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.
Thursday, November 08, 2007
I am reading Denis Johnson's book of short stories entitled Jesus' Son.
There are a few things I need to get off my chest about this:
When I see this author's first name spelled like this, without the second "n", I think "penis". And I don't think I'm the only one who does.
I am reading this book on my friend Lance's endorsement. I will bet you that Lance hasn't read anything less serious than Raymond Carver since he was in 8th grade. I've been suggesting books for his 8 year old daughter and I have a feeling that he takes something like Bailey School Kids off the shelf and regards it laying in his hand with a kind of fascinated horror.
I recently had to look up the use of the apostrophe after "s." Plural nouns ending in "s" get an apostrophe only, while proper nouns ending in "s" (like James) get an apostrophe-s. Our Mr. Jesus is the only exception. I suppose it's because He's at one with the infinite.
I was reading this book while I was waiting to get the excess pink dye rinsed out of my hair last week, and the shampoo girl got positively evangelical when she saw it. Half my age, and totally reading what I read when I was twenty. I recommended Nick Cave's novel to her.
Mr. Johnson's got a collection of poetry entitled The Throne of the Third Heaven of the Nations Millennium General Assembly, which is also the title of a work of art at the Smithsonian American Art Museum. It was made in a garage by a janitor out of tinfoil and cardboard.
Reading this poem, which was performed at the Dia Center's Readings in Contemporary Poetry series, you just have to wonder: just how much of this clear-eyed falling-down inebriated maudlin sentimentality, this filthy bullshit moonshine that is offered up to us by Don DeLillo and Tom Waits and Bukowski and Frank Miller and Leonard Cohen - how much of it can the world weigh up under?
Just a little more?
'Cause I'll read it.
There’s a sadness about looking back when you get to the end:
a sadness that waits at the end of the street,
a cigaret that glows with the glow of sadness
and a cop in a yellow raincoat who says It’s late,
it’s late, it’s sadness.
And it’s a sadness what they’ve done to the women I loved:
they turned Julie into her own mother, and Ruthe--
and Ruthe I understand has been turned
into a sadness...
And when it comes time
for all of humanity to witness what it’s done
and every television is trained on the first people to see God and
we have ignition,
they won’t have ignition.
They’ll have a music of wet streets
and lonely bars where piano notes
follow themselves into a forest of pity and are lost.
They’ll have sadness.
sadness, sadness, sadness.
© 1999 Denis Johnson
Poetry Friday is hosted today at a wrung sponge.
Katerina's Dove by Linda Graves
This... THIS is a Christmas present. Isn't it stunning? And it could be yours if you place the winning bid in the Robert's Snow auction starting December 3.
I'll confess that on first blush, Linda Graves' style doesn't appear to be my cup of fair-trade locally-roasted organic half-decaf. I generally go for the cartoony, the collage-y, the fast and spiky. Let's face it, I read 17 picture books at a sitting. My attention span is so short I've given up on all adult fiction other than serial killer thrillers and Christopher Moore. The only movies we go see are based on comic books, series fiction, or amusement park rides.
So, for dazzled idiots like me, there are plenty of artists who have mastered the gestural line and the hot color injection, plenty of artists whose bold strokes can snag even my fractured attention.
But, luckily for the world of children's lit, not everybody is an idiot like me.
I have these darling girls and boys that come through the library who can sit with a book and just fall into the illustrations. I love those kids. I remember being one of those kids, before boys and the Clash and work and Buffy the Vampire Slayer and motherhood spoiled me for anything not fast and spicy.
For these kids we make sure to buy everything illustrated by any Pinkney, everything by Paul O. Zelinsky, and we keep artists like Sylvia Long and Floyd Cooper bookmarked in our heads.
And I am telling you, after sitting down and spending quality time with The Wise Woman and Her Secret, The Enchanted Gardening Book, The Story of Hanukkah, and a couple issues of The Katie Lynn Cookie Company (seriously!), Linda Graves belongs on that short list of illustrators who have mastered the slow hand, the considered, naturalistic color palette, the precise shading that gives even the smallest details volume and weight.
