Friday, June 27, 2008

Artemis Fowl: The Lost Colony

The Lost Colony (Artemis Fowl, Book 5) by Eoin Colfer, Listening Library, 2006

Seriously, I could listen to Nathaniel Parker read stock reports, the city directory or the "terms of use" boilerplate that accompanies software installation packages.

He is wonderful.

Parker also reads the Young James Bond series which are so vivid in my mind now, I may never read the Higson books. I prefer to listen to them.

I'd never listened to an Artemis Fowl book before, and I did not even notice the name of the narrator. When I heard Parker's dulcet tones begin the book, I did a little happy dance around the house.

Artemis is on a mission to save the fairy world. The stoic Butler is still at his side. Artemis is feeling the effects of puberty which, hilariously, foil his concentration on occasion. While hunting demons, he encounters a new rival, the lovely Minerva Paradizo (oh, how I love Colfer's characters' names) who is the same age as Artemis and just as brilliant. She hopes to trap a fairy and impress the Nobel prize committee with her discoveries.

Holly Short has quit LEPRecon following the death of her old boss, Julius Root and now earns her living with Mulch Diggums, as a Lower Elements bounty hunter. She re-teams with Artemis and Foaly in order to save their world from an unstable time tunnel.

Colfer's books are action thrillers full of explosions, car chases and techno gadgetry. They are also packed with stacks of humor, witty dialog and topical references that keep them fresh. What keeps me coming back though, are the underlying ethical and moral issues that are at the core of the tales. The fun of the Artemis stories is how he remains a fast-thinking, law-bending, conniver with a conscience and a heart.

Wednesday, June 25, 2008

Whip Cracking Wednesday

Flight Explorer Volume 1, Villard, 2008

I really want to like this book. I am always on the hunt for interesting and original graphic novels that would work well in elementary school libraries It looks wonderful with full color panels and original stories. There are four volumes which is a real plus, gotta love a series.

I like the short story format. After years of playing Mario Brothers, I enjoyed "Copper: Mushroom Crossing" by Kazu Kibuishi. "Fish N Chips" is the story of a superhero goldfish in a bowl who saves the planet from a collision with an asteroid.

I was ready to give it gold stars for an elementary library when Missle Mouse, the space faring hero from the cover, yelled, "Holy Crap!" Now to be fair he was battling a killer satellite and later a mechanical octopus-like creature, and, on the list of obscene and untoward swear words, it is fairly tame. Graphic novels do use vivid language. Still, it seemed out of place and incongruous coming from a cute little space mouse with a blaster.

Honestly, I am NOT finicky about "language" in children's and YA books. Most of the time I do not even notice it or care because it fits into the story line.

I was asked once about the "language" in Mike Lupica's Travel Team and I had to scratch my head. I did not remember any strong, moderate, or even mildly provocative language. I did recall a compelling story with some unforgettable characters.

Which brings me to "Missle Mouse: the Guardian Prophecy." D' Arvit! This is science fiction/fantasy. Why the frak wouldn't Jake Parker use some kind of creative blasphemy instead of a mundane vulgarity? As FireflyWiki.Org so eloquently puts it, "Da-shiong bao-jah-shr duh la doo-tze!" " Ai ya! "

Tuesday, June 24, 2008

Whip Cracking Wednesday

I have had to come to grips with a serious and potentially life impairing situation.
I have too many books.
I love books. I just love, love, love, love books but my lack of organization and the sheer numbers of them in my life are having serious consequences for me as a blogger and as a mother.

Me: You entlings get your rooms cleared. The vacuum needs access to the carpet in order to work. I cannot even see the floor in your rooms. How are you going to vacuum your rooms when they look like this?

entlings: [smirk] What ever you say Mom. Where do want this pile of Mike Lupica books?

Me: Oh, stack them with the other piles next to the overflowing bookcases, on the floor, in my


entlings: [high five each other]

So I did the brave thing, the mature thing.
I pulled myself up by my bootstraps and threw myself at the feet of entling no. 2 and begged her to help me. I offered her great and multiple rewards if she would organize my book stacks, my piles, shelves and me.

She is a whirlwind of efficiency and organization. She can analyze a problem and break it down into manageable and do-able parts. I have often referred to her as my major domo.

First she set me to work on the picture books which I divided into fiction and nonfiction for review purposes.

She separated the signed copies of books and put them in a protected book case. Then she assisted me with the organization of the novels.

entling no. 2: What about this book, have you read it?

