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Archive for the ‘Books-general’ Category

Once in awhile I succumb to the guilt of trying to be more knowledgeable about Literature. And thus, a few weeks ago I slogged through 300 pages of prose from a Very Important Author, re-affirming, in the process, why I read children’s books:

PLOT: if there was a plot to this Famous Book Which Shall Remain Nameless, it was too subtle for me to catch. I like stories where something happens. But there was no sense of progression in this book, just random slices-of-life that never quite strung together.

CHARACTER: everyone, it seemed, was either a quivering mess of low self-esteem or just plain cruel. I don’t need all the characters to be likeable, yet the constant unvarying doom was uninspiring. If there’s no discernible plot, at least give me someone to root for.

WRITING: the prose was fairly straightforward and not at all interested in showing off. I only wish it had been used to tell a better story.

From now on, I think I’ll stick with the adult books that work for me, like Neil Gaiman’s The Ocean at the End of the Lane, or nonfiction. (Why is it that nonfiction reads so much better? Is it because the authors feel they have to work harder to make the story shine?) And the next time I get a guilty twinge, this post should cure any inclination to act on that impulse.

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oceanAlthough Neil Gaiman’s latest book is steeped in myth like The Graveyard Book and as creepy as Coraline, unlike its predecessors, childhood in The Ocean at the End of the Lane is anything but safe. In perhaps his most reflective novel yet, Gaiman broods with melancholy and memory as his unnamed narrator returns to Sussex as an adult for a family funeral, and finds himself inexplicably drawn to the Hempstock farm at the end of the lane.

There, in front of the duck pond his childhood friend Lettie liked to call her ocean, he begins to remember how the Hempstock property was a place of solace for him, how he turned to Lettie for protection when he awoke from a nightmare choking on a silver shilling, how this sends them into the woods in pursuit of an ancient creature that takes the shape of rotten rags flapping in the wind–a creature that worms its way into the narrator’s life in the shape of a sadistic nanny who then wreaks havoc by turning all his family members against him. (more…)

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Happy Chinese New Year!

The Year of the Horse

The Black Stallion, in GO pieces.

After kicking off the New Year with an evening of 五子棋 (5 in a Row) and 年糕 (sticky rice cakes–Lisa’s family recipe!), we bring you this list of horse books so you can celebrate the Year of the Horse all year long!

Brush of the Gods by Lenore Look–Not strictly about a horse, the great Tang Dynasty painter Wu Daozai does paint one in Meilo So’s gorgeous illustrations.

The Scorpio Races by Maggie Stiefvater–Every November, riders on vicious flesh-eating water horses sweep through Puck Connolly’s little town in the event known as the Scorpio Races. This year, to save her family, Puck enters the competition.

War Horse by Michael Morpurgo–Set against the backdrop of the horrors of WWI, War Horse tells the remarkable story about the bond between a boy and his horse.

The Horse and His Boy by C.S. Lewis–A Horse and his Boy meet a Horse and her Girl, who happen to be much better riders, and together they make their escape north towards freedom.

Misty of Chincoteague by Marguerite Henry–The classic horse book for generations, Henry has the market cornered when it comes to horses.

And of course, no New Years book list is complete without a Grace Lin book! Happy Reading!

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Maybe because I’ve been in graph-making mode at work and because Thanksgiving was merely a week ago, but when I saw this year’s goodreads popular choice awards, I immediately thought: pie chart!

Granted, a pie chart is probably not the best format to represent the data because I have no way of knowing the total number of votes cast, but looking solely at the votes which went to the top 20 most popular children’s and middle grade titles, here is the breakdown:

pie

By far and away, Rick Riordan’s The House of Hades blew everyone else out of the water, being 3x more popular than the runner-up. Also, if you tally up the fine print, you’ll see that 65% of the winners are sequels. It don’t take no pie chart to tell you that publishers love sequels.

Rather than exclaim, “but where’s this book” and “why isn’t that book on the list?”, I’m curious as to who actually votes in these things. Answer: at least 98,807 people, if your vote counts only once. (People’s Choice Awards, I’m looking at you.)

That said–very pleased that Rose Under Fire and Out of the Easy garnered enough votes to make it onto the YA fiction list.

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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.

princeThe 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!

madelineMadeline

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. (more…)

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Are we in Narnia yet?

Are we in Narnia yet?

In light of the long weekend, we decided to pack as much activity as possible into a NYC adventure. We started the day ambling around Fort Tryon Park, home of an actual fort overlooking the Hudson river. An ancillary site to the Battle of Fort Washington, the ornate lampposts put us more in a Lion, Witch, and Wardrobe mood than a Chains mindset.

We were hoping to bump into Friar Hugo and some Dibbuns.

We were hoping to bump into Friar Hugo and some Dibbuns.

Tucked inside the park is The Cloisters, an abbey-like branch of the Metropolitan Museum of Art. Built from the stones of actual French abbeys, it’s the home to medieval art–in particular, the famous unicorn tapestries. But our favorite part of the Cloisters was the well-manicured medieval garden in the inner courtyard. With plants such as dittany and tansey, we’re sure the Redwall folks would have felt right at home there.

Monica, with her book, Africa Is My Home!

Monica, with her book, Africa Is My Home.

Next, we rushed downtown to meet Monica (Educating Alice). Having taken the most tortuous route possible, we arrived feeling as harried as the March Hare, but Monica soon put us at ease. We had a great time chatting about all things kidlit and admiring her new book, as well as her beautiful Kipling illustrations. (Did you know Monica is a really talented artist? We didn’t.)

Unfortunately, we couldn’t stay too long, because we were attempting to strike it rich at the Matilda lottery. We’ve been itching to see this musical since it opened in the West End; thanks to the recording, we know all the songs by heart. But with only twenty available tickets, luck was not a lady that night. Still, Lisa managed to snag tickets for another day, so stay tuned for her review. We ended up watching The Glass Menagerie instead, via standing room only. (There was a unicorn, though not from the tapestry.)

Because Columbus Day = library closed, we couldn’t visit The ABC of It at the New York Public Library. Ah well, until next time…

Somewhere on a show we heard that a picture tells a thousand words. So telly, if you bothered to take a look, is the equivalent, of like, lots of books!

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Well, Professor Umbridge would be the last person to wish you all a happy weekend, so it stands to reason she’s gracing us with her presence on a Monday (incidentally, her favorite day of the week.)

umbridge

Doesn’t she look smashing in pink?

 

 

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