Looking at this snowflake, you can feel the dedication and discipline that she brings to her work. Equally at home with pastels, colored pencils, and watercolor, she switches mediums, building up layers until she achieves the desired result, "a light and rather dreamlike palette," in her words.
I caught up with Linda for a few questions this week.
I do garden, and do sometimes draw from life. I've always loved the world of nature, both plants and animals, so it gives me great pleasure to be able to paint them.
Do you listen to music while you work? If so, what?
Another one of my loves is music. I really love all sorts, but Classical, Celtic, some New Age, Choral, some old Rock, and yes, I almost always listen to music while I work. The violin is my favorite instrument.
What kind of books do you like best?
What non-art area are you most qualified to give advice on? i.e. car repair, dog training, baking, dealing with contractors, planning a vacation, that kind of thing.
I really wish I could draw. What do you wish you could do but can't (if anything :)?
I wish I could oil paint first, and play the violin second.
There are really too many bad habits to list, but I guess eating too much chocolate is one.
Is there a story behind "Katerina's Dove" that you'd like to share?
"Katerina's Dove" was created just to promote the feeling of peace.
The last thing I asked Linda was whether she had a "dream date" author she'd like to work with.
If that's not a fairy-tale ending, I don't know what is. Bid on "Katerina's Dove" starting December 3, and watch for the forthcoming Jane Yolen picture book illustrated by the disciplined but never heavy Linda Graves.
Monday, November 05, 2007
Giant ground pangolin, Manis gigantea. Collected Apr 26, 1913, Niangara, Congo Belge. AMNH neg 222254, cat#: 53846
this is what I miss about living in New York: high-quality roadkill, not like the squads of spermophiles we see around here. No no, kidding. But actually yes: viz the Carnivorous Nights Taxidermy Contest. It's not often I see something on boingboing that features somebody I know (used to know, at least): Darrin Lunde, collections manager in Mammalogy at the old ranch and author of the sort of unfortunately titled (but charming and informative - see how I sneaked in a tiny review there?) Meet the Meerkat. Jaime if you still see Darrin around, an autographed copy would be a really nice xmas present for your young friends that live in my house.
My new favorite blog is Morbid Anatomy ("surveying the interstices of art and medecine, death and culture" - sure beats "waxing gibberish" for a tagline doesn't it?). But I must mention that one of my old favorite blogs, BibliOdyssey, has gotten a book out! Yay for Paul in Sydney... and what good luck for someone who needs to buy me a Christmas present (it's too late for my birthday, you dogs, it's on Saturday and even the quick Amazon shipping wouldn't get it to me in time).
And while you're on Amazon
and while we're speaking of Brooklyn, which I swear wasn't that cool when we lived there, you could buy a copy of what the New York Times (no less!) calls the "slim and jaunty new graphic novella," Emily Flake's These Things Ain’t Gonna Smoke Themselves. Miss Emily does the regular comic Lulu Eightball, which appears in Baltimore's Pity Caper, and! she made a superfantastic drawing of baby monkeys for Jules & Leslie's twins before they were even born! The likeness was uncanny!
I'm going to buy me a box (rather, a carton - get it? oh ho ho my goodness that's rich!) of Miss Emily's book and give it out to all the women in my Monday Night Prayer Group as xmas presents. Oh crap now I've spoiled it. We're all supposedly quitting when the smoking-in-bars ban goes through in January anyway - our kids are getting to be old enough to figure it out.
I have to admit, they're not geniuses. Yesterday Mr. Four and I were discussing the cheery yellow van that had pulled up in front of my neighbors' house - the Double-Income-No-Kids guys on our block have a cleaning service (sob!) - and he asked if they were going to clean the whole house. As my mind's eye panned over my spotted bathroom mirror and truly disgusting kitchen floor, I sighed, "Yes. They're going to clean the whole house."
"Even those bumps on the outside?"
