Sunday, December 30, 2007
Friday, December 28, 2007
"This one's for both of us! Come on, let's open it together!"
We've had like a week of happy and excited, cooperative, generous and helpful. And to think, all it took was about half a ton of plastic, batteries, cardboard, and paper.
Well, there was also some voluminous puking Wednesday night, but all told, I'll take the bad with the good.
Sunday, December 23, 2007
All right, I lied before about giving up on replacing the vinyl tablecloth that we've been using as a tree skirt.
I decided to make one.
I didn't come to this decision easily, mind you. I had to do much soul-searching (well, Internet searching) and I had to discover that such an item could be made using glue and felt and not with any sewing.
Also, I had an Idea. Jesus, next time I have one of those somebody just tip my head back and fill me full of bourbon until I forget my own name. Oh, I should warn - there WILL be uncontrollable cursing as I document this process.
The Idea was to decorate the tree skirt with the kids' hand prints. The Idea is that every year we'll get the kids to make handprints with craft paint and felt and we'll glue them to the tree skirt, so that we'll eventually end up with kind of a graphic representation of their growth. Didn't you always love putting your hand in the tiny plaster handprint you made in kindergarten?
So, I traveled to JoAnn Fabric. I bought 2 yards of grey polyester felt ($8 per yard) and 1 yard apiece of beautiful wool felt ($15/yard) in red, green, and ivory (so that each year we can do the handprints on a contrasting color of felt). I bought glue and craft paint and a pair of pinking shears.
I picked out a satiny twisted trim in crimson red. I stood there and thought to myself, "How much trim do I need? If the tree skirt is a 60" diameter circle... what is it? πr2? No, that's way too much. 2πr? Yeah!" I double-check when I get to the lady at the cutting desk. "What's the formula for the circumference of a circle? Is it 2πr?" The lady says, "I just multiply the radius by 4 and add a little when I have to do that," and I think to myself, "Jesus, no wonder there are so many accidents on the highway."
So at the cash register it is not lost on me that the semi-cool tree skirt I saw at Crate & Barrel was $80, and I am paying $90 for supplies to make my own. It was the pinking shears that did it.
I begin. I fold the grey felt in quarters, then 8ths to make a wedge shape. I trim it so as to have the largest possible circle. I cut out a smaller circle for the tree to go in the middle, and a cut from the edge to the middle.
I set up the kitchen for handprints. Newspaper on the kitchen table, paint mixed on a plastic plate. Ivory and a little gold, for a swirly effect. I lay out that expensive red felt. I think to myself, "Try not to kill anyone if the paint spills or if they smear the paint or... whatever, just TRY not to murder anyone." We make handprints without incident. Oddly, Mr. Four and Big Man have virtually the same size hands, even though they are almost 2 years apart.
I decided on ivory paint on red felt because red paint on ivory felt would look like a bloody hand, but now that I'm looking at this, all I can think of is the Uruk-Hai. Oh well.
I start gluing down the trim. Rather than mark out a border that is consistently 2" from the edge, I use my thumb. This works pretty well.
Until I run out of trim.
I am devastated. I was so proud of myself for remembering high school geometry, and I fucked it up anyway. I didn't make a circle of 60" in diameter, I made one with a 72" diameter. DUMB. DUMB! I am shy about a yard of trim.
So. I go back to JoAnn Fabric to get some more. I go to the JoAnn that has all my life been on the highway near my mother's house. It closed last year. I go to the JoAnn that is near where we live. They have the twisted satin trim in every color but crimson. I go to the JoAnn that is comparatively far from where we live. They, too, are out of red twisted satin trim.
One Friday afternoon, I load Mr. Four in the van and pick up Big Man and our friend Nature Girl from school. "We're going on a road trip, guys!" I chirp, and then proceed to drive ONE HOUR north to get to the JoAnn Fabrics that is in fact hell and fucking GONE from where we live. Luckily, they had the red trim. I had to restrain myself from buying the whole spool, just to fuck over some other desperate overachieving underestimating Christmas crafter. But the spirit of the season was upon me, so, loaded down with $2 worth of stupid trim, I bought the kids gummy bears and we headed back to the ranch.
May I say? JoAnn Fabric is, in general, an ok place to buy craft and sewing supplies. There are cheap remnants of fun fabrics to buy as dress-ups for the kids, there are bolts of crazy tulle and strings of sequins to look at with your kids. Granted, it takes a little patience for a four-year-old to hang in there while you're waiting in line to get your fabric measured and cut, or to not destroy the world while mommy ponders which of 14 shades of green embroidery floss would best represent the oak tree foliage in the background of yet another cousin's baby blanket, but there is frankly no need for the gauntlet of candy that you have to run in order to get to the cash register. Really, they can keep it together that far, but once they see the candy, it suddenly occurs to them how OPPRESSED they have been throughout the store, and they suddenly realize that mommy's buying all stuff FOR HER and they are getting NOTHING, and they suddenly must have a solid-sugar pacifier or else they WILL DIE.
Back home, I finish gluing on the trim. This time, I cleverly put a vinyl table cover between the felt and the table - previously, I had not realized that felt is porous enough for the glue to go right through, and I had glued the tree skirt to the tablecloth slightly.
I have enough trim left for a border around the inside hole too, which looks good. I cut out the handprints and glued them to the tree skirt too. This is the point at which I glued my hair into the project. Goddamn hair.
Almost done! Except for the JoAnn Fabric fiasco, this project didn't take long AT ALL. If I'd been at it all at once, a couple hours max.
I dug out some cotton embroidery floss and a needle to embroider each of our initials on our handprints.
That green floss sure looks great against the red felt. Maybe I should embroider a border around each of the hands. AWWW, NAW! DON'T DO IT! The killer is hiding under the stairs - don't go down there!
Too late. I blew it. I have spent the past week and a half embroidering borders. I decided to do four different stitches, because, if you're going to fuck yourself, you might as well do it hard. Wait. That's - errrr.
Anyway. I pulled out my embroidery stitch book and found a couple good stitches, one of which apparently can only be done in a straight line.
Closed feather stitch in the book.
Closed feather stitch on the tree skirt.
You know what I'm going to say in the future about this part? I'm going to say that Big Man did it. Seriously. I'm going to say, "He was only six! Didn't he do a great job? For six?" Yes, that's right. I'm going to lie. If I say it often enough he will believe it himself.
The stitch I really liked, though - a nice sprigged stitch my Grandma used between the blocks of the wool lap blankets she stitched together out of the leftovers from making clothes for my mom and my aunt - wasn't in the book. I examined it closely and duplicated it. That was a nice little moment. Grandma's stitches were so even - she was obviously a machine when it came to these things. I have three of those lap blankets, and each one must have eighty feet of embroidery on it.
