Sunday, September 30, 2007

Everything hurts

she's up!, originally uploaded by your neighborhood librarian.

Seventy-five degrees and sunny?

Supersoft gigantic custom-made striped stilt pants and a silver stick with ribbons?
Check. It was one year ago, at our fair, that I met Big Man's classmate Nature Girl and her mom, who last week convinced me that I needed to learn to stiltwalk, supplied the stilts, and then made me all the accoutrements. Dude, Molly, well met.


Not getting hurt?
Amazingly, empoweringly, check. Now that the worst has happened and I didn't break my kneecaps or my neck or my coccyx, I have a lot less fear. Although out of respect for my loved ones and my knees, I am in the market for a slightly-less-clapped-out pair of used drywall stilts.

Sack races?

Beautiful day for a big bird
Fascinating puppets?
Check. Requiem for a Landfill deserves a MacArthur grant.

Two-dollar brisket tacos with queso fresco and chipotle sauce?
Check x 4.

ready to march

Running into almost everyone we know at the neighborhood fair?
Check. Our kids could run and play and there were so many parents who knew them and would look out for them that we didn't have to get all tweaky if they were out of sight for a few minutes.


Demolition Derby

Junker cars roaring past the cornstalks and into the derby pit (I got video)?

crowd, demolition derby

The smell of diesel and burning motor oil ("white-trash aromatherapy" says AH)?

Slightly toasted lesbians manhandling my children?
Check, and my kids have two new grownup (well, ostensibly they're grown-up) favorite friends. Dudes, AH and LF, well met.

Red dust and white smoke seeping up into the dark country air under the sodium lights?

Running into a dozen people we know at the Arcadia Volunteer Fire Department Demolition Derby, the worst-kept secret in Baltimore?
Check! Only the best of Baltimore boho society makes the trek, though - they run an indie credit check at the door. All my pictures here.

Fireworks arcing into the black black sky, reflected off a thousand car hoods and windshields and roofs, like a field of faceted beetle carapaces?
Sigh. Check.

Best. Day. Ever. But everything, as I say, hurts.

Friday, September 28, 2007

Poetry Friday: A helpful alphabet of friendly objects

I came across this little book while weeding the Easy Nonfiction last week and thought to myself:

John Updike is of course a well-known and heavily honored American novelist, critic, poet, etc. specializing in the mundane lives of suburban American middle-class Protestant men. I confess to not having much interest in Updike's novels (having tried to avoid suburban American middle-class men pretty much right up until I married one), the exception being the sort of trashy Witches of Eastwick, which I read in high school and portions of which I still remember.

He has never struck me as a particularly kid-loving type, all that infidelity and tweed, I guess. But the title alone: "A helpful alphabet of friendly objects," with its double dose of supportive adjectives, encouraged me to peer inside.

Written in 1995, A helpful alphabet of friendly objects is a collection of 26 short poems by John Updike, illustrated with photographs by Updike's son, David. Many of the pictures are of Updike's grandkids and their cousins. Even if it were nothing more than a short little album of this multicultural bohemian family, their pets and rugs and toys, the book would elicit a smile. But I read it out loud to Mr. Four this afternoon, and even as I enjoyed the Buckaroo Banzai philosophy of:
Who's that in there?
He peeks, he grins,
his bright-eyed stare
(or hers) begins
to remind you of
that somebody who
is everywhere
where you are too.

Mr Four laughed out loud at:
At evening
when the grass is dewy
out hops the rabbit,
feeling chewy.

Plus, on the page for S ("shoes and socks"), Four noticed the similarity between the kid's Hanna Anderssen striped socks and the Hanna Anderssen striped t-shirt he calls his "cold running shirt." There are lots of little cultural signifiers like that in these photos.

My library's copy of this book, shelved as it is in the unappreciated outer reaches of E 811, has circulated maybe a total of ten times in 12 years. The book itself is out of print. But I would encourage anyone to pick it up if you ever come across it. John Updike's kid poetry isn't flashy, and some of it is a little anachronistic, but it is pleasing, and clever, and we liked it.
Along the curb you see them,
round and shiny; some
show you you, reflected,
stretched sideways like gum.

Thursday, September 27, 2007

New Picture Books - flash reviews

Angry guy

beetle bop by Denise Fleming. Oh are these illustrations great! Energetic and colorful, I will reupholster my couch in this book! For little little kids.

The perfect pumpkin pie by Denys Cazet. Kind of a weird pie-centered ghost story, with a kicky grandma who is not impressed with the ghost AT ALL. My Mr Four liked it.

Whopper cake, by Karma Wilson and Will Hillenbrand. A little young for my kids, a little pointless too, but the rhymes flow really well and the illustrations have a lot of energy - I like this Hillenbrand fellow.

