Sunday, May 31, 2009

The Curious Garden - Peter Brown

For: Kids
Copyright: 2009
Rating: 4
Endpapers: FRONT: Gray scattered with small rocks, BACK: Bright freen scattererd with grass, flowers, and tiny mushrooms growing

Liam lives in a city of concrete, with nothing growing. One day he cllimbs up to some abandoned overhead railroad tracks and discoveres some weeds and a tiny tree trying to grow. So he becomes a gardener, watering and pruning and caring for the weeds. The weeds and mosses, because of this care, begin to spread. Eventually it travels the lenght and breadth of the abandoned tracks, down the sides of the bridge, and onto roofs of nearby building. All it took was the gentle caring of one boy.

In the Author's Note in the back of the book, Brown describes an old elevated railway on the west side of Manhattan that was abandoned in the 80's , then "redecorated" by nataure. I'd sure love to discover it. I wonder if it still exists?

MOVIE - Mrs. Palfrey at the Claremont

On Demand - this morning, Sunday May 31st
Originally hit the screens 11/25/2005
RT: 69% cag 91%
1:48 (N)
Joan Plowright, Rupert Friend (he was "introduced" in this film...)
Direcor: Dan Ireland
from the book by the lat English author Elizabeth Taylor

I'm not sure why I loved this movie so much that I'm inclluding it here. I don't want to forget it. I even want to watch it again (which, other than for a very few, is unusual). It was really well done. It was beautifully crafted. It had great dialogue, a wonderful message, a touch of poetry and innocence and a whole lot of love. When it came out and was at the Loft I attempted to go see it on numerous occasions, but it never panned out. I'm glad...very glad....I finally got to see it.

An elderly woman and a young man become fast friends. The young man has chosen to live without material objects, making music on the street for donations, while he writes. He has no computer, only an old typewriter. The elderly woman moves into a hotel where other elderly people live, taking meals with them at separate tables in an elegant dining room. They sit separately and speak to one another only at the end of the meal. However, they become friends. The young man, at Mrs. Palfrey's request, pretends to be her grandson, Desmond. She becomes "Sassa" to him. Their relationship grows. They listen to each other.

This is a story of friendship. Friendship among lovers, among different generations, among lonely people. (However, what the story says about family relationships, actual blood relationships, leaves me a bit bummed. Is it saying that with responsibility, love and tenderness and caring become unimportant? I'm going to have to think about this....)

Yes, it's a thinking movie. I didn't intend to cry at the end, but a drop or two did roll down my cheek. I hate sad endings, though this only had elements of sadness, it was actually quite a joyful movie. I do want to watch it again.

RT Consensus: "Bittersweet and endearing, this film about aging and unexpectded friendship is a lovely vehicle for Joan Plowright."

Saturday, May 30, 2009

29. Indigo Slam - Robert Crais

Read by David Stuart
Unabridge CD/Brilliance Audio
7 CD's - 7 hours
Rating: 4.5

I should probably rate this a 5, but there was just a little too much shoot-em-up action for me at the end. I just love these characters, though. Elvis Cole, private detective, who has a Pinnochio clock and Disney figurines in his office, lives in an A-Fram, and drives a yellow 1966 Corvette. Joe Pike, his powerful, smart, and deadly "sidekick". Lucy Chenier, his lady-love, a lawyer from Louisiana who is trying to obtain a job in LA. And this case's protagonists, three children looking for their father. It turns out their father is a counterfeiter fleeing the Russian mob. He's also avoiding the US Marshalls, who, in trying to protect them three years before, botched it. He no longer trusts them.

So we have these three interesting kids: Terry, 15, the mother hen, who has her GED and drives, Charles, 12, a foul-mouthed kid who uses his mouth to cover up all his uncertainties, and 9 year-old Winona, innocent and happy. At the end it looks like Elvis may be left as guardian to the kids, so it'll be interesting to see if Crais mentions them in future books.

Lots of twists and turns - i'm getting so I can predict them pretty well ! -- a zillion ways for the good guys to die but they never do -- a lot of humanity and just a little tender down-home lovin' make a really good read.

