Tuesday, March 27, 2012

Why Ron Weasley rocks


Almost every good hero has one (or more), and I've found that the sidekick is often my favorite character in a story. Since heroes are so gosh-darn heroic, it's not always easy to identify with them in a story, even if they are really well-created. There's no way I'd go roaming the English country chasing a wizard who wants to kill me, and doesn't mind killing a bunch of other people along the way. But I can almost imagine that I might, someday, if I had a best friend who did, feel obligated to accompany that friend. Maybe. And if I did accompany that friend, I can just about guarantee that I'd get grouchy at him if he didn't seem to know what was going on and would quite likely walk out on him at some point--and I hope I'd come back.

So I can identify decently well with Ron Weasley.

I don't know if this is the case for anyone else, but the sidekick often sucks me further into a story than the hero. So to close this (super-short) post, here are some of my favorite sidekicks and other secondary characters. Please note that this is an ad-hoc list created during naptime, so it's nowhere near complete:

Sam from The Lord of the Rings trilogy
Nat and Prudence from The Witch of Blackbird Pond
Haymitch from The Hunger Games trilogy
Homer from the Tomorrow series
Bean from Ender's Game (this is kind of a cheat, because Bean gets his own series...)
Rudy Steiner from The Book Thief
Boots from The Underland Chronicles
Becky from A Little Princess
Evelyn from the Amelia Peabody mysteries
Phoebe from Walk Two Moons

While compiling this list, I realized that in many of my favorite books--especially those that are more realistic than high fantasy--I do identify with the protagonist most strongly. Maybe someday I'll get around to a post on those heroes.

March is almost over...

This is crazy and hard to believe. Since I last posted, my husband and I both turned 30, I took a week-long trip up to MD to hang out with family, I applied for and didn't get a job, and I started looking into renewing my school library license for NC. Haven't gotten too far with that one, yet. We also hired an electrician for the first time, and got a wonderful one, so if you need electrical work done in NC's Triangle area, let me know. Otherwise, not much happened. When home with kids, there is a lot of activity, but not a lot to report to the outside world. It's fun and maddening by turns, and the kids are hilarious to watch as they try new things out and add words to their vocabulary and skills and ideas to their repertoire.

I have my drafts of children's literature-related opinions still saved, so let me try to get one up...

Thursday, January 19, 2012

50th anniversary of A Wrinkle in Time

Aside from Amazon marketing the "5oth anniversary edition" of Madeleine L'Engle's Newbery award winner A Wrinkle in Time, there are several festivities in the publishing/library world. Most notably, see Betsy Bird's blog entry Fifty Years is Just a Wrinkle in Time.

Go reread this classic (or try it for the first time) in celebration!

And yes, I still have those other planned posts...maybe someday?

Friday, November 18, 2011


Totally didn't get around to a post this week. Hopefully early next week. Also just saw that the pictures for Pat the Bunny and Pat the Cat didn't come through, so I'll try to fix that next week, too.


Tuesday, November 8, 2011

Why Pat the Bunny is way better than Pat the Cat

In an effort to get some blog posts going, I'm starting a series on my random literary opinions. I've got 3 literary opinions lined up (today's, one on Harry Potter characters, and one about school stories); hopefully I'll come up with 2 more to make it a decent-length series. It may go without saying that these are opinions about children's books, but now I've said it, so there should be no confusion. The hope is to write one a week, but it'll be a victory if that actually gets done.

Now on to today's topic...

I'm going to assume that most readers have at least heard of Pat the Bunny, by Dorothy Kunhardt. Here's what it looks like:

This is a classic kids' book (originally published in 1940) and it's the ancestor of today's board books. It's interactive, with a soft bunny, nice-smelling flowers, a peek-a-boo page, a mirror, and other activities on each page. The activities are perfect for older babies/younger toddlers--my older girl (M.) can do everything except read the little book that makes up one of the activities, but for that, she turns the pages, just like she does in real books. She especially loves to say "bye bye" at the end. My three year old son still likes the book, too. Most importantly, M. has not yet destroyed the book. This is saying something, as she is right in the "destroy everything" phase of wanting to be independent but not quite getting the hang of it, and she's a little rougher in this stage than N. was. The book is not as sturdy as today's board books, but it's sturdy enough to stand up to a one-and-a-half year old. This is pretty important.

Moving on to Pat the Cat. This one was made by Kunhardt's daughter, and it first came out in 1984.

I have to say that it was a nice idea, and some parts of it are downright nifty. My favorite (and N.'s) is a sequence activity over 2 pages. First, you get money (pretend of course) out of the ATM (which I didn't realize existed in 1984--so I did learn something!), then you put it in Daddy's wallet on the next page. The two pages are designed so that, by putting the money in Daddy's wallet, it's positioned back in the ATM for the next read-through. This is pretty clever (says the girl who never ever ever solves the mystery before the story detective). However, there are some serious problems with Pat the Cat:
  • The activities vary in difficulty, and some of them are too difficult even for a 3 year old. Most notably among these is the squeaky toy at the end--I even have trouble getting it to squeak (you have to push it just the right way), and none of the kids (well, the 3 month old hasn't tried yet) can do it. This wouldn't be quite such an issue if it wasn't following in the footsteps of a book specifically aimed at babies.
  • Not all of the activities are "real." This may not be quite fair--the flowers in Pat the Bunny aren't real, either, but there is a real smell. What I mean by real is that you actually manipulate something--you really smell or touch or see what you are doing. Pat the Cat has one where you just pretend to write (with a paper pencil--no marks can be made), and I'm guessing the smell activity (since it's scratch and sniff) is going to run out eventually, too.
  • As you probably guessed, my biggest problem is with durability. This was a baby gift for little L. and, sadly, M. has already ripped one of the pages to pieces (I hope to fix it with book tape--I'm getting quite a pile of "books to fix"--but she's had access to this one for a much shorter time than Pat the Bunny). She's also almost lost the pretend money several times. Additionally, the hard-t0-squeak squeaky bear at the back bends the back cover when it finally does squeak.
Overall, while I don't hit 30 until early next year, I have to summon my inner geezer for these two books: they just don't make them like they used to! If you are looking for a fun interactive book for babies, go with the original Pat the Bunny. I'd say browse the others in the bookstore, but they tend to come shrink wrapped, so you'll have to find a friend who's kids have already ripped them! (You are welcome to come read mine, as long as you don't lose the fake money.)