"These bumps." He patted the shingles.
"No, er, the rain washes those." Kinda. God, please let the paint hold until after we've finished the basement.
"But all the things inside we clean."
"Except the clothes."
"What? How do they get clean then after you get them dirty?"
"We put them in the hamper and then they get clean again."
It's magic. I'm like some kind of elf or brownie. The sorting, the lugging, the horrible sounds our washing machine makes these days, the piles of folded laundry sorted out on the coffee table - it's all invisible.
Saturday, November 03, 2007
I'm in my backyard right now, sitting on the green grass, surrounded by what should be a late-summer garden: green tomatos, zinnias, nasturtiums, clematis, and I think that's another pumpkin turning orange over there near the fence. I'm keeping one eye on the squad of kids swarming over the stump and under the pine trees, playing some amalgam of George of the Jungle and Ponce de Leon (what's worse? brainless or bloody? they choose both.).
Right this second, such topics as snow - and cancer - seem very far away.
But bad news is never far away. In fact, here's Mr. Four with a thorn in his shirt. And earlier someone got a jumprope to the face. It's a dangerous world, no doubt about it.
Sometimes it only takes a mom to fix something, sometimes you need to go to the doctor, and then there are some things - the things you don't think about, or try not to think about, or think about obsessively - that can't be fixed, not by battalions of doctors and generations of researchers.
Cancer is one of those things, of course. It feels odd to think that generations of dedicated people have lived their lives through and died and been replaced by the next cohort of grad students - without finding a cure. Not to say that work has been in vain: fighting cancer is exactly like fighting war, and these generations of scientists and doctors have come up with ever-better weapons, intelligence strategies, and defensive postures, all of which have made this war a lot less bloody.
But I would like this war to end. Just like the war that the United States has been fighting since ten days after my oldest child was born. I don't want to see any of these screaming backyard urchins grow up to wear a uniform, whether that uniform be camouflage or whether it be a white hospital gown.
So. Go to the website of Robert's Snow: For Cancer's Cure. Bookmark it, and go back on November 19. Buy a snowflake. Also, you might want to read more about the Dana-Farber Cancer Institute and the work that they've been doing. There are other ways to help.
In fact, see that snowflake up at the top? It was created and donated by the talented Susan Miller. Click on it - look at it big. There are terrific details in the two lovely little scenes she painted. Susan Miller has illustrated a bunch of Rookie Reader titles, including Nana's Hog and Nana's Fiddle, which we have on our 1st grader's book stack at this very minute. The work on her web site is even nicer, I think - charming humans and great colors.
I "interviewed" her for this feature. I'm totally a crap interviewer, but she did her best with what she had to work with.
Do you listen to music while you're working? If so, what?
No I don't . I listen to my favorite Pod-casts, I like the speaking.
What distracts you from working?
Whose art changed your life?
Elise Primavera. I think she is amazing, I love her work. I would love to have her talent.
Did you go to art school?
Yes, Butera School of Art in Boston
Did you start in illustration? and if not what turned you toward it?
Yes, fashion illustration, which turned into a dying market due to great photography, so I switched over to childrens educational/ book illustration.
I suppose M&Ms with peanuts. I figure the peanuts are good for you right?
What would be really cool to see built from Lego?
The stuff they build in Lego in Florida at Downtown Disney. Fun stuff down there.
What do you like to read?
Biographies and books on art and my computer, a Mac that I call Max.
How long have you lived in Connecticut?
51 years, and with a move planned to Florida in 2008 I will dearly miss it, its a beautiful state.
See, and now there's another thing to worry about. It's 70 degrees out here in the back yard, and it's November. Susan Miller's moving to Florida, which is apparently going to be under water within the century... I'm at a loss here. Ok, go support cancer research, and I'll be back next month with what we can do to keep the glaciers where they're supposed to be and not floating up the East River.
Friday, November 02, 2007
Poetry Friday is today hosted by Mentor Texts and more.
by Delmore Schwartz, circa 1959
Is the spider a monster in miniature?
