Sunday, February 28, 2010

16. The 39 Clues #1 - Maze of Bones - Rick Riordan

Audio read by David Pittu
Scholastic Audio Books, 2008
4 unabridged cds
5 hrs. 11 min.
220 pages
Rating: mmmmm.....2

The kids tell me that the stories get better after this first one. Plus after hearing Peter Lerangis speak, I'd like to read the 3rd installment, which he wrote. But this was sooooo far-fetched...... I know it's supposed to be, but.....

I began reading this book three times. Got quite a ways in all three times, but it just didn't hold my interest. I didn't care. Two good people, one heck-of-a-lot of really bad people. People that will happily kill and maim. Cruel, sneering relatives! It's just a little too much for me. Trust no one. Right.

Amy and Dan Cahill live in a tiny Boston apartment with their au pair, visiting their grandmother, Grace Cahill, on her huge estate, every weekend. Their parents were killed in a fire when about six years before. Now 10 and 14, they are very saddened when Grace dies of cancer. But at her funeral appear hundreds of relatives, which Grace claim are all part of the Cahill family, the most powerful in the world. After her will is read, the heirs can decide to take one million bucks or follow 39 clues to become the most powerful people in the world. There can be only one winner. In total, 7 teams take on the challenge. Six teams are cutthroat, cruel....except for Amy and Dan, of course.

The first clue is related to Benjamin Franklin. They all travel to Philadelphia, then Paris, looking for the next clue. The plot becomes really absurd, and the things these two children are able to figure out are not believable. Oh well. It's an interesting idea, publishing ten books, written by different authors, all heading in the same direction, with online extras and prizes for the kids that participate. And we DO learn a bit about Ben Franklin and Paris.

And the reader of this audio book? He used many voices, trying to give each of the characters personality. He did a great greasy, slimy version for each, but his accents didn't do it for me. It also seemed he had an effeminate touch for some of the males, which was a bit disconcerting. All in all, not a great 5 hours 11 minutes of listening pleasure.

My question/ many of the books am I willing to suffer through? And has the sale of each additional book in the series kept up with the hype of the first? Hmmm.....

Saturday, February 27, 2010

Scaredy Squirrel - Melanie Watt

Kids Can Press, 2006
32 pgs with one that flips open
For: Ages 4-8
Rating: 4.5
Endpapers: Front: rows of huge brown & green acorns on a blue background
Back: a P.S. picture with Scaredy Squirrel waving goodbye.

There's a section in Bookmarks magazine each issue called "have you read?" It's a list of favorite books by different readers. In the March/April 2010 issue, Jennifer Roy (author of Yellow Star) mentions a picture book that she and her son have reread many times. So I borrowed it from the library, and here it is! Yup, it's fun, yup, it's laugh-out-loud, and yup, this fella sure has plenty of neuroses, just as Ms. Roy claimed. And it looks like this one got ole' Scaredy started, because I now see Scaredy Squirrel at Night, Scaredy Squirrel Makes a Friend, and Scaredy Squirrel at the Beach!

Scaredy Squirrel never...EVER...leaves his tree. There are too many things that he's scared of. He has an emergency kit prepared that will help him in any sort of trouble. That is, until one day he needs it, then all sorts of things he never planned for happen. But good things come from life, too.....Scaredy discovers that he's a FLYING squirrel!

The illustrations are big and bold - thick black lines colored with great outdoor colors, not too bright, but not wimpy at all. She uses all sorts of storytelling techniques, boxes with time frames, clocks, bulleted lists. Lots to look at , lots to think about.

Hurrah! A very cool book.

Friday, February 26, 2010

15. Leaving Gee's Bend - Irene Latham

For: Middle grades
G. P. Putnams, 2010
HC, $16.95
230 pages
Rating: 4

This is the story of three days in the life of 10-year old sharecropper Ludelphia Bennett in 1932. Ludelphia lives in Gee's Bend, Alabama, a tiny, extremely poor black community on the banks of the Alabama River, 40 miles by road from the closest town. Gee's Bend is now famous for the quilts that have been produced by the hands of the women who lived there through the depression and afterwards. I was lucky enough to see the exhibition of these quilts a year or two ago in a huge exhibition in San Francisco. The quilts and their stories have traveled - and are still traveling - all around the country. What incredible stories! I've thought many times of these people, of these quilts, of the lives in that community, even researching quilt shops and museums in Alabama for a future summer trip. So when this book came out, I reserved it at the library immediately.

