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Posts Tagged ‘fun’

IMG_0564I read the first Percy Jackson book years ago, and don’t remember much beyond the monster fights, but when I had an opportunity to see the musical based on Rick Riordan’s series, I couldn’t resist. How on earth were they going to pull off all the special effects?

As it turns out, the musical’s low-budget vibe may be its greatest selling point. Staged at the Lucille Lortel Theater—a tiny, no-frills space—the cast and crew reveled in their underdog status. The minimalist set consisted of scaffolding that could have been stolen from any NYC sidewalk. And the costumes—especially the papier-mâché monster heads—looked like something assembled from the contents of a Michaels store. A centaur costume is achieved with nothing more than a stringy tail and strategic prancing. A simple cart doubles as a bus and a motorcycle. And the swords were definitely covered in aluminum foil. There’s even a throwaway line about the tackiness of off-Broadway plays. Since the book itself is so ridiculous, with new monsters and mythical creatures appearing every page, the musical embraces that feel, and the reality of its budget, by not taking itself too seriously. No money for a fight choreographer? Stage every fight scene in semi-darkness, with flashing lights, lots of yelling and clanking sword sounds. Our imaginations will fill in the rest.

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Favorite Books of 2016

ashesAshes by Laurie Halse Anderson

I’ve been waiting for the conclusion of Anderson’s Seeds of America series for so long, and it doesn’t disappoint. The story is so suspenseful I actually relaxed when the characters reached the Battle of Yorktown, because they were safer there than they had been while wandering the countryside and hiding from slave-catchers. Bonus: reading this book will trigger Hamilton songs to play nonstop in your head. You have been warned.

The Best Man by Richard Peck

Only Richard Peck could write a book about social media hysteria, male role models and anti-gay discrimination without it feeling like an “issues” book. And you will laugh helplessly as you read it, especially when you meet the character who’s a snooty parody of every “upstairs” stereotype in Downton Abbey.

Cloud and Wallfish by Anne Nesbet

The way to describe this book is to imagine the TV show The Americans taking place in East Berlin, from the perspective of an American kid, with a lot less violence and spying, but with all the paranoia of living under constant surveillance.

The Creeping Shadow by Jonathan Stroud

The fourth book in Lockwood & Co. has all the usual creepy haunted houses, oddly-polite teenage drama, and dry sarcasm. Unlike the previous books, it finally stops stalling and makes great progress on the series arc of the nature of ghosts and the sinister forces that caused The Problem.
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Old news to the world, but new news to me so Imma blog about it: Neil Gaiman guest starred on “Arthur.”

In the episode, “Falafelosophy,” Gaimen shows up as a pale unidentified animal with pointy ears and encourages Sue Ellen through the process of writing her first graphic novel, first as himself and then as a falafel-sized figment of Sue Ellen’s imagination.

“Trust your heart, trust your story,” Falafel-Gaimen tells her, when she frets that her friends won’t enjoy her weird story about feuding triangles and circles. “You can’t assume your audience are all squares!”

Other classic lines include:

“Neil Gaiman, what are you doing in my falafel?”

(response) “I’m your Neil Gaiman. I’m your inner Neil, as it were.”

“You don’t want to be stuck with a warm smoothing. It’s like drinking fruity bathwater.”

“Writing can’t be just about pleasing other people. You’ve got a story to tell and you’re the only one who can tell it.”

And this quote from Instructions: “What you seek will be found. Trust ghosts. Trust those that you have helped to help you in their turn. Trust dreams. Trust your heart, and trust your story.”

The folks behind Arthur are on point with their guest stars. Since Neil Gaimean is like a gateway drug for elementary kids to nerdy, creepily imaginative and emotionally honest stories and writing, this is an extremely encouraging episode for any budding writer. Here it is in all its animated Neil Gaiman glory:

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Up close and personal with a 24 day old peregrine falcon chick. This is what it must feel like to be a NatGeo photographer.

Confession: I became obsessed with peregrine falcons for a time after reading Jean Craighead George’s My Side of the Mountain as a child. During recess, I would scan the skies for the definitive peregrine silhouette, widespread wings and long tail feathers, and wonder if I could track the bird to a cliff side nest where I could snatch a chick to raise as my own, as Sam did with Frightful. (Granted, that was probably illegal, even back in my day, and I could never tell kites, hawks, and sometimes, low flying crows apart.)

Nevertheless, I had the chance to live my childhood dream when I got to pet four fluffy chicks that were temporarily removed from their lofty water tower nest for banding. At 24 days old, the chicks were too young to do much except flap their wings and squawk indignantly at being handled in such an undignified manner.

