Saturday, December 31, 2005

Autism Spectrum Disorders

A friend of mine, Chris, has started a blog to share information resources related to Autism Spectrum Disorders (ASD): ASD Blog. It is "a resource for concrete, practical information for parents, educators and caregivers working with children and adults with ASDs." Suggestions and submissions are welcome.

2005

I read 256 books in 2005.

I wrote about 16,000 words for NaNoWriMo. While I hit neither target words nor finished what I was working on, it was very valuable. I proved that when I made time and gave my writing a priority, I could do it. It reinforced that writing is not easy: its not easy to do the actual writing, its not easy to plot something that is believable, its not easy to create a character that is real, and its not easy to find the time. I rediscovered that writing fiction is something I enjoy doing -- and that I have to get better at time management.

I started this blog, which has been wonderful! I like being able to share the books, movies and TV shows I love. While some people talk about the Internet being isolating and antisocial, I have found the opposite to be true. I am now part of a online community of people who enjoy childrens and teen books as much as I do, and also love a good Buffy reference. I cannot stress enough how welcoming and encouraging other bloggers have been. Thank you all!

The Sacrifice

The Sacrifice by Kathleen Benner Duble.

Warning: To discuss this, I will be having spoilers.

The Plot: Abigail Faulkner is ten years old, living in Andover, Mass. The year is 1692. She's high spirited and speaks her mind, sometimes a bit too much, especially since she lives in a Puritan colony, and her grandfather Dane is also Reverend Dane. Things seem boring -- and then she and her sister, Dorothy, hear about a bunch of Salem girls who are accusing people of being witches. Witches! In Massachusetts!

It stops being exciting when the Salem girls are invited to Andover to find witches and the accusations start to fly. It starts being scary when Abigail and Dorothy are accused as witches and taken to jail. There are three options: proclaim your innocence yet be unable to prove it so hang; admit to being a witch to escape the hangman's noose yet still be in jail; or accuse another and free yourself. As history tells us, Abigail and Dorothy accuse another. Their mother.

The Good: This is a book for ages 9 and up. It's almost impossible to imagine being able to have book about this subject -- the Salem Witch trials -- for this age group. Duble succeeds for several reasons:

-- Abigail, the main character, is aged ten.

-- Ultimately, there is a happy ending: while members of her family are accused, tried, and even found guilty, no one is executed.

-- By using the events in Andover, and using such a young main character, Duble avoids having to address some issues that would be troubling to younger readers: why did the initial accusers make the accusations they did? What about all the people who were executed? Yes, this is referred to, but in such slight detail that it's not as disturbing as if it were front and center.

-- Abigail's grandfather, the Rev. Dane, speaks out against the accusations even before they are made. While at first I thought this was a case of injecting modern thoughts and beliefs into a historical character, some Google searching showed me that Rev. Dane did exactly that: doubted the girls, doubted the use of spectral evidence, and did indeed speak up. So Duble had a character who could voice modern thoughts, yet be authentic.

-- Duble stays very close to the real facts as they are known. I am highly critical of historical fiction that uses real people and events and changes them dramatically, especially when the author is not upfront about it in an author's note. As someone who hears time and time again from young readers, "is it real", I have to say -- yes, it matters. Duble's note at the end is very up front about what she did and didn't change and why.

For all that, this is not a prettified account. Abigail and Dorothy are taken to jail, and it's pretty scary. Someone they love dies. Duble makes the risks real, but does so in a way that is age appropriate.

From nonfiction reading on this subject, I had been familiar with this story and had been a little chilled at the thought of these 2 children being brainwashed by their accusers into accusing their own mother. Duble takes an approach to this that I had not considered, but it makes perfect sense. I've spoiled enough, but this ends up being a book not only about false accusations and speaking ones mind, but also about the bonds of family and the bonds between a mother and her daughters.

Strongly recommended nonfiction on this subject:

Witch-Hunt : Mysteries of the Salem Witch Trials by Marc Aronson. For teen readers. Does a great job of trying to understand the 17th century POV; also has a wonderful analysis of different books about Salem.

In the Devil's Snare : The Salem Witchcraft Crisis of 1692 by Mary Beth Norton. If you're going to read only one nonfiction about Salem, this should be the book. Approaches the time period from a global and local perspective; addresses the entire time period, rather than just the initial accusations (most books barely get into the Andover period, for example); examines the legal process (for example, while children could make accusations, they couldn't testify at the trial, an adult witness was needed to do that); and documents it all. Great appendices, index, charts, maps.

Friday, December 30, 2005

I want a doll, just so I can name it Miss Edith





You Know You're Addicted to Buffy When...


You look at pieces of wood, deciding if they would make a good stake

You decide that you will only see your boyfriend at night and in the graveyard

"A happy slayer is a good slayer" becomes your motto

You have the whole collection of Buffy T-shirts

But you won't wear them - you want to keep them in mint condition.

You've taken up karate and practise your Buffy moves regularly

You refuse to go out after dark... just in case

You have suddenly taken a liking to tweed

You start calling your boyfriend Angel

You prefer to watch Buffy alone because other people just "don't get it"

You find yourself quoting the show several times a day

You go shopping for clothes and only purchase things that have appeared on the show

You always say the words "the wacky", "wiggins" and "a happy"

All your user names on the internet are "Willow"

You start hanging around libraries

You love to hack into the coroners office

You have either a cross necklace or a Claddaugh ring

You decide the graveyard is really cool hangout

You look at abandon warehouses in a whole new light

You never invite anyone into your house after dark

You find yourself in a situation and say "This is something Xander would do"

You are secretly in love with your best friend

Your licence plates read "Queen C"

You think "Too much Buffy? Never!"

You name your puppy Willow or Xander

You recite Amy's rat-turning spell when in the company of your older brother

You demand that people call you Buffy

Every time you step out of the shower you say "I seem to be having an extreem case of nudity"

You appoint yourself a watcher and choose someone to study/train etc.

You stay away from your teacher just incase they turn out to be prey-matis'

Your room looks like a shrine, you have Buffy posters as wallpaper, a Buffy bedspread, curtains etc.

You won't take cookies or mini pizza's from your Mom's new boyfriend

You find a whole new liking for miniture golfing

You hear that song "I hope you dance" and think of fighting Faith

You cried two hours after the fifth season finale of Buffy was over because she died even though you know she is coming back.

You pondered becoming a vengance demon after your last breakup.

You own enough Buffy comics and novels to have your bedroom be considered a fire hazard.

You won't go out past sunset unless armed to the teeth with stakes, crosses, and holy water.

You have crosses nailed over every window and door.

You start tracking the local murder rates after a new girl moves into town.

You read all the occult books in the school library searching for the Watcher diaries.

To you, sexual protection isn't birth control, it's making sure you're partner is human.

You practice sticking thumbtacks through houseflies and mosquitos--"Just to be safe."

You perform the reverse invitation spell after every visit from some person you haven't recently seen in sunlight.

You insist on traveling from class to class via the ceiling.

You try to exorcise the possessing hyena spirit when your best friend gets PMS.

You cast a gypsy soul curse on the sadistic principal who gave you a suspension.

You whittle wooden stakes.

You kick doors open.

You carry around a stake, just in case.

You take long walks in the cemetery at night.

You have a strange fear of hospitals.

You don't complain about going to church anymore because you remember that your supply of Holy Water is running kind of low.

You wear crosses every day and have a vast selection of them.

You never verbally invite anyone into your home.

You keep all your important information on yellow disks.

You avoid fraternity parties.

As a rule you don't like to be surprised.

Your friends are fearful that if they call during "Buffy Hour" they'll be in for a long lecture the next day.

You bookmark the Coroner's Office Web Site as a favorite place.

When you hear that there's a new librarian at your school, you slam open the doors of the library and yell; "Okay. What's the sitch?".

You can recite a whole Buffy episode(s).

You wallpaper your room with pictures of the Buffy cast and complain when there isn't enough space to put them all up.

You ask a priest to bless your bottle of Perrier.

Just for the hell of it, you enter Moloch into several search engines.

You name your doll Miss Edith.

You let your bird die of starvation.

You paint your nails like Drusilla.

When your brother comes back from the zoo, you won't let him in the house.

The only way you know how to say the word bitch is 'bitca'.

You get your hair cut like Buffy's and your hairdresser keeps remarking that the picture you show her (for your haircut) looks oddly familiar.

Whenever you quote Buffy Verse, you laugh hysterically while your friends stare at you like you've grown another ear.