I read an article where Robert Crais and Elvis Cole are compared to Robert B. Parker and Spenser. They love their cities, (LA and Boston) you can follow them around in your mind because they give a lot of good directions and locales, they both have tough sidekicks (Joe Pike and Hawk) and significant lady loves (Lucy Chenier and Susan Silverman). They each even have a pet they talk about all the time (a cat in LA, a dog in Boston). They are both even good cooks, though, thank goodness, Elvis isn't quite as philosophical as Spenser. I guess it's time for the latest Spenser, huh?

28. Every Soul a Star - Wendy Mass

For: Middle Grades & Middle School
Published: Oct. 2008
322 pages
Rating: 5

This is the second Wendy Mass book I've read and I've become a fan. She knows how to tell a good story. This one, told in three voices, is wonderful.

Ally's parents moved to the middle of nowhere when she was small. They run an unusual campground, the Moon Shadow. They chose this spot because it's the perfect place to see a total eclipse of the sun, and they've been preparing for it for years. Ally has been homeschooled, loves where she lives, and is an expert on the skies: comets, asteroids, stars, you name it. However, she knows very little about the world outside her domain.

Bree is a self-centered A-clique pretty girl who just happens to be the daughter of two scientific-geek parents. She has her summer...and her life...all planned out when her parents drop the bomb-shell that they are going to take over the Moon Shadow Campground, in the middle of nowhere, for three years. Bree and her younger sister will be homeschooled there.

Jack is a self-proclaimed loser. Pudgy, clumsy, and lacking any self-confidence at all, he has failed science and must attend summer school. When his science teacher propositions him to attend a two-week Eclipse tour to the Moon Shadow Campground as his assistant, he goes, but with great trepidation.

The three, of course, meet. They bond, along with two younger 10 year-old siblings and another male "camper" named Ryan, share astronomy adventures, and change, all for the better, of course. And readers learn a lot about astronomy along the way. It's a feel good book. I'm not sure how realistic it is, but I do feel that relationships like the ones formed in the book DO happen. There's even a wise old lady that always wears sweatsuts to get attached to. Lots going on. I did, indeed, enjoy reading this tale.

FIRST LINE: "In Iceland, fairies live inside of rocks. Seriously. They have houses in there and schools and amusement parks and everything."

I've done a little research on Wendy Mass. I like both 11 Birthdays and Every Soul a StarI'm going to read more of her this summer.

Friday, May 29, 2009

MOVIE - Angels & Demons

Nonstop action with never a dull moment!
Viewed May 27 at El Con
PG-13 (2:20)
RT: 37% cag: 70%
Tom Hanks, Ewan McGregor
Director: Ron Howard

It seems like I've been rating a lot of movies at 70% or so lately. That's good. Means I've not been disappointed.

I read this book early in 2001. It kept me occupied while Steve was sick when no other book could. So I've remembered it quite well, which isn't usually the case. However, I went to the movie with the attitude I was going to watch it as a movie in itself and not compare it to the book. I was pretty much able to do that. And sure, some of the plotline was the same. I also totally remembered who the BAD GUY was (I didnt' want to),even though as the ending approached I thought that part may have been changed. I DO think the ending of the movie was changed from the ending of the book, but that was totally okay. It worked. Except now I've got to get ahold of a copy of the book and see if I remembered, perhaps, the ending of ANOTHER book....

Tom Hanks and his female sidekick go on a crazy ride through the city of Rome from historical church to historical church following clues related to the illustrious Illuminati that Hanks' character is such an expert on. He matches wits with Vatican priests and Swiss guards, trying to prevent the murder of four cardinals and the destruction (literally) of the Vatican while the Cardinals are locked in voting for a new pope. Ah, such hair-raising excitement. I remember this book made me ask a multitude of questions about the politics of the Catholic church, many more than the movie did....

It was fun to watch. I had a nervous stomach by the end, though. Tom Hanks is so much fun to watch!

Tuesday, May 26, 2009

27. The Year the Swallows Came Early - Kathryn Fitzmaurice

Booklist Starred Review
Grades 4-6, ages 9-12
273 pages
Published Feb. 2009
Rating: 5

Madelyn, my Because of Winn Dixie lover, is going to adore this book. I can't wait to share it with her. This is Kathryn Fitzmaurice's first . Wow. And here's an oxymoron for you, it's a simple, complex book. There's a little bit of everything in it, and real people, imperfect adults, imperfect kids, but real. That's what I liked best. There's lots of metaphor and symbolism, but when it comes right down to it, it's the books simplicity that got me. I couldn't put it down.

