How does it make you feel? or, Kandinsky’s Synesthesia

19 Apr

What turns a proper little boy into a pioneer of abstract art?

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The Noisy Paint Box: The Colors and Sounds of Kandinsky’s Abstract Art by Barb Rosenstock attempts to show young readers how Vasya Kandinsky went from a proper little Russian boy to groundbreaking artist.

The story opens with little Vasya, behaving properly, until given a paint box by an aunt. When he opened it, according to his autobiography, he heard a hiss. 

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The book draws on other experiences that helped Kandinsky develop his artistic style, and the very critical reception to it. And yet he did not give up, although no one seemed to understand his painting. He didn’t care about what they saw, he wanted to know how it made them feel.

The simple but expressive language of the text is augmented by  Mary Grandpré’s vivid illustrations. She shows what Kandinsky must have seen when hearing the opera and what he heard when the colors spoke to him.

The author’s note at the end reproduces some of Kandinsky’s paintings and explains a bit more about his life, including how he likely experienced synesthesia.

This is  great book to introduce attract art, but also a great book about following you muse.

Here be dragons

18 Apr

I have often thought about writing a YA novel about growing up in Southwestern Ontario, where i grew up.

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It is predominantly farmland, tucked in between Lake Huron, Lake Ontario and Lake Erie. there a re a few large cities, but it is mostly small towns, like the one I grew up in. New hamburg, Ontario, population 3500 in 1975, when I moved there.

It is not the most exciting of places, though, so how could an author make it interesting enough to write about it. I suppose you could focus on a small but significant moment.

Or, you could transform the whole world and add dragons!

That’s what E. K.  Johnston does in  The Story of Owen: Dragon Slayer of Trondheim.

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The book is one part humour (let me be Canadian here) one part epic saga and an accurate depiction of what it is like to grow up where I did. The story is story set in present-day Canada, but in an alternate reality where dragons prey on humans and dragon-slayers are employed by the government and large companies. Lester B. Pearson established The Oil Watch, not the UN Peacekeepers. Queen Victoria cleared Scotland of its dragon egg hatcheries. There is some light-handed social commentary on the corporatization of the world. but it is all set in places with names I know.

The story is narrated by Siobhan McQuade, who is more interested in music than hanging out with her fellow teens until she meets Owen Thorskard on their first day of 11th grade. The story is told from Siobhan’s perspective and at times she tells the truth to the reader after she tells you how she told it to the media. 

There are lots of strong female characters and no romance to speak of.

This is one of may favorite books of 2014.

How I discovered Marilyn Nelson

16 Apr

Until today, I didn’t know Marilyn Nelson existed. I’ve read her books, Carver: A Life in Poems and  The Sweethearts of Rhythm. Oh, and Miss Crandall’s School for Young Ladies and Little Misses of Color that she wrote with Elizabeth Alexander.

But I didn’t really think about her.

Until today, when I read How I Discovered Poetry.

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This is a semi-autobiographical account of her life, growing up in the 50′s, moving around the country with her family, as her father, one of few black Air Force officers, was transferred. Things struck me about her life, particularly how often they moved, and how she was treated in different places because of the color of her skin.

But the words moved me. Each poem is an unrhymed sonnet that sheds some light on the narrator and a new discovery she makes about the world. This is a lovely collection of poems. It has me thinking about ways I can capture aspects of my life in unrhymed sonnets.

 

Street View: A Slice of Life Story

15 Apr

Last week, I was driving home from school, when this appeared behind me on the highway.

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It’s a  Google Maps Street View Car! I didn’t take this picture, but I really wish I could have taken one. I didn’t because I didn’t have a camera and because it would have been dangerous. I’ve always wondered how it happened and now I have an idea. You can find out if they are near you right now at this link. Wouldn’t that be a great summer job?

Last summer, I ran the ESL summer school at my school. We had 5 teachers and about 150 kids, though we averaged about 125 daily. It was my first time working in an administrative position.. Our program was only half day and I spent most of that half day in the office making attendance calls, dealing with sick kids, making sure teachers had what they needed. I had no secretary; I was the entire office staff. Although I like teaching, working collaboratively with teachers, I am not destined to become a school administrator. It felt too disconnected from the classroom.

