that effortlessly mixes up allusions to Homer, Milton, Shakespeare and Kafka, with silly kid jokes about vomit-flavored candies, a narrative that fuses a plethora of genres (from the boarding-school novel to the detective story to the epic quest) into a story that could be Exhibit A in a Joseph Campbell survey of mythic archetypes.
In doing so, J. K. Rowling has created a world as fully detailed as L. Frank Baum’s Oz or J. R. R. Tolkien’s Middle Earth, a world so minutely imagined in terms of its history and rituals and rules that it qualifies as an alternate universe, which may be one reason the “Potter” books have spawned such a passionate following and such fervent exegesis.
The world of Harry Potter is a place where the mundane and the marvelous, the ordinary and the surreal coexist. It’s a place where cars can fly and owls can deliver the mail, a place where paintings talk and a mirror reflects people’s innermost desires. It’s also a place utterly recognizable to readers, a place where death and the catastrophes of daily life are inevitable, and people’s lives are defined by love and loss and hope — the same way they are in our own mortal world."
Liz Burns, activist librarian, blogger ("its all about story"), book reviewer (YA and chhildren's books), and author (PoP Goes the Library) wrote a post about libraries and reading. Here is an excerpt:
"As libraries, especially public libraries, take a look at programs and resources and books within the context of the Common Core -- Remember. We are more than the Common Core. We are also about escaping into literature. We are about the joys of getting lost in a book. We are about celebrating the act of readingfor the sole reason that some of us like to read. Or, rather, love to read.
And that simple pleasure, well, sometimes, it does get attacked. Is the person reading the right books? What are they learning from those books? Is it making them a better person? Is it uplifting? Does it have a moral? Is deep reading going on? Is the reading being done the "right" way? Will this make someone a better employee? Is reading too passive? Isn't it better to be making something than reading? Isn't it better to be talking to people? Don't people have better things to do than read? Than read that book? I think one of the wonders of libraries is that it is still a place for the person who loves reading. Libraries are more -- we are the sum of our parts, more than any one part of our mission. And part of that more is, and should continue to be, celebrating reading and being there for readers."
Chicago's Canine Therapy Corps was one of the recipient organizations.
The Canine Therapy Corps (CTC), with over 100 volunteers, helps to heal and bring hope to children and adults with a wide range of difficult and painful problems including autism, cancer, PTSD, addiction recovery problems, emotional behavioral problems, rehabilitation and senior issues and more.
The kids and therapy dogs in this excellent CTC video will touch your heart...the video includes interactions and healing moments with kids, dogs, therapists, parents and volunteers.
Here is their Mission Statement:
TheCanine Therapy Corps...
Empowers and motivates individuals to improve their physical and psychological health and well-being by harnessing the human-animal bond; Provides goal-directed, interactive animal-assisted therapy services, free of charge, using volunteers and certified therapy dogs; Advances animal-assisted interventions through research and collaboration.
The group photo of CTC dogs is courtesy of Steve Grubman
An Interview with Jack Zipes, By the Editors of Interstitial Journal, on how media and marketing have reduced the cultural value of Fairy Tales...
Here are excerpts:
..."The nineteenth century, especially in Europe and North America, became the golden age of fairy tale collecting that led to the foundation of folklore societies. By the twentieth century, the fairy tale and other simple folk genres began to thrive not only by word of mouth and through print, as they had for centuries, but were also transformed, adapted, and disseminated through radio, postcards, greeting cards, comics, cinema, fine arts, performing arts, wedding ceremonies, television, dolls, toys, games, theme parks, clothes, the Internet, university courses, and numerous other media and objects. Among the modes of hyped advertising were posters, billboards, interviews, window dressings, department store shows, radio, tv, and Internet interviews, ads in newspapers, magazines, and journals, and all the other kinds of paratexts that accompany a cultural product. As I argued in my book Why Fairy Tales Stick: The Evolution and Relevance of a Genre... Hyping is the exact opposite of preservation and involves, as I have argued, conning consumers and selling products that have a meager cultural value and will not last. Some recent fairy tale films produced by the mainstream culture industry reveal how filmmakers and producers hype to sell shallow products geared primarily to make money. They use the mass media to exploit the widespread and constant interest in fairy tales that has actually deepened since the nineteenth century..."
The interview continues with examples of marketing compromises made to achieve financial success that blur or change the integrity of the original tales.
A fairytale doesn’t exist in a fixed form...
"Like a mother tongue, the stories are acquired, early, to become part of our mental furniture (think of the first books you absorbed as a child). The shared language is pictorial as well as verbal, and international, too. Such language – Jung called it archetypal – has been growing into a common vernacular since the romances of classical antiquity and the middle ages – Circe from the Odyssey and Vivienne from Morte d’Arthur are recognisable forerunners of fairy queens and witches, and the sleeping beauty herself first appears in a long medieval chivalric tale, Perceforest. A fairytale doesn’t exist in a fixed form; it’s something like a tune that can migrate from a symphony to a penny whistle."
