Wednesday, July 31, 2013

Favorite Award-Winning Book

Since Cassy explained the Man Booker Prize yesterday (and we've covered some other book awards on the blog before), today we're picking our favorite award-winning books.

Mine is - unsurprisingly - by Neil Gaiman. It's The Graveyard Book. I like a lot of award-winning books (some of which I'm sure I don't even realize are award winners) but I remember being very excited when this one won the Newbery in America and the Carnegie in Britain. It also won a Hugo, a best novel award for sci-fi and fantasy. Gaiman also got a Hugo in 2002 for American Gods, but it's a big deal when a kids' book wins a Hugo. (Yes, Harry Potter and the Goblet of Fire won, and Prisoner of Azkaban was nominated, but it's not common.) Beyond all that, I also love that the first line of this children's book is "There was a hand in the darkness, and it held a knife." I remember Stephen Colbert's interview with Gaiman, and how he made a big deal out of this, and it was funny, but I also remember thinking, "This is how we break out of treating kids like idiots in their own literature."

I've talked about John Green briefly on this blog (remember the favorites that we relate to), but I've never actually brought Looking For Alaska up, which is sad, because it's a FANTASTIC book and probably one of the ones that really cemented my love for YA literature.

It's won a PLUTHERA of awards, the most prevalent (or, at least the one that they put on the front of the book) is the Michael L. Printz award from the ALA.  The Michael Printz award actually awards teen novels based entirely on literary merit, so it's kind of a big deal.  Looking for Alaska has also won the 2006 Top Ten Books for Young Adults award and was a finalist for the 2005 Los Angels Time Book Award.  

There is a lot of controversy surrounding the book, mainly because it's a book marketed towards teens and has a lot of sex, drugs and drinking.  Generally, parents aren't fans, but Green never apologizes for the explicit things in his book, which basically just makes him awesome (he also points out that the book's target audience isn't 12 year olds; it's 15-18 year olds.)  Out of all of Green's books, this is easily my favorite one, and I've read pretty much everything he's written.  The language is beautiful, the characters are genuine and, really, deserves every award that it's gotten.

Tuesday, July 30, 2013

Man Booker Prize

Since our author this week has been on the short list for this award TWICE, I thought that I should let you know what, exactly, it is.

According to the head of the foundation, the Man Booker Prize has had only one criteria to be one.  To be the best novel in the opinion of the judges.  It has been around for 42 years and in those years, the foundation has made it a point to target intellectual books.  They're not interested in popular books or pressured into choosing someone because of politics.  Their job is to pick the book that is the most engaging, interesting and well-written book.

So what does it take to be a judge?  There aren't any set critieria, but generally poets, novelists, actors, and journalists.  They have been all genders and ages.  So, really, it could be anyone with any sort of background.  

The winner of the Man Booker award (of which the most successful was Schindler's List), get 52,500 pounds (50K for being the winner and 2500 for being on the short list.)  Some other winners have been The English Patient by Michael Ondaatje, The Life of Pi by Yann Martel and The Blind Assassin by Margaret Atwood.

Originally, it was called the Booker-McConnell prize, named after the publishing company that funded & sponsored it.

Click here to see a list of the winners and the short list for each year.

Monday, July 29, 2013

Author Bio: David Mitchell

This week, our author is David Mitchell, who wrote Cloud Atlas, our book this week (picked by Annapeg88!!).  He was born in Merseyside, England, but grew up in Worcheshire.  He got his degree in Comparative Literature, and then moved to Sicily.  After spending a year there, he moved to Hiroshima, Japan where he taught English to technical students.

Eventually, he returned to England to make a living as a writer when his wife became pregnant.

His first book, Ghostwritten, is a book that spans the world with interconnecting stories.  Our novel this week, Cloud Atlas, is done in much the same manner, but spans time instead of places.  He has twice been shortlisted for the Man Booker Prize and Time put him on their "100 Most Influential People" list in 2007.

Mitchell has written several operas, one of which is a prologue for the book he has slated to come out late this year.

David Mitchell actually has a stammer.  He mentions that "The King's Speech" is the most accurate portrayal of what it's like to have a stammer.  Currently, he's living in Ireland with his wife and two children.

Saturday, July 27, 2013

By Its Cover: Sideways Stories from Wayside School

I like this cover because it's very cartoony, which I think really fits the book.  It's a silly, ridiculous, non-sensical book, so I think the cover really reflects that by making it that colored in look.  And it gives you some basics about the book.  The cover reflects the first story, with the teacher that would transform them into apples.