You always protest that Buffy is NOT a ditz's name.

When watching a new Buffy episode, people gawk at you when you manage to say the actor's lines right before they do.

You can't think of a thing to talk about with people who have never watched a Buffy episode.

You spend hours on the net looking for new Buffy pictures.

You get really really excited whenever you do find any new pictures.

You sit on a grave twirling a yo-yo and say: "Come on, rise and shine. Some of us have a ton of trig homework waiting at home."

You look for padlocked sewer access systems in mausoleums.

You decide to be Buffy for Halloween but your friends don't notice a change.

You own everything possible with the words Buffy the Vampire Slayer on them.

You get wigged out by mimes and dummies.

You have a chest in your room with a fake bottom that contains garlic, stakes, holy water and crosses.

You freak whenever you have a substitute biology teacher.

You never go out with your boyfriend on the night of the full moon.

You avoid supposedly empty warehouses.

You have a fear of railroad spikes.

You punish your dolls.

You get a wheelchair just so that you can be called "Roller Boy".

You never have sex with your boyfriend for fear of what might happen to him.

You take up tae kwon do, kick boxing, karate, street fighting and gymnastics.

You eye your librarian to see if they're trying to tell you that you're the next Slayer.

You sleep with a stake under your pillow.

You sneak out of your bedroom window at night and hang out at the park because you've heard that several people have died there lately of exsanguination.

You're horrified of people who have never even heard of Buffy the Vampire Slayer.

You want to kill people who dis the show.

You dream of past lives as a Slayer.

Whenever you have a dream and you see your friend in it you run up to them the next day and choke them as you shout: "What do you know?".

You never sign in someone's yearbook "Have a nice summer!".

You don't like to use the word Master.

You write Buffy FanFic.

You date men whom you meet in dark alleys (but only after kicking them in the head).

You bring a fire extinguisher to cheerleading tryouts.

You get nominated at school as "Person Most Likely To Be The Next Slayer".

You buy knee-high boots.

You get five holes pierced in each ear.

You're on a first name basis with all the actors of BtVS except that you've never met them.

Though they used to appreciate your interest, the actors on BtVs are now scared to death of you.

You check people's lockers to make sure they don't have any books such as 'Gray's Anatomy' and 'Mortician Desk Reference'.

You read a Buffy transcript at least once a day.

You befriend a computer genius and her dorky friend.

You file complaints that the substitute biology teacher is harassing you.

When asked what your hobbies are you answer; "Slay...slay...slave to the television".

As far as you are concerned, Buffy and co. are actual people.

You drive to California to look for Sunnydale, you dial operator and ask him where it is, operator says there is no such place and you yell back at him that he's probably in league with some demons to keep you out of Sunnydale.

You enroll at Torrance High School.

All the actors on the show are shown a picture of you and are told to stay away at all costs.

When asked what you'll do when you're older you answer either dead or it's already been 'sealed in fate'.

You tape all Buffy episodes, then retape them so they're in chronological order.

You buy all the CDs of songs that have ever been on Buffy.

You've been to all 1000 or so Buffy sites on the net.

You legally change your name to Buffy Anne Summers (or another character from the show).

You practically had a nervous breakdown when the series ended.

You cannot remember what you did with your life before Buffy.

Your motto is 'Life is short' or 'Seize the day'.

You never bring your date to the morgue.

When buying your Halloween costume you make sure it's something you'd like to be in real life.

You always beat up a snitch.

You nail crucifixes to your wall.

You needed to visit a grief counselor when Tara died.

You make sure your parents never come to Parent-Teacher night at school.

You watch, mock and laugh at talent shows.

When given an egg for parenting in Sex Ed class you boil it or smash it with something heavy.

You're frightened of cheerleader wannabes.

You avoid saunas, who knows what they put in the steam?

You don't let people with long fingernails get too close to your throat.

You use a Thesulan Orb as a paperweight.

Whenever there's a Sadie Hawkins dance at school you lock yourself in your room.

You refuse to buy any candy being sold by the band at school.

You actually get these jokes and pass them on to other friends who are addicted to Buffy.





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Thursday, December 29, 2005

MetaxuCafe

MetaxuCafe is "is devoted to highlighting the best content from the community of bloggers who write about books." I found out about it from Kelly at Big A Little A and signed up.

What I like about it:

I like the headlines page, which contains recent posts in the litblog blogosphere. It's a nice way to have a quick look at what people are talking about.

I like that children's literature is given its own category, so that those who sign up can pick this (along with reviews, books, etc.) as a tag for their blog.

And I like that it's given my site traffic.

I haven't looked at their forums, but given that one new topic is" Middle school reading suggestions" I think I'll swing by and take a peek.

The Others are Telemarines?

From an article in Entertainment Weekly about Lost: One of the executive producers "cites Narnia as one touchstone for the kind of fantastical otherworld Lost is trying to create."

I just finished rereading Prince Caspian, and (spoiler alert), at the end, Caspian can be king of Narnia because he's a son of Adam. Because he's a Telemarine, and Telemarines originally came from Earth. An island in the South Pacific is described as the gateway, and the Telemarines themselves are descendants of a Fletcher Christian type mutiny. And at the end of the book, Aslan creates a doorway to send the Telemarines back to the island.

So I'm thinking, the Others have to be Telemarines.

Wednesday, December 28, 2005

Sharpe's Rifles

I'd heard of the Sharpe series starring Sean Bean, but I hadn't watched it from the beginning, it was too long to start, excuses, excuses.

Camille at Book Moot posted about a new upcoming movie in this series, and I got inspired to finally see what all the fuss was about. My library has the DVDs, I figured out which of the many was the first, and took home Sharpe's Rifles for my Christmas vacation.

The good news: It was great. I've always liked Sean Bean, but now -- wow. It's 1809, the Peninsular wars, and Sharpe is a Sargent in the British army who gets promoted to lieutenant via a field commission. In other words, since he's been promoted from the ranks, the other officers think of him as "not our kind" and the people who are in his command don't give him any respect either. Well -- not at first. Sharpe wins the respect of his company, accomplishes his mission, and gets the girl. Great acting all around. I know very little about this part of history, and had no problem following the story.

The bad news: This is the first of fourteen episodes and I only borrowed one. I have to wait till January to find out what happens to Sharpe and his men.

Buffy Quote of the Week

"You are so cool. You're like Burt Reynolds."
-- Joyce to Giles. Ep: Band Candy

Saturday, December 24, 2005

Love Actually

Love Actually is one of my favorite Christmas movies. Along with It's A Wonderful Life, A Christmas Carol, White Christmas, and, well, I could keep listing titles forever.

I love this movie. Watched it yesterday for the umpteenth time and still laughed and cried. And I love it even tho when I overread it I hate some of the messages it sends. Like, how come the two happy ending romances are both between older men and the younger women who work for them? Where's the happy romance for someone my age? The guys in my age range get the younger adoring women; the women, well, one has a husband who cheats (and this is the part I cry over every time) and the other sacrifices her life for her brother.

But despite intellectually knowing this, I still love this movie. I like the overlapping of characters and stories, I love the stepfather/stepson story line, the old rocker's comeback, and yes, I even love the happy romances. I love that its about, well, love -- all kinds of love: the love between family, friends, and lovers.

And the lobster in the nativity scene? Cracks me up every time.

Tuesday, December 20, 2005

Buffy Quote of the Week

"Well, there you go. Even when he's good, he's all Mr. Billowy Coat King of Pain."
-- Riley about Angel, Ep: The Yoko Factor

Sunday, December 18, 2005

How I Found Out About Harry

One of the current topics on the Child-Lit listserv, where I usually lurk, is a discussion "Harry Potter -- Hype or Word Of Mouth," which got me thinking about when I first read HP and its impact on me, personally and professionally.

I was a lawyer and while not happy with the career, not yet ready to leave the profession. A friend gave me a copy of Harry Potter and the Sorcerer's Stone, saying I needed a little magic in my life.

She had heard of the book from her nephews; and I was aware of the HP books, but it was not yet the intense media hype that now accompanies all things HP. Since 3 of the books were out already, and I was still practicing, this was somewhere between the end of 1999 and the start of 2000, to the best of my recollection.

At the time, I wasn't reading much children's or YA books; and I hadn't read fantasy since early college.

