This is a cute, inoffensive little adventure story that winds up offending me anyway simply by being present in the world. What sort of a grump am I,This is a cute, inoffensive little adventure story that winds up offending me anyway simply by being present in the world. What sort of a grump am I, eh?
I was looking for something a little easier for my dyslexic girl. She'd been struggling with some bigger books, and she needed a burst of confidence to help her get back to where she wanted to be, so I found this book, saw how easy it was and brought it home for her.
Mission accomplished: she blew through it, had fun, and moved straight back to a more difficult book with her confidence restored. For that, Dinosaurs in the Dark's practical use, it earns a second star (if there were no mitigating circumstances, I'd only give it one star).
So why am I so offended? I'm offended because I know talented authors, plenty of them, who can't get their stuff published, and their stuff is good stuff. I've had the pleasure, for instance, to read the beginning of one of Scribble Orca's books, and in its "in process" state, her book is vastly superior to Dinosaurs Before Dark. Her book is original; her relationships are realistic; the stakes are believable even in her fantastic setting, whereas Mary Pope Osborne's book is none of these things. It is fine, but it is an elementary school student's paint by numbers picture, and not a terribly complex paint by numbers picture at that. So that's where the offense lies: talented friends (or talented folks I don't know) can't get a sniff of publication (and are forced to the ghetto of self-publication), but hackosaurids, however good intentioned, live their "dream" of writing for a living -- when that happens I can barely contain my bileousness.
So this book? This book should be bound in a soft folder, maybe put together with brads, and brought out for Osborne's children and grandchildren and great-grandchildren, passed on within a family and nothing more. Like so many more deserving authors books are destined to be. ...more
For a few years now, I've been interviewing my twins after they finish reading their books, posting those interviews on their own goodreads profile. MFor a few years now, I've been interviewing my twins after they finish reading their books, posting those interviews on their own goodreads profile. My girl, Brontë, finished reading Little House in the Big Woods about a month ago, and I read it this week (I always read or reread the books they've read.) You can see that interview with me right here:
Brontë: So first ... did you like it? did you love it? or did you hate? did you think it was okay? or did you really like it?
Pa: I loved it. It was good. Much better than I expected.
Brontë: Who was your favourite character?
Pa: Hmmm ... that's a tough one because I loved Pa and Laura a lot, but I also dug Ma. Mary's a bit of pain, but to be fair, the story is being told by Laura, and little sisters don't tend to be too kind to their older sisters. So maybe I can't judge Mary on that. But I guess I like Pa the best because he's really the focus of the story for Laura. He's the one she talks most about. And he seems like a pretty good guy.
Pa: Did you expect something different? Did you think I'd like someone else?
Brontë: I thought you'd say Laura, but my second favourite was Pa.
Pa: So we're reversed.
Pa: I figured you'd like Laura best.
Brontë: What was your favourite moment and your favourite chapter?
Pa: My favourite moment was when Ma slapped the bear in the night. That was awesome. And my favourite chapter was the Maple Syrup dance on the day of the sugar snow. That was pretty cool. I loved how everyone really just had fun even with all the hard work that still had to be done.
Brontë: Did you like the Harvest chapter?
Pa: That must have been your favourite.
Brontë: It was one of my favourites.
Pa: Yeah. I liked it. It was awesome. Charley deserved to get stung by the bees.
Brontë: Yeah he did. When that happened I almost said, "Get off your lazy butt and do some work!"
Pa: Yeah he was lazy all right, and a total pain the ass. Pa didn't approve of the way Charley ignored his Dad, did he?
Brontë: No, he didn't. I thought the same thing. I love how in the picture when he was wrapped in the bandages all the girls were staring at him with mean faces on.
Pa: That's something else I loved, the art.
Brontë: Oh yeah, the art was beautiful.
Pa: But Laura's writing was even more beautiful. I was impressed.
Brontë: I agree.
Pa: It was so clear and descriptive, and I felt like I was there sometimes.
Brontë: Me too. Every moment I felt like I watched it in my head.
Pa: It's cool when you read a book like that.
Brontë: And then I could look at the pictures and think, that's what the boys and girls look like and watch it in my head as I read.
