Friday, March 30, 2007

Poetry Friday

I'm off to Savannah for a wedding, so here's a good wedding poem for your enjoyment.

Why Marry at All? by Marge Piercy

Why mar what has grown up between the cracks
and flourished like a weed
that discovers itself to bear rugged
spikes of magneta blossoms in August,
ironweed sturdy and bold,
a perennial that endures winters to persist?

Why register with the state?
Why enlist in the legions of the respectable?
Why risk the whole apparatus of roles
and rules, of laws and liabilities?
Why license our bed at the foot
like our Datsun truck: will the mileage improve?

Why encumber our love with patriarchal
word stones, with the old armor
of husband and the corset stays
and the chains of wife? Marriage
meant buying a breeding womb
and sole claim to enforced sexual service.

Marriage has built boxes in which women
have burst their hearts sooner
than those walls; boxes of private
slow murder and the fading of the bloom
in the blood; boxes in which secret
bruises appear like toadstools in the morning.

But we cannot invent a language
of new grunts. We start where we find
ourselves, at this time and place.

Which is always the crossing of roads
that began beyond the earth's curve
but whose destination we can now alter.

This is a public saying to all our friends
that we want to stay together. We want
to share our lives. We mean to pledge
ourselves through times of broken stone
and seasons of rose and ripe plum;
we have found out, we know, we want to continue.

Thursday, March 29, 2007

Ms. Nikki Grimes

Now Reading: You Know You Love Me: A Gossip Girl Novel,
Just Finished: Sister Bernadette's Barking Dog: The Quirky History and Lost Art of Diagramming Sentences, The Road to Paris

Let's start off with The Road to Paris by Nikki Grimes. I'm not sure how I feel about this. I mean, it was a Coretta Scott King honor book this year and Grimes is a powerful writer but...

I'm not entirely sure what she was trying to do with this book and part of me wonders if she won the Coretta Scott King honor because there just weren't that many books with African-American characters published this year.

There isn't much of a plot to this-- Paris runs away from her latest foster home, is separated from her brother and placed in a new home that's really good. Over time, she adjusts to her new life and tries to find a balance between this family and her birth mom.

Even though we start at the end, and then flash back to the beginning, I was a little surprised when the end came around again-- it was a bit of a huh? already? moment.

The story is quiet and gentle, and I liked that about it, but I also wasn't overly attached to the characters.

I've seen a lot of reviews talking about how it's about a biracial girl trying to fit in an all-white town, and that's a part of it, but a smaller part than some of the other stuff and the main racism incident happens towards the end, and seemed forced and stilted and just didn't sit right with me. I really, really didn't like the way Paris held an 8-year-old girl accountable for her father's actions. I would say it seemed out of character, but I'm still not sure enough on Paris's character to know that. Also, I felt like the racial issues were almost an afterthought, and almost got in the way of the story I thought Grimes was trying to tell.

Like I said, it was well written with beautiful prose, but it still didn't grab me.

Earlier this year, I read Bronx Masquerade, also by Grimes.

This is a YA novel about an English class that has poetry slams on Friday and how the kids express themselves and get to know themselves through poetry.

Each chapter is a few pages of one of the kids talking and then the poem they read in class.

It was good, but I had two problems with this book.

1. The smart alec kid passes judgment at the end of every chapter, but it's always positive, which doesn't ring true.
2. This book proves that Nikki Grimes can't write a bad poem if she tried! And I really think she tried to make these poems have the voices of her characters and express their different styles, but she's just too good and these poems were just too good to be written by a group of high schoolers.

Monday, March 26, 2007

Fractured Fairy Tale Awesomeness

Now Reading: Sister Bernadette's Barking Dog: The Quirky History and Lost Art of Diagramming Sentences
Just Finished: Pay the Piper: A Rock 'n' Roll Fairy Tale, This is Paradise!

So, today let's talk about two fairy tale series that so far only have two books a piece. Both of these series needs to step on it and write some more books! I crave more! I am a glutton and demand you indulge me!

So, first up we have the Rock 'n' Roll Fairy Tales by Jane Yolen and Adam Stemple.

