Monday, March 28, 2011

Diana Wynne Jones

After a colleague sent me an email early Saturday morning informing me that Diana Wynne Jones had just died, I posted a short wail of a message on this blog.  And then removed it, as I couldn't find any actual proof of her demise, just lots of rumors.  Although it would have been wonderful to find out that DWJ had issued a statement to the effect that rumors of her death had been greatly exaggerated, I didn't want to be spreading unsubstantiated stories.

Alas, the news is true - the Guardian has published an affectionate obituary filled with astonishing little tidbits, like the fact that DWJ's sister was once slapped by Beatrix Potter. 

I am devastated that the number of books by DWJ is now finite, but on the other hand, her body of work is so vast, varied, and vibrant that I could be happy for a year just re-reading it all.  In the past year, I re-read Archer's Goon and all the Castle books, and it's past time for another read of the Dalemark Quartet and of course the Chrestomanci books. 

In fact, Jones' books are so complex, witty, enchanting, and deeply satisfying that I'm feeling a strange and slightly unsettling mix of emotions.  It appears possible to mourn the loss of one of the world's greatest writers while also rejoicing in the bounty she has left us. 

Readers of her books find that their own world is one of possibility - of hidden depths lurking below the apparent mundanity of daily life and wonders waiting just beyond the next turn of the hallway.  Just as magic leaks through the membrane separately fantasy from reality in Jones' books, so does the vividness and color of Jones' fiction leak from her books out into the world. 

I live in a world permeated with magic and mayhem, thanks to Diana Wynne Jones.  Long live the Queen of Fantasy!

To honor her memory and spread some magic around, advise a child (or adult!) to read one of her books this week.  And while you're at it, booktalk an Eva Ibbotson novel as well.  Great women.  Great books.

Saturday, March 26, 2011

The Books Battle On

It's been a while since I've tuned in to School Library Journal's The Battle of the Books, and jeepers, we're already halfway through Round 2.

I loved Laura Amy Schlitz's definition of comedy (as opposed to funny books) while choosing The Card Turner over Countdown.

Sure, Nye gives some gorgeous reasons ("the lavish hum of place...") for her choice of Keeper, but keep in mind that she was Barbie-phobic as a child (those "mounds")!

Friday, March 25, 2011

Review of Pathfinder by Orson Scott Card

Card, Orson Scott.  Pathfinder.  Simon Pulse, 2010.

This is the sort of science fiction that will satisfy fantasy readers who particularly crave books that take place in pre-industrial societies.  The main characters in Pathfinder - young teenagers Rigg and Umbo, plus their adult friend and protector Loaf - have adventures as they journey from village to town, occasionally eating or staying in smoky, atmospheric, dangerous inns.  There are magical abilities galore, and even a plot involving a dethroned royal family and a long-lost prince.

But wait - this is Orson Scott Card.  Therefore, the reader finds out fairly quickly that the world Rigg and his friends inhabit was colonized more than 11,000 years ago by 19 spaceships from Earth.  And those magical abilities?  They are all variations of a genetic mutation one of the colonists passed on to his descendants.

And that genetic mutation involves the ability (voluntarily or involuntarily) to manipulate time.  Various characters possess different versions of the talent - Rigg can see the paths of all people past and present; Umbo can speed people up (or slow time down), and can also go back in time; and so on.

Card loves to mull over concepts, and so his characters do this quite a bit in Pathfinder, especially concerning the nature of time and paradox.  This no doubt interferes with plot momentum (and makes for a VERY long book), but I found it fascinating.  Those for whom When You Reach Me by Rebecca Stead provided much fodder for thought will feel the same about Pathfinder.

Card says in an afterword that he purposefully chose a view of time travel that most find paradoxical.  Here's an example:
Let's say I eat an egg salad sandwich at a deli.  Within hours I am in terrible agony - the mayo or the eggs must have been bad!  Luckily, I have the ability to go back in time, so I go back to the moment when I was waiting in line to order and tell myself "don't get the egg salad!"

So - let's go back in time ourselves now.  I'm waiting in line at the deli.  Suddenly my future self appears, looking haggard and hollow-eyed, and whispers to me urgently "don't get the egg salad!"  I'm well aware of my own ability to go back in time and have learned to heed my own warnings.  Therefore, I order a cheese sandwich instead.

