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Just a little creepy

12 Oct

I make no apologies to my students. I tell them straight up that I don’t like scary stories because they give me nightmares. I am not such a weenie that I eschew all books that are potentially scary books. I can read a book until it crosses a creepy line that is complicated to explain in words. It is a gut feeling and a sense of where a book is going.

I read and added Thornhill by Pam Smy to my classroom library. It is potentially scary, but I got through it well enough. The book is half text, half illustrations. To be honest, the scariest bits are told through the black and white illustrations, so I could look quickly and move on. I haven’t book talked it, and yet the book has been checked out several times. There is a audience for scary books.

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Publisher’s Summary:  Parallel stories set in different times, one told in prose and one in pictures, converge as a girl unravels the mystery of the abandoned Thornhill Institute next door.

1982: Mary is a lonely orphan at the Thornhill Institute For Children at the very moment that it’s shutting its doors. When her few friends are all adopted or re-homed and she’s left to face a volatile bully alone, her revenge will have a lasting effect on the bully, on Mary, and on Thornhill itself.

2017: Ella has just moved to a new town where she knows no one. From her room on the top floor of her new home, she has a perfect view of the dilapidated, abandoned Thornhill Institute across the way, where she glimpses a girl in the window. Determined to befriend the girl and solidify the link between them, Ella resolves to unravel Thornhill’s shadowy past.

Told in alternating, interwoven plotlines—Mary’s through intimate diary entries and Ella’s in bold, striking art—Pam Smy’s Thornhill is a haunting exploration of human connection, filled with suspense.

 

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Why we read

2 Oct

In 2013, Neil Gaiman delivered a speech entitled “Why Our Future Depends on Libraries, Reading and Daydreaming” to The Reading Agency in London. You can watch the speech on Youtube,  listen watch and read the text on The Reading Agency’s website, or simply hold the text in your hands and read it, along with many other essays, in Gaiman’s recent collection of essays, The View From the Cheap Seats. 

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I highly recommend that you make the effort to see what Gaiman has t say on this topic. You will nod your head in agreement because, if you read this blog, you are a reader.

Oliver Jeffers and Sam Winston clearly believe in the same power of books and reading. His new picture boo, A Child of Books,  says the same thing as Gaiman, though in simpler language.

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Publisher’s Summary: New York Times best-selling author-illustrator Oliver Jeffers and fine artist Sam Winston deliver a lyrical picture book inspiring readers of all ages to create, to question, to explore, and to imagine.

A little girl sails her raft across a sea of words, arriving at the house of a small boy and calling him away on an adventure. Through forests of fairy tales and across mountains of make-believe, the two travel together on a fantastical journey that unlocks the boy’s imagination. Now a lifetime of magic and adventure lies ahead of him . . . but who will be next? Combining elegant images by Oliver Jeffers and Sam Winston’s typographical landscapes shaped from excerpts of children’s classics and lullabies, A Child of Books is a stunning prose poem on the rewards of reading and sharing stories—an immersive and unforgettable reading experience that readers will want to pass on to others.

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Where will your reading take you today?

Happy National Coloring Book Day

2 Aug

National Coloring Book Day has me reflecting on myself as an artist.

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In first grade, I drew a picture of horse.

It was the best picture I’d ever drawn and I knew it. It LOOKED like a horse. I was  so proud of it that I took it up to my teacher, whom I loved.

She looked at it and said, “Oh Adrienne, you always rush our work.”  I was crushed.

I was never much of an artist and struggled with coloring in the lines. I joke now that I can’t draw a flower, but I can write a really great poem about one. I pulled out my first grade report cards to see if I was misremembering things and I laughed out loud.

Fall: “Adrienne has good ideas in art but has trouble expressing them.”  and “She is able to use a primary dictionary and enjoys writing one and two sentence stories using her dictionary.”

Winter: “Adrienne tends to be in too much of a hurry to complete her pictures.”  But also, “She enjoys writing short stories especially about her family and friends.”

Spring:” Adrienne’s pictures are still not complete as she does not take enough time. She would much rather write a story than draw.”

The Jesuit saying, “Give me a child until he is seven and I will give you the man” was the basis for the Up series of movies. I guess it is applicable to me as writer and artist, too.

 

Going Wild

3 Jun

In 2014, Peter Brown’s Mr. Tiger Goes Wild, saw a tiger shedding his civilized clothing and dainty manners to GO WILD!

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In his first novel for middle readers, The Wild Robot, the opposite occurs.

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A robot is washed ashore on an island, after a cargo ship is wrecked. Accidentally activated by sea otters, Roz, the robot, begins exploring her environment where she is seen as a monster.  After an accident in which she kills a mother goose, she adopts the  gosling she has orphaned. In her efforts to be a good caregiver to the gosling she names Brightbill, she begins to make inroads into the animal community. Roz learns skills from the animals she encounters: care of goslings from a mother goose, house building from a beaver. In turn, she learns to love and becomes a vital member of the island community that she considers her home.

The book seems simple, but it really speaks to the heart of what it means to be human. Roz doesn’t fit in at first. She begins as “other”  but becomes an integral member of society because of the connections she makes with the island’s inhabitants. It reminds me of the fox from Antoine de Saint-Exupéry’s The Little Prince who wants to be tamed.

“No,” said the little prince. “I am looking for friends. What does that mean–‘tame’?”