Pa: I think I could see what they looked like even without the pictures.
Brontë: Yeah, me too.
Pa: The writing was just that good.
Brontë: Especially what she said, like in the dance part when the girls were getting ready, and she described what the dresses looked like and you could totally see the dresses in your head.
Pa: Darn good book. Thanks for reading it so I could.
Brontë: No problem. Don't forget to say thanks to Auntie Marci too.
***There may be some spoilers ahead, but can these books really be spoiled at this point?***
So this time through Prisoner of Azkaban something struck***There may be some spoilers ahead, but can these books really be spoiled at this point?***
So this time through Prisoner of Azkaban something struck me about our general pop cultural acceptance that Albus Dumbledore is the goodest of the good, the best of the best, the most heroic of the heroes in Rowling's world (trumping even Harry because his sacrifice is genuine).
I am not interested in Rowling's intentions for the characters in this; I am interested only in what I see. And what I see tells me that only one character is good and great and heroic in the kind of goodness and greatness and heroism that interests me.
I am not saying that Dumbledore's a bad guy. He's no Voldemort, obviously (although I am not entirely convinced that Voldemort is the embodiment of evil we often think of him as), and he leads the battle against Voldemort's fascist rise, which makes him the Churchillian leader of English myth. He does sacrifice himself. He does risk his health and welfare to destroy horcruxes. He does protect Harry (while moving the boy around like the chess piece that the boy is). But what strikes me is that everything Dumbledore accomplishes is accomplished to maintain the status quo, and the status quo I see is far from worthy of maintenance. It is a status quo with a classic English power structure, rich white guys at the top (Dumbledore anyone?) and everyone else beneath. It is a status quo with the usual class divides. It is a status quo with some pretty hefty racism (goblins and giants and other Others). It is a status quo with institutionalized slavery (and Dumbledore himself uses a small army of House Elves to run Hogwarts without a hint of distaste). It is a status quo with a prison system of torture. And Dumbledore does nothing to disrupt that status quo.
In my opinion, the character who is the goodest of the good, the best of the best, the most heroic of the heroes is the one who rails against the status quo while simultaneously battling Voldemort, and she fights Mr. Riddle far more significantly than the rest of the wizarding world. And she fights the status quo in spite of being mocked for her beliefs by everyone at every turn. For me the paragon we should aspire to is Hermione Granger. Not Dumbledore and certainly not Harry Potter.
So with that in mind, what's not to love about Harry Potter and the Prisoner of Azkaban. It is the moment that Hermione comes into her own. She is the key to the resolution. She keeps them all alive. She's sceptical, she's smart, and she is potent. I love Hermione. Take that Hermione haters. ...more
A -- Alfheim: It's the place where the elves live. There's lots of elves there with bows, and they have long blonde hair and pointy years. The wear archer clothes and stuff.
B -- Balder: The God of Light (is he the God of Light? Maybe he's just goodness. No, he's the God of Light too). He was always happy. He was never mad. He just smiled the whole time. I can't remember a time when he was mad. He died because Frigg asked everything not to hurt him except mistletoe, then Loki, disguised as an old woman found out it was unsafe, then made an arrow out of mistletoe, gave it to Balder's blind brother, then Loki helped Hod shoot Balder, and Balder died.
C -- Chess and Chessmen: Almost everybody plays chess, the gods that is, and I didn't know that chess was made back then. The gods probably invented it, the god of gold that is because they were golden chessmen. Or maybe it was the Gnomes. They seem more like the building type.
D -- Draupnir: I think it would be cool to have a bracelet like Draupnir. It was cool that Odin put it with Balder in his funeral pyre.
E -- Embla: Embla is one of the first humans created by the Gods. She was the first woman.
F -- Fenris: He's Loki's son who is the big wolf who grows too big to control. He's not scared of anything, so he's fearless, and he's very big, and he can open his mouth so wide his bottom jaw can touch the Earth (Midgard), and he bites off Tyr's hand. Plus, he's stuck at the bottom of Yggdrassil.
G -- Garm: He's the dog who guards the gate to Hel.
