It’s been almost a year since I made a New Year’s resolution to learn how to knit. Eleven months later, I finally took the first step: here’s my wiggly, uneven attempt at…something. A coaster, perhaps, or a scarf for a very narrow-necked person. With any luck, I’ll graduate to Extra Yarn-style yarn bombing or Harry Potter scarf-dom by Dec. 31. And if I ever manage to make Maddie’s mittens, I’ll be sure to brag about it here.
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It’s with a grimmace that I admit I didn’t enjoy Adam Gidwitz’s The Grimm Conclusion, the third installment of the Grimm books, as much as I had expected to. The fairy tales were as outrageous and un-Disneyfied as before. The narrator was even chattier than I’d remembered. And we the readers were frequently warned to put the book down, lest we encounter upcoming unpleasant gruesomeness. Nevertheless, The Grimm Conclusion read like a pale reflection of its predecessors, as if it were told through a glass grimmly.
See what I did there?
After being reminded by the chatty narrator that these ain’t your grandma’s fairy tales, but the “grimmest, Grimmest tale” of them all, we meet twins Jorinda and Joringel, whose mother may have been impregnated with the help of a juniper tree. When their parents prove inadequate (one dies of happiness the day they were born, the other locks herself away out of fear and illogical psychology), Jorinda and Joringel promise to cling to each other for ever and ever, until their step father decapitates Joringel with a trunk lid and tricks Jorinda into thinking his death was her fault.
Although Joringel is eventually restored to himself, their mother’s shoddy advice informs how they make sense of this and future traumas: bury the stone that represents pain under mattresses until you don’t feel it anymore, and stamp out the weed that is anger until it never comes back.
[SPOILERS BELOW] Continue Reading »
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I spent a few days in Denmark on a work trip and took some time to hunt down kidlit-related sites. Before this visit, almost everything I knew about the country came from Number the Stars–so I made sure to visit Tivoli Gardens. I can see why Annemarie loved it–it’s a strange combination of amusement park and winter wonderland (they’re in the middle of their Christmas season). Still very commercial, but it comes off as much less cheesy than Disneyland:
Pocket Pacy enjoyed the Ferris Wheel:
And someone needs to tell Jon Klassen to put these hat-loving, faceless dwarves into a book:
There’s plenty around town to commemorate Hans Christian Andersen: he has a statue near city hall and a museum with giant dioramas of his stories, like this one showing The Steadfast Tin Soldier:
Most famous of all is the Little Mermaid statue by the harbor: there’s a huge line of tourists on the left that I cropped out. If the weather had been warmer, I’m sure we’d be wading in the water to get better photos. The statue is so famous that people have stolen the head at least twice–a fate even more gruesome than the sad ending of the original tale.
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When moving from book medium to play medium, a good adaptation is just as important as good source material. Sadly, this was not the case for Lizzie Bright and the Buckminster Boy. Based on Gary D. Schmidt’s depressing Newbery honor-winning book of the same name and adapted by Cheryl L. West, Emerson Stage’s production more often than not goes through the motions of playing Lizzie Bright without actually capturing the spirit of Lizzie Bright.
As in the book, young Turner Ernest Buckminster the Third, the preacher’s boy, feels like a fish out of water when his family moves against his will from Boston to Phippsburg, Maine. Unlike the book, his family consists of just him and his strict father, a widowed minister, since Turner’s mother was written out of existence. Unable to make friends with any of the Phippsburg boys, to the town and his father’s disapproval, Turner ends up befriending Lizzie Bright, a black girl his age who can throw and hit a baseball like no other. She lives on Malaga Island, just across the bay. Unfortunately, the town leaders see Malaga as an eyesore, especially if their plans to turn Phippsburg into a vacation resort are to move ahead.
Along the way, Turner bleeds all over his starched white shirts, looks into the eye of a whale, and is drafted as punishment into reading poetry and playing hymns for Mrs. Cobb–a crotchety old woman obsessed with documenting her last words. This leads up to a scene that’s as hilarious in person as it is on the page. If only the rest of the book’s nuance was retained as well. Continue Reading »
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I was a big fan of Dead End in Norvelt, and From Norvelt to Nowhere promised more adventure for young Jack Gantos and his off-kilter elderly neighbor, Miss Volker of the arthritic hands and former lover of a mass poisoner. The book even promised a road trip for this zany duo. What could go wrong?
Lots of things, as it turns out. From Norvelt to Nowhere reads like a sad echo of the prequel. The best part of the book actually takes place before the roadtrip. When a new original Norvelter moves back to town, she falls dead on the same night that Jack chooses to dress up as Mr. Spizz (the mass poisoner, now on the run from the law) for Halloween. But Jack thinks the real Mr. Spizz may be back in town, ready to sweep Miss Volker off her feet now that she really is the last original Norvelt resident. After some spooky Halloween antics, doses of Miss Volker’s acerbic wit and an unfortunate accident involving an air raid shelter, Jack is commissioned into accompanying Miss Volker to Eleanor Roosevelt’s funeral.