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This is exactly what it looks like. The chick is temporarily placed into a purple plastic pumpkin so it can be weighed on the scale. Females are larger and heavier than males.

Give them another two weeks to grow, and they’ll be soaring and swooping with the best of them.

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In two weeks, these primary feathers will be light, long and strong enough to help this guy or gal reach speeds of up to 220 mph during dives.

I later found out there’s a whole color-coded system for banding peregrines. The chicks I touched were banded with black over red ankle rings, signifying that they were from the eastern U.S., even though they were technically Midwest/Great Plains birds. I should find out what that’s about.

 

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Confession: ever since we set foot in the young adult department at the Cambridge Public Library and casually asked librarian Maya Escobar for book recommendations, we’ve been secretly plotting how to get her to do a Q&A with us.

When we finally got around to asking her about the state of YA–including common misconceptions about YA books and readers–and what it’s like to be a YA librarian, she graciously agreed.

picture day

Photo courtesy of Maya Escobar, who’s clearly showing off her love of comics!

1. How did you become the CPL YA librarian?

I first worked at Cambridge Public Library part time, mostly in the evenings, when I first got out of college.  I worked at the checkout desk and met and observed all kinds of interesting folks — not just library visitors, also my co-workers!  Then I went off for a bit and worked in graphic design and publications, ending up at a nonprofit called YouthBuild USA.  I really liked being back in a nonprofit setting, which was also geared towards improving the lives of young people.  But I missed having more face-to-face interactions with those people; I was mostly sitting in front of a computer, working on layout and editing.

Around that time I ran into CPL’s director, Susan Flannery, on the T, and she said if I ever wanted to come back to the library she was sure there would be something for me.  So I went in for an informational interview with the current head children’s librarian at the time, and learned more about what was involved in becoming a children’s librarian.  I decided that I wanted to go for it, and applied to the GSLIS program at Simmons and an entry level position at CPL at the same time.  And those both worked out!  So here I am 🙂

2. Best job perk?

I work with really wonderful, smart, creative people!  And the children’s staff at Main has always been made up of a fun group of people who are really passionate about this work and have wonderful senses of humor.  I also like not having a formal dress code.  After working in the financial district, I can tell you: khaki pants NEVER AGAIN.

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Credit: SLJ Battle of the Kids’ Books

It’s almost time for my favorite kidlit event of the year: SLJ’s Battle of the Kids’ Books. This year’s a bit tough, because I know nothing about most of the judges. I’ve only read the books of four of the judges: Frances Hardinge, Cece Bell, Mariko Tamaki and Ann M. Martin. So my predictions are even more random than usual. Here goes…

ROUND ONE

3/7 Judge Michael Buckley
The Boys Who Challenged Hitler vs Challenger Deep 

3/8 Judge Maris Wicks
Drowned City vs Echo 

3/9 Judge Melanie Crowder
Gone Crazy in Alabama vs Goodbye Stranger 

3/10 Judge Erin Kelly Entrada
The Hired Girl vs I Crawl Through It 

3/14 Judge Tim Federle
The Marvels vs Most Dangerous 

3/15 Judge Frances Hardinge
My Seneca Village vs Nest

–I’m counting on Hardinge to choose the book that least resembles the types of books she writes. It’s worth a shot, especially since I found Nest a bit lacking in character development.

3/16 Judge Cece Bell
Nimona vs Rhythm Ride 

–I’m using the opposite reasoning here with Cece Bell. Besides, Nimona is fantastic.

3/17 Judge Pamela S. Turner
Symphony for the City of the Dead vs X: A Novel (more…)

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It’s been a while since we’ve put Daleks in the library. The kidlit library, that is. So because it’s the weekend, just for fun, hold on to your sonic screwdriver because it’s about to get geeky:

In an old house in Skaro, all covered with hand mines, lived twelve little Daleks in two straight lines.

In an old house in Skaro, all covered with hand mines, lived twelve little Daleks in two straight lines.

Exterminating baobab trees, one asteroid at a time. First B-612, next the universe. Exterminate!

Exterminating baobab trees, one asteroid at a time. First B-612, next the universe. Exterminate!

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20150911_191359I’ve been terribly delinquent about writing up the Jack Gantos talk I attended a few weeks ago, when he came to Porter Square Books to promote his latest novel/memoir, The Trouble In Me.