Groovy Robinson's in the sixth grade, and all of a sudden her life is turned upside-down. Her father is arrested and taken to jail, and Groovy knows not why. When her mother finally tells her the story, her whole world is shaken, and the father she'd been ready to welcome home no matter what he'd done looks a lot different in her eyes. The normally-positive kid goes into a decline, even refusing to be called "Groovy", the nickname her father gave her, but her given name, Eleanor, instead. Her love for cooking, her plans to be educated at a great cooking school, disappear. She mopes. She's depressed. Many stories are woven into this one. Her best friend, Frankie's problems with his wandering mom. Even her mother's horoscope, supersticious-filled pronouncements and her firned Mirasol's determination to be an artist all work into the plotline. It's a delicious story. It's real.

It takes place in or near San Jaun Capistrano, California, where the swallows are said to return thousands of miles every year at the same time (like the monarch butterflies to Monterey). However, I researched a bit on the internet (isn't that what a good story's supposed to do, make you think further and relate to it?) and it sounds like they haven't returned for a few years. Nevertheless, I'm hoping my summer jaunt through southern and mid-coastal California next month will take me to this well-defined setting so that I can see it for myself. And one of the California Missions is here, too!

FIRST LINE: "We lived in a perfect stucco house, just off the sparkly Pacific, with a lime tree in the backyard and pink and yellow roses gone wild around a picket fence."

Sunday, May 24, 2009

Our Abe Lincoln - Jim Aylesworth

An Old Tune with New Lyrics
Illustrator: Barbara McClintock
for: Young kids
Rating: 5

A class is putting on a play about Abe Lincoln, accompanied by simple words to the thune of "The Old Grey Mare." I sang the words as I read from page to page. The following is from the middle of the book:

Friend Abe Lincoln go sent of to Washington
........Sent of to Washington
........Sent off to Washington
Friend Abe Lincoln got sent too to Washington
........Many campaigns ago.
Kind Abe Lincoln then led as the president
........Led as the president
........Led as the president
Kind Abe Lincoln then led as the president
........Many cruel days ago.

Simple. You get the picture. It tells the story of Abraham Lincoln simply, first facts for younger kids to have and hold and take with them through life.

There's no white - pale yellow instead - one full page is a framed illustration, the facing page has the stage curtains on top and side with additional drawring across the bottom, beneath the lyrics.

Very, very nice.

Saturday, May 23, 2009

The Pied Piper's Magic - Steven Kellogg

Rating: 5
For: Kids
Front endpapers: Elf walking through a lovely forest
Back endpapers: Pied Piper Fountan full of happy people swimming

Take one happy fairy tale full of magic and fun and imagination, add colorful full-page illustrations by Steven Kellogg, and every kid AND adult will be smiling. Sure, it's a corny, predictable story, but it's clever and charming, too.

A take on the pied piper, but many changes and additions make it practically a new story. Peterkin the elf has decided to look for work and spread a little happiness, so he sets off until he finds a run-down house in the woods. Elbavol, the witch, has always been unhappy, but Peterkin does such a topnotch cleaning jog that she gives him a pipe (horn) that has magical power that she's never been able to find. He discovers that it plays words, and if he flips over backwards, the words reverse.

Okay, one wicked king and many rats/star later, Elbavol/Lovable and the king marry and everyonee is happy, happy, happy!

A Writing Kind of Day - Ralph Fletcher

Poems for Young Poets
for: Intermediate Grades
Rating: 4 (a 3-5 range of poems, graphics, not illustrations, are "ih")
811.54F at Library

Ralph Fletcher lives in New Hampshire, and I'm quite sure that at one time he was a part of Teacher's College Writing Project. He's written a lot of poems for kids, about kids, and books about writing poems. All the poems in this book are about writing, poems, poetry, words....they're really fun. What follows are a few particular favorites:

(Oh, what a great dedication:
For Cynthia Rylant, your delicious poems and stories continue to inspire me.")

Frost in the Woods

Uncle John lives in New Hampshire
near where Robert Frost was born.

He puts on his red plaid hunting shirt
and takes me hiking in the woods.

