Saturday, May 30, 2009

Filling in the Gaps

Today's reviews have very little in common, except these two points:

1. They are both awesome
2. They are both on my "Fill in the Gaps" list.

We Have Always Lived in the Castle Shirley Jackson

Merricat said Constance, would you like a cup of tea?

I always knew that I was missing something with all of Lemony Snicket's references to the Sugar Bowl. Here is is.

Fantastically wonderful and creepy, this is a character study into Mary Katherine Blackwood (not a reliable narrator) who, along with her sister and uncle, survived when someone in the family put arsenic and sugar bowl at dinner several years ago. Merricat had been sent to bed without dinner and Constance didn't take sugar on her blackberries. Uncle Julian also survived, but was now confined to a wheelchair and developed some mental issues as a result of the poisoning.

The Blackwoods live locked away in their house, hiding from the prying eyes of the townfolk who hate them. (Even though we get the sense the town was never fond of the family, living up on the hill with all their money and the murder that Constance was cleared of only adds fuel to that fire.)

Then their cousin shows up, trying to gain the Blackwood fortune, something the reader sees but poor Constance does not.

This is not a plot driven novel. The ending revelation was not a surprise, nor was it meant to be. This is rather the story of one messed up mind and how she sees the world. Part of the fun is discerning how much is real and how much is in her head.

I highly recommend.

Speak Laurie Halse Anderson

HA! I finally read it!

Something happened to Melinda at the end-of-summer party and she called the cops. Now, everyone in her high school hates her. Melinda is fracturing as she fails classes (except art) and stops speaking.

I was worried about this because I *knew* what had happened at the party. I've known for awhile. I was worried that I wouldn't enjoy the book because the "big reveal" was ruined. So not true. I think even if you didn't know, Anderson has enough clues in the text that the reveal won't be a surprise.

I was also worried because Anderson and especially this book, get praised to the rafters on a regular basis. I've read Twisted by her and while I liked it, it didn't blow me away by any means.

This did.

Melinda's voice, the short paragraphs, how she sees the world, the style of occasionally putting conversation in script form sucked me in. It was everything I had hoped it could be, plus some.

I can't wait to read Wintergirls, which I think will appeal to me in a similar way.

Friday, May 29, 2009

Poetry Friday

I've never been
to a funeral
until today.

I see
dazzling arrangements of
red, yellow, and purple flowers
with long, green stems.

I see
a stained-glass window with
a white dove,
a yellow sun,
a blue sky.

I see
a gold cross,
standing tall,

And I see

Black dresses.
Black pants.
Black shoes.
Black bibles.

Black is my favorite color.
Jackson asked me about it one time.

"Ava, why don't you like pink?
Or yellow?
Or blue?"

"I love black," I said.
"It suits me."

"I suit you," he said.

And then he kissed me.

I'm not so sure
I love black

So begins the verse novel I Heart You, You Haunt Me Lisa Schroeder

Ava's boyfriend Jackson is dead and Ava feels responsible, she's haunted by his death. Then, she's haunted by his ghost. It's hard to move on when he's right there, just out of sight, but leaving messages on the bathroom mirror and turning on the radio to your song.

I have mixed feelings about this book. I would have loved it at the age of 13 and mostly, I enjoyed reading it. However, I had issues with Ava and Jackson's relationship. It was very Bella-and-Edward. I mean, Ava finally gets out of the house and hangs out with her friends and Jackson's ghost totally trashes her room. He did the same sort of stuff when he was alive and Ava loves him for it. Ew.

And then there's my whole wishy-washy-ness on verse novels in the first place. There wasn't a lot of actual poetry in this, more terse prose with odd line breaks. That said though, it worked. The terseness, the brevity, the odd line breaks, all worked for Ava's voice as she tries to deal with what's going on.

So, would I give this to an adult friend who reads a lot of YA? No.
Would I give it to a junior high girl who lives romance? In a heartbeat.

Today's Poetry Friday roundup is hosted at Live.Love.Explore. Go enjoy!

Thursday, May 28, 2009

Books that make you think

Ok, have you signed up for MotherReader's 48 hour challenge yet? Because I'm laying down my own challenge. I'm donating $1 to Bridget Zinn for everyone who completes the challenge (that means you need your starting and wrap-up posts and something in between!) I'll also donate another $1 for everyone who spends at least 20 hours reading.