HP&tSS blew me away. I loved everything about it: the world, the humor, the adventure, the characters. I quickly read the others and have been a fan ever since. What else did reading HP do for me? It brought me back to fantasy; showed me that fantasy could be good. And it brought me back to reading children's books and YA books.

I left law and went to library school believing I would become a law librarian. (And I'd be making more money if I had stayed with that path.) But because of HP, I "indulged" myself while at school and took courses in Children's Lit and YA Lit. And because of that, decided to become a children's librarian. I wonder where my next midlife crisis will take me?

So for the HP readers out there: what impact did reading HP have on you?

Daniel Half Human: And The Good Nazi

Daniel Half Human: And The Good Nazi by David Chotjewitz translated from the German by Doris Orgel.

The Plot: It's 1933, Hamburg, Germany, and Daniel has a good life. He has parents who love him (even if they are strict), a good school, and a best friend, Armin, who shares his sense of fun and adventure. Like when they painted a swastika in the Communist section of town, and were arrested. Daniel, thirteen, admires the Nazis and the Hitler Youth, but his lawyer father doesn't believe that Hitler and his party will ever win an election.

But then Hitler does achieve power. And Daniel learns his family's secret: his mother is Jewish. Daniel is half-Jewish. To the Nazis, that makes Daniel half-human. Daniel wants to share this news with his best friend; but Armin has joined the Hitler Youth and is rapidly moving up the ranks. As DHH moves forward in time, in the days leading up to the start of World War II, Daniel and Armin are faced with increasingly difficult choices.

The Good: A wonderful portrait of the "why didn't people just leave Germany" time period. Because Daniel is initially unaware of his heritage, Daniel is seduced by the Hitler Youth and the Nazis, giving understanding to why and how Hitler obtained power.

Daniel, Armin, and the other characters are fully drawn. The book is interspersed with the adult Daniel returning to Hamburg as an US Army interpreter in 1945, so the reader knows, Daniel will live. But there are no guarantees for his father, his mother, his uncle, his cousin, and the reader continues the book with increasing fear: who lives? why? how?

Armin, despite joining the Hitler Youth, is sympathetically drawn, also. Chotjewitz goes beyond stock "good" and "bad" people, instead showing people with weaknesses and frailties. He also shows how we become the sum of our choices, good and bad, sometimes without realizing the impact of those decisions.

An example of the complex characters: Daniel's father comes across as cold, aloof, and prejudiced against the lower-class Armin. But as time goes by, the father's service during World War I is revealed and this explains the man he becomes. Also, the father is in denial about the how bad things will get in Germany; but no matter how bad it does get, he refuses to take the "easy" way out by divorcing his wife and abandoning his son.

The best thing about this book? I'm still thinking about the ending and what it means.

The Lion, The Witch And The Wardrobe

Last night, I went to see The Chronicles of Narnia: Lion, The Witch And The Wardrobe with my sister and my five year old niece.

I loved it. It was faithful to the spirit of the book; while part of me was saying about some scene or other, "that's not how it was in the book," the other part answered, "but that's the way it needs to be conveyed visually." The magical moment when Lucy enters Narnia -- perfect.

On the family front, the darling niece wants to see it again right away. The saddest parts? "When the lion died, and when the children had to leave their mommy." What did she like best? "The lion."

Interestingly enough, the DN accepted without any questions to her Mom or I all of the elements of the movie: the new world entered thru a wardrobe, Mr. Tumnus, talking beavers. She had a few questions about the White Witch -- if she was evil, why did she look so pretty? And why did she act nice, at first? And also about the battle.

But her big, wouldn't let them go, questions were about the beginning. While Lewis used a few words to set up that the children were evacuated from London because of the Blitz, the movie has several sequences. And these got the brunt of the questions. What's happening? Why? Why are they bombing? Why do they have to go away? Why doesn't the Mommy go with them?

Overall, the DN was more accepting and willing to follow the story when it was fantasy. The reality was the part that was a real stumbling block for her and took her outside the story. This is why fantasy works so well to convey story: because it is wrapped up with the make believe, it's easier to enter into the story. To believe.

On an adult note; my sister didn't read the books, had viewed with the DN the BBC versions, a cartoon version (maybe this) and LOVED the movie. Almost surprised herself with how much she enjoyed it.

Odd confession: I found myself getting quite the crush on Mr. Tumnus. The chemistry between himself and Lucy was wonderful, and James McAvoy conveyed this conflicted character very well.

Links: check out The Horn Book's Narnia Chronicled. And Cynthia Leitich Smith describes a viewing experience in her spookycyn blog that makes me want to move to Austin, Texas.

Tuesday, December 13, 2005

Mad Hot Ballroom

Mad Hot Ballroom is a documentary about students of several New York City elementary schools who learn ballroom dancing and then compete in a city wide dance competition, all via American Ballroom Theatre's Dancing Classrooms project.

The good: MHB follows three sets of students in three different schools. You really get to know these kids, from the first fumbling steps, to the selection of kids for the competition, and the final competition. I was disappointed as teams lost and jumping up and down at wins.

I was also impressed with the schools, the teachers, and the students, who allowed the cameras to follow them over the several weeks of learning, practice, and competition. I grew up in the suburbs, and this was a glimpse into a different world. Actually, three different worlds because of the three different schools that are highlighted.

Also good: these students are around ages ten and eleven, that cusp before becoming teenagers. We hear their dreams, their hopes, their fears. You root for each kid -- and keep your fingers crossed, even tho you know -- as the 3 teams move closer to the finals -- that there can be only one winner.

I liked this so much it's going on my DVDs I wish I owned wish list (the only thing holding me back: no extras.)

Final note: and yes, I'm quite jealous! These kids are much better dancers than I am or could hope to be. I always confuse my left and right foot.

Buffy Quote of the Week

Willow: "Promise me you'll never be linear."
Oz: "On my trout."
Ep: Choices

Monday, December 12, 2005

Gregor and The Prophecy of Bane

Gregor and the Prophecy of Bane: Book Two in the Underland Chronicles by Suzanne Collins.

The Plot: Eleven year old Gregor and his toddler sister, Boots, are readjusting to life back home in New York City, the "Overland," after their adventures and misadventures in the "Underland," the world of tunnels that is miles under the "Overland", and is populated by people and giant talking cockroaches, bats, rats, and spiders. Gregor thinks he has left that scary place behind him; but then his sister Boots is kidnapped by giant cockroaches and Gregor finds himself pulled back into the Underland, to save not only his sister but the entire Underland.

The Good: For a fantasy quests to truly work, the risks must be real. And in the Underland Chronicles, the risks are real; death is more than a possibility; death is a reality. People get hurt, and stay hurt.

Gregor may be eleven, but at times he sounds older, which works very well. In the Overland, the family is barely surviving so Gregor has had to grow up soon, with a Saturday job, taking care of two younger sisters, an ill father, and an ill grandmother. In the Underland, Gregor is also treated as an adult. His opinions are listened to; he gets a sword and is expected to fight.

While there are moments of sheer terror, there are also moments that are laugh out loud funny. Collins captures all that I like best about quest fiction: the bringing together of people who wouldn't otherwise be friends, who then find commonalities.

In addition to great characters, there is a plot that twists and turns yet always makes sense.

The "Prophecy" has multiple meanings and interpretations, and I didn't always see where Collins was going. It was great.

Another wonderful thing about fantasy is what the fantasy world tells us about our world. Gregor has to grapple with some very important questions and issues: what is right? what is wrong? when is killing OK? what does loyalty mean? Collins has created a world full of gray: initially it appears black and white, with the rats all evil and the people all good, but as Gregor learns more about the rats he begins to doubt the Underlanders "the only good rat is a dead rat" belief.

A must read for fantasy fans. While there are scary parts and sad parts, this is great for any age. If a kid has read Harry Potter, then this is a book that will work for him or her.

Book Two? What about Book One? Book One is Gregor the Overlander. And I think it's best to read them in order, but it's possible at this point to enjoy Book Two without having read Book One. This is part of a five book series.

Another thing I liked: Collins manages to wrap up the key story points so that Book Two appears to be complete, and the reader is satisfied, yet at the same time she leaves some issues open for the next book. To often, this is done in a way that is frustrating, with the reader wanting to throw the book against the wall as they realize the entire ending is a cliff hanger. (What, I'm the only one who does this?)

Saturday, December 10, 2005

People's Fab Finds For Kids

People Magazine's December 19th edition includes in its Book Reviews "Fab Finds For Kids." And there is not one celebrity author on the list!!!