Tonight, I finished the motherfucker. Looks nice. My fingers hurt. FTW.
Skippyjon Jones and the big bones by Judy Schachner
Last year, Big Man's kindergarten teacher said of the Skippyjon Jones books, "I feel like I'm sort of being manipulated to like these books, and I really just don't." She couldn't put her finger on what she didn't care for, and I'm with her. After all, I LOVE the chalky, colorful, detailed illustrations that are both quirky and technically accomplished; I like the title character, who is both independent and imaginative, and his tattletale little sisters and no-nonsense mom, with their fun names; and I adore Schachner's use of Spanglish ("Hola, dudes!") throughout. Hell, there's even a song or two.
I think what always bugs me about these books is the plot, weirdly enough. Accompanied by his crowd of Chihuahua friends, Skippyjon Jones assumes his alter ego, Skippito Friskito the great sword fighter, and goes on an imaginary adventure in his closet. And I swear, it's the adventure story that always falls apart. Even my kids get confused looks on their faces during the part where Skippito battles the giant bee / dances with the dinosaurs / whatever. I keep reading these books though, because Skippyjon and his family are great characters and I love saying their names. You guys want to start calling me Mama Junebug Jones, you go right ahead.
A closer look, by Mary McCarthy
A neato book about observation and scale for the youngest pairs of eyes. VERRY reminiscent of Steve Jenkins, with strong colors and paper collage art.
Water Boy by David McPhail
A nice, weird book about a boy's relationship with water - the water in his body, the water in his bath, the water in the environment. Like a caring teacher, David McPhail's characteristically quiet, rich watercolors get right down in front of the boy to observe his reactions to the ordinary and extraordinary manifestations of water in his world. Four really liked it.
Calendar by Myra Cohn Livingston, illustrated by Will Hillenbrand
The sparse text here was a little abstract for my four year old, but the energetic, slightly minimalist illustrations somewhat made up for that.
Meet the meerkat by Darrin Lunde, illustrated by Patricia Wynne
Patricia Wynne is a contract illustrator for the American Museum of Natural History, and while her somewhat clumsy mice and hominids in books such as Ian Tattersall and Rob DeSalle's Bones, Brains and DNA make you feel like maybe she's overworked, the keenly observed drawings of meerkats in this book by mammalogist Darrin Lunde show you what she can do given a single subject. This is an appealing little book about a popular little beast, a rare item in the Easy nonfiction area.
Bean Thirteen by Matthew McElligott
The faux-woodcut illustrations in this buggy book about division are just fantastic. Chunky, hip, and expressive, with a sophisticated, punchy palette. The story? Mr. Four and I said "Meh."
Phooey! by Marc Rosenthal
Where Once Upon a Banana does cause-and-effect with road signs, Phooey! does it with onomatopoeia. A bored kid kicks a can ("Phooey!"), which hits a cat ("BONK"), who falls out of the tree ("flump"), etc. All the while the kid, complaining that nothing every happens around here, walks right past all the exciting action. Rosenthal, who calls Celesteville "my utopia" in his dedication, displays a love of clean line and clear color totally worthy of Babar. We went through it twice to catch all the action.
The Police Cloud by Christoph Niemann
Christoph Niemann does a lot of work for The New Yorker. Maybe that's why Mr. Four and I just kind of didn't get this book. Four didn't understand that the cloud by his very nature cannot be an effective police officer. Because he's a puff of vapor, right? And I didn't understand why you would write a book in which the premise and the plot are so completely at odds. Plus I'm getting kind of tired of illustration that looks like Colorforms. I don't care if it's trendy or retro - it looks lazy to me.
Tap dancing on the roof by Linda Sue Park, pictures by Istvan Banyai
Linda Sue Park here does for the Korean poetic style sijo what Andrew Clements recently did for haiku - her clear, funny examples of this short poetic form in effect show kids how it's done. After reading poems like:
Pockets...it's almost impossible to not want to try it yourself. And Istvan Banyai? Do I really have to say it? The Goran Visnjic of illustrators. You just want to sit and stare.
What's in your pockets right now? I hope they're not empty:
Empty pockets, unread books, lunches left on the bus - all a waste
In mine: One horse chestnut. One gum wrapper. One dime. One hamster.
Friday, December 21, 2007
I made another round of hot sauce for the holidays. What? Everybody else is making cookies, well I don't particularly LIKE cookies. I don't like the mess, I don't like having to mete them out to my children like some jailer with a pack of cigarettes, and I really don't like that whole 8 minutes in the oven or else they burn and stink up the house and make the children cry thing.
I just don't like being told what to do, even by an oven timer.
Ok, so I see your point, that's idiotic. Well, anyway, if you are a lucky friend or relative of mine, or if you're the type to hand out baggies of cookies this time of year, you may get handed a bottle of fire. This time I used my old recipe: drown the chilis in white vinegar til you're ready to cook, blend the chilis and vinegar with a mango or something, force thru a strainer to get the seeds out, cook til the vinegar taste is mostly gone, fix the consistency with alcohol and/or water, et voilà.
But I was looking at the skin-and-seeds pulp that was left over after I strained the paste. "That's a lot of hot right there," I thought to myself.
So I spread the stuff on a piece of foil and stuck it in the oven on a cookie sheet (see, they come in handy even in my house) at 250 degrees for a couple hours. Dried it right up til it was crunchy-looking.
While it was cooling on the stove top, our friend Sam came to collect his daughter. "What's this?" he said, and picked up a large flake and brought it to his face. "NO! AAA! DON'T EAT THAT!" I hollered. "PUT IT DOWN!"
I think I kind of offended him. In retrospect, he probably was just going to give it a sniff. But I have seen that man eat a pickled plum from my fridge the size and color of a baby's testicle, and then pretend that it was fit to eat until he conned someone else into trying one (poor Constance). So I wasn't taking any chances. I think if you ate a mouthful of this stuff you would end up in the 'mergency room.
Eventually I peeled the stuff off the foil and mashed it up in a mortar, and now we have a big jar of extremely potent homemade chili flakes to shake onto our pizza. If we want to die.
Wednesday, December 19, 2007
Why is this man smiling?
Because this little boy has his hand up his dress!
Our Christmas tree ornaments come from all over the place. Besides Kenny Angel up there, a gift from my brother (who may not be the most communicative Joe in the world, but who consistently gives genius gifts), I have beautiful mercury glass skulls and devil heads, plastic lizards and bugs, plaster cadaveras with springs for legs, and homemade ornaments from virtually everyone who has ever meant anything to me.