The Dragons of Babel Michael Swanwick

I blogged last month about difficulty in reading. Will is a war refugee who eventually makes his way to the capital city of Babel, where he learns to trick and steal, plot and execute, and deal in the shadier side of politics, all setting him up for one big score. Of course, Will is a faerie and the upper class are elves and the story is told in an odd hybrid of high fantasy and steam punk.

In the end, I loved it, and here's a perfect example of why:

A train whistle at night was a word that meant the same thing in all languages. It was compounded of loneliness and otherness and the futile desire to be anywhere but here, anybody but one's own wretched self. What made the heart ache at the sound of it was the knowledge that the locomotive was pulling out without you and always would. You were never going to catch that imaginary train that would carry you to the faraway land containing the solutions to all your problems. You were never going to arrive at the impossible city where all the things for which you secretly yearned were given away free in the streets.

Wednesday, May 27, 2009

Magickeepers Blog Tour

Welcome to the Magickeepers Blog Tour!

Magickeepers: The Eternal Hourglass Erica Kirov

You'd think having your birthday on the last day of school would be fun, but when your report card is dismal, you live in a hotel, and your father is the worst magician in all of Vegas? Eh.

It all changes of course, when Nick's Grandfather gives him a key and the best magician in Vegas whisks him off to meet his extended family, which is full of magic. Real magic, not just illusion and trick.

Not only is Nick expected to learn magic instead of sleep in on his summer vacation, he has to learn Russian, too. On top of this, there are some serious bad guys out there who are trying to steal magic and use it for evil. So much for skateboarding all summer...

Kirov interweaves a lot of Russian culture, food and history (Princess Anastasia and Rasputin play major roles) in a solid adventure story complete with crystal balls, flying swords, tigers, and an hour glass that stops time.

This book really sets up the series and I'm looking forward to the next one. It looks like a lot of the adult characters that Nick is meeting have both their good sides and bad sides, which is exciting. While Nick's family are the "good guys" it's apparent that they obtained many of the magical artifacts they're so carefully guarding through trickery or outright theft. Lots of murky morality to discuss. Combined with the magic and adventure (a great book for boys!) this is an excellent candidate for book discussion groups. I'm very much looking forward to the next books in the series.

For reasons I can't fully explain, this book reminds me of Alcatraz Versus The Evil Librarians. They are similar in the fact that "boy meets a ton of distant cousins with crazy powers and goes on adventures to save the world" way, but that's similar to a lot of books. Nick never talks to the reader the way Alcatraz does, but there is something about each book that I think if you like one, you'll like the other.

Full disclosure: copy provided by publisher.

Check out the other blogs on the tour:

YA Books Central

Books For Your Kids

The Reading Tub

Book Loons

Dolce Bellezza

The Written World

Blog Critics

Abby the Librarian (5/28)

Booking Mama (5/28)

A Childhood of Dreams (5/29)

Eva’s Book Addiction (5/29)

Word Candy (5/29)

Book Views (6/1)

Looking Glass Review (6/5)

Alea Pop Culture (6/18)

Beth Fish Reads (6/23)

Tuesday, May 26, 2009

The Long Weekend

Ugh, I jacked my back AGAIN. Luckily, it wasn't too terrible this time and it coincided with the long weekend so I missed minimal amounts of work and got out of having to help Dan tear down the front fence and build a brick wall. (Which he did all by himself and it looks AWESOME. I would have just messed it up.)

Anyway, here are two books that I had to read for work and really didn't want to because I wasn't a huge fan of other books by the same authors. Luckily, I was pleasantly surprised in both cases!

Kendra Coe Booth

Ok, I really didn't like Tyrell. I wasn't going to read Kendra, but I had to for work. I'm glad I did. I like Booth's online presence and felt bad that I didn't like her book, because I really like her as a person. Now I don't have to feel bad!

Kendra lives with her grandmother in the Bronx, in the projects, but she's a good girl and trying to stay that way. Her mom was 14 when Kendra was born, but Renee just got her PhD. Kendra can't wait to go live her, too bad it looks like Renee is still not ready to face up to her responsibilities as a mother.