The leafless trees throw shadows
that dye the snow blue and black.

I ask him: Do you own these woods?
He answers: I’m renting them from God.

It’s just the tripm-tromp of our boots
until my uncle stops to recite a poem:

The way a crow
Shook down on me
The dust of snow
From a hemlock tree . . .

When he’s done the words keep echoing
in a quiet place that has opened inside me.

I ask him: Did y ou write that poem?
He says: I rented it from Robert Frost.

Bill of Sale

We read a poem
about a bill of sale
for a slave girl
named Lydia Wells.

She was sold for $133
on July 18, 1858, to a man
named Samuel Rothrock.

Coming home on the bus
I kept picturing Lydia,
the same age as me,
her bare feet in the dirt,
standing in the hot sun,
sold like an animal
to the highest bidder.

In a country like America
how could this ever happen?
How can I go on with my life?


Poetry is like some
sugar-crazed teenager
who just got a license
but refusees to follow
the rules of the road.

It races out of control
then jams up the traffic by
going reeaaaaaal slooooooow.
It turns up the music so loud
you can’t figure out how it Decides
to capitalize certains Words.
Punctuation? Ha! A joke!
Won’t use complete sentences.

And why does it refuse to
The most annoying thing?
Poetry won’t shut up.
It embarrasses everyone
by telling the truth.

In the Land of Words - Eloise Greenfield

New and Selected Poems
Illustrator: Jan Spivey Gilchrist
2004 (Why have I never seen this before? ? ?)
Rating: 5, oh yes
Catalogued 811.54G

The library just purchased this book - I'm the first one to borrow it, it looks brand new. I've never seen or heard of it, but it was published in 2004. Where has it been hiding? It includes over twenty wonderful poems, many about poetry and poems and words and story. And Jan Spivey Gilchrist, who has teamed up with Eloise Greenfield in many of her books, has created fabric collage illustrations! She uses a running stitch about a quarter inch from the cut edge, and they look wonderful. This sure makes another great model - have kids find (or write) a poem they love and illustrate it by cutting felt. If kids are younger they can glue to adhere, but stitching could be done of at least the largest cut piece. Wonderful, wonderful.

How can I choose just one poem to include here? I can't.

In the Land of Words

In the land
of words,
I stand as still
as a tree,
and let the words
rain down on me.
Come, rain, bring
your knowledge and your
music. Sing
while I grow green
and full.
I’ll stand as still
as a tree,
and let your blessings
fall on me.


I step into the story,
I leave my world behind,
I let the walls of my story
Be the walls around my mind.

New faces and new voices,
I listen and I see,
and people I have never met
mean everything to me.

I worry when they worry,
I quake when danger’s near,
I hold my breath and hope
that all their troubles disappear.

I don’t know what will happen,
I never know what I’ll find,
when I step into a story
and leave my world behind.

Thursday, May 21, 2009

26. Marked - P. C. Cast & Kristin Cast

House of Night Series #1
Mother-daughter authors
Published 2007
320 p.
For: YA
Rating: 4
(B & N Sales Rank #213!)

Rayna, one of my eighth graders, insisted that I read this book. She loved it. It was a quick read that was impossible to put down-bad girl/good girl, vampires (spelled vampyre), great-looking hot guys, love, friendship, predictability, and more books to come all make this a great package for young adult females.

When Zoey Redbird is 16, a tracker "marks" her with a half-moon tatoo on her forehead. When you are marked there is nothing you can do, you will now be changed into a vampyre. You must leave your old life behind to learn the ways of vampyres as your body slowly changes. One in ten don't make it, actually. But when Zoey discovers that she has been chosen by the goddess Nix to become a powerful high priestess, she takes on this new challenge in a positive way. She makes wonderful new friends and the current Hight priestess, Neferet, has become her mentor at the School of Night. There's a beautiful bully (aptly named Aphrodite) who is a mean, mean troublemaker, and there's the requisite hot guy that is totally attracted to Zoey immediately. What's not to love? The 320 pages flew by. I might even entice myself to read the next in the series (Rayna tells me she thinks there will be ten or eleven), Betrayed.

