Somewhere, my parents obtained a cassette copy of this audiobook, popped it in the car when we were on the way to do some Christmas shopping one year,Somewhere, my parents obtained a cassette copy of this audiobook, popped it in the car when we were on the way to do some Christmas shopping one year, and it became a tradition for the reminder of childhood (at least until we got a car that didn't come with a cassette tape player). On a recent family gathering, I decided to revisit this Christmas tale, using my iPhone this time. It did not take long for the memories to come flowing back, courtesy of the expressive and memorable voice work by the late Elaine Stritch. Running at less than an hour, the story is fast paced, funny, and even a little heartwarming, if you're into that; “The Best Christmas Pageant Ever” has not lost its ability to deliver rambunctious laughs and even some messages. Barbara Robinson definitely endows her narrative with a humor that still has kick and characters who will remain with you.
For those who did not have the pleasure of listening to (or reading) this classic as kids, it revolves around a small town terrorized by a local family of little ruffians, the Herdmans, known equally for their perfidy as well as their cunning. The burn down small buildings, shoplift, smoke cigars; why, they even take the name of the Lord in vain. Oh my GAWD! I know! The narrator, an “normal” girl and her “normal” family considers Sunday School the one place in town safe from the depredations of the Herdmans, until her mother takes over the dead boring annual Christmas pageant and her brother accidentally lets it be known that free refreshments are to be had in church to the Herdmans (a lie that takes on a life of its own).
The setting is a little bit dated, and was even in the early nineties, (what with the cigar smoking and lack of “No Child Left Behind” testing) and the Herdman’s insults can come off lacking many modern niceties but still holds onto a lot of universal feelings, fears, and desires of childhood The depictions of the unsupervised, impoverished Herdman kids may, at first blush, seem a bit harsh by themselves, but both the “normal kid” narrator and her reactions to the Herdman kids and as well as the adults and fellow children in her life, also present the sanctimonious and conformist middle class citizens of the little town a bit less sympathetic light herself; reminds me a bit of a Lake Wobegon with bite. Strich's performance also really brings the story to life.
I guess it does have a pretty Christian, specifically Protestant, message, but it does present it pretty tongue in cheek and the message of accepting people no matter their backgrounds is appropriate for people of any (or no) religious background; the humor, too, knows no faith. ...more
This was, I believe, my first exposure to a lot of the classic "weird tales," including H.P. Lovecraft, Algernon Blackwood, and M.R. James, courtesy oThis was, I believe, my first exposure to a lot of the classic "weird tales," including H.P. Lovecraft, Algernon Blackwood, and M.R. James, courtesy of the high school library. Checked it out around Halloween senior year, and even added it the the list of "best hidden gems in the school library" for the student paper my sister edited circa March 2001. Most of the stories are good, solid choices for a night of eerie reading, including some obscure stuff and a few that felt out of place. On the other hand, there is little to differentiate "Dying of Fright" from any other standard anthology of horror tales, and perhaps unsurprisingly, many contain more than a fair share of those old pulp standbys of casual racism and sexism.
Returning to the anthology more than a decade later, I found I could recall reading only about half of it, really, the older, more "classic" tales from Washington Irving, Poe, Bierce, etc. but having no recollection of the more modern tales included, some of which seemed a little dull, in particular the short biographical sketches describing each of the writers. On the other hand, most of the stories are no more than three or four pages which allows for a good sampling. Still, there are probably better collections available, (and in print!) to get a more contemporary collection of spooky stories, particularly ones that could offer a more diverse collection of authors. ...more
This was probably my favorite picture book growing up, and it would not be too much to say that it really did influence the insatiable curiosity and tThis was probably my favorite picture book growing up, and it would not be too much to say that it really did influence the insatiable curiosity and thirst for knowledge I developed throughout childhood. I certainly remember it fondly at after recently flipping through the slight little picture book again, I feel it's messages continue to hold up very well. After receiving it for my eighth birthday, I read it innumerable times, finding the idea of the “School of Names” and its celebration of the planet and the natural world to be so evocative of my love of digging in the dirt, running in the woods, and staring up into the sky. M.B. Goffstein’s writing is so simple, so precise, she expresses such deep feelings about the Earth that is yet accessible to children and adults alike.