Kendra's not going to end up pregnant at 14 like her mom. She's too much of a dork, she's too good. Plus, Nana won't let her out of house and watches her like a hawk.

Kendra has her head screwed on straight. Until her hormones take over.

Sometimes I just wanted to shake her. Kendra was believable and acted like a real teen and she drove me crazy. I am also not happy about the ending, which you can read about in a spoiler-filled rant here.

The story wasn't really my cup of tea, but I liked it a lot more than Tyrell. I'll probably read Booth's next offering, whatever it turns out to be.

The Secret Story of Sonia Rodriguez Alan Lawrence Sitomer

Sonia wants to be the first in her family to graduate from high school and go to college. Her father works two jobs to support her family while her brothers sit around and watch TV. She's expected to run the house and do all the work, all while under her drunkle's perverted gaze. Then, if things couldn't get worse, her mother decides Sonia doesn't have enough respect and ships her off to Mexico for the summer. While in Mexico, Sonia sees the truth about her culture and her family, and comes home more determined than ever to reach her goals, only her life is more determined than ever to stop her.

I didn't want to read this because I did not like Sitomer's other work. My main complaint (Sitomer is just too angry about what he sees working with kids in urban poverty so his omniscient narrator is just too angry) held true for about the first half of this book. Sonia was really angry about her situation and her culture to the point where it wasn't believable any more. I feel this changed after Sonia's trip to Mexico. There her anger stops being at her culture and starts being directed towards members of her family for particular reasons. After that, I really got into the story and ended up liking it, but I would have put it down after 50 pages if I hadn't been required to read it.

Wednesday, May 20, 2009


Last month, I reviewed "Socialism Is Great!": A Worker's Memoir of the New China. My one complaint about the book was:

We know she'll be OK, and we know her dreams come true, but I would have *loved* an epilogue or something showing how she made that final leap to get to where she is now!.

Well, according to an interview she gave to the blog China Beat, there is one in the paperback version that just came out:

NB: After you've seen international reactions to your book, is there anything you would have done differently in it, such as sections that you would have deleted or expanded upon?

LZ: So many people asked me what happened. I should have written an epilogue to update the readers on the main happenings of my life. As a matter of fact, I’ve done so for the paperback edition, which has just been released.


Tuesday, May 19, 2009


It might be too late, but just in case it's not I wanted to let you know that My Friend Amy is giving away some books for Asian-American heritage month.

One of the titles is Fortune Cookie Chronicles, which you may recall, I loved loved loved.

Being Nikki is out! Huzzah!

Being Nikki Meg Cabot

Having your brain transplanted into that of a super model isn't all it's cracked up to be, as we learned in Airhead. Em is still trapped and she knows that Stark Enterprises is completely spying on her, and not just via the computer they gave her-- they have audio bugs in her apartment!

To make matters worse, it turns out that Nikki has a brother who's more than pissed when he finds out that Em-as-Nikki has no idea who he is.

But here are the freaky bits-- someone is sending emails in Nikki's name to all those boys that Em keeps trying to fend off-- no wonder they won't go away!

Nikki's mom is missing and no one seems to care except for Steven (Nikki's brother) and Em.

AND! The big one! When Em tells Steven what's going on, he doesn't by it. He's seen the results of Nikki's last physical and knows she didn't have any underlying conditions. The death of Nikki Howard is totally fishy.

ZOMG I loved this. Lots of suspense and good mystery. I ate this book up, and kept having to put it down to furiously pace around and yell "OMG! WOULD YOU JUST TELL HIM________ ALREADY?" or "OMG! WHAT IS HE THINKING?!" Yes, I actually yelled at this book, which is like yelling at the TV, but so much dorkier. But yelled at it in a good way, because I was so involved in the story.

I don't want to say too much about it because it would give too much away. I haven't read any of Cabot's other mysteries, and now I really want to because of the way she builds them up. I like Em as a character. It's not that love/hate thing I have with Mia. Em is someone I can relate to. I also like how she struggles with the fact that she is, at times, really fighting Nikki's body. Like with Brandon Stark. Em doesn't really like him. The brain of the body is saying "no no no no no" but then Nikki's body is too busy melting into a puddle of goo and actually moaning when he touches her. And Em's brain is all "ewwwwwwwwwwwwwwwwwwwww."

