Tag Archives: Romeo and Juliet

Book Reviews: December 2014 Picture Book Roundup

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Romeo & Juliet: A BabyLit Counting Primer by Jennifer Adams and illustrated by Alison Oliver. Gibbs Smith, 2011.

I’d like this BabyLit primer better if the numbered items corresponded better to the story. Unless there actually are ten kisses (I found five in a cursory search of the text)? BabyLit counts eight love letters never sent by either Romeo or Juliet, and nine streets and bridges, which seems highly unlikely in a city the size of Verona (modern-day Verona certainly has more than nine bridges over the Adige). Oliver’s illustrations, however, are as cleverly detailed and whimsical as ever.

**

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Snowmen at Night by Caralyn Buehner and illustrated by Mark Buehner. Dial-Penguin, 2002.  Intended audience: Ages 4-8.

The story provides a whimsical explanation for why snowmen might have crooked hats or arms in the morning, supposing that snowmen, in the style of Raymond Briggs, come alive and congregate to play in the snow at night after children have gone to bed. I was more taken with Mark’s illustrations than Caralyn’s story. The illustrations are clever, detailed, colorful, beautiful. The story just seems a little obvious and overdone, with no real surprises.

***

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The Dark Lord and the Seamstress by J. M. Frey and illustrated by Jennifer Vendrig. 2014.

I won a copy of this picture book via Goodreads‘ giveaways.  I was intrigued by the title and by the summary and, yes, the cover.  I was a bit let down to open the book and discover line drawings.  While I won’t vehemently protest black and white in a picture book as I heard one girl do this month, I admit that I expect color, especially from modern picture books, and I certainly at least appreciate shading.  This book allows for black and no other color, though it does use crosshatching to indicate shadow.  I and later my roommate consoled me by deciding that this will just have to become a coloring book as well as a picture book.  (I’ve taken no colored pencils or crayons to it yet.)  The illustrations show an anime style influence but manage to avoid seeming too cartoonish, and the characters are expressive.  The text is written in rhyming verse, which was really rather well executed though in places the rhyme slipped just a little.  I think it will be best read aloud because of that format.

On the whole, I appreciate the story as a clever adaptation of the old fairy tale type (perhaps AT425C: Beauty and the Beast or maybe AT 425J: The Heroine Serves in Hell for her Bridegroom).

The last few pages at first threw me. I balked at the idea of the angels wearing the badge of the devil’s love on their robes, but the more I thought about it, the less it bothered me, and the less I saw it as a marking angels as belonging to the devil, and the more I saw it as an idea that servants of the Judeo-Christian God would wear badges denoting the power of love over the darkest evils.

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Wait a minute!  First, the author found my blog post!  And that’s exciting!  But more exciting still is that this book was designed as a coloring book, and this means that this book is something new.  There are a few coloring books that will attempt to tell a story (usually these are movie adaptations), but I don’t think I’ve ever seen a picture book meant to be a coloring book.  So let’s revise my opinion.  This is a purposefully interactive picture book, one that invites the reader to capture their imagination on the pages.  Kids love coloring books.  Or I did as a kid.  I also loved picture books.  But there are probably kids who enjoy one or the other.  This book might invite artists to enjoy a story.  It invites readers to become artists.  Interactive picture books (like Hervé Tullet’s) are on the way up, but I don’t think I’ve yet seen one this interactive.

****

These reviews are not endorsed by any one involved in their making.  They are independent, honest reviews by a reader.

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Challenge: Legal Theft: Saints Have Hands (755 words)

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The night was gentle and warm, the kind of night that you can feel on your skin and that feels soft.  The smell of petunias hung in that air, almost sickly sweet, but somehow pleasant.  I crept with my friends up to the door of your apartment building.  The first of two doors remained unlocked and opened onto the small vestibule.  We crowded in between the Grecian Neoclassical vases.  I didn’t know your apartment number.  I’d only seen you come and go through this door.  I hadn’t meant to.  I lived across the street, and you’d walked down the sidewalk one night with that swing in your step, the one that speaks of confidence, though you’d been wearing, for all that I could tell in the glow beneath the streetlights, a t-shirt, khakis, and Keds.

The old hopper window was tilted open above the locked door onto the stairs and the atrium.

“Hello?” I called through the open window.

There was no answer.  I hadn’t really expected one.

“All right,” I said, turning to my friends, “we’ll have to play loud.”

Justin shifted his guitar and strummed a few quick notes to show that he was ready.  Rick answered with a chord on his banjo.  Sanders pulled his bow across the fiddle.

“All right.  Now, I’ve heard her listening to country, so I’ve learned a few songs.  Just—”

“We know,” Sanders reminded me.  “We’ve practiced.”

Sanders started with a slide, and Justin and Rick answered.  I picked up the backbeat with the tambourine that I’d bought and started to belt out as loud as I could the lyrics to a popular country tune that I’d listened to again and again after examining Top 40 charts for the genre.

Our music rattled the vases in the vestibule.  I hoped it would echo down the corridors off the atrium.  I hoped she was not high above us or below us.  I hoped she wasn’t past those closed, metal doors that must divide the building.

Slowly people began to trickle into the atrium to stare, though no one let us in.  One man came huffing out of his apartment to tell us to quit it, spewing profanities against the whole of the music genre.

“I’m looking for someone,” I called to the man, while my friends took up the bridge.