The list, none of which I've read. When I looked them up on that big online book store that I'm already linking to more than enough, I saw that a number of these titles (noted below) were starred by Booklist.

Memories of Survival by Esther Nisenthanl Krinitz and Bernice Steinhardt. Nonfiction book about Krinitz's survival as a teenager eluding the Nazis. Illustrated with her own hand-embroidered fabric collages. Starred by Booklist.

Meet Wild Boars by Meg Rosoff and Sophie Blackall. Picture book by the author of the award winning YA book, How I Live Now. Starred by Booklist.

Inkspell by Cornelia Funke. Sequel to Inkheart.

Dog Train: A Wild Ride on the Rock And Roll Side by Sandra Boynton. Picture book with CD; original songs sung by various musicians.

Once Upon A Time, The End (Asleep In 60 Seconds) by Geoffrey Kloske and Barry Blitt. Short fractured fairy tales. Looks wonderfully silly and snarky for older readers. Starred by Booklist.

The Gift of Nothing by Patrick McDonnell. Picture book based on characters from the creator of the comic strip Mutts.

It's uncredited, so I'll just send a general thank you to People for recognizing children's books.

Friday, December 09, 2005

I Heart Meg Cabot

Why do I heart Meg Cabot? Just check out Meg's recent blog entry on literary fiction: "I have just personally had enough of unhappy endings to last me a LIFETIME. So why would I seek them out in my recreation time? Unhappy endings happen every single day in real life. I don’t want them in my fiction." (You can read the rest of it in her December 2nd entry.)

John Lennon: All I Want Is The Truth

John Lennon: All I Want Is The Truth by Elizabeth Partridge.

Elizabeth Partridge is a brilliant non-fiction writer. Her most recent book is about John Lennon. I feel almost silly explaining who John Lennon was; but, on the other hand, this is a book written for teens born after Lennon was killed. "He was in a band called the Beatles with Stella McCartney's father." And as I try to write down something about Lennon in a sentence or two, I realize just how difficult it must be to take all that he was, and did, all that he represented, and sum it up in a sentence or two.

What is great about JL:AIWITT is that it shows the man behind the myth, warts and all. John Lennon was both a myth and a man. As a man, he was very human, with contradictions, times of brilliance, weaknesses, strengths. He wasn't perfect. For one son, he was an absentee father; for another, a stay at home father. He championed feminism in song and reality; yet he treated his first wife horribly.

As myth, tho, he is sometimes presented as perfect: JOHNLENNON, a seer, a saint, a martyr. Partridge gets behind the myth, and shows how he came to represent the times in which he lived : peace, activism, politics, Maharishi Mahesh Yogi, drugs, art, music, parenthood.

I've always preferred biographies that include the feet of clay.. It makes the subjects more real. When a book is about someone who achieved such great things as Lennon did, I think including the bad with the good help readers realize that if that person, with flaws, can do it -- I can do it, also.

It probably helped my reading that I am old enough to know who Lennon is, to have listened to most of his music, to remember where I was when I heard he had been murdered. Some of the information in the book is new, some old, but it gives a well-rounded portrait of a complex man, never excusing his behavior yet also not being judgmental or critical. I'm also young enough that I've never been OHMIGODJOHNLENNON; I didn't get upset about what I read. I could approach the book as neither stranger nor groupie.

Lennon was a brilliant musician and I enjoyed reading the stories behind the songs. I'm familiar with all of them; but it's a shame that Partridge was unable to get permission to quote lyrics. (For the record: I have no idea why Partridge did not include quotes, so I'm assuming that she was unable to get permission.)

JL:AIWITT is described as a "photographic biography." The photos are wonderful, showing all times and areas of Lennon's life. It's such a beautiful book, and the photos are so perfect, that I didn't realize until later that they are all black and white. For some reason, the use of black and white and omission of color seems very appropriate -- maybe because black and white means "old"? Or is it that those 60s fashions don't hold up in color photos?

Also by Partridge: This Land Was Made for You and Me : The Life and Songs of Woody Guthrie. An interview with her is at suite101.com.

Wednesday, December 07, 2005

Buffy Quote of the Week

Buffy: "Giles, the sarcasm accomplishes nothing."
Giles: "Well, it was sort of an end in itself."
Ep: Pangs

Monday, December 05, 2005

Teens & Nursing Homes

Suzi over at Words, words, words has posted a review of Shrimp and asks, "What is UP with the whole nursing home trope? Seems to be a common thing now. Do YA writers think Oh, my character isn’t very deep; perhaps, as a teen, s/he needs to connect with an older person as her/his parents aren’t providing enough guidance? Not saying that I wouldn’t do that; just wondering if that’s why all of the nursing home characters keep appearing."

Other YA that has teens/ nursing home: Storky by Debra Garfinkle. I know there are a couple of others, but my mind is a blank. Plus, there are books like Criss Cross and Prom, where teens help older neighbors who probably should be in nursing homes.

Suzi points out one reason for this: the idea of an adult, not a parent, giving guidance. Another reason: diversity of age. Also, seniors and teens have the commonality of not being treated with the respect they want, being unnecessarily babied. If you can think of other reasons -- or other titles where the teen helps out/ gets involved with a senior citizen -- please post in the comments. I think its a good question.

But here is my big question, inspired by Suzi: why, in all these books, is the senior citizen not related to the teen? This seems especially odd in this day and age, when more people are living longer, so today's teens, more so than previous generations, have living grandparents and great-grandparents.

Sunday, December 04, 2005

Dougal the Garbage Dump Bear

Dougal the Garbage Dump Bear by Matt Dray. Originally published in Australia.

The Plot: Dougal isn't one of the little girl's shiny new toys. So after getting left out in the rain, he gets tossed in the bin and taken to the garbage dump. What will happen to this shy bear with a heart of gold?

The Good: After ending up at the dump, Dougal makes friends, first with the trucks, then with the worker, and finally finds a friend in Bumble Bee. By the end, over 45 toys have been rescued.

The story is told with photographs, arranged on the page as if in a scrap book.

The tale is a bit wacky -- how Dougal finds happiness in a garbage dump. By the end of the book (spoiler!) he is living in a beach front house with trips to the dump and friends. "Sometimes bad things happen so that good things can happen. You just had to make the best of it."

Also funny is when Dougal and Bumble join the men after work to play pool, drink ginger beer, and feel sick the next day. The people in the photos are always shot from behind, or just a part of them is shown -- an arm, a leg. But I got a kick out of thinking about these guys taking stuffed animals to the pool hall.

But I was wondering about drunken stuffed animals, so I looked up Ginger Beer, and it's what we in the US call Ginger Ale. So Dougal isn't hung over from beer, he's feeling bad after a late night with too much sugar.

My niece likes that DTGDB has real photos of real toys. And it has the beach. And she loved the new word "Blimey."

As we finished reading it this morning, I was struck by its similarities to Elsewhere. Both have main characters that are forced from the life they want and have to make a new life for themselves.

An interview with author/photographer Matt Dray reveals that Matt was working in a garbage dump when he met and rescued "Dougal" and was inspired to write this book.

Book Buds review is here.

Friday, December 02, 2005

Elsewhere

I was prepared to dislike Elsewhere by Gabrielle Zevin.

Oh no, I groaned, not another teen-dies-and-the-story-is-told-from-dead-teen's view. I sneered prematurely at all that I think about that particular sub-genre: that it plays into teen drama (You'll be sorry when I'm dead!), complete with viewing crying and distraught family, along with a bit of a lesson: life is short, so live life.

But people I respect liked it, so I read it. And turns out, I LOVED it.

The Plot: Liz, 15, is killed in a hit and run and discovers that life after death is "Elsewhere." In Elsewhere, people age backwards; when they become babies, they return to Earth and are reborn. While in Elsewhere, people work at an avocation -- basically, their dream job -- which may or may not be their Earth job. Their are holidays, cars, homes -- it's very similar to Earth. Liz is very pissed that by aging backwards she'll never get her driver's license, go to Prom, or fall in love.

The Good: Of course, Liz learns that life (even if one is dead) is short, so live it. But Liz also learns about choice. At one point, as she's sulking in the afterlife, another character tells her she has a choice. It wasn't my choice to die, Liz replies. But that's not the choices that are important here: instead, it's the day to day choices, including the choice to be happy, even when you're dead and all your dreams are gone -- because you need to be alive for those dreams. It's not so much about making lemonade out of lemons, as realizing sometimes, to be happy, you have to change your dream.

