Cat-Proof Your Toilet Paper

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Sometimes invention is born of necessity, thriftiness, spatial reasoning, sympathy (in Rothfuss’ sense), and a little out-of-the-box thinking. Our cat found the toilet paper roll and started shredding it. I did some searching around the Internet and found some clever solutions but most required me to buy something and many would involve more permanent damage to the cabinet on which the toilet paper holder hangs—which is troublesome since we rent and the cabinet is not ours to damage. Originally, I’d decided to try to use a 2-liter soda bottle to make a cover for the roll… but I couldn’t easily cut into the plastic, and I gave up before I hurt myself.

An empty tissue box became the savior of our toilet paper. And I mean that quite sincerely because our cat hasn’t found the toilet paper to tear up since.

Admittedly, I didn’t try to fit the tissue box unaltered over the toilet paper roll, and less work might be required than I did, but what I did was not strenuous or lengthy:

I widened the hole at the box’s top a bit, just using an ordinary, unexceptional pair of scissors. Essentially, I mirrored the cut of the preexisting opening on the box’s backside to let the roll sit nicely centered inside the box, where the tissues had been. Once I’d done that, I added two cuts, extending upwards from the farthest point of the opening to catch the roller of the toilet paper holder.

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This same cover has been in use for a month and a half now, and while the cardboard is a bit more pliable from being handled than it once was, it is still intact and still performing its role well.

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The slit at the top has been widened. We found that offered more flexibility—the cover being able to catch more easily with less finesse, and doing so allowed the cover to accommodated fuller rolls better.

Has anyone done anything similar to cat-proof their toilet paper?  Has anyone got any improvements?  Does anyone have other genius DIY solutions to this common problem?

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Book Reviews: Best of the Best of 2016

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It’s awards season again, and I’ve read next to none of the winners or honorees this year. The only book that won any medal that I have yet found postings for is Brendan Wenzel’s They All Saw a Cat, one of this year’s Caldecott award honorees, which I gave four stars.

But I always believe in honoring the books that I’ve read and have awarded five stars.

Only the bolded books on this last were eligible for this year’s awards… and there are only five of them, all of them picture books.

Of the books that I rated five stars that were published in 2016, really, only Dan Santat’s Are We There Yet? had any chance at any of the awards–I would have thought that a possible competitor for a Caldecott.

TODDLERS-KIDS (AGES 0-8)

MIDDLE GRADE-YOUNG READERS (AGES 8-12)

TEENS (AGES 13-19)

ADULTS (AGES 20+)

POC in My Books from 2016

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After last year’s jarring realization, this year I started a list of books with POC (people of color) and another list of books with a person explicitly not white in the role of a main protagonist in order to track my own reading and hopefully improve upon the lack of diversity of characters in 2015’s list of books.  This year I read 44 out of 168 books (26%) where any person of color is included, either as a protagonist or a background character, a sort of abysmal quarter but more than 2015’s 23% if only barely.  Only 16 of those 44 (36% of all books with any POC or 9% of the all the books I read) have a person of color in a starring role, less than half.  In some cases, as in Mike Cuarto’s Little Elliot books, the protagonist’s role is taken by an animal or usually inanimate object, but in most cases the POC play background characters to a white character’s story or share a stage where no one is given a spotlight within the pages (for the most part, the covers of such books feature white characters).

A coworker and I both realized recently that the majority of toddler books feature exclusively animal characters–or characters that are usually inanimate objects, like peas.  64 of 168 books (38%) that I read this year are in this category of books with no human or humanoid characters.  That means that in 2016 I read more books with completely non-human casts than ones that include even one POC.

Excluding these books that exclude humans and humanoid characters, the total percentage of books with POC rises to 42% but still does not hit even the half mark.

I have this year more actively sought out books with POC as protagonists, but I have not held–I’m sorry to say–to my November resolution to read books only about POC, women, or other marginalized groups.  (There’s a good new year’s resolution for me.)

This is the list of this year’s books that included POC.  Books where a POC is a protagonist are bolded.  Books where a POC is a secondary character, one with a speaking role, and more than a background character but still not a protagonist are underlined.  Books which arguably have no protagonist, where for example, a different character is featured on each page have a + sign beside them.  Books first published this year have an asterisk, because those are the ones that could be considered for the most recent round of awards, and because those are the books that were probably in some way effected by the current cultural climate.

Picture Books, Picture Storybooks, and Board Books (Ages 0-8)

Middle Grade-Young Readers (Ages 8-12)

Teen (Ages 13-19)

Riordan as always has done a great deal to bring up the number of books that I’ve read with POC protagonists and characters.  The surprise aid has come this year from Disney, which not only set a story in Polynesia with an entirely POC cast of characters, but also even in their story about fish in the Pacific, where few human characters were at all present, they were sure to include POC, and in the books mentioned above, I think POC accounted for at least half but maybe 100% of the human characters present.  Santat, Curato, and Beaty should get honorable mentions for always including POC among their casts, and Beaty a shout-out for having this year’s picture book feature an African American girl.  Bildner and Parsley both deserve shout-outs as well for multiple books with POC protagonists.  I want to give a shout-out to Gassman too for having an African American on the cover of a book with a quite diverse cast where it would have been possible, as several others chose to do, to feature the white characters on the cover.

