James Blish's novelizations of Star Trek episodes continue in Star Trek 2, published in February 1968. This volumeThis review also appears on my blog.
James Blish's novelizations of Star Trek episodes continue in Star Trek 2, published in February 1968. This volume includes novelizations of "Arena", "A Taste of Armageddon", "Tomorrow is Yesterday", "Errand of Mercy", "Court Martial", "Operation--Annihilate!", "The City on the Edge of Forever", and "Space Seed".
Each short story is typically quite similar to the episode being adapted, though there are some differences. Notably, the ending of "Operation--Annihilate!" is very different. In the episode, they expose Spock to a massive blast of electromagnetic radiation, including visible light, and believe that they have blinded him. Upon discovering that the visible light was unnecessary, they regret that they have needlessly blinded him. In the end, though, he recovers, and they save the planet using the same procedure, on a larger scale.
In the short story, the Enterprise instead seeks out the central concentration of the mind-controlling creatures and destroys it with missiles, which leaves the creatures directionless and easily dealt with.
I like the writing in this volume better than that in its predecessor, though I couldn't point at a definite reason why. It still suffers from the problem that the episodes on which the stories are based relied heavily on the visual element, and so are somewhat lacking as short stories. They don't generally have any big ideas behind them, and if they do they don't explore them very thoroughly.
I do think that some of the stories here have merit. Not much can be done for "Arena" or "Court Martial", but I can certainly see "A Taste of Armageddon" being worked into something more substantial and interesting, and of course that has already been done for "Space Seed" in Greg Cox's Eugenics Wars series, not to mention Star Trek II: The Wrath of Khan.
Not to be too negative, I did have a pleasant surprise when reading "Tomorrow is Yesterday". After their time-traveling adventure, Spock comments, "And so we have revised Omar." Upon Kirk's request for clarification, he specifies that he means "the verse about the moving finger." This refers to The Rubáiyát of Omar Khayyám, as translated by Edward FitzGerald:
The Moving Finger writes; and, having writ, Moves on: nor all thy Piety nor Wit Shall lure it back to cancel half a Line, Nor all they Tears wash out a Word of it.
I've only just read the Rubáiyát about a year ago (highly recommended, incidentally), so seeing this reference by Spock is a treat. Sadly, I don't recall him being quite so literary in the episode.
Given its general improvement over its predecessor, I can recommend Star Trek 2 to fans looking for a quick read, or another perspective on the episodes, and the new ending to "Operation--Annihilate!" and the incorporation of content from Heinlein's original script in "The City on the Edge of Forever" provide a little added value....more
I've read a good number of Star Trek books, over the years. Since I came rather late to the Star Trek universe, I'This review also appears on my blog.
I've read a good number of Star Trek books, over the years. Since I came rather late to the Star Trek universe, I'm quite used to thinking of the expanded universe as a sprawling thing, composed of many books by a similarly vast number of authors. Of course, it wasn't always this way. Once, there were no Star Trek books at all.
And then, there was one: Star Trek by James Blish.
[rel://files/Star Trek by James Blish.jpg]
Star Trek is a collection of seven short story adaptations of television episodes, namely "Charlie's Law" (aired as "Charlie X"), "Dagger of the Mind", "The Unreal McCoy" (aired as "The Man Trap"), "Balance of Terror", "The Naked Time", "Miri", and "The Conscience of the King".
Blish's adaptations were based on early draft scripts of the episodes, so the stories in this collection are not exactly the same as those that aired, though the differences tend to be minor.
The quality of the stories varies. For the most part, they are clearly uninspired adaptions of television scripts: lots of dialogue, limited description, and very little of anything else. They serve well enough as summaries of the episodes, but they're not particularly engaging, and I don't think they give enough detail for readers who haven't already seen the episodes.
The stories are inferior to the television episodes, too, in those cases where the acting is particularly noteworthy: Morgan Woodward's performance as Simon van Gelder in "Dagger of the Mind" and Arnold Moss's performance as Karidian in "The Conscience of the King" brought the characters to life in a way the lifeless dialogue in the short stories cannot match.
The book does have one good point, however: the adaptation of "Balance of Terror" is substantially better than the other stories. Indeed, it's so different that I'd have guessed it was written by another author entirely. Where the other adaptations are soulless collections of dialogue and stage direction, "Balance of Terror" takes some time to consider the import of events and the relationships between the characters, and gives more detail than is strictly required to understand the events. This added flavor places it head and shoulders above the rest: it's a satisfying and entertaining short story.
