Friday, September 28, 2007


It's been a week. That's the only way to describe it. School, work, life-- all conspiring to drive me insane, but! it's soon the weekend and this weekend is the National Book Festival on the Mall here in DC. Are you going? Let me know! We'll hang out!

And, are you a teen? Then Vote for the Teens Top 10 (well, go to the website and see which books to read and then vote October 14-20).

There were 25 books nominated. I've read three of them: Kiki Strike: Inside the Shadow City by Kirsten Miller (LOVE!), River Secrets by Shannon Hale (LOVE!), and Clay by David Almond, which I'll review at some other point. Not today.

First, a song. Feist is the singer in that new iPod Nano Commercial. This is one of her other songs... I Feel It All.

And, some things I'm lusting after, mainly these. Thanks to The Miss Rumphius Effect for the link.

And! A poem! Because it's Friday!


Little time now
and so much hasn't
been put down as I
should have done it.
But does it matter?
It's all been written
so well by my betters,
and what they wrote
has been my joy.

--James Laughlin

Round-up is here.

Wednesday, September 26, 2007

Armchair Traveling

I love to travel, as you probably know. I do it quite often, but still, with time and salary constraints (go go frequent flier miles racked up by someone who loves me) it doesn't happen as much as I'd like.

(The travel photos are, at right, Dan and me in Turkey, were the Bosphorus meets the Black Sea. The land mass to the left is Europe, to the right is Asia. Below is me in the Forbidden City in Beijing. Further into the post is one of me in front of the Hofburg Palace in Vienna.)

Which is were some great books can come into play to take you away from it all...

But first, today's song is Guess How Much I Love You by The Lucksmiths. It's my favorite rainy day song. Not that today is rainy, but rather because it fits in well with today's theme. This is cartography for beginners, on map the gap's three fingers but it's more than that, more than that...

Anyway, books. Right.

The Clumsiest People in Europe: Or, Mrs. Mortimer's Bad-Tempered Guide to the Victorian World by Todd Pruzan (and Mrs. Favell Lee Mortimer)

Some time ago, Pruzan ran across a copy of The Countries of Europe Described, a sort of Victorian travel-guide to Europe. It contained such gems of advice and knowledge as German women are "not fond of reading useful books. When they read, it is novels about people who have never lived. It would be better to read nothing than such books."

Puzan was hooked. He tracked down other travel guides and books by Mrs. Mortimer (Churchill himself was taught to read with her Reading Without Tears, though he said "it certainly did not justify its title in my case."

In The Clumsiest People in Europe, Puzan has published extracts from Mrs. Mortimer's opinions on all corners of globe (amazing for a woman who never left England). His introductory text explaining current political issues and boundaries is invaluable. Mrs. Mortimer's opinions on the other hand...

This book is hilarious, but you can't admit that and you'll feel rather dirty for laughing at it, though sometimes you're laughing just at the sheer audacity of it. Not that Mrs. Mortimer held any opinions that weren't common to Victorian England...

Some places look pretty at a distance which look very ugly when you come up to them--Lisbon is one of these places.

There are no people as fond of parties as the people of Vienna. Morning, noon, and evening, they are thinking of treats, and holidays, of music and dances. They are fond of eating nice things.

The capital of Malacca is Malacca, and this city belongs to the English; but it is of little use to them, because the harbour is not good.

[In Ireland] potatoes are the food. Potatoes for breakfast, potatoes for dinner, and potatoes for supper.

Of course, sometimes, she hits things right on the head. In her entry on the US she says:

In the Southern States, SLAVERY prevails...

Some people declare, that these slaves are as happy as free labourers.

The slaves show plainly, that
they do not think themselves happy, by often running away. Every day there are advertisements in the newspapers for runaway slaves.

And although it starts off odious, her entry on Affghanistan hits some truths that might not have been widely accepted:

The Affghan, though living on fruits, is far from being a harmless and amiable character; on the contrary, he is cruel, covetous, and treacherous. Much British blood has been shed in the valleys of Affghanistan.

We cannot blame the Affghans for defending their own country. It was natural for them to ask, "What right has Britain to interfere with us?"

A British Army was once sent to Affghanistan to force the people to have a king they did not like, instead of one they did like.

And of course:

Poor Poland has no king of her own. She has been torn to pieces by three great countries--Austria, Russia, and Prussia. They have divided Poland between them. This was very wrong.

And, not really a travel book, but a book about a great journey is

The Miraculous Journey of Edward Tulane by Kate DiCamillo

Everyone's read this, and everyone loved it, and everyone wept when it didn't get the Newberry.