I also want to give a mention to Maggie Stiefvater.  I’ve begun to suspect that in her Raven Cycle many if not all of the people in Blue’s house are African American, but I can’t yet swear to it.

I want to give another shout out here to Elizabeth Bird, who recently published a list of picture, easy, and early chapter books published in 2016 with diverse casts and diverse main characters on The School Library Journal‘s blog.  This is a fabulous list, and fabulously organized.  Check it out.

Have I misrepresented any books?  Feel free to discuss below.  Sometimes–particularly in picture books–it can be difficult to determine a character’s race (sometimes probably intentionally so, and I appreciate that too), and sometimes it can be difficult to determine whether a character’s role is large enough to merit a place as a secondary character rather than a supporting or background character.

Book Review: Dream Thieves: I Couldn’t Wait, and I Didn’t Wait (Long) Afterward

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Click to visit the publisher's teachers' page for links to order and summary.Note: I try not to do so, but this time, I just couldn’t resist: I started reading the next book in this series before finishing my review of this book, so there may be some bleed from book three into my review of book two. But I can definitely tell you that I loved book two.

I started this second book in The Raven Cycle pretty immediately after finishing the first, which is usually for me an accolade for the previous book, but The Dream Thieves I loved even more than The Raven Boys. The only reason I think that I didn’t continue on to book three straightaway after putting The Dream Thieves down is because a few books that I had been waiting for were released (ironically, I have not started the one that I paused this series to read, because I fell into a deep well of favorite rereads while waiting for that book to actually arrive—thinking of course that I’d be able to put those rereads down in the middle).

I was a bit surprised that I loved The Dream Thieves so because Ronan, arguably the primary protagonist here, is spikier than I usually like my characters, though in this story we got to see past some of that caustic, tattooed armor to the mushy, homesick, heartsick center—the Ronan that Gansey knew before and which the books reference rather frequently.

The story begins, “A secret is a strange thing. There are three kinds of secrets,” and the epilogue begins that way too. I would have been all over that if I hadn’t been hearing so forcefully the echoes of “The Waystone Inn lay in silence, and it was a silence of three parts.” I remember my burbling excitement when I first realized the circular echo that Rothfuss was employing in The Name of the Wind and then used again in The Wise Man’s Fear. Rothfuss definitely did it first (The Name of the Wind was published in 2008), but I want to believe—and do believe—that I’d have been as excited to see Stiefvater use language this way and employ this particular device as I was to see Rothfuss do so if I had seen Stiefvater’s first. It is a beautiful technique and a wonderful way to frame a story and a trick that requires a great deal of finesse and mastery.

Without dropping lots of quotes into this review, I really can’t explain to you why I have come to so love Stiefvater’s prose, her poignant observations and vivid, succinct images. While reading book three, I have taken so many pictures of wonderful lines that I wanted to remember. For this book, I took just one for this line: “His mind was a box he tipped out at the end of his shifts.” That line. I get that line. It captures a feeling that I never would have thought to describe so, but it describes that feeling with such cutting accuracy that I immediately conjure the feeling, the aches and pains and exhaustion.

The Dream Thieves introduces us to more magic. Such wonderful, awesome, terrifying magic. Magic that’s difficult to control, that comes at a terrible price.

While The Raven Boys, I’d be comfortable handing off to a mature 13 year old, this book introduces some darker and more mature topics: homosexuality, drugs, explosive, uncontrollable anger, suicide, murder, more of a romantic subplot, redemption, identity, love in its many forms…. This is a book for an older teen: maybe 14. Maybe. I asked Gwen whose opinion on such matters I trust, and she guessed maybe better to introduce the book to 15 or 16 year olds. As she said, there’s a lot of violence in this book, and an appreciation of the “shades of violence” is important to an understanding of this book’s plot and themes.

*****

Stiefvater, Maggie. The Raven Cycle, Book 2: The Dream Thieves. New York: Scholastic, 2014. First published 2013.

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 Reviews: December 2016 Picture Book Roundup: Mostly Wintertime. Was It Blue?

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Click to visit the book's webpage for links to order, summary, activity kit, educator's guide, and author's and illustrator's bios.

The Storybook Knight by Helen and Thomas Docherty. Jabberwocky-Sourcebooks, 2016.

My manager and I were both won over by the illustrations and story and concept of this book. It’s all excellent. A little mouse is in training to be a knight, but he doesn’t want to fight as his parents insist that he must; instead he’d rather read and study. His parents see an advertisement for a dragon slayer and send their son to the aid of the village. Along the way, the young knight on his fat, shaggy, expressive pony meet several monsters, all of whom he subdues by appealing to their vanity and sharing with them stories about monsters like themselves—gifting the book to each before they part ways. He subdues the dragon the same way but adds that the dragon must help clean up the village that he terrorized before the little knight will read more to him. As the dragon cleans, the villagers lose their fear and eventually work beside the dragon and knight to right their town. The characters are all wonderfully expressive. The illustrations are filled with delightful and surprisingly realistic detail.