Blish's book was apparently very popular. Published in January 1967, it was in its fifth printing by June of that year, and in its eighth printing by June 1968. My copy is from a 25th printing in February 1977 and claims "Over 8 million copies in print.", though that might possibly be including the later books in the series. At any rate, it was popular enough that the series was gathered into two different omnibus sets.
However interesting this book may be as a window into the past, I cannot recommend it. I don't regret the time spent reading it, but those simply interested in reading a work of science fiction should probably choose a different book....more
Another day, another collection of Trek novelizations. Today I'm looking at James Blish's Star Trek 3, published iThis review also appears on my blog.
Another day, another collection of Trek novelizations. Today I'm looking at James Blish's Star Trek 3, published in April 1969. It collects seven adaptations: "The Trouble with Tribbles", "The Last Gunfight" (an adaptation of "Spectre of the Gun"), "The Doomsday Machine", "Assignment: Earth", "Mirror, Mirror", "Friday's Child", and "Amok Time".
I didn't notice any substantial departures from the episodes in any of the stories except "Friday's Child", which treats the character of Eleen rather differently. "The Doomsday Machine" and "The Last Gunfight" have some small changes, as well.
This book is, like its predecessor, fairly enjoyable. Although I've not found the series to be exceptional, it seems that contemporary readers were more impressed: in the introduction, James Blish describes some of his previous work (twenty-seven novels and short story collections, including a Hugo winner). Then:
I note these figures not to brag--well, not entirely, anyhow--but as background for one astonishing fact: I have received more mail about my two previous Star Trek books than I have about all my other work put together.
He had been receiving letters "at an average rate of two a day ever since January 1967." Of note is that "most of [the letter writers] say that they have never read, or seen, any science fiction before Star Trek, or if they have, that they hadn't liked it." To fans looking for more information, he recommends The Making of Star Trek by Stephen E. Whitfield. I'm reading that book, now, and it's fairly interesting (with some caveats--review forthcoming).
Finally, at the end of the introduction, he very casually reveals his next project:
Thanks, too, to those who asked that I write an original Star Trek novel. Both the studio and Bantam agreed, somewhat to my surprise, that this was a good idea, so it's in the works.
The book in question, Spock Must Die!, would be published in February 1970, nearly a year later, and Blish's next volume of adaptations would not be published until July 1971.
I admit that I'm really looking forward to Spock Must Die! giving me a break from these adaptations. All the same, with adaptations of popular episodes like "Mirror, Mirror" and "Amok Time" (and even "The Trouble with Tribbles", if you're in a less serious mood), Star Trek 3 is a nice afternoon's diversion....more
In 1968, James Blish wrote in the introduction to Star Trek 3 that he would be writing an original Star Trek novThis review also appears on my blog.
In 1968, James Blish wrote in the introduction to Star Trek 3 that he would be writing an original Star Trek novel, the popularity of the television series warranting such an effort. By the time that book was published, in April 1969, Star Trek had already been cancelled, with only its final episode, "Turnabout Intruder", yet to air. Finally, in February 1970, Bantam published Blish's (sole) original Trek novel: Spock Must Die!
The Enterprise is mapping out a region of space near the border of the Klingon Empire, a highly routine operation. Kirk comes upon McCoy and Scotty in the rec room, having a philosophical debate: is what comes out of the other end of the transporter the same person that went into it--does the soul make the jump? If not, McCoy says, then "every time we put a man through the transporter for the first time, we commit murder."
There's no time to pursue this discussion further, for Spock interrupts to announce that the captain is needed on the bridge: the Klingons are at war with the Federation, and the Enterprise is now behind enemy lines.
It should be impossible for the Klingons to break the peace treaty, but Organia (the home of the beings that instituted the treaty in "Errand of Mercy") seems to have been destroyed, so they are unhindered--and having great success. Unable to get into contact with Starfleet Command without giving themselves away, Kirk decides to head for Organia, a journey of several months, in hopes that the Organians have not been destroyed, and might be able to stop the war.
Inspired by his conversation with McCoy, Scotty invents a new kind of transporter which will make a temporary duplicate of a person and sent them away at great speeds and over enormous distances, with which he proposes to transport someone directly to Organia to investigate. Spock volunteers, and so the experiment begins.
Unfortunately, things do not go as planned. After the attempted transport, they find two Spocks on the transporter pad, each claiming to be the original, and each apparently identical. The balance of the book concerns the efforts to distinguish which Spock is the duplicate (and must therefore be destroyed) and to reach Organia undetected.
Spock Must Die! is similar in style to Blish's adaptations, writ large. Blish liked to slip literary references into those short stories, and the novel takes it further, with references to works as varied as Othello, Narnia, and Finnegans Wake (the last of which forms a substantial plot point).
