Friday, October 31, 2008

55. The Disreputable History of Frankie Landau-Banks - E. Lockhart

For: Young Adults
Published: March, 2008
352 pgs.
Rating: 4/5
Finished: Oct. 30, 2008
2009 Printz Honor

This is a SMART book for young adults. It has feminist overtones, and makes you think.

Frankie Landau-Banks has "blossomed" in the summer between her freshman and sophomore years at Alabaster, an elite private school in northern Massachusetts. Really blossomed. She snags the attention of Matthew Livingston, the cutest and most popular senior, and he quickly becomes her boyfriend. She loves hanging out with his crowd, but when she discovers that he is part of a 50 year-old secret society that is ONLY for boys, something is awakened in her, and she comes up with a brilliant plan to make Matthew notice her for more than her body and her cuteness.

Frankie becomes the mastermind behind all sorts of plots that befuddle the administration, but she does it secretly by pretending, online, that's she's part of the Loyal Society of the Bassett Hounds. "Alpha", Matthew's best friend and the "alpha" leader, takes all the credit. But when Frankie is found out, her plans to impress Matthew with her brains backfire.

The relationship between Frankie and Matthew is not developed enough for me. What in heaven's name does she see in him? She is clever, very smart (she even reads Wodehouse!), and quite a feminist. I could believe how she'd become infatuated with Matthew, but I couldn't believe that it would last very long. She's not superficial, and he is. It was a mesmerizing read, though. Once she began planning her escapades it was fun to watch them all play out.

MOVIE: Zack and Miri Make a Porno

Rating: Fun, Funny, Sweet - and Tasteless, & Raunchy
Viewed: Opening Night, Oct. 31, 2008
Park Place, Halloween Night
Rotten Tomato Rating: 67%
Mine: About the same
EW: C- cag: B
Genre: Comedy
Released 10-31-08
R (1 hr. 41 min.)
Directed by: Kevin Smith
Seth Rogen, Elizabeth Banks

I'll try to keep this as PG as possible, because I know a couple of my students read this blog.

I love Seth Rogen's voice. You don't expect it.

Zack and Miri have been friends since first grade, and now live together as platonic friends in a 2nd floor apartment in Pittsburgh, where they grew up. As the movie opens they're preparing to go to their Thanksgiving-Eve 10th High School Reunion. It's snowed, it's freezing, icy and blech-y. They're broke. The water's turned off, then the electricity. They're burning trash in a barrel in the living room to keep warm. So Zack (who works at a small, privately-owned Starbucks look-alike) cooks up an idea to create a home-made porno to make enough money to pay the bills. After interviewing and hunting, they gather around them a small group of quirky people to be actors and begin their endeavor. Zack and Miri, too, will take part in the movie, as actors, and with each other. And, although the two have been only platonic friends through the years, they realize that what they feel for each other is far more than that.

I'm glad I'm a stay-til-the-end credit watcher. Just before the music credits there's a two or three minute segment advertisihg Zack and Miri Brown's (hint hint) video company - they will come into your home and video your most private moments so that you don't need to watch anyone else's born. Nice touch.

Good music track. And Elizabeth Banks wears an assortment of winter scarves that are a blast!

Wednesday, October 29, 2008

MOVIE: Pride and Glory

Rating: A good-murder-mystery on film
Viewed: Oct. 28, 2008
El Con with Sheila
Rotten Tomato Rating: 34%
Mine: What do they know? This was good!
EW: B+ cag: A
Genre: Crime/Cop movie
Released Oct. 24th, 2008
R (2 hrs 9 min.) a long one
Directed by: Gavin O'Connor
Edward Norton, Colin Farrell, Jon Voight

Matinees before 6 pm have gone up to $7.
Dirty cops are everywhere.
Edward Norton and Colin Farrell are really good actors.
All fact, not opinion.

Okay, this movie has a horrible, sappy title. I thought it had something to do with the Civil War when I first heard it. I had no idea it would be a shoot-em-up NYC cop crime thriller. Sometimes these kinds of movies go careening around NY, giving the audience clues that don't fit because they've not understood all the slurred, rapid-fire cop discussion. You understand all that's going on in this one. It's of the "thinker" type. You're rooting for the hero, the good cop, but you're sure he'll have bad secrets or get killed. Yippee, neither happens. Satisfying ending (at least there are no shocking or sad deaths, only ones that fit into a it-had-to-happen-to-make-things-right scenario).

The Tierney family cop dynasty. Father, two sons, son-in-law. A head honcho, a detective, a patrol cop, a squad commander. Family men. Good cops. And a bad cop.

I really love the way this movie was shot. Lots of close-ups and unusual angles. It was dark. Set in the Washington Heights section of NYC (way, way north on the tip of Manhattan,under the George Washington Bridge), mostly at night, it was d-a-r-k. Even during the limited daytime shots it was dark. Inside the homes it was dark. It was dark inside the bars and drinking establishments. Well, look at the story. One wife is dying of cancer (these parts may have been the toughest to handle for me), another is up to his neck in bad deeds, another is melancholy and sad. Drug addicts, poverty, murders. Dark. Dark.

Edward Norton plays the detective, the thinker; troubled and sad about the upcoming divorce from a wife he still loves. Cooerced into statements made on the stand in a situation two years earlier that he has always regretted. It's lost him a lot. He's a loner now, smart and thoughtful. He lives alone on a tiny boat that's always rockin' and rollin' on the waves, leaking water, and cold. He's our protagonist.

How far do we go to protect family? What does honesty and integrety really mean? What is this....code....that police officers seem to have that makes them instinctively protect each other even if it's wrong? How can someone be an ultra-protective and loving father one minute and a murderer - maybe even a child murderer- the next? The plot was intriguing, but the things it make you think about are even more important.

This was a good, entertaining, well-acted film. I really don't understand movie critics. What are they looking for?