H -- Hel: She's Loki's daughter who rules Hel, which is named after her.
I -- Ida: The green field of Asgard with a whole bunch of buildings that I expect are huge, and it is very busy.
J -- Jotuns: The Jotuns live in a very, very cold world on the tree. Instead of their beards being soft and furry, they're cold and hard like icicles. The Aesir and them don't agree with each other. Thor challenges every Jotun he sees, and kills it and stuff, declares war on it, I'd say.
K -- Kvasir: Wasn't that the drink that made people smart? Odin was wise after drinking it or something.
L -- Lidskjalf: That's the seat where Odin sits and he can see everything.
M -- Midgard's Serpent: It's scary. Very, very scary, and it's always angry, and apparently it's not too heavy for Thor.
N -- Nanna: She is the wife of Balder. She is pretty nice, and she is my favourite of all the ladies in Asgard.
O -- Odin: He is the All Father and the ruler of Asgard. He has a very, very, very fast horse with eight legs named Sleipnir. He only has one functional eye, and he pulls his hair down over his missing eye. In the Norse myths, he's my (Miloš') favourite.
R -- Rungnir: He was a pretty big Jotun, really tall, and he had the second fastest horse on the entire World Tree. He's pretty cool, and fairly strong, and Thor beat him in a duel, but his head isn't fairly strong becaues Thor smashed it, right?
S -- Sif: She is beautiful, and she has the best hair. If she was a Charlie's Angels she'd be Jill. Her hair was blonde but it became gold.
T -- Tyr: He is very brave, and he is pretty strong too. Fenris ate his hand, so he has only one hand. He is also pretty nice. He is one of Odin's sons.
U -- Utgardsloki: He was super smart. It was awesome how he made all the tricks, the illusions, to trick Thor. I thought Thor would win. I loved the fact that Thor didn't win and that Utgardsloki won.
V -- Vanir: The battle between them and the Aesir was pretty interesting. They were pretty cool, and some of them joined the Aesir.
W -- War: The Norse Gods fought too much, definitely. They were really violent. Whenever somebody died nobody even cried, except for Balder, or then their wives die too. It's weird the way they were with death and war.
Y -- Yggdrassil: It's a cool tree. I like how it is holding all the Nine Realms in place and stuff. It is there to keep everything in place. I like that Yggdrassil is so important, and trees are because they give us air and stuff, but this tree is more important because it is holding our worlds together in one space so Midgard, Asgard, Jotunheim and all the rest would probably spin off into space without the tree.
Æ -- Aesir: Whenever they said something they promised, they had to do what they promised, so instead of being fierce they did what they said they would, but when they failed to do what they said they would something bad happened, and eventually it caused Ragnarokk.
*I just finished reading this to my twins last night. We start the Greek Myths tonight. ...more
Why has so much children's literature been about mice? Why Mickey and Jerry and Fievel and their animated brethren? How in the world did suchWhy mice?
Why has so much children's literature been about mice? Why Mickey and Jerry and Fievel and their animated brethren? How in the world did such vermin ridden filth become cute?
It's not like they are endangered and we need to generate our usual, oops-too-late-false-sense-of-urgency. It's not like Coca Cola is going to be pony-ing up their tax write off money to "Save the Mouse." It's not like they mice make good pets: they can't fetch your slippers or roll over; they don't have a charmingly arrogant aloofness; they are skitterish and too fast and bite without provocation. Moreover, it's not like mice help us humans out like the over-villified spider or the creppy crawly lizards and snakes that control our rodent population. I suppose they are good in labs, though, as subjects to inject cancer into.
Mice do bring us plenty of fun diseases: bubonic plague, salmonella, typhus, leptospirosis, tapeworms, rat bite fever, hantavirus, and lyme disease. So I suppose they are good for something.
Can we all just agree that mice are nasty little beasts? Cause if we can, I think it is time to go back to my question: why mice?
I don't want to read about little heroic mice who somehow defeat their nasty predators. I want those noble predators to eat the mice, or kill them with their broomstick, or poison them in the night, or scare them witless in the deep prairie grass. I want mice to become the villains of a piece, not the poor, misunderstood, protagonists that we should just leave in peace.