Blish does take advantage of the freedom afforded by the increased length. The philosophical debate outlined above is not the only one in the novel, and if they are perhaps a bit overwrought, they are welcome reminders that science fiction can be about ideas, and not merely action set in space. The general increase in detail is beneficial, as well; the adaptations often seem too brief.
Sadly, I found the book's ending unsatisfying; the resolution of the plot is too straightforward. The Enterprise set out to find a deus ex machina to end the war, and they succeed in their search. There's no twist, no meaningful new complication. A technobabble explanation aside, there's little that couldn't have been predicted a dozen pages in.
Spock Must Die! isn't a bad book, and it's particularly interesting as a contrast to later Trek books. Blish's treatment of the characters is somewhat unique, and he certainly has no concern for maintaining the status quo. You could do worse than to spend a couple of hours reading this one....more
There have been a number of very violent murders in Gotham--whole families killed. At first, Batman suspects that it is related to a new drug, but as
There have been a number of very violent murders in Gotham--whole families killed. At first, Batman suspects that it is related to a new drug, but as he continues to investigate, the facts don't line up. It appears that, in each case, the adults had committed some crime against children. Batman revises his theory: there is a new serial killer in Gotham, a serial killer motivated by the need for revenge against child abusers. As Commissioner Gordon and Batman seek out the killer, each must deal with his own demons. Batman remembers the night his parents were killed, and must reconcile his own actions, in many ways so like those of the serial killer. Jim is troubled by memories of his own abusive father, and is horrified to see that he may be starting down that road, himself.
For all the violence, this graphic novel has a very subdued feeling, which is reinforced by the dark palette common in Batman stories. At about a hundred pages, Night Cries tells a tightly connected, effective story. The thematic connection between Batman's drug investigation, during which he repeatedly explains that these investigations involve following a chain of people to find the source, and the child abuse investigation, during which it is explained that the abused often become abusers themselves, perpetuating a cycle of violence, is very well done. Too, Jim's struggle, developed over the course of the book, with his own anger, and with his relationship with his wife and son, is a very strong point. This book is set fairly early in Batman's career, and the effects of Jim's infidelity during Year One are still being felt.
Batman's experience follows a similar arc. During one part of the investigation, a traumatized young girl, who may have witnessed one of the murders, spots Batman through a window, and is terrified. As Batman says: "The trouble with an appearance that can strike fear in the minds of criminals--is that it sometimes strikes fear in the innocent as well." The girl may have important information, and Batman regrets frightening her, so he visits her in the hospital, to make amends: "I'm sorry. I don't want to frighten you. I did that once when you saw me through the window at your home. I know I look scary and there have been too many scary things in your life. So I want you to see--" here, he removes his mask, "--I'm just a man, a man who's trying to help." The scene is really touching. Sometimes, Batman seems far from being concerned with the people around him--those he's fighting, or those he's saving--but Goodwin's Batman shows a kind of empathy that Batman must have, if he's more than just a reflection of the violent psychopaths he fights.
This is definitely one of the best Batman stories I've ever read. Its focus on the human impact of the crime in Gotham, and on its particular impact on Jim and Batman, is very welcome, especially coming, as I am, from reading a bunch of Golden Age stories. Comics have come a long way, and this is a great example of a comic that tackles a meaningful issue in a sensitive way. I strongly recommend it....more
Two kinds of books I am particularly glad to find in a library: especially good books, which I might not otherwise know of or be able to afford; and eTwo kinds of books I am particularly glad to find in a library: especially good books, which I might not otherwise know of or be able to afford; and especially bad books, which I might otherwise innocently purchase.
This book, sadly, falls in the latter category.
Robert Frost Country by Betsy and Tom Melvin is a pictorial featuring the authors' photographs of New England paired with--dare I say it--snippets of Robert Frost's poems. A sad fate for any poem, to be cut into bite-sized pieces and regurgitated, devoid of meaning, to sell what amounts to a collection of postcards. In an introductory note, Betsy Melvin writes:
When I first came upon the lines that have become so familiar to me, I realized that Robert Frost had said in his beautiful poetry what I had felt in my heart when I made many of the photographs, through my medium of creative expression. It is significant that only three of all these pictures were made especially for this volume.
I agree with her words, though I doubt that she would agree with my meaning. She intends, of course, to say that both she and Frost were trying to capture the beauty of New England, and so by happy coincidence his poems and her photographs are well-suited to one another. It seems rather to me that, having a collection of photographs, she sought fragments of the famous poet's work to make them more suitable for publication. It is significant that she did not worry enough about the words and text complimenting one another to bother taking more than three new pictures, when compiling this volume.