*****

Click to visit the publisher's page for links to order, summary, and author's bio.

Peek-a Choo-Choo! by Nina Laden. Chronicle, 2016. Intended audience: Ages 2-5.

This little board book hasn’t got much of a plot. This might be considered a primer for transport methods. Peek-a choo-choo. Peek-a flew. Peek-a canoe. Peek-a shoe. Peek-a I see you. It all rhymes. But that’s the extent, really, of the text.

**

Click to visit

A Fish Out of Water by Helen Palmer and illustrated by P. D. Eastman. Random, 1989. First published 1961. Intended audience: Ages 3-7.

This was one of my favorite books as a child, and I really enjoyed introducing it to a young generation of readers who all crowded close around me on the stage. It was sort of a happy accident that I read it. I was supposed to read How the Grinch Stole Christmas, and I had a huge crowd, many of whom arrived early, so as I was sitting in front of them, I offered to grab a story to read to the early-birds, but by the time I got back to the stage and introduced myself properly, it seemed the last stragglers had arrived and it was time to begin story time-proper. So I read The Grinch. Then I gave them the activities that I had for them to do. Then a dedicated little huddle asked me to read the second story and crowded around me on the stage. It was precious. It was more precious because it was one of my favorite childhood stories. As an adult I was struck by the remarkable helpfulness of the police and firefighter. My kids wanted to know how Mr. Carp had gotten Otto small again. They weren’t satisfied it seemed particularly with my explanation that we don’t know and aren’t supposed to know.


Winter Wonderlands

 Click to visit the publisher's page for links to order, summary, preview, reviews, and author's and illustrator's bios.

Waiting for Snow by Marsha Diane Arnold and illustrated by Renata Liwska. Houghton Mifflin Harcourt, 2016.

This preciously illustrated book evoked a reminiscent smile from me as the friends discuss several foolproof ways to ensure a snow the following morning. Several of those methods I’d tried, and my audience and I enjoyed brainstorming other methods that the friends missed in the post-story time discussion. Hedgehog assures them all in what becomes a somewhat repetitive refrain that it will snow when it’s time, Hedgehog drawing on other examples of things that can’t be rushed but always come—like the flowers in spring and the dawn. Hedgehog seems oddly out-of-sync with the rest of the book, too deep for the lightheartedness that the rest of the book displays and maybe a little preachy. Also the snow is not nearly as universally dependable as Hedgehog’s other examples, so the advice falls a bit flat. While I understand Hedgehog was necessary for the book’s message of patience, I think I would have enjoyed this advice from another source, or for this message to be less veiled by poetic similes.

***1/2

Click to visit the publisher's page for links to order, summary, sample pages, reviews, activities, and author's bio.

Hap-Pea All Year by Keith Baker. Beach Lane-Simon & Schuster, 2016. Intended audience: Grades PreK-3.

There… wasn’t much to this book either. Each month gets two or three sentences. “Happy January! Let’s get going, grab your mittens—hooray it’s snowing!” That’s… not even particularly good punctuation. The gimmick of this book is the pea characters, who have appeared in board book primers before: LMNO Peas, 1-2-3 Peas, and Little Green Peas. I think I would have liked this book better as a board book. As a picture book, I expected more from it. There are some creative details in the illustrations. For example what is once a sprout becomes a flower. I had to read it a second time for story time, and it was less objectionable the second time through—maybe because I was prepared for what was coming, maybe because I was less stressed. There may not be many books teaching the months, but there are definitely better: I loved Sendak’s Chicken Soup with Rice as a kid.

**

Click to visit the publisher's page for links to order, summary, sample pages, reviews, and author's and illustrator's bios.

The Most Perfect Snowman by Chris Britt. Balzer + Bray-HarperCollins, 2016. Intended audience: Ages 4-8.

This was a surprisingly tender picture book. The snowman Drift is lonely, “built fast and then forgotten,” without any clothes, picked on by the other snowman and left out of snowman games. When several children (one a darker-skinned boy) gift Drift with clothes and his much-desired carrot nose, Drift is the happiest and the most beautiful snowman, the envy of the others, and included in all their fun. But these gifts prove ephemeral. A blizzard tears his hat and mittens from him. Drift despairs and searches for his torn away clothes, but finds a lost bunny with no shelter in sight, and gives that bunny his warm scarf, and though he recognizes it as a sacrifice, his carrot nose, returning him to his original imperfect form.  But because of his actions he becomes not just “the perfect snowman” but “the most perfect snowman of all.” This does not discuss the other snowmen’s reaction to him after his sacrificial act. Perhaps a little heavy-handed in its message, but so generously sweet that it is easily forgiven. This is a well-constructed story too; especially for a picture book, it follows well the rules of plot. Pair this with the Buehners’ Snowmen at Night perhaps.

