Pinned Ya: Tracking My Travels

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I suffer from wanderlust. There is too much of this world that I have not seen—and really, I have seen more than many do. Around the time I went abroad in my junior year of college, I found TripAdvisor and enjoyed seeing the map slowly fill with places I’d been.

tripadvisorRecently, though I found Pinterest and of course in the intersection between searches for travel destinations and tips and home décor and do-it-yourself projects, I found the various ways that people track their travels across the globe. And I’ve wanted that—a physical tracker to display and to look at and dream. Well, within these past two weeks, I’ve tried two different ways of marking my travels on maps.

I originally wanted a globe with pins of my travels.

cork-globe

But they are very expensive.

My sister bought me a globe, but it is not cork, and I wasn’t able to push a pin into it. It’s still beautiful and excellent for dreaming of future travels. It looks so classy.

Later she found a cork map. I’ve seen cork maps marked very elegantly, and with such a map, one is not limited to pins that will still allow the globe to turn past its cradle.

sales_mapThat was the first map on which I was able to mark my travels.

img_0773It’s not large, just about 9.5” x 14”. Australia is only 1.25” wide. I like how this one looks. With the pins, it looks like I’m fairly well traveled, but this map has no borders between countries and very little detail (Ireland seems to have been absorbed into the Great Britain).

I like it, but I wanted something that more accurately tracked my travels too.

I caught my roommate about to toss out a map sent to her by SmileTrain (I don’t know much about this charity, but since I’m using their map, I thought a shout-out was appropriate). img_0811

img_0816 img_0814img_0812 This one is 30.5” x 20.5”.  Australia is 3.25” wide. It does have borders between countries and between the states of the United States and the providences of Canada; Ireland is a separate island. Country capitols are marked with red stars. The more detailed coastlands make it easier still to determine the approximate placement of a city. I decided to mark each place I’d been not with a pin since I have no cork back on which to keep this map but with a purple Sharpie—purple because it’s my favorite color and soothing but also because it’s a color not used on the map. The Sharpie allows for more overlap than does a pin. There were a few marks that I made that I realized afterward were maybe a bit too far in one direction or another, and the Sharpie didn’t allow any second chances, so those marks had to stay, but because I was using so many fixed markers to determine the placement of cities, I was not very off, I don’t think, in any of my marks—always within the correct country or state at least.

I did not add any labels to this map, and I’m not sure if I will do, because I’m not sure how to do so without pins of some kind and because I rather think that even the smallest dangling tags could easily look messy and cluttered.  Though I do sort of love the idea, and it would be nice to be able to remember the cities’ names when time has passed. I expect even names inked onto the map would map it look cluttered quickly. Any examples of or thoughts on that?  I suppose I could do a legend off to the side, or maybe even write a list of places I’ve been in the white space of Antarctica….

Maybe something like this?

travels(Obviously this is still a work in progress, and Word does not appreciate place names.)

This map makes me look much less well traveled, and that’s probably far more accurate. It shows the gaping gaps in my education and in my travels—from just skirting New Jersey to never having been in any country of the Americas except my own or in Africa or Australia.

The first map says to me “well done.” The second says “keep going.”

Of course the size contributes to that perception, but I think so too do the more accurate marks, where points like Perast and Kotor, Montenegro are almost on top of one another and the four places that I marked in the Iwate province of Japan look like a crooked line (and should really actually probably be more clustered than they are).

I expect I’ll keep them both, because my bedroom already would be the envy of a pirate captain—and not because it has a modern, cushioned bed—and because, you know, I’ve put in the work.

I don’t advocate one method of marking your travels over another—though I will say that size will effect your and others’ perceptions of your travels—but I thought I’d share what I’d learn from my own crafting.

The maps that I’ve made will embiggen if they are clicked upon.  The maps others have made will take you to the sites of their original postings if clicked upon.

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Book Reviews: September/October 2016 Picture Book Roundup: Scientist, Mice, Dinosaurs, Cats

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adatwist-cover2Ada Twist, Scientist by Andrea Beaty and illustrated by David Roberts. Harry N. Abrams, 2016.

First, let’s celebrate this little, dark-skinned scientist. Ada says nothing for three years, then asks so many questions: Why? What? How? When? And why again. Ada spends much of a book searching for the source of a terrible stink, which within the text she never discovers, though the illustrations hide the answer, I think, and asking kids what they think might be the cause of the stink might be a good way to engage an audience. Her parents become frustrated with all of her questions and experiments and the chaos that is “left in her wake”—messes in the kitchen and a stinky cat covered in perfumes and colognes. They send her to a thinking chair. Her parents calm down and come back to her to talk, and though she has scribbled all over the wall, they decide to help her instead of punish her—because these parents rock, and “that’s what you do when your kid has a passion and a heart that is true.” This is told with the same singsong and rhyme as Iggy Peck and Rosie Revere.

****

the-itsy-bitsy-pilgrim-9781481468527_hrThe Itsy Bitsy Pilgrim by Jeffrey Burton and illustrated by Sanja Rešček. Little Simon-Simon & Schuster, 2016. Intended audience: Ages 2-4, Grade PreK.

This book was… disappointing, though perhaps no worse than I would expect of a board book written for 2-4-year-olds. The illustrations are cute… but racially insensitive and clinging to stereotypes. The text is sugar-coated, saccharine, and white-washed. It pretends to be factual by dropping the name Mayflower but then undercuts itself by pretending that everything was sunshine and shared feasts between friends and that winter was no big deal. The text mimics the old rhyme “In 1492, Columbus sailed the ocean blue,” so it seems even less original than it could do.

**

y648Pete the Cat and the Missing Cupcakes by Kimberly and James Dean. HarperCollins, 2016. Intended audience: Ages 4-8.