My words are harsh, I know. But what else am I to think? Consider the following image:
This is paired with a fragment of "The Death of the Hired Man":
Surely you wouldn't grudge the poor old man Some humble way to save his self-respect.
The 'poor old man' in question, Silas, is, first, probably already dead when these lines are uttered, and, second, explicitly not smoking--to emphasize his poor condition, Mary says: "...I dragged him to the house, / And gave him tea and tried to make him smoke. / I tried to make him talk about his travels. / Nothing would do: he just kept nodding off."
These mere factual issues are of secondary importance, however. More importantly, this is perhaps the most superficial possible treatment to give Frost's poem about a man's concerns about how rightly to live and to die, and the relationships and obligations between people. For all the content of the poem mattered, the accompanying text might as well have been:
“I will answer the second question first,” he said, “—but bless me! this is a splendid place for smoke rings!”
At least the bulk of the fragments chosen merely ignore subtext in favor of imagery, and so are less offensive to my sensibilities. Enough, though: the text and images are poorly matched.
The only other thing to consider, I suppose, is the quality of the illustrations. I am no expert on judging photography, so I will not say much. There are certainly some nice scenes presented: nature can be beautiful.
On the other hand, many of the photographs are less to my taste. Consider this image: a mundane subject with uninteresting composition; I can look out my window and see a more inspiring scene.
It all began with that shoe on the wall. A shoe on a wall . . . ? Shouldn't be there at all!
Then I looked up. And I said, "Oh, MAN!"
And that's how Wa
It all began with that shoe on the wall. A shoe on a wall . . . ? Shouldn't be there at all!
Then I looked up. And I said, "Oh, MAN!"
And that's how Wacky Wednesday began.
Dr. Seuss both wrote and illustrated his most famous works, but he did create a few books illustrated by others, usually using a pseudonym. He wrote Wacky Wednesday under the name Theo. LeSieg--his own name, Theodore Geisel, turned around. It was illustrated by George Booth.
Wacky Wednesday tells of one Wednesday when everything was wacky: shoes on the wall, bananas growing on an apple tree, worms chasing birds, and much more. Seuss's text is very much secondary to Booth's illustrations. The text of each two-page spread announces the number of things that are 'wacky' in the accompanying illustration, inviting the reader to find them all.
The number of wacky things in each scene increases as the book goes along, culminating in a final two-page spread with twenty wacky things:
"Only twenty things more will be wacky," he said.
"Just find them and then you can go back to bed."
The type of wackiness varies, exercising different skills: counting (how many wacky things have we found?), spelling ('schoul' is not the right way to spell 'school'), domain knowledge (a portrait of Abraham Lincoln should not be labelled 'George Washington'), and simple attention to detail (turtles do not belong atop trees!).
Wacky Wednesday is a great book that encourages participation from the reader. It's appropriate for April Fool's Day or any day....more
A Caldecott Honor Book. Sal and her mother go out to pick blueberries to store for the winter. A bear cub and its mother have the same idea, and the mA Caldecott Honor Book. Sal and her mother go out to pick blueberries to store for the winter. A bear cub and its mother have the same idea, and the mothers and children get mixed up. Excellent line art and a cute story. The parallel between the bears storing up fat for the winter and the humans preserving blueberries is a good one, and their actions, too, parallel one another satisfyingly....more
Cast your mind back, all the way to the year 1997. There were some 50 million people with access to the internet, and nearly 10 million of them used
Cast your mind back, all the way to the year 1997. There were some 50 million people with access to the internet, and nearly 10 million of them used America Online. We were so naive as to unironically call the web the 'information superhighway.' Google was brand new, and we mostly used Yahoo, Lycos, or Altavista to search the web. Facebook wasn't even a glimmer in Mark Zuckerberg's 13-year-old eye. We didn't have Twitter or Tumblr, or even Myspace or Livejournal.
What we did have was email. Back then, we hyphenated it, as a sign of respect for and discomfort with the impressive technology. "E-mail is delivered much faster than regular mail (which some people call 'snail-mail')," writes Brimner. "A keypal in another state or even another country usually will receive your e-mail in minutes. That's great news!"
E-Mail is full of the kind of advice that most of us take for granted, these days. For example, you'll need a network card or modem, which will "take the signals from your computer and get messages ready to travel over the Information Superhighway." Brimner helpfully provides a picture of an IBM 7852 model 10 modem, which around that time had dropped in price to only $486.
It's also got the kind of information we probably should know, but might need to keep in mind: "If you are not careful, you might write and send angry words to somebody else and later wish you hadn't." Truth.