This is an excerpt from Marina Warner’s Once Upon a Time: A Short History of Fairy Tale
In her original book, Born Without a Tail, C.A. Wulff chronicles the true-life adventures of two animal rescuers living with an ever-changing house full of pets. She takes us on a journey from childhood through adulthood, sharing tales, (mis)adventures and insights garnered from a lifetime of encounters with a menagerie of twenty remarkable animals.
The new edition also has a prologue about Wulff's journey into advocacy; and, it also has several additional photos. Here’s what some readers have said about it:
“I can’t say too much about this book, it’s more than a ‘dog book’ it’s a people, animals, life book. I was hooked from the first page and read it straight through, and have re read it since, enjoying it just as much the second time around. Anyone who’s ever had a heart dog, a misfit cat, ever been touched by the love of an animal should enjoy this book. It’s a keeper. “
“A collection of funny and heartwarming tales that shaped the life of a young animal advocate. Inspiring and written from the heart.“I was touched by this account of love, friendship, responsibility and true selflessness. If you love animals you will not be able to put this book down.“ .
The book covers and the photo of Rocket are by C.A. Wulff.
Lumosis part of J.K. Rowling's effort to make the world a better place. Her focus is on children and poverty. She is the founder of Lumos, one of several charities she supports. Here are excerpts from the Lumos website:
Across the globe 8 million children are living in institutions that deny them individual love and care. More than 80% are not orphans. They are separated from their families because they are poor, disabled or from an ethnic minority. As a result, many suffer lifelong physical and emotional harm.
Meanwhile, the numbers of children in so-called orphanages continues to rise in areas outside Europe. Lumos has now begun work in the Latin American and Caribbean region. We have started in Haiti, where approximately 30,000 children are currently living in almost entirely privately funded orphanages. Once again, we find the familiar ratio of 80% non-orphans, and recognize the driving force of poverty.
Lumos has a single, simple goal: to end the institutionalization of children worldwide by 2050. This is ambitious, but achievable. It is also essential. Eight million voiceless children are currently suffering globally under a system that, according to all credible research, is indefensible. We owe them far, far better. We owe them families.
Nancy Hauser'sWay Cool Dogshas two new articles with excellent guidelines for people thinking of getting a dog. One article is an overview, dealing primarily with breed and size...Here is an excerpt from the second article:
"All dogs need a certain amount of affection, attention, grooming, mental stimulation and physical activity. But different dogs need different levels of each, and should match that of their owner. For example, do you want to brush your dog or have the time? Are you going to be at work most of the day, and have a dog sitter rounded up to care for your pet while you are gone? These things all need to be well-thought out at all dogs are different with different needs."
Way Cool Dogs also offers: ABC Animals-Animated Flashcards where you can record your own voice or sounds. This is from their site:
"It’s finally here – our ABC Animals – Animated Flashcards mobile app for iOS!Image is in WCD folder in Blog Material)
ABC Animals – Animated Flashcards is an animated flashcard app for iPhone and iPod with 52 beautifully illustrated animations of adult and baby animals. Featuring phonics and a slideshow! Record you own voice and sounds and download free coloring pages!"
The Power of Illustration at the Eric Carle Museum
If you have an interest in the power of illustration to ignite children's imagination, and you'll be in New England in the coming months, consider visiting the Eric Carle Museum in Amherst, MA. where multiple exhibits are taking place.
Children's memories of early books have often been enhanced by illustrations of worlds of wonder. As an adult, the mind still carries images from these early journeys. Historians attribute much of the great success of Taylor's versions of the Grimm's Tales in early nineteenth century England to the illustrations of George Cruikshank.
The Eric Carle Museum is featuring exhibits by four outstanding artist/illustrators: AliceBolam Preston (1888-1958); Eric Carle ; Uli Shurevitz; and Gustav Dore.
Many of Dore'sillustrations are considered to be pioneering classics. Here is an excerpt from the museum's website regarding Dore and his influence on modern illustrators:
"Sleeping Beauty,' 'Little Red Riding Hood,' and 'Beauty and the Beast.' Doré’s timeless illustrations are presented in this exhibition along with the works of contemporary children’s-book illustrators. Allowing for a side-by-side comparison, the influence of Doré becomes apparent in the works of famous contemporary illustrators like Jerry Pinkney, James Marshall, and Fred Marcellino..."
The Eric Carle catipillar logo is by Eric Carle; the flying boat illustration is by Uli Shurevitz; the fairy in the garden illustration is by Alice Bolam Preston; and the Little Red Riding Hood illustration is by Gustav Dore. They are all part of the Eric Carle Museum exhibits.