At night by Jonathan Bean. This could easily have been a wordless book. It's so quiet, and the illustrations are so balanced and detailed, it is my new favorite bedtime book, and the kids like it too. The last image, of the little girl asleep in the nest she made on the roof, with her mother awake beside her gazing at the moon with her hand on her child... lovely.

The apple pie that Papa baked by Lauren Thompson, illustrated by Jonathan Bean. Ok I love these illustrations too - Jonathan Bean is just as expressive and disciplined in three colors only - but you know, I have just never liked the "house that Jack built" stories. The Train to Glasgow, Bringing the Rain to Kapiti Plain, I think they're kinda tedious. Ahh, that's just me.

My dog is as smelly as dirty socks and other funny family portraits by Hanoch Piven. This is another of Hanoch Piven's books with illustrations constructed from found objects: whistles become eyes, a nose is a lightbulb, etc. I think they're great. I love it when my kids are inspired to go into the kitchen and make faces out of what they find.

My dog is as smelly as dirty socks extends this technique to portraiture: the child in the book goes about identifying the characteristics of her family members and selects objects that she thinks represent those characteristics, then arranges them to make portraits. At the end of the book, Piven even provides examples of objects that might represent characteristics such as "strong" or "smart" - with the aim of getting kids to make their own object portraits of the people they know best.

Bonus: the endpapers are illustrated with portraits created by kids on a cancer ward at a hospital in Israel. But the one with a syringe for a nose made me sad.

Together by Jane Simmons. I am often impatient with the little sweet books that teach us lessons about friendship. But I liked this one ok, I think it was the saturated colors and full-bleed art. I think I like Jane Simmons.

Raymond and Nelda by Barbara Bottner, illustrated by Nancy Hayashi. Friends who have a falling out and need to get back together. Majorly pepped up by the cool postal carrier, who helps them figure out how to communicate honestly with each other. I'd consider giving this as a gift to the greatest mail carrier of all time, our pal Steve the Postman.

The adventures of the dish and the spoon by Mini Grey. For older kids - there are too many visual jokes and subtle references for the PreK - 2 crowd. That said, wow, are there some visual jokes and subtle references in this book! It's more like a graphic novel than a picture book.

Well there you go. Nine new(ish) picture books reviewed in half an hour. All kid-tested, all mother- (and librarian-) approved.

What's round and semitransparent and really really satisfying?

If you answered "fish eggs," I smell ya, sis! Sushi for everybody this weekend!

If you said "bubbles," you're three years old. Get off my site, you're too young for all this.

But if you answered, "bubblewrap," then THIS is for you! Thank you Ava for the link!

And if you answered, "a gearshift knob with the Virgin Mary inside," well, I sort of wish I could say I couldn't help you... but I can. For $18.95 plus shipping and handling, the Virgin of Guadelupe can reside in your car like Our Lady of Blessed Acceleration. While you're there, at my old friend, pick yourself up a dozen cascarones, blown eggs filled with confetti and covered with colored tissue paper.

Two tips about the cascarones, by the way:
  1. Hold onto them for a few months until the shells really dry out. They're shipped pretty fresh, so at first they don't splinter when you crack 'em, they just kind of crush.
  2. Don't use them at a friend's apartment, even when she's having a party. It will take her a while to get all the confetti vacuumed up, and she'll be kind of cranky about it.

Tuesday, September 25, 2007

I'm not like the others I have no shame

I do, however, have like a quart of hot-sauce concentrate. Here's the story of how that happened...

On a visit to Bob's brother Joe, we all helped pick vegetables from his gigantic garden. Man, to have that much garden space, that would be so great. Remind me to buy them some bobcat pee, though - they have serious deer.

When I said that I used to make hot sauce but would probably not have enough peppers this year, Joe and his wife offered me the bucket of jalapeño and cayenne chilis to take home.

jalapenos and cayennes

I decided that I would abandon my previous recipe, which called for soaking the peppers in white vinegar for a week, and see what roasting the peppers would do to the end product.

peppers on a baking sheet, close but not touching

I enlisted of one of the local urchins to lay out all the peppers on baking sheets. I wrapped up a bulb of garlic in foil, and roasted all this stuff at 350° for about half an hour, shaking the sheets occasionally (hoo! Ted Leo reference!), and taking them out when they were black on one side but not all over.

the carnage

Then I cut off the stems, slit them lengthwise and used the back of a paring knife to scrape out the ribs and seeds. I also peeled them mostly. Boy was THAT tedious. I wore gloves.

chuck everything in the blender

I put the peppers into my friend Brenda the Blenda, along with the roasted garlic, a big mango all cut up, and about 2 cups of white vinegar.

hot pepper, garlic, mango, vinegar puree

"RRRRRR. RRRRR." That's Brenda, pureeing my stuff.

watch out for those fumes!