Both books are modern stories of our world and the world of fairy tales crash landing into each other. They are both exceedingly well written (I mean, they're Yolen, so that's a given, but I still wanted to point that out.) Both books feature original rock songs with lyrics used at appropriate times in the book, and then a chapter at the end of the book with all of the songs and their lyrics. I wish for only two things:

1. More books
2. Recordings of these songs! Adam Stemple is a rock musician, so I strongly suspect there are melodies behind these lyrics. I long to hear them.

So, first up we have Pay the Piper: A Rock 'n' Roll Fairy Tale. Gringras is the lead singer/lyricist/piper for a folk rock band (rock and reel) Brass Rat. He is also an exiled prince of Faerie and every year must pay a teind of silver, gold, or souls.

Callie is a junior high reporter who's covering the Brass Rat concert, but knows something is not quite right. After accidentally seeing Gringras charm rats with his pipe, she looks deeper into the problem, and ridiculous as it might sounds, thinks Gringras might be the Pied Piper of Hamlin...

Then, on Halloween night, all the children in town go missing. Callie knows Gringras does not have silver or gold, so must be paying in souls. Callie knows that if she ever wants to see her brother, or any of her friends again, it's up to her.

This story is well done. Alternating between Gringras's back story and the modern day narrative, we get a great adventure, and an amazing look into faerie lore-- parts of it reminded me a lot of the Faerie sections of Jonathan Strange & Mr. Norrell. It's also just an awesome adventure, and it's not often we get high end adventure in a rather literary novel.

Troll Bridge: A Rock'n' Roll Fairy Tale is the follow up.

Every year, the Minnesota State Fair has twelve dairy princesses. Every year, they have their likeness carved in butter and displayed at the fair. Every year, the butter heads are then left on a bridge in a small town near Duluth. Every year, but not this year. This year, they left the butter heads at the fair. This year, all twelve dairy princesses have just disappeared off that very bridge. This year, the trolls didn’t get the butter maidens, so they claimed the real maidens.

They also took a rock and roll band made up of three brothers. Add in one mischievous fox that can talk to musicians, and you have yourself another great adventure.

This is a fun, rollicking tale of music and escape that draws on classic fairy tales and Norse mythology. I liked the explanation that the Norse mythological creatures came over in the nightmares of the long boat passengers and the hint of the battles between the Scandinavian creatures and those in Native American cosmology. I also liked how there was personality differences in the different trolls and they were complex creatures-- that's more consideration than they normally get!

I especially enjoyed the slice of Minnesota culture. I could hear the accent in the news reporters' dialogue, and I missed home. (Yeah, earlier today I said I missed Iowa. I just miss the Midwest. 3 more weeks and I'm there!)

Next up is the Twice Upon a Time series by Wendy Mass. These books take classic tales and retell the story, a chapter for the princess, and a chapter for the prince. The prince's stories are really my favorite, because we have no expectations of them before the rescue, and Mass does great work with their back story.

Twice Upon A Time #1: Rapunzel, the One With All The Hair, I originally picked this up because it was part of Wilsona's stupidly long banned book list. There is nothing wrong or bad in this book, it was just on the same page as something they objected to, so it got cut too. (These are the people that banned Clifford's Bathtime after all!)

Anyway, so Rapunzel is taken on her birthday to live in a tower. She's a little whiny and petulant-- understandable certainly, but still a bit annoying.

Benjamin is a prince who is lonely at the top. I especially liked his friendship (and issues) with Andrew the page and the difficulties (and jealousies) with his cousin Elkin. I liked the ingenuity that the boys had to show to rescue Rapunzel.

I especially liked Stephen, the little green man who is also imprisoned by the witch and helps Rapunzel.

Twice Upon a Time, No. 2: Sleeping Beauty, the One Who Took the Really Long Nap:The One that took the really long nap was even better. Mainly, because Rose didn't annoy me! Anyway, I liked Rose's frustrations with being perfect, which were even more so than Rose in Princess School, and better done, I think, but mainly because they were more fleshed out here.