I recall being so enthralled with the philosophy so simply and effectively shared through Goffstein’s poetry and her spare, beautiful artwork, that I actually read the book aloud to my first grade class for a presentation day. Even today, I still find the elegant combination of words and images in this short work to be extremely compelling. I am very glad I held on to my copy, as School of Names seems to have gone out of print since its publication....more
Check out my review of the first Book of Lists here, it expresses my enjoyment of the later entries as well, though I must say that Book of Lists #3 iCheck out my review of the first Book of Lists here, it expresses my enjoyment of the later entries as well, though I must say that Book of Lists #3 is definitely my favorite and the one that I revisited the most often as a kid. Published back in 1985 it compiles, in addition to obsolete (but still interesting) lists such as 17 Minerals our Economy Cannot Function Without and Lucille Ball's 10 Favorite TV Series, there are such awesome factoids as 7 Almost Indestructible People, 7 People Who Were Buried Alive and Lived, 6 UFO Encounters of a Sexual Kind, and, one I really would like to take inspiration from, 10 Authors Who Wrote Novels in Less Than Six Weeks. I can still learn new things in this book. ...more
One of my earliest childhood memories of Halloween involved attending a Halloween party for kids held at the house of some of my parent's friends whoOne of my earliest childhood memories of Halloween involved attending a Halloween party for kids held at the house of some of my parent's friends who I don't recall (and they too have no memory of who they could be, or when this actually took place). I was taken into a basement with a lot of other children who I didn't know and a man read this really odd, creepy story about a kid lost in the woods who saw a lot of things "too terrible to tell," including a dancing skeleton, a witch who turned children into spider creatures, and a ghost who enjoyed watching TV. The story was illustrated with wonderful, cartoonish, evocatively detailed pictures. Along the edges of the events, all sorts of stuff was going on; evil eyes peered out of the darkness, weird little creatures romped and devoured each other, each page seemed to have a million things going on. It was both really creepy and also really funny, in a way that kind of complimented each other.
Though I can't remember anything else about that night, the story stuck with me and these weird images of a story night, old cabins with sacks of bones, huge werewolves, and all sorts of bizarre, grotesque creatures running around became synonymous with Halloween. A few years later, this also became the favorite holiday read of our resident wonderful elementary school librarian and its place was set. Of course, as the years went by, though I still recalled the delicious chills and spooky laughs delivered by being read the book, I could not remember what it was called and it faded into the background of my Halloween subconscious.
Recently, though, through the magic of the internet, I thought, hey, why not look that book up? So I googled spooky Halloween book with skeleton and "Grandpa's Ghost Stories," popped up right away. Awesome, a quick ILL later and I had it again, the memories came pouring back, and it still does not lack its funny, spooky, almost subversive picture book fun. Written and illustrated by James Flora, best known for designing the covers of jazz albums during the 1950s, Flora's idiosyncratic drawing seems very suited to this spooky tale. Flora packs within its 30 pages three horrible but good natured adventures, amazing lush ink-work, and tons of eerie style. Still a perfect picture book for kids and adults alike, though the only problem is that it is long out of print and seems to average around $100 used on Amazon. Fortunately, there is a very nice adaptation available on Youtube here! Definitely worth checking out if one is unable to get a copy of this nostalgic Halloween treat. ...more
This book has a special place in my heart. If I recall, I discovered it in 5th or 6th grade and quickly acquired all of the series that I could. EvenThis book has a special place in my heart. If I recall, I discovered it in 5th or 6th grade and quickly acquired all of the series that I could. Even then, in the ‘90s, the book was hopelessly out of date and a few of the lists had to be taken with a grain of salt but, as I did not yet have access to the internet, this was one of the finest sources of random trivia and bizarre facts available to me. I loved every page of it (with the exception, I suppose, of the chapter devoted to sports) and poured over each list, taking down notes and lists of my own. Divided into sections by topic, Crime, Literature, Nature, Art, etc., there were all sorts of tidbits to blow my eleven year old mind. I remember bringing them everywhere so as to be able to look up amusing facts for friends and classmates at short notice, at one point dropping a copy into a mud puddle at recess and having to painstakingly dry the thick little paperback.
Compiled by a father, sibling team, the lists reflect the time period they were written, but have a witty, casual style and, in addition to lists of facts like the ten countries where the highest percent of men and women live to 85, there are lists consisting of the opinions of famous people such as the ten worst movies of all time (circa 1977). Whether it was the five most hated people in history (1970-1976), the nine dog breeds that bite the least, or fifteen authors who wrote best sellers in prison, I learned a lot (particularly in the section on sex). In the end, I feel that there was definitely an influence there on shaping my interest in organizing knowledge and sparking my eclectic, multidisciplinary interests in learning as much as I could.