And then, the end? HOLY CRAP. I've always wanted to be Meg Cabot's BFF, but she's just mean! Luckily, she's like crazy prolific, so we'll probably see Runaway next summer.

Also, I liked Airhead well enough, but Being Nikki is 17 times better. But it'll make more sense if you read Airhead first.

Full disclosure: ARC provided by the author at my request.

Monday, May 18, 2009

Nonfiction Monday

Are you excited about next year's YALSA award for nonfiction? I really, really am.

Here are two books that got YALSA recognition last year (first up an Alex Winner, followed by a Quick Pick for Reluctant Readers)

The Oxford Project Stephen G. Bloom and Peter Feldstein

In 1984, Peter Feldstein set out to photograph all 676 residents of his town, Oxford, IA. In 2005-2007, he tracked down as many as he could and photographed them again, this time bringing along Stephen Bloom to talk to them about their lives.

This book is full of their portraits side by side. The little kids are now grown up with their own little kids. Some haven't changed at all. Some have passed on and some have moved away. Many have the same last names. The text, brief paragraphs about their lives offers us a glimpse not only into their lives, but the town as a whole and how it fits together.

Really amazing stuff. See some of the pictures here.

The photographs of town, especially, made me cry. I know that Iowa fall and winter landscape and I really, really missed it.

No Choirboy: Murder, Violence, and Teenagers on Death Row Susan Kuklin

This is kids, talking about themselves--talking about life on Death Row and how they got there. Damn is it bleak.

What I liked about it is that Kuklin also talked to the families and how having a member on Death Row affects them. I especially appreciated the final two chapters, one was a man talking about his brother, who was killed by the State. The other was two siblings, talking about their brother, who was murdered one night at work and the work their father does to end the death penalty.

Many of the people in this book share a lawyer, which might skew things a bit. BUT this is a chilling portrait of what prison is and how messed up our justice system is.

Round up is over at the ACPL Mock Sibert blog!

Guardian Challenge

Finally! Here's your place for your May Reviews! Sorry for the delay! Also, below are the prizes and winners for February-April reviews...

It looks like Mr. Linky isn't behaving at the moment. Hopefully that's a temporary thing.

And... for the prizes that come all the way from England, we have...

First up, two magnets of London, both from the Tower of London. One is of some phone boxes and the other is of the a London Underground sign. goes to Semi Professional Muse for Hire's review in March of Tales of the City.

Next up are two book marks, also from the Tower of London. One is Lace and the other is a Warhol-ized version of Henry VIII. These are off to FleurFisher for the April review of South Riding.

And finally, we have a lined notebook with an image of classic Penguin spines, from Foley's Bookshop in London. It goes to A Hazra's April review of Catcher in the Rye.

If everyone who won could email me mailing addresses in the next week, that'd be great!

Keep reading, more prizes will be coming at some point!

Saturday, May 16, 2009

I'm baaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaack

I'd like to thank my readers for bearing with my blog hiatus as I went a-conferencing and would like to thank everyone who came out to MLA and came to my presentation on What's New in Young Adult Literature! (I talked about 175 books in the course of an hour. It was awesome.)

I had a great time and am now back home.

Tomorrow, I am hoping to finally get my challenge updates posted, as well as the winners of the England Prize draw for the Guardian Book Challenge. In the meantime, here are some book reviews! Huzzah! These are coming from my massive file of pre-written reviews.

The Explosionist Jenny Davidson

This really is just as good as everyone says it is.

Set in Scotland in an alternate 1930s, where Napoleon won Waterloo, the Hanseatic League still exists, and spiritualism is real and you can talk to ghosts through radio waves, Davidson weaves an excellent story of terrorism, murder, and political intrigue.

Sophie and her friend Mikael are investigating the mysterious murder of a famous medium when they realize the plot goes much, much deeper than they ever imagined and has ties to the highest levels of government. There's obviously a lot more to it, but the less I give away, the better.

The story is gripping and fraught with tension. The IRLYNS subplot is creepy, but in a way that's almost believable. (And when I say "almost" I don't mean that I didn't fully buy it, I mean, that I could pretty much believe that the IRLYNS subplot could be actually happening right now in our own world.)

Sophie's world is some much almost like ours, but not quite... there has to be a sequel coming, right? While the book ended in exactly the right place, there is so much left unanswered that I need more!