This Pete the Cat returns to Eric Litwin’s original primer model. There’s counting and math to be done. Pete and Gus are making cupcakes for a party, but the cupcakes are disappearing two by two. Who could behind it? Whomever it is, he keeps leaving behind clues. The illustrations could have been better here. I had to point out the sprinkles to my audience, who didn’t immediately recognize the dots on the ground as such and one of the kids had to point out to me that the colorful circles were cupcake wrappers. The footprints left behind by the culprit don’t look as much like his as I could have liked.

When the culprit is discovered he fesses up, Pete’s friends want to exclude him from their fun as punishment, but Pete—bold Pete—stands up for him and decrees that he deserves a second chance. So that’s another good lesson if it’s a little heavy-handed.

There’re fewer instances of 80s slang, and I’m not sure that there’s a way to insert a song into this book.

***1/2

5dd375_db1139a503504a60b93b3c6bd0e960e7-1Pirasaurs! by Josh Funk and illustrated by Michael H. Slack. Scholastic, 2016.

One poor, small, klutzy dinosaur wants to prove himself to his new crew and especially to his female captain, Rex, who isn’t forced into gendered clothing nor gendered roles or gendered stereotypes of really any kind. Packed with pirate puns, vibrant color, and action, this little dinosaur joins his mates on a quest for treasure—only for them to be attacked by another gang of pirasaurs, who have the missing piece of their map. The little dinosaur suggests that they share the map and share the treasure—and to his surprise, no one disagrees. He proves himself to his crew—to both crews—and does so through the power of his heart, through his notion to share. I read this aloud and found the text has a sort of singsong, pirate sea shanty quality. I added a few yo-hos and yar-hars. (Oh goodness, there’s a book trailer proving that the text ought to be sung). In college I threw in my lot with a band of pirates, and this book speaks to my pirate soul.

****

9781484717981The Very Fluffy Kitty, Papillon by A. N. Kang. Hyperion-Disney, 2016. Intended audience: Ages 3-5.

Papillion is a very fluffy kitty, so fluffy that he floats away if he isn’t wearing something to hold him down. He doesn’t like the outfits that his loving Miss Tilly makes for him though. One day when he is free of his clothes, he follows a bright red bird out of the window, past a bear’s cave, over swamps filled with crocodiles, till he gets all tangled up in vines. Everything is quite hazy and pastel, just light washes of watercolor, except for that speck of bright red bird. The bird comes back to help Papillon, the bird finds a home, and Papillon finds an outfit that he doesn’t mind wearing, that also keeps him grounded. It’s a win-win-win. The illustrations were adorable, clever, and beautifully rendered. I would like a little more from the text, but I can’t find anything specifically in it about which I would complain.

***

52606004dbe3d4fb7db8aa93fe25537bTek: The Modern Cave Boy by Patrick McDonnell. Little, Brown-Hachette, 2016.

After Tek’s dad invents the Internet, Tek can’t be pulled away from the screens of his many devices, and his friends miss playing with him. Everyone on up to the Grand Poo-Bah of their tribe and the great volcano, Big Poppa, try to help to get Tek away from the screens. Ultimately, he has to be blasted away by the volcano, and once he wakes without his screens, he is astonished by the sun and the grass, the flora and the fauna. The style of this book is clever, the cover looking like a tablet, the first page looking like a lock screen, the top of each page illustrating the battery level of the “tablet” which decreases until Tek is shot from the volcano and his tablet crashes (pun, I’m sure intended), and the text above a picture having words in blue that might be links on a tablet screen that one could click for more information. These would be fun to use especially in a classroom setting, perhaps as assignments for projects. This is definitely a book with plenty of humor for the adults—perhaps too much so; I was a little concerned I would hear about the Flying Idontgiveadactyl. The heavy-handedness of the message kept me from enjoying the book as much as I might otherwise have done, but I definitely had a few giggles at the jokes that the kids would probably miss, like the Dinosaurs for a Better Tomorrow, and enjoyed the puns and the layout.

****

28645670They All Saw a Cat by Brendan Wenzel. Chronicle, 2016. Intended audience: Ages 3-6.

The text here while it has a sort of soothing rhythm that wasn’t keeping the attention of my audience: one less than a year and the other maybe 4 or 5. The pattern is essentially this: “The x saw A CAT. And the y saw A CAT. And the z saw A CAT. Yes, they all saw the cat. And the cat walked through the world, with its whiskers, ears, and paws.” I tried to get the older of the two to interact with and think about the illustrations. “Why might the fish be seeing the cat as sort of blurry and out of focus?” Reading now, I’m realizing I missed an opportunity to talk about perspective and assumptions and prejudice—albeit obliquely since these aren’t my kids and I can only step on so many toes. Next time though. This time I focused on the science of how each animal’s views of the cat. Perhaps my favorite illustration because it makes most clear what this book is doing is the illustration of the cat as seen by the snake, oranges, yellows, reds, and blues denoting heat signature, and it’s wonderful to see how cleverly Wenzel has illustrates echolocation and vibrations of the earth.

****

9780545829342_default_pdpHow Do Dinosaurs Stay Friends? By Jane Yolen and illustrated by Mark Teague. Blue Sky-Scholastic, 2016. Intended audience: Ages 3-5.

Some of the things that these dinosaurs consider are just awful, but then the things he does do are pretty wonderful. I worry that the take away from this book will more often be some wicked things that one could do if one is ever in a fight with a friend instead of what a person should do after a fight with a friend. I don’t know, that first half of the text just seems to have more imagination and vigor to it. But if the intended lesson is received, then it’s fabulous to give kids tools to make up after a fight. Mark Teague as usual is careful to include people of color in the illustrations behind the dinosaur protagonists.

***

These reviews are not endorsed by any of the authors or publishers or anyone else involved in the making of these books.  They are independent, honest reviews by a reader.

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Book Review: Reconstructing Delphi: Cursed Child SPOILERS

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DO NOT READ IF YOU HAVEN’T READ THE SCRIPT AND DON’T WANT SPOILERS.