Here's the question - do I still need to make sure I go back in time to warn myself not to eat the egg salad?

No!  Because I've already been warned, and therefore it's in the past.  That other future (in which I ate the egg salad, threw up for 4 hours, and then went back in time to warn myself) no longer exists.  It's a loop that has been rendered unnecessary and obsolete, so it has ceased to exist.

So there can be no paradoxes, according to Card.  You can't go back in time, step on a butterfly, and go back to a totally altered time.  If it's that altered, you probably never went back in time at all.  You see?

Well, naturally there are a thousand questions and arguments to make, but that's the cool thing about the topic!

For another, lighter view on the subject, here's what Douglas Adams says about time travel in The Hitchhiker's Guide to the Galaxy:

"One of the major problems encountered in time travel is not that of accidentally becoming your own father or mother. There is no problem involved in becoming your own father or mother that a broad-minded and well-adjusted family can't cope with. There is no problem about changing the course of history - the course of history does not change because it all fits together like a jigsaw. All the important changes have happened before the things they were supposed to change and it all sorts itself out in the end. 

The major problem is quite simply one of grammar, and the main work to consult in this matter is Dr. Dan Streetmentioner's Time Traveler's Handbook of 1001 Tense Formations. It will tell you, for instance, how to describe something that was about to happen to you in the past before you avoided it by time-jumping forward two days in order to avoid it. The event will be described differently according to whether you are talking about it from the standpoint of your own natural time, from a time in the further future, or a time in the further past and is further complicated by the possibility of conducting conversations while you are actually traveling from one time to another with the intension of becoming your own mother or father.
Most readers get as far as the Future Semiconditionally Modified Subinverted Plagal Past Subjunctive Intentional before giving up; and in fact in later editions of the book all the pages beyond this point have been left blank to save on printing costs.
The Hitchhicker's Guide to the Galaxy skips lightly over this tangle of academic abstration, pausing only to note that the term "Future Perfect" has been abandoned since it was discovered not to be."
And remember:
There IS such a thing as a Tesseract!  (though I can't figure out quite what it is...

Tuesday, March 22, 2011

Wet and cold on the outside

...but warm and happy on the inside!  We had some of the worst weather possible in Los Angeles for the LA Marathon last Sunday, but it wasn't all that hard on the runners.  It didn't start to rain until we'd been running a few miles, so we were all warmed up.  Raindrops on warm skin actually feel quite refreshing.

Then it rained harder.  Puddles formed.  Shoes became soaked.  The wind blew.  The rain bucketed down.  Gutters overflowed and water surged through the streets.  Vine turned into a river where it crossed Hollywood.

But once we were wet, we couldn't get any wetter.  We just kept running.  The really brave and amazing folks were the volunteers handing out water and Gatorade and orange slices and plenty of encouragement, and the spectators who came out with cow bells and good wishes.  Brrr!  I was wet, but they were wet and cold.

I brought my Flip camera but my hands were so numb I could hardly operate it - wish my videos of all the sights along the route had turned out.  I did manage a short video of the post-finish line scene, when the runners received our (completely inadequate) shiny anti-hypothermia wraps and our medals.

I got cold then.  REALLY cold.  We had to walk several blocks straight into the teeth of the storm, tired and soaked, before we reached the reunion area.  My honey was waiting for me with our kids' old bike buggy.  He bundled my shuddering body into a swim parka, snugged a warm hat on my wet head, stuffed me into the buggy, and pedaled me home in the pouring rain. 

I ran the 2011 LA Marathon in 4 hours and 18 minutes, down from 4:32 in 2009 and a dismal 4:38 in 2010!  Next year, I'm going for 4:15, 55 degrees, and no rain.  

Saturday, March 19, 2011

There's a moon out tonight

Haul out Henkes' Kitten's First Full Moon!  We've got a doozy of a moon appearing tonight - the biggest and shiniest in 20 years.

Rats, doesn't look like we'll be able to see it in Venice.  And Sunday's LA Marathon is going to be rather soggy.

Bof(K)B - end of week 1

School Library Journal's Battle of the (Kids') Books has finished the week with two fascinating matches.

In Round 1, Match 4, Susan Patron reconciles the reactions of not one, not two, but THREE inner readers and chooses Keeper as the winner (my choice, too).  Her comments on the books are not only thoughtful and intelligent, but also sensual.  Patron describes Keeper as being a "pleasingly stocky novel, thick and squarish in the hand," while Hereville has "thick shiny paper" that feels "silky to the touch."  Take that, e-readers!