Monday, October 27, 2008

54. Trunk Music - Michael Connelly

AUDIO Read by Dick Hill
For: Adults
Book Published: 1997
Audio Pub: 2006, Brilliance Audio
13 discs
383 pgs.
Rating: 5/5
Finished: Oct. 26, 2008

Another winner from Michael Connelly! A couple of new characters, a marriage, trips between LA and Las Vegas, Harry Bosch's sharp tongue and inablility to follow orders, twists and turns, intricate plots loops, and Dick Hill's superb reading make yet another winner. I've already reserved Angel's Flight, the next book in the series.

A year has passed since Harry's last outing. He has had his earthquake-ruined house rebuilt and returned to work at the Hollywood Homicide Bureau. He has a new boss, a very likeable female named Grace Billets. Finally, someone who sees how smart and honest Harry is, seems like an honest cop, and trusts him. That alone was quite satisfying.

Dirty movie producer Tony Aliso has been found shot and stuffed in his trunk just off Mulholland Drive. It looks like a gang hit, and his activities are traced to Las Vegas, where he is a frequent visitor. We find out that he is laundering money for the biggest "wheel" in Vegas, has a girlfriend there, and his twenty-year marriage to his wife, Veronica, has been a sham now for many years. Introduce a sleazy strip joint manager (who ends up not being who and what he seems to be), the FBI, a planted murder weapon, and the sudden appearance of a woman from Harry's past, and you have Trunk Music. Just when you think you're heading for the finale, another surprise hits the fan. Good stuff.

Biggest question now, where will Connelly go with the scenario he's set up for Harry Bosch? How much time will elapse between this book and the next? And what will he have happen during that time period, behind the scenes. How many more unheard-of people from Harry's past will suddenly appear? Ahh, I can't wait to find out!

Sunday, October 26, 2008

53. The Hunger Games - Suzanne Collins

For: Tweens & YA
Published: 9-14-08
ARC: 407 pgs.
Rating: 5/5
Finished Sat. Oct. 25, 2008

This was one of the many ARC's I got in May at the BEA Conference in LA. I couldn't wait to read it, and once I finally got the chance and started, it was really hard to put down. A real page-turner for sure. Its premise is really horrible, but fascinating. It leaves me with this question: Where are the abundance of reality shows we've been watching multiply in the last few years leading us?

Katniss Everdeen lives in the future, in what is now considered Appalachia, coal country. It's called District 12. America is no longer America, it's called Panem, with a new capital called...The Capitol. She is 16 and has been the food provider in her family ever since her father died in a coal mining accident years before. However, before his death he'd taught her how to sneak into the woods (strictly forbidden) to trap and kill game. She has become an outstanding archer, and with her friend, Gale, is able to provide their critically impoverished, very hungry families with food and supplies, though not much. The entire district is poor, poor, poor.

Every year Panem holds "The Hunger Games". Two young people between the ages of 12 and 18 are chosen by lottery each year to represent their district. Thus, 12 boys and 12 girls leave their homes to take part in the "games", televised throughout the entire country, mandatory to watch, and, like any sporting event, bet upon. The goal? Fight . to . the . end. Be the last person of the 24 left and you become the winner, the hero of Panem. Brutal? Yup. Scary? Yup. Unbelievable? You'd think so, until you read this story.

Of course, because this is the story being told, Katniss becomes the female competetor for District 12. The boy chosen is Peeta, the baker's son (who we find, has had a crush on Katniss since he first saw her as a five-year-old). In a way there are no suprises, since this is the first book of a series of three, we're almost certain that Katniss is going to win. But what about Peeta, who we come to care about and route for? And how will her family survive without her? And what's going to happen in the next two books?

Suzanne Collins has created an intricate story with twists and turns (I kept asking myself :how many ways is she going to have kids die?) Creatively. Expressively. Violent, but not devastatingly so. Sounds really horrible, grizzly, ridiculous - especially to me, an extreme peacemonger. But I couldn't put this book down. It's like Twilight - I hated that the young girl could become so lovestruck that she would do anything to be with a young man, but I couldn't stop reading. Romance? Yes, The Hunger Games also has romance, but a romance with a lot of question marks. I can't believe how much I enjoyed a book with so much violence. But how many of us, in our own minds, ask: What is this world coming to?

Stephen King has written a great, detailed review of the book in Entertainment Weekly, which is also on the Amazon website for the book. If you want to know more, read it at this address:

This book has had quite a few starred reviews, but I think it's going to be viewed in the same way as Twilight. I may be very wrong (I usually am), so we'll see. Happy reading!

Friday, October 24, 2008

Dave Barry and Ridley Pearson IN PERSON

Wednesday was my last day off of the Jewish high holiday season. I haven't been up to the Phoenix area in forever, so I loaded my friends Brenda, Shane, and Rachael into my car and we headed north. After spending a delightful morning in Queen's Creek at the wonderful olive oil farm there, then making a stop at IKEA (who can resist?) we headed for Scottsdale. After visiting a couple of Scottsdale shops, wandering around Old Town Scottsdale (another first!), and a stop at a yummy gellato shop, we headed for The Poisoned Pen Book Shop (still in Scottsdale), where we had front row seats to listen to the extremely entertaining duo cited above.

I've watched all four or five seasons of Dave's World, read a number of Ridley Pearson's mysteries, inhaled many of Dave Barry's columns, and even watched a video of the Rock Bottom Remainders (the "rock" group they're in with Stephen King, Barbara Kingsolver, Amy Tan and someone-else-I-can't remember, and they're right, they're awful, but really, really fun). So listening (and watching) the two of them in person, promoting Science Fair, their new book for middle schoolers, was a real treat. After a few photos, a few anecdotes, and some fun sparring back and forth, they treated us all to a couple of their own science experiments. Oh, yes, when Mentos are dropped into a bottle of Diet Coke, the soda really takes off. Check out the front of my white shirt to see for sure! We stood in line to have books signed, then hit the road home. I crawled into bed about 12:30 - and made it to school on time yesterday morning - very, very glad that I spent my last vacation day of the season on a road trip. Lots of fun. No regrets.