You can also see the school in the background, which is SO TALL that it's reaching the clouds.  It's over-exaggerated, just like the entire book is.  The cover also has bright colors, which really draw your attention.  I think the yellow font is probably my favorite.

Overall, a good cover for the book.

There have been several covers for this book, but they all have the same general feel: cartoonish, fun, weird. And that's what this book is.

Friday, July 26, 2013

Review Me Twice: Sideways Stories from Wayside School by Louis Sachar

I love this book. I love everything about it. And I have since the first time I read it, which must have been in early elementary school. I can honestly say, without exaggerating, that I have read this book (and Wayside School is Falling Down and Wayside School Gets a Little Stranger) over a hundred times.

You see, Wayside School was built sideways, so it's 30 stories tall, with one classroom on each story. There is no nineteenth story. Miss Zarves teaches on the nineteenth story. There is no Miss Zarves. The lunch lady, Miss Mush, can't cook anything well, and runs out of "nothing" - the most popular hot lunch - daily. Louis the Yard Teacher is based on the author, and often plays a part in the students' stories.

In this book, every chapter is about a different student. They each have their weird quirks and each story is built around that. It's almost impossible to pick a favorite from this book, but the first one that comes to mind is Maurecia, who loves ice cream, so Mrs. Jewls (their teacher) creates Maurecia-flavored ice cream, but Maurecia can't taste it... but everyone else loves it. So Mrs. Jewls makes a flavor for each kid in the class, and it turns out the flavors are what that person tastes when they're tasting nothing. That's the kind of silliness you get from each story.

There are also two math books in the series, called Sideways Arithmetic from Wayside School and More Sideways Arithmetic from Wayside School, with funny logic puzzles and students insisting that TWO + TWO = FOUR (but SEVEN + FOUR does not equal ELEVEN). It's verbal arithmetic and it is SO MUCH FUN. There's even a self-referential true/false test that would probably still stump me.

My excitement for this book is not as intense as Alex's is.  I was read the first two Wayside Stories books and I loved them and remember laughing at them a ton when I heard them. (Our para-professional used to read us books in-between when my teacher left for lunch and when it was actually time for us to GO to lunch.)

And this goes back to when I was talking about reading book now vs. then.  As a kid, I thought they were HYSTERICAL stories.  But I didn't read them like Alex did, so now, I think they're great kids books, but they're definitely kids books.  The humor just didn't have the same effect on me as it did at one time.

(Though, all the chapters are numbered - 30 stories because there are 30 stories in Wayside school.  Chapter 19 says "There is no story 19.  There is no Miss Zarves." and I have to admit, that still made me chuckle.)

My Bottom Line 4 out of 5

Thursday, July 25, 2013

My Favorite Children's Books (The Alex Version)

At the beginning of this month of children's books, Cassy told you about her favorite children's books... now it's my turn!

Spoilers... I LOVE this week's review book. But you can read more about that tomorrow. The whole Wayside School series by Louis Sachar (all three books, plus the Sideways Arithmetic books) is pretty much the best thing that ever happened to my bookshelf as a kid. I could spend an afternoon reading all five books straight through, and do it again the next day, and the next, and so on. I loved these books so much, I want a potato tattoo on my ankle.

This is a pick for nostalgia, not literary value. Lois Ehlert's Red Leaf, Yellow Leaf has a very distinct collage illustration style that I just couldn't get enough of as a kid. I still can't; I found this book in the library I work in (our college has an early childhood education program) and I stood in the stacks and flipped through the pages just to look at the pretty pictures again. Some of the pages have cut-outs so you can see parts of the next and last page through the current one.

Speaking of Lois Ehlert, she also illustrated Chicka Chicka Boom Boom, by Bill Martin Jr. and John Archambault, which is a ridiculously silly alphabet book with annoyingly catchy rhymes. It's the kind of thing a kid would repeat over and over ad infinitum, and the kind of thing that gets stuck in your head as an adult. But it's cute.

Another choice with not-so-great literary value: The Baby-Sitters Club and the accompanying Little Sister series by Ann M. Martin. At one point in my childhood, I owned every single book in publication in each of these series. Then they kept getting published, and I stopped reading/collecting them. The Little Sister books have almost identical second chapters in every single book, explaining the - admittedly complex - family situation of Karen, the main character. (Her parents are divorced and have shared custody, and as someone who had a similar situation around that age, I think she does a pretty good job of describing it from the kid's point of view.) The idea is that you could pick up any book in the series and not be totally lost as to why she has two pairs of glasses or different pets at different houses, etc. The worst part of the Little Sister books is that I always felt like an old person was making the jokes, not a kid my age. ("Karen Two-Two?" What the hell kind of nickname is that? It's not even a pun.) The BSC books were a little more tolerable, and even though they were about teenagers, they were perfectly good reads for me at the same age I was reading the Little Sister books.