Bitter-to-the-core (and Jewish) Jaime contributed an eyeshadow hanging from a thread one year, and it still occupies a proud place. My old friend Tom gutted a broken blow dryer, and the coil and wires from within make a surprisingly festive ornament. Bob's sister Nancy made us a sweet birdhouse ornament for Big Man's first Christmas - it's one of the few things we own that testify to the brief period when we were a family of three. Even my ex-husband is represented, with a cardboard model of the Chrysler Building (sans windows and doors, of course - his maquettes were always terribly revealing psychologically).
But it's my grandma whose work is most in evidence. What that woman couldn't do with a wooden clothespin and a scrap of felt... probably shouldn't be attempted.
Here is a gallery of her clothespin people:
Clowns, soldiers, an angel, a Santa... and a Shriner! My grandfather miniaturized and commemorated once a year on my Christmas tree! Perfect.
And here is her Jawa, constructed in the late seventies for her Star Wars-obsessed grandchildren. Thirty years later, her Star Wars-obsessed great-grandchildren are JUST as impressed.
Believe me, I am one scroogey bitch, but a scene like this
... makes even me agree to an eggnog.
"It was a NEW pizza place!"
"It wasn't new - daddy said it had been there since 1996."
"1943. And it was started by a guy who came to this country all the way from Indianapolis."
"Starts with an 'Ih'..."
Pretty good geography for 4 and 6 year olds.
"Right! And what was the guy's name?"
"Matthew! And there was a picture of him up on the wall in a gold frame."
"Did he look like a happy guy?"
"You think so? because I was going to tell mommy that he looked like one sad, bitter S.O.B."
"Yeah, I think he had a sad S.U.V."
Monday, December 17, 2007
You are Captain Malcolm Reynolds, aka. Mal or Captain Tightpants. You saw most of your men die in a war you lost and now you seek solitude with a small crew that you are fiercely devoted to. You have no problems being naked.
Take this quiz!
Well, one of those statements applies.
Wednesday, December 12, 2007
You know that thing about the catshit coffee? Feral Indonesian cats eat coffee berries, the pits of which (coffee beans), pass through their digestive system (including the butthole, for those of you keeping track) unscathed. Then people (hopefully well-paid people) pick the beans out of the cat poop and sell them to gullible Americans for $80/pound.
Reeks of 21st century legend, right? I was so sure it was crap (sorry), but then my trusted friends Amy and Thomas, the owners of Zeke's Coffee, told us the other day that they've gotten their hands on some (eww) and are hosting a tasting. January 13, 9am, Mill Valley Garden Center. Ten bucks a ticket.
If Jaime can eat a wriggling grub the size of my thumb, you can go drink a cup of catshit coffee.
Tuesday, December 11, 2007
Look at her laughing - she makes Bourdain look like a puss!
My kids were SO impressed: the one said, "If I ate a grub I would spit it out!" Of course, he says that about mushrooms too. The other said, "Can we see one with the grubs going in people's noses?"
Jesus, what am I raising?
On the other hand, they both ate squid for dinner with an adventurous aplomb I've not seen since their first encounter with chocolate chips. Thanks, James.
Friday, December 07, 2007
If I couldn't get a nice shot of both boys looking at the camera and smiling, this picture was our fall-back for the xmas card.
What? It's kind of nice, don't you think? Snowy. Green. Not likely to bash its brother in the head or make fart jokes.
Sigh. My god. Holidays.
Of all the things I've been chasing down (crystal candlesticks, a coatrack, cool-looking pillowcases, a present for my brother), the one that has eluded me ENTIRELY is a cool Christmas tree skirt.
I'm stuck with the damn dead tree in the living room (certain things, like circumcision, my husband just puts his foot down about), so, ok, I decorate around it. I have a large collection of interesting ornaments collected around the globe and from a million museums... and Kenny Angel topping the tree (a gift from my brother, Kenny Angel is a Ken doll dressed in a wedding gown and sporting a red AIDS ribbon and a pearl necklace. See why my brother is so hard to buy for?)... but ALL the tree skirts out there are synthetic velvet or uninspired quilting or full of tassels and sequins and... gag! gag! I went through 3 stores today and wanted to stab myself in the ears from the carols alone!
I've tried Etsy. I've tried Ebay, Target, Stebbins, Garnet Hill, UnicaHome (bastards), Bed Bath and Behind, Smythe, Company Store and LL Bean.
...and I'm done. Unless something comes and wraps itself around my neck, we are going with the red and white round vinyl tablecloth we've used since the late nineties.
Thursday, December 06, 2007
"Can't you just take a picture of us playing?"
"Can we take one picture of each of us instead of one together?"
"The sun is burning my eyes!"
"Can our Christmas card make sounds when you open it up?"
"Like a fart sound?"
"Yeah! It should fart 'Rudolph the Red-Nosed Reindeer'!"
"Gentlemen, please, just look at me and smile, ok?"
"NOW can we go make snow angels?"
Tuesday, December 04, 2007
What? You didn't hear about it? Well then YOU must not have KIDS! Cause it's ONLY for people who show up with ankelbiters, boobmunchers, legitimate offspring or random borrowed urchins. Not too often you hear about a rock show that serves both juice boxes and microbrews. They used to have it in Tracey's back yard, but I think it's even nicer at the Patterson.
After some initial shyness, the kids danced and played. Big Man has some seriously dorky moves (by adult standards) but his cool friend Western State started copying him anyway. They looked pretty great, Big Man with his six arms flailing, Western with his hair streaming.
Our friend Girltwin, who's about a year and a half old, got right down front and did that up-and-down baby booty dance. Our friend Lisa, who's older than a year and a half, the frontwoman for Secret Crush, nearly lost her place a few times when she caught sight of Girltwin, the kid was just. so. cute! There was much spinning, some guitar-god idolatry, and everyone got a turn when it came time to pull trash from the dolphin's gullet.
Except Mr. Four: Mr. Four preferred to dance with me. As you can see above.
And that's the story of what happened to my back and why I am nearly nauseous with pain.
Kids + rock and roll = SO fun. Both bands were absolutely terrific.
Sunday, December 02, 2007
You gots to give books for the holidays this year. Has yez not heard? Nobody reads nowadays, and that makes us stupiderer.
Here are some ideas of books that people would like to get. (Not me, I only want DVD's.) (but I work at a library, I'm not really in that much danger of getting stupiderer) (can't get much dumber than keeping a job that pays like this when you have student loans like I do.)
Anyway. I don't tend to give fiction - most people read fiction once and then donate it or pass it along. I give non-fiction and children's books, and sometimes short story or essay collections. And remember - books are easy to wrap!
Want to be a hero? Buy some kid either the Marvel Encyclopedia or the DC Encyclopedia or both. Although your otaku brother-in-law will screech over all the outdated information (the books are produced by DK, notorious for inaccuracy) and hairsplit about whether Ms. Marvel should be identified as Warbird or not, he'll love the books even more for giving him a chance to show off his erudition. These books are the comic book equivalent of a steak stuffed with smoked oysters and wrapped in bacon. With port-wine butter sauce.