MOVIE - New in Town

Cute, predictable, and quite enjoyable
PG (1:36)
RT: 18% cag: 75%
Released Jan. 30, 2009
(I think this was the last day on the big screen here)
Century Gateway Cheap Theater
Renee Zellweger, Harry Connick, Jr.
Director: Jonas Elmer (Dutch, Hollywood debut)

The critics and I don't see eye to eye on this one. Yes, it is predictable and cute. So I guess I like predictable and cute. It's also quite funny, and Harry Connick, Jr. is charming, charming, charming. Zellweger's Lucy, a VP in a big company based in Miami, is sent to Hobunkland, Minnesota in the middle of a frigid winter to oversee a small plant there - and lay off 50% of its employees. Her secretary is a Jesus-loving scrapbooker, the union rep is an outdoorsman who easily exchanges verbal quips with her, and the rest of the cast is an assorment of funny (though, yes, stereotypical) small town Minnesotans. Boy and girl fall in love, girl fixes everything, etc. etc., but it was a lot of fun for and hour and a half - and who doesn't need an hour and a half of fun and laughter and popcorn once in awhile?

Tuesday, May 19, 2009

Shanghai Messenger - Andrea Cheng

Illustrator: Ed Young
For: Elementary kids
Rating: 3.5
Endpapers: Turquoise

Xiao Mei, a half-Chinese American girl, is encouraged by her grandmother Nai Nai to visit family in Shanghai, China. With trepidation, the eleven year old travels by herself to spend some time with family she's never met. She gets to meet great-grandparents and aunts and uncles and cousins who take her in immediately and form loving bonds quickly. She is introduced to the culture of China, makes many observations, gets to know her family, and even learns to write some Chinese. Simply illustrated this is a gentle, informative book.

The orange medly of lines and cross border every page on left and right. It's very eye-catching.

MOVIE - Adventureland

A smart, untrivialized comedy/drama
Viewed Friday 5/15 at Crossroads
Comedy/Drama (R) 1:47
Released 4/3/09
RT: 89% cag 70%
Kristen Stewart, Jesse Eisenberg, Ryan Reynolds
Director: Greg Mottola

In 1980's Pittsburgh, a recent college grad finds that his parents can't help him pay for his much-anticipated European summer, so he has to go to work at a local cheezy fun park. There he works on various "games" (not even the more desired "rides"), making the acquaintance of a various assortment of new friends - including Kristen Stewart, who plays a very interesting, very real role as a messed-up college student. Stewart and Eisenberg don't seem to have much in the way of sparks (Eisenberg feels too youngish for a college grad, too), but other than that.....a very enjoyable movie.

Sunday, May 17, 2009

Altered Book Exchange

In March, on a beautiful Sunday afternoon, I journeyed to downtown Tucson, to what I've heard is the oldest building in the city. There I joined a small group of people who have committed to an altered book swap for the next year. We'll meet monthly for three hours in this incredibly pleasant space, share our art (this part makes me really nervous!), share new techniques, and feel artistic. Each month we switch books, taking someone else's treasure home with us to create two double-page spreads. I played with painting the pages with acrylics, covering everything with ModPodge, using a label maker, weaving directly into the page, sewing on paper, and cutting up junk mail. Those classy black and white stripes come from the subscription cards that fall out of magazines. I've begun quite a collection of them - I see a bigger black and white striped art project in my future....

So I thought it would be fun to post my first two pages. I'm hoping that my inspiration gets a lot stronger - somehow I have a great idea, but the finished project is never even close to the magnificent page I had in my head. Oh well. I have eleven months left to find a technique that will be mine.

MOVIE - State of Play

Very good-suspenseful with a twist at the end
Viewed Thursday, 5/14/09 at El Con with Sheila
Drama 1:58 PG-13
Released 4-17-09
RT: 85% cag: 75%
Russell Crowe, Ben Affleck, Rachel McAdams
Director: Kevin Macdonald
aslo: Robin Wright Penn, Helen Mirren, Jason Bateman, Jeff Daniels

Russell Crowe plays a scruffy investigative reporter for the Washington Globe. Ben Affleck plays an up-and-coming congressman who is in charge of a committee questioning defense spending. When the married Afleck is discovered to be having an affair with an assistant, new Globe online reporter Rachel McAdams jumps in. We soon discovere that the journalist and politician were college roommates with a lot of baggage - the congressman's wife being one of them. The major plotline is about the shady insider dealings of more-or-less legal hitmen while a parallel plotline is about the intertwining lives and lies of the protagonists.