Karen Hesse's choice of Hind's The Odyssey over One Crazy Summer in Round 1, Match 5 has inspired me to try to find a copy of The Odyssey to start reading at lunch AND to re-read One Crazy Summer.  She even manages to link the two together in an inspired way - "What Hinds, with the help of Homer, teaches us about ourselves is a lesson that, had we learned it earlier might have prevented a year like 1968."

I'm expecting some Big Fun from Adam Rex on Monday.  Smart-ass djinns against my favorite vice!

Friday, March 18, 2011

Jetpacks and Hovercrafts

When I was a kid in the 70s, there was still enough residual excitement from the Apollo missions left to make "the future" feel as if it were right around the corner.  Jetpacks, hovercrafts, and colonies in space - I'd get to experience these wonders as an adult, I felt certain.  Yet here we are in 2011, with our wheels planted firmly on the asphalt and our feet, except for a few folks up in space stations, planted firmly on planet Earth.

Whatever Happened To the World of Tomorrow?, a graphic novel by Brian Fies, asks that very question.  Starting with the New York World's Fair in 1939, a boy and his dad dream about the technological wonders that must be right around the corner - the clean and shiny cities, the efficient transportation systems, the powerful rocket ships taking us to new worlds.  Through the decades, they keep their hopes on the stars, even as they suffer through WWII, build a bomb shelter in the basement in the 50s, and then thrilled to manned spaceflights of the 60s, only to see them abandoned in the 70s.

The illustrations are very much in the gee-whiz retro style of early comic books, and in fact Fies includes 5 original "Commander Cap Crater" stories that look and feel very much like authentic old comic books - even the flimsy paper is different from the rest of the book.  The boy and his dad age only slightly as they move through the decades.  In 1939, the boy is about 8 or 9; in 1975, he is a jaded but still star-struck teenager.

The wonder - and impatience - the boy feels as he waits (and waits and WAITS) for humankind to reach the stars is wistfully and wonderfully portrayed.  "Sometimes, lying alone in the backyard at night, I swear I could hear the stars calling down to me.  In those moments, outer space felt more like home than Earth.  All I needed was a lift."  Oh YES!

We've had some exciting space adventures in recent decades.  Remember the plucky little Mars rover named Sojourner, after Sojourner Truth?  And of course the Mars Exploration program is still continuing today.  But where are the humans in space?  They're just orbiting around and around Earth on the International Space Station.

Yes, that's super cool and I'd join them in a hot second if they ever need a Space Librarian, but still - it's not exactly exploring strange new worlds, seeking out new life and new civilizations, and boldly going where no one has gone before, now is it?

And just where the heck is that monorail we were all promised?  If Disneyland has one, why can't I ride one to work, gliding smoothly above Venice Boulevard all the way downtown?  It's yet another prediction that didn't come to pass, and if you want more, read The Wonderful Future that Never Was by Gregory Benford.  I can't give this a good review, as it consists mainly of poorly organized old illustrations imagining the future, accompanied by hit-or-miss commentary from Benford that mostly fails to give the reader any context.  Sources for the illustrations and quotes aren't given.

However, the illustrations, along with the breathless descriptions, are amusing.  "In A.D. 2000...houses will be kept so clean by electronic dust and dirt traps that housecleaning will never be necessary," someone predicted in 1957.   Many predictions even came true, such as push-button phones, predicted in 1942, and the medical uses of ultrasound, predicted in 1965.

We may not have gorgeous cities floating in the air or rooftop lakes serving as air-conditioners, and we still get wrinkles and gray hair (though our life expectancy has increased a bit in the last 100 years).

But wow, we've got wonders!  Our tiny, powerful devices would have seemed crazy-futuristic to me back in 1975.  Smart phones!  Tablets!  My cute little touchscreen Ipod Nano!  And the Internet still boggles my mind.  It's a little like staring into the night sky and wondering at the universe.  It's so BIG!  There's so MUCH of it!

But I still yearn for the stars.

Wednesday, March 16, 2011

Review of The Hidden Gallery by Maryrose Wood

Wood, Maryrose. The Hidden Gallery (Incorrigible Children of Ashton Place, #2). Balzer & Bray, 2011.