Choosing Civility by P.M. Forni. Local fussbudget makes good, and reminds us that the finger is not an acceptable substitute for verbal criticism. But... but... I love the finger!
That giant NASA picture book, errr... America in Space: NASA’s First Fifty Years. Abrams, 2007. For your husband, dad or geeky sister who hopes that "there's intelligent life in space, 'cause there's bugger-all down here on earth," and who consequently sends you links like this one.
That less-giant but still hefty National Geo photo book. Will bring a tear to the eye.
America From the Air. Wired magazine picked this one and so do I. It comes with a CD-ROM so you can take it with you on the flight and match up the pictures you see out the window with the pictures in the book. Whee!
George Saunders's new essay collection - fuh-nee!
Ira Glass's new story collection - e'erbody love Ira!
There is a small but risible subgenre of cookbooks that could be called "Get Her on Her Back With Your Mad Hollandaise." I believe myself to own one of the earliest examples of this type of book - Esquire's Handbook for Hosts, copyright 1949 and recently republished, presumably for its kitsch value: in addition to recipes for Peanut Butter Soup (involves celery) and Tongue Tidbits (don't ask), there are comments like, "Women don't seem to understand fish - and, we suppose, vice versa." If you can get your hands on that book, it's pretty excellent, but an updated version is also available: Tucker Shaw's Gentlemen, Start Your Ovens, which is all about "what to cook when your game doesn't work" and "what to serve for breakfast when someone (or more than one someones) is waiting for you in bed". I mean, well, yeah - yuck... but the book is funny and has cool photos and translates mise en place to 'get your shit together before you start'.
Emily Flake's cutie li'l book. Reviewed earlier. For the smoker in your life.
Last year's I Like You: Hospitality Under the Influence by Amy Sedaris is more than worth a second glance. Last year you might have picked it up and thought, "Nah, I'm just desperate - it's a novelty book, nobody will look at it more than once." But this year we know that we wish we'd bought it last year. So get it, already - buy it for your best girlfriend, or possibly your mom.
Sitcom Style: Inside America's Favorite TV Homes by Diana Friedman. While we're talking shallow, this book is kind of mesmerizingly so. Did you really need the Cosby's living room parsed? What was the decision behind that flowered couch on "Married... With Children"? And... was there a little bathroom adjacent to Mike's study in the Brady Bunch house? If there was, I'll bet it had this wallpaper.
Bibliodyssey. Beautiful images out of rare books.
Russian Criminal Tattoo Encyclopedia Volume II. Just what it says. There's someone in your life for this book, whether you know it or not.
Cartographia: Mapping Civilizations by Vincent Virga and the Library of Congress. Little, Brown, 2007 ($60). Mankind's need to abstract and make comprehensible the physical world around them is documented thoroughly in this fascinating book. Every type of map technique and purpose seems to be represented, and explained clearly. For your valued friend who can use the word "orthography" in a sentence. My only quibble is that the printing is not quite high-resolution enough, but since these maps are from the collection of The Library of Congress, they should all be available online in the MrSid format, which allows very close zooming. But their search engine is down, so I can't check. Grr.
I used to have a photo of a fossil ichthyosaur skeleton, an elasmosaur or a thalassomedon, I can't remember. This photo was taken a LONG time ago, with the skeleton hanging against a backdrop of black velvet. The negative is an 11" x 17" piece of glass. Fine grain? Oh, man. You could dive into a print of that photo and hit bottom in the late Cretaceous. The skeleton glows. The new book Evolution, text by Jean-Baptiste de Panafieu, photographs by Patrick Gries, gives us hundreds of full and partial skeletons at just that quality. Luxurious and stunning, with brief explanatory essays. It's on my coffee table right now.
Howtoons. Lazily, I am going to quote the book description: "Part comic strip and part science experiment, Howtoons shows children how to find imaginative new uses for common household items like soda bottles, duct tape, mop buckets, and more–to teach kids the "Tools of Mass Construction"!" For your creative child who also loves Bob McLeod's Superhero ABC.
Shipwreck Detective, by Richard Platt. Full of doodads, bells, whistles, maps, photos, and other worth-obsessing-over impedimenta, bound with an elastic strap so none of it falls out. Fascinating to children and adults.
Ages 2-6: 365 Penguins by Jean-Luc Fromental. Reviewed earlier. Or any of the books in my best picture books of 2007 so far or best picture books for hipsters posts.
Ages 4-7: The Incredible Book-Eating Boy by Oliver Jeffers. Reviewed earlier.
Ages 8-13: The True Meaning of Smekday by Adam Rex. Reviewed earlier.
Ages 14-17 (girl flavored): Dangerous Angels by Francesca Lia Block. All 5 Weetzie Bat books collected between two covers. Pop Rocks for the brain and heart.
The Dangerous Book for Boys and The Daring Book for Girls - sure-fire best-sellers this holiday season - are notably absent from my list. They're kind of fun to flip through, and I could see some kid opening them up on a rainy day... if the cable were out... and the Wii was broken... and there was nothing in the fridge... and you were bored of poking things in the cat... but really they just seem to be pitched at those hand-wringing parents who don't feel like childhood today is "natural" enough, that kids get outside enough, who worry that the capoeira classes and Latin study group are somehow making their children odd and precious.
And you know what? Those parents may have something there, but buying a book that teaches their kids how to be kids... yeah, also not the answer.
Happy buying season! We're off to the Merry Mart at the Creative Alliance.
Wednesday, November 28, 2007
Valentine cookies from the Edelweiss, February, 2006
We were very sorry to read in this morning's paper that our local bakery, the Edelweiss, has closed. The baker, Dietrich Paul, who owned the place together with his wife, died. He had been diagnosed with Lou Gehrig's disease last year.
When we moved to Northeast Baltimore we loved the way the neighborhood felt kind of old. There were shops that sharpened scissors and repaired vacuum cleaners. "What's next?" we joked, as we traveled the main drag, "a place that fixes VCR's?". There are numerous medical pharmacies and dialysis centers, too. And a real Italian deli that makes its own mozzarella and a German deli that makes its own schnitzel. We totally monopolized the City Paper's Best of Baltimore (note the Kevin Sherry illustration - he of I'm the Biggest Thing in the Ocean) this year.
The bakery felt like it had been there forever, and looked like it could have been in a mill town in Pennsylvania - homemade curtains, Bible verses, and decorative plates on the wall. We had an enormous cookout as a housewarming party, and I called the bakery to see if we could buy hamburger and hotdog buns from them. Mr. Paul said they didn't make them as a rule, but he could bake a few dozen for me, sure, no big deal. They were great - how often do you get compliments on the buns?