Ludelphia has had nothing but rotten luck for much of her life, and it certainly continues in this story. One bad thing after another happens to her - but I can attest, this is the reality of our lives sometimes. For the first time in many years, Ludelphia's mother has delivered a healthy baby. However, she herself is dying from pneumonia and influenza. There's nothing that can be done. So Ludelphia sets off across the river to try and find a doctor. Along the way she bumps into one adventure after another. And along the way, she has the tangible comfort of stitching together used, torn-up pieces of cloth into a story quilt for her mother.

When the author, Irene Latham, first saw the quilts of Gee's Bend, she was as entranced by them and their stories as I was. But she had the gumption to research and travel and visit and talk to people and create this story. A story based on incidents that she researched. She has given the world - and the children of the world who have no idea about this section of our country in more segregated times than now - a glimpse into a sharecropper's life. I get it. The kid's will get it. There's good story telling going on here. I thank Irene Latham for writing this book.

View the book trailer on YouTube.

Here's a review of a reader that didn't like the book. If you read the reviews, make sure you read the comments after. There was much more bias on the reviewer's side than on the author's side (in my humble opinion). When a reviewer really bashes a book - a lengthy bashing - it's always interesting to see that reviewer's background - gives a little insight into where the left-field comments (or what appear to be left-field comments) are coming from. Talk about picking apart a book! She sure reads for a different reason than I do!

This was a good historical fiction which I will recommend to my students. However, I'm not sure the title is apt. I would ask my students to create a new title and tell me why they chose what they did. Takers, anyone?

Ten Rowdy Ravens - Susan Ewing

Illustrated by Evon Zerbetz
Alaska Northwest Books, 2005
32 pgs.
For: kids a bit older than the usual "counting book" age...
Rating: 4.5
Endpapers: Large purple and lavender squares with numbers and cutouts of ravens

First of all, this book is just gorgeous. The illustrations are from carved linoleum prints that are then hand-colored. They're beautfiul. And secondly, the word choices, the alliteration, the writing is clever and deosn't talk down to kids.

"Eight rougish ravens
Pilfer piles of loot,
Cheater swipes some pretty pearls,
Seven give pursuit."

"Five unruly ravens
Gobble up chop suey
Noodles make a bellyache,
Now there's four. Aw, phooey!"

That was a lot of alliterative "r" adjectives! And at the end of the book, a 7-page "Daily Kaw", True News from Around the Raven World, that includes true stories of mischievous ravens, information about these trickster birds, and even "Corvid Classifieds" - all done with superb humor.

I went through a second time for a really close examination of the illustrations. Fantastic!

Thursday, February 25, 2010

14. Knitting for Peace - Betty Christiansen

Making the World a Better Place One Stitch at a Time
Photographs by Kiriko Shirobayashi
Stewart, Tabori & Chang, 2006
for: Adults (Well, it could be for kids and young adults, too, but it's written primarily for adults.)

What an interesting book! I've actually let my fiction reading go for a couple of days so that I could read this NON-FICTION from cover to cover. Me....non-fiction! A miracle. But I've been knitting and knitting and knitting lately, and this book really called out to me.

What a wonderful book. It tells of all sorts of organizations, big and small, that knit (or crochet) for charity. Helping make the world a better place. One person CAN make a difference. Yup. There are background stories behind all the projects, how they got started, how one person was affected by another and created a mission that grew. It includes simple patterns, website information, photos, and interesting stories. I enjoyed this book immensely.

I wondered if in the four years since this was published if any of the organizations have gone belly-up. I did an internet search and found all of them seem to be still flourishing - at least the ones I looked at. I also found these:

The Daily Knitter is a website that gives a huge list of charities to knit for. (It even features a list of yarn shops all over the country - something I look for before some of my travels!)

Charities of interest to me:

The Mother Bear Project, knitting bears for children in South Africa, touched me. Many of these kids are homeless or suffer from HIV/AIDS themselves or in their families. For some, this bear is the only toy they own. All kids should have toys! And all it takes is a little leftover yarn...