Bonnie-Alise Leggat came to my elementary school as part of some program about young people who wrote and illustrated their own kids' books. I can't even remember if there were other authors there, but I got her book, Punt, Pass & Point! and loved it. It's about a girl who has to go to ballet class - despite being totally non-girly - and discovers that the quarterback has to go, too, to practice control and posture and whatnot.

I have a weird obsession with composition notebooks. I love them more than any normal person should. And I blame Amelia's Notebook by Marissa Moss for that. The book (and the rest of its series) is meant to look like a composition notebook, with notes in the margins, drawings of things taped/glued in, etc. It's really clever, and it was really fun to read, and it prompted me and my friends to have our own notebooks that we shared, with notes and drawings and such.

Let's just face it: I didn't read great literature as a kid. The American Girl series is all about nostalgia for me. I read them (and had the dolls) when there were just Felicity, Molly, Samantha, Addy, and Kirsten. (I got the Josefina books and doll, but by that point, I wasn't really into it.) I'm pretty sure Felicity was the first one I read, because I live near Williamsburg, and her story fit into what I was learning in school. I got the plays - yes, there were short plays - for Molly and Samantha and convinced my friends to act them out with me in fourth grade. (I'd like to publicly apologize to those friends now, especially Adam, who got stuck with the boy's parts. I will never forget throwing underwear at him, playing Ricky, in front of our entire class as Molly. Good times.)


It's just not an Alex's favorites list without mentioning Neil Gaiman. Unlike Cassy, I don't really like Coraline. I mean, it's good... and I'm very glad it's out there for kids, because it's doing good things. But I don't love it. Gaiman paired up with Dave McKean (what an amazing duo) to do The Wolves in the Walls and The Day I Swapped my Dad for Two Goldfish (both of which deliver stories that are true to their titles). And I adore The Graveyard Book, partly because it treats kids like people instead of like idiots, and partly because it's just a great story, no matter who you are. I also really love Instructions, but I was introduced to it as a short story, so I sometimes forget it's also a full children's book. I would love to put Crazy Hair and Blueberry Girl and Chu's Day and Odd and the Frost Giants on here, but I haven't read them. (I'm spacing them out so I don't read them all really fast and then have no Gaiman left to read until Sandman Zero comes out.) And I absolutely LOVE Mirrormask (it was my introduction to Neil Gaiman) but I don't consider it "for kids," weirdly enough. It's a "for everyone" book/movie. These are also the only books on my list that I didn't read as a kid. Don't get me wrong; there are tons of amazing books for kids that have been published since I grew up, but to list them all would require an entire blog of its own.

That's it! I'll stop there. What are your favorite children's books?

Wednesday, July 24, 2013

Favorite Book-to-TV Adaptation

This week's book, Sideways Stories from Wayside School, and its sequels, spawned a TV adaptation that I personally have never seen. But that means we're choosing our favorite book-to-TV adaptations today!

Magic School Bus Complete Series DVD.jpg

Mine happens to be a children's book series, too! I loved the Magic School Bus book series as a kid. I can't even pick a favorite (though I do remember liking the undersea one a lot).

I didn't watch the show as a kid, but it's all available streaming on Netflix now, so I watched a few episodes. It's exactly like the books: cheesy, ridiculously 1990s, and totally fictional while still somehow being educational.

The worst part about the show - which is not a problem with the books - is the voice acting. It's just... awful. But it's a 1990s cartoon and you can only expect so much from that.

The best part about the TV series is that, at the end of each episode, they have a third-party character reading "mail" from "viewers" about how things in the show weren't accurate. (You can't fit a bus in a blood vessel; dinosaurs can't talk; the bus would melt in a volcano; etc.) It's a fun way to make the meat of the show work, but also point out to kids that it's fiction, and throw in a few fun facts without sounding like you're teaching.

Mine is a little more... adult than Alex's, and also shouldn't really be that big of a surprise.

Game of Thrones is a great series and HBO translated it well to TV.  They kept a lot from the books in the show, which, considering how long the books are (book three is almost 1000 pages, and I have the LARGE paper back version, with teeny, tiny print) that's a big accomplishment.