MOVIE: Bottle Shock

Rating: Lots of fun
Viewed: Friday, Oct. 24, 2008
Crossroads (Good 'ole $3.25 movie)
Rotten Tomato Rating: 45%
Mine: Higher, at least 75%
EW: D+ cag: A-
Genre: Comedy/Based on a true story
Released Aug. 6, 2008
PG-13 (1 hr 46 min.)
Directed by: Randall Miller
Freddy Rodriguez !

Set in 1976 Napa Valley, this movie tells the story of a California winery just getting on its feet and a snobby Brit with a Parisian wine shop who, in order to improve business, holds a "blind" competition pitting French wines against California wines. This Brit, played snazzily by Alan Rickman (yup, greasy Snape from Harry Potter) comes to America to search out the best tasing wines. He is surprised at how good they are! That's the main plot, I guess. A secondary plot is the relationship between the father (Bill Pullman) who is totally in hawk trying to start his winery, and his "loser" son (Chris Paine). My biggest complaint - this guy's long blonde "hippy" hair was the fakest looking do I've seen in a long time. A third plot, the one I liked the most and would have loved to see more, was about a young Mexican American employee of Chateau M......(can't remember the exact name, what a dunce) (Freddy Rodriguez). who loved making wine and was a real afficienado. Happy endings all around, our California vineyard won first place, which made them popular all over the US and gave it the boost it needed to get on its feet.

Filmed in Calistoga, Glen Ellen, Napa, and Sonoma (I've been to all those places! !) with soaring birds-eye-view flights across gorgeous vineyards, the setting was realistic and believable. I went to the movie to get lost in someone else's story for a little while, and that's exactly what happened. I enjoyed this movie a lot, and don't agree at all with many of the reviews I read on the Rotten Tomato sight. As usual.

Go see it. There doesn't seem to be much else out there right now that appeals (to me), this was entertaining, interesting, and loaded with great actors.

Wednesday, October 22, 2008

Willow - Denise Brennan-Nelson & Rosemarie Brennan

Illustrator: Cyd Moore
For: Kids, K-1-2ish
Published: 2008
Rating: 4.5
Read: October 22, 2008
Endpapers: Purple that's cooly and completely covered with doodles in white.

Think outside the box. My all-time favorite motto.

Take an uptight art teacher and a free-thinking young girl who loves art and what to you get? This story. I've known a few Willows through the years. And I've known a few Miss Hawthorn's!

The art teacher, Miss Hawthorn, wants all the kids to draw in the same uniform, realistic way. A tree that's a brown trunk and mass of green above. Not a pink tree, or a tree with one big blue apple for the leaves, Willow is the only student to draw what she sees when she closes her eyes. And she brings in her "famous art" book to share with a frowning Miss Hawthorn. Kids aren't allowed to talk or daydream or look out the window in her class. And when Christmas comes, all the other teachers receive presents, but she receives none. But wait! This year, after all the students have left for the Christmas break and the school is empty, she returns to her desk and finds a beautifully-wrapped gift. It's from Willow. And it's her "famous art" book.

Since there's no one waiting fomr Miss Hawthorn at home, she sits down and reads the book. Then she pulls out paper, paint, colored pencils, and begins to doodle. She really gets into it. She must spend the night right there at school, experimenting with color and technique. And when the kids return to school after the break, they return to a completely changed art room....and a completely changed teacher.

Fanciful and fun fun fun. Now let's talk about the illustrations. And the font. Cool font. Artistic but easy to read. Some of teh illustrations are encircled in a water-colory way on the page with the text. Quite a bit of white on those pages, which brings more attention to the story. But the single-page and double-pages that are completely covered in color and detail - such detail- are lots of fun. Lots. This is another book where I'd like to take some of the illustrations and frame them, placing them all over the house and my classroom to make me happy. They're happy pictures.

Great book. The change is Miss Hawthorn is a little unbelievable - most of the art teachers I've met have not been uptight and afraid to think outside the box. But it's a great book to discuss what might have happened to make her this way. Real things happen to real people, and a teacher who loved art enough to teach it would certainly have the creativity and love of color that the Miss Hawthorn-at-the-end-of -the-book had. Yup. This was a good one.

It brings back Fly on the Wall (Lockhart), where the protagonist's artistic style is so disliked by her art teacher, and how that art teacher tries to change her style. Ridiculous.

"Every child is an artist. The problem is how to remain an artist once grown up." -- Pablo Picasso

Tuesday, October 21, 2008

My Friend, the Starfinder - George Ella Lyon

Illustrator: Stephen Gammell
For: Young kids, I guess
Published: 2008
Rating: 2
Read: Oct. 211, 2008
Endpapers: The galaxy - stars and meteors and colors...

I'll probably be the only children's book lover who does not like this book. It didn't work for me. It didn't flow. I have very much enjoyed other Lyon books, but this one just didn't do it for me. I reread it twice after the first reading. Didn't get any bettter. Based on a real old man that she knew as a kid, Lyon remembers how he told her about catching a falling star and bringing it home, and about flying through/with a rainbow. It ends abruptly and weirdly. At least I didn't get it. Maybe kids will. Maybe I'm overtired, but I read it for the first time 24 hours ago. I'll have to revisit it at some future time.

Some of the illustrations are pretty cool, some are gloomy and boring.

Both the author and illustrator are award-winning, admired, and very, very good. But this time out just didn't do it for me. Oh well. Maybe next time...

2008 National Book Award Finalists

On October 15th the announcements for the National Book Award Finalists were made. The "Young People's Literature" category was added back in 1996, and there have been interesting choices and winners ever since. The winners will be announced on November 19th. Think I can read any of these before then?

This year's finalists are:

Chains (Laurie Halse Anderson) I have an ARC waiting on my coffee table, and I love Anderson's work.