Except me. Well, ok, I didn't read it until after Newberry's were announced but... where this is a book for children, much like The Velveteen Rabbit, this is a book to be read to children, not for children to read to themselves--the sentence structure is very complex. The message, too, I think is almost more for adults than for kids.

That said, Edward Tulane is a story of a porcelain rabbit who is very selfish and vain. He expects everyone to love him and, when his heart is broken, is left emotionally shattered and bitter. As he travels, he learns to heal and love again.

What makes this story magical (and it really is) is DiCamillo's prose--beautifully elegant, haunting and soft. After reading, you just want to find someplace quiet for awhile...

Other great travel books:

On the Road Jack Kerouac
13 Little Blue Envelopes Maureen Johnson
Maiden Voyage Tania Aebi and Bernadette Brennan
You Can Never Find a Rickshaw When It Monsoons - The World on One Cartoon a Day Mo Willems

And, of course, don't forget Mike's Walkabout, which is a blog by my friend Mike who saved up a bunch of money, quit his job, and is now backpacking around the world.

What are your favorite armchair travel books?

Tuesday, September 25, 2007

In the Shadow of History

I like the idea of blogging with music, so we're going to start doing that. Now, when I link to a song, it's through Napster, which is now 100% legit. The song is free and you don't need to log into anything to listen to it. The way it's legit is that you can only listen 3 times (to each song) before it asks you to buy that particular track.

Today's song is... We Didn't Start The Fire by Billy Joel.

Also, I'm now allowed to officially announce that I'm part of the Cybils awesomeness that is once again happening this year. I'm helping with the Middle Grade/ Young Adult non-fiction. Nominations start on October 1st, so start thinking and then get over there!!!!

Also, I'm hanging out at Geek Buffet today blogging about the morals of Communist Kitsch Chic.

And now, a book. It's one of those ones for grown-up type people.

Big Breasts & Wide Hips: A Novel by Mo Yan

Now, to preface this, I have to say that Mo Yan is my favorite author. Hands down. His depictions of Modern China are wonderful and his language is lush. So lush, especially when compared to most other Chinese prose. I almost puked Red Sorghum reading the scenes in when the Japanese invaded. I could taste the garlic while reading The Garlic Ballads.

Not everything he writes gets translated, so a new Mo Yan novel is to be savored. To the point where I've owned this for a few years now and never read it. It just sat on the shelf, waiting. Waiting for a time when I could pick it up and read it slowly and fully enjoy it.

Now, it was a perfectly fine book. But not one of his best, leaving it a bit of a disappointment.

The story is of the Shangguan family, who live in Northeast Gaomi Country in Shandong Province (almost all of Mo Yan's works take place here).

Shangguan Jintong is the only boy in a family of 9 sisters. He's obsessed with breasts, particularly those of his mother-- he isn't fully weaned until around the age of 17. This novel tracks the family through the 20th century-- a pretty tumultuous time in Chinese history. Unlike most historical novels, history isn't a main character--it's just a small part of the background noise, with a few exceptions. Because of this, I'm wondering how much sense parts of it will make to people not acquainted in modern Chinese history. The section leading up to WWII and going through the success of the Communist Revolution is confusing at best. Now, it was confusing to those who lived through it, too, but...

According to the introduction, Mo Yan wanted to write a story feauturing strong female characters. Now, most of his work features strong female characters and, outside the character of Mother, I'm not entirely sure this one does. Many of the sisters are introduced and then disappear. Many are not well fleshed out and I wouldn't call all of them strong by any means.

Now, if this had been by anyone else besides Mo Yan, I'd be much more enthusiastic about it, but I expected more of him.

Now, to eagerly await the March release of Life and Death are Wearing Me Out. In the meantime, if you haven't read his work yet, pick up a copy of Red Sorghum-- you won't be disappointed.

Monday, September 24, 2007

Ba Ba Ba

Do you know that song by Ivy? Ba Ba Ba? (click on that link to listen to it.) It gets in my head ALL THE TIME. And is there right now.

Sadly, my copy of Apartment Life is old and worn and the CD's out of print... (is a CD out of print? Out of pressing? What's the equivalent?)

Anyway, let's talk about a book that is in print.

Here Be Monsters! (Ratbridge Chronicles 1) by Alan Snow.

Short version: Fantastic adventure for kids featuring shy trolls, good pirates, and nasty cheese hunters.

Long version: Arthur lives in the tunnels under the town of Ratbridge, slipping up every night to forage for food. Usually this involves rummaging through garbage cans, but some nights it means stealing from people's gardens.