Also, it's cast well.  The characters are very much what you imagine that they would look like in your head (with the possibly exception of Tyrion.  He's a lot prettier in the TV show then he is in the books but, well, that's television for you.  Everyone has to be pretty.)  They stick pretty well to how Martin describes them in the books (IE Cersei and Jamie are both blondes, as opposed to say, brunettes.)  I think that's HUGE because a lot of times, they change it to get big name actors (like in Cold Mountain) and the look of people actually plays a really big part in this series.

It's a great series, if you aren't already watching it (which, let's face it, most of you probably are.)  I hope it continues to stay that good.

Just FYI, if The Tudors had been adapted from a book and not, you know, from history, that would TOTALLY be my favorite book-to-tv show.

Tuesday, July 23, 2013

Then & Now: Reading differently due to age

When you were a kid, you have certain thoughts and you viewed things in a certain way.  So things you remember from being a kid may have been VASTLY different from the way you perceive it now. 

When you read books as a kid, you got something entirely different out of them than you do now.  Part of that is you have a better frame of reference for things.  Part of that is your ideas and personality change over the years.  Part of it is that as a kid, you just plain don't get it.  So what are some ways that we read books differently?

1. You are better at reading for the underlying meaning than you were.

We read Shiloh this month and, having read that book as a kid, all I really remember is that it was about a kid with a dog.  I mean, I LIKED the book, but I'm fairly certain it's mostly because of the dog and the suspense of will he/won't he get to keep it.  Will everyone find out?  WHAT WILL HAPPEN?

As an adult, I can see where Marty is learning a lesson, and also how the world works.  I can see where Judd is starting to become a character, and not just this mean-spirited jerk.  I can see how it's a portrayal of West Virginia and a commentary on the living conditions and the community.  I missed all of this as a kid.  Mainly because I didn't have any sort of reason TO read for this stuff.

2. Your humor changes

Let's face it; the things you found funny as a kid a lot of times you think are dumb now.  For the life of you, you can't figure out why you EVER thought fart jokes were funny.  So when you're reading a book, it may not be as humorous as you once thought.

I read Captain Underpants recently and did not really find it funny.  However, I recognized that if I was an eight year old boy, I would probably think it's freakin' hilarious.

3. Sometimes, you forget things.

Ok, so this isn't necessarily "reading differently", but let's face it, it happens.  You read a book when you were a kid and now, as you pick it up again 10 years later, you don't really remember much about the book.  So you start to read... and as you read, you start to remember.  Suddenly, that big shocker of an ending, isn't such a shocker anymore because you remembered that it happened.

Remembering these details before you're meant to figure them out, can change your perceptions of a book, whether they be for good or bad.  Walk Two Moons has a surprise ending, that I figured out in chapter three (when I reread it) because I remembered what was going on.  But, that made it interesting, because I could see the TONS of clues left to me by Creech that I didn't really pick up on as a kid (but are painfully obvious as an adult.)

4. You GET the humor.

In kids books there is hidden humor.  Authors probably know that some parents are going to have to read the book, so they put stuff in there to entertain adults, but not the kids.  The same thing happens with kids movies (Ever see the movie Monster House? Girl: "If that's the tongue, and that's the throat, that must be the uvula." Boy: "Oh! So it's a GIRL house."  Let me tell you, hilarious to me, not so much to the little kids in the theatre.)

As a kid, you missed all those hilarious jokes that weren't really meant for you.  But as an adult, you get ALL of them.  It makes the book that much better that you can still get something out of books you've already read.

Those are just a few of the ways reading a children's book can be different as an adult.  What do you notice when you reread your old books?

Monday, July 22, 2013

Author Bio: Louis Sachar

This is Louis Sachar. You may know him as the author of Holes, or maybe you remember There's a Boy in the Girls' Bathroom. But to me, he will always be Louis the Yard Teacher from Sideways Stories from Wayside School (this week's review book) and its two sequels.

Sachar graduated from UC Berkeley in 1976. During his time there, he responded to an ad requesting teacher's aides in exchange for 3 class credits. He helped out in a classroom at Hillside Elementary, but was also the Noontime Supervisor (or, to the kids, Louis the Yard Teacher). After graduating, he wrote a children's book based on kids from Hillside, and it was Sideways Stories from Wayside School.

He went on to law school, finishing in 1980, and did part-time legal work while continuing to write books for children. By 1989, his books were popular enough to support him full-time.

He has a wife and daughter and dog. He never talks about a book until it's finished, even to them, but they get to be the first to read it (except the dog, I'm guessing). You can find a list of his books here.

