Friday, April 27, 2007

Poetry Friday

It's nearing the end of the semester, plus the pollen count is awful here, so I'm a big ball of stressed out-stuffed-up-ick, so there hasn't been blogging lately. My brain doesn't work, forgive me.

You can, however, get tips on DC vacations from me over at Geek Buffet.

Here's a poem for you though! This poem was the first one I ever enjoyed analyzing in class. I still remember the day we read it in high school. It was the first time any sort of mass-analysis helped me enjoy a literary work instead of killing the joy I originally had.

A Valediction Forbidden Mourning
by John Donne

As virtuous men pass mildly away,
And whisper to their souls to go,
Whilst some of their sad friends do say,
"Now his breath goes," and some say, "No."

So let us melt, and make no noise,
No tear-floods, nor sigh-tempests move;
'Twere profanation of our joys
To tell the laity our love.

Moving of th' earth brings harms and fears;
Men reckon what it did, and meant;
But trepidation of the spheres,
Though greater far, is innocent.

Dull sublunary lovers' love
—Whose soul is sense—cannot admit
Of absence, 'cause it doth remove
The thing which elemented it.

But we by a love so much refined,
That ourselves know not what it is,
Inter-assurèd of the mind,
Care less, eyes, lips and hands to miss.

Our two souls therefore, which are one,
Though I must go, endure not yet
A breach, but an expansion,
Like gold to aery thinness beat.

If they be two, they are two so
As stiff twin compasses are two;
Thy soul, the fix'd foot, makes no show
To move, but doth, if th' other do.

And though it in the centre sit,
Yet, when the other far doth roam,
It leans, and hearkens after it,
And grows erect, as that comes home.

Such wilt thou be to me, who must,
Like th' other foot, obliquely run;
Thy firmness makes my circle just,
And makes me end where I begun.

Thursday, April 19, 2007

Reading for Fun

I'm blogging over at Geek Buffet today about guilty pleasures in reading. Check it out.

Wednesday, April 18, 2007

More Winners and the like

Now Reading: Un Lun Dun
Just Finished: The Invention of Hugo Cabret, Diary of a Wimpy Kid, Persepolis: The Story of a Childhood, Special Topics in Calamity Physics, The Brothers Grimm: Two Lives, One Legacy, The Talented Clementine,Persepolis 2: The Story of a Return

The Green Glass Sea by Ellen Klages was this year's winner for the Scott O'Dell prize for historical fiction.

Dewey is a weird kid-- there's something wrong with her leg that makes her limp and she spends all of her time making gadgets and fiddling with stuff. Her dad is working on some top secret project that is going to help win the war and when her grandmother dies, she goes off to live with him.

Dewey didn't realize how top secret this project was. She didn't realize she was moving to a place that didn't officially exist... All she knew was everyone was living out in the desert working on the gadget. The gadget would win the war. The gadget would make everything better.

Suze has been living at Los Alamos for awhile when Dewey moves there-- Suze is a bit awkward and bossy and both of her parents are working on the project-- her mom's a real scientist, not just a typist or secretary like the other moms. When Dewey's dad has to go to Washington for awhile, Dewey moves in and the pair form an unlikely, but entirely realistic, friendship.

What's great about this book is the portrait of day-to-day life at Los Alamos-- you never think about kids living with their families, going to school, and being kids. You never think about the divisions between scientist kids and military kids. And you never think about Los Alamos just plain not existing... (well, at least I never thought about those things.)

This balances the line perfectly of being meticulously researched and historically wonderful, while not letting this detail overshadow the actual story. I liked how realistic the interactions between the kids were-- this unlikely friendship took a long time to develop and it never came across as hokey or simplisitic.

My favorite part of the book was how delicately it dealt with some very large issues that need to be tackled when dealing this topic-- it put them in there so you knew people were worrying about them, but Dewey hears about them and deals with them in a way that is very true to her age. In Surely You're Joking, Mr. Feynman! (Adventures of a Curious Character) Feynman (a minor character in this book, much to my delight) talks about the horror of what they had done after the first test. The book captures this horror well with the adults and the confusion of the kids at what's going on.

Something happens about 3/4 of the way through the book that is a bit of a spoiler so I'm not going to talk about it too much, but it was just too much and I don't really think it was necessary (but it might be for the sequel that I am very much looking forward to!)

The other thing is... I'm assuming that if you're reading my blog, you know what the gadget was-- you know what was invented at Los Alamos during WWII to win the war. Dewey and Suze, and therefore the reader, never find out was the gadget was, and I'm not sure how much sense the ending of the book is going to make if you don't know. I also don't know if the intended audience is going to automatically know what the gadget was...