Me: No.

entling no. 2: Are you going to read it?

Me: Yes.

entling no. 2: What about this book, have you read it?

Me: Yes, I've read that one but I have not written a review yet.

entling no. 2: Are you going to write a review?

Me: Oh yes, it was a great read.

entling no. 2: Then we will have a stack of "review immediately" books.

Me: That's a great idea. I'm going to go check my email now.



entling no. 2: I said...immediately. The books cannot move on to a good home until you write about them and you are going to write about them ... now!

Me: [gulp] Can I eat lunch?

entling no. 2: Only, after you've written one review.
Oh, by the way, when we are done here, Mom, we are going ... to the gym!

Me: [gulp]

So neighbors, BookMoot hereby institutes Whip Cracking Wednesdays where I will be reviewing some great books which have languished for much too long on my bookstacks of reproach.

By the way, entling no. 2 needs a job...if you would like to hire her, please drop me an email.

Monday, June 23, 2008

Fascinating Gershwins

We were treated to a trip to the Alley Theatre today to see The Gershwins' An American in Paris. I cannot remember the last time a I enjoyed a show so much. The Houston Chronicle called it a "dansical."

"The show's focus from the beginning was on dance and comedy along with some heartfelt romance using the Gershwin songs as the engine to create a sense of joy," said Boyd, the show's director. "Dance does that better than any other element of theatrical language."

I just know that I could barely keep my feet still. It was a hit here, originally scheduled to only run through June 1 but extended through today, June 22.

Playbill says:
A future life for the show has not been announced; however, the musical's Tony-nominated book writer, Ludwig, hinted that Paris may be eyeing Broadway following its Houston premiere.

The Gershwin's beautiful melodies and lyrics were matched with nimble dialog, great voices and polished and fast paced comedy and dancing. The story chronicles the "backstage" events that lead up to the filming of the Gene Kelly classic, An American in Paris.

I sure hope this show has a future. It was amazing. Thanks to the Alley for providing these clips on YouTube.

Saturday, June 21, 2008

The Purple Balloon

The Purple BalloonThe Purple Balloon by Chris Raschka, Schwartz Wade Books, 2007

This gentle little book is a place to start talking about death with children. Softly-colored ballons with expressive faces evoke the sorrow, concern and care that family and caregivers show for terminally ill family members. Raschka's first line sets the tone for the book as he states, "Dying is hard work." He explains how family, friends and care workers can help and how important it is to have support. He adds that the impending death of a child is the "only thing harder to talk about than someone old dying--"

Ann Armstong-Dailey's preface note describes the phenomena that many children, facing their own death, will draw a blue or purple balloon "floating free" when they are asked to express their feelings through drawing. The image of this balloon seems to be universal, regardless of cultural or religious background she says. A purple ballon with a calm face is the final image in the book. The balloon's wings ripple below it, suggesting wings as it floats in the air, its face is calm and peaceful.
The book also gives some concrete suggestions that children and their families can do to support someone facing a life ending illness.

This is a must have for school library parent collections. Part of the proceeds from the book's sales benefit Children's Hospice International.

Thursday, June 19, 2008

Sadness: Tasha Tudor

Yesterday, the family of Tasha Tudor announced:

It is with great sadness that we must tell you Tasha Tudor, 92, passed away in her Vermont home on June 18, 2008 surrounded by family and friends. We have created an online memorial website and invite all who loved Tasha to share their feelings and memories in the Memory Book section. Memorial Website

Her books brought our family such joy. Her nostalgic, yet, timeless illustrations and themes were a part of our family's childhood.

Rapunzel's Revenge

Entling no. 2 looks at me and says, "You have too many books."

This from the kid who had so many books in her apartment when we packed her up that I decided the laws of physics must have been suspended at those map coordinates. That many books could not possibly have fit into that tiny abode. They are all here now. She does have all of her books on shelves.

My book stacks of reproach are groaning so I've asked her if she wanted to lend a hand with some reviews.