This summer, I’m not working. I plan on refreshing and renewing myself. I will travel to Canada to visit my family and my twin sister and I are already starting to make plans. I will read a lot and knit . I will have no driving days when I can only go places on foot.  I will also take my dogs for short walks on hot days and see the world in my own street view.

What will your summer look like?

Up on the Roof

14 Apr

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 “On the morning of its first birthday, a baby was found floating in a cello case in the middle of the English Channel.”

What an enticing opening line to Rooftoppers by Katherine Rundell.

This is how we meet Sophie, the heroine , whom everyone believes to be an orphan. She alone believes her mother is out there somewhere. Raised in England by her quirky male guardian, Charles Maxim,  Sophie is something of a free spirit. Alas, bureaucracy has no room for free-spiritedness, or with single male guardians. When she turns twelve, bureaucrats decide  that Charles is no longer suitable guardian and Sophie would be best served by an orphanage. Of course, they flee. Fortunately, they flee to Paris where that can investigate the mysterious circumstances surrounding the sinking of the boat that left Sophie floating int he English Channel. Along the way, Sophie meets real orphans who live in trees and on the rooftops of Paris.

Aside from a brilliant story, the writing is wonderful. Katherine Rundell manages to be quirky without being pretentious. In doing so she captures Sophie’s innocence and naiveté.

 

2014 Hub Reading Challenge Week # 10

12 Apr

Every language seems to have a word for it:

So so

comme ci comme ça

έτσι κι έτσι
(étsi ki étsi)
así así
så som så
马马虎虎
(Mǎmǎhǔhǔ)
まずまずで
(Mazumazude)
mar sin-sin
I’m sharing this because many times I read a book and think it’s pretty good, so so, worth the time to read. And every once in a while something knocks my socks off. This week, I read two books for the HUB Reading Challenge
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and one really knocked my socks off and I highly recommend that you read it.
The Universe Versus Alex Woods by Gavin Extence was an Alex Award winner. Here is the Goodreads summary:
A rare meteorite struck Alex Woods when he was ten years old, leaving scars and marking him for an extraordinary future. The son of a fortune teller, bookish, and an easy target for bullies, Alex hasn’t had the easiest childhood.
But when he meets curmudgeonly widower Mr. Peterson, he finds an unlikely friend. Someone who teaches him that you only get one shot at life. That you have to make it count.
So when, aged seventeen, Alex is stopped at customs with 113 grams of marijuana, an urn full of ashes on the front seat, and an entire nation in uproar, he’s fairly sure he’s done the right thing …
Introducing a bright young voice destined to charm the world, The Universe Versus Alex Woods is a celebration of curious incidents, astronomy and astrology, the works of Kurt Vonnegut and the unexpected connections that form our world. 
That doesn’t really do it justice. It’s about Kurt Vonnegut, friendship, ethical and existential questions.I highly encourage you to read it. I will admit that I’ve never read any Kurt Vonnegut, but I’m thinking now that maybe I should. 

We love them yeah, yeah yeah

11 Apr

Of course, I mean The Beatles.

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Mick Manning and Brita Granstrom tell the fascinating story of one of the world’s greatest rock bands, the ‘Fab Four’; John, Paul, George and Ringo (as well as Pete and Stu). The book is laid out in two-page spreads, illustrated cartoon-style, with a welter of boxed items per page that give crisp factual info—usually no more than a couple dozen words at a time—while the text buzzes along. 

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This  story covers John Lennon’s Liverpool childhood with Auntie Mimi and his school band the Quarrymen, the friendship between Paul McCartney and George Harrison and their entry into the band, renaming the band the Beatles, the arrival of Brian Epstein as manager, the tour to Hamburg, record label boss George Martin’s influence, Ringo Starr joining the group, fame and screaming fans, the famous tour to the USA, the making of the albums, key hit songs, and films, their visit to India and the influence of Indian spirituality, and finally the breakup of the band and the beginning of solo careers for each. It includes a timeline and bibliography. 

Here are a few more images to enjoy.

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All in all this is a fun book to read. I didn’t learn much more than I already knew about The Beatles, and it’s not really meant for young people already listening to the White Album. But for kids just starting to learn about them this is an excellent resource.

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