The Snuggles Project provides cats and dogs in shelters with small blankets to sleep on when they're family-less and sleeping on a concrete floor in a cage. You can use all sorts of leftover yarn and do the simplest pattern - and even sport a mistake or two - and these recipients won't care! For some reason, this charity really appeals to me - and I wouldn't even call myself an animal lover. Okay, okay, I do like cats a lot.....

afghans for Afghans, run by the American Friends Service in San Francisco, sends WOOL hats, mittens, socks, sweaters, and afghans to poor kids in Afghanistan. The suffering the people, especially the women and girls, of that country have had to endure. The website includes a great deal of information about Afghanistan, as well as patterns and ideas.

Peace Fleece, a farm in Maine, gets wool from Russia and blends it with American wool to sell at a very reasonable price to American consumers. They also have started a wool blending/sharing program between Israel and Palestine! Their colors are terrific, and patterns are easy and great -looking. They even sell handmade Russian knitting needles! What a great concept.

Then I found HAP (The Handmade Afghans Project). This group collect hand knit or crocheted 6" x 9" squares that are then sewn together into a twin-size afghans. These are sent to wounded US military personal in several Army and Air Force medical centers around the country. Each afghan contains 49 different squares, knit or crocheted by 49 different people . It's a wonderful idea, and another great way to use leftover yarn and make a small project for charity. However, they may not be accepting any rectangles right now, I've emailed them asking. (Note: I got a lovely reply...they have 1800 knitters and cannot deal with a larger amount. Maybe it's time to start a HAP work arena on the west coast?)

Monday, February 22, 2010

MOVIE - The Last Station

A Fascinating story - I hadn't a clue...
Released Jan. 15, 2010
R (1:50)
2-22-10 at The Loft with Sheila
RT: 68% cag: 88%
Fandango 75/100
Director: Michael Hoffman

James McAlvoy! ! ! Helen Mirren, Christopher Plummer

Leo Tolstoy, said to be the greatest writer of Russian Literature (War and Peace and Anna Karenina, was a Russian count who in later life denounced his wealth and earlier beliefs to become a pacifist and to renounce materialism. He married Sophia Bers, who would birth their 13 children and love him throughout their long married life together. However, their relationship in later years was a difficult one, though based on great sexual attraction from the start.

Enter Valentin Bulgakov (McAlvoy), a 24-year old idealist and follower of Tolstoy. When he was hired to become Tolstoy's secretary and aide it was like a dream-come-true for him. He watches the difficult, passionate passages between Tolstoy and Sophia, and falls for a lady-love of his own. He struggles inwardly about the Tolstoys - his employer and idol, whom he will always revere, and the woman whose pain is difficult to watch -- and bear. McAlvoy was magnificent. I can't believe he didn't get a best actor nomination. What am I missing? What an amazing acting job!

Helen Mirren (as Tolstoy's wife) was really something, too. She was actually quite funny, and played the range from demure wife to ranting , thwarted, iron-willed matriarch beautifully.

Fascinating movie. And although the huge Loft main theater was nowhere near full, it was the most people I've ever seen there - other than the special showing of Red Without Blue. Good popcorn, too. Good movie. Not a lot of action-adventure, but a good "thinker" to wrap your brain around.

Sunday, February 21, 2010

MOVIE - A Single Man

Colin Furth, still my favorite actor, does himself proud.
Released 12/11/09
R (1:39)
2/21/10 at Crossroads all by myself - but the theater was full of an "older" audience, I had lots of company...
Fandango: 77/100
RT: 85% cag: 90%
Director: Tom Ford

Colin Furth, Julianne Moore, Matthew Goode

It doesn't matter if you're straight, gay, or a rabbit, we mourn when we lose the ones we love. Professor George .......... ( darn, I forgot his last name) teaches English in a Los Angeles area college in the mmmmmm......late 50s? I don't know cars enough to tell for sure, but the costumes looked like 50s to me. He has spent the eight months since his partner died existing in a daze, and he decides he doesn't want to live anymore. We follow him through his day, through his preparations - everything must be neat and tidy and wrapped up - until something interesting and somewhat extraordinary happens - and we are treated to a surprise ending.