It felt both thrifty and indulgent to buy bread there, and an apple fritter the size (and texture, I'm guessing) of Stephen Hawking's brain, and a few cookies. I never managed to break a twenty at that place, even when I treated the kids to lunch.
Every Thursday afternoon a posse of truly ancient German-speaking people would show up for the sauerbraten special (pretty damn good sauerbraten) and stay to sing songs that I'd always suspect could be translated to, "We are the Germans, we're so great, all the rest of you will be our slaves sooner or later," but they were so damn merry about it, pausing to gasp out laughter or take a hit off the oxygen tank.
It turns out that Dietrich and his wife were no young pups themselves. According to the Sun article, when they bought the bakery 9 years ago, Mrs. Paul was 70... and I don't think that he was any younger than she. Pretty hard-core, to start a new business at an age when everyone else is settling down to watch a couple decades of "Murder, She Wrote".
But he was something of a hard-core guy, especially considering that he smelled like vanilla extract. I was buying a pound of cookies one day. He piled a double handful onto the scale, and as he pulled his hands away, the scale read one pound exactly. I said something banal like, "Looks like you have the touch." He gave me a speculative look for a second, as if deciding whether or not he should tell me the story, then he shrugged a little and said, "When I was in the merchant marine, we were in a bad storm on the North Sea," and I mean, right there, you know, you could finish that sentence any way you wanted to - you are one balls-ass baker, in my book. Turns out his scale went overboard in the storm and he had to guesstimate everything he cooked for the next 4 months, so he's been good at eyeballing weights ever since.
And you know, I can tell a man's inseam at ten paces because I used to sell menswear... but that's just not the same.
We're going to miss getting the kids' birthday cakes from Edelweiss. I'm going to miss those insane apple fritters. It was a real treat to be greeted by Miss Nancy, Mrs. Genevieve, and the good-natured, reserved Mr. Paul, and our neighborhood is poorer without him and without his bakery.
Monday, November 26, 2007
Who won the National Book Award for young people's literature this year? Sherman Alexie did. Yeah, you know it. Sherman Alexie: basketball enthusiast, unabashed heterosexual, thoughtful interview subject, full-time Indian.
I've had The Absolutely True Diary of a Part-Time Indian in my stack since mid-summer - it's one of the few ARC's I've gotten my hands on. But I didn't read it because I've read everything the man's ever written and would recommend any of his books to older teenagers, so I figured that the book he wrote that was intended for teenagers would be solidly great and I could recommend it sight unseen.
I really shouldn't do that, but there just isn't time, you know? I read the ones I'm not sure about first.
So now my man has won the National Book Award, and I finished Halting State by Charles Stross last night (oh my god the jargon!) so I picked up Big Sherm's Big Winnah Book. Read it, cried, laughed, cried, finished it, went to bed happy.
You have got to hand it to Sherman Alexie - he writes books that just motor right along. This book, told in the first person, in no way neglects the main character's feelings and growth, and yet the pace never ever drags.
Who do I recommend this book for? Hm. There is death in this book, and not incidental death, not cartoon violence death. Junior, our protagonist, gets his heart broken by family members and friends, and faces ostracization, poverty, and racism. Through Junior, we hear Sherman Alexie speaking loud and clear about girls, alcohol, economic injustice, and reservation life. It's an emotionally raw book, no question. My copy says 14 and up, and I might agree there. I might not buy it for my son's K-8 library, but I will recommend it to high school students and teachers.
The Absolutely True Diary of a Part-Time Indian is a painfully honest, clear-eyed, yet entertaining account of overcoming obstacles and learning to live with an identity both problematic and precious.
Friday, November 23, 2007
The True Meaning of Smekday by Adam Rex
Finished this book last night. Turned back to the beginning and started reading it again. Now, people say that they do that, but this is possibly the first time I have ever actually done that.
Started writing this review. Looked up other reviews. The review in the New York Times uses all the same quotes I would have, and makes most of the same points. So, errr, you can read that review, and I will sum up:
- Best book I have read since The Road by Cormac McCarthy
- Has a surprising amount in common with The Road by Cormac McCarthy
- Except: not (yet) annointed by Oprah, less likely to star Viggo Mortensen when they make a movie out of it
- Also no cannibalism. Wait, I take that back.
- I can't wait for someone to make a movie out of it, but it better be somebody cool
- I want to read it out loud
- My Boov voice will be irresistable
- Should get the Newbery
The book will not convince me to keep our cats though, if they keep peeing on the laundry.
Tuesday, November 20, 2007
Cryoelectron tomography of a magnetotactic bacterium: a three-dimensional reconstruction of the interior of a Magnetospirillum gryphiswaldense cell. The cell membrane is blue, the magnetosome crystal red, and the surrounding vesicle yellow. The image makes it clear that both the membrane vesicle and the "mature" magnetosomes are strung like pearls on a chain along a filamentous structure (green), which is similar to a cytoskeleton. From the article "Bacteria Which Sense the Earth's Magnetic Field" Image copyright: Max Planck Institute for Biochemistry
Sometimes science sounds just like Dungeons and Dragons, doesn't it?
So the question of the day is: Can literature corrupt?
That may sound like a pretty big question for my extremely small and flippant blog, and don't worry, I ain't gon' get all smart on you or anything, it's just that a couple things have come up in the last couple days, and I wanted to think about them.
Our Aimee got the following email about the forthcoming movie The Golden Compass from her relatives sur le bayou, and then from the room mother of her daughter's first grade class:
"We need to get the word out about this movie - it is coming out in December - an atheist produced it, it is marketed for children and in the end they kill God.Apparently The Catholic League has called for a boycott. Not that boycotting movies appears to be within their purview - the stated mission of The Catholic League is
Send this to everyone you know.
The Golden Compass is a big film, due for release on Dec. 7, targeting children. It has an atheistic theme that destroys God in the end of the film with the intent to 'kill God in the minds of children'."
"to safeguard both the religious freedom rights and the free speech rights of Catholics whenever and wherever they are threatened."Whatever. How about if I don't touch that.
Just this weekend I had recommended the movie, and the books that it is based on, to my friends in NYC, who, as it happens, are Catholic, and, as it happens, had decided not to read the books or take their kids to see the movie, on the grounds that the trilogy (called His Dark Materials) is anti-Church. I didn't know about the boycott. I don't even think of His Dark Materials as having anything to do with Catholicism. I just think it's an astonishing adventure story with a lot of metaphysics thrown in. I don't generally recommend it to anyone under about 13 because the concepts are really quite mature. I know some grownups I wouldn't recommend it to, let's just say.
So I was a bit surprised that they'd already heard about the movie and had decided against it, but then, I often discover that I am quite oblivious.