And here's the puree, along with another cup or so of white vinegar and a cup of white rum, about to destroy my anodized-aluminum Calphalon chef's pan and give us all Alzheimer's. As soon as I took this picture I realized my error and transferred it all to a stainless steel pot.

I cooked it for really a long while. Hours, over a very low flame, doing a surprising amount of stirring. It was very thick and sticky, and nothing I tried would thin it enough. I ended up just diluting it with water when I bottled it. No harm done and now it pours just fine.

And you'll know I love you if I offer you a bottle.

Also, stilts!

oh my god she's gonna crash!

Monday, September 24, 2007

Thank you very hairy scary much

Big Man is learning to read.

This is phenomenal, this moment: this makes my heart stop. He is teetering at the door to an immense world. Hey and don't you make fun of me, this is my world he's about to enter - reading makes your whole life different.

However: learning to read? Oh my god. I have not gone through anything so frustrating in my whole entire life.

= eh; = heh
First of all, what is with English?! Take the letter "H". Its name is pronounced "aitch," but in practice, I mean, how do you explain the use of "h"? I'd like to tell him that it shouldn't really be a letter, it is in fact equivalent to the Greek "rough breathing," which is just a diacritical mark over a vowel that indicates how much force you put on that vowel. But yeah, I know - no.

And then of course, there are English vowels.
"Well honey, in 'water', 'a' is pronounced 'ah,' and in 'patter' it's 'aaa'."
"Um well most of the time you can tell by looking at the consonant it's in front of - in 'water' it's just one 't' and in 'patter' it's two."
"Yeah no sorry I know that doesn't help much"
And 'gh'? Sorry, I give up.

Lucky for me, the excellent first grade teacher is doing the real heavy lifting here - they're learning about silent 'e' (that devil) and also silent 'k,' which, hell, I'd've skipped entirely. If he spent the next few years pronouncing it 'ka-nee' and 'ka-night' I would still count it a victory.

We are meant to spend 15 minutes a night reading with him. This is supposed to be fun time, kind of a bonus: "Look, now that you're learning to read, you get extra one-on-one time with mom/dad!" and I respect that strategy. I don't want it to be a painful, laborious, frustrating 15 minutes of sounding out each word.

That being said, well, let's face it, the boy has to sound out each word. Sometimes the same word twice on one page. Sometimes words like "or". Sigh. He's six, and he's just learning to read: that's the haps, Jack. This article demystified this process for me quite a bit.

A major obstacle is material. Finding books at his level that we can enjoy together is NOT EASY. In the first place, it's obviously damn difficult to construct an interesting book using only 100 distinct words, max seven words per line, etc. Dr. Seuss did it, and so did P.D. Eastman, but it's a demanding oeuvre. And Beginning Reader, with its inherently vertical market, tends to be regarded as a great place to milk a little extra cash from whatever movie/TV show/fiction series/toy you've got going. (I don't mean to bust on Random House - their Step into Reading books are ok. I just don't like the emphasis on characters: you get kids who are beyond I Can Read who only want to read SpongeBob or Barbie books, and resist good juvenile fiction that doesn't involve familiar pop-culture characters.)

And on top of all that, many Beginning Reader books are just not that helpful: you cannot intuit the text by looking at the picture, or the text is too abstract or poorly worded in the first place.

One of my favorite examples, in a book about the rodeo entitled Cowboy Up! (the title itself unclear, ungrammatical, and vaguely porny), is a page on which the text is "Tie a goat." When Big Man struggled with the words, and I asked him to tell me what was going on in the picture, he said, "The cowboy is sticking a goat in the foot with a pin." I don't blame the illustrator: I mean, "Tie a goat"? WTF? Do people even do that at rodeos?

Your Daily Bob

I come not to bury Beginning Readers, however, but to praise them. Ok one. Well two.

It is well known that Mo Willems knows his funny: the Piggie & Elephant books I have praised many times before, and now that we are deep in the I Can Very Nearly Read trenches, I remain impressed.

New to me, however, is a Beginning Reader series illustrated in part by oh my god BOB STAAKE. I have seen Bob Staake's work all over the place and I always love it. He does editorial, product design, animation... I've been trying to get my hands on a copy of his Struwwelpeter since it came out. I was immensely gratified when my children liked Hello Robots as much as I did.

Mr. Bob Staake has illustrated two books for the marginally-better-than-most Beginning Reader series We Both Read, a series that breaks through the tedium of the 100-word list by injecting blocks of text that the adult reads. You read a few paragraphs on one page, and then the child has a page with only a few easy words. They can jam a lot more story into 32 pages that way. You'd think somebody would have come up with this one already, but apparently it's a new concept - the publisher even patented it.