The Planet Of The Dogs series is in China
TheChongxianguan Book Companyin Beijing has published the completePlanet Of The Dogs series in China. They have translated the text and produced new illustrations (above) and covers. On the left, are illustrations from the Chinese books. On the right are illustrations from the English version. Deanna Leah of HBG productions introduced the books to our Chinese publishers.You can visit the Chinese web page forPlanet Of The Dogsthrough this link:CHINA
New York City R.E.A.D. Update
Intermountain Therapy Animals have been responsible for developing R.E.A.D. programs and training more than 3000 registered therapy reading dog teams in the USA, Canada, Europe and beyond to South Africa. European countries include Italy, Finland, France, Sweden, Slovenia and Spain. All of this since 1999.
New York City has a growing and vital program, New York Therapy Dogs R.E.A.D.®,under the direction of Nancy George-Michalson. Here, in her words, is a brief summary of their activities ...
"Our ITA R.E.A.D. teams are being placed in a variety of schools and the NY Public Libraries working with children with Autism, ESL students and developmentally and emotionally challenged children as well as children who are just curious about reading to a therapy dog. The response from the staff and families has been remarkable."
If you have a dog, live in the NYC area, and have considered therapy reading dog work, click the link above. Or, you can write directly to Nancy at NGM-ART@nyc.rr.com
"If you must keep your dog outdoors, construct an excellent dog house and kennel based on considerations of your dog’s breed, age, health status, your climate and environment, and safety and health features. Schedule daily activities so that your dog doesn’t become depressed or frustrated, leading to difficult behaviors. Never chain your dog.
It is now a well-established fact that dogs are social, pack-oriented animals who thrive onhuman companionship and are happiest while living indoors as part of the family. When you bring a new dog into your family, the dog learns to view your family members and your other pets as his or her pack.
Everything proceeds well as long as your dog is content with his or her place in the pack. Many behavior problems can be avoided with a little extra effort or training to make the dog comfortable with this position.
The most devastating thing the leader of a pack can do is to isolate an individual from the pack to solve a problem; different problem behaviors will likely arise. The dog might become profoundly depressed or anxious. Nuisance barking is common among dogs kept outdoors. Also, a lonely, isolated dog might disassociate from the family pack and cease to be watchful or protective of the family. You must schedule daily play time or take daily walks. Engage in a new activity with your dog such as nose work."
Anna Nirva, editor and prime mover on Sunbear Squad, continues this post with detailed, comprehensive considerations and guidelines for creating a Humane Dog House.
The illustration, from Castle In The Mist, of the children and the dog, is by Stella Mustanoja Mccarty.
"Dogs have given us their absolute all. We are the center of their universe. We are the focus of their love and faith and trust. They serve us in return for scraps. It is without doubt the best deal man has ever made." -- Roger Caras ..........................................................................................................
Fans of the little videos John and I occasionally make for my YouTube channel, will be interested to hear of my latest venture. I confess, I am rather excited myself.
A few Urban Sketchers friends of mine, including the truly outstanding Paul Heaston, and Marc Holmes, have recently signed up to run on-line workshops for a company called Craftsy. Paul and Marc's lessons are excellent, as you would imagine (but if you want to sign up for them, do it via the artists' own websites, as that way they get more commission). Craftsy classes are not just in urban sketching though: there are all sorts of things you can learn, including children's book illustration... See where this is going? Yes, that's right - they have invited me to do a class on illustrating picture books, concentrating specifically on character design and development. Now, I really enjoyed making our studio-based films, but this is the real thing: the film will be shot over a 3 day period in a proper, real-life, film studio. And not just that... it's in the USA! Okay, so now you know why I am excited.
I have been stealing time where I can over the last week or so, to write down everything I can think of on character creation. It helps that I do a lot of illustration workshops in schools on this theme, as it can be hard sometimes, trying to remember the stuff that you know really well. My next job is to collate these ideas into Craftsy's specific lesson-plan structure. Once that's done and has got the OK, I will work with a Content Editor to talk further about the specifics of how we turn those learning points into a filmed workshop (which specific characters I will draw as demos, what practical assignments I will set etc). When that's sorted out, I am assigned a Producer to work with, fine-tuning various practical elements of the project and the logistics of what needs to happen when. Apparently, we'll even be discussing my wardrobe (new dress needed..?)
Then comes the exciting bit: Craftsy are going to fly me out to where they are based, in Denver. I'm booked into the film studio for September 9th - 11th. Another adventure! I am doing rather well on that front just lately. It's early stages and nothing much will happen for a while, as I have my other commitments to work on first, mainly my Urban Sketching People book, but I'll keep you posted (of course). Once the filming is done, there will be about 6 weeks of post-production editing before it's released. If all goes to plan, it sounds like we should have it ready to go live around the middle to end of October. Watch this space!