Rachel McAdams's part was sort of weird, she's not a major player, she's not a strong journalist, but a bond forms between her and Russell Crowe, which is kind of sweet, but somewhat out-of-character....a weak , somewhat questionable, link for me.

Sunday, May 10, 2009

13 Artists Children Should Know - Angela Wenzel

A Prestel Publication
Rating: 5
Published April, 2009
Endpapers: blue, no dust cover
$14.99 at B&N (store)

This is a wonderful model for further research and writing. Each of the thirteen artist pages include famous painting, kid-friendly information and anecdotes about the artist, tips, and further readig suggetions. Also is a "try this" for each! Artists included are:

Leonardo daVinci (the Mona Lisa, Last Supper, and Vitruvian Man)
Jan Vermeer (The Girl with a Pearl Earring)
Claude Monet (many)
Mary Casatt
Vincent VanGogh
Henri Matisse
Pul Klee
Franz Marc
Pablo Picasso
Marc Chagall
Frida Kahlo
Andy Warhol

Any kid that enjoys art, art appreciation, or famous artists would enjoy this book. I want to add Wassily Kandinsky, Keith Haring, and Georgia O'Keeffe. Maybe next year my fourth graders will add to it...hmmm.....

Friday, May 8, 2009

MOVIE - Duplicity

Very entertaining
Viewed: May 7, 2009 at Crossroads Cheapie
Rotten Tomatoes: 67%
My rating: 70%
Genre: Drama/Mystery
Released: March 20, 2009
(PG-13) 2:05
Julia Roberts, Clive Owen
Director: Tony Gilroy

This movie kept me totally entertained for over two hours. At first I thought that it was going to be convaluted and hard-to-follow, but it wasn't. It had a lot of good twists and turns, nothing too, too surprising, and watching Julia Roberts and Clive Owen on the big screen is always a treat, regardless of what the plot is!

Roberts and Owen meet in Dubai five years previous to the major plotline, both government operatives (CIA/M16). She spends the night with him, then steals secrets from his briefcase, drugs him to give herself a good start, and disappears. Of course they meet again....but for awhile we wonder about when and how. Flashbacks give us the story in pieces, but it makes total sense (not a lot of brow furrowing wondering what in heck is going on). The plot is plausible. Two huge manufacturing companies compete with top secrets. Their heads, Tom Wilkinson and Paul Gianetti, are really great, and fun to watch. The ending was great, a bit unexpected, and cleverly done.

Totally entertaining. I'm glad I saw it.

Wednesday, May 6, 2009

MOVIE - Two Lovers

Dark, but enjoyed it a lot
Viewed: Cinco de Mayo 2009 for one dollar
Crossroads with Sheila
Rotten Tomatoes: 83%
My rating: 80%
Genre: Drama/Romance
Released: February, 2009
(R) 1:40
Joaquin Phoenix, Gwyneth Paltrow, Vinessa Shaw (she was wonderful, new to me)
Director: James Gray

I liked this film a lot, though I wouldn't say I loved it....but close. I liked the story, understood that we frequently don't understand our attractions to others, especially when they don't seem to make sense or have any kind of in-your-face reason. I didn't really understand Joaquin Phoenix's character. Leonard was supposedly bi-polar and had attempted suicide at least twice that we know of - once by slitting his writs over a broken wedding engagement, and once by jumping into the bay. Again, I believe, because of depression about lost love. This is actually how the movie begins. But sometimes he seems mentally....slow. At other times, no. I couldn't get a grip on him completely.

Leonard meets an unpredictable, beautiful young woman, Michelle (Paltrow), who has recently movied into the apartment buildling in Brighton Beach where he lives with his parents. She is spontaneous, trusting, and having a long-term affair with an older married lawyer. Of course he falls for her immediately. At the same time he meets a lovely young woman whose father's dry cleaning business is merging with his father's. Now we have two lovers! This odd and interesting young man has two lovers. Interesting.....