Go find June's Tune and The Mighty Little Lion Hunter and roll around in Bob Staake's colors. I will be sitting on the couch with my hard-working boy, sounding out "lion".
"ell... eye... ohh..."
"In this word, 'o' is pronounced 'ahh'"
"lll... eye... ohh, uh, ahh... nnn"
"ll.. eye.. ah.. nn"
"try it faster"
"lleye... ah.. nn. leye-ahn. LION!! it's LION!!"
..and I'm so proud of him I can barely speak, but at the same time, I'm nearly deaf, because he yells out each word just like that, and his head is 4 inches from mine.

Friday, September 21, 2007

Two-headed pink monster

Then he made me walk around behind him all hunched over because his arms were still in my sleeves. Laughing hysterically. Only funny for a minute or so, if you were me.

Thursday, September 20, 2007

Yes, I'm a hoopy, hoopy frood - I can no longer deny it

You're The Hitchhiker's Guide to the Galaxy by Douglas Adams!

Considered by many [small children and other people with questionable judgement] to be one of the funniest people around, you are quite an entertainer. You've also traveled to the far reaches of what you deem possible, often confused and unsure of yourself [see previous entry about all those bands]. Life continues to jostle you around like a marble, but it's shown you so much of the world that you don't care. Wacky adventures continue to lie ahead. Your favorite number is 42.

Take the Book Quiz
at the Blue Pyramid.

Get ya little somethin' that you can't get at home

Like ACW, I don't mind music memes. So, like ACW, I'm going to do one. You can do it too, and leave a comment - I would read that list!
Copy this list, leave in the bands you’ve seen perform live, delete the ones you haven’t, and add new ones that you have seen until you reach 25. An asterisk means the previous person had it on their list. Two asterisks means the last two people who did this before you had that band on their list.
Here’s my list. I had only one item carry over from ACW's list: I guess everyone's seen Dylan at some point.

1. Bob Dylan****
2. Jesus and Mary Chain (sucked)
3. Dinosaur Jr. (at the new 9:30 Club, thanks Gretchen!)
4. INXS (ha ha, no, really!)
5. Nick Lowe
6. the Police (in 1983!)
7. R.E.M. (opened for the Police, nobody paid them any attention)
8. Jane's Addiction (at the old 9:30 Club)
9. Siouxsie and the Banshees (first Lollapalooza, 1991)
10. Del Fuegos ("borrowed" a car to get to that show, Fantasy Theater, Cleveland, mid-80's)
11. Joe Walsh
12. Pretenders (twice, twenty years apart, and the show was exactly the same both times! Except the second time Chrissie was much nicer.)
13. Green Day (at the 8x10 in 1994 when the stage really was 8' by 10')
14. Beausoliel
15. Fishbone (1988. I can remember Dirty Walter climbing from the stage at Hammerjacks to the mezzanine, we thought he was going to die)
16. Butthole Surfers (also at 1991 Lollapalooza. Gibby fired a shotgun full of confetti, and I totally ducked for cover. I lived in such a crappy neighborhood.)
17. Duran Duran (free tickets)
18. Rollins Band (now Henry only does his standup act, I think the band's defunct)
19. Tangerine Dream (boy was that a geeky boyfriend)
20. Jonathan Richman (Knitting Factory, NYC)
21. New Order (Nautica Stage, 1987, with Echo and the Bunnymen and Gene Loves Jezebel)
22. Pogues (with Shane staggering on and offstage, we think he was getting dialysis between songs)
23. Jon Spencer Blues Explosion (awesome awesome and more awesome)
24. the Roches
25. the Jazz Butcher (Will not tour the U.S. anymore, mad at George Bush. Not sure George Bush's feelings are particularly hurt by this decision.)

I filled up some of this list by putting the iPod on random and typing in the bands that came up that I've seen. And it's kind of odd who I haven't seen: no Tom Waits ever, no Elvis Costello, Patti Smith, k.d. lang, Billy Bragg, Lou Reed, They Might be Giants (I just missed 'em again, it's a curse!), Flaming Lips, Beastie Boys, Sonic Youth, and you know, I just can't be sure I ever saw the Ramones or not. I must've - they came thru Baltimore every year for a while, playing Hammerjacks when it was still down under the 395 overpass.

Wednesday, September 19, 2007

Super smart

Lazy lazy lazy.

Here's a whole batch of books that I read this summer and didn't have the time to review. They all have kid geniuses as protagonists, and so I thought it might be useful to survey them together.

The brainiac hero in children's literature is not simply a love letter to the kid who spends a lot of time in the library and sees him/herself as smarter than the average quadruped -- the brainiac hero is something of a magical plot device. You can solve thorny plot problems and achieve improbable results when you've got a genius at the wheel. So your super-smart character does not automatically sell me, I'll have you know.