E-Mail explains what a flame war is, how to find and subscribe to mailing lists, what emoticons are, and much more. Sprinkled throughout are e-mail addresses that kids might want to try, like Sea World (firstname.lastname@example.org), the USGS (Ask-A-Geologist@usgs.gov), or the President of the United States (email@example.com). The author even includes his own email address (Lbrimner@aol.com).
This book is certainly a product of its time. Besides the screenshots of Eudora circa 1996, it's got a dated approach to dealing with people you meet on the internet. "Most of the people you'll meet on the Internet are nice. But be smart. Bad people sometimes hide out on the Internet, and you may not be able to tell who they are . . . If your keypal wants to meet you in person, meet in a public place like a mall. And take an adult with you."
If that advice had been written today, I imagine it'd go more like "If your keypal wants to meet you in person, run. Don't stop until you're surrounded by police. Make sure the police have never used the internet. It's the only way to be sure."
Books like E-Mail are fascinating as a view back into how we thought about technology in the past. It's been about 17 years since this book was published. In some ways, it's still perfectly correct and even useful. In others, it's hopelessly dated. How will things look in 2031? I don't dare to guess....more
Cohen's book contains facts about Star Trek, but there's nothing strange or amazing therein. The facts are mostly in the form of very brief summaries
Cohen's book contains facts about Star Trek, but there's nothing strange or amazing therein. The facts are mostly in the form of very brief summaries of a few episodes or (similarly very brief) biographies of a few principal actors. Almost everything in the book will be known to anyone who bothered to watch the show ("When the series begins Kirk is in his mid-thirties, and holds the rank of captain with a starship command."), and the little that might not be is generally of little interest ("Another of Bill Shatner's current enthusiasms is the horses that he rides and breeds on his southern California ranch.").
The most interesting part of this book is the chapter on the fans, which talks about the letter-writing campaign to save Star Trek from cancellation, fanzines, conventions, and the broader impact of Star Trek in the years since its cancellation.
The book concludes with a 22-question trivia quiz.
The eighth Arthur book. Arthur is put in charge of the Thanksgiving play. Arthur's friends are extra nice to him, to be sure they get the parts they wThe eighth Arthur book. Arthur is put in charge of the Thanksgiving play. Arthur's friends are extra nice to him, to be sure they get the parts they want. This is nice, until Arthur realizes that nobody wants to play the turkey--and he can't have a play called The Big Turkey Hunt without a turkey! I was expecting a lesson about leadership, or standing up to your friends, or something, but in the end Arthur just plays the turkey himself, and his friends are kind enough to join him in his embarrassment. Disappointing. Another average book....more
The seventh Arthur book. Another holiday themed book, and we're not done with those yet. Arthur must deal with a bully while preparing for the April FThe seventh Arthur book. Another holiday themed book, and we're not done with those yet. Arthur must deal with a bully while preparing for the April Fool's assembly. He's very nervous, but in the end, he manages to play a trick or two on the bully. It's unfortunate that none of the adults around Arthur, including those aware of the bullying, do anything to help, but I expect that's more truth in fiction than anything. Rather average book....more
The sixth Arthur book. Halloween themed, obviously, with a rather tired 'old lady who isn't actually a witch, gasp!' plot. Plenty of Arthur being afraThe sixth Arthur book. Halloween themed, obviously, with a rather tired 'old lady who isn't actually a witch, gasp!' plot. Plenty of Arthur being afraid of his shadow, though he does overcome his fear to go after his sister, which is a point in his favor. Most of these books, so far, are about Arthur being afraid or otherwise insecure. Is that what the series is all about? It'd be nice if Arthur could occasionally be a bit more straightforwardly admirable....more
The fifth Arthur book. The art has continued to evolve, and by this point Arthur should look quite familiar to viewers of the TV series. The story isThe fifth Arthur book. The art has continued to evolve, and by this point Arthur should look quite familiar to viewers of the TV series. The story is that Arthur goes to camp, is sure that he will hate it--does hate it--but, in the end, he accidentally wins a scavenger hunt for his team, and decides he loves camp. It's meant to be funny, I guess, but it doesn't work for me, and the story's not very interesting. Much boys vs. girls, followed by a new antagonist: an entire camp of villains. Not to my taste....more
A little break from all these picture books seems to be in order, so let's go with something completely different: The Entropy Effect by Vonda N. McA little break from all these picture books seems to be in order, so let's go with something completely different: The Entropy Effect by Vonda N. McIntyre, which is #2 in the Pocket Books line of Star Trek novels.
The Enterprise has been in orbit of a singularity for six weeks, Mr. Spock making careful observations of this unusual phenomenon, when they are called away to Aleph Prime by an ultimate override command--to be used only in the most dire of situations.