Still, an excellent book and a well-deserving win.

Once upon a time, a very long time ago, I promised I'd review this years Newberry winner, The Higher Power of Luckyby Susan Patron.

I wanted to wait down until all the fervor over SCROTUM faded away. And then it came back. And then it faded again.

Anyway... Lucky really surprised me. I hadn't heard anything about it before Newberry day and in reading the description-- it didn't sound kid-friendly. It sounded like it was going to be really nostalgic and an adult book written for kids.

It wasn't! I was so happy!

Lucky lives with her French guardian (he absent father's ex-wife) in the middle of the desert. She likes to eavesdrop on 12 step meetings to find out how people find their higher power-- higher power sounds like a handy thing to have, but Lucky's hoping to avoid hitting rock bottom in order to get it. Hitting rock bottom doesn't sound like much fun.

At the same time, Lucky's worried her guardian is going to go back to France-- she seems homesick and her passport was out the other day.

Deep down, this is a really sweet tale that will appeal to younger readers, but also has some really big issues for older readers to get into.

Most enjoyable was the large cast of wacky, but believable, characters. A good book and my favorite Newberry winner of the last few years.

Hattie Big Sky by Kirby Lawson was a Newberry Honor book that is being found in the YA section at all the libraries I've visited!

Hattie is an orphan who inherits a homesteading claim in Montana. In order to keep the claim, she has to cultivate a large portion of it (which involves clearing it first!) and fence off most of it. By hand. By herself. She knows nothing about farming. Or cooking. Or anything. She wants to keep the claim, but she'll be lucky if she even survives.

Her next door neighbors are helpful and nice and the first friends Hattie makes, but one of them is German, and it's smack in the middle of WWI. Montana is rife with anti-German sentiment, loyalty leagues and other things making things hard for Hattie's friends. How can she reconcile her soldier-friends killing Germans across the ocean with her German neighbor fencing her claim in the middle of the night?

Tragedy and hope about in another great example of what historical fiction should be in this book that's perfect for Tweens and those right on the kidlit/YA break.

My favorite part was the ending and how it was handled. The author's note at the end is great, as are the recipes!

The Pull of the Ocean by Jean-Claude Mourlevat won the Batchelder award for translated work this fall.

The Doutreleau children are all sets of twins, except for the Yann, the seventh and the last. Yann is small and mute, but notices everything and communicates with his older brothers silently. One night he wakes up to his parents fighting and lets his brothers know they have to leave, to escape. For days they walk, following Yann's inner compass to the ocean.

This is more than just a retelling of the Tom Thumb. This story is told in brief accounts of people who saw the children and interacted with them only briefly-- sometimes only seconds, never more than an hour or so. Interspersed are the accounts of the children, but never Yann.

This book is surprisingly powerful and moving without ever being overwrought, over-contrived, or melodramatic. I couldn't put it down and it haunts you long after you turn the final page-- I highly recommend!

Friday, April 13, 2007

Let us press the soles of our feet together...

A Bokonon Calypso:

I wanted all things
To seem to make some sense,
So we could all be happy, yes,
Instead of tense.
And I made up lies
So that they all fit nice,
And I made this sad world
A par-a-dise.

- Kurt Vonnegut

I first read Cat's Cradle for my Modern American Lit class in high school. When I was in China, about halfway through the semester, we had run out of English language novels and were too poor to buy more. I begged my parents for books and they sent me a box of Vonnegut and Steinbeck and everyone was jealous of my bounty. (Yes, I shared)

And really, no one can draw an anus like him:


And now he's gone...

Banned Books!

Ok, so instead of always talking about banned books here, I just update my list-mania lists over at Amazon and they're all nicely linked up in the side bar.

But yesterday, I read that Of Mice and Men is being challenged in Newton, IA.

This makes me incredibly sad, because I have a very warm spot in my heart reserved for Newton. Newton may be a small town in central Iowa, but, when I was in college, it was the big town. Iowa City was far enough a way that it was a preplanned excursion, but we'd go to Newton at the drop of a hat. We'd all pile in the car and drive along Highway 6 with the windows down and the radio up and check out their Super Walmart (Because nothing is more fun than buying oodles of fabric at 1 am) or the Perkins, or everyone's favorite Mexican joint with margaritas bigger than your head-- La Cabana.