The Underneath (Kathi Appelt) Got it from the library but couldn't bring my self to read it, I'm not a big anthropormorphism fan AT ALL (usually hate 'em, actually), so even though this is slated to win numerous awards ths year, I'll be a reluctant reader.

WINNER! What I Saw and How I Lied (Judy Blundell) This is a WWII historical fiction - and Judy Bludell is writing 39 Clues Book #4! Know nothing about her yet, though...and the book won't be published until November 1st!

The Disreputable History of Frankie Landau-Banks (E. Lockhart) I've read three Lockhart's in the last month, but not this one, darn. At least the library has it.

The Spectacular Now (Tim Tharp) Male protagonist. Sounds really interesting, maybe even Stargirlish? Another not-yet-published book, this one we have to wait until Novemer 11th to buy. The library will take FOREVER!

The judges are: Daniel Handler (Lemony Snicket!), chair, Holly Black, Angela Johnson, Carolyn Mackler, and Cynthia Voigt.

And, just because I WANT to be an adult and read adult books (but never have the time), I'll include the five fiction finalists for the National Book Award:

The Lazarus Project (Aleksandar Hemon)
Telex from Cuba (Rachel Kushner)
Shadow Country (Peter Matthiessen) WINNER!
Home (Marilyn Robinson)
The End (Salvatore Scibona)

Silent Music - James Rumford

A Story of Baghdad
For: Kids
Published: 2008
Rating: 4.5
Read: Oct. 21, 2008
Endpapers: Dark Blue

Interestingly enough, James Rumford created the illustrations for this book in pencil and charcoal, then did all the enhancements on the computer. The book is filled with Arabic calligraphy, whether as a background embellishement or written boldly in black across the page..."the letters loop together and make beautiful shapes all by themselves." Arabic mosaics, Arabic designs, money, stamps, postmarks, motifs, are spread throughout the book so that the reader gets a wonderful mideastern feel from beginning to end. I love calligraphy, so the notion of creating this beautiful, flowing writing from right to left completely fascinates me.

The story is about Ali, a boy who loves to write and doodle, proudly practicing the calligraphy of his language as he continues to learn it. Although he loves to play soccer, dance, and listen to loud music like other kids, he is drawn to calligraphy, "I love to make the ink flow - from my pen stopping and starting, gliding and sweeping, leaping, dancing to the silent music in my head.". He tells about Yakut, the most famous calligrapher in the wold, who lived in the 13th century. The last picture is of Ali and his family, mom, dad, sister, grandad (cat and rabbit!), all in Iraqi garb and sitting on a bench with beautiful mosaics behind them. The entire books depicts Iraq and the middle east beautifully making this an expressive multi-cultural picture book on every level.

Addendum: January 24, 2009: I attended a five-hour workshop at the University of Arizona today, taught by Kathy Short and Seemi Raina. It was entitled MidEastern Culture Children's Literature. At the very beginning, Seemi, a doctoral candidate who came to the US eleven years ago from Pakistan, read this book aloud. Her lovely, lilting Urdu accent and added information made this a real treat. As the young boy is surrounded by fallling bombs, he calms himself by prcticing calligraphy..."I filled my mind with peace." At the conclusion of the day, Seemi wrote out each of our first and last names in Arabic calligraphy for us to keep. It was a fantastic five hours, including a wonderful lunch from Ali Baba restaurant.

M is for Mischief - Linda Ashman

An A to Z of Naughty Children
Illustrator: Nancy Carpenter
For: Kids, not too too young, though
Published: 2008
Rating: FIVE
Read: Oct. 21, 2008
Endpapers: Purple

This is going to be a favorite. An ABC book with alliteration, sophisticated vocabulary, poetry, and illustrations that have a little extra something, a different technique, very subtle and very fun. Nancy Carpenter uses what appears to be photographs of real items as part of her drawaings. Now maybe I'm wrong, but check out the pink cowboy boots from Evesdropping Eva, the orange frisbee from Fiendish Frankie, the shrubbery in Hiding Hal, the first place ribbons and trophies from Blustering Buster. A close examination of each page is in order!

Six to twelve-lined poems using alliteration and incredibly good vocabulary tell the stories of 26 very naughty children. Cleverly. Very cleverly. The poems stand alone, but the illustrations are a blast. I just want to read, and examine, and share, share, share. The middle schoolers loved it. The humor, the rhythm, the rhyming, the wording. They wanted to read it aloud to each other.

I always look forward to the letter X. This can be very telling about the cleverness and ingenuity of a writer. Check out Linda Ashman's X:

Experimenting Xavier

Xavier gets excited mixing extracts in the sink.
Mama takes exception, says, "You'll make us all extinct!"
Explains to him explicitly, "You lack the expertise
To execute experiments as difficult a these."

Xavier exclaims to her, "It's just a simple potion!"
But Mama cannot hear him on account of the...

and I love Eavesdropping Eva (and NOT because it's primarily purple and lime green pages):

Eva enjoys hearing every exchange.
She creeps up to eavesdrop at very close range,
While people are eating, or out on a date,
At public events, or a private estate.
A whisper, an echo, and Eva appears,
Eagerly listening, straining her ears.
She'll sneak under tables, or lean from a ledge -
Uh-oh! Now Eva's gone over the edge.

Definitely, one of my favorites of the year.

Blake Shelton

What's goin' on?
Sitting on my living room floor wrapping Christmas gifts last December, I nonchalantly flipped on the tv. Another reality show...Clash of the Choirs...was just beginning. It was to last four or five nights, featuring five different singers from five different American music genres who had hand-picked choirs from their hometowns. Okay. Nick Lachey is cool, the rest I could take or leave (Patti LaBelle, Michael Bolton), two I'd never heard of. One was Blake Shelton, whose Oklahoma City choir was diverse and interesting. And boy, they sounded great. I was taken by Blake Shelton's voice, and then his charm, and when I finally actually looked up from my about beautiful packages! Yup, that's right. I actually said it. It all started then.