They arrive to find no great emergency at all. Instead, they're asked to transport a criminal a short distance to a rehabilitation facility. Captain Kirk would have angrily refused, but Spock asks him to accede to this request. It seems that the criminal in question is a scientist of Spock's acquaintance, and there's something fishy about the situation. Spock's investigation uncovers a threat to the entire universe, which he must handle covertly, if he can.
The Entropy Effect focuses on a few characters only: Spock, McCoy, Kirk, and Sulu, plus Mandala Flynn and Hunter, characters original to the novel. The bulk of the novel follows Spock as he deals with the situation, but it takes time to give us some insight into the others, as well. Importantly, in Trek history, it is in this novel that Sulu is given his name, Hikaru (which wouldn't be officially confirmed until a decade later, in The Undiscovered Country), and promised a promotion to lieutenant commander.
The original characters are the high point of the novel. Flynn and the security officers under her command are each interesting: Flynn's desire to prove herself is admirable; Jenniver's difficulties fitting in inspire sympathy; Neon's unusual language (consisting only of nouns) and Snnanagfashtalli's loyalty to Jenniver each merit a mention, as well. Hunter, Kirk's past love, is of little import to the plot, but she does add some needed variety. She has a child, and is part of a nontraditional family arrangement--it's good to show that humans, too, are diverse. There are as many ways to live as there are people on the Earth, and space travel doesn't do anything to simplify that.
Is it odd that each of the characters I identified as being of particular interest is female? Early Trek is certainly a story of men, and this novel, for all its focus on Spock, does somewhat counterbalance that.
The Entropy Effect's plot eventually revolves around time travel, and it's handled fairly well, in a Star Trek sort of way. It's shown to be difficult and far from consequence-free, and there's a bit of suspense as we wonder how (though--let's be honest--not if) Spock will manage his task.
All told, The Entropy Effect is an average book: not great, but fun enough to read once. I understand that several of the original characters show up in other Trek novels; I'll look forward to reading those, some day....more
The fourth Arthur book, though he scarcely appears. This time, Francine is in the spotlight. It's nice to see her get a positive showing, here. The moThe fourth Arthur book, though he scarcely appears. This time, Francine is in the spotlight. It's nice to see her get a positive showing, here. The moral is that honesty is the best policy, but I'm not sure I agree with the book's position that Francine shouldn't reveal when her friend is lying. Loyalty is one thing, but... anyway, it's still a pretty good book, though I liked Arthur's Valentine a bit better....more
Third Arthur book. Nice art, and this one even has a real story. Francine is secretly sending Arthur valentines, but Arthur hopes it might be the newThird Arthur book. Nice art, and this one even has a real story. Francine is secretly sending Arthur valentines, but Arthur hopes it might be the new girl, Sue Ellen, sending them. Francine has teased Arthur in the previous books, and he gets her back with a little trick, once he discovers that she is his secret admirer. This is the best Arthur book so far....more
Second Arthur book. Arthur needs glasses, and is teased because of them. Eventually he learns that they are very helpful, and don't look so bad afterSecond Arthur book. Arthur needs glasses, and is teased because of them. Eventually he learns that they are very helpful, and don't look so bad after all. Better art than the previous book, and generally improved....more
When Chrysanthemum was born, her parents thought she was perfect, and wanted to give her the perfect name. ChrysanThis review also appears on my blog.
When Chrysanthemum was born, her parents thought she was perfect, and wanted to give her the perfect name. Chrysanthemum loved her name. She loved everything about her name. Until the first day of school, that is. The others don't love her name--it hardly even fits on her name tag! What will poor Chrysanthemum do?
Chrysanthemum by Kevin Henkes is about dealing with bullying when you don't quite fit in.
Chrysanthemum loved her name.
She loved the way it sounded when her mother woke her up.
She loved the way it sounded when her father called her for dinner.
And she loved the way it sounded when she whispered it to herself in the bathroom mirror.
Chrysanthemum, Chrysanthemum, Chrysanthemum.
Unfortunately, when Chrysanthemum went to her first day of school, she finds that the other children don't share her high opinion of her name. "It's so long", says Jo. "You're named after a flower!", exclaims Victoria. Chrysanthemum is discouraged.
Chrysanthemum's parents reassure her that her name is beautiful--"and precious and priceless and fascinating and winsome"--just like she is. And the other children are simply jealous--"and envious and begrudging and discontented and jaundiced". And who wouldn't be jealous of a name like Chrysanthemum?