After what feels like a year's worth of buzz, publicity, predictions, and celebrity gossip, the 87th Academy Award ceremony is upon us. I dug into the entries available in the alphabetized categories of The Dictionary of Film Studies-- and added some of my own trivia -- to highlight 26 key concepts in the elements of cinema and the history surrounding the Oscars.
It's been less than a year since Tasha Robinson coined the phrase "Trinity syndrome," and yet it's already become one of the most useful terms in pop culture criticism. Named for the female lead in Lana and Andy Wachowski's The Matrix, Trinity syndrome refers to a movie in which a female character is depicted as cool, competent, and badass, but always and inexplicably in the service of a much
Life was harsh for the country people who told this story to relieve the cruel reality of their daily existence.
Hansel and Gretel encounter abandonment, fear, hunger, cannibalism, and magic...they are lost in a cruel world of kill or be killed.
The children must rely on their own courage and ingenuity to survive and prevail.
Welcome to the world of the wonder tale.
Wonder Tales before the Grimms
During the reign of Louis XIV, cultural endeavors in all the arts were encouraged and highly regarded in the court of Versailles. Writers, including Moliere, Racine and Marais, were respected and often admired. Ideas were in the air in the salons of Paris and in the court itself.
Marina Warner, edited The Wonder Tales, Six French Stories of Enchantment, introducing the reader to the European birth of the fairy tale and making a case for calling then tales of wonder. Among the writers with stories included are Charles Perrault, Marie-Catherine D'Aulnoy and Henriette- Julie De Murat. Perrault was perhaps the most influential, if one considers the stories (from folk tales) he published under the title, The Tales of Mother Goose. These eight stories included Cinderella, Blue Beard, Little Red Riding hood, and the Sleeping Beauty in the Woods.
Here are excerpts from the Oxford University Press overview of the book...
"Once upon a time, in the Paris of Louis XIV, five ladies and one gentleman-- all of them aristocrats-- seized on the new enthusiasm for "Mother Goose Stories" and decided to write some of them down. Telling stories resourcefully and artfully was a key social grace, and when they recorded these elegant narratives they consciously invented the modern fairy tale as we still know it today."
Heroes and heroines are put to mischievous tests, and their quest for love is confounded when their objects of desire change into beasts or monsters. Still, true understanding and recognition of the person beneath the spell wins in the end, for after wonder comes consolation, and after strange setbacks comes a happy ending. In Wonder Tales, a magical world awaits all who dare to enter."
The illustration of Blue Beard is by Gustav Dore.
Good but Grimm Bedtime Reading
Mary Leland, in theIrish Examiner, has written a most insightful and interesting article on folktales and myths and the life and times of the Brothers Grimm. She also writes about Jack Zipes and the significance of his recent translation of the original version of Children's and Household Talesby the Brothers Grimm.
Here is an excerpt from the beginning of her excellent article:
"Many readers may argue with the poet Schiller’s assertion that ‘Deeper meaning resides in the fair tales told to me in my childhood that in the truth that is taught by life.’ Even so, perhaps those same readers will admit that the belief, quoted in Bruno Bettelheim’s master-work ‘The Uses of Enchantment’ (1976) has some validity.
They will certainly do so if they acknowledge the staying power of the fairytales told or read to them in childhood, and if they remember that strange hinterland in which mystery, search, loss, redemption and triumph still bring some imaginative consolation to the perceived injustices of the very young.
The fact is, as Jack Zipes discusses in his fascinating anthology, fairy tales incorporate the truth that is taught by life...."
The illustration of the Elves and the Shoemaker is by George Cruickshank.
The Grimm's Wonder Tales Sweep England in the Nineteenth Century
David Blamires, in a very comprehensive and rather scholarly article for Open Book Publishers, details the impact on readers in England of the Edgar Taylor translation (1823) of the Grimm's original Childrens and Household Tales. The article provides both overview and details of the English versions throughout the 18th Century. Blamires credits the illustrations by George Cruikshank as being very important to to wide popular acceptance.
"Without a shadow of doubt the single most important German contribution to world literature is the collection of traditional tales made by the Brothers Grimm and first published in two small volumes in 1812-15. It outshines Goethe’s Faust and such twentieth-century classics as Mann’s Death in Venice or Kafka’s The Trial by virtue of an infinitely greater readership. Not only have the tales been translated in whole or in part into virtually every major language in the world, but they have generated countless new editions and adaptations and become the cornerstone of the study of folktales not only in Germany, but throughout the world...