It was a garden night when he saw the illegal cheese hunt. Unfortunately, the members of the cheese guild who saw Arthur as well and stopped up his only entrance back home to his grandfather. He soon makes friends with Willbury (former barrister) and an assortment of underlings-- creatures that live underground-- including boxtrolls and a cabbage head.

But then, someone starts selling very small underlings and kidnaps Arthur's new friends!

The cheese guild has everyone in their pocket but that's not going to stop Arthur, Willbury, and some pirates cum laundrymen from trying the thwart them.

Decidedly oddball, and veeeeeeeeeeeery British (tones of Dahl all over), I loved it. Snow's frequent ink drawing illustrations add a lot of humor to the already funny text. How can you not love a book where cheese is a docile animal to be hunted. CHEESE! And trolls are very timid and very shy, and there is a whole community of women who fell down rabbit holes while children and were raised by rabbits and now think that they are rabbits.

It's a good, meaty book, weighing in at 529 pages, but there are lots of illustrations scattered throughout the text, very short chapters, and a compelling story to make this a rather zippy read.

I highly recommend.

Friday, September 21, 2007


This week, we have an original sonnet that I wrote last night, still untitled.

It seems to strange to start a new year now, when
the ground is dying and green things turn brown.
Last week, we ate apples and honey, then
cast bread crumbs into the river to drown.
But the ram's horn echoes, my sins return
to haunt me as I ignore the harvest.
The ground hardens. The wind picks up. I yearn
to be forgiven so that I may rest
in order to prepare for the coming
snow and rain, before the damp chill invades
my bones. If we have forgotten something
we would have done, like forgiveness mislaid...
Deal with us in charity and kindness.
Our Father, Our King, our sins are confessed.

I hope everyone has a good fast.

Sara has the round-up! Thanks for hosting!

Wednesday, September 19, 2007

Turning Kids onto Great Books.

So, today, as you are hopefully aware, is Talk Like a Pirate Day.

When being told of this, the kids today wanted pirate books. I was more than happy to oblige.

It reminded me of a great day with the same bunch of kids when I was wearing my Babymouse t-shirt.

Girl 1 (age 8): Miss Jennie, what's that on your shirt?
Me: It's Babymouse!
Girl 2 (age 8): Miss Jennie, what's Babymouse?
Me: You guys have never read Babymouse?
Girls 1 and 2: Uh-uh.
Me: Come with me! You'll love it!
We walk over the stacks where I find copies. When the other kids see I'm handing out books, they all come over. I end up handing out all 10 or so copies of various Babymouse titles that we have on the shelf...

Ten minutes later:

Boy 1 (age 7. Very macho): Miss Jennie! I want that pink book that everyone else is reading!!!!

Me: tries very hard not to laugh

End scene.

Sometimes, peer pressure is a force for good.

Here's a vacation photo of me (looking a little demented-- can we blame that on the sun? Look how burned I got that morning!) in front of the "Reading Room for Youngsters" in the Beijing Underground City. When China feared nuclear war with the Soviet Union, they didn't build bomb shelters in their elementary schools and backyards. They built and entire underground city-- a series of rooms and tunnels that could house 300,000 people. It has tunnels leading the Great Wall and the Forbidden City, ventilation shafts, and parts can be sealed off in case of contamination. And now, for 20 yuan (about $2.56 US) you can have an English-language guided tour. Very, very cool. There was also a Battle Field Library and a Recreation Room of Old Persons.

Also, I'm at Geek Buffet today, blogging about being an adult, your inner child, and the amount of sugary cereal in my pantry.

But, here's a book review:

Violet Bing and the Grand House by Jennifer Paros

Violet Bing does not like change, or things that are not exactly just so. As such, she has refused to go on vacation with her family and is shipped off to spend some time with her great-aunt Astrid instead.

When her aunt suggests that make some sandwiches and ride their bikes to the beach, Violet's reaction is typical:

Violet thinks she likes her sandwiches with white bread that is nice and soft. She likes them to have the smooth kind of peanut butter and not too much of it, and her jelly must be grape because sometimes strawberry as pieces of strawberry in it. And also, along with not being all that good at ride a bicycle, she can't swim because she does not want to put her face in the water. Putting her face in the water seems like a bad idea because you cannot breathe while your face is in the water.

And so Violet uses her catch-all excuse that she just doesn't have the time.

It's a nice little story about a getting a girl to try new things. Really though, it's Paros's illustrations that make the book for me. Line drawings, sometimes labeled, and Violet in her triangle dress add much to the enjoyment of this story.