Rapunzel's RevengeRapunzel's Revenge by Shannon and Dean Hale, Illustrated by Nathan Hale, Bloomsbury, September 2008

I don't typically share my entmother's enthusiasm for kids' lit. It's not that these books aren't amazing stories; it's just that my preferred reading genres are sci-fi and fantasy, with the occasional supernatural thriller thrown in here and there just to shake things up a bit. Every now and then, though, Mother comes to me and practically shoves the book into my hands, eyes aglow as she gushes over the brilliance of the book.
The latest of these was Rapunzel's Revenge by Shannon and Dean Hale, illustrated by Nathan Hale. I'd read Hale's "Princess Academy" sometime earlier and had enjoyed the independent, can-do attitude of her main character, so I looked forward to more of the same independence. And I wasn't disappointed.
The Rapunzel in this book is a strong character, out to do what's right. Traditional fairytales and Western tall tales are interwoven throughout the story, creating a rich background.
The original story of Rapunzel features a patient princess awaiting her Prince Charming to save her from the tower. This Rapunzel isn't waiting around, twiddling her thumbs. She takes matters into her own hands and doesn't let anyone else take the reins of her life.
With her loyal sidekick Jack (of Beanstalk fame) and his pet goose at her side, Rapunzel embarks on a quest to save her mother from the slave mines of "Mother" Gothel, a witch who's magic has stripped most of the land of all life. As Rapunzel and Jack travel to the heart of the land where Gothel lives, they encounter a wide cast of characters, some ordinary townsfolk, the others familiar figures from fantastic tales of yore.
And who doesn't enjoy a new twist on an old story?
-Entling No. 2
BookMoot adds:
Brava to Shannon Hale for adding depth and richness to yet another fairy tale. Rapunzel can snap her amazingly long braids like Indiana Jones can use a bull whip.

Elementary school librarians are keen to add graphic novels to their collections and this is a title that will be a great fit for elementary libraries and up. It is beautifully drawn, kuddos to Nathan (with a name like that you have to be good) Hale, and the storyline will appeal to guys and girls.

Wednesday, June 18, 2008

So Much to Do...

Thanks to Eric Luper's Random Musings I cannot stop doing THIS!
I did not need to know about this. Must stop ... must....stooooooppp...

Monday, June 16, 2008

Travel with Children's Literature as a theme

Novel Destinations got me thinking about travelogues and guidebooks for trips with children's books as a theme.

One of the loveliest Christmas presents I ever got was How the Heather Looks: A Joyous Journey to the British Sources of Children's Books by Joan Bodger. I spent a day reading this book which literally took me away to another place and time--England in the late 50s early 60s. I enjoyed Bodger's descriptions of traveling with children which rang so true with me: keep them fed, find a place to do laundry.

What are some other titles of travel books that have children's books as the theme?

Nonfiction Monday: Novel Destinations

Dewey: 823.009

Today we have a summer vacation treat.

Novel Destinations: Literary Landmarks from Jane Austen's Bath to Ernest Hemingway's Key West by Shannon McKenna Schmidt & Joni Rendon, National Geographic, 2008

My family will drive miles and miles out of our way to find a bookstore we've heard of. The opportunity to visit actual literary landmarks en route would be so compelling and enticing that we might never reach our destination.

This book is so appealing. The dust jacket is textured to evoke the feel of a moleskine cover. The spine is colored to suggest a worn and much handled book. The design and feel of the book works on every level for this bibliophile.

The book is divided into sections including "Author Houses and Museums," Writers at Home and Abroad," "Literary Festival, Tours, and More" and "Booked up: Literary Places to Drink, Dine and Doze." Book lovers will find suggestions for hotels and restaurants. Schmidt and Rendon have also documented locales to visit like Cannery Row and East of Eden--Monterey and Salinas California.

Visit Washington Irving's "Sunnyside" in Tarrytown, NY, or Snagov Monastery--the reputed burial place of Vlad Dracula. There is Thomas Hardy Country in Dorset, England or the Laura Ingalls Wilder Home and Museum in Mansfield, MO. The Keats-Shelley house in Rome is included as well as the "southern comfort" locales of Flannery O'Connor, Margaret Mitchell and Harper Lee.

An entire section follows Charles Dickens around from home to home to debtor's prison and traces the places where he ate and drank. I did not know there was a Jane Austen Festival in Bath, England each September. From Kafka to Alcott, this is the most entertaining travel guide I have ever owned.

We are staying close to the entwood this summer but this guide tells me that there is the Katherine Anne Porter Literary Center in Kyle, Texas as well as the O. Henry Museum in Austin, Texas to visit "locally."

On the other hand, I do not even have to leave the comfort of my armchair to plot a trip to one of our family's shrines, the literary pub, The Eagle and Child in Oxford, England.

I do know, we will travel there one day and now I have a guidebook to highlight the other wonders along the way.

Wednesday, June 11, 2008

Alphabet Explosion!