Phineas L. MacGuire... Erupts! The first experiment from the highly scientific notebooks of Phineas L. MacGuire, by Frances O'Roark Dowell. Ages 7-11.
Ok that title was long enough, now I'm tired. Can I just say this is a terrific book that is good-natured and also funny, but not sappy, and get off the hook? Seriously, everybody loves this although not too many people read it, and it is perfectly pitched for kids who are beginning to move on from Time Warp Trio. Thumbs up.

The Blackout Gang by Josh McCall. Ages 9-12.
This one starts out with the 3 brainiac heros (a programmer, a violin prodigy, and a physics star) stuck at summer camp in the Catskills, moaning about how smart people are always depicted in the movies as evil - or at least disturbed. Sets the tone for a straight-up adventure in which the smart kid heroes get to be brilliant and heroic and the smart kid bad guy gets to be brilliant and underhanded. There is some interesting further play here between preconception and reality - the villain is obese and affectless, and the kids make an effort (before they realize he's the villain) to be nice to him and not judge him based on his manner and looks. There are a couple of satisfying plot twists before a solid ending. Nice work. Thumbs up.

Brainboy and the Deathmaster by Tor Seidler. Ages 9-12.
Another orphan hero with an underappreciated skill. Another bleak beginning. Another swell plot, with a few tricky riddles, and another slam-bang ending! Whoo! Damn fine book! Extra bonus: the plucky hero, who copes with depression, loneliness and betrayal and in the process makes friends and learns the value of loyalty... is a gamer. Pass this book surreptitiously to the kids hanging around the game display. It's a shame the cover makes the kid look like he's wearing an ascot: ascots are never cool, unless you're Thurston Howell. Thumbs up.

Evil Genius by Catherine Jinks. Age 12 and up.
Tightly plotted, swiftly paced, and, at the end, satisfyingly moral, this is a real book for real readers disguised as a cartoony teen throwaway. Evil genius indeed. Very thumbs up.

Monday, September 17, 2007

Do you find me repulsive?

I have a... a relationship with licorice, you could say. Ever since a very nice, very tall, very smart Dutch guy who looked like something out of Tolkein (something maybe sort of... Entish) and whose surname, I swear to god, translates to Dragonheart, offered me some Old Timers licorice at a meeting in Denmark, in maybe 1999, warning me, "It's quite strong," (which is actually the number-one way to make me try anything), I have had periodic cravings for real, strong, salty, honest-to-Odin licorice.

Usually those cravings come only when I'm pregnant, which I have stopped doing, so ok.

But this summer, for some reason, I needed the strong stuff again, and, not currently having any close friends in northern Europe (besides my best friend from high school, who last I saw her was living in the Netherlands but is far too busy finding oil wells to mail me licorice and who besides which has moved to Kuala Lumpur by now I think - that's right, bitches, I have a friend in MALAYSIA, uh huh!), I found myself at an Internet mail-order house called All Things Dutch.

I spent fifty bucks on candy that most people react to as if it were an emetic, and I am really really happy about it. I bought 8 different varieties and I lived to tell.

Ceci n'est pas un pipe. Licorice on the outside, some brown stuff called salmiak on the inside. About 4 inches long. Quite sweet, but still very strong and licorice-y. Mr. Four has grown to love these.

Manekindrop, originally uploaded by your neighborhood librarian.

Brussels Manneke licorice. Yes, it's licorice in the shape of a little boy peeing. Commemorates the famous fountain in Brussels.

Waxy, crumbly texture. Tastes better after you swallow it. None of my tasters cared for this, but I think it's ok.

Zout drop, originally uploaded by your neighborhood librarian.

Schuintjes large diamond shaped salt licorice. Strong, semi-soft, satisfying licorice. This is the taste I think of when I think, "Time to get me some licorice. "Like eating macadam" says our friend Doug.

haringdrop, originally uploaded by your neighborhood librarian.

Haringdrop. Translates to "herring candy". Coated with salt, this licorice is advertised as having "a taste of the sea". The best tasting of the lot.

heksehyldrop, originally uploaded by your neighborhood librarian.

Heksehyldrop. Translates to "witch's candy". Licorice log filled with salmiak, coated with sugar. Tough to like, but good once you get a taste for it. Soft and sweet but strong.

katjesdrop, originally uploaded by your neighborhood librarian.

Katjesdrop, kitty-shaped licorice by Katja. Semi-soft, with good texture and strong licorice flavor. My kids like this one best.

As for the two little drops below the salt-covered fish-flavored candy (believe me, I am aware of how ridiculous it is to like this stuff):

The round one is an Echte Italiaanse laurierdrop, which we just call "those little hard scary ones," and which the All Things Dutch people call "the drop-lover's ultimate drop." They are hard and strong strong strong.