****1/2

 Click to visit the publisher's page for links to order, summary, sample pages, preview, activity pages, and author's bio.

Click, Clack, Ho! Ho! Ho! by Doreen Cronin and illustrated by Betsy Lewin. Atheneum-Simon & Schuster, 2015. Intended audience: Ages 4-8.

The duck dresses up as Santa and uses a zip line to reach the roof to surprise an excited Farmer Brown but gets stuck in the chimney, so every animal one after the other—and getting progressively larger—comes to extract him from the chimney but gets stuck as well, and the real Santa flies closer and closer in his sleigh, his silhouette growing larger and larger on each successive page. But Santa’s magic. Where the animals failed, he succeeds. Everyone—Santa too—tumbles down the chimney, cinder-covered, into Farmer Brown’s living room, where they all have a laugh and celebrate Christmas. The “ho-ho-OH NO!” refrain is repetitive but could be a lot of fun.

***

Click to visit the author's page for links to order, summary, and sample pages.

Santa’s Sleigh Is on Its Way to Virginia: A Christmas Adventure by Eric James and illustrated by Robert Dunn. Jabberwocky-Sourcebooks, 2015.

There’s a book almost identical to this for every state in the U.S. We were a bit disappointed that our city was not among those chosen for the book. Children of many races grace the pages. Ultimately one character is groggily half-asleep wandering through the house, just barely missing Santa hiding around the corner, behind the drapes, behind the broom.

****

Click to visit the publisher's page for links to order, summary, activity sheets, and author's bio.

Rudolph the Red-Nosed Reindeer by Robert Lewis May and illustrated by Antonio Javier Caparo. Little Simon-Simon & Schuster, 2014. Text first published 1939. Intended audience: Ages 4-6.

I did not when I read this realize that this is the original Rudolph story. I enjoyed this version maybe even better than the Rankin/Bass story that most of us I’d guess know best. First Caparo’s illustrations are beautiful with deep hues, realistically rendered (is that Percy Jackson asleep in that bed?). In this version, Santa doesn’t know about Rudolph till Santa is trying to deliver presents to the reindeer and stumbles across a sleeping Rudolph, whose nose lights up his room and makes delivering presents easier. There’s so much detail in the text, which I enjoy but made the story really probably too long for my young audience; we got through about all but the last nine pages before the kids’ attention wavered and they began questioning everything to try to shorten or change or interact with the story—but those last pages are all after the climax and really add little to the story, so maybe be prepared to end with Rudolph’s first “Merry Christmas to all, and to all a goodnight” if your audience is getting antsy; they won’t miss much. It’s all written in rhyme, and uses some aged language and syntax—well it’s from 1939.

****

Click to visit the publisher's page for links to order, summary, sample, reviews, and author's and illustrator's bios.

If You Take a Mouse to the Movies by Laura Joffe Numeroff and illustrated by Felicia Bond. HarperCollins, 2000. Intended audience: Ages 4-8.

The mouse forgot very quickly about the movies, distracted by popcorn, which he wanted to string together to hang on a Christmas tree, which they didn’t have, so they had to go buy a Christmas tree. It’s an excuse it seems to engage in Christmastime and wintertime activities, led by mouse and mouse’s demands. He’s such a demanding mouse. You try to do something nice, but he wants more and more, and you have to do more and more for him.

***

Click to visit the publisher's page for links to order, summary, and reviews.

The Red Prince by Charlie Roscoe and by illustrated by Tom Clohosy Cole. Templar-Penguin Random, 2016.   Intended audience: Ages 2-5.

This book was intense! I liked the cover, and it looked wintery, so I put it up on display this month. I did not expect the story inside. While the king and queen are away, mysterious, uniformed foreigners attack and overcome the castle, locking the young prince in his red pajamas in the dungeon with his dog. Once I’d started, I worried a bit about my young audience, but the one who stayed to pay attention was probably 7, and I comforted myself thinking that it was just the prologue to a Disney film, like Frozen, where the parents go off on a boat, and the boat is caught in a storm, and the parents never come back. The prince escapes but is hunted by the invaders, his face posted on wanted posters. My audience enjoyed trying to spot the prince on each page and in each crowd. His subjects help him evade capture, ultimately all of them dressing in bright red too to confuse the invaders. Unfortunately he is still found and his people must come rescue him again. The people, perhaps united by their love of the prince and their group effort earlier, chase away the invaders. It really didn’t have as satisfying an ending as I’d hoped for. I’m not sure what I wanted though. The prince is safe, and the invaders are chased off—peaceably. While the ruling family is white, the kingdom is racially diverse. Cole’s illustrations are the reason to read this one. They incorporate creative angles and bright colors and contrasts.

****

Click to visit the publisher's page for links to order, summary, and reviews.

Little Penguins by Cynthia Rylant and illustrated by Christian Robinson. Schwartz & Wade-Penguin Random, 2016. Intended audience: Ages 3-7.