There was a time senior year when we went to La Cabana pretty much every weekend. Even my Tex-Mex snobby friends (they're from Texas, so they know what they're talking about) like that place!

Plus, it's the home of Maytag blue cheese. Yummy.

But I think I liked those drives the best-- 6 is curvy and hilly and at dusk in summer, full of fireflies. And on those nights, singing along with the radio on our way to Newton (sometimes it wasn't Newton so much as the escape from campus) with the warm summer air and the smell of summer-- hay and green things, tinged with falling humidity... I fell in love with those nights. I fell in love on one of those nights.

And now they're challenging Steinbeck.

Monday, April 09, 2007

Star-Studded Review-a-Rama

Currently Reading: The Brothers Grimm: Two Lives, One Legacy, Special Topics in Calamity Physics
Just Finished:
Yang the Youngest and his Terrible Ear, From a Crooked Rib, Kitchen

Oh, I have a lot to talk about, I don't even know where to begin. It's like when you're writing a paper and you just become paralyzed with the enormity of the task before you and freeze up and never get started.

So... let's talk about some books, eh? I guess I'll focus on award winners and those with buzz. We'll see how far I get tonight!

First up on the block is the lovely A Drowned Maiden's Hair: A Melodrama by Laura Amy Schlitz

All Maud wants is to be adopted and to have a real family again. When the elderly Hawthorne sisters take her home, Maud is overjoyed. She has nice clothes, good food, and indoor plumbing. What Maud doesn’t have is any friends—she’s not allowed to go to school or see visitors. Maud is a secret, and when she finds out why, she has some very tough decisions to make about what’s important.

This was a very moving story about the compelling need for love and a home, versus doing what is right. At the same time, we get a good dose of spirituality and mediums and ghosts. It was wonderfully spooky without being scary.

I loved the way Maud's friendship developed with Muffet, the Hawthorne's deaf servant. I also liked the way that Maud really struggled with her decisions about what to do-- she didn't always want to do the right thing, and how Schlitz handles this conflict makes Maud so much more real and likeable.

It was getting a lot of well-deserved Newberry buzz and even though it didn't win and wasn't honored, you should still check it out.

Rules by Cynthia Lord.

This was a Newberry Honor, as well as the winner of the Schneider Family Book Award (for books about disabilities.)

Catherine is a twelve year old girl whose little brother, David, has autism. On one hand she is fiercely protective of him but on the other, she is mortified when he does embarrassing things that could potentially mess up her relationships. She doesn't give her friends nearly enough credit in understanding about David, but she's been burned in the past. To help David be less embarassing, Catherine writes him rules about day-to-day life. No toys in the fish tank. It's ok to yell on the playground, but not during dinner. Over time, a lot of these rules are obviously more for Catherine than for David.

Catherine's best friend is away is away for the summer and there's a new family moving in next door. Catherine has high hopes for her friendship with Kristi, but, like real life, not everything goes as she wished it would--and that's not necessarily a bad thing.

When Catherine accompanies David to therapy, she meets Jason, who is in a wheel chair and can't talk. Jason has a book of cards with pictures and words that he points to in order to communicate. Catherine starts drawing him more cards, including nebulous concepts like "murky" and "unfair". Catherine again tries to balance fitting in with her "normal" friends and classmates, and her friendship with Jason. Jason was a really interesting character that continued to surprise me, and I wish we saw even more of him.

One of my favorite parts of this book were when Catherine was trying to figure out what to draw for abstract ideas. My other favorite part was the struggle Catherine had in trying to be understanding of David, but feeling overshadowed by him in the family dynamic and needing her parents to sometimes focus exclusively on her. I think it was a very real, if not pretty, look at what it means to be in a family with someone who requires so much attention and energy.

I also liked how, when David couldn't put his thoughts and feelings into words, would quote extensively from the Frog and Toad books by Lobel. It was heartbreaking and hilarious.

My main quibble is with the ending-- it was overly tidy and neat while at the same time not really solving anything. It tarnished the rest of the wonderful book for me.

Penny from Heavenby Jennifer Holm

This was another Newberry Honor and my favorite of this year's Newberry crop. Penny is growing up in 1950s northern New Jersey and is torn between her mother and grandparents (whom she lives with) and her nearby Italian family of her deceased father. The two sides of the family don't talk to each other and even though Penny's mother would never tell her not to see her Italian family, it's obvious she doesn't like all the time she spends with them.

Summer is hard, even without the family drama. Penny's mom won't let her go swimming in fear she might catch Polio and then she starts dating the milkman!