The one shaped like a teeny tiny charcoal briquet is a piece of Potter's Original, a quarter of the size of a Tic Tac and strong as a whole bag of haringdroppen. They come in a cutie little shaker tin, and they're a fun way to make a big strong mean bully weep.

Not shown: the Haribo licorice wheels are not bad at all in a pinch.

Thursday, September 13, 2007

Walk on! Best Picture Books of 2007

I'm'a gonna get in on the whole listy frenzy that's been going on at 7 Impossible Things, A Year of Reading, MotherReader, etc. I am of course hampered by my limited and late access to alla tha new books (my system hasn't even ordered Pssst! and That Rabbit Belongs to Emily Brown yet, among many others), but in any case, herewith, my Best Pitcher Books of 2007 So Far.

Walk on! A guide for babies of all ages by Marla Frazee. Marla Frazee could draw a book about folding laundry and I would read it. She reminds me of Jan Ormerod, whose 101 things to do with a baby is out of print, but which I find used copies of for all my friends who get babied-up. Anyway, Walk on! is So Much Fun. From the typography to the expressions on the baby's face, it is clean and funny and sly. The fact that it would also work for anyone embarking on a life change, like a college graduate or a person just getting divorced, is a mind-blowing bonus.

A seed is sleepy by Dianna Hutts Aston and Sylvia Long.

The end by David LaRochelle, illustrated by Richard Egielski. There is something new under the sun! A book that reads backward and forward! An exercise in cause and effect! Really really swanky illustrations!

Dumpster Diver by Janet S. Wong, energetically illustrated by David Roberts.

Grumpy Bird by Jeremy Tankard. God, I love grumpy for children. Kids do too. Otherwise, I'm not sure Cartoon Network would be in business. When grumpy bird is asked for the 5th time what he's doing, and he says, "I'm walking. What does it look like?" it's payback for all those stupid stupid kids books that repeat and repeat and repeat. The little engine that could. Mike Mulligan's goddamn steam shovel. Plus, something about the hunched shoulders on the animals makes me think of indie comic books featuring mean stupid little kids - I love that stuff.

Penguin by Polly Dunbar. Makes me want to dance.

17 things I'm not allowed to do anymore by Jenny Offill, illustrations by Nancy Carpenter. I think Mo Willems should write a pigeon book on this premise: "17 things the pigeon isn't allowed to do anymore". He could put together all the kid suggestions he gets in his fan mail.

I'm the biggest thing in the ocean by Kevin Sherry. Are you tired of me pimping this book yet? Will you just read it for godsake?

Get your filthy rodent OFF me!

Also? Graphic novels.

A long peruse of the Young Adult Graphic Novel shelves last week yielded the following books aimed at teenage boys. An even longer stint reading them (it involved beer) yielded the following extremely brief reviews.

The Lost Colony volume 1: The Snodgrass Conspiracy by Grady Klein. This here's an odd book. Not really the adventure story you'd expect given the title, it reminds me more of Pogo, or, as other reviewers have pointed out, Mark Twain. Hard to say which kids are going to go for this (besides the ones who invent their own frog superhero character in high school and then sew up beanbag toys of him and yes I'm talking to you Sean), but it's worth opening up and showing off for the artist's savvy and exuberant use of color alone.

Y: The Last Man volume 2: Cycles by Brian Vaughan, Pia Guerra, Jose Marzan, Jr. Now this book is why I used to read the comic books put out by DC's Vertigo imprint. Funny and fast, set in a near future after a mysterious ailment has wiped out all men except one, it really reminded me of Hellblazer or Swamp Thing. Did Brian Vaughan ever write Hellblazer? Hm.

Missouri Boy by Leland Myrick. Probably more appealing to adult readers than to teenagers, this book offers short episodes in a boy's life, some seminal, some lovely, some harsh. It's a really quiet book, with a kind of Chester Brown type of faux naive illustration style. Classic indie.

Garage Band by Gipi. Italian. A little sketchy for your average teen, and in fact, it didn't really hold my interest either, I think because the daily real lives of teenage boys are not really that compelling, especially if they're in a band. I hate to buy into the stereotype, but if they had to save the world, or got involved in a smuggling operation or something, now that I could get behind. As it is, I don't know who I'd recommend this to, except the artist kids.

Deogratias: A tale of Rwanda by J.P. Stassen. Wow and holy shit. You would expect a graphic novel about genocide to be appalling and gut-wrenching, and Deogratias is, but at the same time it manages to put faces on the various players in Rwanda - the Hutu, the Tutsi, the Two, the Belgians, the French - and illustrate their motivations on a personal level. Certainly give this book to the boys with a passion for misery and spectacle, but I would also recommend it as a work of historical fiction and as a classroom item.

It appears that my system is buying a lot of First Second stuff. I would like to see more from the mainstream publishers, from Drawn and Quarterly, and from Last Gasp. It may be that that stuff is shelved as adult, and I wonder who makes the distinction.