Guardian Julius Lester

Lester has a way of punching you in the gut with his books. Think Day of Tears and The Old African, not so much Cupid.

It's the Deep South, 1946. Zeph Davis is a psychopath that no one questions because his family owns the town. The preacher's daughter has become suddenly beautiful. Ansel (white) and Willie (black) have a friendship despite their racial differences, though always marred by the status differences between them because of their skin. This summer, they're learning to dream.

You know it will end in a lynching of an innocent man.

It's really Ansel's story. This lynching will be seen through the eyes of a young white boy.

The prose is spare, the chapters short, and the story only takes up 119 pages, a novella almost, really. The minimalist approach provides the greatest impact. He could have given us more, but by holding back, he gives his story more power and resonance.

After finishing, I had to curl up in a ball and not talk to anyone for awhile. After writing this review, I want to do the same.

Friday, May 08, 2009

Diversity in your Reading

This is a very interesting meme that I stole of Nymeth.

1. Name the last book by a female author that you’ve read.
I Heart You, You Haunt Me Lisa Schroeder, which I finished at about 1 this morning.

2. Name the last book by an African or African-American author that you’ve read.
The Coldest Winter Ever Sister Souljah, which I read earlier this week.

3. Name one from a Latino/a author.
MAYBE Dead Is a State of Mind Marlene Perez, which I read last month

I don't know if she is Latina or not, but her last name is usually a Latino one.

The last book I read with obviously Latino characters and themes is The Secret Story of Sonia Rodriguez by Alan Lawrence Sitomer, which I read in March.

4. How about one from an Asian country or Asian-American?
Where the Mountain Meets the Moon Grace Lin, which I read earlier this month

5. What about a GLBT writer?
Can't think of one that I've read lately. The last one I've read with obviously GLBT characters is I Want Candy Kim Keltner Wong.

6. Why not name an Israeli/Arab/Turk/Persian writer, if you’re feeling lucky?
Hmmm... the last one I can think of would be Tasting the Sky: A Palestinian Childhood Ibtisam Barakat, which I read in January of 2008.

7. Any other “marginalized” authors you’ve read lately?
The Porcupine Year Louise Erdrich, a Native American author, which I read earlier this year

Love Marriage: A Novel V. V. Ganeshanathan, who is American-Sri Lankan, which I read in December.

I think it's important to read a wide range of voices but I struggled with this meme because sometimes you just don't know. Marlene Perez has a Hispanic last name. Is she Latina? Maybe, maybe not. Nothing in her bio says anything about her ethnicity, and it doesn't have to. Gender can be a little easier to tell. GLBT? I know a few authors who are out and a few who mention being married to members of the opposite gender, but...

I mean, the last book I read I know was written by a woman due to her name and plus, I read her blog, so I could tell some other things.

The other book I read yesterday is by Michael Swanwick. All his jacket flap bio tells me is he lives in Pennsylvania and has won 5 Nebula awards. He could fit into any of the above categories except the "female author" one (although a quick google search reveals he most likely doesn't)

So, unless there's something in the author bio or book description that tells me the ethnicity of the author (or in some cases, the author photo), I have to guess.

But, just because an author has characters that are certain ethnicity or are GLBT doesn't mean the author is. And, on the same side, just because an author is a certain ethnicity or GLBT doesn't mean their characters have to be.

And, Mitali Perkins has been writing a lot about race in literature. When I mention books about Latinos or GLBT characters, you'll notice I said "obviously" because there are a lot of characters I've read lately that are ethnically ambigous and even a few that could be GLBT.

Thursday, May 07, 2009


What makes a book hard for you? Lots of people thought Jellicoe Road was hard, with its two plots that you're pretty sure tie together but you're not sure. People struggled with Bog Child, I think because of occasional dialect/slang (although no where near as crazy as Trainspotting. I had to read that sucker out loud for the first half so I could understand the dialect) and the history. People thought Octavian Nothing was difficult due to the slowness of the plot and of course, the language.

I didn't find any of them overly difficult. They were all harder than Twilight of course, and even more difficult than The Book Thief or Goose Girl, but I wouldn't have described any of them as hard.