When Edgar Taylor made the first translation of the Grimms into English as German Popular Stories, translated from the Kinder und Haus Märchen, collected by M.M. Grimm, from oral tradition (London: C. Baldwyn, 1823), the fairytale as a genre was very much in the grip of the French. Of course, such truly English fairytales as ’Jack the Giant-killer’, ’Whittington and his Cat’, ’Tom Hickathrift’, ’Tom Thumb’ and ’Jack and the Beanstalk’ had circulated in chapbooks, but English tales were not systematically collected until later. It was the fairytales of Charles Perrault, Madame d’Aulnoy and Madame Leprince de Beaumont that dominated the scene..." The illustrations of Rapunzel and Cinderella are by George Cruickshank.
Born Without A Tail Returns
The enhanced second edition of Born Without A Tale, by C.A. Wulff will be published later this month by Barking Planet Productions. The book is a heartwarming life journey memoir by of Wulff's never ending rescues, healings, and adventures with a melange of dogs and cats.
Here's a description of the first edition from Amazon:
When your home has a revolving door for abused and abandoned animals, keeping pets takes on a whole new dimension! Sometimes hilarious, sometimes heart-rending, Born Without a Tail chronicles the true-life adventures of two animal rescuers living with an ever-changing house full of pets. The author takes us on a journey from childhood through adulthood, sharing tales, (mis)adventures and insights garnered from a lifetime of encounters with a menagerie of twenty remarkable animals.--
And here is an abridged sample of a review...there are many more on Amazon :
"I can't say too much about this book, it's more than a 'dog book' it's a people, animals, life book. I was hooked from the first page and read it straight through... The writer has a great way of drawing you in, making you at home in her world. Anyone who's ever had a heart dog, a misfit cat, ever been touched by the love of an animal should enjoy this book. It's a keeper." -- Bookpleasures.com
Lost Wonders Found In An Immersive Theatrical Experience
Imagine walking into a warehouse converted into an environment of wonder where you find clairvoyant ravens, a runaway princess, and elves with magic powers. I discovered all of this is happening in London when I read a recent post by Kristenin her Tales of Faerieblog. Here is an excerpt...
Reviewers seem overall very impressed with the play, especially the format. Instead of an audience sitting in chairs in an auditorium, they follow the characters through a large warehouse with different sections set up as each fairy tale. Props to the creators of this play for not only staying faithful to the Grimm fairy tales, but introducing audiences to lesser known tales, such as "Faithful Johannes" and "The Three Little Men in the Woods" (which seems to be the audience favorite)."
In the words of Philip Wilson (Director & Adapter) of this theater piece:
"I love the fact that, in German, these are known as 'wonder tales' rather than the more twee term 'fairy tales': and so audiences coming to the Bargehouse will find themselves plunged into a parallel universein which extraordinary adventures happen - and the darker side of these stories will come to light..."
Paws Giving Independence (PGI) is a multi-faceted, grass roots organization, located in Peoria, Illinois, that does wonderful work in providing service dogs for people with disabilities. Their dogs serve people ranging from the Jesse Brown Veteran's Hospital in Chicago to the Peoria Children's Home Youth Farm.
The photo on the left is of Monty, who recently had his first day of school with his new friend, the young girl in the photo. They are both in fourth grade. Monty now lives with her in her home, and they go everywhere, including the school bus, together.
Monty was trained by a Bradley University student as part of the Wags for Mags program, initiated by Paws Giving Independence (photo on the right).This ongoing program of student volunteers works directly with people and training the dogs for service. Anyone with a disability can apply for a PGI service dog. Saturday, June 6, 2015, is the day for PGI's Running With The Dogs Day.
Dogs As Healers in the Planet Of The Dogs Series
In the first book in the Planet Of The Dogs we are introduced to Bella, the healer lady of Green Valley. And it is through Bella that people have their first experience with dogs as healers...the first Therapy Dogs. Here is an excerpt...
"The next morning, just as daylight brightened their home, Tomas and his family had another visitor, Bella, the healer lady. Bella helped the people of Green Valley when they were having babies, or when they were sick. She had a large garden of flowers and herbs that she used when healing people. All the people in Lake Village, including Omeg, liked her and respected her. Bella had been dreaming of the dogs and understood the reason they had come to Planet Earth.
Before Bella reached the house, Robbie and Buddy, who now slept in the barn, sensed her arrival and ran up the road to greet her. The family was happy to see her and to find that she welcomed the dogs. They were surprised that Bella was so comfortable with Buddy, who lay at her feet while she sat at the table drinking a refreshing cup of mint tea. Bella had an even bigger surprise for everyone. She said, “From my dreams, I have learned that the dogs can help me in my work. I know they have the power of love and the power to help people heal,” she said. Tomas and Sara looked at her in amazement. Daisy and Bean were not so surprised. Then Bella said, “I want to take the little dog to visit Delia, the sad one...”