Tuesday, September 11, 2007

Recipe for maracas

by Mr. Four

"This is my recipe for maracas:
First, put some popcorn seeds in your mouth
Then, shake your head really hard!"

Also, a Dylan song.

Monday, September 10, 2007

"I'm going to get that sock"

Big Man and I attended the Baltimore Comic Convention yesterday. It was his first comic convention: also mine. Many adults with bad posture. More people mumbling to themselves than you usually see in downtown Baltimore, and that's saying something.

I'm very glad I went with a 6-year-old, as the boy was the perfect excuse not to get too close to the tables of artists who draw pinup girls being threatened by zombies, or superheroes covered with lesions, or ... yeah you know. Ick.

What we did get close to was Bob McLeod's table: he signed a copy of Superhero ABC for us, which is a book that I pimp to ALLL the little kids, and which I've enjoyed reading aloud many times. I like using that 1950's Batman narrator voice. Nice man. Big Man was really impressed, went to bed with the book last night. I see from his website you can get t-shirts... ooh, Christmas is coming for my children!

Drawing by Scott Derby

Also we stopped a while at the table of Dave Perillo and Scott Derby, bought some little pictures and flipped through Dave's Li'l Scamp comics - very cute characters making many poo jokes, perfect for the child who has finished all the Captain Underpants books but is not quite ready for Crumb. Dave had a batch of nifty A-B-C drawings (S is for Saucer Man, X is for X-ray specs) that are looking for a publisher. That book would make it straight onto my Children's Books for Hipsters list. Both these guys draw with such clean, appealing lines, and I am absolutely sure I've seen their work before, but I can't figure out where.

The big booth with the big TV screen that showed movie trailers was tempting, but as we were walking by it was Saw IV, and there is no fucking way I'm letting my kid see even a second of that. God, ten years from now he'll probably be obsessed with those things. Among the movie swag were plastic baby rattles promoting Shoot 'Em Up. Mmmm, tasteful!

I saw a couple of titles that I'd like my library system to pick up: Annie Auerbach and Jamar Nicholas's the Grosse Adventures and Amelia Rules by Jimmy Gownley.

I was disappointed that I didn't find David Petersen, the blindingly talented creator of Mouse Guard; and I had kind of hoped for some of the old names I used to read - Evan Dorkin, Mike Allred, et al; plus I'd like to have seen some more thoughtful stuff for middle grade and young adult readers. Babymouse is all well and good, but I continue to think that creators of really high-quality picture books, like Patricia Polacco and Mo Willems and Eric Rohmann and David Weisner, could write and illustrate a juvenile graphic novel with depth and breadth and emotion.

Or? the pigeon could steal a sock. Now that would be a damn funny book.

Friday, September 07, 2007

"I read banned books" bracelet

I need it, I want it, I'm gonna gonna buy it.

And it's funny, because ALA's products are often most totally lame - William H. Macy looks remarkably simian while advertising Curious George; they've got Orlando Bloom not convincing anyone of his heterosexuality by attempting a thoughtful glower while suggesting that we read Tolkein, and the expression on Keira Knightley's face suggests that we'd be total chumps to read Pride and Prejudice! And oh no! They took the weirdly sexy Alan Rickman and made him look like Mickey Rourke. Where do they get these photographers?

Thursday, September 06, 2007

Two, two, two for my family

img084, originally uploaded by your neighborhood librarian.

I don't do leftovers. Which is quite unfair of me, because I do a lot of the cooking, and I do things like cook a pork roast in the middle of the week just because I have a day off, and then we have this huge lump of meat in the fridge that I won't do anything with.

Luckily, Mr. Librarian loves to mike up a big leftover dinner for everybody. So it would seem that between the two of us we do ok, right?

Not. Because the leftover dinners that he makes are mostly on the weekend days when I work, or Monday night, when I work, so that means that by, say Thursday, our fridge is choked.

Choked. Because our other problem is our condiment addiction. See all them little bottles and jars? We have sambal. We have easily three kinds of mustard.

We also have:

Homemade mango pickle from Mrs. Pavan at Pavan's Indo-Pak
Homemade habanero hot sauce from Janie
Homemade stewed garlic from me
Homemade horseradish from some damn place
Salsa (3 kinds)
Somen soup base
Pickled baby green tomatoes
Pickled okra
Pickled green beans
Picked something I thought was green beans but appears to be stems of some kind, but the writing on the jar is in Russian so I just don't know. They're good though.
Pickled herring
Pickle relish
Vidalia onion relish
Banana pepper rings
Ground red peppers
Roasted sweet peppers
Wasabi in a tube
Tomato paste in a tube
Pesto in a tube
Miso paste
Garlic paste
Thai green curry paste
Bacon bits
Duck fat
and Miracle Whip

Oddly, no ketchup. Hm. Sounds like a hell of a sandwich though, right? And what goes best with a sandwich? A nice cold beer... but wait! All that crap in the fridge means no room for beer!