Right now, I am struggling through Dragons of Babel. I find this book extremely difficult and I bet most readers don't. I'm struggling with it for several reasons. One big one is I don't read a lot of non-urban fantasy. I am unfamiliar with the conventions of the genre. There are several things I'm pretty sure I'm missing because of this. Despite this being "high fantasy," elements of my known world sneak in--cigarettes and cars and even music (Mozart and Ellington amongst others) which throws me.

The big one is this--Swanwick really doesn't explain the backstory (or at least he hasn't yet and I don't think he's going to.) What this war is about and the politcs of Avalon and I'm pretty sure that Babel is the capital of Avalon, but it might be the capital of the invading country that's swallowing Avalon whole. I have no idea. I don't know what half these creatures are (but I think I would if I read more fantasy) and so much is unexplained. It doesn't really need to be for the plot, but most authors would explain it anyway. Most authors would take their readers by the hand and fill them in on what's going on in the broader picture in pages or just a few sentences, but to give them a much more solid grounding in this world they built. (And don't get me wrong, I'm not faulting Swanwick's world-building at all.) At the least, they would give their readers a map. Swanwick doesn't do this, not because he's being coy or messing with his readers, but because he trusts them. It's like he's saying "you guys are smart, you can figure out enough without the filler" and he's right. I love him for it.

I might understand more if I read more fantasy, but I love the trust Swanwick puts in his readers to figure out what they need to know.

That said, this probably wasn't the best title for me to pick up from this year's Alex Winners when I'm trying to read as many books as quickly as possible. I only picked it up because it was the first Alex to come in for me at the library when I put them on hold. I'm really, really glad I did.

Wednesday, May 06, 2009

Rainy Wednesdays

All it's done this week is rain. I'm busy reading, reading, reading, reading for this presentation next week. I'm probably throwing 180 books at my audience (not literally, and seriously, if you're going to the Maryland Library Association next week, please come!) I've read most of the titles, but am trying to get through as many as possible. Read Read Read Read Read!

Keena Ford and the Second Grade Mix-up Melissa Thomson

Here are 2.5 reasons to love this book off the bat:

Keena is African American, but the book has nothing to do with race. Sadly, this is rare in children's literature.

Also, her parents are divorced and, once again, it has nothing to do with the story, except that she has to wait until the weekend to get her dad's input on things.

And .5, if you work where I do. This book takes place on the Maryland/DC border, which is right where my library is. My kids *love* books that take place locally (I assume most do) and I'm really lucky that there are quite a few that take place in DC. But, to get one that takes place in Maryland, just outside DC? EVEN BETTER.

Keena's excited to be starting a new school year, but disappointed to learn that boys will be in one class and girls in another! She won't be with her best friend Eric! Luckily, Keena has the best second-grade teacher ever. On everyone's birthday, they'll get a special crown and a cake! When she has to write down her birthday on the first day of school, Keena decides to try the new numbers only method that her brother taught her. Only... Keena messes up. She says her birthday is on 9/2 instead of 2/9, so her teacher is planning her special day for TOMORROW. Keena knows she should say that her birthday's in February, but she just... can't.

Big complications and hilarity ensue. A great book at the early reading level about friendship, lying, parents, and school.

Monday, May 04, 2009

Nonfiction Monday! More Cybils

Ok, things are totally crazy around here for the next 2 weeks. I have a big enough blog-post stockpile that I should keep up but some things are going to have to wait until later such as my May reading challenge check-in and the Guardian Challenge prize drawing.

Of course, now that I've said that, it will probably happen tomorrow.

Alrighty, here are the last of the Cybils shortlist for MG/YA Nonfic!

King George: What Was His Problem?: Everything Your Schoolbooks Didn't Tell You About the American Revolution Steve Sheinkin

Ok, now there wasn't a lot in here that I didn't already know, but some of the finer points didn't come out until high school or college, so there's probably more in here than most 6th graders know.

Lots of information, but presented in an engaging and funny way. The illustrations are cartoony/characterture istic in style, which adds to the fun.

I especially liked the end material. There's a chapter called "Whatever Happened to...?" that details the post-Revolutionary lives of many of the people discussed. There's an extensive bibliography, divided up into types of book (general books about the revolution, biographies, books about specific battles, etc) but sadly, not a list of further suggested reading of books on the same reading level. Most (if not all) of the books listed are for adults. Good source notes and index!