Alphabet Explosion! Search and Count from Alien to Zebra by John Nickle, 2006

There are alphabet books like the traditional, "A is for Apple" and there are puzzle books like Walter Wick's I Spy and Can You See What I See books. Nickle has created an alphabet-puzzle book that is engaging and original.

Each illustration holds a certain number of items. For example, on the "D" page there are 20 D's. I see a dragon, dice, a dolphin, duck, a door, donkey, deer,, two animals "dancing," a drop, a dentist...uh...
I am definitely short of the 20. Oh wait, the dragon is dreaming...this is hard!

There are layers of meaning in each illustration. I love the alligator, wearing an apron with the image of an atom on the bib. The pictures enrich vocabulary and reinforce counting.

Nicely done.

Tuesday, June 10, 2008

Tottering to the end zone

Mother Reader's 48 Hour Book Challenge is over for another year.

I had such a nice little stack of books that I thought I might read BUT... it was a "wedding" weekend. As entling no. 1 says, you spend a lot of time investigating, weighing, and pondering items and services that you never get to see (such as the actual dress, flowers, table arrangements) until "the day." You spend a lot of time trying to imagine what everything will look like, fit like, sound like and taste like.

For the Book Challenge I managed to read ...
to quote the immortal Count Von Count ...
"ONE, ONE Wonderful book! AH AH AH AH AH!"
[cue thunder and lightning]

And, that book was Teach Like Your Hair's on Fire by Rafe Esquith, 2007

Rafe Esquith does not claim to be a teaching genius. He is honest about mistakes he has made over the years but his dedication to his students and his principled approach to teaching shine through on every page.

His classroom management skills are centered on Lawrence Kohlberg's Six Levels of Moral Development. As I read about his students accomplishments and challenges it occured to me that a teacher can get a lot of teaching done when students are willing to learn and will forgo disruptive behavior.

One the most moving things about Room 56 to me, was the way former students return there on Saturdays to study and learn. Esquith shares lists and resources that he uses and is brutally honest about faculty meetings and the latest ineffective fads in reading and writing instruction.

The Hobart Shakespearians are the stuff of legends. Their annual play must be something to behold.

Thursday, June 05, 2008

Audiobooks that charm

The month of May was such a busy month here in the entwood that actual reading time has been minimal but BookMoot has been listening to some excellent audiobooks.

We may not be taking driving vacations this year but there are rooms to toss, and closets to clean out and corners to excavate and (sob!) bookcases to weed. I find I stay at these unpleasant tasks longer when I have a great book to listen to.

Ahhh... summer.

Ninjas, Piranhas, and Galileo
by Greg Leitich Smith, Recorded Books, 2004

Three friends, a private middle school and a science fair.

As the school science fair approaches, seventh grader, Elias, lives in the shadow of his older brother's legendary science fair success. Eli is also dealing with his developing romantic feelings for his good friend Honoria. Honoria is determined to train piranhas to become vegetarians for her science project and she is attracted to Shohei who is totally unaware that he is the focus of her attentions. He is frustrated by his adoptive parents' intense focus on his Japanese heritage and their overreaching attempts to make sure he remains "in touch" with his cultural background. His own interest in the science fair is minimal, so, looking for an easy way out, he teams-up with Eli. His lack of effort spells disaster for their project which in turn, has terrible consequences for Elias.

The story is told in the first person by three main characters. Elias, Honoria and Shohei are wonderfully voiced by the actors in this audio version. My one regret is that Recorded Books, who produced the book, did credit the performers who so perfectly caught the tone and point of view of the three characters.

The story is full of humor. Greg translates that strange time that is middle school / junior high with sympathy and affection.

Great fun.

Lionboy by Zizou Corder, read by Simon Jones, Highbridge Audio, 2003

I know you've heard audiobook narrators who work so hard at different characters' voices that they seem to be about to strangle themselves with the microphone chord sometimes.
Audiobook performance is difficult, which makes Jim Dale's (Harry Potter) achievement even more extraordinary. In this production, Simon Jones's narration never gets in the way of the story. His expertise in this genre shines here.

Charlie Ashanti has a happy life. His scientist parents provide him with love and security. When they disappear under mysterious circumstances, Charlie uses the clues they leave behind and his gift for speaking the language of cats to trace their whereabouts.