I’m deciding to let others take on some of the more moral issues of Harry Potter and the Cursed Child, and I’m going to zero in on what bothered me perhaps more than anything else, whatever that says about me, and then how I think it could have been made more palatable to me.

So let’s get to it: Delphi. Now, I have always sort of laughed away the possibility of a Voldemort lovechild, believing it only slightly more likely to be made canon than the fan-favorite Dobby/giant squid pairing but in that same category, though admittedly if such a child existed, I would have expected it to be Bella’s. Bellatrix was not covert about her attraction to Voldemort, but as others have pointed out, the very idea that Voldemort—who is too inhuman to have died prior to the destruction of all seven of his horcruxes, whose greatest weakness is his incomprehension of love, specifically parental love—could desire a woman, desire a child, or frankly not be impotent with his soul in so many pieces is… a stretch of the imagination. But far be it for me to explain the effects of creating horcruxes and splitting one’s soul through Dark magic to J. K. Rowling.

Still, I was rereading my own fanfiction and as Draco said of the possibility that Bellatrix and Voldemort could ever have produced a child, “That is not an image I need planted in my head!” (Coincidentally, that chapter is not my favorite, but quoting without citing seemed wrong.)

The play claims that Delphi was born “before the Battle of Hogwarts,” (4.11), and I’d assumed that that meant just shortly before, but reading the Wikia article on Delphi now I’m realizing that I suppose it’s not that explicit and that potentially Rowling has agreed with us. Which sort of assuages one of my major problems with Delphi: that we—the fans—determined when Bellatrix would have been pregnant if pregnant she ever was, and it’s not when I thought that Rowling in this play claims that she was.

Bellatrix didn’t show up to see her own nephew—her only nephew and the only of her sisters’ children that she would want to lay claim to whatsoever—perform his first deed for Voldemort, kill his first person, even though other Death Eaters—much less important and less potent Death Eaters—were present. And I wasn’t the only one who thought that was odd. If she were ever to have been homebound and kept from missions because she was carrying Voldemort’s child–or anyone else’s child—that would have been the time.

I’m realizing now that some of the fault here might be that I want details that were not explicit in the text, but might be manifest in a production of the play. I want Draco to react to—to be gobsmacked by the news that his cousin is Voldemort’s daughter—and that his cousin kidnaps and threatens to kill his son, whom he clearly cares about (who wouldn’t? Bless the little cinnamon bun). I frankly want him to acknowledge that he knew that he had a cousin by Bellatrix—if in fact he did, and I think that the possibility that he didn’t if she had a child would be small.

Especially if she was born right before the Battle of Hogwarts. Harry and co. saw Draco in Malfoy Manor with his parents and his aunt—not described as visibly pregnant so presumably no longer so—during the Easter holidays (Easter 1998 was April 12, and the Battle of Hogwarts was May 1-2).

And especially if she was Voldemort’s because while I realize that Voldemort and Bellatrix might have had Delphi whisked away to live with the Rowles quite quickly after her birth, possibly before Draco would have had the chance to meet his cousin, I don’t find it likely. Voldemort doesn’t understand love or parental love and is confident in his horcruxes; he has no need of a child. Bellatrix, though, I think would hold onto her—unless Voldemort asked her not to maybe and maybe if she stood in the way of Bellatrix’s duties to Voldemort, but I expect that Bellatrix would want and cherish that child and be loath to send her away.

This is why I suspect that Bellatrix would have had with her in Malfoy Manor before the Battle of Hogwarts while Draco was home.

All this to say that I don’t like that Delphi is canonized embodiment of the Voldemort-Bellatrix lovechild trope and I don’t like how readily Draco accepts the possibility nor how blithely.

What I would have liked—and what I choose to believe because sometimes no canon is enough to sink a theory—is if Delphi is told by Rodolphus that she is Voldemort and Bellatrix’s lovechild. I don’t care if it is though I don’t want it to be true. I want her to be Scorpius’ foil, a rumored child of Voldemort who chose to accept and believe the rumor and to act accordingly.

I could easily see Rodolphus wanting to distance himself from any child of Bellatrix’s—whether it was his or no. There doesn’t seem to have been much love in their relationship, and maybe Bellatrix didn’t turn out to be what he had expected. Maybe he was grieving his wife or grieving the love that he never received from her and saw the child as a reminder of her and found it easier to disentangle himself from them both.

Snape could fly so this is not the proof that Harry and co. seem to believe it is that Delphi is Voldemort’s daughter. The Parseltongue is harder to excuse as a red herring, but Harry can speak Parseltongue, and surely it’s not only the direct descendants of Salazar Slytherin who can speak the language if they and Harry are the only ones that we’ve met.

I’m grasping at straws perhaps plus ignoring what I suppose I must call canon I know, but for me it is just so much easier for me to accept the whole story of The Cursed Child if I believe that Delphi only believes herself to be Voldemort’s daughter, that she is really Roldophus’ maybe. I’m perfectly willing to believe that she was Bellatrix’s out of wedlock, but not Voldemort’s.  And armed with that head canon, The Cursed Child just works better for me as an addition to the seven canon novels and the Potterverse.

***

Thorne, Jack.  Harry Potter and the Cursed Child.  Based on a story by J. K. Rowling, John Tiffany, and Jack Thorne.  New York: Arthur A. Levine-Scholastic, 2016.

This review is not endorsed by J. K. Rowling, Jack Thorne, John Tiffany, Arthur A. Levine Books, Scholastic, Inc, or anyone involved in the production of the play or script.  It is an independent, honest review by a reader.