And let's review another book:

Horseradish: Bitter Truths You Can't Avoid by Lemony Snicket

This is quite a nice little book of Snicket's bon mots. Kinda like a depressing Deep Thoughts. Or cross-stitch samplers for the demented.

As I'm sure you know, the key to good eavesdropping is not getting caught.

Labor Day is a holiday honoring those who work for a living. Laborious Day is a lesser known holiday honoring those who cannot stop talking about their work.

The way sadness works is one of the strangest riddles of the world.

A fun tie-in for fans of Snicket.

Alice in Wonderland

So, there's a new photo. It's very recent. 5 minutes ago recent. Also, I split up the blogrolls. There's the bookish ones and other cool ones. A lot of the other cool ones are ones my friends do. I have cool friends (dunno why they hang out with me ;) ) and their blogs are very cool. Check them out.

But, I promised you some books, right? These are both Alice-y. Check out this Alice jewelry that I'm lusting after (she has other great stuff too. Check it out.)

Here's a little story. I was hanging out at ALA, looking for ARCs, when some lady by me picked up a book to show her manly companion. I might have maybe shrieked. A little bit. When I saw the book. She said "you obviously need this" and gave it to me (there was a big pile, she still got a copy).

The book was Frank Beddor's Seeing Redd, the second in a trilogy and the follow up to last year's most awesome The Looking Glass Wars.

So, Alyss has regained her queendom, but peace is uneasy. The suit families don't trust the new queen and she doesn't trust them. There are factions all over trying to take advantage of the queendom's fragility in this time of rebuilding. And someone is plotting with the kingdom next door to invade Wonderland. Where is Hatter Madigan when you need him? And will Alyss ever get a moment alone with Dodge?

An excellent followup to the first that leaves even higher hopes for the third. The ending, like the second installment in all good trilogies, is a bit
Empire Strikes Back. What intrigued me most was the depiction of King Arch's kingdom-- a bastion of sexism and machismo. He despises Wonderland because he doesn't believe women can rule. Boarderland uses drug delivery systems to keep women under control, lets women be used as currency, and has slogans of manliness carved into the cliffs such as Boarderland men do not cry when watching sentimental crystal-vision programs with their wives. Boarderlandmen do not watch sentimental crystal-vision programs with their wives. But what promised to be an interesting examination of the sexism, gender roles, and machismo, puttered out after being rather strongly introduced. I'm hoping that it will come back in the third book.

Overall though, I actually liked this book better than the first (and I lurved the first one) because here Frank can really break through the constraints of retelling a story. He has his version of Alyss's world firmly in hand and can now let his imagination loose. I can't, can't, can't wait for book 3. Also! Beddor put out a soundtrack for these books!A Soundtrack! I can't wait to listen.

Full disclosure: As made obvious by the above story, this was a publisher provided ARC...

Alice In Sunderland by Bryan Talbot.

Do you know who would absolutely love this book? My dad. (Did you hear that Dad? Go to the bookstore and pick this up. Tonight-ish.) I think Fuse originally turned me onto this one.

Still, it was totally not what I was expecting what-so-ever. This is a rather madcap love letter to Sunderland, England. Giving us a tour of the town, teaching us its history, and outlining all of Lewis Carroll's and Alice's connections with the area. But he jumps all over and you're never entirely sure if he's telling the truth... you're also treated to a guide to the great pubs of Sunderland and an interesting history of comics. (He makes a compelling case for the Bayeux Tapestry as an precursor to the comic.)

Here's the text off a sample page: (he's discussing the village of Washington on County Durham)

Washington is derived from the Anglo-Saxon hwaes, meaning chieftain and ton meaning village. Here the Saxon thane has his wooden hall, later replaced by a medieval stone manor. Hail to the chief! In 1180, the Norman landowners take the name of their village, becoming the first Washingtons, the direct ancestors of George Washington, the first constitutional president of the U.S.A. Rebuilt in 1623 upon the foundations of its medieval predecessor, Washington Old Hall still displays the family coat of arms... three mullets over two bars: The Stars and Stripes "There's glory for you", says Humpty Dumpty. Old Glory, to be exact. It's also in the heraldic display of Hylton Castle... and is George Washington's personal crest. Not only is Washington related to the Lambtons and the Lumleys, but also to Alice Liddell and Queen Elizabeth II.

But what makes this utterly fascinating account most unforgettable is the artwork. This is, after all, a graphic novel. (Even thought I think Talbot would call it a comic book.) Talbot flawlessly mixes styles and mediums-- comic-style hand drawing with paintings with old newspapers and photographs, and with what looks like photoshopped pictures to look painted. A visual feast to go with the history and story of Alice and Sunderland.