Saturday, July 20, 2013

By Its Cover: Rechenka's Eggs

This is a wonderful book cover. It tells you everything you could want to know about a picture book before you crack it open. The drawing style is right there on the cover, and for some kids, that's enough to make or break a picture book. (I never liked books drawn with too much realism; I like bold lines and bright colors, what can I say? I'm a Mondriaan fan.)

The font (and the name "Rechenka") lends itself to the Russian culture theme, and the two main objects in the story - the goose and the eggs - are right there, saying "this book is about us."

There's something so wonderful about how straightforward a picture book's cover can be (partly because the story is short and can usually be summed up in one image, and partly because it's already illustrated and therefore an image is a great way to introduce it) and I appreciate that.

I agree with everything Alex said.  This is a wonderful cover and it's so COLORFUL.  Let's face it; as kids, we're attracted to bold, beautiful colors.  And the more interesting a book cover is, the more likely I was as a kid to pick a book up.  (Ok, I'm still kind of like that as an adult, but at least I read the descriptions now.)  The eggs on the cover draw the eye, and the detail keeps it there.

Friday, July 19, 2013

Review Me Twice: Rechenka's Eggs by Patricia Polacco

This week's review book is a picture book called Rechenka's Eggs by Patricia Polacco.

I always loved picture books that wove another culture into the story. This is the kind of book elementary teachers love, because they can build an entire learning unit about traditional Russian culture around this book. There are a few Russian words scattered throughout the book (italicized, so you can more easily notice them), and it discusses foods, a festival, the egg-painting, and other Russian customs.

Beyond that, it's a nice story. Warm fuzzies all around. I never read it as a kid, but I enjoyed it as an adult.

I really love Polocco's art.  I love that the faces are sketched, while the rest of it takes on a more colored/patterned crayon feel.  And she's amazing at depicting culture with her art (you see the big, domed palaces in this book and the traditional Russian egg coloring.)

See how she mixes B&W sketches with all that color?
And I'm with Alex on how culture books help kids AND teachers.  There could be a whole unit for Russia, with Polocco's books at the center of it.

I did read these books as kids, and then Polocco came to my school!  I remember she told us this story about a meteorite that landed near her house, and her father would only let people touch it once and make a wish.  She actually brought a piece of it with her, and let every kid touch it on their way out the door.

I think she writes great books for kids, beautiful picture books and I definitely recommend them.

My Bottom Line 5 out of 5.

Thursday, July 18, 2013

Authors Diagnosed with Dyslexia

Lots of famous people have been diagnosed with dyslexia: Steven Spielberg, Orlando Bloom, Henry Winkler, Guy Ritchier, Keanu Reeves, Pablo Picasso, John Lennon, Keira Knightley, Jay Leno, Bruce Jenner, Salma Hayek, Whoopi Goldberg, Albert Einstein, Leonardo da Vinci, Anderson Cooper, Cher, Tom Cruise, Lara Flynn Boyle, Alexander Graham Bell...

You might think being an author is an unusual career choice for someone with dyslexia. But Patricia Polacco - author of this week's review book, Rechenka's Eggs, and dozens of other children's books - was diagnosed with dyslexia, and she is not alone!

Louise Arnold
In 2003, the BBC wanted to find "the next J K Rowling," and they found Louise Arnold. They asked for the first paragraph of a children's book, and put the finalists to a public vote. When Arnold won, she got an agent and started writing the Grey Arthur series, which to date includes three books: Golden & Grey (An Unremarkable Boy and a Rather Remarkable Ghost) (in England, titled The Invisible Friend); Golden & Grey: The Nightmares that Ghosts Have; and Golden & Grey: A Good Day for Haunting.

Octavia Butler
Author of the Patternist series, Lilith's Brood series, and Parable series, along with many short stories and articles, Butler has won the Hugo and the Nebula, and is arguably the best-known female African-American science-fiction writer. She was the first sci-fi author to earn a MacArthur fellowship (aka the Genius Grant).

Lewis Carroll (Charles Lutwidge Dodgson)
The famous creator of Alice (Alice's Adventures in Wonderland and Through the Looking-Glass and such) was diagnosed as dyslexic, which is simultaneously not surprising (have you read "The Jabberwocky"?) and very surprising (for a man so amazing at word play and a child who read difficult works so early in life).

Fannie Flagg (Patricia Neal)
Flagg wrote the novel Fried Green Tomatoes at the Whistle Stop Cafe (which was adapted to the movie, Fried Green Tomatoes, for which she won an Academy Award) and she was also a regular on the show The Match Game. She has spoken about her dyslexia, saying that it's an ongoing problem, and that her writing was put on hold for most of the '70s because she was discouraged.