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Book Review: Thanks for Magnus Chase, Rick Riordan

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9781101916988So I thought that I knew Norse mythology, and now I’m realizing that I knew as much about Norse mythology as Magnus Chase did before finding out that he was a demigod: to paraphrase a book from his childhood and quote a chapter title: “Freya is pretty! She has cats!” (274) Yep. That, and then what I gleaned from the “ridiculously inaccurate” Marvel movies (27). Did you know that Bifröst is supposed to be pronounced more closely to “beef roast” than “by frost”? I’m actually very pleased that I chose to listen to this book on audio because looking at the Norse names, I think I would have stumbled and fallen out of the book often. Tanngnjóstr, Hlidskjalf, even einherji… no kids book or Marvel movie ever prepared me to pronounce these. Mjolnir is hard enough. I stumble over the Hammer’s name like Darcy does in Thor: The Dark World (though after listening to this audiobook, I’m stumbling less often).

I waited a long time for this series. I’ve wanted it ever since I heard a rumor that Rick Riordan might do a series about the Norse gods. I knew enough to know that in Norse mythology, the gods lose, they die, the world ends, and I wanted to see how Riordan could play with that (—admirably, very admirably). Then somehow I was late purchasing it. I think I put it off till I could get a deeper discount, and now, I’m only getting to it a year later because I felt pressured to have read the first book before I began selling the second (I missed my self-imposed deadline but only by five days) and because I found the audiobook at my local library and decided that a new Rick Riordan book would likely make my road trip drive fly past—and then when I got sucked into another book during my road trip, I let it help speed my commutes.

I really enjoyed the different voices provided by Christopher Guetig. I enjoyed everyone’s voice—except Magnus’, which is somewhat problematic. The voice Guetig provided for Magnus seemed too high-pitched and young to believably be 16. Moreover, I felt that Magnus warranted more bitterness and flat delivery than Guetig did. Magnus’ lines were delivered flippantly, breezily. I thought of Magnus as much more careworn, as hard and bitter, his lines dripping with hard sarcasm. I can’t say which of us is right in our reading, and it probably doesn’t matter because a book can be read differently by different readers, but that disconnect kept me from being enveloped as deeply as I could have been in the world. Luckily, Blitz and Hearth and Sam and Loki and Fenris and T.J. and Mallory and Otis the goat were there to help draw me in when Magnus couldn’t. Their characters were all much improved I think by Guetig’s reading. (I found myself the other day adopting Otis’ tone and voice.) I loved that Hearth, a deaf elf who speaks through sign-language was given a unique voice by Guetig. Thank you.

While we’re talking about Hearth and his deafness, can we talk about how Riordan deftly, I think, described the struggles that Hearth had being accepted by his family and peers, how he had come to cope, and his deafness not even seem to be any kind of impediment to him in Boston, and then on the quest how it became the very strength that the team needed? And can we also talk about how rare it is to see any character who is deaf and speaks through sign language? I can think of one other, a recurring but not main character on The West Wing and was reminded by a Google search that there was a character in a two-part episode of Doctor Who, season 9. I just need to thank Riordan for including this awesome character and for bringing light to this often unseen community.

And for shedding light on the homeless community too, presenting homelessness in honest, real terms: the fear but also the ingenuity, the community and the alienation. I feel that most homeless characters that I encounter in children’s literature—and I can think of very few—are either saints and angels in disguise (sometimes literally), demonized, or are background characters there to add realism to a place but not as characters.

And I want to thank Riordan and Guetig too for not caving to the pop culture/Marvel versions of the gods. Guetig could have tried to imitate Tom Hiddleston’s accent when presenting Loki, but he didn’t. Riordan specifically distances his Thor from Marvel’s Thor:

“I couldn’t help it.

“When I heard the name Thor, I thought about the guy from the movies and comics—a big superhero from outer space, with bright Spandex tights, a red cape, goldilocks hair, and maybe a helmet with fluffy little dove wings.

“I real life, Thor was scarier. And redder. And grungier.” (353)

I understand that to reclaim Norse mythology from the Marvel franchise was probably part of Riordan’s mission, but I still appreciate that he didn’t take the easy way in this novel, but gave us something new and less familiar.

I’m thanking Riordan for a lot here. I haven’t even mentioned Sam, an Arab American with immigrant grandparents from Iraq in an arranged engagement but in love with her betrothed and caught between wanting a normal life with him and wanting to be a warrior and a Valkyrie, who wears a hijab but only when she wants to do or when she feels like she should. (Oops. Now I have.) There is so much diversity here. And the presentation here is so much better than it is in The Hidden Oracle where Riordan seems to shout, “LOOK AT THESE DIVERSE CHARACTERS JUST HERE TO REPRESENT OTHER CULTURES!” That might not be fair. But yeah, maybe it is. These are characters—characters I can care about. The diverse characters in The Trials of Apollo seem more like props (though admittedly, some of that I might be able to believe is because Apollo narrates, and Apollo believes he is the sun around which everyone else dances, but it does not excuse that sense).

Riordan was more subtle than I thought he would be too when I heard that Magnus was going to be Annabeth’s cousin.  Yes, Annabeth is a character here, but she is not obtrusive, though I do sense that we’ll see her again–and with her more of the Greco-Roman crew.  After a quick Pintrest perusal I too really want to see Nico and Magnus meet.

And I ought by now to be prepared for Riordan to pull the rug out from under my feet at the last moment, but I was unprepared and caught gasping and wanting the second book.

So look for that.

Because I wasn’t sure what I was going to do with this series, but I can’t let that plot twist rest. Not forever.

I’m teetering on the edge of giving this book a coveted five stars, and may revise it later, but for now… let’s stick with

****1/2

Riordan, Rick. Magnus Chase and the Gods of Asgard, Book 1: The Sword of Summer. New York: Hyperion-Disney, 2015.

Riordan, Rick.  Magnus Chase and the Gods of Asgard, Book 1: The Sword of Summer.  2015.  Narr.  Christopher Guetig. Compact discs. Listening Library-Penguin Random, 2015.

This review is not endorsed by Rick Riordam, Hyperion Books, or Disney Book Group.  It is an independent, honest review by a reader.