I have NEVER enjoyed country music. It was always twangy and drawl-y and, well, generally yucky. I would turn the channel or station immediately upon hearing that twang. But somewhere, somehow, last March or April I heard "The More I Drink" by Blake Shelton. Catchy, catchy , sing-along song. I looked it up on ITunes. I donwloaded the video, the song. I blasted it through the house and danced to it as I loaded the dishwasher. So I decided to actually try out a country music CD. I purchased Pure BS. I listened to it...over and over. And I couldn't get enough. I love this CD. It's the first time in years I've found a CD I love like this, and listen to it over and over. So I spread my wings and purchased the Blake Shelton CD, then the Blake Shelton' Barn and Grille. I download the videos of Some Beach and Old Red.


I love this guy. I love his music. I love his guitar playing. I like the songs he chooses to sing. My favorite is still The More I Drink. But I love Austin, and I Thought There Was Time, I Have Been Lonely and I Don't Care, She Wouldn't Be Gone and She Don't Love Me, She Doesn't Know She's Got It, and on and on. I can't think of one song I don't like. Great beat. Great rhythm. Great voice. I'm in love!

When Dede and I road-tripped across Texas, Oklahoma, and Kansas this summer, Blake Shelton screamed from the open windows as we hit that Oh-My-God-Can-You-Believe-the-Speed-Limit-is-EIGHTY highway. What a blast! And the best news of all - he has a new album out on November 18th! It's called Startin' Fires. He sure starts mine.

Friday My Radio Flyer Flew - Zachary Pullen

For: Kids
Published: 2008
Rataing: 3.5 for kid appeal, 5 for my use as a teacher
Read: October 2008
Endpapers: Pale Cranberry
Very large/almost oversized

I love picture books. I love the art. When the text is good or more-than good, I celebrate. I look for text that I can use in my middle school classroom to draw out responses from kids when I'm teaching figurative language or genre. My fifth graders are always weak when it comes to identifying genre. This is a perfect book to use to begin that discussion. It's short and is full-full-full of alliteration and snazzy verbs to boot! I've ordered a copy, I just wish it would fit up and down on my bookshelf, but it's too tall.

One Saturday I searched... (yeah, elipses! I love elipses!)
...and my dad's old Radio Flyer surfaced.
That Sunday we went for a stroll.
Then on Monday morning I got motivated.
Maybe that old Flyer could really move. (Okay kids, let's talk about capitalization...)
So all day Tuesday...
...I tinkered....
...and by twilight my Flyer twinkled.
But Wednesday was wet. We had to wait.
On Thursday I tried to take off...
...but took tumble after tumble.
Finally on Friday...
...I focused...
...and flew...
...and flew!

And oh, the illlustrations! Big and bold and in-your-face and FUN! I could look and look. They're done in oil paints and walnut medium. Now THAT'S interesting. Walnut medium? Zachary Pullen also illustrated The Toughest Cowboy (John Frank). I'm going to have to look for that one.

I took this book in to school a few days ago and shared it with my 8th graders. Two of the boys grabbed it immediately, and I'm not sure what they were looking for, but they quickly read it and put it aside. Would it have been different if it had been read aloud to them? I'm going to have to read it aloud to a class and see the reaction. And younger kids? I'll have to experiment with that, too.

So this book will go beside Weslandia, Violet the Pilot, Come On, Rain, My Mama Had a Dancing Heart, and Sleeping Ugly on my teaching bookshelf. Big grin.

Sunday, October 19, 2008

The Day Leo Said I Hate You - Robie H. Harris

Illustrator: Molly Bang
For: Young kids
Published: 2008
Rating: 4.5
Read: Oct. 19, 2008
Endpapers: FRONT: Orange with messy chalk drawing of a frowning mom, BACK: Lavender with a purple drawing of a neat, smiling mom.

Textures are drawn to look like you should, and could, touch them. Mom's verigated sweater, Leo's colorful quilt and handknit socks add a subtle homey tone.

Imagine if all you heard all day was NO. Frustrating or what? Never mind that the NO's are for squishing tomatoes, dropping string beans into the fish bowl, squeezing toothpaste down the toilet, and drawing with crayon on your bedroom wall. Leo explodes! And after he tells his mom to go to her room for "one hundred whole days", the horrible "I hate you" flies out of his mouth in giant yellow/orange words on a very purple page - and he can't take them back.

After they have a good discussion about the difference between saying you hate broccolii and saying that you hate a PERSON, all is resolved with love.

No white! Great book.

Twenty-six Princesses - Dave Horowitz

For: Kids...and not just girls...
Published: 2008
Rating: 4/5
Read: October, 2008
Endpapers: Two shades of lavender, cut paper doll princess silhouettes holding hands, each with a letter of the alphabet across their body
Cute couplets.

Princess Alice. First to the palace. (Lots of frowing frogs at the door.)
Princess Betty. Still getting ready. (A frog is her servant.)
Princess Criss. Stealing a kiss. (Abominable spelling! Oh well. Frowning frog is pushing her away as her lips approach.)
Princess Dot. A lady she's not.
Princess Elle. Starting to yell.
Princess Flo. Waiting to go. (Frog repairman is trying to fix wheel as Flo frowningly watches.)
Princess Grace. Making a face.
.....and so on.
(Princess Nell. What's that smell? She's "toot"ed.)
Princess Zaire. Finally there.
Put 'em all together and what do you get?

The last two-page spread is everyone at the party - it's fun trying to pick out who's who. And all the guys are frogs.

No white space. large pages, illustration is in a center rectangle, outlined in a thin white line, the framed with a complimentary color to the edge of the page. The pictures aren't really exciting;, but they're fun.

Night of the Moon - Hena Khan

A Muslim Holiday Story
Illustrator: Julie Paschkis
For: Kids (and clueless adults)
Published: 2008
Rating: 5
Read: October, 2008 (during Ramadan!)
Endpapers: Blue/Aqua/Gold detail from Islamic tiles

Two wonderful things about this picture book - the illustrations and the information.