You worry about him all the way through the movie, and near the end you wonder if this is just not going to end well. Edgy. I like that. The ending definitely makes you think. About choices, decisions, loving more than one person, loving people in different ways. I always enjoy going to a movie with my friend Sheila because we talk a little about the movie afterwards, which is as satisfying as talking about a good (or bad!) book after you've read it. I don't like tearing it apart, I just like to talk about human relationships and the reasons that people do things the way they do.

I also enjoyed that both dry cleaning families are Jewish - we even attend a Bar Mitzvah during this hour and forty minutes - and there's SO much more that I understand now that I work where I do. Interesting and fascinating, to understand a different culture so much more than I ever in a million years thought I would!

Some movies you forget pretty quickly. Don't think I'll forget this one for awhile.

Sunday, May 3, 2009

25. 11 Birthdays - Wendy Mass

267 pgs.
Rating: 4

This was a really cute story. It has the same premise as Groundhog Day with Bill Murray (which I've watched at least a half dozen times). Leo and Amanda have been best friends from birth. Born on the same day, "fairy" Angelina D'Angelo tells their parents that they should celebrate the birthday together every year, and with a few pushes and tweaks from her, it happens. But at their 10th birthday party, Amanda overhears Leo telling his friends that he's only doing it because he has to - hurting Amanda's feelings so badly that they don't speak from then on.

Zoom to their eleventh birthday. It is a disaster for Amanda, and she's confused and upset when the alarm rings the next morning when it's not supposed to - it's Saturday. Wrong. It's her birthday again. It repeats, with many of the same problems and sadnesses. Days 3 she feigns sickness to stay home from school, and when day 4 begins exactly the same way, as her birthday, she is fit-to-be-tied. That is, until she discovers that the same thing is happening to Leo - and nobody else. They make up, the have fun, the try to discover old and new clues that will help them break the "spell." We're certainly rooting for them!

24. The Rug Merchant - Meg Mullins

258 pgs.
Rating: 3/Mixed

Ushman Khan has been in New York City for three years, establishing his very lucrative rug business. He thinks often of his home in Tabriz, Iran and waits for th day that his wife, Farak, can join him. She has stayed behind to take care of his invalid mother and find the very best rugs for Ushman to sell. He has not returned to Iran during this time, and he has heard rumors that Farak has been visited by a Turkish tailor. Through their eleven years of marriage, Farak has had five miscarriages, and it is a heavy weight on both of them. When Ushman discovers that Farak is pregnant and divorcing him to move to Istanbul, he crashes and almost burns. He continues with his business dealings, but life is joyless.

Woven throughout this narrative is the story of his relationship with Mrs. Roberts, a wealthy, older Manhattanit who has bought many carpets from him. They have a strange relationship, and it is this relationship that begins and ends the story. Full of metaphor, hidden meaning, and much sadness, Mullins has Ushman meet a 19-year old college freshman (half his age), and tells of the wiggle and dance they go through before becoming lovers. Stella has her own baggage to deal with, but her natural "Americanism" and her easy way with Ushman is the most charming part of the story.

This was sad, depressing, gave me a tiny look into another culture - a Moslem one at that - and into the heart and mind of a gentle man. I really can't say I liked the story. However, I couldn't put it down. I knew there was no happily ever after, and I think that Mullins ended the story beatifully. I'm glad I read it. I'm going to search the faces of mid-thirtyish MidEastern men now, looking for Usman.....

Saturday, May 2, 2009

The Story of Queen Esther - Jenny Koralek

Illustrated by Grizelda Holderness
Rating: 4
Endpapers: a swirl of dancers on red, by the edge of the sea. Very cool.

This is the ancient story that is commerated by the festival of Purim, a joyous celebration in the Jewish year. Since I'm not Jewish but work at a Hebrew day school, I'm a bit familiar with the outline of the story, but not the particulars. I've read that this version sanitizes the story quite a bit, and that a few of the illustratons have "technical" problems (ie: Jews never kneel to pray, but are depicted as doing so in the story). I actually love the illustrations. They cover the page from edge-to-edge in reds, blues, and browns and are quite lovely.

It's a "typical" bible story with greed, self-importance, I'd better not go in that direction, but to be honest, it does contain all those elements. Koralek has omitted drunkeness and decadence and similar actualities, I'm sure.