Also good is the perspective on aging that is not that different from real life. As people age backward, hair grows back, tattoos disappear. Memories stay intact; so someone who looks 18 may really be 40, based on when they died and how long they have been "Elsewhere." But then the people get really young: teeth fall out. By the age of 4 or 5, the memories are disappearing and they need someone to take care of them. Luckily for them, family is there to take care of them -- these cute little babies who have regressed.

As I read this, it struck me that the aging in Elsewhere is no different than here. Those who have the bad luck to not age "gracefully" (in other words, those who lose their teeth, control over body parts and functions, and memory; those with aches and pains) become dependent on others. They need caregivers; but, unlike Elsewhere, they are not cute 2 year old tots. I think that part of Elsewhere's message is that we should treat the old better than we do.

Wednesday, November 30, 2005

Buffy Quote of the Week

"I'm Buffy. The vampire slayer. And you are?"
-Buffy, Ep: Anne

Books In Classrooms

Camille at Book Moot pointed out this great comic strip from For Better or For Worse.

I LOVE books, all kinds, all types. But I fear books being used in classrooms, for just the reason set forth in this strip.

Tuesday, November 29, 2005

Narnia

An interesting article about C.S. Lewis, Narnia, and criticisms of both from the Chronicle of Higher Education: For The Love Of Narnia. (My favorite part may be pointing out that Lewis was a veteran of the trenches in World War I.)

I previously posted about the book and movie here.

Wednesday, November 23, 2005

Buffy Quote of the Week

"Welcome to Sunnydale. A clean slate, Buffy, that's what you get here. What's past is past. We're not interested in what it says on a piece of paper. Even if it says -- whoa."
-- Principal Flutie, Ep: Welcome to the Hellmouth

Saturday, November 19, 2005

Downfall

Downfall is a German movie about the last week of the Third Reich, told from the perspective of those closest to Hitler.

Hitler Youth: Growing Up In Hitler's Shadow by Susan Campbell Bartoletti (reviewed by me here) addresses the children who grew up in Nazi Germany and how they were manipulated. It includes looking at those affected by Hitler.

Downfall is about the adults: those who let it happen. Those who were part of it. It's all to easy to look at Hitler as some lunatic; by doing so, it lets us distance ourselves from those who were seduced and manipulated. Silly people, we would never do that! If HY cautions teens about who to trust, Downfall is the same message to adults.

One of the things that I liked about the movie was that even though I knew what had happened, there was a lot of new information and new perspectives. To read about the fall of Berlin, to see photos, is one thing; to watch it, as people struggle, is different. By giving a full picture of Hitler, those around him, the last days -- it doesn't create sympathy for Hitler. It makes him more horrifying.

Since this was in German, with English subtitles, and I had only 2 years of high school German, it took me a while to figure out who people were beyond the obvious. And I'm still not sure which people were real and which were not. (My big question: the family at the dinner table? Real or not real?)

Other links: Discovery Channel on Hitler's Bunker.
Women of the Third Reich.

Born Into Brothels

Born Into Brothels: Calcutta's Red Light Kids won the Academy Award for Best Documentary.

Zana Briski, a photographer, moved into a brothel in Calcutta intending to do a project about the prostitutes. Then she met their children. Zana begins to give the children photography lessons; this documentary is about the those classes, the children's photographs, and how this changed --and didn't change -- the lives of the children. Zana gets pulled into the children's struggle; not only does she try to help them with the photography classes and trips, she also tries to find schools for them so that they have a chance at a future outside the brothel.

What I liked about the DVD: these children will steal your heart! They have so much personality, their photos are amazing, and this documentary gives you a real look into their lives. Also, since time has passed since the documentary was shot, the DVD includes a feature called "Reconnecting: An Update of the Kids 3 Years Later."

What Zana did with these kids is real "empowerment" and "self esteem." She taught them a skill and an art, and through that, they empowered themselves. The photos these kids took are good; and that's why they achieved self esteem. And she was also willing to step in when the kids and their families couldn't do something themselves; mainly, in trying to get these kids into schools and also bringing the photos to the attention of the world.

Zana's project, Kids with Cameras, continues.

A book of the children's photos (same title) is available.

Eight Great Reasons To Make A Documentary, an article by the co-director of the film.

An interview with Briski from BBC World.

To be balanced, here is a different perspective, which is critical of the filmmakers.

Understanding The Holy Land

Understanding the Holy Land : Answering Questions about the Israeli-Palestinian Conflict by Mitch Frank

Understanding the Holy Land is set up in a question and answer format. What I like about UHL (and about J and YA NF in general) is that at just over 150 pages it is concise and to the point. It gets to the heart of the matter. This is a complicated, complex, intricate subject; Frank, despite the brevity, writes honestly, truthfully and fairly about history, religion, ethnicity, race, and geography. It is obvious that Frank did a lot of research; because only by having an in depth understanding can someone write something that gets it all done in less than 200 pages.

Frank does his best to be fair and objective; based on other readings in this topic, I think he has succeeded. And for those who want to know more, there is a great bibliography. And, of course, there are plenty of maps and photos.

Perfect for anyone who reads the news about what is happening in Israel and has questions.

The Jewish Week has an interview with Frank, in the article The Conflict For Kids.

Wednesday, November 16, 2005

Buffy Quote of the Week

"I am, of course, having my dress specially made. Off-the-rack gives me hives."
Cordelia, Ep: Out of Mind, Out of Sight

Sunday, November 13, 2005

A Wreath For Emmett Till

A Wreath for Emmett Till by Marilyn Nelson; Illustrated by Philippe Lardy.

Emmett Till was 14 years old when he was kidnapped and murdered. Two people were tried for the crime and, despite eyewitness testimony that one of those people had forcibly removed Emmett from his grandfather's home, and despite a motive, the two were acquitted. And later told a reporter the story of how they had killed Emmett.

What had Emmett done? Why were the murderers acquitted? Emmett was African American; he was a 14 year old, raised in Chicago. Emmett had gone for the summer to the South, to Money, Mississippi, to visit relatives. While there, he may, or may not, have whistled at a white woman.

Nelson's wreath is a series of sonnets: in particular, a heroic crown of sonnets. This is poetry that is structured and requires discipline; it is not easy to write. Each word, each syllable, is important. It doesn't just happen. It takes talent, it takes creativity, and it takes mastery of the form -- especially where, as here, each sonnet reads so smoothly. Art like this -- that requires time, patience, skill, dedication, practice, training, heart -- doesn't just happen.

Nelson says that this form became "a kind of insulation, a way of protecting myself from the intense pain of the subject matter, and a way to allow the Muse to determine what the poem would say."

What is brilliant about Nelson is that the discipline and structure is what frees her. This series is heartbreaking, haunting, and evocative. To learn what happened to Emmett, to see the pictures of his body, to think about the horror of his final hours... the brain shuts down, the heart cannot bear it. And so Nelson has found a way to make it bearable; and in making it bearable, we can listen, and learn. Just as each syllable matters to achieve the heroic crown of syllable, each second of Emmett's life matters.

What else is good: Nelson expects things from the reader. She makes references that are important; she assumes the reader will know. She doesn't write down to the audience. (But she also includes wonderfully detailed Notes section, realizing that not everyone will get every reference.)

I also liked the artwork. It's symbolic, rather than realistic. In examining it, I had to think: why this? Why here? What is this adding? Like Nelson, Lardy has a note, explaining some of his artistic choices.

A must-own; a must-read.

Additional Information:

Getting Away With Murder: The True Story of the Emmett Till Case by Chris Crowe.

PBS website, The Murder of Emmett Till.

Teacher's Guide for A Wreath for Emmett Till from Houghton Mifflin.

The Ghosts of Emmett Till by Richard Rubin (published in the New York Times Magazine) includes interviews with the jurors in the Till case.

And why, or why, isn't I'll Fly Away available on DVD? This series explored race relations and the Civil Rights Movement; it was amazing; and the series ending was devastating, and built around a slightly fictionalized version of the Till murder.

Zathura

Zathura is based on the book of the same name by Chris Van Allsburg. Like Van Allsburg's Jumanji, the original book is a picture book.

The Plot: Two brothers start playing a game about outer space. And, like Jumanji, the game becomes real as meteors fly by and the house takes off into space. Will the boys be able to win the game and return home?