Armed with only a peculiar guidebook, teen-aged governess Penelope Lumley and the three Incorrigible children brave a perplexing and strangely sinister London.  Remember the mysterious hidden room at Ashton Place and the person or persons unknown who are trying to sabotage the Incorrigibles?  Are you wondering about the origins of those charming but feral children, not to mention that of Miss Lumley herself?

In this second installment of the series, The Plot Thickens.  Judge Quinzy has a cameo that appears freighted with meaning (but what meaning remains unclear), Old Timothy is as enigmatic as ever, and Lady Constance outdoes herself with childish fits of temper.  Luckily, Penelope meets a kind young man who becomes an ally, and Miss Mortimer of the Swanburne Academy makes an unexpected and welcome, yet puzzling, appearance; this fine woman apparently Knows More Than She is Telling.

Miss Penelope Lumley's pluck and common sense (she's a Swanburne girl through and through, after all) carry her through all sorts of sticky situations, with the Incorrigibles right beside her, howling, reciting Robert Burns, and attacking the guards of Buckingham Palace.  That she keeps her aplomb makes sense; after all, she once took a class at the Academy called "Do Not Panic: A Swanburne Girl Always Keeps Her Wits About Her."

Fans of the first book The Mysterious Howling will delight in this second installment and will slaver for the third.  May there be many more to come.  For ages 9 to 12.

Under Pressure

Sometimes an earworm can bring a family together.  We watched "It's Kind of a Funny Story" on DVD last week, based on the excellent YA novel of the same name by Ned Vizzini.  Since then, barely an hour goes by that one of us doesn't hum "bum bum bum buhduh bumbum" or breaks into a falsetto "Under pressure!"  This clip only includes part of the scene, but you'll get the picture.

Bof(K)B - first three matches

In an alphabetical accident, I have read only one book featured in most of the first round of matches of School Library Journal's Battle of the (Kids') Books, making voting a breeze - if I read it, it gets my vote!

The first match was difficult, as I read and liked both The Cardturner and As Easy as Falling Off the Face of the Earth.  Although The Cardturner was masterful, the cartoony portrayal of Alton's parents sounded a minor false note to me, whereas I just loved the warmhearted humor and quirkiness of As Easy...  Both books are not exactly realistic, yet both books do a great job at portraying real teen-aged boys.

Appropriately, the judge was Francisco X. Stork, author of the fabulous The Last Summer of the Death Warriors, also about teen-aged boys.  He chose The Cardturner, and who can blame him?

In the 2nd round, Dana Reinhardt chose Deborah Wiles' Countdown over Megan Whalen Turner's A Conspiracy of Kings.  Ridiculously, I haven't read the latter yet (I know!  but I was waiting to re-read the first three in the series.  It's on my shelf at home, just awaitin' the right time) - so really, I should vote for Countdown, which  I respect without absolutely loving it.  But my heart belongs to Conspiracy without having read a word.

In today's match, Barry Lyga, in a hilarious discussion between Barry A and Barry B, chose The Good, The Bad, and the Barbie over Pam Munoz Ryan's The Dreamer.  You go on with your crazy self, Barry!  I read The Dreamer but only flitted through Barbie, so I voted for the former.

But it's Thursday's match that I'm awaiting eagerly - Susan Patron deciding between Hereville: How Mirka Got Her Sword (just finished it but haven't reviewed it on this blog) and Keeper.  Plucky heroines, quirky plots, unusual settings - wow!  One's a comic book, the other a novel.  It's a toughie.  I'll go with Keeper, because it has stayed with me in the months since I've read it, while Hereville was immensely entertaining while I read it but seems likely to fade with time, detail-wise.   However, I'd be happy to see either Keeper or Mirka going up against Barbie in the second round!

Sunday, March 13, 2011

Cool, enigmatic types

We've adopted any number of small animals, but they have mostly been warm-blooded and furry - so when my younger daughter mentioned that a friend of a friend needed a new home for a turtle, I shrugged and gave my assent.  The turtle arrived.  And only then did I look up information on red-eared sliders.

They can live 35 years or more!!  And to be healthy and happy, they need all kinds of elaborate equipment - filters and basking surfaces and UV lights and water heaters and large tanks. 