Gantos being Gantos, he took a long, meandering path toward explaining his book. It took him 15 minutes to mention Trouble. First, he summarized his writing process (fountain pen and paper), and how every book crystallizes through the messy process of jotting down random ideas and observations in a journal, which he carries everywhere. Somehow he transitioned from this to reminiscing about his childhood, and the day he stood on the U.S.S. Intrepid watching a military plane explode in the sky after a mechanical failure (no one was hurt–the pilot parachuted safely down). His father’s naval career features quite prominently in Trouble, not to mention Dead End in Norvelt.

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After reading Kelly Jones’ wonderful book, we decided to ask the author some questions about her writing and her inspirations. Kelly kindly responded–take a look:

author Kelly Jones with her unusual chickens (photo courtesy of Kelly Jones)

Author Kelly Jones with her unusual chickens (photo courtesy of Kelly Jones)

1. Your author’s note says you keep chickens. How did you get into poultry farming?

I grew up in a small town, and my best friend had chickens. Later, when I had my own suburban yard, I started reading up on chicken-keeping and touring urban farms. Finally, I took the Chickens 101 class from Seattle Tilth, and decided to give it a try!

2. How did your (presumably normal) chickens inspire the unusual characteristics of Sophie’s super chickens?

Henrietta’s telekinesis was inspired by a chicken who shoved other chickens out of her way. Chameleon’s camouflage came from not being able to find a chicken who was hiding in my backyard (it’s amazing how well they blend in!). And watching one chicken grab a slug and take off running, with all the other chickens in hot pursuit, inspired Roadrunner’s super-speed. I liked thinking about which superpowers would actually be useful to chickens doing chicken stuff, instead of, say, saving the world, which is just not that interesting to chickens.

3. Are any of the characters based on people you know? Is Sue?!?

All of them — and none of them! Sophie isn’t based on any one person; she turned up in my head exactly how she is in the book. The rest are all a mix of bits and pieces of people I’ve met or imagined. Real people are too complex to fit easily into stories; they don’t do what I want them to do. But to help characters feel real, I tend to borrow characteristics, names, hobbies, and other pieces from people I’ve met.
photo courtesy of Kelly Jones

Photo courtesy of Kelly Jones

4. What was your favorite book when you were 12 (Sophie’s age)?

I was a very strong reader, so by twelve, I’d already read and loved all the Daniel Pinkwater books I could get my hands on, including Sophie’s favorite: The Hoboken Chicken Emergency. I was ready for something new! On special occasions, when my family went out to dinner, we’d go to our local bookstore afterwards (RIP A Clean Well-Lighted Place in Larkspur, CA!) and my parents, my brother, and I would each choose a book. An awesome bookseller recommended Sorcery and Cecelia by Patricia C. Wrede and Caroline Stevermer to me (it was first published the year I was twelve), and it immediately became my favorite. I’d never read an epistolary novel before, and I loved the idea that two writers wrote a whole book in letters to each other! I tried to talk all my friends into trying the letter game.

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mrs_giocondaLast year I wrote about various authors’ favorite motifs, and what you can tell about their real-world obsessions based on their books. I’ve thought of a few more, including:

E.L. Konigsburg: when I read The Mysterious Edge of the Heroic World, I couldn’t stop thinking about the similarities to The Mixed-Up Files. Now I’ve picked up The Second Mrs. Gioconda, and it’s clear that Konigsburg had a real appreciation for art, and a fascination with the creators and caretakers of that art. We’d all be more art-savvy if teachers taught art history the way Konigsburg wrote her books.

Maggie Stiefvater: any reader of the Raven Cycle will recognize Stiefvater’s obsession with cars…and as her blog confirms, she owns a racecar with a license plate that makes law enforcement nervous.

markofathenaRick Riordan: This one’s so obvious it’s almost cheating, but when you consider all three of his kids’ book series are based on ancient world mythologies (Greek/Roman, Egyptian and Norse), it’s a pretty good bet that mythology is more of a hobby or obsession than a convenient plot device.

On a related note, Kathi Appelt probably has a similar interest in myth, though she’s more about folktales and legends, which she transforms to fit her stories. The mermaids in Keeper are self-explanatory, and the Sugar Man is based on the Sasquatch, but the ancient snake in The Underneath is harder to pin down. Perhaps she’s based on a local legend or Native American myth?

Jeanne Birdsall: music, of course, with a preference for classical and Broadway tunes. Now that Jeffrey and Batty are both accomplished musicians, I can’t wait to see the music referenced in the next and final Penderwicks book.

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