The Good: A solid storyline. Great special effects. I liked the sibling bond between the two brothers. Arguments, jealousy, hatred, and protectiveness. I saw a couple of twists coming (but then, I also guessed the big twist in Derailed based solely on previews.)

Family viewing: Zathura is PG. It's entertaining both for adults and for kids. I went with my five year old niece, who said it was the scariest movie she ever saw. And she wanted to see it again. There were three words that the brothers used that I hope don't register on her memory: nothing that bad and its believable that the boys would speak that way (My sister said I was being oversensitive, and I said OK, as long as I don't get in trouble!) Other than that, yep its scary; but its a good kid scary in that everything ends up OK in the end. (Using that as a measure, its less scary than some Goosebumps episodes.) In a way better than Finding Nemo, where the niece kept asking "what happened to the Mommy?"

Thursday, November 10, 2005

Seven Alone

I saw the movie Seven Alone when I was in 5th grade. Dork that I was and am, I of course then had to read the book (alternate title: On To Oregon).

The Plot: The Sagers, a family with seven children, go on the Oregon Trail. Sadly, the parents die and the children must struggle on alone. They also struggle to stay together. Along the way, the rambunctious oldest son, John, learns to be responsible. At the end of the journey, a kindly couple takes them in. They have made it! They survived! And the family stayed together.

While I was a dork, and a library kid, finding and reading the book that the movie was based on was good enough for me.

Thank God. Because now that I am a grown up (or at least older), I wondered, hey, was that really based on a true story? Imagine my delight when I discovered that it was!

And it quickly turned to horror as I found out the "rest of the story", as Paul Harvey would say.

The kindly couple that adopted the Sager children? Marcus and Narcissa Whitman.

Not realizing what happened yet?

In a nutshell: The Whitmans were missionaries. Narcissa was the first white woman to travel the Oregon trail, and also gave birth to the first white child in that area. And then, three years after the Sagers arrived, the Cayuse attacked the mission, in part because of a measles breakout that affected many Cayuse. Both Sager boys, John and Francis, were killed. The five girls were captured; one died of measles in captivity; the remaining four were ransomed and split up.

So much for my happy ending.

A detailed account can be found at the National Park Service website. Another good source is the Whitman Mission Historical Site website.

Across the Plains in 1844, Catherine Sager's first hand account of both her journey across North America, the massacre, and the aftermath.

A quick listing of who was killed and who survived the Whitman Massacre.

I guess it just goes to show that whether a story is happy or sad all depends on when you decide to say "the end." Does the story end when the Sagers reach the Whitmans? Or does it end later? Another thing I've learned: when I'm watching any movie or reading any book that takes place over 100 years ago, I say to myself at the beginning: no matter what happens, they'd be dead by now anyway. It's just a matter of how and when they die. So try not to get upset.

NaNoWriMo total wordcount: 8,011

Wednesday, November 09, 2005

Updates

The NaNoWriMo total wordcount: 6,062.

Current NaNoWriMo question: If I'm writing a YA book, is the wordcount less than 50,000?

Latest writing excuse: My sister had surgery.

Regarding wordcount and story: What I'm hoping to have at the end of the month is a rough (very rough!) draft of a YA horror book. Every time I get to something that may need research into Colonial times, Apocalypses, or how to keep demons out of your house, I'm just inserting a comment along the lines of "look this up later" or "do research to figure out x, y, z." I also have omitted much description. So I wonder, is December NaNoRevisingMonth? or NaNoEditingMonth?

And yes, my spell check accepted Apocalypses as a plural.

Almost forgot to add: that touching memory about The Lion, The Witch and The Wardrobe in my last post? One of the most significant book memories of my childhood? Of my Mom intentionally picking this book for me that I was going to love? Mom has NO MEMORY of it whatsoever. I told her the whole story and she just looked at me and shrugged.

Tuesday, November 08, 2005

The Lion, The Witch and the Wardrobe

I first read The Lion, The Witch and The Wardrobe by C.S. Lewis when I was in either third or fourth grade. I had missed the family visit to the library because I was sick, and my mother picked this one up for me. I doubt that I would have picked it up on my own because I thought the title sounded boring. But I was bored so I read it.

And fell in love with Narnia and Aslan and the possibility that a different world was just around the corner.

I quickly read thru the rest of the books, in the original order. (Which is the ONLY way to read them. Ignore those silly numbers on the recently published books!) I was bored by The Horse and His Boy, didn't get The Last Battle (tho after reading it again in High School, FB has turned into one of my favorites), and liked the explanations found in The Magician's Nephew. But aside from that, I loved, loved, loved the series.

I recently reread LWW. I read it with a bit of fear: would I still love, love, love it? Would I be reading it with an adult eye, wincing at flaws? Would I say, what was I thinking? I have reread favorites from childhood and have been let down by the experience, so much so that each reread is entered into with equal parts fear and hope: fear that it won't be what it was, hope that it will stand up.

LWW stands up.

I had forgotten that the narrator speaks to the reader, in a way similar to The Tale of Despereaux and Lemony Snicket. And I still felt the excitement as coats made way for trees. I was surprised at the violence and how well Lewis described the battle without going overboard. No matter what anyone else says, I still think of Turkish Delight as fudge. I love that the children grow up in Narnia and return home accidentally.

And while I'm aware now of the Christian symbolism, I wasn't when I read it as a child; and it was much less than I thought it would be. (And by the way, I disagree with Philip Pullman about Narnia, Lewis & Christianity.)

The movie based on the book is coming out in December.

Buffy Quote of the Week

Spike: (as Harmony lights up a cigarette) Taking up smoking, are you?
Harmony: I am a villain, Spike. Hello!
Ep: Out Of My Mind

To Smoke Or Not To Smoke

Thanks to LISnews, I found this site about how a photograph of illustrator Clement Hurd on Margaret Wise Brown's Goodnight Moon has been changed on the latest edition. A cigarette that Hurd was holding has disappeared. When you go to the site, you find out that most respondents agree with the cigarette being removed.

Prior instances of photo alteration include removing a cigarette from a photo of Robert Johnson for a stamp.

Most of the people voting on the Hurd site -- with or without cigarette -- say without.

And at the same time, this study came out saying Movies Heavily Shape Teen Smoking.

Here's my issue, and why I'm bringing it up here. I have a big problem with changing a photo to appear to be something it isn't. If people aren't comfortable with, say, a photo of Hurd smoking -- find another photo. Or don't use a photo at all. But to change history? To give a false impression? That's just not right.

And while I appreciate the concern in the study about teen views towards smoking, I cannot help but think that there are many things, in books and movies for teens, that people have problems with. The reasons that parents give for wanting a book banned usually include the argument that if a teen reads about it, she/he will be influenced to do it: hence, a book shouldn't include sex. Or drugs. Or bad language. Or dangerous things. Or fill in the blank with the particular concern of the parent making the challenge.

And the response we librarians, authors, publishers give is usually that the book reflects real life. It wouldn't be authentic to omit these things. Or, this gives a teen a way to read about it and experience it without doing it. Or its clear that a lesson is being taught. Or, whatever the other reason is, it is a defense that says: keep the book. If the parent doesn't want the child engaging in that behavior, well, we say -- you're either blind to the reality your child lives in (kids use that language all the time!) or its up to you as the parent to instill values (you teach kids no sex before marriage, leave the book alone).

Me, I'm in the keep the book camp.

Which is why anyone raising a reason -- no matter how good -- to change a photo, or to limit what may appear in movies or books or TV -- using the argument "we have to protect the kids, they are being influenced by this" comes under very heavy scrutiny from me.

For example, here with the smoking: if you're willing to have the photos altered; if you're willing to say, teen books or movies shouldn't include smoking because teens will be influenced and that is bad, how can you tell the parent who is concerned about sex or drugs in teen movies and books that it's OK to have and keep the movie or book about sex or drugs? But having smoking in the book or movie is too dangerous?

Monday, November 07, 2005

Moon Child

The hell?

Moon Child is a Japanese movie set in the future. There are vampires. Street gangs. Stylistic gun fights that look very, very pretty. Really bad haircuts. The glances between the two male leads have more heat than the looks either give the woman who is supposedly in the middle of a love-triangle.

Oh, and I didn't pick up until the last ten minutes that ethnic conflicts were a big deal. I didn't realize that there were Taiwanese/Japanese conflicts going on, in part because the subtitles didn't indicate when someone was speaking Cantonese and when someone was speaking Japanese and every now and then someone said "Don't speak Japanese!" and at the end I realized, oh, that's important.