The kids in my audience wanted to assign genders and birth order to each of the penguin children, but both changed page to page. With blocky illustrations of arctic scenes the book chronicles an anthropomorphized penguin family’s snowy adventures first outside then inside to get warm. Minimal text done as almost exclusively dialogue, though lacking any quotation marks or speech bubbles to proclaim it so, begs for different voices for each penguin.

***

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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Challenge: Make Me Your Villain Book Tag

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You’ve probably noticed by now that I’ve had a difficult time a) finding the inertia and b) finding the time to write blog posts these past few months. I think when I say that the last few months have been hard most of you will probably understand exactly what I mean. I was browsing through past posts and tags of mine and rediscovered some of the book tags I’d written. I remembered how fun they were and how I’d used them when a week had been hard and I hadn’t had the time or energy to write a review or reflect. They gave me direction then. They made me laugh.

This seems a great time to resurrect the book tag. And I think after a fair bit of searching I’ve found one I like a lot.

(Note: If anyone has any book tags they’ve done or ones that they’ve enjoyed reading in the past, particularly ones like this where books are chosen at random and different things in their pages are used to create a story of sorts, please do post a link in the comments section. I’d love some more to do.)

SJ Bouquet of A Tree Grows in Bookland and a friend Dash originated this tag, which is called Make Me Your Villain.

I’ve edited the rules a bit, as I always seem to do. I don’t like choosing books at random, so using my own rule I’ve chosen the last books I’ve read—in this case the last 7 (it would be 6, but I couldn’t decide whether or not to use two books from the same series, so I decided to put both in and let fate decide, but also to put in another book so fate could decide). I put the names on bits of paper and drew the names.

For this tag, you will also need some music playing device.

Villain name: Every good villain needs a name that inspires awe and fear. Pick one random book. Look at the front and back cover, and the inside flaps. Pick the first adjective you see. Then, look at your bookshelf and pick the first noun you see from all the covers. Put the adjective and noun together. That’s your name.

Again, I don’t like chance and don’t trust my eyes to be objective. And I frankly misread this direction at first. First adjective on the page it is. I did glance up at my bookcase for a noun however.

15724396Magnus Chase, Book One: The Sword of Summer by Rick Riordan, page 155.

“Blitz, I said sure.”

The dwarf blinked. “But I had this whole speech prepared.”12127810

“No need. I trust you.”

The strange thing? I was telling the truth.

When I glanced up at the shelf, I saw first the title The House of Hades, The Heroes of Olympus, Book Four also by Rick Riordan.

So… Strange House is my name.

Your Weapon or Power: This is important. This is how you’ll vanquish your enemies and assert your dominance and protect your authority. Pick a random book. Turn to page 66. Choose the 6th noun on the page. This can result in mundane objects such as “CD” or “sock” or “thing”. Regardless of how stupid it is, that’s your weapon. You can get creative with that thing though! For example- “Sock” is another word for punching. You have the power of packing a great punch now. You’re very strong. You’ve the power of SOCK!

9781484732786This is fated to be a Riordan filled tag then. The sixth noun on page 66 of Riordan’s Demigods and Magicians is… either “Annabeth” if I include proper nouns or “people” if I do not. I think I’m giving myself the power or weapon of people. How am I interpreting that? I have no super power. I am an ordinary human. And I use human minions. The ordinary villains, the ones you could meet in an everyday situation, those are sometimes the most frightening.

Weakness: Pick a random book, flip through the pages, and pick the first gerund (word ending in -ing) that you see. This is your weakness. Watch out… this is how The Hero will squash you.

11The first gerund on page 81 of Douglas Adams’ The Hitchhiker’s Guide to the Galaxy is… There are no gerunds on page 81. Gerunds are –ing words that function as nouns. I have a present participle, an –ing word functioning as an adjective or adverb.

“Well, do you think this is Southend?”

“Oh yes.”

“So do I.”

“Therefore we must be mad.”

“Nice day for it.”

“Yes,” said a passing maniac.

Passing… We’ll revisit this when I learn more about the story.

Villain Theme Song: Go to your iPod. Hit shuffle. Whichever song pops up first (no skipping!), this is your theme song. This is the prelude to your grand entrance.

Oh I love this. Right now I am listening to Something Corporate’s “If You C Jordan.” (Please beware if you look this song up in polite company.)

somethingcorporate

Evil Henchman: Grab a random book. Turn to page 66. Pick the first name you see. This is the person who always has your back and follows up your threats with cheesy one liners.

9780767927055The first name on page 66 of Leonie Swann’s Three Bags Full is Melmoth, Sir Ritchfield’s twin brother who “left the flock” as a lamb and is something of a legend and boogey-sheep among the flock.

He’s known for wise, confusing statements and advice… not cheesy one-liners, but maybe all my human foes hear are bleats, which might seem cheesy, I suppose. But the idea of Melmoth as a henchman—henchsheep…. I like it. An ordinary human villain who uses other people as her weapons is also followed by a wandering sheep who left his flock and has gained wisdom from walking the world but now puzzles the sheep that he left. He’ll be my right hand sheep, the one always by my side.