In my opinion, if you participate in decisions about what your child reads, I am all for it. Hell, you participate in any facet of your child's life, that's great. Too many parents don't. And my friends have been at this parenting thing a lot longer than I have. So when I meet parents who don't let their kids read Harry Potter, or Philip Pullman, or Captain Underpants, I usually don't press the point. I don't always get it, but that's ok.
I pushed it a little with my friends this weekend because His Dark Materials is, as I say, an astonishing adventure, and because, as I say, it doesn't strike me as anti-Church. If you've read these books, now is the point where you call me an idiot. The books are patently anti-Church. All the bad guys are working for The Church. And, yes, in fact, God dies.
However, the world of His Dark Materials is not our world. It's like saying that the movie Aliens is anti-corporation. It is. But it's not like Ridley Scott is pointing a finger at, say, PepsiCo. Or even Microsoft. (And god knows there are novels that do just that.) It's a different world, and it's a different Church.
I also find that having a character named God, who dies, is kind of an interesting thing to try out in an alternate-universe novel, and further, I think that Christians and atheists alike can have interesting conversations about it.
There are important differences between Philip Pullman's God and the God that my friends and their kids have a relationship with. First of all, Pullman's God is in a book. Secondly, he's a guy, an old guy - a mortal guy. Thirdly, he's not very important. Say what you will about God in our world... I don't even believe in Him, and even in my life - that God is important.
So, the God in the books is definitely Philip Pullman's God. Pullman is certainly an atheist. So'm I. But there are so many Gods. I think everyone who believes in God - or a god - probably believes in someone different.
And none of this really answers my question: Can literature corrupt?
Are Aimee's relatives right? Can watching The Golden Compass 'kill God in the minds of children'?
I personally think that no fancy movie with Nicole Kidman is going to change an individual's mind about anything except perhaps the advisability of trying cosmetic injections.
Books, though, are a more personal experience, and I think get inside your head more. Can reading The Golden Compass kill God in the mind of a child?
Depends on the child. Depends on the family. Or... wait. You know what? Fuck this hedging. No. No kid is going to read this book and move from a position of full faith to thinking that God is Dead. It's not a newspaper, it's fiction. There are talking animals in it - no child is going to read this book and then turn around and start talking to squirrels.
On the other hand:
Aimee says that these are the relatives who believe that the war in Iraq is God's punishment for the legalization of abortion. Maybe, if you live in a world where such things are possible, maybe in that world animals could talk. Maybe a child could read Harry Potter and become a devil worshipper. If you believe in magic, anything could happen.
And... our Token Boy Librarian, upon reading my earlier post about the company that is offering to freeze the stem cells in your menstrual blood to use in possible future customized medical treatments, said,
"see, and here my first thought was 'well, that's clearly a vampire plot'.Ok, so... I could be wrong. (And weirdly, that's exactly the kind of thing my friend in NYC would say, and in exactly the same words.)
I think I need to take a break from the graphic novels."
I didn't write this to pressure my friends, who read this blog, to bring His Dark Materials into their house (in fact, you put it that way, and it really sounds menacing - like the Pure Evil in the toaster oven in Time Bandits). I respect immensely their engagement in the intellectual and moral life of their kids. Besides, their kids are too young for those books, which I forgot. Plus, it's entirely possible that they might take offense at the way Philip Pullman slags his fictional Church in the books. I myself get pretty cheesed-off when certain authors consistently treat their fictional females with disdain, so I don't read those authors.
However, I maintain my position that when a kid comes from a family in which morals and behavior are presented consistently, explained, and discussed, that kid can evaluate non-familial inputs (such as current events, the behavior of other kids, TV characters, and books) with a critical mind.
If it's taste, it's one thing. If it's fear, then you've already lost.
And as for the title of this post... here's my theory:
The dishwasher needs unloading, and loading again, possibly twice.
There is unfolded laundry on the coffee table.
I am behind on what I do for the Big Man's school.
I am a little behind on the freelance thing I do for the library.
I need to start on the freelance thing I do for the museum.
Haven't fine-tuned the presentation I'm doing for the 3rd graders tomorrow on Internet safety. I have to tone down the child molestation angle and replace it with, er, I don't know what. Suggestions?
Haven't taken a shower yet.
Neglecting Mr. Four criminally. Well, no. Don't take that literally. I hate fielding mean commenters who threaten to send the authorities.
But I went to NYC this weekend and went to the perfume store, and Moss (holy crap), and Ricky's, where, I was right, they had Special Effects hair dye in Cupcake Pink, and then I went up to Madison Ave. and bought really nice long yellow gloves and even scored a fat discount, and ated some oysters for dinner all by myself in a restaurant while I read my awesome awesome amazing book, and spent the night with great friends who I don't get to see often enough, and went to the old museum and breathed in the same old dust and smells and bought an umbrella, which I needed, and a drum, which Big Man needed, and stopped in at Maxilla & Mandible and decided what I would get the kids for xmas, and bracketed the whole thing by riding up and back with The Talented Cousin Rachel, who rocks and who is always fun to talk to.
Plus this weekend was the triumphant return of the All Mighty Senators, who despite some initial soundboard weirdness, which might have tripped up a less professional band and caused tension, played with the energy of teenagers and the virtuosity of 40-something rock and rollers, which, yikes, they are.
As are we all.
PS: That picture up there is me, very happy, consuming a mountain of sushi on my birthday about a week ago. Molly took it. The next day our friend Thomas observed that there really is such a thing as too much sushi. I disagree. If the amount of sushi we ate that night was not too much - and it wasn't - then no, there is no such thing as "too much sushi".
Thursday, November 15, 2007
"Snow Tasting" by Mary Haverfield
What is inspiring?
Well, I'll tell you that communicating with all these illustrators has been inspiring. I've been participating in 7 Impossible Things Before Breakfast's effort to publicize and drive traffic to Robert's Snow, the Internet auction of original works of art donated by children's book illustrators to benefit the Dana-Farber Cancer Institute.
The women I've communicated with (and in my case, it's all been women) have not had all that much in common besides talent and generosity. They always wanted to be illustrators, or they went into illustration after something else went kaflooey. They use a computer, they use watercolors. They're just starting out, they've been at it for decades. They're from Texas, New England, Virginia.
But something that comes up time after time is space to work in: finding it, appropriating it, building it, defending it. Julie Fortenberry camps out in her bedroom. Linda Graves has a big studio by a pond. And Mary Haverfield, who painted the blissed-out snowflake up above, waxes rhapsodic about the space she and her husband just built to accommodate both of their creative careers. Listen to this:
We have been working toward our current living situation for 6 years, and we just moved in this week. My husband is a food and still life photographer for advertising, www.pathaverfield.com. We own the building that houses his studio and a plot of land next door, in a warehouse district of Dallas. The area is rapidly changing, and a few photographers and artists have renovated some of the buildings into loft style homes and studios.