And the leads are two Japanese pop stars, Gackt and HYDE, and Gackt wears more makeup then the female lead.

And there's this night visit to the beach where everyone acts like a 90210 episode, or at least the opening credits.

And there's a drug trip with a huge flying fish, I'm not sure what that meant.

And some very interesting shots that were appealing visually.

Unfortunately, the story was all over the place with jumps of years that made no sense and an ending that left me cold, when I think I was supposed to be crying. Still, this is such a weird mix of elements and possibilities that it's worth viewing.

A fanboy review here, and two more objective reviews here and here. This review at Midnight Eye points out the "strangely homoerotic symbiosis between the androgynous two leads"; glad it wasn't just me who noticed it.

Sunday, November 06, 2005

Why My Word Count Is Low

I went shopping. With my sister and mother and without the kids.

And I strayed from my usual Dansko.

Instead I got a pair of Frye boots:




















And a pair of Born boots:



But before you think I neglected Dansko I did make these purchases earlier this fall:




and:


(It's the kid's picture, but I couldn't find the womans picture).

And so that's why the wordcount isn't at 10,000, which is what it should be at a steady pace.

What's either your excuse for your wordcount, or your great tip on how to keep focused?

NaNoWriMo total wordcount: 4391

Ice Princess

Ice Princess is a fun movie. It's rated G.

The Plot: Casey (played by Buffy alum Michelle Trachtenburg) is a physics nerd and loves watching figure skating. She has the chance to win a national physics scholarship if she comes up with the perfect physics project; she decides to study skating to see if it can be broken down to the physics involved. Along the way, Casey applies her studies to herself and surprises everyone by discovering this is something she is actually good at. The problem: her mother is convinced that Casey's road to success and happiness is thru higher education, not skating.

The Good: I love that a movie can be G and fun for everyone watching. I like that this movie goes beyond stereotypes about mean girls and popular girls. And I like that despite the initial conflict in Casey's life -- school or sports? -- their is a solution. I also liked the questions Casey faced: what is friendship? Who can she trust? What is her dream, and what is her mother's dream? It also addresses the issue that just because someone is good at something doesn't mean they love doing it.

Extra fun facts: based on a story co-written by Meg Cabot.

Several episodes of BTVS mention Buffy's love of ice skating and Ice Capades . "Look, I know you guys think it’s just a big, dumb, girlie thing, but it’s not. I mean, a lot of those skaters are Olympic medal winners. And every year my dad buys me cotton candy and one of those souvenir programs that has all the pictures, and okay, it’s a big, dumb, girlie thing, but I love it.”

My favorite ice skating movie: The Cutting Edge (Toepick!).

NaNoWriMo wordcount: an extremely pathetic 2215.

Wednesday, November 02, 2005

Rebel Angels

Rebel Angels is Libba Bray's latest book. It is a companion to A Great and Terrible Beauty.

Is it really more a companion than a sequel? It's hard for me to judge, since I did read (and love) AGATB. I think RA does indeed stand alone... but I also lent RA to my sister and will let you know if she comes back confused or satisfied.

The Plot: OK, it was really difficult to try to explain the plot in a few sentences. I've written and deleted for the last ten minutes. Here's my best try, and yes I'm leaving a lot out: It's Christmastime in Victorian England, where Gemma attends an exclusive boarding school. But Gemma isn't your typical Victorian teen. Part of her being different is she was born and raised in India; part is because of her mother's tragic death the prior year. But she also possesses magic; she can go from our world into a realm of magic full of myth and beauty. And something dark and dangerous has gotten loose, and it's up to Gemma to try to save and protect both the magic realms and our world.

The Good: RA is full of historic details, so while magic is afoot RA is also a solid work of historical fiction.

And, thank you Libba Bray, the world of magic is fully realized. It is originally an escape for Gemma and her friends, but it becomes clear that the realm of magic is as complex, and full of contradictions, as is our own world.

Whenever the girls go into the other realm, I am reminded of the movie Heavenly Creatures. (except, of course, no brutal murder of parents. And in RA it's not fantasy, it's real. But HC shows just how attractive this type of escape is to teenage girls.)

Also good is that Gemma is far from perfect. She is impatient, judgmental, she wants friends. She's impulsive. She likes a bit of fun. She's not sure of the right answers. She's fumbling. But she is also take action girl, and she's brave, and she's loyal. And she values the truth.

The Cynsations (Cynthia Leitich Smith) interview is here. It's interesting because Bray discusses her inspiration, the writing process, favorite books... and mentions Buffy. Plus, she's funny.

NaNoWriMo total wordcount: 1965. Just over 48,000 to go!

Tuesday, November 01, 2005

Rome II

In my excitement about Rome I didn't mention why I loved this show.

1. The buddy chemistry between Vorenus and Pullo, the two soldiers who show us the "regular" people POV. The have little in common, and don't even really like each other, but there's something there. I would watch it if it was simply The Vorenus and Pullo Show. Actually, considering the lost Egyptian year, that could be a spin off one season series: The Adventures of Vorenus and Pullo in Egypt.

2. But it can't be the V&P show alone, because Ciaran Hinds is hot. (Don't believe me? Then you obviously have never watched Ivanhoe or Persuasion.) His Caesar is nuanced, strong, plotting. You sympathize and root for him because hello, he's Caesar, but at the same time, you see his thirst for power, for honor, for glory. And you're a little scared.

3. Historical fiction usually takes place in the past but has people with modern day sensibilities. Not here; it's not as if they have no morals. It's that the morals are not ours, and this difference is portrayed realistically, sympathetically, and without judgment.

4. "It's been a year..." Series usually play by the time rules. "Dawn's in trouble. Must be Tuesday." If we're having Thanksgiving, the people in TV are also. China Beach ditched the convention and myth of tracking the show to when the people are viewing. But not many TV shows take advantage of the fact that the writers control the timeline and reality of the show. Lost is doing it right now, with only about 40 days passing in over one season. But that is rare. So to watch this show and have one character note in passing that a year has gone by since the prior scene is awesome. (Tho quibble: so far characters don't look like much time has gone by.)

5. The official description of Atia says she is "totally amoral." I disagree. I wouldn't want her to be my mother; wouldn't wish her on anyone I know. But in the time in which she lived, in a time of violence, of little power for women -- she is doing what she can to survive and insure the survival of her children. Especially her son, because she is realistic to know that her family's survival depends on him. That someone who could easily be amoral is portrayed with dimension is fantastic.

6. Mark Antony is cute, yes; but so far, I haven't seen why he's all that. He's brave and wants to fight and can fight, but so far, he hasn't shown the political chops that Caesar has.

7. The person playing Octavian is brilliant. It's the mix of awkward teen and brilliance. This is the character where we clearly see the passage of time, as he matures.

8. I know what's going to happen to all these people, but I still watch wondering what will happen next.

NaNoWriMo wordcount: 863.

Buffy Quote of the Week

"Real love isn't brains, children, it's blood; it's blood screaming inside you to work it's will. I may be love's bitch, but at least I'm man enough to admit it."
-- Spike, Ep: Lover's Walk

Sunday, October 30, 2005

Rome

Thanks to HBO On Demand, I have just started watching the HBO miniseries Rome.

It's great. I like the acting, the plots, the pace, the set design, the costumes. Is it accurate? It appears to be. But then, my knowledge is mainly from a mix of I, Claudius (book and DVD), The Roman Mysteries by Caroline Lawrence, and The Grass Crown (and sequels) by Colleen McCullough.

Ghosts of Albion

Amber Benson and Christopher Golden have a new book out, Ghosts of Albion: Accursed. From the bit I've been reading, this originated as an online story.

I love Amber Benson. She was great in Buffy and posted at the Bronze, (now Bronze Beta) when she was getting flack for the storyline and her size and well, she is amazing. (Bronze posting: scroll down here for her reactions to comments about her weight (which, BTW, is normal except on TV compared to stick people, yet she got grief for being "fat." Fat at 118 pounds!!!), and go here for her love of Susan Cooper, which made me like her all the more.) (For the record, I probably posted all of six times at the Bronze, under coma girl.)

So, because it's Amber and because it sounds like the type of book I'd like (ghosts and horror and gothic and victorian), I plan on ordering a copy.

And because I know there are Buffy fans out there, I'm asking you for some advice.