And I don't want any more mice -- like that Norman the Doorman -- spreading their poop and mouse dander all over the artwork my super rich friends have gone to great lengths to collect and preserve in the local museum. Get out of the suit of armour, Norman. Stop giving museum tours to your dirty little, Victorian accoutred friends. Stop pretending that paintings of Swiss cheese are a valid form of artistic expression, even ironically (was Andy Warhol a mouse? Hmmm.) Stop dazzling pretentious art critics with your mouse trap sculptures. Just stop trying to be human, for the love of Zeus. Be a mouse and die in the mouth of a cat already.
Okay, enough. Can we just have a moratorium on Mouse lit and move on to some other beast. Some beast that is actually misunderstood. Like the glorious Sloth -- the perfect metaphor for the computer generation. Or how about the Armadillo? Is there a cooler looking beast that it? No more mice, I say!
10. The painfully bad jokes in the top right corner of pages 5, 13, & 21. My dad could write better.
9. The "woooo-woos," "clackety-clacks," and "ding-ding-dings."
8. The Yankee-centrism that makes it seem like the only nation to have been shaped by its rails was the USA (despite the fact that most of the photos are of Canadian, Asian and European trains).
7. The glossing over of the indentured servitude and awful conditions that led to the deaths of countless Chinese and Irish immigrants who were laying track. They became "new Americans," dontcha know?
6. The presence of Butch Cassidy and the Sundance Kid, their lust for train gold, and the total absence of the lovely Pinkertons + the fact that Butch and Sundance's hideout is named while so much else isn't.
5. The barely muffled trumpeting of trains as the great movers of materialism and greed.
4. Shields' choice of inventions to highlight, and her failure to name the inventors (also see #2) because, you know, let's not get our kids jazzed about invention. Let's get them jazzed about old west gunslingers.
3. That the "Six Cool Things" section was really "Six Useless, Minimized Facts"
2. No mention of Richard Trevithick, the inventor of the first steam locomotive (but he's from the UK, so who cares about that in B*mf**k, USA).
1. The ginger, child molester, engineer, Gary (no offense meant to other gingers, child molesters, engineers, or Garys)....more
I love this book because Brontë loves this book. And Brontë loves sharks, and this book is the reason Brontë loves sharks (interesting that Zombies arI love this book because Brontë loves this book. And Brontë loves sharks, and this book is the reason Brontë loves sharks (interesting that Zombies are her favourite monster and sharks are her favourite animal, isn't it?). And I can see why.
Anne Schreiber doesn't dumb things down for the kids. She brings them along with her in a conversation about sharks, and when she talks about predators and prey, or cartilege, or serrated teeth, she takes the time (in little side blurbs) to explain what she's going on about. I also dig the little fill in the blanks paragraph on the inside back cover. What a great way for a kid to contextualize and use the words they've learned. Nice touch.
So Schreiber's writing coupled with amazing National Geographic photographs makes National Geographic Readers Sharks a winning combination. The perfect accompaniment to a hot shower, or a great way to instill love of marine life into your favourite little girl or boy. ...more
I know, I know, our fragmented culture is turning enough of our kids into ADHD pill poppers, but once in a while certain stories and characters need to be free to shift and shift and shift again. Frankie Pickle is one of those characters.
What I loved about The Closet of Doom was that Frankie bounced around from his Indiana Jones homage to super-hero love to disgusting room-alanche to lessons in hygiene to sandwich monsters in one coherent story that lived in the imagination of a little boy that I loved to love.
But The Pine Run 3000 lost that bouncy, spastic charm. There's a little bit of imagination going on, but not enough. There's really only one focus, which is the Pine Run car race -- and yes there are a couple of nice lessons and a mildly suprising yet satisfying finish -- but it's not enough to keep my love burning for Frankie.
I like him, though, and I liked this book. It was good. It just wasn't great, and I really wanted it to be great. I hope The Mathematical Menace embraces Frankie's wide-ranging spirit once again. That would rekindle my love. ...more
Brontë, my lovely seven year old, is a kooky girl.