We built a new loft style building behind Pat's studio. My new studio and the garage are on the first floor, and our living space is upstairs. From the 2nd and third floors we have the most amazing views of the city, and my studio is the best I have ever had. Big enough for my illustration work and also the large acrylic paintings I like to do.
Oh, man. That sounds so cool.
After hearing firsthand about some of these struggles to carve out space to work, I enlisted the kids to help me re-fit the playroom/guestroom with a tiny desk and a lamp so that Big Man can do his homework without Mr. Four bugging the crap out of him. There's a CD player and a window, the only window in the house that doesn't have a radiator or a toilet in front of it. Bob and I took one look at the new setup and now we're just jealous as hell - we do our work on the dining room table. If we're lucky.
So today I carried my laptop up to the playroom. Now I can type while I look out at the rain and the willow in the back yard. Beats the heck out of looking at the mess in the dining room.
copyright Mary Haverfield
Paging through Mary Haverfield's books, especially Mocha the Real Doctor, I got the sense that Mary is inspired by what's outside her window as well. The book's about a cat, Mocha, who is drawn with great personality yet always looks like a real cat; however, the natural settings that Mocha sings about to his patients are the masterpieces. Bluebonnets, ferns, buttercups and mesquite trees put the Texas landscape square at the center of the sweet story.
I love to draw and paint plants and flowers. I use a lot of reference material and I have gardened a lot over the years. In the case of Mocha the author mentioned so many plants in the text and I enjoyed working all of them into the illustrations.It's kind of funny that Mary has just moved to the warehouse district - the first book that she wrote as well as illustrated is Harriet, the Homeless Raccoon, the story of a raccoon who makes herself at home first in a family's attic and then in their backyard studio. It's an adorable book, and the raccoon lore and fact pages at the end are welcome, but I have a suspicion that the event wasn't so cute at the time. My neighbors have squirrels in the eaves and it's driven them completely mental. I might be tempted to move downtown too!
It feels like the our best illustrators are always inspired by what they see every day. Every time I open a book illustrated by my friend Pat O'Brien (Captain Raptor, Gigantic!, Megatooth), I see his own face atop the body of a medieval knight, an astronaut, Fletcher Christian. He uses himself or his brothers as models for most of his male characters. (Gets a professional model for most of the females though... his wife is like, "Hey!") Pets, children, houses, and plenty of family members stand in for everyday characters and even famous figures: when Mary illustrated Mister Bones: Dinosaur Hunter, a Ready-to-Read biography of Barnum Brown...
...my husband posed for me for Mr. Bones. He has been Jack in the Beanstalk, and the Giant in that story, a character in Pinnochio, and many other characters over the years. As have countless neighbors and friends. My son did his share of "modeling" for me as well.That would be kind of awesome, to open a book and see yourself as The Giant. Pat's wife at least got to be Anne Bonney before she got too busy to stand around his studio and pose.
Another thing I've noticed about these illustrators is that they're never satisfied with what they can already do. They want to learn more about computers, they want to learn Photoshop, or oil painting. They read books and take classes about their computers. When I asked Mary about her favorite medium to work in, she said:
Watercolor and colored pencils. I love the lightness and expressiveness of watercolor. I do sometimes long to be working in a more forgiving medium, like acrylics. I'm really trying to learn Photoshop now, to speed things up and help with mistakes and corrections.Also, Mary's not the first illustrator I've surveyed to say that she listens to spoken word as well as music when she's working. Books on tape, podcasts, and NPR - it all reinforces my impression that children's book illustrators don't necessarily work in splendid isolation, but rather in the world, participating, observing, soaking it all up... not to mention, answering emails with the speed of a Blackberry-totin' cubicle jockey. Don't you love that in a person?
It's been my privilege to have been afforded a peep into these women's lives. The fact that it's come about as a result of their creativity and generosity just adds to my admiration. I'd buy any of their snowflakes in a heartbeat, and order their books for my library as well.
As I stare out the only window in the house not blocked by a toilet or a radiator, at a crescent moon in the night sky over Baltimore, I wonder if it's going to snow before the end of the year. I'm also wishing for a big new live/work loft downtown, but, you know, that's kind of a given.
Wednesday, November 14, 2007
Pretty lady. Naked, softly lit, hair slightly mussed - hm, what's she sellin'?
I guarantee you, unless you had heard of "C'elle" before, you would never in a million years guess what "The C'elle Service... Your Monthly Miracle SM" entails.
Open up the little folded packet. Oh look! Free holiday gift! Another dewy, tousled, naked lady! Mmm, I want skin like HERS - sign me up!
Tiny print: "Collecting and preserving your menstrual stem cells now can pay big dividends toward protecting your future health later."
"EVERY MONTH HOLDS A MIRACLE""Miracle" is an interesting word to use. In the context of classy silver borders and white sans-serif type, "miracle" calls to mind Clinique-type miracles - fine lines that evaporate upon contact with the miracle cream; breathtaking skin tone achieved through the miracle of sea-bed mud. But when you're talking gynie stuff, "miracle" almost always refers to .. baby.
"The capabilities of a woman's body have always been considered miraculous, and now there is even more reason for us to marvel at how we are made."How does that not imply parthenogenesis? That's when an egg "activates" itself and begins to form an embryo, which does happen in humans, but not frequently and never productively. An egg, though, not miscellaneous stem cells.
"During a woman's monthly menstrual cycle, blah blah, foo foo... Our menstrual stem cells may potentially provide customized medical treatments and therapies in the future."Note the use of "may" Also, "potentially". Let's go to the FAQ's:
"Are there any published studies about C'elle cells and their uses?
Since the discovery of the C’elle menstrual stem cell, Cryo-Cell has made major advances in the study of this unique stem cell and in the commercialization of processes associated with its procurement, processing, isolation and cryopreservation. For example, Cryo-Cell collaborated with Dr. Amit N. Patel, Director of Cardiac Stem Cell Therapies at the McGowan Institute, University of Pittsburgh Medical Center, along with other independent research laboratories, to study these menstrual stem cells, which have demonstrated the capability in vitro to differentiate into neural, cardiac, bone, cartilage, and adipose cells, and possibly other cell types. Dr. Patel’s preliminary findings were presented on October 21, 2007 at TCT 2007, the annual scientific symposia of Transcatheter Cardiovascular Therapeutics, in a seminar entitled “Novel Cell Sources for Myocyte Repair and Replacement”. There are also numerous published studies discussing stem cells with many of the same properties of C'elle cells, although these referenced stem cells are often not nearly as prolific, easy to differentiate, harvest or as non-controversial, as the C’elle menstrual stem cell."