It would be a disaster, except my folks got a new refrigerator a few years ago, which of course meant a new hand-me-down fridge for us, so we also have the fridge in the basement to fill up. Just extra juice, milk, beer, SlimFast and water down there right now though, we're judicious.

It's the little things

Little things like the little dead mouse I found behind the art supplies desk in the dining room. Foul. And I think the cats peed on him post mortem. Extra foul.

Things like the gnarled little item offered me by the neighbor boy last night.
"What is that? It looks like coral," I said.
"Eat it," he said.
And now I am totally addicted to Cheetos XXtra Flamin' Hot Cheese Flavored Snacks. Oh my god - is this a snack item developed especially for Asian immigrants? I have a higher-than-usual tolerance for spicy food, due to the hard work I've done dulling my taste buds with alcohol, cigarettes and coffee, but even I couldn't get through the whole bag.

Little things like the last guy Clive Owen kills in this extremely NSFW clip from the forthcoming (and apparently aptly titled) Shoot 'Em Up. You have to click through to see it but it's really really worth it.

A little thing that was almost a big thing: I heard a song on WTMD this morning that I LOVED. Thought the band would save rock and roll loved. Made me think of XTC and Firehose at the same time loved. Stopped in at the record store, bought the album, and the rest of it sounds like Dave Matthews or somethin. Awww.

Although, one more little thing about the pink hair: you walk into the record store and say, "I heard this song? And I'm not sure about the band name? Was it somebody... and The Pharmacists?" and if you have pink hair you still don't look like a doofus (or a 40-year-old mom, whichever comes first).

And a short little book thing: The Plain Janes, by Cecil Castellucci, which I must be the last librarian on earth to have read. I recommend it to all people for its art-positive real-feeling take on high school. Reminded me of Kirsten Miller's Kiki Strike, the second book of which hits the streets October 2. Not that Kiki Strike is at all real-feeling... or has anything to do with art... screw you, I just like girls being sneaky, ok? Read the damn books!

Wednesday, September 05, 2007

It's no baloney

Well, I've been sleazing around the picture books again looking for good illustration, and it's now time for another edition of Best children's books for hipsters. Yay!

I'm the biggest thing in the ocean by Kevin Sherry. Kevin Sherry is the local hero behind the achingly cool Squidfire t-shirts. And I have to say, great illustrators do not always great kids' books make (I better type fast, I think the Syntax Squad is about to break down my door), but I have read this book out loud to a batch of under-tens, and the one joke, which takes the entire book to set up, lands like a dumptruck full of firecrackers. Rolling on the floor laughing they were. And they loved the achingly clean and clever illustrations, which you've got to expect from Mr. Squid, all the way.

Me! Me! ABC, words by Harriet Ziefert, characters by Ingri von Bergen. Little flat soft stitched-vinyl toys saying "Admire me!" "Buckle me!" "Call me!" A little too modern-daze self-referential / neurotic for your average 4-year-old, but your 34-year-old otaku brother will love it. Can widdle Ethan say, "chokeproof brand extension"? (Love those funny Daddy Types!)

Ryan Heshka's ABC Spookshow. Ho boy, that Ryan Heshka is Mister Sophisticato - he's like Seth on, like, too much Prozac. Prozac mixed with uppers, maybe, for that happy-frantic feeling. I haven't seen this one yet, but I'm expecting that they'll have a copy for me at Atomic Books.

365 Penguins, by Jean-Luc Fromental and Joelle Jolivet. I want the pages of this book, done all in black, orange and blue, printed up as fabric so that I can have a skirt. The illustrations are energetic, dense, blocky, expressive, retro, and somehow strike me as Scandinavian, even though the authors are French (or possibly Belgian). The story is cute too, with arithmetic problems that you can do (or not) and a brief environmental message at the end.

Monday, September 03, 2007

They're giant robots

Big Man just turned 6. We had a great party at an underappreciated museum, a place full of obscure machines and items previously thought to be too quotidian to attract notice. I love that kind of thing - the reconstructed rooms used to be my favorite part of the National Museum of American History, one of the few museums I never had anything to do with professionally. Hence, I haven't been there since I was a kid, and now they're renovating the joint, so those rooms are probably history (ooo, meta!).

At our party we had cake, we encountered a wacky old docent who demonstrated the machines and let the kids hoist cargo, there was a fairly successful engineering activity involving masking tape and marbles.

But I think my favorite part was the ride home. We packed five boys, ages 4 to 7, into the minivan and listened to them tell each other lies and crack each other up all the way home.

Funny guys.