A great example of how to how to make history engaging and fun, while still being an excellent example of what non-fiction should be like.

11 Planets: A New View of the Solar System David A. Aguilar

I just wanted to drool over the pictures instead of actually reading this one, but I *did* read it. As soon as I wiped off the drool.

11 Planets is an in-depth look at our solar system-- the 8 planets we all know (Mercury, Venus, Earth, Mars, Jupiter, Saturn, Uranus, and Neptune) and 3 dwarf plantes (Ceres, Pluto and Eris) as well as looking at the moons of Earth, Jupiter, and Saturn, the Asteroid and Kuper belts, the sun, and things beyond our solar system.

This is an excellent book introducing us to all the new changes in our solar system since they took away Pluto's planetary status.

I especially liked the bit in every corner that showed a picture of the god or goddess the planet was named for, the planet's symbol, and a few sentences about who the god or goddess was. There's also a sentence about if there's a day of the week named after them! (Sunday is for the sun, Friday is after Venus in many romance languages, etc).

Swords: An Artist's Devotion Ben Boos

This is a beautiful book showing different types of swords and sword-like weapons throughout time, and even looking at some non-European swords.

Lots of excellent and beautiful drawings the kids will want to pore over all day. I could have gone for more text to help explain what I was seeing, but this is one the kids will love.

Round up is at Chicken Spaghetti!

Friday, May 01, 2009

Poetry Friday: The Ballad of Mulan

So, the Ballad of Mulan is just that, a ballad:

Tsiek tsiek and again tsiek tsiek,
Mu-lan weaves, facing the door.
You don't hear the shuttle's sound,
You only hear Daughter's sighs.
They ask Daughter who's in her heart,
They ask Daughter who's on her mind.
"No one is on Daughter's heart,
No one is on Daughter's mind.
Last night I saw the draft posters,
The Khan is calling many troops,
The army list is in twelve scrolls,
On every scroll there's Father's name.
Father has no grown-up son,
Mu-lan has no elder brother.
I want to buy a saddle and horse,
And serve in the army in Father's place."

Read the rest of the poem, in Chinese and English here: The Ballad of Mulan

In the latest installment of the Once Upon a Time series, Cameron Dokey tackles this traditional Chinese ballad.

Wild Orchid Cameron Dokey

I am not familiar with too many versions of the Mulan story, just the original Ballad of Mulan, and the Disney movie.

There are some spoilers in this review if you've never seen the movie.

In this version, Mulan's mother dies during childbirth while her father is at war. Due to the grief of losing a wife he truly loved, and the fact the child was a daughter, the father does not return. Mulan grows up being cared for by the servants. She's a tomboy and learns to read and write, ride and shoot, from her best friend, the neighbor boy Li Po. After her father returns, he remarries and he and Mulan grow closer. The emperor then demands a man from every household to once again fight. Mulan's father has never fully recovered from previous injuries and his new wife is pregnant. Mulan can't let him leave a pregnant wife again and she knows if he goes to war, he will never return.

So, Mulan goes instead. Her riding and shooting skills let her pass for a man, even though Li Po and the General, her father's friend, know her true identity. Like the movie version, there is great love interest with the prince.

Also, like the movie, but unlike the ballad, Mulan's gender is discovered while recovering from injury. Unlike the movie, there's only one battle.

I loved the relationship between Mulan and Li Po. How often do you get boy/girl friendships without no sexual tension? Never! They do discuss marriage, even though they know Li Po's mother would never allow it. They do not discuss it because they like-like each other, but because in their world of arranged marriages, they know that they could do much worse. They aren't in love, but they know they could be happy together, and be themselves.

Dokey obviously did her research (even though during Mulan's writing lessons, the stroke order is incorrect for one of the characters!) but I'm really surprised there is no author's note at the end. The Once Upon a Time series almost ALWAYS has an author note, and many of the volumes by Dokey do. Out of all the books to deserve one, surely this retelling, of a tale very unknown in the West except for Disney, should have gotten one? I so expected it to be there that I actually skipped to the end to read it first.

All in all though, another very strong addition to the series. Dokey's titles tend to be my favorites and this one really didn't disappoint.

Poetry Friday roundup is at allegro!