For sample chaptersfrom Planet Of The Dogs, Castle In The Mist, and Snow Valley Heroes, A Christmas Tale -- and more information about all of our Barking Planet books -- visit our Planet Of The Dogs website.
Free copies of the Planet of The Dogs book series for therapy dog organizations, individual therapy dog owners, and librarians and teachers with therapy reading dog programs...simply send us an email at email@example.com.
"In PLANET OF THE DOGS, Robert McCarty weaves an enchanting story that will delight the young reader as well as the young reader's parents or grandparents. Parents and grandparents should be forewarned, however, that their young readers will be pleading with them unrlentingly for a visit to Green Valley." Warner V. Slack MD, Professor of Medicine, Harvard Medical School; Father, Grandfather ..............................
All Barking Planet Productions Books are available on the internet at Barnes & Noble, Amazon, and other booksellers -- as well as your local independent bookstore.
LitWorld and World Read Aloud Day
LitWorld brings literacy, reading, books, and empowerment to disadvantaged children.
LitWorld celebrated their annual World Read Aloud Dayon March 5th.
"World Read Aloud Day allows members of our year-round programs to invite more people into their literacy community and brings LitWorld’s messages to the rest of the world. World Read Aloud Day is now celebrated by over one million people in more than 80 countries and reaches over 31 million people online. The growth of our movement can be attributed in large part to our network of partner organizations and “WRADvocates” – a group of reading advocates and supporters taking action in their communities and on social media."
Visit their website and learn more about their wonderful work: LitWorld
The Wind In The Willows
"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, E.H. Shephard
I was drawn to read this book.
TheMotherless Child Projectis terrific and timely. The central character, Emily Amber Ross, a 16 year old girl, is bright, interesting, conflicted, and very likable. The fact that she lives in a home where there can be no mention of her mother and her childhood becomes a driving force in her life. The story builds into a suspenseful, compelling, poignant rush of events. The ending is exciting and satisfying. I would think that word of mouth will be significant. In addition to being an excellent, and meaningful read -- The Motherless Child Project would make a great YA crossover movie.
Laura Miller, in Salon, conducted an excellent interview with Maria Tatar on the occasion of the publication of The Turnip Princess. Here is an excerpt:
What do you in particular find so compelling about this form?
"What I really love about fairy tales is that they get us talking about matters that are just so vital to us. I think about the story of Little Red Riding Hood and how originally it was about the predator-prey relationship, and then it becomes a story about innocence and seduction for us. We use that story again and again to work out these very tough issues that we have to face. My hope is that this volume will get people talking about not just the stories and the plot but the underlying issues.
Milan Kundera has this quote in “The Unbearable Lightness of Being” about painting that goes something like: Painting is an intelligible lie on the surface, but underneath is the unintelligible truth. Folktales are lies, they misrepresent things, and they seem so straightforward and so deceptively simple in a way. It’s the unintelligible truth beneath that’s so powerful, and that’s why we keep talking about them. They’re so complicated. We have a cultural compulsion about folklore. We keep retelling the stories because we can never get them right." Illustration by Lancelot Speed
"He now felt glad at having suffered sorrow and trouble, because it enabled him to enjoy so much better all the pleasure and happiness around him;”
“It is only with the heart that one can see clearly, for the most essential things are invisible to the eye.” ― Hans Christian Anderson, The Ugly Duckling
Animated Movies and Inspiration from Tales of Wonder
Last year (2014), the Oscarfor the best animated film -- Frozen -- was "inspired" by Hans Christian Anderson's classic story, The Snow Queen. In addition to substantive story changes, this Disneyfantasy removes the dark fear and danger of the original and substitutes dazzling animation, fast pacing, and romantic gloss. Frozen has a sound track of soaring romantic music. the film also won an Oscar for best song:Let It Go.
Disney achieved their goal. In addition to recognition by their peers in winning the Oscars, the film has been extremely popular and made a great deal of money, grossing $1,274,219,009. That figure represents an incredible number of children and adults experiencing the Disney version of the story.
Here is an excerpt from Anderson'soriginal Snow Queen, which, unlike the film, I find permeated by a sense of the ominous, of danger and events beyond control...
"There stood poor Gerda, without shoes, without gloves, in the midst of cold, dreary, ice-bound Finland. She ran forwards as quickly as she could, when a whole regiment of snow-flakes came round her; they did not, however, fall from the sky, which was quite clear and glittering with the northern lights. The snow-flakes ran along the ground, and the nearer they came to her, the larger they appeared. Gerda remembered how large and beautiful they looked through the burning-glass. But these were really larger, and much more terrible, for they were alive, and were the guards of the Snow Queen... but all were dazzlingly white, and all were living snow-flakes."
Hopefully, many more children, having experienced the Disney version, will be drawn to read the original.