Jules Verne
French novelist Jules Verne is best known for Around the World in Eighty Days, Journey to the Centre of the Earth, and Twenty Thousand Leagues Under the Sea. He is the second most translated author in the world (following Agatha Christie) and is one of three authors referred to as the Father of Science Fiction (along with H. G. Wells and Hugo Gernsback). While he is considered a children's writer in most Anglophone regions, much of Europe considers him a major literary author.

So if you have been diagnosed with dyslexia or any other learning disorder, don't be discouraged! These people weren't! (Or they were, and then later they weren't. I'm a bad pep-talker.)

Wednesday, July 17, 2013

Favorite Book Cover

Out of all the book covers in the world, we're picking our favorites today.

My copy of Raw Shark Texts by Steven Hall does not have this cover, but I love this cover. In this book - bear with me here - there are creatures, made of thought and information, that eat... thought and information. It's a little trippy as a concept, but the book is incredible and original and I love it. The fish (the thought creatures are all modeled after sea creatures) manifest through text, sort of (it's hard to explain) so this is a very fitting cover. Beyond the (only) image on this cover, I also like the font of the title/author (usually I don't like them being the same, but the use of space between them and different sizes makes it work for me) because it reflects the jagged, uneasy feeling you get while reading the book. (I don't think it's necessary for novels to state "A Novel" as a subtitle, but at least it isn't obtrusive here.)

You should know that my reasons for liking the cover of this book are incredibly, incredibly girly.

I really liked the big pink foofy dress.  I would LOVE to own/wear a dress just like that.  I have this obsession with big skirts and old fashioned dresses like in Gone With the Wind.  I constantly kept seeing this book in the library (along with the other books, below, that featured big, poofy dresses.)  And while I realize that they are historically inaccurate (the first book takes place in 1899), if we've learned nothing else from this blog, we know that cover art very rarely matches what the book is actually about.

Look at these dresses.  Who WOULDN'T love these dresses?

Even the text is awesome.  It's cursive and elegant and very old fashioned and fits amazingly with the BIG, POOFY DRESS.  And I put off reading this book for a long time because, per the description on the inside flap, I got the feeling that the dress was going to be the best part of the book.

I was right.  The book was a huge let down (even more so than I anticipated.)  It was incredibly predictable and not well researched, not to mention the author had an obsession with Lord & Taylor (I don't know; maybe she doesn't have the money to shop there?  So her characters must?)  Not to mentioned, the book sends out HORRIBLE messages via subliminal text (IE. Being an independent woman means you're a bitch and a slut.  How nice.)

But this post is about COVERS and, honestly, even after knowing the book is terrible and not really worth the read at all, I can't help but look at the cover every time that I go to the library.

Tuesday, July 16, 2013

Painted Eggs

Since we're reading a book about painted eggs this week, I figured I should probably give you a clue as to what those painted eggs are and the tradition behind them.

Egg painting goes back a LONG time (think pagans) and, as usual, Christianity adopted the idea into their religion (because they wanted to convert a ton of people, so they kept a lot of pagan traditions.  It's why Christmas is in December as opposed to April, when Jesus was really born.  It's because Christmas coincides with the winter solstice.)

To this day, most nationalities have their version of the "painted egg" (don't YOU decorate your eggs at Easter?)  Slavic nations are no different, painting eggs beautiful colors for the Easter season.

For these particular eggs, they don't really paint so much as they "write" on the eggs.  A stylus is taken, dipped in hot wax and then the wax is drawn or "written" on the eggs to form a design.  Then, the eggs are placed in a dye-bath.  The wax helps to retain the color and, eventually, the wax is melted off to leave nothing but beautiful colors and patterns.

Sometimes, the eggs are big/thick enough to have the patterns actually carved into the surface, leaving a lot more texture.

Faberge Eggs are an extreme version of the Slavic art of egg painting.  They're extravagant eggs made by the House of Faberge, mostly for the rich (because no one else could afford them.  In fact, that's still true to this day).  The eggs were covered in gold and jewels, making them incredibly extravagant (though, incredibly beautiful).  The most famous of these eggs were made for the Russian Imperial Family, the Romanovs.  There were 54 eggs total made for the family, 42 of them surviving to this day.

Crazy extravagant, aren't they?

Monday, July 15, 2013

Author Bio: Patricia Polacco

This week, we're reading Rechenka's Eggs by Patricia Polacco (it's actually the only picture book we're reading this month.) 