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Book Review: Maybe Too Much in Too Little of The Raven Boys

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Maggie Stiefvater’s Raven Cycle is another recommendation from Gwen at Apprentice, Never Master. She already you might remember introduced me to Stiefvater’s The Scorpio Races. I left that book enamored with Stiefvater’s writing and happy to try more.

The Raven Cycle—or at least the first book in the series, The Raven Boys—is set here, in Virginia, not more than a few hours’ drive from me, and in the same mountains that I call home. Another friend of mine who doesn’t even know Gwen raves to me about these books too. She’s a local. She says that she knows the mountains that Stiefvater describes and communities like Henrietta and loves how well she has captured the atmosphere of this region.

Well, I expected to like—no, I expected to love this series. When I found out that we were dealing with Welsh mythology, I expected to love it even more. I expected to fall hard.

And I fell. I texted Gwen reactions when my feelings could not be contained and my poor mother got snapped at when she quipped at me for rebuking one of the characters aloud (sorry, Mom). But I didn’t fall as hard as I would have liked to do, and I think I know why:

This hit buttons—different buttons—for Gwen, Katie, and I. It contains independent story threads and independent goals from at least four point of view characters—and the background characters, those who don’t get to narrate, are reluctant to be background characters; how could they be when every woman in the Sargent household is larger than life and every member of Gansey’s found family is inseparable from the others? The story tiptoes along the blurred lines of several different genres: fantasy quest, romance, ghost story, realistic fiction bordering on issue book for grounding…. It was—perhaps—too much to put into one book. There’s something of this book that reminds me of a television season written when the writers expect to be cancelled.

This series is shelved in romance in our store, but it seems an odd choice. It begins with the promise of a true love, and then a second promise that Blue is either Gansey’s true love or his killer (jury’s out on that one), but it feels as if Stiefvater was least interested in the romance in this series. Or maybe I was least interest in the romance. I see the prophecies about Blue and her true love to be like the pressures I feel and see that are slowly killing the population’s ability to have a platonic relationship with members of the opposite sex. It almost seems to me that the romance and the prophecies exist perhaps primarily because of the pressure exerted on writers to include romance and love triangles in their teen fiction.

I would put this in fantasy and choose to focus on the quest and hope that it inspires people to pick up dowsing rods and wander the woods around my home instead of hoping that it inspires girls to long for two boys competing for their attention.

I feel like I’ve come down hard on this book, that I’m focusing too much on what I didn’t like and not enough on the fact that I did tear through this book, I did long to return to it when I had to put it down, did read it whenever I had a moment, and did get emotionally invested enough in the characters to chide them aloud and be hit with at least one reveal hard enough to leave me reeling—even if I sensed that some reveal was coming.

I just wanted more time–more time to spend on the individual threads of this story and with the individual narrators of this story.  Luckily, there are another three books.  I finished this book on September 24, and I’m already anxiously awaiting the return of book 2 to my store’s stock so that I can return to Henrietta.

****

Stiefvater, Maggie. The Raven Cycle, Book 1: The Raven Boys. New York: Scholastic, 2013. First published 2012.

This review is not endorsed by Maggie Stiefvater or Scholastic, Inc.  It is an independent, honest review by a reader.

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Book Review: Five Big Stars for The Blackthorn Key!

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blackthorn-key-9781442388536_hrKevin Sands’ The Blackthorn Key, starts with the words “Let’s build a canon.” A promising beginning.   One that had me reading the paperback of this book—newly out—as I walked it back to its place in the store. Then when I got home I remembered that I had a sample of the book, and read the first two chapters through, and debated more seriously still purchasing the paperback.

Then I went on a road trip, and having recently been reintroduced to audiobooks by a friend who started me on Huck Finn, I decided to go to the local library and see what audiobooks I might be able to bring with me to make the hours pass—and I found this book. The first leg of my trip was 4 hours to the first stop and another 6 hours to the second stop. I spent a good bit of that time (the whole recording is 7 hours and 21 minutes) in Restoration London with an apothecary’s apprentice and his best friend, the baker’s son, Tom.

When I’d reached my first stop, I was raved to the friend that I visited about the book that I was listening to, telling her to go and buy the thing, even though I was only maybe two or three hours into the story. Getting into the car when we had to part ways was not as hard because I knew that Chris, Tom, and the mystery into which they’d been thrust were waiting for me.

By the time that I arrived at my final destination, I was raving to my mother, telling her about the whirlwind adventure I’d just been on, and how the dark back roads of Pennsylvania hadn’t seemed so long or so lonely with this book for company.

The codes and charts and solved puzzles were harder to understand in audio form, but that was my one rub with the reading itself. Lines like

img_0725aloud are just as perplexing, but… lengthier. It’s the sort of thing that the eyes can glaze over and gather the gist, but a reader has to take time to say. And a chart such as

img_0724

is equally lengthy and confusing. Mind, the printing of the chart in this Find Your Hero Chapter Sampler is actually more confusing for its set up than was Panthaki’s reading (A 22, B 23, C 24, etc. is how it was read in the recording), but that may have been fixed in the final layout.

Otherwise, it took me maybe only a few minutes to be on board with Ray Panthaki, a London-born, British actor (producer, writer, director, Renaissance man), as a narrator, who was subtle about the voices that he gave the characters, for the most part, but who did provide me with voices, which helped to liven the dialogue I’m sure and also helped to keep straight the various characters when dialogue tags were not something I could see for myself. No one seemed overblown and no one stood out unduly from the crowd, which is, I feel, one danger in narrating with voices.

I don’t read a lot of historical fiction, and this story is set a little late in history for me to gravitate towards it (I tend to say—and it’s not entirely a joke—that my knowledge of history ends right around 1600), but there was plenty to keep me entertained and engaged, sitting—especially those last few hours as the mystery raced towards its reveal—on the edge of my seat and clinging to the wheel in front of me: action, mystery, politics, heart-wringing circumstances inflicted onto characters that I grew fairly quickly to care about, magic (or science; here apothecary, potions-maker, woodswitch, and alchemist are all only so many steps from one another—and that is all addressed in the text), the uplifting story of an orphan escaping abuse and poverty to find love and riches and purpose, loyal friends, children getting the better of adults…. Now that I’m listing them I see that those are a lot of the same elements that make Harry Potter so enjoyable.