(Point of interest: Melmoth is sheep 13 on that cover, the lower of the two nearly identical horned rams.)

Love interest: Hey. Sometimes the bad guy gets the girl. He may have to manipulate her 13449693or kidnap her into fulfilling the love interest role, but it’s not unheard of. Evil people can find love too! Pick a random book, flip through the pages. The first name you find is your love interest.

The first name on page 73 of Maggie Stiefvater’s Raven Cycle, Book One: The Raven Boys is Gansey. Of course it is.

The Hero: and finally, your Arch Nemesis! Get yourself a 9781338099133_default_pdprandom book, flip to a random page, and pick the first name you see! NOW FIGHT!

Fate decides I cannot use two books from the same series. The first name on page 63 of Harry Potter and the Cursed Child (and it’s filled with names since each line starts with a speaker) is Albus. Albus Severus Potter.

All right… so: I, Strange House, am an everyday sort of villain, and I have a squad of other everyday sort of people who are my weapons and strength. My theme song is Something Corporate’s “If You C Jordan.” Some punk in high school named Jordan left me very bitter, and perhaps that’s why I’m so cruel and my heart’s so twisted now. I love Richard Gansey III. He’s easy to love. Not surprising. He can be the one who makes this a fantasy novel, the one to bring the magic and believe in it.  My right-hand ram is Melmoth, the wanderer who disappeared, who left the flock, who broke the rules.  He will bleat fiercely at my enemies.  He will say very wise, poetic things, but no one will understand.  One day Albus Severus Potter will defeat me by passing. Maybe he’s on his way to defeat someone else, and I’m his collateral damage. Yeah… I’m kind of liking this.

Someone draw Melmoth and I? Maybe with Gansey? Or me being pushed down by Albus on his way to somewhere else with Melmoth trying to catch me, looking scared?

SJ Bouquet, Dash, that was really fun.

*It has just been pointed out to me that I… am not named Strange House.  I am Whole House, which I like a lot better actually.

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My 2016 in Books

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2016 is over!  I say that with some relief.  I think a lot of us feel relief over the dawning of the new year.

But the end of a year is also a time of reflection, and Goodreads has this year (maybe it’s done so too other years, but this is the first I’ve noticed it) come up with a pretty spectacular few infographics to help reflect on my year of reading.

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goodreads2

*As of this afternoon, Tillman‘s Wherever You Are, My Love Will Find You is still the highest rated book that I read in 2016, but it’s average rating is actually 4.58.  Bradbury‘s Fahrenheit 451 has also climbed this afternoon to 1,583,738 total reads by others.

There’s also a pictorial list of every book that I read this year.  Or there’s this form of that list too, which will give you more information, including my ratings for each book.

Here’s a fun fact that Goodreads missed in its infographics:  I read more than one book each by many authors this year.  I think that has something to do with my twice weekly story times,for which oftentimes highlighting an author is just simpler than highlighting a theme. I read the most books (12) by Mo Willems, no surprise there, and the second most by Rick Riordan (7).  After that followed Dr. Seuss with 4 books and Maggie Stiefvater, Roger Priddy, and Mike Curato all with 3 each.

I rely on Goodreads pretty heavily to help me track the books that I read (even that last tally, I discovered with its help). I like watching the lines of the bar graphs grow as the year progresses and racing myself.  This year, though I read 168 books to the 93 I read in 2015, it took me till Christmas Eve to pass last year’s page count total of 12,445 (2015’s totals are not entirely accurate because if I reread any books this year, those books are moved to 2016 instead of counting for both years).  I read far more picture books than anything else this year.  Reading for two weekly story times will do that to you, I suppose.  This year’s longest books is also significantly shorter than last year’s, George R. R. Martin‘s A Dance with Dragons at 1,112 pages.

As January progresses, I have a few more end of year lists to get to you: one celebrating all the five-star books that I read this year and another highlighting the books that included people of color.

I say it every year it feels like, but I hope to make 2017 a good year for my blog with weekly updates, helpful reviews, and some fun shenanigans.  Stay tuned.

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Book Review: Sheep Investigate Humanity and a Murder in Three Bags Full

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9780767927055Set in rural Ireland in the 1990s, I never would have suspected this to be a German work. Admittedly, I’m not overly familiar with German crime novels or rural Ireland in the 1990s, but I had always suspected this to be an Irish import because there are a few puns here that I assume work better in English than in German—Miss Maple a nod to Miss Marple but named for the syrup that she steals from George’s pancakes; Ramses the Ram—but also because of the intimate portrayal of the setting.

This is a book I read and enjoyed ages back now—probably in 2007, almost a decade ago (isn’t that terrifying). It’s traveled with me since, but it’s only now that I returned to it, caught between books and not wanting to get sucked into anything too gripping and confined only to what I could reach without displacing my cat.

