The Life Saving Properties of Fairyland

Am I allowed to admit on the Internet that my job is making me go bananas?  Well…it is.  I run full tilt all day on a snackpack of carrot sticks trying to please 8 year olds, schmooze with corporate peeps, and navigate office politics.  So, like every mature adult, I pass right by the liquor store, the cupcake shop, the shoe sales, and arrive home to hop into my polar bear jammies to escape into a book.  And what a wacky journey it was.  In fact, stopping by the liquor store would not have been a bad idea.

Catherynne Valente’s (take a long breath for this one, team) The Girl Who Circumnavigated Fairyland in a Ship of Her Own Making would be alike to Willy Wonka writing Lord of the Rings.  (Please note, that while TGWCFIASHOM is stunningly catchy, lets just call it The Girl Who Circumnavigated.)

Many have compared The Girl Who Circumnavigated to Alice in Wonderland but I don’t think that’s quite fair.  The main character, September, is far-less didactic and Valente does not spend a great deal of time being silly for silly sake on a singular subject.   The story is clear, less flowery, and the adventure is quite fast-paced.  Maybe Alice on speed?  AKA a pace just right for the young readers of the 2000’s.  Heck, it was a pace just right for this 1980’s baby.  I giggled all the way through and fell in love with animated objects that shone with personality.  It was a great joy to read at the end of a day that felt anything but silly.

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Published in: on August 23, 2011 at 12:02 am  Leave a Comment  

The Pile Has Been Conquered!

Bookmarks have officially been placed into other books and now I am faced with three very different books rumbling around in my head…not to mention the two I am feverishly speeding through at the moment.  Seriously…what has gotten into me?  I am hoping this does not become a habit purely for the sake of this blog.  While it is interesting to have all of these texts talking to each other in my head the dialogue is too convoluted and would reveal way too many plot points for any kind of hint-hint-read-this-book-post. Solution? Mini entries!?Many entries? BOTH! *oh man my wit kills me sometimes*

Tale of Desperaux by DiCamillo:

This is a direct result of a previous read that had me wondering why I was denying myself the world of DeCamillo.  Unfortunately, this one left me with less of a sense of wonder and self-exploration than Edward.  I found the read enjoyable, just less dimensional. Granted, it is rich storytelling with a perfectly darling main character (Desperaux would take offense I believe, but, dude, you are darling) who has as much resilience and compassion as the knights he so idealizes.  And DeCamillo does cover the subject of the idealizing of a fictitious hero since Desperaux has to learn through his many trials that the self, as opposed to a false projection, is a more beneficial way to live.

The Melting Stones by Tamora Pierce

I grew up as a HUGE fan of Pierce’s “Alanna” series and continued to follow her in her explorations of the characters that inhabit Tortall.  I decided to branch out all thanks to a closeout sale at the Borders near my office where this little book was sitting on the shelf 50% off.  And since I still own the library gobs of money I purchased a great number of books.  Of course the total was more than what I owe the library…but trust me, I learned my lesson.  It is books like these that are why I go to the library.  Seeming so right on the shelf and yet so wrong by page 50.  This was no page turner.  In fact, I am tempted to blame the picking up of several books on this one.  Yes it has Pierce’s strong female doing strong female things and not thinking about boys for even a second…but the plot! EEGAD!

Nation By Terry Pratchett

If this entry was, say, a science fair, this book would be leaving the auditorium with ribbons and trophies galore and the other books would be crying into their paper mache volcanos.  The tale of two lone children, separated by differing languages and cultures, forced to survive alone on a small island sounds pretty darn dramatic while at the same time holds a lot of potential of being cliché and pretty much blowing up in one’s face.  Luckily, Pratchett handles it with grace and leaves the reader with much to think about.

At first the children manage their differences on their own.  What is particularly brilliant is the depiction of their limited understanding of their own cultures, their own personal questioning, and then having that wobbly perception slammed up against another that is so drastically different.  Once that seems to be somewhat stable Pratchett brings in several other perspectives through the adult characters that seek refuge on the island, complicating things immensely.  And this is just one concept battled in this book.

Published in: on March 30, 2011 at 1:42 am  Comments (4)  

The Things We Carry

Today I read this poem with a 6-year-old boy:

Skin Stealer by Shel Silverstein

This evening I unzipped my skin

And carefully unscrewed my head,

Exactly as I always do

When I prepare myself for bed.

And while I slept a coo-coo came

As naked as could be

And put on the skin

And screwed on the head

That once belonged to me.

Now wearing my feet

He runs through the street

In a most disgraceful way,

Doin’ things and sayin’ things

I’d never do or say.

Ticklin’ the children

And kickin’ the men

And dancin’ the ladies away.

So if he makes your bright eyes cry

Or makes your poor head spin,

That scoundrel you see

Is not really me –

He’s the coo-coo

Who’s wearing my skin.


He thought it was the funniest thing in the world.  Meanwhile I am sitting there with my mouth agape.  Did I mention that it is also coupled with this image (forgive the crap image quality).

I uncomfortably hurried on to the next poem in Silverstein’s A Light in the Attic and it wasn’t until my long train ride back into Manhattan that I realized how completely ridiculous I was being.  In fact, I, too, remember thinking this poem was funny when I was kid.  But as an adult I find it uncomfortable, disturbing, and morally problematic.