At least little Quincy Gifford is already more than 4" long, and thus not only less likely to die (apparently it's hard to keep very young turtles alive) but also legal.  In 1975, the FDA banned sales of turtles with carapaces less than 4" long, the rather dubious reason being that young kids are more likely to contract salmonella by putting tiny turtles in their mouths.  Unfortunately, this was too late for Fudge and Peter.   Tales of a Fourth Grade Nothing was published in 1972, allowing Peter to receive a tiny turtle as a pet - and his brother Fudge to not only put it in his mouth but also swallow it.  Luckily, Fudge did NOT contract salmonella.

Quincy Gifford is a surprisingly energetic and even charismatic little guy, though I find him more enigmatic than most of our pets.  Then again, I'm rather drawn to the aloof and enigmatic male.  As a young teen, I had an enormous crush on the alluringly thin and cerebral Spock of Star Trek.  Mind you, the show was already well into re-runs in the late 70s and so Leonard Nimoy was old enough to be my father and then some, but it was of course the eternal Spock, not the mortal Nimoy, whose smooth, still surface I dreamed of ruffling.

At around the same time, I was reading and re-reading The Lord of the Rings books.  The elves' unflappable calm and ethereal beauty were objects of admiration and awe for me, so much so that all of my school papers and reports from junior high and even my first year of high school bear the middle name Eva Galadriel.  Yep.  And please bear in mind that at this point in time I was lank-haired, painfully thin, bespectacled, and clad in high-water Dittos jeans.

I don't remember sighing over the gallant Legolas back then, but certainly my heart beat a little faster when Orlando Bloom appeared on the big screen, bow slung over one shoulder and long platinum-blond hair sweeping his shoulders.  Yowza!  Gorgeous, brave, athletic, serene, and as unreadable as Quincy Gifford the turtle.

Last Friday, Orlando played a more passionate and volatile role as he leaped and dashed all over the Disney Hall, playing a couple abbreviated scenes from Shakespeare's Romeo and Juliet.  He and I were actually in the same building, breathing the same air!  However, although Orlando Bloom is a mere 12 years younger than me, his role as a love-sick teenager made me feel, in comparison, unrelentingly middle-aged.

Scenes from Shakespeare aside, the main event at Disney Hall was Gustavo Dudamel conducting several Shakespeare-inspired works by Tchaikovsky.  Hamlet and The Tempest didn't sound familiar to me, but a warm glow suffused me when I not only recognized Romeo and Juliet but could actually hum along.  How cultured I must be!

But no.  According to Wikipedia, the piece has been featured in dozens and dozens of movies, tv shows, and commercials.  Probably any 8-year-old could hum along with Tchaikovsky's Romeo and Juliet.  And certainly my teenaged daughters both could, as the tune is apparently the theme song played when two Sims characters indulge in a "Passionate Kiss."  Sigh.

Saturday, March 12, 2011

Review of The Door in the Forest by Roderick Townley

Townley, Roderick.  The Door in the Forest.  Knopf, 2011.

I wrote the following review for the March 2011 issue of School Library Journal.

Note: those who are frustrated by ambiguity or unexplained situations may well find that this book drives them crazy.  I found the unanswered questions intriguing rather than frustrating, but The Door in the Forest won't be everyone's cup of tea, despite how well-written it is.

TOWNLEY, Roderick. The Door in the Forest. Bk. 1. 256p. Knopf. Mar. 2011. Tr $16.99. ISBN 978-0-375-85601-3; PLB $19.99. ISBN 978-0-375-95601-0; ebook $16.99. ISBN 978-0-375-89700-9. LC number unavailable. 
Gr 5-7–Life in his rural town has always been boring for 14-year-old Daniel, but this summer is different. The Uncertainties that have plagued nearby cities with unrest and violence bring first refugees and then soldiers to Everwood. One of the refugees is 13-year-old Emily, granddaughter of the town witch, who is as fascinated by the nearby mysterious and inaccessible island as Daniel is. When sinister Captain Sloper becomes interested in the island as well, Daniel and Emily know they must go on a dangerous and almost deadly mission to save it. It is 1923, but an alternate 1923 with those Uncertainties. Otherwise the setting is one that will feel familiar to readers of Ingrid Law’sScumble (Dial, 2010) and N.D. Wilson’s 100 Cupboards (Random, 2007)–rural America laced with subtle magic. Daniel cannot tell a lie (literally), and Emily is heir to the magic that permeates the island, but they are also regular kids facing a scary outside force in the form of violent, unpredictable soldiers. The island and its protectors and inhabitants are a lively blend of whimsy and unsettling mystery, a tone that permeates the book. Readers will still have questions at the end (about the Uncertainties, about the island), but the narration allows enough room to ponder and imagine possible answers. A suspenseful, thought-provoking fantasy.–Eva Mitnick, Los Angeles Public Library