And I know from working in a bookstore and trying to help customers find books to suit school assignments how difficult it is to find historical fiction—or mystery for that matter—for that 8-12 range. I am going to hope that most teachers will accept this as historical fiction. Certainly I learned some about the time.

My one reserve about the text itself is that Sands doesn’t shy from gore or cruelty or torture. That’s fine but maybe not for the youngest of ears. In Barnes & Noble, this book lives in a section marked for ages 7-12. The audiobook warns that it’s recommended for ages 10-14. I know some 10 year olds who would be squigged out by some of the more gruesome injuries inflicted on the characters. Parents, use caution. As always, I recommend reading the book before or with your child. Know what they’ll be able to handle, and be ready to talk to them if they need reassurance or have questions.

*****

Sands, Kevin. The Blackthorn Key.  2015.  Narr. Ray Panthaki. Compact discs. Simon & Schuster Audio, 2015.

This review is not endorsed by Kevin Sands, Ray Panthaki, Simon & Schuster, or anyone involved in the production of the book or audiobook.  It is an independent, honest review by a reader.

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Book Reviews: August 2016 Picture Book Roundup: Be Yourself, Find a Friend, Mind the Books, and Have Some Science

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Books About Books and Stories

9781479591756Do Not Bring Your Dragon to the Library by Julie Gassman and illustrated by Andy Elkerton. Capstone, 2016. Intended audience: Grades PreK-2.

The human patrons of the library are even more diverse than the dragons—both male and female—who clutter the aisles—and while we’re mentioning it, let’s applaud that the protagonist, the character on the cover, and not just some of the background patrons is non-white. These illustrations are vibrant—in every sense, and are probably the best thing about the book. The diversity of the cast is what propels this book for me a little farther above its peers. I suspect that a great deal of the appeal of books about libraries is the meta-ness of reading a book about story time and about libraries in a library and in a library story time. It doesn’t quiet work as well in a bookstore, as much as I’d like it to do, particularly as a number of our younger patrons have difficulty separating the concepts of bookstore and of library. I love dragons. I love books. I love the concept of libraries even if right now I spend very little time myself in any. I wish I was more enthralled with this story and with this text, but this doesn’t say much that is original about how to respect libraries or what a library is; it just does so with dragons.

***

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Let Me Finish! by Minh Lê and illustrated by Isabel Roxas. Hyperion-Disney, 2016. Intended audience: Ages 3-5.

This little boy just wants to read a book without having anyone spoil the ending for him—poor kid. He goes farther and farther into the wilderness but meets wonderfully well-read animals, eager to share their enthusiasm for the books that he’s chosen to read. The text is first person with the interruptions by others as speech bubbles. This is definitely a book that the older reader can appreciate. This is the first book for children I think that I’ve ever read that talks about spoilers. Lê began as a children’s book reviewer and critic.

***

9780803741409 The Not So Quiet Library by Zachariah Ohora. Dial-Penguin Random, 2016. Intended audience: Ages 3-5.

A quiet day at the library is interrupted by an angry monster who doesn’t realize that books are for reading and not for eating. Oskar and Theodore the bear must run from the monster, survive, and ultimately teach him that books are meant to be read, that he’s in a library not a restaurant.

***

9780803740679The Forgetful Knight by Michelle Robinson and illustrated by Fred Blunt. Dial-Penguin Random, 2016. Intended audience: Ages 4-8.

This book had a lot of potential, but it read awkwardly. The shifting story just didn’t handle well aloud. I think with the right storyteller it could. I think especially with a storyteller dressed as a knight it could do. I’d love to see this tale acted out. The illustrations shift as the narration does. “A knight in armor rode away. Then again… he had no horse. Did I say ‘rode’? He strode, of course. That’s right—he strode across the land with half a sandwich in his hand?” This could also be fun with the right audience, one who wants to correct the story, make it fit the knight-in-armor, knight-vs-dragon narrative. But then they couldn’t see the pictures without being given the answers. It would be interesting to use this too in a discussion about narrative—about cultural narrative and subversion. Like I said, a lot of potential, but the execution just doesn’t seem quite right, and I wish it did.

**

Be Your Best Self and Don’t Be Ashamed

y648 Teddy the Dog: Be Your Own Dog by Keri Claiborne Boyle and illustrated by Jonathan Sneider. HarperCollins, 2016. Intended audience: Ages 4-8.

Another book about an unlikely doodle, like Octicorn? One that began as a blog like the Tumas’ book about dinosaurs at night? Teddy the Dog has a line of clothing?

Told from the point of view of a cool pup—note the sunglasses—Teddy’s living the life—being a dog, wreaking havoc but never fetching—until a package arrives containing a cat—whom he nicknames and continues throughout the book to call Fishbreath. He tries to teach Fishbreath all that he knows, since it seems that the cat will now be his companion, but Fishbreath isn’t interested. Teddy tries to do the things that Fishbreath likes but doesn’t like them. Ultimately they bond over stealing cookies from the cookie jar, and Teddy decides that both of them are best when they are being their best selves, that each of them can contribute in their own way.

***

25489431Fritz and the Beautiful Horses by Jan Brett. G. P. Putnam’s Sons-Penguin Random, 2016. First published 1981. Intended audience: Ages 3-5.