Polacco was born in 1944.  She lived in three different towns in Michigan until 1949.  Her parents were divorced when she was three and each parent went back to their respective parent's home.  Polacco would live with both sets of grandparents year round (mom during the school year, dad during the summer.)

Because of this, she says it's why there is so much child/old person interaction in her books.  It's a subject that's near and dear to her heart and reminds her of her own childhood.

Pretty certain this is her as a senior in High School (It looks like a senior photo.)

Polacco had a lot of trouble learning when she was in school and actually, didn't learn to read until she was 14 years old.  It was around that time that she learned she had dyslexia, the reason for her poor grades in school.  Eventually, she majored in Fine Art and got her PhD in Art History.

Polacco is a little more rare for an author, because she did not start writing books until she was in her forties.  Before writing children's books, she actually restored art for a living.  Her family is Russian, Ukrainian and Irish, all cultures that are very rich in story telling.  She had been hearing stories all her life, until one day, she decided to write them down.

A much more current picture of her.  I have to admit, she has aged well.

Currently, she is living in Union City in Michigan (a place she LOVED as a kid when she lived there for a short time with her grandparents.)

She's got a great website, Facebook account, and a Twitter account. (Not bad with the technology for a 69 year old woman.)

Sunday, July 14, 2013

Answers to First Lines Post

Special Sunday post!  Ok, it's just the answers to my Tuesday post, but it's exciting nonetheless.  How many did you know?  Which ones did you get wrong?  Let us know!
  1. 1984 by George Orwell
  2. Harry Potter and the Sorcerer's Stone by JK Rowling
  3. Alice's Adventures in Wonderland by Lewis Carroll
  4. Hitchhiker's Guide to the Galaxy by Douglas Adams
  5. Atlas Shrugged by Ayn Rand
  6. Beloved by Toni Morrison
  7. Brave New World by Aldous Huxley
  8. Moby Dick by Herman Melville
  9. Ulysses by James Joyce
  10. Bridge to Terabithia by Katherine Patterson
  11. The Chocolate War by Robert Cormier
  12. Pride & Prejudice by Jane Austen
  13. A Christmas Carol by Charles Dickens
  14. The Lion, The Witch, and The Wardrobe by C. S. Lewis
  15. The Great Gatsby by F. Scott Fitzgerald
  16. Dante's Inferno
  17. The Sound and the Fury by William Faulkner
  18. Don Quixote by Cervantes
  19. 2001: A Space Odessy by Arthur C. Clarke
  20. Fahrenheit 451 by Ray Bradbury
  21. Frankenstein by Mary Shelley
  22. Fight Club by Chuck Palahniuk
  23. The Stranger by Albert Camus
  24. Little Women by Louisa May Alcott
  25. Slaughterhouse-Five by Kurt Vonnegut
  26. Genesis (The Bible)
  27. Charlotte's Web by E.B. White
  28. Good Omens by Terry Pratchett and Neil Gaiman
  29. Grapes of Wrath by John Steinbeck
  30. The True Confessions of Charlotte Doyle by Avi
  31. Their Eyes are Watching God by Zora Neale Hurston
  32. The Jungle by Upton Sinclair
  33. Thank You for Smoking by Christopher Buckley
  34. Lord of the Flies by William Golding
  35. Matilda by Roald Dahl
  36. Romeo and Juliet by William Shakespeare
  37. Madeline by Ludwig Bemelmans
  38. The Old Man and the Sea by Ernest Hemingway
  39. The Time Traveler's Wife by Audrey Niffenegger
  40. Peter Pan by J.M. Barry
  41. Winnie the Pooh by A.A. Milne
  42. The Princess Bride by William Goldman
  43. The Secret Garden by Frances Hodgson Burnett
  44. A Little Princess by  Frances Hodgson Burnett
  45. The Tell-Tale Heart by Edgar Allan Poe
  46. The Time Machine by H. G. Wells
  47. The Watchmen by Alan Moore and Dave Gibbons
  48. A Wrinkle in Time by Madeleine L'Engle
  49. Uglies by Scott Westerfeld
  50. American Gods by Neil Gaiman

Saturday, July 13, 2013

By Its Cover: Le petit prince

Even if you've never read the book, you've probably seen the cover. (At least, you did yesterday, if not before.) It hasn't really changed in the 70 years since it was published.

That is, of course, the titular prince on the cover, and he's standing on his planet (which is to scale... it's actually very small). Most versions of the cover have a blue background to make it clear that he's in space, on his little planet.