That’s where the novel fell apart. What should have been Jack and Miss Volker’s Excellent Adventure turns into a heavy-handed (and often confusing) series of monologues on love, hate, history, social justice and fighting our inner demons. There are numerous allusions to Jekyll and Hyde and way too many Moby Dick references (in case you’re curious, Miss Volker is Captain Ahab and she intends to spear Mr. Spizz—with a real spear). While the book is still entertaining, it simply lacked focus. Miss Volker monologues for pages on end while I lost track of where they were and the purpose of their trip (ok, there’s a mystery about who really killed the old Norvelt ladies, but it felt weak). Jack, supposedly the main character, starts to feel like the sidekick—one whose only purpose is to drive and protest feebly when Miss Volker starts to get too outlandish. It felt like a story without a point, like the roadtrip was an excuse for Miss Volker to say everything that she never had time to say in the prequel. And while I would happily read a book of Miss Volker’s speeches, I don’t want them to take over what was supposed to be a well-written and (multiple!) character-driven novel.
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After suffering through the first ponderous, overly epic Hobbit movie, it was a relief to attend last weekend’s performance of The Hobbit at the Wheelock Family Theater. The play had a whimsical, homemade quality and relied mostly on kid actors. It reminded me that The Hobbit is a children’s book written to entertain–not, as certain filmmakers would have us believe–created so bearded actors could monologue on fate and courage and whatnot.
The actors clearly had a lot of fun. Most of the dwarves were kids with (hilarious) fake beards who spoke in a mishmash of British accents. (One of the dwarves was so small she could fit into a barrel—and she did, which makes sense if you remember a certain detail from the plot). Bilbo, played by one of the few adult actors (Andrew Barbato), was quite convincing as the unexpected hero. But my vote for best actor goes to the Elven Queen (Monique Nicole McIntyre), who had more stage presence than anyone else, despite having just a few lines. She made the elves look dignified and respectable, which, given their abysmal costumes and drunkenness (more on that later), is quite a feat.
A lot of the fun came from seeing what the theater could do with a limited budget. They used stairs and lighting tricks to make the stage look bigger than it was, and the costumes were simply ingenious. Some highlights:
- the Mirkwood spiders will surely inspire great Halloween costumes. They used stiff gray capes and dangling plastic legs, and fantastic headpieces with silver Christmas tree ornaments for eyes (eight of them per person).
- furry hobbit feet were solved by stick-on yarn patches. I’m surprised no one’s foot hair fell off.
- the dwarves sang songs from the book as they traveled. It helped set the scene for their quirky adventure, and made the small stage seem larger than it was.
- playwright Patricia Gray kept the plot rolling along nicely. Instead of stopping in Rivendell so Elrond could decipher the moon letters, Gandalf does that at the beginning in Bag’s End. But fear not, instead of drunken elves in Rivendell, we get drunken elves in Mirkwood.
- ah yes, those Mirkwood elves. As much as I admired most of the costumes, it really fell apart for these elves. They looked like cheetahs. Cheetahs in trees—skintight animal print clothing with green skirts and dresses. It was pretty hard to take them seriously, despite the whole locking-up-the-dwarves problem.
- and Smaug? I won’t ruin the surprise, but it was impressive. He did tend to drown out Bilbo’s voice, which is a shame.
So, while I wasn’t exactly wowed by the acting, I had a good time. Besides, with a 1h45min running time, this play could teach Peter Jackson a lot about the virtues of a condensed script.
Posted in Movies, TV and Theater | Tagged events, fun | 3 Comments »
Should you (or your child) need a straightforward outfit in time for Oct 31, or get invited to a fancy dress party, fear not! Beyond Harry Potter, Thing 1 and Thing 2, and Max from Where the Wild Things Are, behold Reads for Keeps’ list of easily assembled yet unique kidlit costume suggestions.
The Little Prince
While the long blue coat with the red cuffs and lining is his most iconic look, the Petit Prince spends most of his time wearing a matching celadon button down shirt and flared trousers (blue hospital scrubs should do in a pinch). These he accessorizes with a red bow tie and red belt, or a yellow scarf and yellow belt. While it is helpful to have a shock of blond hair, to really convey who you are, either carry around a fox stuffed animal or a rose, and be sure to ask every grownup in sight to draw you a sheep. Let’s practice: Dessine-moi un mouton!
Bonus: if you’re going as a father/son or father/daughter team, have dad dress like an aviator, and you’ve got yourself an Antoine de Saint-Exupery!
This outfit requires a navy blue short-sleeved dress and a straw hat with a ribbon around the brim. Add the finishing touches by making a peter pan collar out of white felt and tying a red bow/cravat around your neck. The rest is all attitude. Or find eleven other girls and a schoolmarm dressed like a nun with whom to practice walking in two straight lines. Continue Reading »
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