I really liked Prince (he doesn't have a name). His mother has some Ogre blood in her and hates beauty. She also needs to eat living things occasionally. She's not very tender. Because of this, Prince has a hard time making friends and servants don't stay for very long.

But then Prince discovers a castle in the woods that is a perfect match for his own, but it is covered with brambles and thorns...

I want more!

Saturday, March 24, 2007

Belated Poetry Friday

So, yesterday I wasn't online at all in a mix of doctor's visits for the ear infection that will not die (seriously, it's like I'm 7 again), grocery shopping, reading, and generally sleeping a lot. So, I missed Poetry Friday, but here's my belated entry, and my all time favorite poem:

"Losing Track" by Denise Levertov

Long after you have swung back
away from me
I think you are still with me:

you come in close to the shore
on the tide
and nudge me awake the way

a boat adrift nudges the pier:
am I a pier
half-in half-out of the water?

and in the pleasure of that communion
I lose track,
the moon I watch goes down,

the tide swings you away before
I know I'm
alone again long since,

mud sucking at gray and black
timbers of me,
a light growth of green dreams drying.

Blue Rose Girls has an amazing roundup of everyone, too. So amazing, that I'm not copying it all down. Or, if you do a google blog search for Poetry Friday and limit to last 24 hours, you get an impressive list.

And, as bonus in this post (or a navel gazing distraction, take your pick) I'll tell you a little story about myself.

I went to a very small college in a very small town in the middle of a corn field. Lately, I discovered that Kelly knows exactly what I'm talking about. Anyway, second semester of my junior year, my friend John decided that the campus need some more poetry. He rounded up a group and we founded SITS (Shakespeare in the Sh**-er). The bathroom was the main communication forum, you see. That where the Student Health and Wellness Committee posted their newsletters (and their pleas for hand washing) and where the Student Government Association posted their joint board meeting minutes. We posted poetry. Every week for a semester, we rounded up oodles of poetry and plastered it in all the dorm room bathroom stalls on campus.

Then, senior year rolled around and Kate and John graduated, and I fell in love (and for some reason thought that my thesis, Classical Chinese, a history seminar, a Chinese calligraphy private lesson, a guided reading in Ancient Chinese Astronomy [under the guise of the physics department] and some other class, as well as working 20 hours a week sounded like a sane and rational plan)... anyway, SITS died, and I mourn it.

I miss Iowa.

Thursday, March 22, 2007

Adventures in Book Land

Now Reading: This is Paradise!
Just Finished: An Abundance of Katherines

So... Dan came home after a freakishly long business trip. I could tell he had been away for quite some time, because he sent me a coupon for Borders. Obviously, he had forgotten how crazy the stacks of books in our house are and how they are threatening to EAT MY HOUSE.

Needless to say, I went and spent it. When it comes to books, you know I have no self control. My two purchases I'm most excited about are Sister Bernadette's Barking Dogand the The Norton Anthology of Children's Literature: The Traditions in English.

Anyway, let's talk about some books I've read, not ones I haven't yet (but I will say I started Sister Bernadette and it's awesome so far.)

Rosy Cole's Memoir Explosion: A Heartbreaking Story about Losing Friends, Annoying Family, and Ruining Romance by Sheila Greenwald came out around the time Oprah was pistol-whipping James Frey, which was timely.

Anyway, Rosy Cole (who has lots of books about her, but I haven't read the others) is writing a memoir for her writing assingment in school. She was supposed to write about the most interesting person in her family, so she chose herself! The problem is, her life is pretty boring, so she embellishes it a bit. She gets a lot of bad advice, especialy from her Uncle Ralph and when her friends see it, hoo boy, that's when things really hit the fan.

Rosy is a likeable herione. She is confident everyone will eat up her memoir and love it just as she does, and is genuienly shocked and suprised when everyone stops talking to her. Rosy's funny and incorrigible-- a cross between Eloise and Ramona Quimby.

The text is well-complemented by Greenwald's line drawings-- I especially likes how well she captures the facial expressions of her audience everytime Rosy reads her memoirs out loud.