This was one of my favorite stories as a child, and it has remained fairly influential in my life. Fritz sees all the tall, glamorous, finely bedecked horses, and he wants to do what they do and be loved as they are loved. He notices that the children seem frightened of the fine horses. He prances before the people, doing his best impression of the horses’ prance, but they laugh at him, and he goes away dejected, but when the bridge cracks stranding the nervous children on one side and the adults on their prideful mounts on the other, Fritz goes up and down the steep banks and across the river to rescue each child. Then he sees that he can do what the fine horses cannot, that his smallness and surefootedness are strengths not weaknesses. Moreover the people—children and adults—recognize it, and he is given a place of honor in the city’s walls.

I loved horse stories—and still do, if more of that is nostalgia than it once was, maybe—and I love stories of the strength of littleness. I think those stories resonant with children. They resonate with me still.

I’ve talked before about the amazing detail and realism and wonder of Jan Brett’s illustrations. This book is no exception.

I read this alongside I Wanna Be a Great Big Dinosaur and Teddy the Dog and am very pleased to report that this—this classic about a tiny pony that is bedecked by flowers and wears fine blankets was the favorite—even though my audience consisted of one maybe 5-7 year old boy. This was easily the most complex of those stories, the longest, the oldest, and the most muted—though Jan Brett’s details might help to compensate for the absence of bold, bright colors. Points made. Thanks, kid.

(rating this one seems unfair; I’d give it five stars for nostalgia)

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Little Elliot, Big Fun by Mike Curato. Henry Holt-Macmillan, 2016. Intended audience: Ages 4-8.

There’s a new Little Elliot book! I did a little dance in the store when I found it and immediately rearranged things to be able to better display it. And when no one showed up for the story time where I intended to read it, I read it myself and showed coworkers my favorite pages; I final page evoked a spoken “aw,” and I had to explain myself. Little Elliot is truly one of my favorites. This book features a fold out page of a beautiful vista of the boardwalk seen from the top of the Ferris wheel during an orange sunset.

Little Elliot isn’t enjoying the amusement park that Mouse has brought him too. All of Mouse’s favorite rides are too scary, too dizzy, too fast. But Mouse knows the perfect ride—the Ferris wheel—that they can both enjoy, and though Elliot is at first scared, the payoff here is worth his fear. And afterwards they find activities at the boardwalk that they can both enjoy—ice cream, balloons, the beach. Can Elliot be my spirit animal? For real?

I still love Curato’s illustrations, his stories, and his inclusion of many races in his vivid backgrounds.

*****

9781492632993I Wanna Be a Great Big Dinosaur! by Heath McKenzie. Jabberwocky-Sourcebooks, 2016.

This is what I expect in books featuring dinosaurs: a chance to stomp and invite the kids to give me their best ROAR! A white boy in a cardboard costume proclaims his wish to be a dinosaur and a dinosaur shows up to show him his best dinosaur skills. The boy questions if dinosaurs can eat junk food and play soccer and video games and do the other things that he as a boy enjoys doing. The dinosaur cannot, and the dinosaur wishes to be a boy. And in the end the boy is dressed as a dinosaur and the dinosaur is dressed as a boy and both are stomping around and roaring. The endpage was pretty fun too: a more realistic painting of dinosaurs, one you might find in a nonfiction book, doing boy-things with the trapping of boyness added overtop in marker. I am reminded a touch of I Don’t Want to Be a Frog, but this is a much more enjoyable, less frightening way to get across the same message of being glad that you are what you are.

***

More Lessons to Learn

dinosaurs-love-underpants-9781416989387_hrDinosaurs Love Underpants by Claire Freedman and illustrated by Ben Cort. Simon & Schuster, 2011. Intended audience: Ages 4-7, Grades PreK-2.

This is one of those new classics that I feel I’m sort of expected to know, but it was my first time actually reading the story. I’m always a bit uncertain about potty humor in my picture books—mostly because I don’t know my audience and don’t want to be held accountable for corrupting young minds. I was wary of this one, but it was required one Saturday. This was… not the book I was expecting. There wasn’t a lot of potty humor, though there were lots of briefs and boxers. This was more a lesson book than anything else. This is a new answer to the age-old question of why there are no more dinosaurs: Dinosaurs loved underpants; I don’t really know why; they don’t seem to have fit or have made any dinosaur happy. The dinosaurs fought each other one night to extinction for the underpants that they hadn’t torn. Mankind is saved by the dinos love of underpants, so we should love and respect our undies too. I was honestly a bit thrown by the portrayal of dinosaurs as enemies of mankind but the glossing over of dinosaurs as predators and by the lesson to respect our underpants. It just all around was not what I was expecting, but I guess I’m glad I didn’t feel like I was going to get any angry, prudish parents. This would be a good read, I guess, for the potty training child who just keeps ripping their undies off. Be aware that you’ll have dinosaur names to trip over.

***

e_and_p_i_will_take_a_nap_lgAn Elephant and Piggie Book: I Will Take a Nap! by Mo Willems. Intended audience: Ages 6-8.

I overheard a friend of mine reading this —another Barnes & Noble employee and an excellent story time reader. It just sounded so ridiculous—so ridiculous that I avoided it for just over a year. This was the first time that I read it fully myself. I missed when overhearing that reading the context of the illustrations, which make the weirdness seem less off-putting. In this story, Gerald is exhausted and needs to sleep. He dreams that Piggie has come to keep him from napping. Nearly the rest of the book is Gerald’s dream of Piggie interrupting his sleep, and dreaming Gerald does not realize till after Piggie’s head has morphed into a laughing turnip that this manifestation of Piggie is a dream. The illustrations actually make fairly clear that Gerald is napping. Piggie first appears in a green thought bubble above the napping Gerald and all subsequent pages are that minty green. This is not your average bedtime book with gentle rhymes and gentle pictures and lulling rhythms of peaceful sleep. This does not portray dreams of floating on cloud, but better portrays dreams as a reflection of daily worries and daily interactions and better portrays the absurdity of dream logic. I like the idea of the discussions this could open up, but I wasn’t able to get into any. For being a different kind of bedtime book, for portraying the necessity of sleep in a different way, I rate this one higher than I might otherwise.