Here my questions: what, if any, online GofA do I HAVE to read before reading this book? Is this book retelling what has already happened on the online story, or is it independent? What would be the best order for reading GofA stories? Should I be reading up all the info on the GofA website, or should I wait and read the book first then explore the world further? I don't want to be spoiled about anything in the book, but I also don't want to feel as if I've sat down to watch a movie half way thru.

National Novel Writing Month

Sara Z. said on her blog, stories of a girl, "Speaking of which, if you have often said to yourself, "One day I will write a novel," now is your chance. November is National Novel Writing Month (NaNoWriMo). If I can do it, you can do it!"

I've written stuff in the past but lately I've been a bit lazy about writing.

So now I've been inspired. So I joined. Thanks to Sara!

Simply put, the goal is to write one 50,000 word (175 page) novel in a month, starting November 1 and ending midnight November 30.

Is it cheating that I have an idea, plot and main character in my head already? And that this is the nudge to put pen to paper (or fingers to keyboard) in a serious way?

More information at the NaNoWriMo site.

Twenty Random Things About Myself

I've been tagged by Kelly. This is my first tag, so I'm excited. (I've also had my first nasty comment and first spam. Hhmm, what other firsts are left?)

Twenty Random Things About Myself:

1. I've been to Ireland four times.
2. I've been to Disney World five times.
3. If I won the lottery tomorrow, yes, I'd quit my job. And travel. And read.
4. I can't wear heels. I can only wear shoes with good soles & support like Dansko.
5. I like shopping when I have money to spend. If I can't buy anything, why bother?
6. I practiced corporate law for almost ten years.
7. I wanted to be an archaeologist until I realized that I stink at languages.
8. My hair began going gray when I was 22.
9. I hate driving.
10. I love television.
11. I am 39 so don't get people who complain when people think they look young. Looking young is a gift from the gods! I have had people at work think I just graduated college (if you're looking at number 8, yes I dye my hair.) I love those people.
12. I don't have kids of my own, but I do have a wonderful niece and nephew who I adore. And they are the reason that number 2 will increase to six after this summer.
13. I love writing fiction. Which is why I just signed up for National Novel Writing Month. I also love reading other people's drafts and making suggestions.
14. My dream job would working for the movie/TV business picking YA/ Children's books to be adapted for movies. Or, working for a publisher's, doing editing and acquisitions for YA/ Children's.
15. My favorite band remains the Pogues; other than that, I have an eclectic music taste; I like a lot of various things, from folk to grunge to classic rock'n'roll.
16. I just passed the 200 mark for books I read this year. Included are picture books and graphic novels and audio books.
17. I love English History.
18. I'm addicted to cinnamon Altoids.
19. I get terrible migraines, especially when it's damp.
20. Despite number 11 and the clock ticking, I want to have kids. But first I want to get married, and I'm still looking for Mr. Right.

My turn to tag someone. I tag Gigi at Lite as a rock.

Saturday, October 29, 2005

The Horn Book Blog

Roger Sutton, Editor-In-Chief of The Horn Book, has started a blog at Read Roger. It's a mix of info about the magazine and children's literature. Very interesting.

I just read Gail Gauthier's comments on A Whole Section of the Blogosphere Ignored in her blog, Original Content. As Gail says, a lot of people still don't "quite get blogging." It's nice to see that Roger and The Horn Book get it.

Fantasy

I read a lot of fantasy as a kid and a teen. Sometime around college I stopped. At the time, I thought I had gotten tired of it or outgrown it.

Then I read Harry Potter. And I began reading fantasy again.

And I realized what my problem with fantasy really was: that I had begun to read too many books that were derivative and poorly written. That it seemed as if "fantasy" meant that all the rules went out the window; and that the main characters and plots were more wish fulfillment than well written books. Had I known the term Mary Sue back then, I would have said, aha, too much fantasy with Mary Sue type characters.

Anyway, I shall always love JK Rowling for showing me that well written fantasy exists and for getting me back to reading and loving fantasy.

When I saw The Fantasy Novelist's Exam I had to laugh. Because, seriously? Published books that pass (or is it fail?) this exam is why I stopped reading fantasy. This exam is spot-on (even if it does come close to describing my favorite fantasy series, The Belgariad. Which just means that many people are being "inspired" by it.) And it describes the book I will not name, but which I cannot get beyond page fifty.

All laughing aside, there's a serious question here. Why are so many of these derivative books being published? This is not a recent event; this is what I observed back in the late 1980s. Fantasy can be great, well written and original. It's almost as if everyone -- and yes, I'm including publishers and reviewers -- views fantasy as the "special" child, where not as much is expected.

Fantasy can be great. But if too much derivative stuff continues to get churned out, I think you'll see more people with my experience: they just stop reading it.

Thursday, October 27, 2005

Buffy Quote of the Week

"I'm going to ask you if you want to go out tomorrow night. I'm actually kind of nervous about it. It's interesting."
-- Oz, Ep: Surprise

Sunday, October 23, 2005

The Sisterhood of the Traveling Pants

The Sisterhood of the Traveling Pants, a film now available on DVD. It's based on the book of the same name by Ann Brashares.

Sisterhood tells the story of four best friends, Lena, Tibby, Carmen, and Bridget and the miraculous pants that fits each one of them perfectly. There have been two sequels.

Sisterhood is a brilliant concept: four different girls with four different personalities and what happens to them during their sixteenth summer. It's like four books in one, and the movie works the same way. In a nutshell, Lena goes to Greece, where she discovers first love and also bonds with her Greek grandparents; Tibby is stuck at home, making a documentary and reluctantly befriending a 12 year old girl; Bridget is at soccer camp, crushing on a college age coach; and Carmen has gone to spend the summer with her divorced father's new family.

In both the book and the film, Lena's and Tibby's stories didn't do much for me. Carmen's and Bridget's stories, though, I found extremely compelling, realistic, and layered. (Which is why this is genius -- as long as a reader connects with at least one of the four stories, you have a fan. Bloody brilliant.)

Carmen's father is weak. No other way to describe it; the type of man who will say he loves his daughter; and no doubt, does love his daughter; yet does nothing, n-o-t-h-i-n-g to show or tell his daughter he loves her. To add insult to injury, he has stepped into the "dad role" in his "new" family, where to all outside appearances he is a loving father. (My ten bucks says that if he gets divorced again, he'll also emotionally abandon that family. He's the type that can be a Dad when someone else -- his wife -- makes it easy.)

After trying for several weeks, Carmen snaps, breaks a window in Dad's house, and runs back home. And here's where my blood boils. Tibby encourages Carmen to make the first move and call her father; Carmen responds that her father should be the one calling; and Tibby says, no. Carmen calls her father.

I'm with Carmen on this one. I hate, hate, hate, story lines where the child has to be the mature one -- the one reaching out -- while the parent is the immature one. Realistic? Sadly, it is a realistic situation. The teens in these situations have gotten a raw deal; but I think it adds insult to injury to say that the responsibility for a healthy relationship lies on the shoulder of the teen or kid. I think its unrealistic to give a Hallmark ending where the child's reaching out, by letter or phone call, ends in the parent changing. Because you know what? Nine out of ten times, the parent will say all the right things but the parent won't change. And the result is a kid who thinks that they are doing the wrong thing, it's all about them, if they had only called or said the right thing.... One of the reasons I LOVE Storky is that Mike realizes that how his father acts is about his father, not himself. I wish that Sisterhood had been clearer that the reason for Carmen to call and reach out to her father was not because it would "fix" the relationship, but because it was necessary for Carmen's peace of mind.

The other storyline that sticks with me is Bridget, because she's such an amazing mix of qualities. In the book, she had been the most "real", and in the movie, she steals the show. On the one hand, she's action girl, the soccer star, the leader. She's confident in her body and her sexuality; she aggressively goes after the soccer coach. On the other hand, she's still a child, who knows she has the body and the sexual attraction -- but once she gets what she wants, the coach, she doesn't know how to deal with the consequences. An interesting question to ask those who have read the book or seen the movie: what do you think happened between Bridget and the coach? The answers differ greatly. I know what I think.

Bridget's story, and my belief of what happens between Bridget and the coach, is why I think this is a great book for teens. It shows unintended consequences; it shows that wanting and getting are two very different things. For some reason, we've had girls as young as ten coming in to read this book. Given how Brashares handles the situation, they won't "get" what happened; but when they are older, and the situation will have more meaning for them, these girls will think that they already read this book; that it's a kid's book; and that is just sad. It's a perfect book for your teenaged daughter; not so much so for your fifth grader.
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