I love the way that the story unfolds in flashbacks. The next-door neighbor family is a nice touch and there is one scene that was quite funny - even though it really wouldn't be funny at all. Colin Furth was extraordinary. Exemplary. Wow. He ALWAYS gets my vote, but this time he's bound to get a lot more than just mine! ! ! !

BOARD BOOK - Lucky New Year! - Mary Man-Kong

Illustrated by Chi Chung
Golden Books, 2008
6 double-page board book spreads

Pop-up, flip books are really quite fascinating. This one's cool, telling a little abouot the Chinese New Year - this year beginning on Feb. 14th with festivities running for fifteen days.

Calligraphy for gung hay fat choy, a wheel that you can turn to match yourb irth year with the animal year, a broom to sweep back and forth, an orange to sniff'n smell, dim sum containers to open, choptsicks to maneuver, "hong baos" envelope to open, dragon eyes to open and close and a big pop dragon as the finale. Lots of information for little ones about some of the traditions that are part of the Chinese New Year.

Lots of fun. If I could afford to start a pop-up collection, this would be included.

Saturday, February 20, 2010

Jane Austen

Jane Austen. I've seen many, many movies. I went to Bath and spent one of my three days following a trail that recalled some of Austen's life and future settings for her writings. I followed her ghost, so to speak. I feel I know her work - I've watched Sense and Sensibility at least three times and drooled over Colin Furth in Pride and Prejudice at least six times. I've watched the Jane Austen Book Club film, seen all the recent works about the books PLUS Becoming Jane. So why have I never actually READ her writing? Bits and pieces, yes, but other than that, no full work. Perhaps it's time.... but which one should I start with???
Jane Austen Today seems to be an interesting blogsite. And Jane Austen. org seems to cover everything Jane Austen - and more. And there's even a website where you can answer 60 questions and find out which Austen character you're the most like. I came out closest to Elizabeth Bennett - now that's a compliment as far as I'm concerned!

Feb. 21, 2010 - I've purchased a copy of Pride and Prejudice and will begin it this evening.

Tonight (a rainy, gray Saturday in a usually sunny February day) I watched all five hours of the Masterpiece Theater Classics' 2009 version of Emma. It was quite wonderful. I noticed it because Jonny Lee Miller was starring...but once I saw that it was Jane Austen I dvr'd it. I knit ... grinned ... giggled ... totally and completely enjoyed every second. I've seen the version with Gwyneth Paltrow, I've seen Clueless, enjoyed them both, but this was particularly dreamy. Great casting, great sets - it was filmed in the village of Chilham in Kent. Road trip?

Sunday, February 21, 2010
Masterpiece Theater presented this 2007 made-for-tv Encore Presentation tonight. Compared to 5 hours production of Emma, this hour and a half seemed very short. I'm imagining a lot might have been left out. The scenes from Bath were great, since I've been there. The two thwarted lovers had great chemistry, and as usual the English countryside was amazing. ( just hit me who played Anne Eliot - it was the same gal who starred in Happy-Go-Lucky, Sally Hawkins)

First Family - Deborah Hopkinson

Illustrated by A. G. Ford
"Ages 4-7 (I'd go older, too)
Katherine Tegen Books, HC, 2010
32 pages
Rating: 4
Endpapers: Tree green

Hey, this was great. Interesting peeks at the Obama family... President Barack, First Lady Michelle, daughters Malia annd Sasha, and dog Bo (a Portugese water dog given to them by Sen. Ted Kennedy (see My Senator and Me). Family times - growing a vegetable garden and having a swing set on the White House grounds-Secret Service information, tidbits about their 132 room home - all accompanied with lovely illustrations (paintings?) and added informational notes at the end . The 4 - 7 age range seems low. I think kids of all ages would enjoy this.

Good book!

Sunday, February 14, 2010

People Musings: Personalities on My Radar

Favorite authors, musicians, actors, my own weird obituaries ... my "people musings" ...

Jane Austen
Ashley Bryan
Dave Barry
J. Carson Black
Linda Castillo
Robert Crais
Chris Gall
Franklin Habit
Frida Kahlo
Marissa Meyer
Robert B. Parker
Julie Paschkis
Ridley Pearson
Patricia Polacco
John Sandford
Pete Seeger
Blake Shelton
John Verdon
Dar Williams
Jeanette Winter
Howard Zinn

Chris Gall IN PERSON

LOVE OF READING was this week, and our school librarian always brings a wonderful author or illustrator (or both, as in this case) to speak to the kids.