From the time she was wee, she's been a talented artist, and her greatest influence, then and now,Brontë, my lovely seven year old, is a kooky girl.
From the time she was wee, she's been a talented artist, and her greatest influence, then and now, was Tim Burton. One of her greatest pictures, "The Dark Queen" will someday be a tattoo on my left thigh.
But that's not all ,,, Brontë loves Zombies (they scare the shit out of her, btu she loves them. in fact, putting on The Walking Dead, no matter when I put it on, is the flame that draws my little moth into the room. She can be asleep, and she'll still turn up. But she suffers for it later, even the tiny bit she catches -- as do I). Brontë loves anything that has to do with Frankenstein. Her favourite role in Hamlet (a role she is currently playing as we perform Stoppard's 15 Minute Hamlet) is Hamlet's Ghost. If it's supernatural, Brontë loves it with the same intensity she fears it, and she pursues it with passion.
Most of the little girls she knows look at her askance. They don't get her. Sometimes it makes her sad, but other times it makes her proud. I hope that the latter will always weigh heavier in her estimation, and I think that Jim Benton's Franny K. Stein books may tip the scales in that direction.
Franny, like her namesake, is a mad scientist. She makes lunch meat monsters, transformation potions, analyzes everythimg critically, rejects PB&J and Barbies, yet wants very badly to have friends, so badly that she tries to change her ways to achieve their love. In the end, in kid book style, she learns that being herself is enough, and that she can have friends, truer friends, by being true to herself. I don't know that I buy it, at least not entirely, but I see it impacting the way Brontë sees herself, and that impact is positive.
So that's good enough for me. Smart girls, quirky girls, strong girls rule! And kooky girls rule most of all. You do rule, Të. Maybe tonight we can make another cayenne pepper infused potion. As usual, I will be your test subject. I promise....more
This is my third National Geographic Reader this week (I have to complete the goodreads reading challenge someway, and what better way than to catch uThis is my third National Geographic Reader this week (I have to complete the goodreads reading challenge someway, and what better way than to catch up on the books my kids were reading earlier this year). To my surprise, the quality has been all over the place. I started with Sharks, which was tons of fun, and then I read Trains, which was a steaming pile of crap; Dinosaurs sits right in the middle.
It achieves what it sets out to achieve -- though not necessarily what it should have been achieving. It's a cute, quick intro to dinosaurs and palaeontology, using cheesy jokes, some decent artwork, and plenty of bone photos to entertain its readers.
But the phonetic spellings of dino-names are inconsistent and poor, and Kathy Weidner Zoehfeld spends too much time on her personal obsessions -- palaeontology and the avian descendants of dinos -- to really embrace the world of the dinosaurs. I would much rather have read a book about dinosaurs and the world we think they might have moved through, than this study of the study of dinosaurs, which barely brushes the dust off of the most popular dinos.
I think I am going to (re-)read the Seuss books the kids read next. At least those are all sure to be fun. ...more
Have you ever seen Slapshot? Have you ever heard Paul Newman say "fuck"? It is amazing. No one, and I mean no one anywhere -- ever -- could say "fuck"Have you ever seen Slapshot? Have you ever heard Paul Newman say "fuck"? It is amazing. No one, and I mean no one anywhere -- ever -- could say "fuck" like Paul Newman.
But there's this awesome cat named Samuel L. Jackson who can say "fuck" amazingly well, and since Newman is dead, Jackson is the perfect choice to read Adam Mansbach's brilliant Go the Fuck to Sleep.
I haven't laughed so hard since George Costanza visited his Mom in the hospital to watch a sponge bath in silohuette. My baby, little Scoutie, was more interested in my insane laughter than the book, but she was sitting on my lap at 12:10 am, so it was all rather fitting.
I love this book. I wish I'd thought of it. And boy do I want more. Just be aware that this is more of an adult spoof of a kid's book than a straight up kid's book. but when SLJ reads it ... hell, it's fun for the whole family.