And I enjoyed it at least as much. It was almost good that that long time had passed because I’d forgotten important details like the identity of the murderer—though I was surprised what details I found myself however vaguely remembering.

Told mainly from the perspective of a flock of sheep whose reclusive shepherd is found dead in their pasture on page 1, this novel winds its way through the sordid histories of a small and insular town—romantic rivalries, past and present sins, rumors of drug runners among them—as well as the sheep’s own histories and prejudices and superstitions. The sheep in their sheepiness only comprehend so much of the human stories. Their misunderstanding, partial understanding, and incomprehension give the human reader time to reflect on the actions and beliefs of the human characters and all human characters by extension, to see them with an outsider’s eye as sometimes confusing or incomprehensible, while laughing at ourselves and at the sheep.

The depth of Swann’s immersion into sheepy thinking and culture was perhaps one of the more impressive aspects for me of the story.

The story rollicks between quaint and racy all while alluding to famous works of literature from Agatha Christie to Shakespeare to Emily Brontë.

For example, “A play’s the thing wherein I’ll catch the conscience of the king!” the sheep cry—or no, they don’t, but like Hamlet they concoct a play in the hopes that their dramatics might bring about a confession or an arrest—“justice” they actually do bleat repeatedly throughout the novel. Miss Maple, the cleverest sheep in all of Glennkill, concocts a play wherein Zora as George dies spectacularly, Maple plays the killer, and Mopple the Whale brings forth the clues to the killer’s identity that the sheep hope that the humans might understand.

I was amused this time around to discover that the sheep in the corner is not only a flip book illustration set but a barometer of the level of danger the sheep feel at any given point in the text.

I’m not sure how well I can judge this book as a crime novel or a mystery; I read so few books in that genre, but as a work of fiction, I do really enjoy it. It’s so wonderfully different, and it kept me guessing, and it kept me thinking both about the plot and about humanity and reality.

****

Swann, Leonie. Three Bags Full. Trans. Anthea Bell. New York: Doubleday/Flying Dolphin-Doubleday, 2006. First published 2005 by Wilhelm Goldmann Verlag-Random.

This review is not endorsed by Leonie Swann, Anthea Bell, Doubleday, Doubleday/Flying Dolphin, Wilhelm Goldmann Verlag, or Random House.  It is an independent, honest review by a reader.

It seems that Penguin Random is now the US publisher.

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Book Reviews: November 2016 Picture Book Round: Cold Weather, Turkeys, a Polynesian Princess, and a Spanish Bull

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Moana

9781484743607Moana and the Ocean by Heather Knowles and illustrated by Annette Marnat. Disney, 2016. Intended audience: Ages 3-5.

Marnat’s illustrations are just beautiful and make the book worth paging through, but the text is barely there; there are full page spreads with no text and what pages do have text have one, often very short sentence or fragment. That being said, the text is not inelegant. The story is told from the Ocean’s perspective, and I have not seen the film, but it seems from this story that the Ocean has been a parental figure to Moana. The text describes in very vague terms all of the things that the Ocean has witnessed Moana doing and been proud of: “I’ve watched you grow,” “I’ve watched you fall and get back up again.” That sort of thing. The sort of thing that, like the book Three Little Words published for Finding Dory, might make this a contender for an unexpected graduation gift. The last line for me sort of kills the chance this book had, though, to be a broadly reaching, parental love poem by stating, “She is my Moana.” I don’t know why that line takes the book so firmly for me from describing any parental relationship broadly to describing one particular instance of parental love, perhaps only for giving Moana the prominence of the final word, though Moana is mentioned by name earlier in the book too.

***1/2

9780736436465Quest for the Heart. RH Disney-Penguin Random, 2016. Intended audience: Ages 4-6.

I’d very ardently avoided spoilers for this film, but was required to read Moana and the Ocean for a story time, and realized fast that that book would last only five minutes at most of the half hour I was supposed to fill. So I grabbed this. And yes, I was given some spoilers by it, probably more than I wanted, but I’m still interested in seeing the film.

So before I start this review: SPOILERS!

This gives a fairly bare-boned sketch of the story’s driving problem: that the island is missing its heart, and that that heart must be returned to the island by the demigod who stole it then lost it, but that there are other forces who would prevent the island’s heart from being returned. The illustrations seem fairly in the style of the film itself, which is to say what you’d expect from Disney animation. There were some words here to trip children up, the Polynesian gods’ names primarily. Those names they might know from the film, which would make it easier, but I feel fairly confident in my pronunciation without having seen the film, which means that a child reading this without having seen the film might too be able to sound out the names. (I could be far off on my pronunciation though; I won’t know till I see the film, but these are not names like Tanngnjóstr or Hlidskjalf, (And of course I’m saying all this as an English monolinguist who has studied only a few Romance languages in any kind of depth and has only a smattering of words that I know languages with other roots). There were a few pages that got a bit frightening, but my audience of one who was maybe 4 had no trouble with the lava god attacking our hero and heroine.