His search takes him to the river's edge where he joins a circus which travels the rivers of Europe on a huge barge. The calliope music is of the circus is utterly beguiling and puts the listener on board the ship along with Charlie. He is taken on as the lionboy, the assistant to the sinister lion tamer. Keeping his ability to communicate with the lions, a secret is a challenge. He receives updates about his parents from cats at the various cities and towns where the circus performs. Charlie longs to free the circus lions from their captivity and continue the search for his parents but accomplishing an escape is dangerous. Then there is the problem of traveling through a city with a group of lions and not attracting unwanted attention.

Very original story with sequels to listen to.

Oh boy!!

Miracle on 49th Street by Mike Lupica, read by Michele Santopietro, 2006

Why couldn't Santopietro read Twilight? I might have enjoyed it. She gives twelve year old Molly Parker's voice a freshness and optimism that works perfectly with the story.

Molly's mother has recently died from cancer and she has come to live with her mother's sister and family. She is not unhappy, she has a great friendship with Sam, a brilliant guy with whom she can share everything. Her dream is to have a relationship with her father, Josh Cameron who is a star player with the Boston Celtics. Living in England for most of her life, her mother had not told her the truth about her father's identity until she became ill.

YA novels are often about a girl yearning for a relationship with the guy of her dreams. In this story, they guy is her dad. Now Molly is on a quest to meet her father and hopefully enjoy a happy father-daughter relationship with him.

Lupica includes lots of behind-the-scenes details of the pro basketball world which ring true.

Sweet story !
Mike Lupica sure knows how to engage me with characters I really care about.

I confess I have been somewhat reluctant to take up Charlie Higson's Young Bond books. I have such a fondness for my Alex Rider (by Anthony Horowitz, nicely read by Simon Prebble.)

As Alex is a "sort of" young James Bond-like character, I wondered if Higson's "James" would be distinct or a mere shadow of young Alex. I have not even bothered with the new novel incarnations of Bond as I prefer the Fleming originals.

I was thrilled and happy to discover that SilverFin and Blood Fever were compelling and "didn't want to stop" listens for me. Nathaniel Parker (clicked on his website and shouted, "Oh, him! Inspector Lynley!) is an outstanding voice actor who shades each character with a distinct tone and cadence.

I enjoyed Siverfin but I loved Blood Fever. There is much here for the guys. Blood Fever teaches fishing techniques, explains the workings of the internal combustion engine and learning to drive a car.

One nice aspect of the stories, for those who insist that a book has to teach a lesson (not me) is that the loutish bullies who make life miserable for James at Eton, are redeemed and end up as friends with him.

There are sly references to the future career of 007 which fans will "get." I have Higson's third book downloaded and ready for listening.

I guess it is time to go toss the entlings' rooms now. I'm ready.

Wednesday, June 04, 2008

Bookstore People: Topher Bradfield

We spent Memorial Day in beautiful Austin, Texas at the Texas State Solo & Ensemble Contest at the University of Texas. There were hundreds and hundreds of high school kids from all over Texas there, giving up their holiday weekend to perform. Small ensembles dotted the benches and walls outside the music building. They were warming up and practicing. I got chills listening to a trumpet trio play Bugler's Holiday.

One of the benefits of an Austin excursion is fantastic food (yummm...Trudy's) and the opportunity to visit Book People Bookstore. We had acquired a friend of Entling no. 2 at the store and she cheerfully tagged along with me upstairs to the kids' section. (My own kids speed away from me in a bookstore as fast as their winged feet can fly them.) We were perusing the shelves when a Book People person came by to offer his help. He told us he had not read ALL the books ther but he had read a lot of them and if we had any questions, just ask.

Hey, I thought, that is MY usual line.

Then it hit me.

That was TOPHER!

I know about Topher Bradfield because Rockstar Rick Riordan raves about him on his blog. Topher was a force in the creation of Camp Half Blood and a children's book evangelist at local schools and literary events in our capital city and beyond.

I chased after him.

"Are you Topher?"
He agreed that he was and asked (probably nervously) who I was.

He must have decided I did not pose an overt threat because we then spent a splendid chunk of time talking books. We share a grand enthusiasm for all things Percy Jackson. He pointed us toward a table of his current picks and we were treated to a series of wonderful booktalks that had passers-by stopping in their tracks to listen (and then pick up the books to buy.)

Then he began to read the first chapter of Skulduggery Pleasant: Playing with Fire aloud to us. Wow! There is nothing like hearing a gifted reader share a book they love.
Topher performed the book with enthusiasm and a whiff of James Joyce in his delivery.

As I left the store with my new stack of books, I was reminded of the famous last words I had uttered an hour earlier, "I'm not getting any books today."

I did not know I was going to meet Topher.