Tuesday, March 8, 2011


There are less than two weeks until the Los Angeles Marathon, so it's the Season of the Long Run.  Apart from the physical discomfort of 15+ mile runs, the main challenge is the boredom.  Ear buds and ear phones hurt my ears after an hour or so, so music and audiobooks are out.  The best way to pass the miles - and to keep one's mind off one's aching feet, knees, thighs, and hips - is to drift into a fugue state.

My mind always turns first - and again and again - to work.  I'm planning numerous huge and unwieldy projects with too little time, staff, and funding, which is rather like trying to wrestle large, angry Krakens into small burlap sacks.  Thinking about these projects is not restful, but the resulting adrenalin is good for my weary legs - and sometimes I even figure out a way to stuff another tentacled arm into the sack.

Much more enjoyable is the topic of character analysis via children's books, which can occupy my mind for many a mile.

First, I turn to Winnie the Pooh.  Which character would I be?  (uneasy combination of Piglet and Rabbit)  What about my family, my friends, my coworkers?  Everyone in the world can be classified according to the world of the 100 Acre Wood.  Haven't you worked with an Eeyore, lived with a Tigger, or gone to school with an Owl?  One of my daughters is definitely a Pooh.  (side note: when I was a little girl, I was in love with Christopher Robin, the kindest, smartest, most mature boy in the whole world)

My 19-year-old explained to me recently that her generation plays this game not with Winnie the Pooh but with Harry Potter.  Frankly, though, I don't think there are enough options.  Hufflepuff, Ravenclaw, Gryffindor, and Slytherin?  That's only four, and since no one would ever consider himself a Slytherin (because Rowling painted those folks with such a broad and evil brush), it's really only three choices.  I'm not brave enough to be in Gryffindor, but I'm equally drawn to Hufflepuff (for those "patient," "true," and "unafraid of toil") and Ravenclaw (for "those of wit and learning").  The Sorting Hat will have to decide for me.

My 16-year-old and I have had many conversations about the daemons of the His Dark Materials series by Philip Pullman.  Like most people, we find the idea of these daemons enchanting, but also worrisome in how much of your inner self is revealed by the permanent form one's daemon eventually takes.  One can't help but speculate what one's own daemon would be.  A kind of bird, or a small furry mammal, or a fierce type of feline?  Mine would undoubtedly be some kind of solitary prey animal - a hamster, perhaps, or a hedgehog (though if it were all about one's appearance, my daemon would be a stork or some other gawky, long-legged bird).  My husband's daemon would absolutely be a badger - industrious and gruff, yet also fuzzy.

Then all the questions begin to arise.  What if one's daemon was huge - an elephant, say?  That would make social engagements rather awkward.  And are there any water-based daemons?  Would you have to spend your life on a boat on a lake or ocean?  Or maybe drag a portable tank behind you?  Does Pullman address this at any point?  And why are all servants' daemons dogs - because that's the only kind of animal that would be obedient?  Time to re-read the series, clearly.

By the time my mind has thoroughly chewed on all these vital and engrossing issues, I'm usually nearing the end of my run and can let my various aches and pains rise back up into my consciousness.  And my reward for running all those long and lonely miles?  For a little while, I feel valiant and accomplished - a Gryffindor through and through.

Sunday, March 6, 2011

Review of Tortall and Other Lands by Tamora Pierce

Pierce, Tamora.  Tortall and Other Lands: A Collection of Tales.  Random House, 2011.

Half of these 11 stories take place in or near Tortall, the kingdom that fans of Pierce have come to know well, but four of them are non-Tortall fantasies and one of them is not a fantasy at all. 

Strange to say, but though I have read both Beka Cooper books, all four of the Protector of the Small quartet, the Circle of Magic quartet, AND the Circle Opens quartet, I have never read either the Immortals or Song of the Lioness quartets.  Weird, huh? 