“Well, look for them quietly!”

“I don’t know her name.”

One of the women near the front sighed.  “What’s she look like, honey?”

“I’ve seen her under the streetlights.  She’s small.  She wears her hair in a ponytail.  Works a lot of night shifts, it seems, or is frequently coming home late from somewhere.”  It wasn’t a lot to go on, especially in an apartment building of this size.

“You know she’s unattached?” one of the teen girls jeered.

I shook my head.  “Gotta ask.”

A man pushed a protesting girl forward.  “This her?” he asked.  She kept her head down, but her forehead was a hot, embarrassed red.

“One time,” I said, “you came home late.  You went inside and came back out and you sat in the grass for a long while.  You kept holding out your hand.  I think you were trying to feed the tomcat.”

She glanced up and her face got if possible redder.  She stammered, “How—”

I almost dropped the tambourine.  “I fell in love,” I hurried to say, “with that girl feeding the tomcat.  She seemed like she wanted a friend.  I want to be that friend.”

The woman who’d asked for the girl’s description turned to her.  “Well, honey,” she said, “you gonna tell this fella your name?”

She shook her head.

“Mine’s Lou,” I called to encourage her.

“Lou, I’m leaving,” the girl said.

“Leaving,” I repeated.  Behind me the notes of my impromptu band wavered and then stopped.

“Leaving the state,” she confirmed.

“Where?”

“Virginia.”

A big state.  “Well, can I leave you my number?  Can we still talk?  Or an email?  A Skype name?  Anything?”

She walked slowly up to the door.  A few of the onlookers gave a cheer.  She opened it.  I was in the same cramped vestibule with her (and several of my friends).  She pulled a pen from her ponytail and took my hand in hers.  She wrote her name and number on my name, then handed me the pen so that I could give her mine.

“Can I take you for coffee?” I asked.

“Not tonight.  I work in the morning.  Tomorrow afternoon?”

I nodded.  “I’ll call you.”

“After three.”

Kate Kearney is a thief!  She stole this first line to write “A Feline Nocturne,” which she posted on her blog, More Than 1/2 Mad.

Book and Film Review: Warm Bodies is Deliciously Meaty

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Click to visit the publisher's site for links to order, synopsis, starred rating, and preview.

Beware spoilers.

Reading Isaac Marion’s Warm Bodies, I realized just how many escapist, donuts-for-dinner books I’ve been reading.  After all those donuts, it felt great to sit down to a real meat-and-potatoes dinner, the type of book that begs literary analysis of a classroom level—which Warm Bodies did despite being a zombie romance made recently into a motion picture.

Warm Bodies is a retelling of Romeo and Juliet, but also combines elements of “Beauty and the Beast” and of course the zombie apocalypse/post-apocalypse genre.  I saw the film before I read the book.  The Romeo and Juliet storyline did not fully register—though it did niggle—in my mind in the film till “the balcony scene.”  In the film, the balcony scene was subtly done, with camera angles echoing other, truer Romeo and Juliet adaptations mostly, though Julie echoes Juliet’s “if they do see thee, they will murder thee” (2.2.70) sentiment.  Marion’s book was a bit more blunt about the connection it wanted the reader to draw from this scene, where Julie uses a tape recorder to soliloquize to and wonders aloud what R is, what zombies are: “isn’t ‘zombie’ just a silly name we came up with for a state of being we don’t understand?  What’s in a name, right?” (127).  In this scene, I preferred the film to the book, but I wonder if that would still be the case had I not seen the movie already and already connected the story to Romeo and Juliet.

The film catered to its medium—as it should have done.  The plot was simplified, though it still asked the questions of “what is living?”, “what is death?” and all that must come up when a zombie begins to think about itself and its place in the pre-apocalypse and post-apocalypse world.

Prior to this story, I’d not seen any zombie films or read any zombie fiction, but I know enough about the genre to recognize that Marion has done something different with the zombie concept.  R is a zombie who questions himself and questions the structured zombie society of which he is a part.  Where the Boneys in the film were eaters of everything with a heartbeat, creatures of chaos and destruction, in the book they were priests more than anything else.  In Marion’s book they led the zombie church, preformed weddings, and reminded the undead about the dangers of the Living, a force for structure.

Yet ultimately, the Boneys are the enemy of both mediums.  Unable to return from the undead as R and the Fleshies are, they seek to destroy R and Julie and their hope and love for the threat that they pose to the new world order that the Boneys have created among the zombie hives.

I could not say that either medium presented the better story.  The humor of the film gave the action/adventure/zombie apocalypse a romantic comedy tone.  The mix of the genres was very appealing.  The book asked more of the deeper questions with more force than the film did and was more tragic ultimately than the film, though both ended with hope.  The book ventures more deeply into the effects of a zombpocalypse on humanity and on individuals and more dramatically portrays how the Living can be made dead by fear.

*****

for the book

Marion, Isaac.  Warm Bodies.  New York: Emily Bestler/Atria-Simon & Schuster, 2012.

Warm Bodies.  Dir. Jonathan Levine.  Summit, Make Movies, Mandeville.  2012.

This review is not endorsed by Isaac Marion, Emily Bestler Books, Atria Paperback, or Simon & Schuster, Inc or Summit Entertainment, Make Movies, or Mandeville Films.  It is an independent, honest review by a reader.