I am looking forward to reading some of the other titles in this series.

Tuesday, March 20, 2007

Re-reads of Childhood Favorites

Now Reading: An Abundance of Katherines

This summer, I reread some of the books I remember most fondly from my elementary school days. Luckily, most of them lived up to memories of their greatness.

A Wrinkle in Time by Madeleine L'Engle The classic adventure of what happens when three witches appear and tell Meg that they can help her find her missing father. Her younger brother Charles Wallace, and new friend Calvin come along as they travel through time on wrinkles in the space-time continuum. Still weird. Still brilliant. And still giving me hope that even unpopular, dorky girls like Meg can end up with someone like Calvin. When a literary crush lasts this long, you know it's forever.

Half Magic by Edward Eager In which we have four children during a boring summer who discover a magic coin that grants them wishes. Kinda. The coin's a little faulty, so it only grants half of your wish. The siblings each get to make a wish a day and go off on many adventures. It's a little dated in a way I didn't notice when I was young-- it seems very quaint. I now also know that it's heavily based on E. Nesbit's Five Children and It (to be fair, Eager gives Nesbit full credit and even makes her the favorite author of the children). That ruined it for me a little, but I still highly recommend to anyone who hasn't read it, especially if they're under 12.

The Devil's Arithmetic by Jane Yolen I have yet to see the Kirsten Dunst film version of this because I love this book so much that I would hate to see it differently than it is in my mind's eye. Hannah can't understand why her older relatives are so upset about a war that happened long ago. She's not keen on spending Passover with them. But, when she opens to the door to look for Elijah during Seder, she's transported back in time to a Polish shetl that's about to be deported to Hitler's death camps. Even though she knows what's coming, she can't make it stop and she can't make anyone listen to her. Even when I knew the ending and the surprise twist, even when I have since read and learned a lot more about the Holocaust, I found this book to be just as gripping and heart-breaking as it was in seventh grade.

From the Mixed-Up Files of Mrs. Basil E. Frankweilerby E. L. Konigsburg I love art-based mystery thriller novels such as The Da Vinci Code The Girl With Boticelli Eyes. (Seriously-- this is a bit of a super-niched genre, but if you have any other titles, let me know.) I fully blame this book for starting it in me. Anyway, in this lovely little book, Claudia decides that she's not really loved and her family would not miss her if she ran away. She takes her little brother with her (because he's good at saving his allowance, and she needs someone to bankroll this operation) and they head off to the Metropolitan Museum of Art (because Claudia wants to live somewhere nice. While at the Met, they get caught up in a mystery taking the art world by storm when the Met acquires a new statue that may or may not have been a Michelangelo.

My only complaints are that the story no longer seems plausible (shut up-- when I was in 5th grade, I totally believed this could happen). But in such an age of high tech security, can one really spend the night in an antique bed without setting off some laser alarm? *sigh* I wish. Also, Chasing Vermeer, which owes A LOT to Mrs. Basil, is more gripping and a smarter read all around for today. Still, a classic, but one I probably will not pick up again until I can read it to my own children (who, at this point, are totally hypothetical-- don't get your hopes up Mom).

Monday, March 19, 2007

New Books!

Now Reading: An Abundance of Katherines
Just Finished: Jack of Fables: The (Nearly) Great Escape, The Miraculous Journey of Edward Tulane, Madame Chiang Kai-shek: China's Eternal First Lady, Gossip Girl, Communism: A History, Troll Bridge: A Rock'n' Roll Fairy Tale, Socialism: A Very Short Introduction (Very Short Introductions)

Instead of dealing with my backlog, here's a post about a book I just now-this-minute read.

Please Write in This Book by Mary Amato is a fun, lighthearted book about a class journal gone wrong.

Mrs. Wurtz leaves a blank notebook in the Writer's Corner for her students to find, with the rules to have fun and to sign your name to what you write. Feelings get hurt and rumors spread (but this is a kid's book, so it's mainly about how bad various people's feet stink) and the book almost gets taken away.

The entire story is just what has been written in the book, so various prospectives are told on class events and some are just alluded to. I think there may have been a lot more tears than just the ones mentioned.