Eventually, the truth about Penny's father's death comes out, as well as the horror of what Italian-Americans went through during WWII, which is something that doesn't get discussed much. I had no idea most of this stuff had happened.

The book is a bit nostalgic, but wonderfully written (and from the same person who does Babymouse! Such versatility!) and while showing excellence in children's literature, has definite kid-appeal. The author's note at the end was excellent, as well as Holm's own family album. I highly recommend.

And that's all for tonight, but I have a lot more to come...

Friday, April 06, 2007

Love is in the Air!

My sister called me today. She's at our parents' house, but only until Monday. I'll be there on Friday. Ah well.

But she called to say she's getting hitched next summer. SO! For those keeping score! Last weekend= wedding, this weekend= engagement, next weekend= wedding!

Here's a poem, because it's Friday:

"The River Merchant's Wife: A Letter"

While my hair was still cut straight across my forehead
I played about the front gate, pulling flowers.
You came by on bamboo stilts, playing horse,
You walked about my seat, playing with blue plums.
And we went on living in the village of Chokan:
Two small peoplle, without dislike or suspicion.

At fourteen, I married My Lord you.
I never laughed, being bashful.
Lowering my head, I looked at the wall.
Called to, a thousand times, I never looked back.

At fifteen I stopped scowling,
I desired my dust to be mingled with yours
Forever and forever and forever.
Why should I climb the look out?

At sixteen you departed,
You went into far Ku-to-ed, by the river of swirling eddies,
And you have been gone five months.
The monkeys make sorrowful noise overhead.

You dragged your feet when you went out.
By the gate now, the moss is grown, the different mosses,
Too deep to clear them away!
The leaves fall early this autumn, in wind.
The paired butterlfies are already yellow with August
OVer the grass in the West garden;
They hurt me. I grow older.
If you are coming down through the narrows of the river Kiang,
Please let me know beforehand,
And I will come out of meet you
As far as Cho-fu-Sa.

--Li Bo, as translated and adapted by Ezra Pound

Big A little a has the roundup! Thanks Kelly!

Tuesday, April 03, 2007

Life in the Fast Lane

Now Reading: Special Topics in Calamity Physics
Just Finished: You Know You Love Me: A Gossip Girl Novel, Book Crush: For Kids and Teens-Recommended Reading for Every Mood, Moment and Interest, Ten Green Bottles: The True Story of One Family's Journey from War-torn Austria to the Ghettos of Shanghai, Junie B., First Grader: Dumb Bunny, You Can Never Find a Rickshaw When It Monsoons - The World on One Cartoon a Day, Friendship For Today

Ok, first things first, you should all check out Good Reads, a website my writer-friend Sarah just told me about today. Basically, you have a bookshelf of all the books you've read and rate them and review them and then you read your friend's reviews, because we all trust recommendations from our friends more than some random dude on Amazon, right? It's pretty cool and I'm just getting used to it, but check it out and be my friend.

I like this in addition to Library Thing (which I love) because I'm using Good Reads for books I've read, and Library Thing for books I own. There's a world of difference there.

I went down to Savannah this weekend for a most beautiful wedding. It was lovely and I found out Abby reads this thing, so here's a little shout out to the beautiful and wonderful bride. And her husband, Jack. (Hey Abby-- did your 'rents tell you that were were on the same flight at stupid o'clock Monday morning?)

Also, a shout out to Ruth and Kristin and Tom and Mark, because it was really, really good to see you all and trade books! :)

And, I got a lot of reading done! Because reading is good and lovely and airports are boring.

Anyway... here's a book review, because that's what we're all about here on Biblio File, right? Here's one I just had to read after the great review that Fuse #8 gave it. Thanks for the head's up on that one-- it didn't disappoint.

Friendship For Today by Patricia C. McKissack

This book provides a wonderful child's-eye view of school integration in the St. Louis area.

Rosemary is not entirely sure why all the adults in her life are so excited about integration. All she knows is that she will be the only black kid in all of 6th grade at her new school. Plus, she has to sit by Grace the Tasteless, the white girl from the next street over that torments her all the time. At school, Rosemary finds out that Grace is also an outcast, because she's "poor white trash" and an uneasy friendship blooms.

McKissack is a wonderful (and prolific) writer and this book is an excellent example of her talent. Rosemary's voice rings true even today and I spent a lot of the novel rooting for Grace to stand up and do the right thing. And when she did, it was honest and true, which is hard to do and you don't see it done well all that often. The author's note at the end explains it's a highly autobiographical novel.

A nice story of friendship and change for readers 9-13.