I wonder how it would read if Cartman were the narrator?...more
Frankie Pickle rocks. It is laced with satirically charged pop culture references; it has a protagonist who is almost as likable as Watterson’s CalvinFrankie Pickle rocks. It is laced with satirically charged pop culture references; it has a protagonist who is almost as likable as Watterson’s Calvin; it has a Dad who’s at home in the garage as he is in the breakfast kitchen; a Mom of wisdom and coolness, and a pair of fair sisters who are cool in their own right. Plus, Frankie has a dog named Argyle.
This book is an excellent mix of comic graphics and prose, which is the perfect shift for boys and girls moving from storybooks to pre-teen books. Yet it didn’t blow me away. It was good. I liked it. I did, but it was more butterscotch than vanilla. And that’s nowhere near chocolate. ...more
Through the years, books for pre-teens have been missed by me. I read through a bunch of Hardy Boys when I was in kindergarten, and then I dove straigThrough the years, books for pre-teens have been missed by me. I read through a bunch of Hardy Boys when I was in kindergarten, and then I dove straight into mythology and the supernatural. I skipped the books that were meant for late grade school kids, and only now as a father am I really engaging with them.
As a family, we've been focusing on the classic kids books -- like Pinnochio, Peter Pan, The Wizard of Oz etc. -- but Miloš & Brontë are starting to read bigger books, and we've been looking for things that might interest them. Neither of them is all that keen on whodunits, so Hardy Boys and Nancy Drew were easy to pass over.
I found this book for Brontë while browsing at the book store, thinking her love of ghosts and spooky stuff would make it a hit. She has worked her way to the third chapter so far, but I decided to crack ahead and see if My Haunted House is any good.
It's okay. It's okay the way a stick of gum's okay when you've got bad breath. You know you want to brush and mouthwash, but the gum will do ... ish.
My Haunted Mansion steals most of its plot from Beetlejuice, minus the nasty, scabby, titular character (because he might be offensive), and it throws in a hint of The Addams Family minus the sexual innuendo (because that might be offensive), and it drops all hint of anything even remotely scary (cause *gasp* that might scare pre-teens. Eek!). It is as artificial vanilla as you can get.
I guess it's cute enough for a six year old because Brontë is enjoying it so far. I have a feeling, though, that by the time it turns from My Haunted Mansion into "My Haunted Commune," Brontë will be wishing she was watching some properly spooky Tim Burton work instead of reading this friendly, wimpy Burton rip-off....more
I remember taking this book out of the library at my elementary school, Queensland Downs Elementary School, when I was in Mrs. Sanders' class for gradI remember taking this book out of the library at my elementary school, Queensland Downs Elementary School, when I was in Mrs. Sanders' class for grade three. We were in the library for a library period, and I asked Mrs. Dalgliesh, our groovy librarian, for a book. I can't remember if I was the one who suggested Greek Mythology or if it was she, but I do remember her aiding me at the card catalogues, then she sent me off to the shelves to track down "292 DAU [JUV]."
That little journey changed me irrevocably.
I devoured D'Aulaires' Book of Greek Myths in what was then record time, and within days I was debating my father on theology. I demanded to know why I couldn't worship Zeus instead of his God; I wanted to know why, if the Greek Gods came first, they had a flood, Heracles was resurrected, and Phrixus was saved from being sacrificed by his father by the presence of a golden ram, amongst other things. I wanted to know how Christianity could have such similar myths.
It was the beginning of the end of my religiosity and the penultimate blow to my catholicism. It was the end of my acquiescence to unjust authority. It was the end of acceptance without questions. It catalysed my constant search for understanding. It was the beginning of my father's disdain for me, and his fear of my mind (the latter, I've always suspected, was close to the root of much of the abuse I suffered at his hands). It was the moment of my enlightenment. And I've loved this book deeply from the second I first closed its cover until today.
I finished reading it to our twins last night. To hear them talk today, they are in love with the book themselves, though I doubt it can be felt as deeply as my love for the book. We encourage them to think for themselves, to question, to seek, to demand that authority earns respect, so their experience with the book isn't as revelatory as mine. They have parents who've been answering their questions -- about gods, life, death, where babies come from, about anything -- since they were asking questions. They haven't needed to find that power for themselves, we've pointed the way to that power from the start. Still, they love this book, and I hope they share it with their kids (if they choose to have kids) in turn.