The illustrations. They remind me of batik, my very favorite fabric. The outline for each picture is done in an ivory/cream-colored line. How? It says they were "rendered in gouache and permanent masking medium on paper". I'm not sure what this means, but it sure is intriguing. And there's no negative space. None at all. Each illustration is framed by a shape; rectangles, tablets, mosque-shaped araches. And outside those frames, all the way to the edge of the page, is an Islamic tile motif...lots and lots of different designs in rich blues, aquas, turquoises. Camels and suns and leaves and flowers. Its almost like that thin ivory/cream line is the grout holding hundreds of pieces of ceramic together. Mmmmmm. Love it.

The information. The story is about Yasmeen, a Muslim girl living in the US. At the beginning of the month of Ramadan (the ninth month in the Muslim year) Mr. Sanchez, her teacher, introduces the holiday to his multi-racial class. Throughout the story we learn about fasting, special meals, partying, gift-giving, henna hand-painting, Eid, and how the moon and lunar calendar are the basis for the Muslim calendar.

I've been lucky enough to attend two different end-of-Ramadan feasts with Turkish friends. The food! The graciousness! Another wonderful culture to savor and enjoy. And this book celebrates this holiest of months in a gorgeous feast for the eyes. Great book.

The Black Book of Colors - Menena Cottin

Illustrator: Rosana Faria
Tranlated by Elisa Amado
Both author and illustrator are from Venezuela
For: Any and all
Publilshed: 2006
Rating: 5
Read: October, 2008, many times
Endpapers; Black - as they should be.

What an incredible premise. A picture book written to be touched. Black as a-night-with-no-moon pages. Short white font in the lower left is all we SEE. The rest we have to feel.

Above the one-sentence of text is the sentence written in braille. And then, the entire facing page is a raised illustration to be touched. "Thomas says that yellow tastes like mustard, but is as soft as a baby chick's feathers." Fliuffy feathers float across the facing page, lovely to see when you can get the light just right, and SO difficult for the unaccustomed, desensitised fingers to feel. "Red is sour like unripe strawberries and as sweet as watermelon. It hurts when he finds it on his scraped knee." A huge, plump strawberry attached to its vine, with two smaller strawberries as well. "Brown crunches under his feel like fall leaves. Sometimes it smells like chocolate, and other times it stinks."

The last page is the braille alphabet. I cannot feel these dots. It all feels the same to me. How do people do it? This is one of the most thought-provoking picture books I've read in a long time.

Thursday, October 16, 2008

MOVIE: Transsiberian

Rating: Hey, this was good!
Viewed: Thurs., Oct. 16, 2008
Crossroads Cheapie
Rotten Tomato Rating: 92%
Mine: Not quite that high, 80??
EW: B- cag: B+
Genre: Suspense Thriller
Released: July 18, 2008
R (1 hr. 51 min.)
Directed by: Brad Anderson

Woody Harrelson was cutely innocent and fun to watch. Eduardo Noriega, a 35-year-old Spanish hottie, was gorgeous, Kate Mara was intriguing. It's always fun to watch good old Ben Kingsley, too. I enjoyed the acting choices, other than Emily Mortimer. I think you were supposed to really "feel" for her, but I didn't. Since I didn't sympathize with her, I was ambivalent about her outcome, which made the storyline less suspensful for me, not a bad thing -- I just sat back and enjoyed all the plot twists without the nail-biting.

A youngish couple (Harrelson and Mortimer) are traveling from China to Moscow, across Siberia, on a six-day train ride. They are joined in their tiny sleeper by another couple (Oriega and Mara). Drug runners, good cops/bad cops, dour Russians, drunken Russians, a bit of intrigue, and lots of snowy miles later, an interesting story unfolds. What I liked best is that it's not so convoluted that you have to think and scratch your head and try to figure out how all the loose ends fit together. It works. And it was very, very entertaining.

Friday, October 10, 2008

52. When It Happens - Susan Colasanti

For: Young Adults (for sure)
Published: 2006
Setting: New Jersey
310 pgs.
Rating: 3.5 for fun
Read: Oct. 10, 2008
Read in one long sitting

This was a very satisfying, predictable, high school romance with a happy ending. Just what everyone wants and needs once in awhile, no matter how much they say they don't.....

The Washington Post says: "When It Happens is sort of like high school itself: The outcome may be predictable, but what's really important is what happens along the way." It is, indeed, a "fun romance", as it quotes on the back cover.

The story is told alternately between the two protagonists, both high school seniors, Sara, a very bright, hard-working young lady, and Tobey, a very bright self-proclaimed slacker who is a music afficionado. We go through Sara's crush on Dave, a really good-looking, popular jock who she discovers, very shortly after they begin dating, has nothing remotely in common with her, and at the same time we observe Tobey's yearnings for Sara. Tobey is a really sweet, sensitive, sexy too-good-to-be-true-or-bellieved young man that every mom wants to think is just like her own son.

Sara has two best friends with whom she shares all, Tobey has two best friends with whom he shares most, the popular crowd are typically mean and self-centered...there are no surprises here, but no frustrations, either....just an enjoyable read with a satisfying ending.... and doesn't everyone needs that kind of fix once in awhile, especailly on a Friday night before an extra long weekend?

Thursday, October 9, 2008

51. Brooklyn Bridge - Karen Hesse

Illustrator: Chris Sheban
For: Middle Grades
Published: September 2008
225 pgs.
Rating: 5/5 Tops
Read and finished: Oct. 9, 2008
Endpapers: Map of Brooklyn with important places noted. I referred to this map often.

Five years since Karen Hesse has written a new novel, and it was well worth the wait. I can hear kids saying, "I don't get it", and I'll say...."you're not supposed to get it yet. You will, soon, and it'll be worth it."