This is the story of how Esther becomes a Persian queen, hides her Jewishness, and with the help of her cousing Mordecai, who helped raise her, saves the Jewish people from annhialation. You can look up the story on Wikpedia, which will tell it far better than I.

All in a Day - Cynthia Rylant

Illustrated by Nikki McClure (with unbelievable paper cuts)
Rating: 4 (A hard book to rate. Does it work as a book? It works as a poem, and the illustrations are A+, but will it appeal to a child?)

Ten years ago, when traveling south from Maine, I routed us through West Virginia so that I could see where Cynthia Rylant "came from." Well, we went in the middle of July when everything is green and beautiful, and, as a tourist, I saw mainly touristy things - but I now love West Virginia. I've been back twice, and would love to go again. I really loved Cynthia Rylant's words. I loved her poetry and stories for young adults. Since then she's written many verses and stories that have become picture books, and I haven't been quite as excited over many of them as her previous/first work. I read them all, though!

This simple poem says so much. The illustations look so simple, but, oh my! They are paper cuts! ! ! Simply amazing. Alternating double page spreads of pale blue, black and white, with bright yellow, black, and white, are STUNNING. How can anoyone do this?

So many wasy to incorporate this into my classroom next year! I think I'll read the poem as a poem, without the illustrations. Then I'll show them the illustrations. Then I think we'll divide the poem into the number of kids in the class, with each designing their own class. Paper cuts will be encourage, or a mixture of papers cuts with other media - water color, particularly.

It would also make a wonderful whole-group activity as one of the sessions for our school's annual Passport to Peace!

A day is a perfect piece of time
to live a life,
to plant a seed,
to watch the sun go by.
A day starts early,
work to do,
beneath a brand-new sky.
A day brings hope
and kindness, too...
a day is all its own.
You can make a wish,
and start again,
you can find your way back home.
Every bird and every tree
and every living thing
loves the promise in a day,
loves what it can bring. (Gorgeous page!)
There is a faith in morningtime,
there is belief in noon.
Evening will come whispering
and shine a bright round moon.
A day can change just everything,
given half a chance.
Rain could show up at our door
and teach you how to dance.
The past is sailing off to sea,
the future's fast asleep.
A day is all you have to be,
it's all you get to keep.
Underneath that great big sky
the earth is all a-spin.
This day will soon e over
and it won't come back again.
So live it well, make it count,
fill it up with you.
The day's all yours, its waiting now...
See what you can do.

The Pet Dragon - Christoph Niemann

A Story about Adventure, Friendship, and Chinese Characters
Rating: 4
For: Kids and anyone wanting to learn Chinese characters
Endpapers: pale teal with white Chinese characters and illustrations from the book

Simple folk-type story that introduces 33 Chinese characters, which are superimposed into the illustrations as well as shown at the bottom of the page. Lots of reds and teals, simple, cute illustrations that perfectly match the tale.

Lin receives a baby dragon as a pet, and they spend their days playing with each other. While playing soccer in the house the abreak a vase, and Lin's father decides the dragon must stay in a cage. The next day, the dragon is gone. Lin goes travels the countryside trying to find him, and is aided by a witch until pet and girl are reunited once again.

This is a clever way to share another culture with children, writing some of the characters afterwards would be a great project.

The Princess Gown - Linda Leopold Strauss

Illustrated by Malene Reynolds Laugesen
Rating: 4 (I was surprised by my reaction)
Endpapers: Bright pink (Ashley would love it)

The multi-generation, many-siblinged Abraham family is putting the final touches on a gorgeous wedding gown. It's not just any wedding gown - it's one that will be presented as a possiblity to the princess. If chosen (from many), the Abrahams will become official embroiderers to the princess, and they'll be saved from the poorhouse. But a tiny soil is found, one that they are unable to remove. They change it into a very small emboidered squirrel - the princess' favorite - which ultimately helps them wint the competition.

I thought this story would be a complete fairy tale (well, it was, in a way), but it was based on a family's true story during the reign of Queen Victoria in England. (And there were sixteen Abraham children, with all of them putting a stitch into the final product.) Sure, it's a little corny, but it's told in a lovely way, and the illustratons are great - within a box that takes up 3/4 of the double-page spread, with the text in the other quarter. Great vocabulary, snazzy verbs, with a few surprises here and there - a totally satisfying read.