Illustration of the original Snow Queen is by Vilhelm Pedersen.
Little Red Riding Hood...There are many versions and many interpretations in film, TV, theater and illustration of Little Red Riding Hood. The story had a major role last year in Disney'sproduction of Into The Woods, a film inspired by a popular Broadway musical.
On a more modest scale, Cale Atkinson, a talented young Canadian illustrator, created a delightful short animated version (1:37) of Red Riding Hood on Vimeo.
Disney's Big Hero
This year, Big Hero 6 , also a Disney film, has won the Oscar for best animated film. This time , inspiration for the film was inspired by a Marvel comic story. The film is a significant departure from the original. Humor, imagination and outstanding animation bring Hiro, a brilliant teenage robotics inventor, Baymax his robot, and the fantasy future world of San Fransokyo to fun-filled life.
Disney, through the collaboration between Winnie the Pooh director Don Hall, and Chris Williams,director of Bolt, succeeded in adding charm and fun to the original premise; as a result, Big Hero 6 found a large audience worldwide: $546,225,000 (this figure will grow with winning the Oscar).
Cinderellaback and, once again, has a cruel stepmother ... If Kate Blanchett was my cruel stepmother, I would be most grateful if Helena Bonham Carter was my fairy godmother -- especially if Kenneth Branagh was my director. This comment is based on watching the trailer for Cinderella - the next Disney movie.
See for yourself: Cinderella Trailer...and listen to the soaring music.
The advance reviews suggest this Cinderella will please and delight young girls and their families. Personally, I'm still marveling at the movie created by Linda Woolverton, Robert Stromberg, and Angelina Jolie in Malificent, inspired by Sleeping Beauty.
Alison Flood writes about the drop in popularity of JRR Tolkien'sbooks in the UK in an article for the Guardian. The article suggest that movies have been a primary influence in the reading choices of UK students. Perhaps Peter Jackson's Tolkien-based films don't inspire readers. Here are excerpts...
"Annual What Kids Are Reading report sees dystopian fantasy and larger-than-life comedies dominate...
JRR Tolkien’sfantasy novels have been elbowed out of the annual lineup of the most popular books for schoolchildren by a deluge of dark dystopias and urban fantasies.
The seventh What Kids Are Reading report, which analyses the reading habits of over half a million children in over 2,700 UK schools, revealed today that Tolkien’s books have dropped out of the overall most popular list for the first time since the report began six years ago. In previous years, Tolkien’s titles have featured within the chart’s top 10 places, mostly among secondary-school children.
Instead, this year in secondary schools the most popular title was John Green’s tale of a heartbreaking teenage romance, The Fault in Our Stars, followed by two dystopian stories: Suzanne Collins’s Catching Fire, from the Hunger Games series, and Veronica Roth’s Divergent, set in a world where people are classified according to their personality traits...."
Nancy Houser posted an informative article in Way Cool Dogs on Separation Anxiety in Dogs. To people who don't know dogs, this may sound a bit over the top. Dog owners, however, will appreciate this fact-filled article.
"Separation anxiety in dogs is that dreadful moment as they fall apart in front of our eyes as we walk out the door, leaving them … alone. We could be be having a medical emergency, a day of shopping, a day of hard work, an exhausting afternoon at the grocery store … or maybe even a quick trip outside to check our mail. And truthfully, it does not matter. Every situation becomes a period of hell for dogs with separation anxiety, an animal who is a social animal that needs a lot of companionship.
Where and when we go does not matter; what matters is the fact that we are gone and they are not. They are at home, and alone. Mother Teresa once said, “The most terrible poverty is loneliness, and the feeling of being unloved.” She was speaking of humanity, of course, but current dog studies are proving that dogs not only have intelligence but similar emotions and emotional disorders as we do, and should be treated as such.
What is canine separation disorder?
According to dog experts, canine anxiety is divided into three different categories:
Canine separation disorder is considered to be one of the most common causes of behavioral problems in dogs..."
The article continues to analyze of canine anxiety disorders; Read more:Separation Anxiety. The illustration is by Nancy Houser
The Wonders of Reading for Children
An excerpt from Neil Gaimon's impassioned presentation on the importance of libraries, books and reading:
"There are no bad authors for children, that children like and want to read and seek out, because every child is different. They can find the stories they need to, and they bring themselves to stories. A hackneyed, worn-out idea isn't hackneyed and worn out to them. This is the first time the child has encountered it. Do not discourage children from reading because you feel they are reading the wrong thing. Fiction you do not like is a route to other books you may prefer. And not everyone has the same taste as you.
Well-meaning adults can easily destroy a child's love of reading: stop them reading what they enjoy, or give them worthy-but-dull books that you like, the 21st-century equivalents of Victorian "improving" literature. You'll wind up with a generation convinced that reading is uncool and worse, unpleasant..."