His web is a cruel stair, to be sure,
Designed artfully, cunningly placed,
A delicate trap, carefully spun
To bind the fly (innocent or unaware)
In a net as strong as a chain or a gun.
There are far more spiders than the man in the street
And the philosopher-king imagines, let alone knows!
There are six hundred kinds of spiders and each one
Differs in kind and in unkindness.
In variety of behavior spiders are unrivalled:
The fat garden spider sits motionless, amidst or at the heart
Of the orb of its web: other kinds run,
Scuttling across the floor, falling into bathtubs,
Trapped in the path of its own wrath, by overconfidence
drowned and undone.
Other kinds—more and more kinds under the stars and
Are carnivores: all are relentless, ruthless
Enemies of insects. Their methods of getting food
Are unconventional, numerous, various and sometimes
Some spiders spin webs as beautiful
As Japanese drawings, intricate as clocks, strong as rocks:
Others construct traps which consist only
Of two sticky and tricky threads. Yet this ambush is enough
To bind and chain a crawling ant for long
The famished spider feels the vibration
Which transforms patience into sensation and satiation.
The handsome wolf spider moves suddenly freely and relies
Upon lightning suddenness, stealth and surprise,
Possessing accurate eyes, pouncing upon his victim with the
speed of surmise.
Courtship is dangerous: there are just as many elaborate
and endless techniques and varieties
As characterize the wooing of more analytic, more
introspective beings: Sometimes the male
Arrives with the gift of a freshly caught fly.
Sometimes he ties down the female, when she is frail,
With deft strokes and quick maneuvres and threads of silk:
But courtship and wooing, whatever their form, are
By extreme caution, prudence, and calculation,
For the female spider, lazier and fiercer than the male
May make a meal of him if she does not feel in the same
mood, or if her appetite
Consumes her far more than the revelation of love’s
Here among spiders, as in the higher forms of nature,
The male runs a terrifying risk when he goes seeking for
the bounty of beautiful Alma Magna Mater:
Yet clearly and truly he must seek and find his mate and
match like every other living creature!
Thursday, November 01, 2007
In fact, it was almost a work-free costume. My sister in law had made a spider costume for her daughter a couple of years ago - a black turtleneck with extra sleeves sewn on. I borrowed it and could have been home and clear. I was all stretching out, thinking about eating bonbons and all, especially after Mr Four decided he would use his same Scientist costume from last year and be the Mad Entomologist who created the monstrous spider and who was now studying him. Wow. Thanks, little boy - cute idea AAANND easy!
Unfortunately, the poetry picture books are in my collection at work, and one day while weeding I came across the version of Mary Howitt's The Spider and the Fly illustrated by Tony DiTerlizzi.
Now, THAT spider is a classy spider. In fact, DiTerlizzi got a Caldecott Honor for him.
I immediately had a vision of the costume I would whip up for the boy. Find a little suit at a thrift store, rip down the side seams and insert extra arms cannibalized from little black sport coats, stuff the sleeves, run a seam across each stuffed arm to make an elbow, and attach all the sleeves together with ribbon.
I'd punch fake eyes through the brim of a hat or something, and I'd find him some fancy little gloves.
Thing is, I don't sew. I don't own a sewing machine. And, as far as I know, you can't actually make something purely out of vision.
Did not stop me. I collected all the supplies, went to JoAnn Fabric and found fake eyes, found a fleece headband at Target, scoured the thrift stores til I found a suave little suit. Couldn't find black sport coats, oh well, navy blue is close.
But I really was going to throw in the towel until, oh, Tuesday of this week. I had the other costume, and really, not knowing how to sew was an obstacle. And then all of a sudden on Tuesday, I borrowed my neighbor's really nice sewing machine, found a pair of scissors, and just - did it.
I remembered some Home Ec stuff from the truly dim past - like how to cut the thread and how to bring the footer down, what you call the little spool in the bottom (a bobbin!), and the fact that there might be a hidden compartment in the machine where maybe just maybe I would find a seam ripper. There was! It was totally like Adventure!