Chris Gall lives in the Tucson area, and gave our kids a wonderful presentation, beginning with a Powerpoint that showed some of his early interests and drawings. He ended with having the kids call out different ideas and he drew a picture before our very eyes. He did three presentations, and all three pictures are now sitting proudly in the library. He took us through the creation of Dinotrux, his most recent picture book, which is being made into a movie by Dreamworks! How exciting that must be for an illustrator.

Dinotrux is his fourth published book. Previous to that he had There's Nothing to Do on Mars, Dear Fish, and America the Beautiful. He said he got the job to illustrate America the Beautiful because he's related to Katharine Lee Bates, the song's author. That's how he got his "foot in the door."

If you ever have a chance to hear Chris Gall speak, don't pass it up!

He, of course, has his own website.

12. Chains - Laurie Halse Anderson

Audio read by Madisun Leigh
Brilliance Audio, 2008
7 unabridged cds: 8 hours
320 pages
Rating: 4- an excellent read

Anything and everything bad that could happen to a slave happened to the protagonist in this book.

Monday, February 8, 2010

11. The Warrior Heir - Cinda Williams Chima

Heir Series #1
For: YA
Hyperion Paperbacks, 2006
426 pgs.
Rating: 4

Jack Swift is 16. He lives in Trinity Ohio, a small town where everyone knows everyone else's business. He has lived a normal, average life with his mom until the day he forgets to take his medicine. He's never forgotten before - he's taken it ever since he was born and had heart surgery to survive. Not taking it makes him feel different. Different-better, different-more clear headed, different-stronger. So much so, that during soccer try-outs his never-seen-before aggressiveness hurts a (nasty) teammate. This fateful day, his "forgetting" begins a journey of finding out about the life that's been planned for him since his birth. His normal life will never be the same. For it was not heart surgery that he had when he was born. He was born a wizard, a member of The Weir, but without the needed wizard stone behind his heart. So one was surgically imbedded. However, as an experiment, a warrior's stone was implanted there instead. And he discovers the hidden world of wizards and warriors, of the Red Rose and the White Rose, of tournaments to the death and magic.

There are no warriors left, they have all been killed off playing The Game or killed by the opposite side before a Game could begin. For it is the side that wins the Game that controls all the Weirlind until the next tournament. Competition is cutthroat. It's hard to trust anyone. He's being trained by the powerful wizard Leander Hastings, with help about charms from the elderly wizard Nick Snowbeard, neighbor and friend since his birth.

He still lives in Trinity and attends high school, becoming the school's soccer sensation. He's drawn to new student Ellen Stevenson. His two best buddies, Will and Fitch, are always around to help him out. But then summer comes, and things heat up. Members of both the Red Rose and the White Rose are trying to find him. When he accompanies his mom to England for the summer, he is almost killed, then finds out the rest of the truth about the life he must now lead. There's not much good news. And it gets worse.

The tournament arrives. Surpise after surprise...well sort of surprise....some were foreshadowed or guessed. Clever twists and turns. Excitement and fighting and strategies abound. Quite and entertaining tale.

There are a lot of videos on You Tube about this book, some done as book reports for an English class. WeReadBooks on You Tube has an excellent review. And Cinda Williams Chima has a good website. There are two more books in the series, #2 The Wizard's Heir is a companion book, and #3 The Dragon Heir is as well.

Wednesday, February 3, 2010

Hot Rod Hamster - Cynthia Lord

Illustrated by Derek Anderson
Scholastic, 2010
32 pgs.
Rating: 3.5
Endpapers: Front: Race signage
Back: Driving away with prizes

Colorful and "rollicking", this rhyming, rhythmic story will make an enthusiastic read aloud. A tiny hamster (I like hamsters better than mice, myself) goes to the junk yard to find and create a race car for himself. He adds tires, engine, a paint job, and he's ready to face event he largest competitors. He doesn't fret that he's so tiny. And rolling underneath another car, he's the first to go through the checkered flag at the end of the race!

"Smooth wheels, stud wheels, driving through the mud wheels,
Fat wheels, thin wheels, take her for a spin wheels."