There are two major and one minor alternating storylines happening. You could remove the minor one with no problem - I almost wish it wasn't included, but I guess I can see why it is. This minor story line happens at the end of most chapters, and is a quote from one of the newspapers of the time (New York Times and Brooklyn Daily Eagle) about Coney Island. For example: "Leaving the worries of the world outside the gate, visitors come to be entertained and to become part of the entertainment." -- The Brooklyn Daily Eagle. Coney Island becomes almost a character in the story, a setting that drives our protagonist's feelings in many ways - desire, envy, jealousy, and, I guess, selfishness.

Joseph Michtom (rhymes with victim) lives in 1903 Brooklyn. Born there, the eldest son of Russian immigrants who have been lucky and "struck gold", he lives with his parents, baby brother and 10-year old sister in a crowded apartment in an apartment building in a Brooklyn neighborhood where everyone knows everyone else. His parents have created the first TEDDY BEAR, after they read about Teddy Roosevelt's refusal to shoot a bear, and it's an insant, overnight success. This throws the entire family into a bit of a turmoil, since they all have to pitch in and help.

There's a large extended family, three paternal aunts who live on the lower east side of Manhattan and, for some reason, refuse to cross the bridge to Brooklyn, a maternal uncle who is a "free thinker", and many, many interesting immigrants that the family befriends. There are many, many intriguing sideplots, including Joseph's sister Emily's opportunity to run a community library at their home, their baby brother Benjamin's almost fatal case of grippe (that's what my own grandmother used to call it when I got the flew as a kid!), different ways that hard-working people can help others, and buying and owning real estate in turn-of-the-century New York.

The third storyline is about the various abandoned/runaway/lost/exploited kids that live under the Brooklyn Bridge. Throughout the story we get to know these kids in eloquent, interesting short blurbs, and the reason is finally revealed at the end of the book.

Wow. Talk about weaving a book together! A quickish read, but much fodder for deep thinking and lots and lots of historical happenings thrown in (sheep and a shepherd in the park in Brooklyn in 1903, the Brooklyn Superbas baseball team - ever heard of them? immigrations from Russia, citizenship, and of course, Coney Island the way it used to be.

50. Fly on the Wall - E. Lockhart

How One Gir Saw Everything
For: YA
Published: 2006
182 pgs.
Rating: 3.5/Fun
Finished: Oct. 8, 2008

This is the third E. Lockhart novel I've read - all for the TARC YA Reading Group. Lockhart's audience is the female late middle-school/early high-schooler who likes romance novels. I recommended this book to an 8th grader who as been emrboiled in the Clique series (gag), and she liked it a lot. It's led her to others of this genre that are SO much better than the Cliques.

Gretchen Yee, a 16-year-old half-Jewish, Half-Chinese comic book artist, attends the Manhattan School for the Arts, where no one want to be normal or "average". This is tough for her, because that's exactly how she considers herself. Nonetheless, she dies her hair bright red in an attempt to fit in. She has a best friend, Katya, but holds herself off from many of the other students. Literature and Drawing are the two subjects she's having trouble with - Drawing because her art teacher is trying to get her to abandon the comic book style that she loves, and literature because....well, she really doesn't care about literature. The sophomore class is currently studying Kafka's Metamporhasis, and she could care less. She has a huge crush on Titus, a classmate that also appears to be a very nice young man, popular with the Art Rats (the sophomore drawing program), but laments that she doesn't understand boys at all.

One weekend she is magically changed into a fly in the boy's locker room, where she resides for a week, not understanding how she got there or if she'll ever be able to return to her own life. What she observes for this week will change her life, change her confidence in herself, and help her understand boys a whole lot more.

It's a great premise, and I like the way bullying and homophobia are handled. It's an entertaining story, seemingly lighthearted but with a couple of pretty powerful messages included.

Sunday, October 5, 2008

Forever Young - Bob Dylan

Illustrator: Paul Rogers
For: Everyone, especially aging hippies
Published: Sept 23, 2008
Rating: 5 Now on my WISH LIST
Read: Oct. 5, 2008
Endpapers: White: FRONT has an illustration of Dylan with a sign: "Dig Yourself", BACK is the rear of a red VW bug (seen in the book) with bumper sticker: "Don't Look Back"

I want a poster of this book.

As we read the lyrics to this well-known song, we are treated to illustrations that not only follow Dylan's life, but are full of details and tidbids of many of his other songs and the times. Depicted are the famous places of the 60's folk scene, as wll as some of the personages. Nostaligic but not old-fashioned, I poured over the illustrations with gusto (or at least as much gusto as can be displayed in a busy Borders' cafe).

There's lots of negative white space surrounding the illustrations (which I usually don't like), but it works beautifully. This is for sure going to be on my wish list - and I'm writing to Atheneum/Simon and Schuster to see about a poster. They should have included a CD!

Mmmmmmm mmmmmmm good.

Wish - Roseanne Thong

Illustrator: Elisa Kleven ! !
For: Kids of all ages, families
Published: 2008
Rating: VERY cool....yup....5
Read: Oct. 3, 2008
Endpapers: World map with the fifteen locations and tiny drawings for each

Fifteen countries are depicted, first with a quatrain, followed by information about the "wishful" tradition that is being highlighted.

Guatemala, Japan, Iran (Persia), Russia, South Africa, Ireland, India, Brazil, Italy, China, Australia, Israel, Mexico, Thailand, and America's birthday candles.

Racing swiftly throught the graves
we launch our giant kites,
so they will carry wishes
as they soar to heaven's heights. (Guatemala)

In Jerusalem's old quarter,
family members big and small
place wishes into ancient cracks
along the Western Wall. (Israel)

There are lucky symbols hiding in the pictures. And the pictures -- well, I LOVE Elisa Kleven's illustrations, and these don't disappoint. Collagy and busy and softly covering the entire page except for the 4 x 4 white, quilt-framed text on each double page spread. The quatrain is done in a hard-to-read cursive font - it needs to be bolder or bigger of a different font. The explanation font that used following the quatrian words fine...

Families can use some of these with their own kids. It'd make a nice gift for the right family. Think I'll give it to Laura...