Reading it today brought back this feeling of awe at the endless variety of weird stuff in the world throughout time, and I smiled as I remember being amazed or shocked by various facts that I now remember having been confirmed or questioned in my later education. The yellowed, slightly brittle pages still have that nice, slightly sweet tinge of a ‘70s era paperback, redolent of library book sales and middle school classrooms. The Books of Lists are probably entirely redundant now, what with new lists of bizarre, random amusing facts being posted by the hundreds daily on websites such as Cracked and BuzzFeed. How much influence have these books had on the other 20 and 30 somethings who make these online compilings? I wonder. ...more
How can I review something that came to be so integral to shaping my worldview (yeah, I think I would go that far)? The entire opus of Bill Watterson'How can I review something that came to be so integral to shaping my worldview (yeah, I think I would go that far)? The entire opus of Bill Watterson's work on Calvin and Hobbes defies easy explanation. Others have already written so much more eloquent and capable responses than I, but I feel I need to share my thoughts. Calvin and Hobbes, along with the Far Side, were among the few worthy pieces of the newspaper comic sections in my childhood (let alone today) and Calvin's daydreaming of dinosaurs and space mirrored my own, even if I, like Watterson, was a more obedient kid. Hobbes' almost subversive philosophical asides seemed to make sense to me even then. I still remember various quotations from the strip nearly verbatim, which come to me at the oddest times; "Santa: jolly old elf, or CIA spook?," "welcome to Boomer Classic Radio, which promises never to expose you to anything you haven't heard a million times before!," "Here your lunboks. Hoffa gud day askool!" I found that this has not changed as I recently revisited the complete run of the comic, which, in spite of the mere ten years of its existence, culminating with the "Calvin and Hobbes Tenth Anniversary Book," which is probably the longest explanation by the notoriously reclusive Bill Watterson ever shared in his words regarding his creation, making it a gripping and illuminating read, and not just for the typically top notch comics.
In "The Calvin and Hobbes Tenth Anniversary Book," Watterson shares a few of his favorite strips and stories to exemplify his creative process and the work that went on behind the strip to create the increasingly sophisticated art style and Calvin and Hobbes' sharp sense of humor. Even more interestingly, Watterson also takes time to describe the creative philosophy that led to his rejecting all commercial uses of his characters. It was also Calvin and Hobbes, I feel, to have really led me to be interested in comics and graphic novels; in spite of loving Calvin and Hobbes, for a long time I felt that comics (meaning superheroes) were "incredibly stupid," (as expressed by Watterson in his commentary on the superhero industry), but through the comic and others like it I would later discover, I found that the world of comics was so much more vast. The Tenth Anniversary Book is required reading for anyone interested in Calvin and Hobbes....more
This short collection of ghostly folklore from North America certainly brings back some memories. I remember checking out "Whistle in the Graveyard,"This short collection of ghostly folklore from North America certainly brings back some memories. I remember checking out "Whistle in the Graveyard," from my elementary school library in 3rd Grade and reading it that fall, sharing the spooky short tales with my friends and family (my sister, in particularly, found the stories chilling- especially the one about the thing that stalked a child by whispering which step of the stairs it was on each night before striking). Slightly less gruesome and blood curdling than the "Scary Stories to Tell in the Dark" series (particularly the art) folklorist Maria Leach retells the tales with a simplicity that makes it a good introduction to spooky stories for children. I recall being especially intrigued by the locations and people evoked by the folklore, particularly Nova Scotia and the Inuit of Alaska. Leach may have helped to kindle my continuing interest in folklore and mythology (as well as scary stories), the book would be great for a curious kid, but still offers some insights for adults as well. ...more
Revisiting Robert Anton Wilson's Illuminatus series was interesting, but not entirely as expected. After reading the monstrous, seminal “Illuminatus TRevisiting Robert Anton Wilson's Illuminatus series was interesting, but not entirely as expected. After reading the monstrous, seminal “Illuminatus Trilogy” (which Wilson co-wrote) in high school during an intereste in conspiracy fiction, I was not entirely sure what to think about it (aside from being intrigued by the chaotic, sweeping conspitorial world) invented by Wilson. How much is history? How much is fantasy? In “The Earth Will Shake,” the first part of Wilson's “Historical Illuminatus Trilogy,” Wilson continues with this, inventing a realistic, if not exactly historically accurate, eighteenth century Europe beset with secret societies and revolution as Europe struggles to come to terms with changing culture. Focusing on the young Neapolitan Sigismundo Celine, who finds himself drawn into battles between different secret societies, encountering various historical events and figures while trying to figure out his own identity. Wilson writes much more conventionally in this work, with less of the surreal, psychedelic imagery used prominently in his other works where time, space, and character viewpoints shift wildly sentence by sentence, but he continues to deal with many questions of faith, truth, knowledge, and history, while still keeping the story rolling. I found the parallels being continually drawn in the story between late eighteenth century Italian society and the late twentieth century to be especially interesting, illustrating that people remain much the same through time. Still, throughout the book as Celine continues to evolve as a character, coming to form his own beliefs through the influence of other people, both friendly and villainous by the end I felt that remarkably little had happened in spite of the feeling that much conflict was occurring outside of the story; still, I am curious to see what happens in the later books of the trilogy. ...more