We learn some lessons about teamwork and how not to solve problems and how easy it is to accidentally hurt feelings. Mainly though, it's fun to read the different fonts and see the different pictures the kids have drawn to compliment their writing, and even if Lizzy thinks he's mean, Luke (rhymes with puke) is pretty funny.

Fans of Regarding the Fountain and the others in that series will like this.

Friday, March 16, 2007

Poetry Friday

I'm going to pretend I'm one of the cool kids and participate in Poetry Friday. (Speaking of being a Cool Kid, check out Educating Alice's post about blog cliques and also the discussion over at Fuse #8.)

I'll admit it. I want to be a cool kid. I want to be a lit blogger star. I also want to be rich and thin. There are steps I can take to be all of these things. But I'll continue to watch TV while eating stupidly expensive cheese instead of blogging. I'll admit it.

Jennie, you say, shut up. We just want the poem.

Here's a poem I wrote freshman year of college. The irony, of course, being, that I let my alarm clock do the same thing.

Ode To My Roommate: Monday Morning, 7am (a haiku)

Your damn alarm clock!
Like a pink bunny, it just keeps
Going and going.

Tuesday, March 13, 2007

New Things

I'd fallen so behind on updating recently banned and challenged books that I changed the way I do that.

All recently banned and challenged books are in my Listmania Lists at Amazon, and I've now provided handy-dandy links over to the left, so go check out what they're telling you not to read now!

Monday, March 12, 2007

Grace Cavendish

When oh when is Gold going to published here in the US? I lust! I want! I can order it and wait 4-5 weeks (eep!) but I'd rather it come out in the nice US edition and then my library will buy it and I can read it there. BUT! WHEN?! Especially because Amazon is now taunting me also with Haunted! We need to get through the alphabet sooner people!

Y'all know I love this series. If you've forgotten or are new, Lady Grace is maid-of-honor to her majesty Queen Elizabeth (the first) and also her personal detective. The books are in diary form and chock-full of historical details and interesting facts, but without this information getting in way of the story. Not only that, but they are fun, rollicking adventures of Grace acting quite improperly and loving it. The Queen (not always the most proper woman) turns a blind eye as long as she saves the day and not many people find out.

One of my favorite parts of the series is the characterization of Queen Elizabeth. She is every bit regal, but also possesses a fantastic and wicked sense of humour.

I read Exile this summer on a dark and stormy night. Banoo Yasmine of Sharakand is an exiled Princess. There are several rumours floating around the court about why she and her retinue are in London, but the Queen as told Grace the truth-- her family was the victim of a bloody coup in Sharakand. The giant Heart of Kings ruby that she wears around her neck is rumoured to have magical powers, but Grace knows it's really a gift to the Queen to guarantee that the Banoo and her people can stay and be safe in England.

Of course, the ruby gets stolen and Grace is afraid the Queen won't continue to give the Banoo sanctuary without the ruby as security. The ruby is found, but it's discovered in Ellie's laundry basket. Grace knows her friend didn't steal the ruby, but Ellie's about to be in serious trouble if Grace can't find out who did steal it!

This book focuses a lot on the different customs of the people from Sharakand and how the English court reacts to these strangers. Unfortunately, Grace doesn't get to know any of these people really well-- there are language difficulties and she's trying to clear her best friend after all-- so they aren't very fleshed out and we don't get to know them very well. We just see Grace's perceptions as she observes them at dinner or passes them in the corridors. This isn't the strongest book in the series, but fans of Grace will not be disappointed.

I did a little happy dance when Feud came in. The Queen is having her portrait painted, but the Queen has more important things to do than stand around all day while people paint her picture. Lady Sarah, who looks somewhat like the Queen, is standing for most of the portrait, and Grace has to sit and read to her. Grace would much rather watch the painters and learn their craft. While watching the artists, Grace learns quite a few things-- especially that certain paints are poisonous.

At the same time, an acting troupe has shown up and Lady Carmina is falling mysteriously ill. Grace suspects, but can't prove, she's being poisoned. Paints are being stolen from the work room-- if Grace can find the thief, will she find the poisoner? Who would want to harm Carmina?