I kind of effed up the elbow seams - you can see that at least one is totally at the wrong angle - and I didn't have any stuffing for the arms so I used plastic grocery bags, and if I had to do it again I might re-think the rather yonic design on the back... but all in all, it came out a lot like my vision. And the boy loved it. He looked great. He danced like Shiva, he invented martial arts moves, he scurried along the ground. He insisted we add antennae with blue pompoms.
And it was all Tony DiTerlizzi's fault.
The Three Cabritos by Eric Kimmel, illustrated by Stephen Gilpin.
Martina the beautiful cockroach: A Cuban folktale. Retold by Carmen Agra Deedy, illustrated by Michael Austin.
Glass Slipper, Gold Sandal: A worldwide Cinderella by Paul Fleischman, illustrated by Julie Paschkis (Bottle Houses, Head Body Legs).
Pearl River and the New Ao Jang in a big way. Beautiful on a gray autumn day.
The Ravenous Beast by Niamh Sharkey.
Michael Rosen's Sad Book. No. Ok. In fact, this is the Michael Rosen who wrote May Contain Nuts. Wow, what a likeable book. The family goes for a drive and stops to pet a horse and sings songs in the car and stops at a country store and lets loose milkweed from the car windows and stops to look for buckeyes et cetera. This is right up with Douglas Wood's Nothing to do in celebrating unstructured time. Nice.
The toy farmer by Andrew T. Pelletier, pictures by Scott Nash.
Scott Nash illustrates Flat Stanley. I've always thought his cartoony style made Stanley look so likeable and friendly, and it works here too. The toys look like Stanley and the "real" world is done in colored pencils. The contrast is really neat - it's like Who Framed Roger Rabbit, except in this case it works, it doesn't look clunky, and it doesn't make you want to strangle Bob Hoskins just to put him out of his misery. And the story is cool too, one of those was-it-all-a-dream-probably-not stories, of a toy that comes to life, and a giant pumpkin, and a blue ribbon. I do like me a book that is "just" a good story.
Mine! Mathilde Stein, illustrations by Mies van Hout.
Ah, Europeans. A little ghost comes to stay with Charlotte, but he doesn't know how to share. Charlotte is patient and sensible and eventually turns the ghost into a considerate, cooperative playmate. Would be dull and heavy-handed, but the friendly little declarative sentences ("I know only one ghost and he is very nice.") and the textured, Quentin-Crisp-like illustrations keep it from being so.
I miss you every day by Simms Taback.
From a song by Woody Guthrie, this book is for any child who has ever missed anyone. As usual, Simms Taback delivers tactile illustrations dense with content, and as an added bonus, there's an envelope with a picture inside it on the title page.
Panda foo and the new friend by Mary Murphy. Well it's a sweet little book about making friends. The illustrations are kind of unusual and in a good way. Instead of black outlines, plants are outlined in tomato red or turquoise blue. The more detailed spreads are breathtaking.
The all-I'll-ever-want Christmas doll, written by Patricia C. McKissack, illustrated by Jerry Pinkney. I'm not sure I've ever seen these two teamed up this way. No, they did Goin' Someplace Special, and Mirandy and Brother Wind together too. And this one is as lovely and lively as you would expect, a Christmas story set during the Depression, and a young girl learns that the best gift is family. Except it's not sappy like I just made it sound.
Mind your manners, B.B. Wolf, written by Judy Sierra, illustrated by J. Otto Siebold.
Judy wrote Wild about books and Monster goose, and J. Otto did Going to the Getty and the Target Ready Sit Read (which, if you have a young child and you haven't signed up for yet, go there now, sign up!) program materials, so this book would probably have to vehemently suck for me to not like it. Craa-ack... yep, no sucking. One big burp and a couple little songs, a whole sack of characters familiar from both traditional stories and from J. Otto's other books, and a trip to the library! All right!