We are all carrying pasts in our pockets and these pasts inform every single moment of our day.  They inform which brand of toothpaste you trust and buy, how you react to meeting a new person, and, even, how you read a text.  Each of our pasts are different and a child’s past, a much smaller and typically more protected past, is going to inform what they read.  A child reads things differently than, say, me, a 26-year-old adult with a history of lying, deceptive…well…men.  I don’t see the coo coo man as lighthearted and by no means jovial…I see it as an excuse for awful heartbreaking behavior.  But this is all because of my weighty pockets filled with a very specific past.  So I reacted to it.  I turned the page. I asked no questions.  I potentially stifled a kid’s enjoyment.  A kid whose pockets were filled with a completely different past that found joy in the coo coo man and his silly trickster ways.

I have thought about this subject time and time again in a classroom setting and today I realized how incredibly easy it is to get trapped in our adultness; to think that what we find valuable is valuable.  But we know nothing about childhood…no matter how good our memory…and what we should value is the child’s sense of value.  Let them play, let them think, let them laugh, and you just sit there, not turning the page.

Published in: on October 15, 2010 at 1:33 am  Leave a Comment  

Water, Please.

Boston has been down right hot.  As a southern gal, I pretty much eat this up.  I brew slightly sweet black tea with lemon slices and head outside.  It has gotten to the point where back deck reading doubles as sun tanning because bathing suits are the only way to remotely feel comfortable.  See, nerds can be tan too.

Appropriately, on an afternoon that peaked to a toasty 93 degrees I read Matt Phelan’s The Storm in the Barn which is set in the dusty, hot, draught of Kansas during the Dust Bowl years.  Main character, Jack, longs to please his father who is struggling to overcome the demise of his farm.   Mixing the folklore of the Jack tales and a snapshot of American history, Phelan puts together a piece that in itself is engaging, but also creates an interest in other genres.  I mean, I spent a whole hour on the Internet exploring the Dust Bowl phenomena and I only stopped because it was getting dark outside, for goodness sake.

Important to note is that there are a lot of gorgeous details about the art and construction of The Storm and the Barn.  Typical of Candlewick publishers, this is a beautifully put together book and the illustrations have a soft, airy movement to them that I have come to associate with Phelan’s work (HERE is a great interview with him, full of his sketches and other works).  The creams, beiges, and browns make you yearn for tall glasses of water and the soft relief of shade.  When you finally rest your eyes on the soft blue haven of the barn that holds the secret to the town’s misfortunes you physically feel a release.

For a reader who learns fast, who can pick up the ‘reading’ of graphics quickly, this is a great book. The text is sparse and heavily relies on the images to tell the story.  The book eases you into the understanding of how comics work, how images story tell, and then works its way to a more artistic structure.  Unfortunately, I do think some of Phelan’s sequences are difficult to read.  In most instances, Phelan’s technique makes really strong, memorable moments, but in others, the images are choppy and harder to decipher.  I mention this because graphic novels can be hard to read for young readers who have no experience in the genre and I find that this book may be frustrating at times, particularly since the confusion happens in pivotal moments.  I, for one, think it is worth it because you get beautiful moments like this.

Published in: on July 1, 2010 at 9:45 pm  Leave a Comment  

Life and The Book

You know what researching authors have taught me.  Authors don’t like to be researched.  My archival research has taught me that there is a reason that Sendack’s little doodles are each insured by $10,000 by archivists’…cause he didn’t give a crap about that stuff because that is not what it is all about.  These poor archivists are practically digging in the trash for what they view as ‘masterpieces.’  But these guys don’t really want you digging around looking at their naughty drawings or their scribbled out texts, or their crap doodles of footballs.  They want you to care about that thing that they bothered to publish, that they poured their heart into.  That final product and all of its meaning.  So, in my humble opinion, get out of their life and into their books.  Love it because you love it.  And love it because it is part of your life.  Not theirs.

BUT a bonus from doing all this archival/internet lurking is that you come across things that are fulfilling to you in some way.  For me, it was discovering Russia’s 1967 printing of Mary Poppins with illustrations by G. Kalinovsky.  If I were a) important b) in a publishing house c) rich I would reprint the next edition of Mary P just like this:

Beautiful. Curious. Brilliant.

Compared to Mary Shepard’s work:

Need I say more?

Published in: on June 14, 2010 at 12:54 am  Leave a Comment  

How Shakespeare Got Cool

OK, look.  Shakespeare did some good stuff.  But golly dolly I did not give a flying flip about his dramatic irony and jester jokes in highschool.  And, honestly, as an adult I wish he would have stopped recycling characters, plots, and jokes but that is beside the point.  Alas, what is the point?  Imagine…this cover on the book shelves

Those eyes tear me up every time.  What word is there other than tragic to describe Gareth Hind’s illustrations.  Hinds has taken Shakespeare’s King Lear and whittled down the text to a clear, yet authentic, telling of the play and presented it as a graphic novel.  His characters freely move about the page mimicking the space of a theatre and sometimes there are even dotted stage directions that imply the character’s past steps.  Right now you should be thinking ‘what a genius!’  Like any graphic novel the smallest details have their own story to tell and Hind’s work is no different.  Pay attention to color, when borders do make an appearance, and alterations in style.

I have been a fan of Hind’s work since Beowulf and this did not disappoint.  I enjoyed the play through a new set of eyes where Shakespeare’s world is uniquely envisioned and viscerally moving and I never thought that would be something I would say.  If I ran into the 15 year old Kristin on the street I would hand her my grass stained copy of this book, tell her to stop being so surly (including about Mr. Shakespeare), and to throw away every pair of stretchy pants she owns.

Published in: on April 26, 2010 at 2:53 am  Leave a Comment