The illustrations are bold and colorful - all the way to edge of the page. There's one that's really great - just before the race, Hamster is looking fierce and saying, "GRRR, I'm built for speed." Love the look on his face. Determination.

I'm not sure I like the speech clouds, but I love the couplets and the illustrations and the shiny font on the cover.

I just checked out Cynthia Lord's blog. She lives in Maine and has included some really intense SNOW photos. I love Maine. I loved living in Maine. But I don't miss the winter there, not even the teeniest, tiniest little bit. I do like her blog.

Tuesday, February 2, 2010

2010 Academy Award Nominations

The Academy Award Nominations were announced at 6:30 this morning (from LA, where it was 5:30). I was almost late for work, 'cause I'm really into all the movies this year. Plus I wanted to compare the Golden Globe nominations to the Oscars. Interesting. None of the five that were nominated in the Golden Globe Best Comedy/Musical category were nominated (so that excludes (500) Days of Summer, The Hangover, It's Complicated, Julie and Julia, and Nine. But since there are TEN Best Movie nominations this year, those five were replaced by four dramas and an animated film.

In the male lead actor and supporting actor there was only one change - Robert Downey, Jr. (who WON the Golden Globes) was replaced by Jeremy Fenner of Hurt Locker. And there one change in the supporting Actress category, addition of Maggie Gyllenhal (yay!) of Crazy Heart. At least I think that's it..... Now I have until March 7 to see as many more as I can! So here's the movie list:

Avatar (Best Picture, Best Director: James Cameron)
Blind Side (Best Picture, Best Actress: Sandra Bullock)
Crazy Heart (Best Actor: Jeff Bridges, Best Supporting Actress: Maggie Gyllenhal)
District 9 (Best Picture)
Hurt Locker (Best Picture, Best Director: Kathryn Bigelow, Best Actor: Jeremy Fenner)
Inglorious Basterds (Best Picture Best Director: Quentin Tarantino, Best Supporting Actor: Christoph Waltz)
Invictus (Best Actor: Morgan Freeman, Best Supporting Actor: Matt Damon)
Julie & Julia (Best Actrress: Meryl Streep)
Last Station (Best Actress Helen Mirren, Best Supporting Actor: Christopher Plummer)
Lovely Bones (Best Supporting Actor: Stanley Tucci)
Messenger (Best Supporting Actor: Woody Harrelson)
Precious (Best Picture, Best Director: Lee Daniels, Best Actress: Gabourey Adibe, Best Supporting Actress: Mo'nique)
A Serious Man (Best Picture)
A Single Man (Best Actor - Colin Furth)
An Education (Best Picture, Best Actress: Carey Mulligan)
Up (Best Picture)
Up in the Air (Best Picture, Best Director: Jason Reitman, Best Actor: George Clooney, Best Supporting Actress: Vera Farmiga AND Anna Kendrick)

Groundhog Weather School - Joan Holub

Illustrated by Kristin Sorra
G. P. Putnam's, 2009
32 pages
My rating: 5
Grades 1-4
Endpapers: 3 shades of aqua - blueprints of a groundhog's burrow.

Because the winter weather is different depending on where you live, the head weather groundhog decides to open a groundhog weather school. He advertises and we see many different animals examining the ads. School begins and we meet a number of the students. We read their reports on actual "real" famous groundhogs - from Punxatawny Phil in PA to Sir Walter Wally in NC to Buckeye Chuck in OH -- and even Pierre C. Shadeaux in LA - eight in total. We learn about natural weather predictors (ie: tree leaves curl up if there's moisture in the air). We learn a bit about famous weathermen, facts about groundhogs and their lives, the reasons for seasons, how shadows happen - and then we follow several of the students who graduate - and what happens between then and February 2nd (Groundhog's Day).

Comical. Clever. Entertaining. Interesting. Informative. Jam-packed with information, this book completely won me over: My 4th graders would love it - a fun, easy way to learn all SORTS of things!

Illustrations cover the page in medium tones...and the groundhogs are adorable!

And by-the-way...this very morning, February 2nd, the groundhog saw his shadow - so six more weeks of winter. A horrible thing for Northeast Harbor, Maine which wakes up to a frigid 8 degress this morning, but an awesome thing for sunny southern Arizona which wakes up to high-40's and gets leaves work in the 60's.....let's keep the heat down for as long as possible!