It's a fairly direct and literal cover, and I'm cool with that. I think the hat/boa picture might make a better cover (see my review in yesterday's post) but this is still fitting.

I don't have much to add to Alex's critique.  Mine had the blue background that she speaks of.  Also, I like the font.  It's very whimsical and this is a whimsical book.

Friday, July 12, 2013

Review Me Twice: Le petit prince by Antoine de St.-Exupery

As I mentioned yesterday, I read this book in French for this review. It takes considerably longer (for me, anyway) than reading it in English, but I like being able to keep the phrasing intact. Most of it is still beautiful in English, but you can read a grocery list in French and make it sound lovely, so it's just that much better.

This book is a classic for a reason. I think some of that can be attributed to the nostalgia factor, because a lot of people read this as children (it is, after all, a children's book). But I also love the ideas in it.

Let's take the first few pages as an example. You may have seen this picture before?
It's the first drawing in the book, and the narrator tells us that he would show this drawing to people and ask them if it scared them, but nobody could see why they should be scared of a hat. When the little prince sees it, he says he didn't want a drawing of a boa eating an elephant (which is, of course, exactly what it is). The whole book is full of stories from a perspective like this, and it's beautifully child-like but profound at the same time.

I am probably one of the very few people who didn't read this book as a kid (or if I did, I don't remember it.)  And I did read it in French the first time I ever read it (it's pretty much the standard book that High School French students read because it's easy and short but is still difficult to read for us English learning French readers.)

The book is beautifully written and very poignant.  St.-Exupery is reminding us that, as adults, we're too serious.  We forget the things that are actually important, as opposed to the things that really aren't important at all (Numbers is something that's mentioned.  Adults gauge everything by numbers and by its worth.)

It's also kind of a fun and fancy free book.  It's a little on the ridiculous side (a small "Prince" drops down from his planet, that he left because he had been fighting with an overly vain flower.)  It's just the kind of things that kids would find funny and love, so if you still find it funny then there's a good chance you're still a kid at heart.

My Bottom Line 4 out of 5

Thursday, July 11, 2013

Translating and Reading

This is a quotation from this week's review book, Le Petit Prince by Antoine de St.-Exupery. As you can see... it is in French.

I am reading the book in French to do this review, but I have read it in English before. These are two very different experiences.

First, it takes longer. I have a B.A. in French, but I don't practice very much, so I've gotten pretty rusty, and even reading this children's book takes considerably more time and effort than reading it in my native tongue.

There are vocabulary words that I knew well in high school and college, but I have to think hard about (or look up) now. There are also some I may have never learned. The same goes for sentence structure (but more on that in a minute).

So, let's use this quote as our example for reading in a foreign language.

On ne voit bien qu'avec le coeur. L'essentiel est invisible pour les yeux.

It means, in a rough translation,

One can only see well with the heart. The essential is invisible to the eyes.

I didn't need to look up any of the words in these two sentences, but let's pretend I didn't know the word "yeux." I would go to my favorite translation dictionary and type in "yeux." I find this:

Based on the context of the rest of the sentence, I can probably guess that the first choice, "eyes," is correct. But when you're translating, you have to consider the other possibilities, and you have to think, "Could he mean spies? Or maybe he meant globules of fat? Probably not..."

It's time- and energy-consuming, but necessary in order to make sure you get the right meaning.

Another thing that can take some time is dealing with sentence structure. In French, if you want to make your verb negative ("I do not eat") you put "ne" in front of it and "pas" after it ("je ne mange pas"). To say "only" about your verb ("I only eat apples") you put "ne" in front of it and "que" after it ("je ne mange que les pommes"). Clearly this is a difference construct from English, and it can make the native-English-speaking reader think at first that the sentence is going to be negative. (I made that mistake when I first glanced at the quote, and I was confused for a second.)

Beyond taking lots of extra time, translating while reading affects understanding. First, you have to get  each word translated. Then you have to make sure they're in the right order. You also have to look for idioms or colloquial phrases you might not be familiar with, and figure them out. (For example, "avoir le cul borde des nouilles" literally means to have your butt stuffed with noodles... but to the French, it means to be lucky. Idioms!)

Once you've taken care of all of that, you can finally stand back and look at what you've translated, and then apply understanding. The quote above is quite lovely, but when you're focused up-close and detailed, you see "one" and "only" and "sees" and "well"... so on until the end of the quote. If you don't stand back after the translation is done, you just have sentences. If you do, you have deep, beautiful meaning.