However, it does put me in a good position to tell you that no familiarity of those last two quartets (or indeed, any of Pierce's books) is needed to thoroughly enjoy this collection of stories.  Certainly, fans will recognize themes from Pierce's work.  Girls and women in these stories use inner strength and any available resources to overcome obstacles placed in their way by society, religion, their families, or their own fears.  There is plenty of Girl Power here, shining from almost every page.

Folks who have read all the Tortall books will no doubt recognize some familiar characters - I didn't, needless to say.  But I did fall in love with the blobby, adaptable creatures called Darkings, and would love to read more about them.  And Nawat (a crow who takes human form) won my heart, with his loyal, loving, and birdlike approach to his human wife Aly and their three new triplets.  There are parallels to the Taliban and Islam, and several powerful stories that take place in dry, desolate places where self-reliance must be cultivated.  The two modern stories (one a rather intense urban fantasy thriller and the other about girls in a group home trying - and failing - to "test" a new housemother) did not appeal to me nearly as much.  Although they do show Pierce's range, her world-building is one of my favorite things about her writing.

Included is a snippet of the third Beka Cooper novel, to come out later this year.  I can't wait!

Recommended for fans ages of Tamora Pierce ages 12 and up, and also for readers who have enjoyed Ursula Le Guin's story collection Tales from Earthsea.

Saturday, March 5, 2011

Not your parents' comics

Here's an event for the first Sunday in April.  I apologize for flyer being cut off - I just can't seem to get the formatting right:

10:00AM to 3:00PM - SUNDAY, APRIL 3, 2011
Featured Speakers:
Sid Jacobson was editor in chief at Harvey Comics, where he created Richie Rich, and was the executive editor at Marvel Comics. His collaborations with illustrator Ernie Colon include the fascinating 9/11 Report: A Graphic Adaptation, and the new illustrated biography of Anne Frank entitled, Anne Frank: The Anne Frank House Authorized Graphic Biography.
William J. Rubin is the executive editor of Nachshon Press and the chief architect of the National Jewish Book Award winner, Homeland: The Illustrated History of the State of Israel.
Barry Deutsch is the 2011 Sydney Taylor Award winner for Hereville: How Mirka Got Her Sword.
Anastasia Betts is a well-known education professional with an expertise in graphic literature.
10:00 AM
Registration and Bagels
10:30 AM
Questions and Answers about graphic literature with authors Sid Jacobson, Barry Deutsch and William Rubin
12:00 PM
Buffet Lunch with special presentation by Sydney Taylor Award winner Barry Deutsch
1:15 PM
History of graphic literature for children with Anastasia Betts
2:30 PM
Literature marketplace and autographing by local children's literature authors
Manuscript consultations available

Conference will be held at American Jewish University,
15600 Mulholland Dr., Los Angeles

Sponsored by Sinai Temple Blumenthal Library,
Association of Jewish Libraries, AJLSC, and American Jewish University
For reservations and information call Susan Dubin at (818) 886-6415, send email to Lisa Silverman or return this to the address below:
Name___________________ Address________________________City/State/Zip_______________
______$55 (includes lunch)______ AJL member $45 (includes lunch)____ $45 Manuscript consult
Make check payable to: Sinai Temple Blumenthal Library
Mail to:
Jewish Literature for Children Conference
Sinai Temple Blumenthal Library
10400 Wilshire Blvd., Los Angeles, CA 90024

Wednesday, March 2, 2011

Constantinople and Timbuktu

Everyone has a favorite Dr. Seuss book, and mine is Hop on Pop. Both my kids demanded this book incessantly as toddlers and preschoolers, despite - or because of - the uber-simplicity of the text and the lack of plot.

We all loved the large font size, the soothing rhythm, and surreal illustrations. Especially compelling were the tiny dramas and events that came and went as we turned the pages. Remember those two doe-eyed, thickly-lashed creatures admiring a bee, only to run in terror when two more bees show up and begin chasing them? Or Mr. Brown, who is catapulted out of town, only to return and eat a snack with Mr. Black?

Our favorite was Sad Dad, to be read aloud with maximum pathos:

"Dad is sad.
Very, very sad.
He had a bad day.
What a day Dad had!"

I have days like this myself:

Mum is glum.
Very, very glum.
She had a crummy day.
Mum wants some rum.

But I'm at work. Guess I'll have to settle for the Green Eggs and Ham wordle over at Madigan Reads to cheer me up.