The problem with this book is that a feud Carmina's family is involved in is the turning point of the plot, but it's hidden in the background. The pointers leading the the feud would have been very subtle foreshadowing and would make an almost-twist (and exciting) ending. But, alas, the book is named feud, so we know it's going to be important. The most interesting thing about this book is not the feud or the information presented about feuds. The most interesting thing is the information about the painting and artistic techniques of the Elizabethan age. This story contains more false leads than the previous mysteries and is one of the best.

Now, we just have to wait patently (ha! when I have I ever been patient?!) for Gold, and then Haunted. HURRY UP!

Also, Assassin will be out in paperback in August!

Monday, March 05, 2007

Classics I Should have Read at the Time

Now Reading: Madame Chiang Kai-shek: China's Eternal First Lady
Just Finished: George Washington, Spymaster: How the Americans Outspied the British and Won the Revolutionary War, Adrian Mole and the Weapons of Mass Destruction, Shug

I was really looking forward to finishing up Madame Chiang Kai-Shek this weekend, but I left it at work, because I'm smooth like that. Ah well. Here are some great, classic works of children's literature that I really should have read when I was 12.

The Boggart by Susan Cooper

The Volnik family has inherited an old, Scottish castle. They can't keep it, but they go off to Scotland to see it and get it ready for sale. They decide to have some of the furniture shipped back to Canada, but that's not all that comes--the castle's Boggart, a practical joke playing spirit, has gotten trapped in one of the boxes and has landed in a modern, large city.

The Boggart is full of good-natured mischief and he does like some things about modern living--pizza for one, and electricity. Where the youngest Volnik, Jessup, enjoys this behavior, the older one, Emily, gets blamed for it-- the Boggart's well meaning actions often land her in trouble. Eventually, she is accused of causing psychic disturbances and it looks like she will have to be hospitalized. The Boggart feels terrible, but everything he tries to help just makes things worse. All he really wants it to go home, but how?

I would have loved this book when I was 12. I liked the portrayals of small village life in Scotland and how the Boggart tried to fit into his new surroundings. I liked the kids, too. Part of the problem is that it's a high-tech solution, but, given that this book came out in the early 90s, the technology is so horribly out of date that it seems a bit laughable now. The Boggart's mischief also would have been a lot more humorous at the age of 12 then I found it at the age of 26.

Tom's Midnight Garden by Philippa Pearce

Tom is shipped off to spend the summer at his aunt and uncle's flat when his brother comes down with measles. Not only does he have to live there, but, he's confined to the flat because he's been exposed to the disease. One night Tom hears the clock downstairs strike 13 and finds a garden that only exists in this lost hour. During his time in the garden, Tom befriends a small girl, Hatty, who is often ignored by her older (male) cousins. Tom knows that Hatty doesn't exist in his time plane and has to find a way to stay with his aunt and uncle.

I think the thing that got me the most was the timing in this book. There are a a few scenes of Tom and Hatty meeting and then you see Tom no longer missing his brother and being distraught at the thought of leaving his aunt and uncle's (and therefore the garden). I thought that these scenes were just representative of a long and building friendship, but then you find out that Tom's only been there for a little over a week (and he didn't get to the garden the first few nights). It just didn't make sense. I also found the ending twist painfully obvious, but I think that Pearce was a pioneer in this respect. This is, however, one of Silvey's 100 best books for children. When I was 12, the wonder and magic of the garden would have captivated me a lot more and I would not have noticed the weird timing and I don't think I would have figured out the ending so soon.

Five Children and It by E. Nesbit

Five children are staying at a country house and are enthralled by all the freedom it has to offer. While playing in a nearby gravel pit, they find a Psammead (a sand fairy) who will grant them their wishes, but everything they wish for goes horribly wrong.

This was disappointing, because it became painfully obvious that my childhood favorite, Half Magic, completely ripped off the plot from this book (but totally did it better). Edgar gives full credit and props to Ms. Nesbit, but still, completely heartbreaking.