This link, Neil Gaimon, will take you to all of this excellent presentation as reprinted in the Guardian. Illustration of Tom Thumb by Alexander Zick.
“We read books to find out who we are. What other people, real or imaginary, do and think and feel... is an essential guide to our understanding of what we ourselves are and may become.” ― Ursula K. Le Guin
How To Greet A Dog...and How Not To Greet A Dog (or cat)....
Unlearn polite human greeting behaviors … greet a dog or cat safely...Here is an excerpt and link to an article by Anna Nirva...
Yesterday at the shelter where I volunteer, a group of new volunteers were being led through the dog kennel room as part of a shelter volunteer orientation tour. I was returning a dog to a kennel after a walk, and several of the volunteers left the group to investigate the dog as I was leading him toward his enclosure. Two well-meaning people quickly approached the young dog straight-on, with hands outstretched, staring directly into the eyes of the shelter dog. Chief, the dog, a young, sensitive coonhound mix, feeling threatened, immediately moved through the open gate to the back of the kennel with his tail tucked and head lowered. “What’s wrong with him?” one of the new volunteers asked.
I had just found the topic for my weekly post...
In the western world, we are taught at an early age to greet new people by approaching them with upright posture, looking directly into their eyes and offering a hand to shake or squeeze. It becomes second nature to us, so as a result, many of us animal lovers greet every living thing–except bugs–using those same “good manners.”...
We must UNLEARN that set of social rules to avoid frightening dogs, cats, and other animals... read it all on SunBear Squad
The illustration from Snow Valley Heroes, A Christmas Tale is by Stella Mustanoja-McCarty
" You think dogs will not be in heaven? I tell you, they will be there long before any of us." -- Robert Louis Stevenson
The lovely Missus B emailed to ask permission from myself and Damian Harvey. I'm not sure that she actually needed it, but it was lovely to be asked and even lovelier to listen to her reading our book.
If you have children of the right age (or just like to have a story read to you - I know I do...) then take a look.
The other night I downloaded and watched New Year Baby, Socheata Poeuv’s documentary about uncovering her family’s story in Cambodia. This movie…..this movie is something amazing.
Poeuv was born in a refugee camp in Thailand after the fall of the Khmer Rouge in 1979. She was called the “lucky one” as her parents, two sisters and brother were all subjected to life under the genocidal government and lived in labor camps until the country was liberated by the Vietnamese. Eventually, they all emigrated to the US and settled in Texas.
As she explains in the movie’s opening minutes, when she was twenty-five Poeuv went home for Christmas and her mother gathered the family together to reveal to their youngest child the big secret about how they were all really related. Her parents then decided to travel to Cambodia for a visit and Poeuv and her brother joined them with camera crew in tow. The trip became a way for Poeuv to learn about what happened to extended family members in the four years under the regime, how many relatives they lost* and how they were all able to get out of the country.
This is all incredibly emotional and inspiring (you will cry, trust me), but equally fascinating is the story of how Cambodians have buried their history in an almost national attempt to forget what happened. None of them can forget though (of course) so the official Cambodia versus the personal one are locked in a quiet and continuous battle of “let’s just not talk about it.” This is made brutally clear in the film when Poeuv’s local guide unexpectedly comes face to face with the former member of the Khmer Rouge who ran the hospital where his mother and sister died. He can not stop himself from asking what happened and his face as her utter incompetence comes through….well, his face is pretty unforgettable.
After making the movie, Socheata Poeuv founded an organization called Khmer Legacies which collects testimonies, stored at Yale University, from survivors of the Khmer Rouge. The project is set up to help preserve Cambodian history, a critical need. From the website:
…there has been no collective outlet to remember and heal for ordinary Cambodians. In fact, in Cambodia today, the history is often not taught in schools and some in the younger generation grow up believing that the genocide did not happen at all.
New Year’s Baby is family history at its best; not only did the film maker learn her family’s own true story but she is now working to preserve an entire nation’s. We all should accomplish so much in our lifetimes. I can’t recommend this film enough.
*Approximately two million Cambodians died under the Khmer Rouge.
Supplementing real dogs with digital animation produces performances that have benefits on many different levels. Firstly, they are much more effective dramatically because they can become more anthropomorphically expressive to suit the needs of the story. Economically they are less time-consuming and therefore less expensive because the performance is no longer determined by the unpredictable or intractable volition of real animals, however ‘well-trained’. The problems that arise even when working with ‘professional’ dog actors can be exasperating.
The benefit of reviewing a film later than usual (I could not for the life of me make it to any of the Samba media screenings, so Think Tank Communications provided me with a double pass to see it once the film was out) is that you get to hear what other reviewers think about […]