****

Find Your Best Friend

d59d3e417c97efb7af8560a79f80eb07 Rory the Dinosaur Wants a Pet by Liz Climo. Little, Brown-Hachette, 2016.

I was surprisingly pleased by this book. Rory has shown up in one other picture book: Me and My Dad. Liz Climo’s illustrations of cartoon animals however are familiar from her Tumblr, and I have seen them passed between friends on Facebook. Rory’s friends introduce him to a new pet hermit crab, and Rory decides that he too wants a pet. He tries to coax several animals into being his pet but they are too busy, not interested, and he almost gives up until a coconut (it’s never identified as a coconut in the text) rolls to his feet, and turns out to be the perfect pet, ready to do anything Rory wants without complaint. The story was fairly commonplace until the coconut came along. I’m reminded a little of Yoon’s Penguin and Pinecone. I loved this story—so did the mother at this story time. We both cooed over it when I was done.

****

These reviews are not endorsed by any of the authors or publishers or anyone else involved in the making of these books.  They are independent, honest reviews by a reader.

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Book Review: Harry Potter and the Cursed Child: A Caution and Plea for Open-Mindedness: SPOILER-FREE

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9781338099133_default_pdpThe majority of the reviews that I’m seeing for Harry Potter and the Cursed Child have been negative or underwhelmed—and I sort of want to echo these same feelings, but every time that I try to do so—well, I can moan along with the best, and I can parcel out what exactly didn’t work for me and why, but I feel badly doing so and here’s why: Can you imagine living up to our expectations? We—me, and the majority of the fans that I’ve seen react negatively—are the ones who never really left Hogwarts. We took J. K. Rowling at her word when she said that Hogwarts would always be there to welcome us home. We wept along with Trelawney when she moaned that Hogwarts was her home—because she was echoing our own feelings as we watched a monster destroy the place we loved—and because she is played by Emma Thompson, and that woman is a masterful actress. If we didn’t write fanfiction, we read it, and we had our favorites, and we had personal theories on every minor detail and pet theories on which we couldn’t be swayed and which we’d defend loudly and ardently to anyone (mine, for example, is that there is corruption at some level within St. Mungo’s, and Alice Longbottom is conscious enough to recognize it and has been trying to tell Neville for years through her bubble gum wrappers; I even got to write and publish the essay on it in a book of scholarly and not-so-scholarly articles by fans).

I think we remained more deeply entrenched in the world and engaged more fully with the characters these past nine years perhaps than has J. K. Rowling.

And J. K. Rowling approved but did not actually pen this script. I have to think that John Tiffany and Jack Thorne are fans themselves—the sort of fans that we are—and that they have pet theories too, ones that they won’t put aside despite evidence within the canon.

J. K. Rowling has never discouraged fanfiction.

In some ways the only thing that this play is truly guilty of is that we expect it to live up to the original canon when it is really a fan piece that happens to have been granted a nod by the author—and of not being our fan piece.

The story is and feels like fanfiction—canonized fanfiction—and because so many fan theories and fan ideas—even the ones we held onto only as jokes—were given the nod, it feels a bit like being pandered to—or stolen from when I think—I hope that J. K. Rowling’s idea was to validate some of our theories—though I wish she’d been more selective, and I wish that she had more carefully read over the work and seen that some of the ideas just don’t jive with the already established seven canon novels. But we’ve had more than nine years to mull over, tinker with, and hone these theories—and some of those ideas have been better handled or better written in other texts than this. And again, after all the effort we put into perfecting these ideas to see canon ideas that don’t match our own is off-putting.

So there’s that. But then, there are problems that I had, even as a fan piece, with plot elements and with the writing itself at times—things that have nothing to do with whether or not it was a good addition to the canon and more to do with whether I like the elements within the text, elements I would judge if this were a standalone and not a new piece in the Harry Potter world. There are already boundless articles online detailing some of the problems that this text has: that the badass Hermione Granger’s success seems so dependent upon the approval of one or any man (as written by Kadeen Griffiths for Bustle in “How Hermione Granger Is Portrayed in ‘Harry Potter & The Cursed Child’ Is Offensive to the Fans and the Character”), perhaps an attempt at inclusion of POC gone awry by mishandling in both Hermione (played by Noma Dumezweni) and Rose Weasley (played by Cherrelle Skeete) and the off-screen inclusion of Padma and Panju Weasley (“What The Hell Is A Panju?” And Other Questions I, A Brown Potterhead, Have For J.K. Rowling” published by Krupa Gohil on Buzzfeed). Without going into why it is difficult to reconcile this text with the canon or why I would have handled certain elements differently, these are perhaps its largest flaws.

That and some of the stage directions forget that they are stage directions. Yes, you could darken a character’s eyes with contacts but what I think the stage direction means is that the character is terrified and that—well, if your actor can widen his pupils, fantastic, but don’t command him to do so; let the actor, act. Moreover, unless the play is being filmed and filmed with an intense zoom lens, such a detail won’t be seen. Some stage directions are written as if they can tell the audience how to react too. Without magic you can’t force a whole audience to react in a certain way, certainly not by telling them to do so. Sometimes the novelist snuck into the play. And what sort of stage direction is “And time stops. And then it turns over, thinks a bit”?  What does that even mean?

Expect another more nitpicky review where I will pick apart the things I liked and disliked, but I wanted to answer all the negativity, and I liked the idea of a spoiler-free and a spoiler-filled review.

I’ve already begun a reread.

***

Thorne, Jack.  Harry Potter and the Cursed Child.  Based on a story by J. K. Rowling, John Tiffany, and Jack Thorne.  New York: Arthur A. Levine-Scholastic, 2016.

This review is not endorsed by J. K. Rowling, Jack Thorne, John Tiffany, Arthur A. Levine Books, Scholastic, Inc, or anyone involved in the production of the play or script.  It is an independent, honest review by a reader.

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