“It is an act too often neglected,” said the fox. It means to establish ties.”

And later the fox says,

“One only understands the things that one tames,” said the fox.

So it is with Roz and the animals on the island. Ties are established and the “monster” is tamed.

Alas, the idyll is violently disrupted when robots come to the island, seeking the cargo that was lost at sea. The ending is more realistic than happily ever after, but I think it makes this story more powerful. As Mr. Spock once philosophized

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Live long and prosper, Roz!

 

 

Pangur Bán

11 Apr

Sometime in or around the 9th century, a monk wrote a poem, in Irish, in the margins of a manuscript in the Monastery of St Paul in Lananttal, Austria. The poem, entitled “Pangur Bán”, compares the life of the monk to the life of his white (bán) cat, Pangur. There have been many translations and Jo Ellen Bogart explains in the author’s note at the end of The White Cat and the Monk, that she has drawn on several of these for the text she uses in the book.

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The simple text is elegant, distilling the poem’s ideas to language young readers can appreciate and enjoy. The book opens wordlessly as we follow the white cat into the monastery and the cell of the monk, to whom we are then introduced

“I, monk and scholar,

share my room

with my white cat, Pangur.

 By candle’s light, late into the night

we work, each at a special trade.

The monk goes on to compare and contrast his life and scholarly pursuits to the cat’s life and feline pursuits. And yet, in the end they are not so different. The final pages show the monk and cat, together at a window.

In our tiny home,

Pangur finds his mouse…

and I find light

in the darkness.

The illustrations are beautiful, modern, yet evoking a time and place long ago.

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This is a quiet book, contemplative even, but I think  many young readers would enjoy it. I think it would make an excellent bedtime read aloud for people of all ages. You can hear the poem, read it is original Irish in the clip below, from Seamus Heaney’s Memorial Service.

 

 

Not such a modern girl

27 Jan

I was always sort of  a nerdy kid who liked school and did the right thing. I was never a rebel, or anything close to alternative. In fact, when the word “conformist” came up in a grade 10 English class, Alan Giagnavova, the rebelish odd duck who sat in front of me,  turned in his seat, pointed at me and said, “You are a conformist.”

I never listened to really cool bands or followed the music scene.  I am still not that person, but I’m trying to read outside my usual box. As a result,  at 51, I have a number of memoirs by or about musicians on hold. Some are musicians I didn’t really listen to, and whose music I don’t necessarily like. Nonetheless I am interested in what they have to say and how they say it.

I can’t recommend Carrie Brownstein’s memoir, Hunger Makes me a Modern Girl  enough.

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She was, still is, a member of Sleator-Kinney. I first became aware of her on Portlandia. I’ve heard her interviewed on a couple of local programs and I was intrigued by the interviews and impressed by the memoir. The writing is all that I love in memoir: intelligent, honest and emotionally vulnerable.

Publisher’s Summary:Before Carrie Brownstein became a music icon, she was a young girl growing up in the Pacific Northwest just as it was becoming the setting for one the most important movements in rock history. Seeking a sense of home and identity, she would discover both while moving from spectator to creator in experiencing the power and mystery of a live performance. With Sleater-Kinney, Brownstein and her bandmates rose to prominence in the burgeoning underground feminist punk-rock movement that would define music and pop culture in the 1990s. They would be cited as “America’s best rock band” by legendary music critic Greil Marcus for their defiant, exuberant brand of punk that resisted labels and limitations, and redefined notions of gender in rock.

Hunger Makes Me a Modern Girl is an intimate and revealing narrative of her escape from a turbulent family life into a world where music was the means toward self-invention, community, and rescue. Along the way, Brownstein chronicles the excitement and contradictions within the era’s flourishing and fiercely independent music subculture, including experiences that sowed the seeds for the observational satire of the popular television series Portlandia years later.

With deft, lucid prose Brownstein proves herself as formidable on the page as on the stage. Accessibly raw, honest and heartfelt, this book captures the experience of being a young woman, a born performer and an outsider, and ultimately finding one’s true calling through hard work, courage and the intoxicating power of rock and roll.

I think what I like best about the book is that it gives a real sense of what it as like to live in a world so unlike my own and it also clearly demonstrates the bands creative process. I don;t have to be a fan of her music to appreciate this fantastic memoir.

YALSA’s 2016 Nonfiction Reading Challenge Check-in #2

27 Dec

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The rereading of the Morris Award finalists continues. I can’t believe it is only 12 days until I go to Boston.

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I finished Most Dangerous: Daniel Ellsberg and the Secret History of the Vietnam War  by Steve Sheinkin. It is interesting that it all took place during my childhood. I remember bits of it in the news, but never really put it all together.

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I also read This Strange Wilderness: The Life and Art of John James Audubon by Nancy Plain.

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I never really gave Mr. Audubon much thought. Although I’ve read a few novels in which he is featured, I just sort of imagined him in a studio, painting. This Strange Wilderness really sheds light on the struggles he had to simply make the paintings and what it took to get the book published. This book feels much more like a  traditional biography than Most Dangerous, but it is very well-written and researched and, reading it, I got a real feel for the times in which Mr Audubon lived.

I have two of the other three books checked out from the library.I’ve already read these, but will reread them with a more critical eye. The third is on hold ad, of course, it is the one I haven’t read. I’m hoping to get it this week.

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