This is a book to spend hours pouring over. Read it twice--you still won't catch everything.

And Dad? Seriously? Go get it.

Tuesday, September 18, 2007

I'm Back!

Hey all! I'm back from China, nicely sunburned and tired and not entirely sure which end is up. Top that off with the fact I did 3 database presentations this morning to 6th graders and am about to go do a storytime for K-3rd graders...

I'm still jetlagged and peeling rather grossly (how is it that my husband has never had a sun burn peel before?! He's fascinated and horrified at my shoulder.)

I have read some really awesome books lately that I promise to blog about really soon. I also have some minor blog roll changes and think I need a new picture. Until then, just a post to say hello, stay tuned, and if you really want to read me, I have a post over at Geek Buffet in which I discuss boycotts of Chinese products and who I think is really to blame.

Books soon!

Thursday, September 06, 2007

One Last Post!

One last post before I go-go...

Also, can I say how much I am NOT looking forward to flying with the double whammy ear and sinus infection combo? The Beijing Kao Ya, however, should make up for it. (That's Peking Duck. I've been brushing up on my food vocabulary.)

Also, 'cuz I'll be offline, an early Shana Tovah to y'all. I'm celebrating by climbing a Taoist mountain (Tai Shan) to watch the sunrise. I figure starting the Days of Awe with a bit of awe is probably a good thing.

Anyway, one last book review.

Gifted: A Novel by Nikita Lalwani

Rumi was 5 when her kindergarten teacher walked her home to tell her parents she had a gift for math.

At age 10, she sees a news report about an 8 year old who's just done their math O-level. She could do that. She wants to do that. In fact, she's a little ticked that the 8 year old beat her to it.

Her father grabs a hold of this dream and subjects Rumi to a rigorous study schedule. All math, all the time. Nights? Weekends? Math.

Their goal, their dream, is to attend Oxford by age 15. Mahesh wants it for prestige, to make his immigrant family's mark on their new country. Rumi wants it to escape her life and parents in Cardiff. Rumi wants the freedom it promises.

Mahesh will do everything to make sure their dream comes true, but Rumi is growing and would like to have other things on her mind than just math.

Rumi is an interesting character and Lalwali's omniscient narrator's shifts in point of view make this less a story focusing on the immigrant experience and more an exploration of the relationships, motivations, tension and drama that hold this family together and ultimately tear it apart.

Lalwani's narrative gift lies in the little details-- the way Rumi becomes addicted to raw cumin as a means of control in her life. Or the way, when studying, she has the radio on, the record and pause button both depressed on her tape deck, ready to record a good song if one comes on...

An excellent book for book discussion groups.

Available September 11.

Full disclosure: ARC provided by Random House through Library Thing Early Reader's Program.

Wednesday, September 05, 2007

Countdown to Vacation

I'm going on vacation on Friday. To China. I can't wait. My productivity has plummeted. And there won't be any updating next week, because China blocks Blogger. Plus, that whole vacation thing.

Also, school started this week.

First things first (except this isn't first. Ah Well.) The Biblio File store has been updated with my top picks/current favorites for September, so check it out.

Um... next things next? Some book reviews, because that's what we do here.

Anyway, I finally got around to reading The Spiderwick Chronicles by Tony DiTerlizzi and Holly Black.

5 books make up one overarching story-arc. But really, each book is like a mini-episode. There's not much in ways of subplot or character development. Overall, they're fun. They're short enough that even thought I really wasn't drawn in at all to the story, I still wanted to finish them all.

The Field Guide

The Grace parents have just gotten divorced and the former Mrs. Grace moves her 3 kids (Jared, his twin brother Simon, and their older sister Mallory) into crazy Great-Aunt Lucinda's falling down wreck of a house. Jared discovers a secret library, a book about fairies, and the fact that faeries and their ilk are real. In the process, he gets in a lot of trouble with his mother, who likes to think the worst of him.

The Seeing Stone

In which Simon is kidnapped by goblins. Mallory and Jared explore the woods behind the house and find out what being killed and eaten by a bear is really about. An enemy is made. As is a friend (or two). And now they can see goblins and things.

Lucinda's Secret

In which they visit some elves, find out the truth about Uncle Arthur, and decide that maybe it's time to pay Aunt Lucinda a visit. Because maybe she isn't crazy after all.

The Ironwood Tree

In which Jared gets expelled, we meet some dwarves, there is a bloody massacre, and Mallory is forced to do her very best impression of Snow White. Also, some of the most daring escapes to date.

The Wrath of Mulgarath

In which there are dragons. And the end.