When the children tease Chrysanthemum during music class, Mrs. Twinkle, who they especially like, reveals that she, too is named after a flower--Delphinium Twinkle is her name. And she's thinking of naming her child (if it's a girl) Chrysanthemum as well.
Chrysanthemum could scarcely believe her ears.
Chrysanthemum, Chrysanthemum, Chrysanthemum.
Chrysanthemum has a fine story and a good lesson, supported by absolutely charming watercolor illustrations. It's recommended for ages 4-8.
Henkes has also written a number of other picture books featuring mice, including Owen, a Caldecott Honor book....more
This review also appears (with more sample images) on my blog.
The evil daughters of Zamora, intent on conquering the world, seek the Viridian Scepter,This review also appears (with more sample images) on my blog.
The evil daughters of Zamora, intent on conquering the world, seek the Viridian Scepter, a powerful magical artifact which was used to destroy their mother. It has been broken into three pieces, and its handle stolen, taken by a ghost wolf to another world, the nexus. There, it is found by a girl who can, mysteriously, wield it, although it should be possible only for the most powerful of Highborns.
Does this story sound familiar to you? Let me describe it again.
Young Dorothy Gale, who lives on a farm in Kansas, finds a wolf, which she names Toto, and determines to keep it as a pet. Soon after, her house is lifted by a tornado and Dorothy finds herself in the land of Oz, where the Wicked Witches of the East and West terrorize the land. Dorothy accidentally kills the Wicked Witch of the East using a rod that Toto carried, which is sure to cause the witch's sister to target her. So Dorothy sets out on a journey across Oz to complete the scepter, of which Toto's rod was a part, and use it to destroy the Wicked Witch of the West and return home.
That's probably more recognizable, isn't it?
Grimm Fairy Tales presents Oz is a hardcover collection of the six issue miniseries of the same name from Zenescope Entertainment. The series ran from July 2013 to February 2014, and was written by Joe Brusha, with pencils by Rolando di Sessa, inks by Glauber Matos, and colors by Ulises Grostieta.
The Grimm Fairy Tales series presents re-imaginings of fairy tales, set in a crossover-friendly universe consisting of Earth (called the nexus) and four other worlds: Myst, Neverland, Wonderland, and Oz. The miniseries in this book, as the title implies, is concerned only with the final of these. I've never read any other entries in the Grimm Fairly Tales series, so I can confidently say that this book works as a standalone story.
The story is, in broad stokes, the one we're all familiar with. Dorothy from Earth shows up in Oz, meets some traveling companions, and eventually defeats the wicked witches, freeing Oz from their tyranny. At last, Dorothy goes home. All of the details, though, have been changed.
Rather than setting out alone, Dorothy begins her quest in an RPG-approved cliche party consisting of a magic user (Glinda, the Good Witch of the North), a warrior (Thorne, a member of the lion-like Kavari tribe), and three short comic-relief types (Sparky, Crumb, and Crank, who are Boggers--don't call them munchkins!).
Unfortunately, cliche is rather the name of the game, for this story. Dorothy is mysteriously very powerful. Glinda, the knowledgeable, powerful, and very useful leader of the party (at the outset), ends up conveniently unconscious for the latter part of the story. The third chapter's opening is narrated by a positively painful letter home from Dorothy, in the venerable writing-that-everything-is-fine-while-actually-in-a-pitched-battle style. And the ending is rather spectacularly unsatisfying.
The adaptation isn't without its clever bits, and in particular it does a reasonably good job with the lion, scarecrow, and tin woodsman, but overall the writing is just not up to par.
The artwork is fairly good, but quite variable. Dorothy, in particular, never seems to have quite the same face from panel to panel.
The many faces of Dorothy, from the first two chapters.
I've seen some complaints about the sexualized outfits and poses of the female cast of this book, and I gather that it's something of a staple of the series. The characters certainly wear impractical clothing, and the artist is clearly not above taking advantage of this.
This is certainly not a problem that's limited to this book--it's a common (and valid) criticism of comics in general. That said, I don't think that it's the biggest problem the book has, nor a particularly egregious example of it. The worst of it is all in the alternate covers, but that's not an issue, here.
Grimm Fairy Tales presents Oz is not by any means an excellent comic, but it's not a terrible one, either. It's worth the 45 minutes or so it takes to read, if only that.
Mei Li wishes to go to the New Year Fair in the city, but little girls always have to stay home. Undaunted, she snThis review also appears on my blog.
Mei Li wishes to go to the New Year Fair in the city, but little girls always have to stay home. Undaunted, she sneaks out to visit the city, following her brother. What adventures await?
Thomas Handforth's Mei Li is the winner of the 1939 Caldecott Medal. Unlike the previous winner, Animals of the Bible, Mei Li is a real picture book.