No, you don't have to read all that. It says, "not really."
And some other people say, "this is bullshit."
And I say that they're treading very close to implying something that is not remotely possible in today's political climate - self-cloning. They've got a serious The Island vibe going on with all that gray, although come to think of it, if you looked like Scarlett Johansson you might do well to look into self-cloning. Better than teaming up with a Ryan Philippe or a Billy Crudup to do your breeding.
In other menstruation news, there's a program at Procter & Gamble that's trying to fix the gender gap in Africa by building bathrooms and distributing maxi-pads and tampons to schoolgirls. Apparently, girls without access to good period protection stay home from school when they get their period. Bet that's something you never thought of.
And, as seen on Copyranter, if you get your period in France, there is the implication of actual blood, even in ads in glossy magazines.
Finally, I've said it before but I think it needs to be said whenever we're discussing people who make money off of "your monthly miracle," especially when they try to sell it back to us as glorious and empowering.
Friday, November 09, 2007
There have been grumbles about me doing this.
Juliet grumbles that she'd rather just come into the library and have me hand her books. To Juliet I say: You are a lazy cow but I love you anyway. You have my permission to skip this entry and all future entries like this one.
Jaime grumbles that she's not interested in picture books at all. To Jaime I say: You are a cranky childless freak but I love you anyway. Have fun in VIETNAM, a fascinating exotic place that I can't even think of visiting until my children have both developed the ability to get from the dairy aisle to the checkout without getting lost and making me think that one or both of them have been kidnapped. Sigh. You also have my permission to skip this entry and all future entries like this one.
The incredible book-eating boy by Oliver Jeffers.
Everybody get this book. The art, done in paint and pencil on old book pages, is sophisticated and naive at the same time - hipster-friendly, yet warm and funny, with many visual jokes; the story is simple and terrific. Buy it, give it away, buy another one. The art is too detailed for story times, but for all other uses, superb.
A kiss goodbye by Audrey Penn illustrated by Barbara L. Gibson.
Yuck. Chester the raccoon has to move because the men are going to come and cut down his family's tree. He doesn't want to, his mother talks him into it, he meets a pretty girl raccoon at the new place. Any book that includes the phrase "a tiny tear rolled down his cheek" has a lot to make up for, and this one doesn't.
Living Color by my man Steve Jenkins.
I don't know Steve Jenkins, but I have a friend named Steve Jenkins, who is a great guy, so I always feel like I know Steve Jenkins and he's my bud. This book, like all of his books, is gorgeous gorgeous gorgeous, done in paper collage; and super-informative, a book that any kid could spend hours poring over.
Leaves by David Ezra Stein.
Also I have an imagined kinship with David Ezra Stein. I grew up with a David Stein, a misunderstood genius who played the cello - and I have a close family member named Ezra. So, again, I'm going to be prejudiced toward this book. BUT. Oh, this is a winner by anyone's lights. It's a young bear and his relationship with the seasons, specifically, with the leaves. The bear is inked so expressively, you can feel yourself stretch when he stretches. And there are 9 or 10 pages of the tree under which the bear is hibernating, during which we see the seasons change. That almost always works for me.
The Witch's Child by Arthur Yorinks, illustrated by Jos. A. Smith.
Just in time for Halloween... oh, what's that you say? Halloween was last week? Huh. Tell that to the people who process new books in my library system, will you? This morning we got numerous new books on monsters, a haunted house pop-up, and this really wonderful spooky witch story. This artist is terrific - that witch is terrifying looking, but cool too, with her striped tights and Balenciaga-esque high heels, and when she can't make her straw doll come to life, you can even feel sad for her. Wonderful new version of this old story.
Big Bug Surprise by Julia Gran
Another winner! Prunella is a bug aficionado - she collects insects and knows a lot about them. But other people aren't that interested. Until bees swarm her classroom and she knows just what to do. Would be terrific for the facts alone (did you know that bees can't see white? I didn't), but the energetic, stylized illustrations more than hold their own.
Why war is never a good idea by Alice Walker, illustrations by Stefano Vitale.
You know, you wonder about some books. Anyone who thinks war is (ever) a good idea is not going to crack this book, and everyone who agrees that war is never a good idea basically doesn't need to. On the other hand, Lady Alice does come up with some new perspectives: "Picture frogs beside a pond holding their annual pre-rainy-season convention. They do not see War, huge tires of a camouflaged vehicle about to squash them flat." You could see this as a read-aloud to older elementary school children. The concepts and language are quite vivid and could provoke good discussion.
Ruthie and the (not so) teeny tiny lie by Laura Rankin.
A little girl tells a lie and then feels terrible about it and tells the truth. If this ever ever happened in real life, this would be a fine book, but in my experience, it does not.
Ridin' Dinos with Buck Bronco as told to George McClements.
Cute, cute cute! Lively collage and colored pencil art illustrates this dinosaur fact book with a fanciful premise. A fun read-aloud, especially if you bust out yer funny cowpoke voice.
Small Sister by Jessica Meserve.
Two sisters, Small and Big, and how unfair it can be when you are Small. The very clear language serves the simple story well, and contrasts with the extremely rich, pictorial art. Lovely.
Millie waits for the mail by Alexander Steffensmeier.
Europeans again! What IS it about Europeans? European illustrations always seem to deliver 35-50% more visual information than the illustrations for English-language books: is it because their same-language market is proportionately smaller? Millie - a COW - waits for the mail in order to SCARE the mail carrier. This is a pretty funny premise in the first place, but Herr Steffensmeier fills each page with so many sunbathing chickens, incongruous miniature elephants, etc, that the story is almost secondary, no matter how satisfyingly it is plotted and resolved.
The Lemonade Club by Patricia Polacco
Get out your hankies. This is the true story of Patricia Polacco's daughter Traci, her best friend, Marilyn, who won a battle with leukemia as a child, and their teacher, who survived breast cancer. It's a real roller-coaster: kid gets leukemia and undergoes chemo. When she comes back to school she is very self-conscious about her bald head, but she finds that all the kids in class shaved their heads too! Awww! Then we discover that the beloved teacher has breast cancer! Oh no! Cut to 5 years later and the whole class is in church.
"The music was playing softly. It was one of Miss Wichelman's favorite hymns. The flowers were so beautiful. Everyone there was thinking about Miss Wichelman."And then you turn the page and there's Miss Wichelman coming down the aisle in a wedding gown - it's not her funeral, it's her wedding! Hooray! Oh my god, but I'm emotionally spent.
I've said it before and I'm saying it again... SPINE LABEL. DIFFICULT THEMES. If I picked this up at random I would have been completely blindsided.
Enough for now.