I can’t rate this book as an adaptation but as a story solo it really was fairly well-developed, especially for its length and reading level, and exciting. I could have done with some more character building, but the world building was pretty exquisite.

****

Holiday Spirit

9780545931908_default_pdpThere Was an Old Lady Who Swallowed a Turkey! by Lucille Colandro and illustrated by Jared D. Lee. Cartwheel-Scholastic, 2016. Intended audience: Ages 4-6, Grades PreK-1.

You know the pattern of this one. It echoes the old song: “There Was an Old Lady Who Swallowed the Fly.” “She swallowed the cat to catch the bird. She swallowed the bird to catch the fly. I don’t know why she swallowed the fly. Perhaps she’ll die.” I did notice that we lost the dying part in this parody. Instead we have: “I don’t know why she swallowed the turkey, but she’s always been quirky,” which is a fun line; it’s more fun to shrug off; I like the tone better. The version of the Thanksgiving season that this book describes is… fairly American (admittedly, Thanksgiving is an American holiday, but the idea of thanksgiving is not) and commercial. Football—American football—and a Thanksgiving parade float feature. Though all of these objects—seemingly connected only by their cultural association with an American Thanksgiving—all come together in the end to achieve an end goal and make some more sense of purpose for the old lady’s feast, in the original song there’s a definite pattern and even skewed logic to the things that she swallows, which here is lacking. The original song is about a food chain and perceived hunter-prey “enemies” among the animal kingdom. Here… the old lady swallows a football to throw with the turkey? Okay, so yes, you throw a football, but what does that have to do with a turkey? She swallows the hat to cover the ball? Why does she want to cover the ball that she wants to throw with the turkey? Tires? A boat? What do those even have to do with the season? All in all, this was a fun sort of read, but… not going to be a favorite of mine by any stretch. It misses fully the whole reason we celebrate Thanksgiving (the thanksgiving part and the historical aspect), which makes me like it less.

***

0763663069The Great Thanksgiving Escape by Mark Fearing. Candlewick, 2014. Intended audience: Ages 5-8, Grades K-3.

This one I’m sort of sad I missed last year. I remember having it in the store, but I never picked it up. Two cousins are told to stay and play with the other children—toddlers—of the family, but they’re really too old to be in the same playgroup with the others. They decide to sneak out to the swing set. They brave hallways of eye-level butts, cheek-pinching aunts, teenage zombies glued to screens, and vicious guard dogs all too find that it’s raining outside. With a nice echo of an early line and reversal of the roles, the kids don’t let the rain defeat them, and the lesson about making your own persists. I wish the title were otherwise, because I think this story applies to any family gathering at any time of the year, only its title and one mention of the holiday preventing it from being sellable outside of November. The story is short, but Fearing really does quite aptly capture a family gathering from a child’s perspective, and it’s a fun reminiscence and reminder for older readers and a nice sigh of solidarity for the younger ones—with advice on defeating the worse aspects of the holiday.

****

9780553513370Penguin Problems by Jory John and illustrated by Lane Smith. Penguin Random, 2016. Intended audience: Ages 3-7.

This book… I read right after November 9. I think the parents and I needed and understood it more than did the kids, whose heads it really seemed to sail over. The little penguin complains about a lot of things that he really can’t change: the time of morning, the weather, the people around him. Then a walrus comes up and lays down everything—in a full page of text and in lofty syntax—that I and some of my adult audience maybe needed to hear—that there is still good in the world if we choose to see it. His sage advice didn’t seem to effect the penguin at all and nor did it really help me, but I received the message, and maybe the penguin did too—maybe the children in the audience did too.

**

23719206Before Morning by Joyce Sidman and illustrated by Beth Krommes. Houghton Mifflin, 2016.

This book! The illustrations in this book! The text in this book is… maybe a bit too above its intended child audience but it’s beautiful, unique, clever. It’s a prayer really, a very poetic and flowery prayer for a snow day, for snow to ground planes so that the protagonist’s mother, a pilot, can come home and spend the day with him or her (the gender is ambiguous). I enjoyed the reason behind this child’s wish for a snow day. It was unexpected and heartwarming.

****

And One More

1718866The Story of Ferdinand by Munro Leaf and illustrated by Robert Lawson. Puffin-Penguin Random, 1977. First published 1936. Intended audience: Ages 2-5.

This was one of my favorites as a child, and I found it in the newly installed free library by my house and, well, fell into temptation. Reading it again, though, I was not as impressed as I once was. And I’m not entirely sure what fell flat. Maybe it seemed that Ferdinand was more dense than defiant when he refused to fight or to butt heads with the other bulls, but the more I think about it, the less I think that is so. Ferdinand is gentle and peaceful by nature, but he is pressured to act otherwise and does not cave to that pressure; that is a radical act—or non-act. And I think as a child that must have resonated with me, so I suspect and hope it will resonate with today’s children as well.  This definitely does though thankfully gloss over the violence of a bull fight.

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