The story centers around a young Chinese girl, Mei Li, who is unsatisfied with remaining at home, while the New Year Fair is going on. "If I always stay at home," she asks, "what can I be good for?" So off she goes to have adventures like her brother, San Yu. He wonders what a girl could do at the fair, but she bribes him to take her with him, all the same.
The fair is as exciting as Mei Li had hoped, and she shows her doubting brother all the things that a girl can do, at the fair. Looking at a group of circus performers, she tells him, "They can walk on stilts. They can balance on a tight-rope. They can throw pots and pans in the air with their feet. And so can I!"
Mei Li doesn't juggle pots and pans with her feet, but she does ask a strong circus girl to lift her upside-down in the palm of her hand; she feeds a bear a bit of bean-cake; and she dances on the back of a circus pony. Later, a fortune teller predicts that Mei Li will rule over a kingdom--naturally, she believes him. Soon after, they must hurry home, so they will be in time to greet the Kitchen God.
When she returns home, Mei Li's mother refers to her as "the princess who rules our hearts." She is surely a princess, but what sort of kingdom will she rule over? That night, the Kitchen God explains:
"This house is your kingdom and palace. Within its walls all living things are your loyal, loving subjects."
Mei Li sighed happily, "It will do for a while, anyway."
Mei Li is based on Handforth's experiences while living in China for six years, beginning in 1931, the characters and drawings are based on people he knew, and the titular heroine is based on Pu Mei Li, a four-year-old girl he met there. Much more information about this, including a photograph of the real Mei Li holding Handforth's picture book, can be found in this article from The Horn Book Magazine by Kathleen Horning (who, coincidentally, wrote From Cover to Cover: Evaluating and Reviewing Children's Books, which I read almost exactly two years ago).
The illustrations are in ink, done with a brush, which Handforth felt better captured the spirit of China. Few of the illustrations feature any background, but the figures represented are generally very dynamic. The book does feature a number of two-page spreads, varying text positioning depending on the artwork. The illustrations depict the actual scenes in the book, making Mei Li much more of a 'real' picture book than its predecessor for the Caldecott Medal.
Mei Li has been criticized for sexism. Not without grounds: Mei Li is told that her 'kingdom' is the home, and the book ends with a poem extolling the virtues of a woman who keeps a good house:
This is the thrifty princess, Whose house is always clean, No dirt within her kingdom Is ever to be seen.
Her food is fit For a king to eat, Her hair and clothes Are always neat.
Furthermore, Mei Li is shown to be frightened of fireworks, allowing San Yu to set them off while she plugs her ears, and she gives her last lucky penny to San Yu to throw at a bell (for the promise of money all year), since she is sure that she could never hit it.
I think these criticisms are a little misguided; at least, they don't look at the whole picture. Compare what Mei Li does at the fair to what San Yu does: while Mei Li balances upside down on a circus performer's hand, San Yu dresses up as a wise man for a play; while Mei Li feeds a real bear a cake, to show her bravery, San Yu pretends to hunt a lion that is really two boys with a mask; Mei Li dances on the back of a prancing horse, after which San Yu throws her penny at a bell and goes off to buy a kite (a fake hawk, which he later uses to frighten Mei Li). Mei Li's adventures at the fair are real, and San Yu's are merely imaginary. Certainly it is Mei Li who comes off best in their little competition!
Too, Mei Li gives her first lucky penny to a beggar girl she meets when entering the city, and it's that girl who holds the gates open so that she can leave the city and return home to greet the Kitchen God, "And even five policemen and five soldiers could not force her away until Mei Li was through the gate." Not so easily cowed, this girl!
Finally, though the statement of the Kitchen God that the house is Mei Li's kingdom may be reinforcing the domestic role of women, Mei Li responds that it will do "for a while, anyway", which also means that eventually, it won't be enough. And Handforth wrote, of the real Mei Li:
No Empress Dowager was ever more determined than she. A career is surely ordained for her, other than being the heroine of a children’s book.
Certainly some older children's books do not stand the test of time, as cultural values march on (The Five Chinese Brothers or Shen of the Sea, both coincidentally also dealing with China, are examples of this, for different reasons), but I wouldn't fear to recommend Mei Li.
The first entry in the venerable Arthur series. Arthur is teased because of his nose, and considers rhinoplasty, but ultimately decides that he's fineThe first entry in the venerable Arthur series. Arthur is teased because of his nose, and considers rhinoplasty, but ultimately decides that he's fine just as he is. Not too bad art, decent message. The highlight is Arthur trying on various other animals' noses to see which he likes. Not a bad book, but the series does improve....more