I should mention that there are, of course, a whole host of good books for babies these days, in the form of board books or cloth books, but most of them aren't designed to be interactive (at least beyond the chewing on books that is necessary to the baby-book experience).

That's all for this week's literary opinion (my, isn't this high-brow)! We'll see if I make it back next week!

Friday, October 7, 2011

Where I've been...

Well, if anyone was reading this before, I don't blame you for givingit up recently, since there hasn't been a post since April!

Since then, I've put my house on the market, bought another house, moved (these three really happened due more to my husband's efforts than mine, especially the actual moving!), had a baby, bought a new car, and quit my job. It's been a busy summer.

I can't make excuses about not posting--mostly it was due to lack of effort and energy. However, since our life changes required a little bit more discretion this time around (I wasn't sure about going back to my job, as I was with the last baby), I couldn't post about work-life issues and maternity leave in the same way as I had in the past. I did indeed decide to quit, and with my husband starting a doctoral program, it seems to be the right decision. I'm enjoying being a full-time mom for now, although there's definitely an all-new balancing act to learn with a third baby in the mix.

I don't want to entirely get out of touch with the library world, of course, and I'm toying with the idea of trying a more kid-lit focused blog in the near future. While I play around with the idea and read up in the current kid-lit blogosphere, here are a couple recent reviews from my Goodreads account:

The Mostly True Story of JackThe Mostly True Story of Jack by Kelly Barnhill

My rating: 3 of 5 stars

I spent over half of The Mostly True Story of Jack waiting to find out when I was going to learn out what was really going on in Hazelwood, and once I got to the climax of the book, I still wasn't sure. I think Barnhill has a good sense of the rules of her magic, but I never got that same sense. This would be my main criticism of the book. For example, I never understood quite what the Avery men got out of making deals with the evil
"Lady"--even those callous enough not to care about the price they had to pay didn't seem to gain enough to make it worthwhile. They gained the same kind of power in the town that Potter had in the town from It's a Wonderful Life, but it didn't seem like the kind of power that would be enhanced by magic.

My other criticism is with the emotional ties--while the reader (who has the benefit of seeing scenes with other characters where Jack is not present) can tell that Clive, Anders, and Wendy are good guys, it seems to take Jack over half the book to come to that conclusion. Once he does, the action is going full-steam, and I find it hard to believe that he has as much time to get to know and love them as he does at the end.
Despite those criticisms, the book was an enjoyable read. I particularly like that even the bad guy has a sympathetic side. I would have liked to learn more about what happens to Mr. Perkins (a crony of the Avery's)--he seemed poised to make a moral turnaround.
Finally, the book ended well but not completely happily--this was impressively done, even more so given that it's a children's book (which I think makes such an ending harder).

Madeline's RescueMadeline's Rescue by Ludwig Bemelmans

My rating: 4 of 5 stars

I actually don't like the pictures in this one quite as well as in the first Madeline, but this is the one that won the Caldecott. Some of the line drawings aren't as beautiful as the Parisian landscapes Bemelmans usually does, although the story (a dog rescues Madeline and then comes to live at the school) is just as charming. One "problem" I've noticed is the difficulty of identifying Madeline (in all his books) in pictures of the whole group--her hair does not always appear as red (because not all the pictures are full color) and it's sometimes straight, sometimes wavy. Even her bed seems to change positions occasionally! Doe
sn't detract from the fun of the books for the most part, but it does make it hard to point her out to an inquisitive 3 year old when he asks which one she is.

View all my reviews

Hope everyone is having a great fall!

Wednesday, April 20, 2011

Late, late, late POC update

Yes, this is an update on the Person of Color Challenge 2010. I'm very, very late. Blog updating has just completely fallen off my radar recently, so I'm going to try to get back into the swing of things.

This challenge involved coming up with a list of books that focused on characters of color and trying to read all of them last year. I pretty much failed miserably. Here's my original post at the start of the challenge. Below are the links to the rest of the posts from the challenge:
Out of my original list of 12 books to read, I read 4 and a half. That's not so good. I did get an additional POC book out of The Red Pyramid, which was not on my initial list, and I also read the sequel to Chains, Forge, which I loved. Oh, and I started La femme sans sépulture, which I have enjoyed so far, but put aside for easier reading in English.

As I predicted, the "adult" books took me quite a lot longer to read than my normal YA/children's fare, and I have basically abandoned All Aunt Hagar's Children, which was super depressing. I still intend to pick it up and finish it, but who knows.

A lot of the books on my list fell into my personal "serious" reading category (adult, often classics, anything in French falls into this category), which I can usually only tackle one at a time, often with long breaks in between, and I think this contributed to not getting further through my list. I picked up several non-POC "serious" books throughout the year (a couple theology books, since my husband is in divinity school, and an Anthony Trollope novel, which took from late November to early January to plow through). While many of the books on the list remain on my "to read" list, I'm not going to try to finish the list this year--especially not with it being already April, yeep! However, I will try, as I browse children's and YA books, to try to make more effort to choose books with POC protagonists.