Wonder Bear - Tao Nyeu

Wordless Picture Book
For: Kids, I guess...
Published: Sept, 2008
Rating: 2.5 (Pictures nice, storyline blech)
Read: Oct. 3, 2008
Endpapers: Blue-on-white overlapping triple-lined scallops. Excellent.

This book has an old-fashioned look, reminds me of an old picture book, but I'm not sure which one. The cover has a really attractive sheen to it. Green, blue, mustard, orange and black on white.

Two kids plant seeds, go to bed, and dream. An amazing stalk grows, from which a magical white bear with a blue hat appears. He introduces himself to the children and pulls mustard-colored peanut-monkeys with black furry appendages one-by-one from the hat - dozens of them. Then the bear blows bubbles that are shaped like lions, each catching and carying a now-brown monkey into the air. From the hat come flowers which the white bear eats, blowing into the air comes streams of sea animals - dolphins, octopi, and seals, who all swim through the sky with the monkeys, the bear, and the children. They fall to the ocean, then swim back to land where they put the kids to bed and dssappear back up the stalk. The white bear climbs into the blue hat, which flies out into the sky.

Okay, it's a weird , magical dream. The illustrations are simple, colorful, fanciful, and imaginative. I wish there were more "plot" to the dream. Young kids? Probably not. Older kids? Perhaps. I'm skeptical - it's cool, but will kids get it?

The Three Swingin' Pigs - Vicky Rubin

Illustrator: Rhode Montijo
For: Kids
Published: 2007
Rating: Fun
Endpapers: Dark Orange

I am always on the lookout for fractured fairy tales - someday I'm going to write a curriculum using them. I stumble on them every once in awhile, as I did a week ago at the library - this was standing up on a shelf above the picutre books. Dark reds and purples and oranges are used in fully illustrated, edge-to-edge acrylic drawings. Much of the easy-to-read font is white on the dark illustration. Its fun to look at, and it's fun to read. It's jazzy.

Yup, a jazz version of the three little pigs:

Satch played sax. Wee-wee-wee-wee!
Mo played bass. Doont-doont-dun-duhhh!
And Ella sang. Scat-scooby-dooby, scat-scooby-dooby, skit-scat-skedoodle, shoooo!

You can hear the music as your read. It reads aloud really well, and I can picture kids taking parts. the Hogland Woods there lived a wolf, and he was baaaaaaaad. On a typicl wolf day, he ate up six coach mice, sate down on other people's tffets, and went around in the most unwolflike of getups. A real bad cat.

It turns out that Wolfie joins the pigs and thye begin a band: 3 Swingin' Pigs and Wolfie. Great fun. Great words. Great music. A cool choral reading (one of my favorite things).

Saturday, October 4, 2008

Halloween Night - Marjorie Dennis Murray

Illustrator: Brandon Dorman
For: Kids that won't get scared too easily (blurb says 5-9)
Published: 2008
Rating: 5/Loved it
Read: Oct. 3, 2008
Endpapers: Bright orange, front has green ghoul running from bats that carry green gook (rotten eggs), back has fallen ghoul covered with the slimy green-goosh splats of the dropped rotten eggs

This delightful Halloween picture book is written in couplets in the same rhyme and rhythm pattern of "Twas the Night Before Christmas". Delicious words. Boldly illustrated in edge-to-edge purples and greens and oranges (no white - yeah!), the creatures and their Halloween party are a blast - even if you're not a Halloween lover (moi) ! !

Twas Halloween night, and all through the house
Every creature was stirring, including the mouse
The walls were aflutter with little brown bats
While hordes of black spiders crept out of the cracks.

There's a bevy of banshees, witches, zombies, mummies...all preparing a party for trick-or-treaters. Ten arrive, kids dressed as witches and toads and vampires and mummmies, who are totally freaked out when they see:

Mummies and harpies and creepy green things,
Fishtails and stinkbugs, and dragonfly wings;
Newts and toads and lizards and mice,
Flies in the soup and crickets on ice;
A ghost in the parlor and bats in the den,
The witch's pet monster OUTSIDE of its pen,
And Ogre and Olaf and all of their friends!

The kids all run away, but the party-givers become the party-goers and have the "best party ever".

This book could be scary for little kids -- the creepy characters are meant to be! I looked and looked and relooked and reread this book. It was really fun - and I am NOT a Halloween lover, just an old fart.

Wednesday, October 1, 2008

MOVIE: Hamlet 2

Rating: Expecting More
Viewed: Friday Sept. 28, 2008
Crossroads Cheap Theater
Rotten Tomato Rating: 63%
Mine: Lower, Probably about 40%
EW: B+ cag: C-
Genre: Comedy
Released Aug. 27, 2008
R (1 hr. 32 min.)
Biggest Hit of the 2008 Sundance Film Festival

I couldn't wait to see this movie. It's set in Tucson (although filmed in NM and Mesa, the name of the high school, is near Phoenix).

We spend the first 2/3 of the movie laughing at this poor schmuck who loves movies and, though he has had a few roles. is not a very good actor. So he and his wife (the wonderful Catherine Keener) move to Tucson where he becomes a HS drama teacher to an adoring class of two. You feel badly laughing at him, but it's eaither that or roll your eyes.

The last 1/3 of the movie is the best. A group of Hispanic students have joined them - their extra curricular activities have been cut - and they produce Hamlet 2, a play that our protagonist has written - about what would have happened if there'd been a time machine and everyone hadn't died at the end of the original Halmlet. It was great! It was a musical -- the number "Rock Me Sexy Jesus" was a HOOT!

Lots of cuts and slurs about Tucson. Grrrrr. Gary, the "boring" boarder who runs off with Catherine Keener was an unrecongnizable David Arquette. That was fun. Elizabeth Shue is a herself as a nurse that's fed up with Hollywood. There's a LOT of great stuff in this movie, but there's enough not-great stuff to overshadow it. Darn. It was entertaining, but I wouldn't watch it again. (I WILL download Sexy Jesus, though...)